After being left at the altar, Ivy Amanda McTeague Preston uproots herself and her cat, an Egyptian Mau named Memnet, from her boring and lonely life to start over at the urging of Mayor Conklin, a fellow pedigreed Mau owner.
Ready to move in a fresh direction, Adam Thompson, accepts the mayor’s invitation and uproots himself and his beloved Mau, Isis, to open a branch of his trendy bookstore and coffee shop in the small town.
When Ivy takes a mysterious message while the mayor is away on business, only her criminology professor mom and Adam believe there’s something rotten in Apple Grove. Then Ivy discovers the community grant money that Adam was allotted to start the store is mysteriously being siphoned off, a dead body surfaces, and the victim’s missing Mau becomes the primary suspect. . .just another day in Ivy’s far-from-boring new life.
In love with Apple Grove and with Adam, Ivy hopes to carry on their romance while saving the town from further mayhem.
I jolted alert to the rude 2:48 AM summons of my business phone. Fumbling for the receiver on my nightstand, I squinted. The name and number was unfamiliar. I frowned. In the middle of the night? This must be a crank call. I hoped it wasn’t an angry-at-the-world abusive type. I was tired and not in the mood to be professionally pleasant. I held the headpiece next to my ear and answered. “McTeague Technical Services. This is Ivy. How may I be—”
“Don—” I couldn’t make anything out through the crackling static and so I got out of my nice, cozy warm bed and went to stand by the window, hoping for a clearer signal. A burst of static rocketed me backward and I held the phone away from my ear. “Oww!”
I sat on the end of the bed and checked the phone, expecting smoke. The background was lit, but the call disconnected. I got back into bed but switched on my bedside light. I searched the caller ID and came up with Chicago. Summersby Building.
A chime indicated an incoming call from the same number.
“Hello? Who’s there?” A soft buzz sounded and then a distinct click. At least the recorder had been on.
I yawned. Summersby Building was probably a construction company doing work for one of the new businesses coming to Apple Grove. That’s why I was here, too, invited on behalf of the mayor’s new community growth incentive. I yawned again, turned my business phone to silent and pulled the covers up to my chin.
The next evening, after my third attempt to reach my friend Donald, the mayor of Apple Grove, Illinois, I ran my fingers across the screen of my personal phone, to view photos of my cat from last year at Christmas at my home in Maplewood. I usually found pictures cheerful. Comforting. But not the holiday ones which reminded me of all I hated about Christmas.
Now, in the twilight on the cusp of summer in a new and unfamiliar home, the images made me homesick.
When I’d moved here two months ago, April Fool’s Day to be exact, the week after the annual spring CAT convention, the phone and cable companies wondered about how I could make McTeague’s Services work with my three servers. I showed them Donald’s letter of reference and the preliminary approval of the exception to the zoning ordinance in this quiet little neighborhood.
My business was dedicated to tech for non-techies, computer set-ups, web design, personal computer lessons. I supplemented that with other home-based requests that sometimes went along with my home visits, such as pet, houseplant, and mailbox sitting for those going away for whatever reason. Small businesses needed web maintenance. I also offered letter and blog writing services and help with forms. In this day and age of rapidly changing informational systems, everyone needed help.
I toyed with the phone. This evening, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Donald’s silence was not a matter of choice. I needed to help my friend. I looked up a phone number and tapped it out.
“Apple Grove Police. Officer Ripple. How can I help you?”
“Hello. I…I need to report a missing person. Maybe a kidnapping.”
“Right. High Vee? Could you spell that, please.”
“And where are you now, ma’am? Can you see any weapons? Do you know the name of your kidnappers?”
“Oh, no, Officer. It’s not me. It’s the mayor.”
“Mayor? Got that. First name?”
“Donald Mayor. And is he a relative? Is there a note?”
“No…you’ve got it all mixed up. I’m calling about somebody possibly kidnapping Mayor Donald Conklin.”
“You think someone’s kidnapping the mayor? That’s a pretty serious charge.”
“Not doing it. I think they already did.”
“We’ll send someone over to talk to you. What’s your address?”
“Ah, yes. The Pagner house. And you have some sort of evidence?”
“Well, I received the strangest call last night on my business line and now he won’t answer his private number. I’m worried.”
“I own the new tech services business in town. McTeague’s. Donald invited me.”
“OK. Sit tight. I’m sending Officer Dow over to you to take your statement.”
“Thank you.” I hung up and wondered what kind of a statement I was expected to give. I had the recording, but unless one understood the context, it could mean anything. Maybe I should call someone. How did I know I can trust the police here? On TV sometimes the bad guys aren’t who people would think. My mental contact list was pretty slim. My neighbors, whom I didn’t know that well. Mom—who lived a couple of hours away.
A knock on the door saved me from a slide into self-pity. I let in Officer Ann Dow, and smiled politely at the little blonde who looked as if the wind would carry her away if she hadn’t been anchored by her sturdy shoes and even sturdier holstered, shiny black weapon.
“Thank you for coming.” I’m not a giant, but I had a couple of inches on her. I refrained from telling her I could take point if things got dicey.
“So, tell me about this alleged kidnapping.” The officer got out her pad and pen. She shushed her shoulder mic.
“The mayor is missing.”
She didn’t say anything at first. “And you believe that because…?”
“I received this strange call late last night. On my business line. Donald asked me to move my tech services business to help Apple Grove. Now he’s not answering my calls.”
“I’m not privy to the mayor’s office practices,” she said, straight-faced.
I ignored her implication and instead got out my office phone, explaining she could hear for herself. “This call came in, but it was all static-y and garbled. I couldn’t make out much except ‘Don,’ and ‘get.’”
She listened. “Get what? ‘Don’? And you think it came from the mayor?”
“I don’t know for sure. The caller ID said Summersby Building in Chicago. I just thought you should check it out.”
Officer Dow tapped her pen on her pad. She shook her head and returned to the kitchen, me following like a lost puppy. “I’ll make a report,” she said, reaching for the door. “Maybe you should notify the FCC. If you get threatening calls, you should call the telephone company. We’ll talk to Mrs. Bader-Conklin, who’s been in the office today covering for her husband who’s on a business trip. If that’s all, I’ll let you get back to…what you were doing.”
“Thank you. But—”
Click. The door closed. She was gone.
And I thought Apple Grove seemed like such a nice town.
I let out a sigh of pure exasperation and tapped my size seven and half sandal on the tile floor. Last night’s phone call…I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I get mistaken numbers, of course, but I had a funny feeling. And that was a new one—Donald’s wife had been in the office? Why had he called my business line?
Calling the police wasn’t the best first move. But what else could I have done?
Maybe I should have been mad at him, instead of concerned. With my ringless fingers I tucked a loose spiral of my dishy-blah, frizzy hair back into its sloppy bun. Donald would never have ignored me this long. And he’d want to talk about the next CAT convention coming up. That’s Cat Association Titlists—the group where we met years and years ago. We both owned purebred Egyptian Maus, the only spotted domestic cat.
I have never been a whimsical person and uprooting myself to move to a new town was a major deal, not something I would have done under normal circumstances, but I’ll get to that later. Let’s just say his request, that I move my business and myself to Apple Grove, happened at a good time. That’s me—Ivy Amanda McTeague Preston—of McTeague Technical Services.
If the police thought Donald was perfectly safe I should just wait until tomorrow and then see if Mrs. Bader-Conklin had some notion about what was going on. I could go visit her at the office and ask, casual-like, if she’d heard from him. And offer to work on the city’s website.