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Old 03-20-2016, 11:47 PM   #271
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The next morning, Carrie picked up Suzanna after her release from the hospital. Suzanna still felt sore and her head still hurt a bit, but she was anxious to get home. As Carrie drove Suzanna’s truck through the snow from the hospital, the front of Sunshine Inn came into view around a corner.

Suzanna gasped and closed her eyes. Carrie swallowed hard and looked again.

The whole front porch was blackened. Large sheets of plywood covered broken windows on the main floor, and and some were boarded up on the second floor. Burnt debris littered the yard and roof, and across the street, the view from the B&B porch was nothing but rubble, cordoned off with yellow police tape.

Suzanna opened her eyes again.

“God,” she said.

Carrie sighed and reached over and squeezed Suzanna’s hand. “Looks worse in the daylight,” Carrie admitted. “But really, it’s just glass and paint. It’s intact.”

“That’s about all, isn’t it?” said Suzanna, then she looked again. “Hey, wait a minute, look!”

Carrie saw where Suzanna was pointing, and saw some of her guests on the porch with mugs and surveying the scene across the street.

“What in the world are they doing?” Carrie wondered.

“Look, there’s one taking a picture,” said Suzanna, gawking.

Carrie laughed. “Looks like your guests would rather be here than at Stony River Inn. There’s Sunshine in that lady’s arms!”

“Wow,” marveled Suzanna. “Except for the damage, it looks almost normal for a sunny winter day, Carrie!”

As Carrie drove by the porch on the way to the little drive in the back, Suzanna stared at the people on the porch.

“I’m not going home yet. Let me go see the damage and talk to the guests,” Suzanna said, climbing out of the truck.

“Suzanna, the doctor said you need to –“

“To hell with what he said. C’mon, we’ve got people to talk to,” Suzanna replied firmly.

Carrie smothered a grin, and followed Suzanna to the back door of the inn. That was just like Suzanna. No wonder she had been such a successful attorney, Carrie thought.

Through the morning, Suzanna offered her guests their money back or free nights, whichever they preferred, but no one wanted either one. Most of the guests

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Old 03-20-2016, 11:49 PM   #272
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had been there before, and the only things they seemed to be concerned about were Suzanna’s injury and the damage to the B&B. She praised her staff for a job very well done in getting everyone out and to a safer place expediently. The guests agreed, praising the staff as well. There would be a tidy little bonus in her staff’s next paychecks for them.

The windows were beyond saving. They would have to be completely replaced. It was too cold to scrape and re-paint the porch and front of the B&B, so that would have to stay that way for a little while, as the paint wouldn’t set or dry in the freezing temperatures.

“Well,” sighed Suzanna, sitting in the Friendship Parlor and staring at the boarded window. “This could have been a lot worse, though. It just looks awful right now.”

“Yeah,” nodded Carrie, studying her friend. Suzanna looked worn, tired, and stressed. “Suzanna, you’ve done all you can here. Let’s go to my place and you can relax there. Meows is there, he’s been waiting for you.”

“Okay,” said Suzanna. “I think I’d like that. I need Meows. Is Joyce and her cats still there?”

“No,” Carrie replied. “She and the girls went home last night, but I know she’ll want to come see you today. So will Paul and Justin, probably. Let’s get you out of here for a while.”

Although it was less than two blocks away, Carrie drove Suzanna to the shop. She tucked Suzanna on the loveseat in the living room, and the cats came out to see her. The moment the door opened, Meows shot from the computer room like a purring bullet.

“Oh, Meows, I missed you last night,” Suzanna said, giving her cat a squeeze.

“I missed you too. I’m glad you’re home. How do you feel?” he asked her.

“Tired. I didn’t sleep well at all in the hospital. I don’t know why they make you ‘rest’ in a hospital. I’d have gotten a lot more rest at home with you.”

“Rest in a hospital. Right,” sighed Carrie, rolling her eyes. “Ready for coffee?”

