The body was smack in the middle of my freshly scrubbed
kitchen floor. Fred the Funky Chicken, minus his head.
“Owen!” I said, sharply.
“Owen, you little fur ball, I know you did this. Where are
There was a muffled “meow” from the back door. I leaned
around the cupboards. Owen was sprawled on his back in
front of the screen door, a neon yellow feather sticking
out of his mouth. He rolled over onto his side and looked
at me with the same goofy expression I used to get from
stoned students coming into the BU library.
I crouched down next to the gray-and-white tabby. “Owen,
you killed Fred,” I said. “That’s the third chicken this
The cat sat up slowly and stretched. He padded over to me
and put one paw on my knee. Tipping his head to one side
he looked up at me with his golden eyes. I sat back
against the end of the cupboard. Owen climbed onto my lap
and put his two front paws on my chest. The feather was
still sticking out of his mouth.
I held out my right hand. “Give me Fred’s head,” I said.
The cat looked at me unblinkingly. “C’mon, Owen. Spit it
He turned his head sideways and dropped what was left of
Fred the Funky Chicken’s head into my hand. It was a soggy
lump of cotton with that lone yellow feather stuck on the
“You have a problem, Owen,” I told the cat. “You have a
monkey on your back.” I dropped what was left of the toy’s
head onto the floor and wiped my hand on my gray yoga
pants. “Or maybe I should say you have a chicken on your
The cat nuzzled my chin, then laid his head against my T-
shirt, closed his eyes and started to purr.
I stroked the top of his head. “That’s what they all say,”
I told him. “You’re addicted, you little fur ball, and
Rebecca is your dealer.”
Owen just kept on purring and ignored me. Hercules came
around the corner then. “Your brother is a catnip junkie,”
I said to the little tuxedo cat.
Hercules climbed over my legs and sniffed the remains of
Fred the Funky Chicken’s head. Then he looked at Owen,
rumbling like a diesel engine as I scratched the side of
his head. I swear there was disdain on Hercules’ furry
face. Stick catnip in, on or near anything and Owen
squirmed with joy. Hercules, on the other hand, was
The stocky black-and-white cat climbed onto my lap, too.
He put one white paw on my shoulder and swatted at my hair.
“Behind the ear?” I asked.
“Meow,” the cat said.
I took that as a yes, and tucked the strands back behind
my ear. I was used to long hair, but I’d cut mine several
months ago. I was still adjusting to the change in style.
At least I hadn’t given in to the impulse to dye my dark
brown hair blond.
“Maybe I’ll ask Rebecca if she has any ideas for my hair,”
I said. “She’s supposed to be back tonight.” At the sound
of Rebecca’s name Owen lifted his head. He’d taken to
Rebecca from the first moment he’d seen her, about two
weeks after I’d brought the cats home.
Both Owen and Hercules had been feral kittens. I’d found
them, or more truthfully they’d found me, about a month
after I’d arrived in town. I had no idea how old they
were. They were affectionate with me, but wouldn’t allow
anyone else to come near them, let alone touch them. That
hadn’t stopped Rebecca, my backyard neighbor, from trying.
She’d been buying both cats little catnip toys for weeks
now, but all she’d done was turn Owen into a chicken-
decapitating catnip junkie. She was on vacation right now,
but Owen had clearly managed to unearth Fred’s head from a
secret stash somewhere.
I stroked the top of his head again. “Go back to sleep,” I
said. “You’re going cold turkey . . . or maybe I should
say cold chicken. I’m telling Rebecca no more catnip toys
for you. You’re getting lazy.”
Owen put his head down again, while Hercules used his to
butt my free hand. “You want some attention, too?” I
asked. I scratched the spot, almost at the top of his
head, where the white fur around his mouth and up the
bridge of his nose gave way to black. His green eyes
narrowed to slits and he began to purr, as well. The
rumbling was kind of like being in the service bay of a
I glanced up at the clock. “Okay, you two. Let me up. It’s
almost time for me to go and I have to take care of the
dearly departed before I do.”
I’d sold my car when I’d moved to Minnesota from Boston,
and because I could walk everywhere in Mayville Heights, I
still hadn’t bought a new one. Since I had no car, I’d
spent my first few weeks in town wandering around
exploring, which is how I’d stumbled on Wisteria Hill, the
abandoned Henderson estate. Everett Henderson had hired me
at the library.
Owen and Hercules had peered out at me from a tumble of
raspberry canes and then followed me around while I
explored the overgrown English country garden behind the
house. I’d seen several other full-grown cats, but they’d
all disappeared as soon as I got anywhere close to them.
When I left, Owen and Hercules followed me down the rutted
gravel driveway. Twice I’d picked them up and carried them
back to the empty house, but that didn’t deter them. I
looked everywhere, but I couldn’t find their mother. They
were so small and so determined to come with me that in
the end I’d brought them home.
