Halloween is coming. Annie’s mother and step-father are staying at the Inn for an extended visit, along with the dreaded Uncle Honey Bear.
The lakeside town of Chelsea is overdue for a storm.
Added to the mix is a group of guests in town for a murder mystery cruise. Their play is extended over three nights in various venues in town and on the pleasure craft, The Escape. And there are a few other guests as well, one of them quite mysterious.
As Annie and her friends prepare for the town’s annual Halloween party, Annie’s not-so-very-good friend Geraldine plans a competing fund raiser, one that “only the finest” are invited to attend.
While the humans go about their lives blissfully unencumbered by thoughts of crime, their companions are ever alert to the dangers around them. In the end, will the companions become the heroes?
Author: Kathleen Thompson
Excerpt from Boo!
Mr. Bean executed a perfect mid-air pirouette, back arched into a perfect “u,” hair standing on end, tail straight up in the air, four legs straight out, and mouth wide open, too scared for a sound to come out. When he landed, headed the same direction he had been, he yelped a silent screech, turned around and ran back to the bedroom. took some effort, as his little claws were not making purchase on the parquet floor.
Two older cats came out, hair at the back of their necks standing straight up, fangs bared, growls and snarls at the ready. They were prepared to protect their home. And possibly Mr. Bean. But probably just their home.
Annie, whose coffee cup had stopped halfway up, said calmly, “Tiger Lily, Little Socks, say good morning to your Uncle Honey Bear.”
She heard snarls in response. Honey Bear lay still, not having moved an inch with the exception of his tail, which on occasion would curl luxuriously around his body, then twitch out. Curl in. Twitch out.
This had become a regular morning routine. Honey Bear arrived sometime early in the morning and lay passively next to the kitchen island. Annie, too bleary in the morning to see much of anything, would make coffee, not realizing she had a guest on the other side of the island. One or another of the cats would make the discovery, and the daily fight would be on.
Honey Bear was Annie’s brother. Oh, more appropriately, Honey Bear and Annie shared a Mommy. Nancy, married to Annie’s step-father since Annie was very young, was a newcomer to the world of cat lovers. She hadn’t progressed past loving this one cat, a large, golden, long-haired mutt of a cat.
Nancy and Sam were visiting for the month, and of course, they brought the baby.
Annie lived on the third floor of the KaliKo Inn, a Bed & Breakfast in the lakeside resort town of Chelsea. The town was situated on the east coast of one of the Great Lakes and was nestled into a state park.
To the back of the Inn was one section of the park; the west side of the Inn opened to a large private beach of purest white sand fronting the lake. From the beach, one could see the town’s deep water marina to the left and a city park to the right. Beyond that was the other section of park, encircling its arms around this part of town, sheltering it from the outside world.
The Inn was situated at the end of Sunset Avenue, known as The Avenue to everyone in Chelsea. The Avenue started at the town square and ended, one long block later, at the lake.
Annie owned several businesses on this side of The Avenue, all the way up to the town Square. Annie’s group of intelligent and talented cats managed the businesses. Well, to be honest, there were human managers as well.
Kali and Ko, dilute calico siblings, were responsible for helping Henrie maintain the KaliKo Inn in tiptop condition. They rarely left the Inn, being perfectly content to roam the common areas and guest rooms, using cat doors to come and go as they pleased. They made sure Henrie kept the rooms clean, checked on the treats he left out for guests at night, and were especially mindful that breakfast was on time and fabulous.
On the other side of The Avenue were businesses owned and operated by Annie’s close friends. The cats had free access to all of the places on The Avenue. Let’s face it. They were close friends to the cats as well!
With plenty of room to spare at the Inn, Nancy and Sam had taken up residence in the guest room on the ground level. It was in the back with direct access to the lake. Annie imagined her mother was already out there, taking her hour-long morning walk. She assumed Sam was having coffee in the kitchen with Henrie, chatting and reading the morning paper while Henrie prepared and served breakfast for the guests of the Inn.
It was a perfectly dreadful October day. The kind of day to remind Annie that autumn, while her favorite season, did have its dreary moments. She couldn’t wait for her mother – all 70-some years of her – to bounce into the kitchen and announce what a perfectly wonderful walk it had been, and Annie, you need to join me tomorrow morning!
Annie took another sip of coffee and debated. Breakfast with edible food of some variety up here with the kids? A fantastic breakfast downstairs with Mom and Sam? She turned to reach for the refrigerator door, decision made, when the intercom interrupted.
“Annie, honey, Henrie has a perfectly wonderful breakfast ready. Come on down. Bring Honey Bear with you.”
Would this month never end?
Gritting her teeth, she took another drink of coffee, then answered her ringing cell phone. It was Chris.
“Good morning. I think. Is it a good morning there at the Inn?”
“Let’s see. We’ve had our morning Honey Bear scare, my mother is bouncing around in the kitchen following her walk on the beach, and apparently Henrie has a perfectly wonderful breakfast ready. And now I’m on the phone. It’s barely light outside. You tell me.”
