Read Fat Cat Takes the Cake Online

Authors: Janet Cantrell

Fat Cat Takes the Cake

Praise for the Fat Cat Mysteries

FAT CAT SPREADS OUT

“This is one of my favorite new series! The Fat Cat Mystery series is a delectable blend of lovable cat, mystery, baked delights, and friendship. Janet Cantrell has WOWed us again with
Fat Cat Spreads Out
, the second in the Fat Cat Mystery series . . . The plot is a delicious blend of ingredients that bakes up into a great new mystery.”

—Open Book Society

“Like catnip to cozy mystery readers. It is fast-paced fun, with interesting, likeable characters and a great puzzle mystery. There is even a dash of romance thrown in.”

—Examiner.com (5 stars)

“I am hopelessly in love with Quincy . . . Just priceless.”

—Melissa's Mochas, Mysteries & Meows

FAT CAT AT LARGE

“A delicious mix of desserts, stealthy stealing, feline foraging, and murder!”

—Fresh Fiction

“Charming . . . Cozy mystery readers will be purring with delight.”

—MyShelf.com

“Ooohhhh . . . a story about an overweight, lovable cat named Quincy. How could I possibly resist this one? Well, of course, I couldn't. I loved this book from the cover through every page in between . . . [A] great beginning to a brand-new series.”

—Socrates' Book Reviews

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Janet Cantrell

FAT CAT AT LARGE

FAT CAT SPREADS OUT

FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Penguin Random House LLC.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62165-3

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / April 2016

Cover illustration by Craig White.

Cover design by George Long.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

Version_1

To my husband,
Cliff

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to acknowledge a few of the people who have helped me with this book. For information on hacking, Cori Lynn Arnold and James M. Jackson. For details on evasive maneuvers, Sam Morton. For giving me spot-on feedback, Gale Albright and Paula Benson. My Plothatcher friends, as always, Janet Bolin, Janet Koch/Laurie Cass, Pam Cochran, Krista Davis, Daryl Wood Gerber, and Marilyn Levinson, for much needed and invaluable moral
support.

CONTENTS
ONE

“T
hat's a lot of mail,” Anna Larson said. She was taking a short afternoon break, sitting on the squeaky stool at the work island in the kitchen of the Bar None, the dessert bar shop co-owned by her and Charity Oliver, called Chase by almost everyone.

“Look!” Chase waved an envelope at Anna. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks red, partly from coming inside out of the early December cold, but also from excitement.

“If you held it still, I could see it.”

Chase smiled at her business partner and surrogate grandmother. “I'll do better than that. I'll open it for you.”

“You know that's a federal offense,” Julie Larson said.

“Julie.” Anna put on her stern-grandparent face, which
looked incongruous with her soft gray hair and her periwinkle eyes, much more used to smiling. “You don't always have to be a lawyer.” Anna wore her usual bright sweater with a plain T-shirt and jeans. This sweater was a rough, burlap-like material in aqua and bright green, worn over a pale blue shirt.

“But it
is
, Grandma.” Julie, sitting next to Anna, nudged the older woman slightly and fished a marshmallow out of her cocoa with a spoon. Her eyes were identical to Anna's, but set into a face that was forty years younger than Anna's seventy-two and framed by dark brown hair. She kept her hair short and practical for her new job with Bud Ellison's small real estate firm. Chase thought her good friend seemed much happier and more relaxed since she had left the district attorney's office.

“Your honor,” Anna began.

“That's for judges, Grandma,” Julie said.

“Your high horse-ness, then. I give Charity permission to open my mail. Wait.” She took the envelope Chase was still waving in front of her. “Who is it from?” Anna saw the return address. “It's the Batter Battle!” She ripped the envelope open and pulled several sheets of paper from it, quickly scanning the cover letter. “I've been invited to participate in the Minny Batter Battle.”

After fanning her face in amazement, she slipped off the stool, leaving the seat spinning and creaking, and danced around the kitchen.

Chase watched her with amusement. “This is a big deal, I take it?”

“Anyone can apply to enter the Battle,” Julie explained.
“But only a few are selected for invitations every year. Grandma hasn't gotten an invitation before.”