“Oh, yes. How about some of that flavored coffee I gave you for Christmas?” Suzanna suggested.

“Great idea. Coming right up,” Carrie smiled. “Give Joyce a call. She might like to come over and try this – she’s taking the day off to see you anyway.”

“I’ll go call her,” offered little Belle. She loved using the phone.

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Old 03-20-2016, 11:52 PM   #273
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“Thank you, Belle,” smiled Suzanna. Belle hopped off the loveseat and headed for the speakerphone in the next room.

Joyce wrapped Pook and Saav up in Carrie’s blanket and tucked them into the basket she had loaned them last night, and set off for the shop. Once there, Pook and Saav bolted for the upstairs cat door ahead of Joyce. They were anxious to see Suzanna.

Joyce came in and saw Suzanna buried under cats.

“I’m sure there’s a human under there somewhere,” she muttered to Carrie.

“I think so,” smiled Carrie.

“Somewhere, maybe,” Suzanna laughed. “It’s good to see everyone so…normal.”

“Normal?” Joyce looked around. “Right. Three women with five talking cats in one room is normal. Phew, you really did get whacked in the head, didn’t you? You sure you don’t need to go back to the hospital?” Joyce teased her.

“Well, I guess that’s not so normal,” Suzanna laughed. “I guess I just got used to it!”

“Amazing what passes for normal around here, isn’t it?” Joyce said with a wink.

“It is,” agreed Carrie, taking the blanket and basket from her. “Have a seat, coffee will be ready soon.”

“Thanks, Carrie,” she replied, and sat next to Suzanna. “How are you feeling?”

“Ugh. What a headache,” Suzanna replied.

“I bet. I wonder what happened over there?” said Joyce. “Did you all see the paper this morning? They’re investigating it and don’t have a cause yet.”

“What bugs me is what are Chuck and Gloria Searcy going to do? There’s nothing left of their ice cream place,” Carrie pointed out.

Suzanna shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s not like they can just fix it back up again. They will have to rebuild from the ground up.”

Pook looked up. “Talk to them, find out what their situation is, and take up a collection.”

“Fund drive,” nodded Meows.

“Yard sales,” said Saav.

“Maybe get people to donate stuff,” Belle piped up.
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Old 03-20-2016, 11:54 PM   #274
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Bart added, “Just get the word out. People will help.”

“Now there’s an idea,” nodded Suzanna.

“I like it,” said Joyce.

“I think that will work,” Carrie agreed, getting up to check on the coffee.

“I know them a little bit,” said Suzanna. “I’ll talk to them and see what we can do. No one was in the warehouse or the ice cream shop, were they?”

“According to the paper, not in the shop. They don’t know about the warehouse, because by press time it was too hot to search for remains,” said Joyce. “Hopefully not.”

“Hopefully not,” Suzanna echoed.

“Coffee’s on,” said Carrie, bringing a tray out.

“Ahhh,” said Suzanna, sniffing. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

The next afternoon, Suzanna was ordering windows when Detective Freeman walked into the B&B foyer. He eyed Sunshine nervously, but petted him anyway while he waited for Suzanna to finish her call.

“Amazing how gentle these creatures can be,” he said as Suzanna hung up and Sunshine purred loudly at him.

“Not quite like Carrie Sullivan’s little mountain lions down the block, huh?” smiled Suzanna.

Freeman winced. “I thought that yellow monster was going to relieve me of an appendage. I saw that big grey one hanging around your back porch the other day, Suzanna. Be careful around them. I know Carrie’s your friend, and I like her too, but one of these days those two beasts are really going to hurt someone.”

“Oh, they aren’t so bad when you get to know them,” Suzanna replied breezily.

“I’ll take your word for it. How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Much better, thank you. Just a little sore here and there,” she said.

“Good. That will pass in a few days. I’m helping with the investigation into the cause of the fire over there,” he told her, pointing across the street. “Do you feel up to answering a few questions, if you can?”