“I only call in the morning while your mother is there. I’m trying to wake you up a little. When she’s gone, I’ll revert to the standard never-talk-to-you-until-lunchtime routine.”
“Thank you. I can’t wait.”
Annie and Chris, after 10 years of a perfectly nice friendship, had recently embarked on an exploratory venture into “something more.” The venture had been interrupted by this extended visit. They still saw one another, and Chris was getting to know Annie’s parents, but alone time was limited. Annie thought to herself, this, too, shall pass.
Chris continued, “When can I plan on seeing you today?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back with you.”
“Okay. Enjoy breakfast. Wake up.”
Annie rinsed her coffee cup and raised her voice so all the kids could hear, “We’re having breakfast downstairs.”
Sassy Pants and Mr. Bean came running. They halted at the kitchen island, unsure if it was safe to go on. Annie leaned over, picked up the offending Honey Bear and said, “Come on. Down we go.”
Mo followed at a stately pace. Tiger Lily and Little Socks sulked in the back of the line. Kali and Ko were already downstairs, supervising the preparation and serving of breakfast.
Annie got into the elevator, not wanting to carry Honey Bear down the stairs. Her cats took the opportunity to rush down to the first floor via the stairs, to say good morning to everyone before Honey Bear arrived to ruin it for them.
As the elevator opened on the first floor, Nancy greeted Annie with a hug and a kiss while she took Honey Bear onto her shoulder. “He is such a love in the morning. He just wants to cuddle!”
Honey Bear was indeed cuddling into Nancy’s neck. Annie gave her mother a smile. Half a smile. The right side of her mouth slowly inched up while she brought her chin down, trying to help the kind of smile along.
Nancy chirped, “Come on into the kitchen. Henrie has a wonderful breakfast made. We can have a little bit of all that good stuff after a nice bowl of oatmeal with fruit.”
Annie craved the good stuff. She could smell what was probably cinnamon bread or cinnamon French toast. As they walked through the dining room, Annie saw Kali and Ko, bookending the sides of the buffet, looking alternately welcoming to the guests and guarded for potential intruders to the feast.
Nancy smiled at everyone and went on to the kitchen, Honey Bear still on her shoulder.
Annie stopped to give each girl a quick full-body rub and to speak to the guests already gathered at the table. “Good morning! This is your last breakfast with us, isn’t it?”
Four heads nodded, mouths full of what proved to be cinnamon French toast, or a bacon and egg casserole, or, Annie noticed, Brioche Au Chocolat. So far, no one had touched the oatmeal. It was very good oatmeal, but it wasn’t cinnamon, bacon or chocolate. Her mouth started to water.
Finally, bite swallowed, a large man, taller than most with broad shoulders and a solid trunk, said, “We’re leaving after breakfast to go home, but we’ve already made reservations for next year. We love coming to Chelsea this time of year, and this is the best B&B we’ve found. The private beach is outstanding, but the food would bring us back, no matter where in town you were located.”
His wife, a slim 5’2” added, “This time I got recipes from Henrie. Last year I tried to replicate the breakfasts we had here, and it didn’t work, but I asked, and he printed them out for me. I know some of these come from the Café and the Confectionary, but he got those recipes as well. Everyone here is so generous and friendly. Anywhere else we go, recipes are guarded like Fort Knox.”
“Well, we aim to please. Did you get to do everything you wanted to do this time?”
The other woman, a medium-tall, large-boned woman who looked like a roller derby queen, said, “We did, but we weren’t thinking big enough. Last night we talked about booking even more of your rooms next year to try out one of those mysteries that you have coming up this weekend. We checked; you still have a few rooms available the week we plan to come back.”
“Yeah! We never thought about doing something like that. We had a fishing cruise this time on The Escape, but it sounds like fun to have a few days and nights on the boat and around town doing a mystery play.”
Annie laughed. “This will be our second one. If it works out well, we’ll run it for you next year, or you might want to pick another theme. We’ll need a couple of months advance notice, and of course, we’ll have to make sure The Escape is available.”
“We checked with Ray. Right now, he has the days available. We’re going to start calling people as soon as we get home. You’ll hear from us within a couple of weeks.”
“Great! I’m looking forward to it. Have a safe trip home, oh, and here are a few cards to take to your friends.”
Annie noticed that Sassy Pants, Mr. Bean and Mo had taken up residence around the guests. Sassy Pants had decided the really big guy would be a push-over. She didn’t want any food; she wanted to have her tummy tickled. She jumped onto the table and found room in between plates, bowls, silverware and glassware to get onto her back and offer her tummy to him. He happily obliged, using four very large fingers to tickle along the bottom of her belly.
“Sassy! Get off! It’s rude to be on the table during breakfast!” Sassy Pants just looked at Annie with a glazed expression.
Mr. Bean and Mo jumped to the laps of the women of the group. They were happy to have one hand taking care of their needs while the women continued to eat.