“This'll show that Grace Pilsen,” Anna said. “She's called me three years in a row to tell me she was invited. And to gloat. That Grace Pilsen.” Anna gritted her teeth at the thought.

Anna's cell phone rang. She looked at the ID and grunted.

“Who is it?” Julie asked.

“That Grace Pilsen, I'll bet,” Chase mouthed. The woman owned a bakery called The Pilsener. Anna was quite vocal about her opinion that using the word
the
in the shop name was pretentious. Chase thought The Pilsener sounded very much like a beer shop, but no alcohol at all was available there.

“Hello? Grace?”

Chase and Julie high-fived behind Anna's back.

“You did? That's nice,” Anna said, grimacing. “Yes, I know. Yes, I know. Yes, you've told me that. I think we must get our mail at the exact same time. I got mine just now, too . . . What do you think? The same thing you got. Listen, I'm very busy. I'll call you later.”

Anna turned to the two young women with a smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes. “That felt good.”

“So,
that Grace Pilsen
got hers today, too?” Julie asked. “I was hoping she wouldn't get invited this year.”

“That's a little too much to hope for,” Anna said. “She helped found the Minny Batter Battle, after all. I believe the name was her idea. After all, she thought up the awful name of The Pilsener for her own place.”

“Minny for Minneapolis, I guess. How long has it been going on?” Chase asked. She had moved back to Minneapolis from Chicago last year and didn't remember the contest from before she left.

“Three years,” Julie said. “But, Grandma, just because she was on the original committee doesn't mean she should take up one of the invitational slots every year.”

“I agree.” Anna shuffled through the application papers that had also been in the envelope. “She doesn't even have a hand in the organizing anymore. But it is what it is.”

Anna had a great philosophy, Chase thought. “True.” She started humming “I Dreamed a Dream” from
Les Miserables
and headed for the small office that housed the computer Chase used to pay bills. It was off the kitchen, near the rear door.

She stuck a leg through the door before entering to keep Quincy from escaping.

The butterscotch tabby jumped down from the computer keyboard where he'd been napping, alert at the sound of the doorknob turning. It was early for evening din dins. He peered up at the friendly human, the one who fed him his meals and treats. The way his ears pricked and his eyes brightened, you would think he expected a treat. That was not to be. She merely threw a stack of mail onto the desk, next to the keyboard that was still warm from the cat's body, stooped to rub his head, setting off his rumbling purr, and left.

The cat was left to swish his tail in annoyance, then resume his nap.

Inger Uhlgren, one of the salesclerks, was entering the kitchen for her break when Chase returned.

“I'll check back later,” Julie said. “I have to go buy some groceries for myself.” She waved and went out to the large parking lot behind the building.

“It's wild today,” Inger said, hopping onto the stool Anna had vacated. “Maybe I shouldn't take my break.” She took another look at Anna's beaming face. “What's up, Mrs. Larson?”

Anna told her about getting invited to the Batter Battle.

“Congratulations!” Inger jumped off the stool to give her employer a hug.

“Look at you, leaping around,” Anna said, holding Inger at arm's length to inspect her tiny baby bump. “You must be feeling a lot better.”

“I am, finally. The morning sickness went away a few days ago.” It was so good to see a smile on her pretty face. Inger's delicate coloring—gray eyes, blonde curls over a wide forehead—combined with her small stature, made her seem like a fragile doll. She made both Chase and Anna want to take care of her.

“I'll go,” Chase said. “You go ahead and take your break. You probably need to drink something.”

“Yes, ma'am, Ms. Oliver.” Inger gave Chase a mock salute.

“Call me Chase.”
Why did her employees all insist on
calling her Ms. Oliver?
She grabbed a salesroom smock off the hook by the swinging double doors that led to the front of the shop, thinking how relieved she was that Inger's morning sickness was gone. The poor girl had gotten pregnant shortly before her fiancé got shipped overseas with the military and killed in battle. On top of that, her parents had thrown her out when she told them she was expecting. Chase, Anna, and Julie had all stepped in to make sure she had a place to stay, trading her off among themselves, until her parents relented and took her back in, briefly. Inger had made all the arrangements and was due to move into her own apartment soon, a short walk from the shop. Chase still felt that they should all watch over her, not trusting the uneasy truce in the Uhlgren family.