“Certainly,” Suzanna agreed. “Let’s go to the library. No one’s in there right now.”
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Old 03-20-2016, 11:56 PM   #275
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She came around from the desk and led him to the library, and offered him coffee. He declined politely, as he had just had lunch, and settled into a comfortable chair across from her.

“I’m trying to track down the owners of the warehouse, who also own the ice cream place. It’s possible that their insurance company can cover the damage caused to your B&B. Where can I find Chuck and Gloria Searcy?”

This surprised Suzanna. “They owned the warehouse too?”

He nodded. “They purchased the property last year. No one has seen them since the fire. Have you seen them?”

“No, not since about a week or so ago. They didn’t socialize much,” Suzanna replied.

“That’s what I’m hearing everywhere. Their neighbors have not seen them, either. Would you know if they have gone on vacation, or visiting family somewhere?”

“I have no idea. They weren’t quite the types to tell any of us anyway,” said Suzanna. “They didn’t go into any details about their lives beyond ‘Hi, how are you?’ or ‘Cold today, isn’t it?’ – that kind of thing.”

Freeman nodded. “So, they pretty much kept to themselves.”

“Yes. I don’t even know where they live or anything.”

“Did you ever see any unusual activity at the warehouse?”

“No, I thought it was unoccupied. I never saw any trucks or anything at the loading dock or anywhere on the property,” she said thoughtfully. “Have you found the cause of the fire yet?”

“Right now we believe it may have been a gas leak, but we haven’t ruled out other possibilities,” Freeman replied, frowning. He got up. “Thank you for your time, Suzanna. If you see them or happen to remember anything unusual there, would you give me a call?”

“Sure,” replied Suzanna, rising and taking the card he offered her.

“Thank you. And if I contact them, I’ll let you know,” he promised. Suzanna walked him to the front doors, and closed the door after him, puzzled.

Carrie was in the shop with a customer when Suzanna walked in.

“Hi, Suzanna, be with you in a minute,” she said.

Suzanna smiled. “No hurry,” she replied, looking at the new lamps Carrie had just found at an estate sale.
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Old 03-20-2016, 11:58 PM   #276
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The diminutive customer, an elderly lady, looked over at Suzanna.

“Oh, you own the Sunshine Inn, don’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” Suzanna replied.

“I just love that place. I’m so glad it wasn’t too badly damaged from that fire so close to it,” she said.

“So are we,” Carrie agreed.

“I can imagine,” said the woman. “Well, Carrie, I’ll get back to you on the tables. Good luck, Suzanna, getting the place fixed up again. Take care.”

With a smile and a wave, the lady left the shop and headed for the bookstore across the street.

“People are so nice,” said Carrie.

“Oh, they are. I had a visitor today,” Suzanna said, showing Carrie the detective’s card.

“Ah, Bart and Meows’s biggest fan,” laughed Carrie. “What did he want?”

“He’s trying to find Chuck and Gloria Searcy. They own the warehouse. I didn’t know that, did you?”

“Hmm. No, I thought they were leasing the ice cream place,” Carrie frowned. “Do they own that too?”

“Apparently they do, but no one has seen them since the fire, and they haven’t been home.”

“That’s weird,” Carrie said, raising an eyebrow. “I wonder where they went?”

“Seems strange they disappear right at the time of the fire,” Suzanna pointed out.

“Very,” agreed Carrie. “I wonder what’s up with that?”

Suzanna shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Carrie laughed. “Or Bart and Meows will go snooping and find out.”

After picking Pook and Saav up from Carrie’s, Joyce drove home carefully as there was still a little snow on the roads and her car was not the best in snow.

“Mom, you gotta get a four-wheel-drive,” said Pook as they inched along slowly.

“I know. I will. I’m off the rest of the week, so we’ll go car-shopping then, okay?” replied Joyce.

“When will the new window be in?” asked Saav.

“Next Wednesday. They had to order one in that weird size.”
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Old 03-21-2016, 12:02 AM   #277
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“That will be nice. Suzanna looks like she feels better, did you notice that today?” said Pook.