“It’s a wonder any guest returns with this kind of reception,” Annie sighed.
“It’s great. We’ve gotten used to seeing these cats around town, but we’ve not been honored with their presence at breakfast. Kali and Ko usually run a pretty tight ship.”
Annie finally got the three of them moving and went on to the kitchen to face her own breakfast ship. It would be pretty tight as well, with her mother in charge.
Kali and Ko jumped off the buffet to join the family. They didn’t want to miss out.
“Good morning, Sam, Henrie. What is everyone planning to do today?”
Any response was immediately stifled by an unexpected flurry of snarls, claws, quickly moving small bodies and a high-pitched screech.
“Kids!” yelled Annie and Nancy at the same time.
Everyone stopped. Nancy said, “You’d think they’d be used to him by now. Honestly, I don’t know why other cats don’t like Honey Bear. He’s a perfectly wonderful cat.”
“He gives off a vibe, Mom.”
“A leave-me-alone-I’m-the-King-of-this-place vibe wherever he goes, whether it’s his home or someone else’s.”
“Well, they should still get used to him.”
With a sigh, Annie asked again, “What is everyone planning to do today?”
Sam, who loved being away from all responsibility for a month, said, “I’m going out on The Escape with Ray. He’s got some guys going on a late season fishing expedition, and he invited me along. I’ll do a little fishing, but mostly I’ll just enjoy the lake, either on deck or from inside, looking out.”
“Did you bring the right kind of gear to go out on the lake this time of year?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking about it when we packed, but Ray said he has everything I’ll need to stay warm and dry.”
“It will be a great day, I’m sure. If the weather starts to turn, he won’t be so far from shore that it will be dangerous.”
Nancy chimed in, “Dangerous? It could be dangerous?”
“This is a turbulent season for being out on the lake. That’s why fishing season has officially ended by now. But seasoned captains, like Ray, know how to stay safe on the lake. He’ll stay shallow, and not very far from shore. If something kicks up, he’ll get to land and tie up. It may not be at Chelsea, but it will be a safe harbor.”
As Annie talked, she helped her plate to the good stuff, paying no attention to the bowl of oatmeal Nancy had placed in front of her.
Nancy rolled her eyes but said nothing.
“Mom, what are you going to do?”
“I was hoping you would come with me to Antiques On Main. I told Frank I would help him sort through some of the items that have been arriving from his storage places. He’s seeing things he purchased years ago and he needs a second set of eyes. Also, I haven’t had an opportunity to see the living quarters yet. Frank said he would love to give me a tour.”
“Great. He’s been doing a lot to it, and I haven’t seen it yet. I probably won’t stick around for the antique sorting. I wouldn’t be any use to you there. The cats will be disappointed they can’t come along.”
“Why not? You let them go everywhere else.”
“They don’t leave The Avenue without human supervision. They’ve been to that building when it was a diner, but not since Frank bought it and moved in. Frank’s cat is – personality wise – another Honey Bear. She’s a one-cat cat. No other cat can cross that threshold now that it’s her domain.”
Speaking of leaving The Avenue, Tiger Lily was in the process of reminding Annie that she was being unfairly detained inside the Inn. She should have been at the Café over an hour ago. The breakfast rush was on, but she was locked in! No one else seemed to mind, but Tiger Lily knew what was expected of her.
Tiger Lily stood by the cat door in the kitchen, securely locked so Honey Bear couldn’t get out of the house. She looked at Annie with cat eyes, willing her to look in that direction. Eventually, it worked. Annie’s head turned to find that gaze full on her.
Annie said, “Sorry, big girl. We’ll be leaving in a few minutes.” Annie turned back to her mother. “I haven’t taken a house-warming gift yet. After we have the tour, let’s go shopping and find the perfect whatever. You’re so much better at that than I.”
“Good idea, honey. What in the world is she doing?”
Annie turned to look. Tiger Lily was now standing against the door, holding on with one paw while she slapped at it with another.
“She wants to go to work.”
“Honestly, Annie. The things you let these cats do!”
By now, Tiger Lily was throwing herself at the door. It was a standing-up full-body slam. One. Look at Annie. Two. Look at Annie. Three. Four. Glance back and get ready for five.
“Okay! Okay! Don’t hurt yourself, big girl! Who else wants to leave?” Suddenly there was a mad rush to the door. Little Socks, Mo, Sassy Pants and Mr. Bean, all of them wanting to get as far away from Uncle Honey Bear as possible.
“Mo, you go to the Confectionary first thing this morning, alright? Wait there until George gets to The Tap.”
Mo gave a roll of his eyes that went unnoticed by the humans in the room.
Annie turned to make sure her mother had a strong grip on Honey Bear, then she unlatched the cat door. Five cats rushed out, and she closed and latched the door behind them.
“I think the kids are getting tired of being locked in.”
“I appreciate that you are locking the doors, dear. It won’t be long before things will be back to normal for them.”