There were whispers around town about Wisteria Hill and
the feral cats. But that didn’t mean there was anything
unusual about my cats. Oh no, nothing unusual at all. It
didn’t matter that I’d heard rumors about strange lights
and ghosts. No one had lived at the estate for quite a
while, but Everett refused to sell it or do anything with
the property. I’d heard that he’d grown up at Wisteria
Hill. Maybe that was why he didn’t want to change anything.
Speaking of not wanting change, Hercules was not eager to
relinquish his prime spot on my lap. But after some gentle
prodding, he shook himself and got off my lap. Owen yawned
a couple of times, stretched and took twice as long to get
I got the broom and dustpan from the porch and swept up
the remains of Fred the Funky Chicken. Owen and Hercules
sat in front of the refrigerator and watched. Owen made a
move toward the dustpan, like he was toying with the idea
of grabbing the body and making a run for it.
I glared at him. “Don’t even think about it.”
He sat back down, making low grumbling meows in his throat.
I flipped open the lid of the garbage can and held the pan
over the top. “Fred was a good chicken,” I said
solemnly. “He was a funky chicken and we’ll miss him.”
“Meow,” Owen yowled.
I flipped what was left of the catnip toy into the
garbage. “Rest in peace, Fred,” I said as the lid closed.
I put the broom away, brushed the cat hair off my shirt
and washed my hands. I looked in the bathroom mirror.
Hercules was right. My hair did look better tucked behind
My messenger bag with a towel and canvas shoes for tai chi
class was in the front closet. I set it by the door and
went back through the house to make sure the cats had
“I’m leaving,” I said. But both cats had disappeared and I
didn’t get any answer.
I stopped to grab my keys and pick up my bag. Locking the
door behind me, I headed out, down Mountain Road.
The sun was yellow-orange, low on the sky over Lake Pepin.
It was a warm Minnesota evening, without the sticky
humidity of Boston in late July. I shifted my bag from one
shoulder to the other. I wasn’t going to think about
Boston. Minnesota was home now—at least for the next
eighteen months or so.
The street curved in toward the center of town as I headed
down the hill, and the roof of the library building came
into view below. It sat on the midpoint of a curve of
shoreline, protected from the water by a rock wall. The
brick building had a stained-glass window that dominated
one end and a copper-roofed cupola, complete with its
original wrought-iron weather vane.
The Mayville Heights Free Public Library was a Carnegie
library, built in 1912 with money donated by the
industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Now it
was being restored and updated to celebrate its centenary.
That was why I had been in town for the last several
months. And why I’d be here for the next year and a half.
I was supervising the restoration—which was almost
finished—as well as updating the collections,
computerizing the card catalogue and setting up free
Internet access for the library patrons. I was slowly
learning the reading history of everyone in town. It made
me feel like I knew the people a little, as well.
I paused at the bottom of the hill, looked both ways and
crossed over to the same side of the street as the library.
Old Main Street followed the shore from the Stratton
Theater, past the James Hotel to the marina. Main Street
continued from the marina to the edge of town, where it
merged with the highway. Having two Main streets made
getting directions very confusing if you hadn’t lived in
Mayville Heights very long.
The streets that ran from one end of town to the other all
followed the curve of the shoreline. The cross streets
mostly ran straight up and down the hill, all the way to
Wild Rose Bluff. The bluff, I’d discovered, had provided
much of the stone for the foundations of the gorgeous old
buildings in the downtown.
For me the best part of Mayville Heights was the
riverfront, with all the big elm and black walnut trees
that lined the shore, and the trail that wound its way
from the old warehouses at the point, past the downtown
shops and businesses, all the way out beyond the marina.
Mayville was still a pretty busy Mississippi River town,
but it was mostly tourists coming and going now. From the
porch of the James Hotel you could watch the barges and
boats go by on the water the way they had a hundred years
I stopped at the bottom of the library steps. Oren Kenyon
had installed the new railing. The wrought-iron spindles
look like fat licorice twists. The center spindle on each
side seemed to split apart into a perfect oval about the
size of both my hands and then reform into a twist again.
The letters M, H, F, P and L, for Mayville Heights Free
Public Library, were intertwined and seemed suspended in
the middle of the circles.
I climbed the stairs, stepped inside and turned to look up
above the entrance. A carved and pieced wooden sun, easily
three feet across, hung above the wide maple trim. Above
it were stenciled the words “Let there be light.” It was
Oren had brought the sun to the library last week. He was
tall and lean, in his midfifties, I guessed, with sun-
bleached sandy hair, like a farm-boy version of Clint
Eastwood. He’d stood silently by the temporary checkout
desk for who knows how long until I’d looked up.
“Could you look at something? If you have time. Please?”