“I did. That was good to see. That was weird about the Searcys. Man, I wonder what happened,” Joyce replied.

“I do too,” nodded Saav.

“Sounds like something fishy was going on there, doesn’t it?” asked Pook.

“Could have been. I have no idea,” said Joyce, as they pulled into their driveway.

“What are we doing tonight?” Saav asked as she got out and headed for the door. Joyce let them in, and they greeted Ruffie, who yapped at them happily.

“I don’t know. Got any ideas?” Joyce asked the cats.

“I want to play Monopoly,” said Pook.

“Bleah! No! Scrabble!” exclaimed Saav.

“Booooo to both of those. How about Yahtzee? We haven’t played that in a while,” Joyce suggested.

“All three,” said Pook.

“Gaaaaaahhhhh, we’ll be up all night,” mumbled Saav.

“I got a better idea,” Pook said. “Trivial Pursuit.”

“Oh, yeah,” agreed Saav. “I like that one.”

“Me too. Good idea, Pooks. We can do that,” nodded Joyce.

They went into the kitchen, where Joyce topped off their food bowl and fixed them two little custard dishes of one of their favorite homemade conglomerations, a mixture of cream cheese, salmon, tuna, and sour cream topped with melted cheddar called “Glop”. To Joyce it was nothing less than completely disgusting, but to all the cats, it was heaven. She smiled as she saw them dutifully eat their regular cat food, then dive into the Glop. Just as she looked in the refrigerator for her own supper, the phone rang. Joyce answered it on the kitchen wall phone.

“Hey, Joyce, how are you?” It was Paul.

“Hi, Paul. I’m good. You?”

He hesitated. “Well, I’m okay.”

Joyce didn’t like the way he sounded. “Paul, what’s wrong?”

Paul sighed. “Can we talk?”

“Well, sure, of course. What’s wrong?”

“It’s something that is bothering me and I don’t like talking about personal stuff like this on the phone and since this involves us all, may Zeus and I come over
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Old 03-21-2016, 12:06 AM   #278
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to talk to you? Carrie and Suzanna are visiting each other and that’s good for Suzanna right now, so I don’t want to intrude on that. I tried Justin, but he has to head off to Computer Shack tonight because his partner’s kid is sick. That leaves you. Would you mind if we came over? We won’t stay long,” he said.

“Paul, for heaven’s sake, you’re welcome here any time. Of course. You do not ever need to ask, just get over here. Have you had supper yet?”

“No, I was going to wait –“

“I have some fried chicken and cole slaw, and I can toss in a couple baked potatoes. I fixed the Glop for the girls, there’s plenty left for Zeus. How’s that sound?” Joyce asked.

“I don’t want a meal, Joyce, I just need to talk,” he said with a smile.

“I understand that. But it might feel better on a full tummy, maybe?”

“You drive a hard bargain, woman. Okay, how about I bring a nice bottle of wine?”

“Great. Come on over, we’ll get rid of these extra groceries and see if we can’t work through what’s bothering you, okay?”

“Joyce, I appreciate you. I owe you one,” he said.

“No, you have done so much for me and now maybe I can be here for you like you are for me. See you in a bit. Bring Zeus’s puter and all so he and the girls can go do their thing if they want.”

“I will. Thanks.”

“Never a problem.”

Joyce hung up, and turned to see Pook and Saav looking at her.

“Now what’s wrong?” Saav asked, worried.

“I don’t know,” Joyce replied, opening the refrigerator and taking out the plate of fried chicken and the bowl of coleslaw. She put the chicken on a cookie sheet and placed it in the oven to warm, and selected two plump potatoes to bake in the microwave.

“Think he’s okay?” asked Pook.

“I hope so,” the human replied. “But there is definitely something on his mind.”

“I hope it’s nothing bad,” said Saav unhappily. “We’ve had enough sad stuff lately.”
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Old 03-21-2016, 12:09 AM   #279
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“I know, Sweetness. Whatever it is, he wants to talk, and through talking there usually comes hope and solutions. Let’s not get worried too much until we find out what’s happening, okay?”