Chase entered her salesroom with a huge smile. She couldn't help it; she was so proud of the Bar None. She and Anna were co-owners, but Chase had designed the salesroom on her own. She took a moment to enjoy the wallpaper with broad stripes of raspberry and vanilla, the cotton-candy-pink shelves ranked along the sidewalls, the small round tables heaped with boxes of treats, and the glass display case at the rear.

This month, garlands of fake pine, tied with pink bows, looped above the shelves. Chase and Anna had opted for a pink-and-green Christmas décor, noting that red and green would look fairly awful with all the pink in the shop. Anna had placed a few white poinsettias in the corners and Inger had taken it upon herself to string up the holiday cards the Bar None had received. They hung on a long green ribbon behind the shiny glass case.

She took another glance at the glass. Oops, not so shiny at the moment. Smudges, from fingers pointing to selections on the shelves, were inevitable. It would have to wait for a cleaning, though. The shop was too busy now.

A family with five small children was leaving. No doubt those wee fingers were responsible for the latest smears near the bottom of the case. Even with the family of seven gone, the room was crowded.

The newest employee, Mallory Tucker, was behind the counter ringing up sales, so Chase circulated among the browsers, explaining the contents of the boxes, from telling a middle-aged couple that Harvest Bars did indeed contain pumpkin and related spices, to pointing out to a pair of teenage girls that they could order a box of six with mixed dessert bars. They had been arguing because one of them wanted Peanut Butter Fudge Bars (she didn't like coconut), the other wanted Hula Bars (she didn't care for chocolate).

As soon as Inger returned from her break, of course, the customers thinned out. Chase returned to the kitchen with Mallory, so their newest hire could take her break.

Anna sat at the island again, perusing the application to the Minny Batter Battle, her purse on the counter. She must have gotten it out of the office, Chase thought.

“Oh, your phone dinged,” Anna said, still staring at the papers.

Chase's phone was on the granite counter next to the refrigerator. She would get it next time she got up. Her feet were tired. Chase sat between Mallory and Anna.

“How are you holding up?” Anna asked Mallory. She had been working at the Bar None for only a week.

“Is it always this busy?” The young woman looked exhausted. Her long blonde hair was shiny, as were her eyes, but her shoulders drooped. Mallory had graduated from high school in the spring. In spite of that, in addition to babysitting, she had listed a long string of part-time and temporary jobs on her application. This was her first real payroll job, though. Anna and Chase had both been impressed by her earnestness and sincerity during her interview. So many of the applicants treated the whole experience as something frivolous, some even checking their phones repeatedly while Anna or Chase tried to get them to answer questions about themselves. So far, they both thought they had made the right choice. Mallory seldom smiled, but got along well with Inger, which was important. Her new employee was probably still a bit nervous on the job, Chase thought.

“It's not always
this
busy,” Chase said. “This time between Thanksgiving and the holidays is one of the two busiest of the year.”

“In January,” Anna said, “we'll probably only need one of you at a time, so you won't need to come in all day, every day.” Anna got up to get Mallory something to drink. “Pop? Coffee? There might be some more lemonade.”

“Lemonade, please.” She gulped it down. She had obviously been thirsty. “I'll go back to the front now.”

“Stay another few minutes if you like,” Chase said. She didn't want to wear out their new employee right away.

“That bell keeps ringing.”

It was true. Since Chase had left the front room, the bell on the front door had tinkled every three seconds. The
shop might be full again by now. Mallory climbed off the stool and scooted into the salesroom.

“Baking all done?” Chase asked Anna.

“Everything except washing up.” Anna glanced at her watch.

“I'll do that, Anna. I'll bet you have things to do, don't you?”

“Everything should be ready for the wedding. If not, it's too late.”

“I can't believe it. It's in three weeks! I know our dresses are ordered, but Julie and I still need shoes,” Chase said.

“Three weeks exactly. You know I offered to make the dresses.”

Yes, Anna had. And she would have and they would have been beautiful, but Chase and Julie wanted to spare her, the bride, that extra chore. If they all ended up worrying about the arrival of the bridesmaid dresses, though, it would have been better for Anna to make them.

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