After I’d asked him to call me Kathleen he’d stopped
calling me Miss Paulson, but he hadn’t started using my
first name. I’d followed him out to his ancient pickup.
The sun had been lying in the truck bed, braced in a frame
padded with an old wool blanket and covered with a tarp.
Oren pulled back the canvas and my breath caught in my
chest. I reached out to touch the wood and then stopped,
as I realized the significance of the carving.
I looked at Oren. “For over the entrance?” I asked.
A carving of the sun and the words “Let there be light”
were over the entrance of the first Carnegie library in
Scotland. I knew that, but I was surprised Oren did.
Carefully I ran my finger along one of the sun’s rays. The
wood was smooth and hard.
“Thank you,” I whispered, my voice suddenly husky with the
sting of tears. I wanted to hug Oren, but somehow I knew
that would be wrong.
Looking up above the doorway I felt the prickle of tears
again. Oren was quiet and gentle and wonderfully talented.
Everything the library had needed done that the general
contractor couldn’t do, Oren had done. He’d made the new
railing. He’d hand-turned trim identical to the original.
He’d done the painting, carefully matching the colors to
the original 1912 paint.
He never said very much, and watching him over the past
several months I had the feeling that Oren had been broken
somehow. He made me think of a shattered vase or cup. You
carefully glue the pieces back together, so carefully that
none of the cracks show. It looks beautiful again and it
holds tea or water and roses from the garden, but somehow
it’s not quite the same. Something, somehow, is different.
I heard voices then, coming from the back of the library
where the new digital card catalogue and computers were
going to be located. Voices too loud for the library. Now
that the major work on the building was finished we were
open to the public again, but it was usually quiet in the
I walked past the new shelving units waiting for books.
Susan, one of my staff members, stood with her back to me,
next to the boxes of computers waiting for the new
electrical outlets to be installed so they could be set up
“—do understand how frustrating this is,” I heard her say
in her patient-mom voice. Susan had two preschoolers at
home and nothing rattled her.
“My dear, there is no conceivable way that you could
fathom the depth of my frustration,” the man standing
opposite her said. He made a sweeping gesture with both
hands. Since he was well over six feet tall the movement
looked very theatrical, and maybe that’s what he’d
intended. “How am I supposed to work under these
I came out from the row of bookshelves and moved to stand
next to Susan. There were two pencils poking out of her
Pebbles Flintstone updo. She gave a small sigh and an even
“Susan, is there a problem?” I asked.
“Mr. Easton was hoping to use one of our computers to send
some e-mail,” she said. “His BlackBerry isn’t working.”
Easton. Of course. Gregor Easton. The well-known composer
and conductor was the guest artist for the Wild Rose
Summer Music Festival at the Stratton Theater. He’d been
in town practicing for about a week.
“Mr. Easton, I’m sorry,” I said. “As you can see, our
computer system isn’t ready yet.”
“Yes, I can see that,” he said, making another flamboyant
gesture with his arm. “And you would be?” He looked me
over, taking in my plain white T-shirt, cropped yoga pants
and messenger bag. I slipped the bag off my shoulder and
reached up to set it on top of the metal cabinet we were
using to hold most of the old card files. “I’m Kathleen
Paulson,” I said, offering my hand. “I’m the head
I probably didn’t look like I should be in charge. I’ve
always looked younger than my age, and my mother promised
that once I was over thirty I’d be happy about that.
Sometimes I was. This time I would have liked to look
older and a little more imposing—hard to do when you’re
only five-and-a-half feet tall with a half-grown-out pixie
haircut that sticks out in all the wrong places.
Easton had to be in his early seventies, but his grip was
strong and his hand was smooth and uncallused. A lot
smoother than mine.
“Miss Paulson, I’m sorry to say your library is in chaos.”
I couldn’t help a glance around. The end wall with the
stained-glass window had been reinforced and the window
itself repaired and cleaned. Most of the new shelves were
filled with books. The walls had been plastered and
painted. The circulation desk was almost finished, and
Oren’s sun seemed to shine over everything. So many people
had spent so many hours on this building. It looked
I swallowed to hide my annoyance.
He continued. “According to the guidebook in my hotel
suite the library is supposed to provide Internet service.”
“I apologize for that,” I said. “The guide arrived early
and our computers arrived late.”
“But your computers are here now,” he said. “Why couldn’t
one of them be connected?”
Connected? To what? Did he really expect us to unpack one
of the computers right now and magically get it up and
running so he could check his schedule?
Susan and I exchanged looks. Her mouth was a straight,
serious line, but the eyes behind her glasses were
Easton gave me a practiced celebrity-greeting-the-little-
people smile. Unpack one of those computers just for him?
When pigs fly, I thought.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a pig that suddenly launched
itself onto the conductor’s head. It was a cat.
My cat. Owen.