The little cats didn’t look quite convinced. Joyce smiled and petted them. “Trust me, we can get through anything. Paul will let us know what’s on his mind. I know, it drives you nuts not knowing because you’re cats, and cats are naturally horribly curious. Now, look, finish your Glop and I’ll build us a nice fire in the living room and put you two and Zeus and your stuff in front of it, okay? That will help make things cozy and a little better.”

The cats turned back to the little custard bowls, and Joyce headed out to the garage for kindling and firewood.

By the time Paul and Zeus arrived about a half hour later, the fire was going well and dinner was ready.

“Hi there,” said Paul, handing her a bottle of a nice white wine.

“Hi, this looks good,” smiled Joyce.

“Hello Joyce!” Zeus greeted her, and went to swap whisker kisses and head-bonks with Pook and Saav. “Hi girls!”

Joyce plugged in Zeus’s laptop and placed it between Pook and Saav in front of the hearth. “Want some Glop, Zeus?”

“Do I look stupid?” asked Zeus, teasing. “Of course! Thank you!”

Joyce laughed with him. “C’mon, you know the rules. On the counter or the dog gets it.”

He winked at Paul, who smiled, and followed Joyce into the kitchen. Joyce came back out, and announced that dinner was ready.

She and Paul watched the headline news channel and talked about recent events in town during their meal, and when it was over and the wine was poured, Paul looked at her seriously. The cats looked up and listened as well.

“Joyce, Suzanna’s fall has made me think. What if something happens to one of us? Has anyone made plans for these sentient cats? They can’t go just anywhere, you know,” he began.

Joyce saw his point. “Yeah, we need to work something out between all of us so that if one of us is gone, the cats will be able to continue their sentient lives. Is that what you are saying?”

“Exactly. I’m not getting any younger.”

“Paul, for God’s sake, you’re only 56.”
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Old 03-21-2016, 12:11 AM   #280
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“Joyce, I have a heart problem. I haven’t told anyone this, but I have had two heart attacks and triple bypass surgery. I need to make sure Zeus is taken care of if I die before he does.”

Zeus nearly choked in front of the hearth. “GEEZ! Paul, why didn’t you tell me about this?! ******!”

The big tabby flew to Paul’s lap. Paul petted him and gave him a little squeeze.

“I’m sorry, buddy, this happened before you came along, I’ve been okay and healthy for nearly four years now without a problem. But this is something we humans need to think about. We can’t have you cats stuck with someone who doesn’t understand, see?”

“How about this for an idea? We’ll just meet up and discuss this,” said Joyce. “I’m sure then we will find the answers that will make everyone happy. Or at least as far as ‘happy’ gets in these scenarios.”

“I like it,” said Paul. “And with the cats, too. That way they’ll know what to expect. Let’s let the cats choose where they want to go.”

“I agree with that,” Joyce nodded. “It’s their lives, after all.”

“Okay,” said Zeus.

Pook and Saav agreed. “Yes,” they said.

Joyce smiled, but she still had some fear in her heart. “And as long as we maintain the integrity of this secret, we’ll be okay too, I think.”

“Yep,” said Zeus. “Please do that.”

“We will,” promised Joyce.

“I’m changing the subject before we leave because if I go to sleep thinking of this, I won’t sleep. Joyce, got anything funny and goofy to watch on TV?” he asked.

“Sure do,” she replied, putting a Red Skelton DVD in. “This is a hoot……!!”

Loki and TigTig greeted Justin at the front door as usual when he arrived home later that evening the next day after closing the store. He had dropped them off at home before going back in, and had been in a hurry so he didn’t get to talk to them much.

“Hi there,” said Justin. “Did you have fun today?”

“Yeah. Did you bring any scraps home for us?” asked Loki.

Justin waved a paper bag at him. “Take a whiff. What do you think?”

The cat sniffed, smiling. “I’m thinking scallops and whitefish.”

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