We zoom in on a quiet corner of downtown San Francisco and a three-story red brick building lying on a tree-lined street in historic Jackson Square. A short step up from the sidewalk leads us to a glass door with a decorative iron frame. Green lettering on the door identifies the store as the Green Vase Antique Shop.

Looking inside, we find a woman with long brown hair and bifocal glasses seated on a stool behind a cashier counter. Several books are piled up in front of her; most appear to be texts of California history.

Two white cats with orange-tipped ears and tails rest nearby. Isabella, a shorthaired beauty with sharp blue eyes, perches on top of a bookcase. Toward the back of the store, her fluffy round brother Rupert snores with reckless abandon as he sprawls across the leather cushions of a dentist recliner, a relic from the days of the Gold Rush.

The door creaks open, and the woman’s head jerks up from the books. But her startled expression quickly fades as she pushes the stack aside and smiles sheepishly…

Oh, hello. Yes, you found me. Please come in. I was just doing some research. Nothing of importance, really. A little casual reading. It doesn’t have anything to do with hidden treasure, I assure you.

She glances down at the counter and nervously flips the top book over so that the front cover – and its picture of Mark Twain – are no longer visible.

I guess you’re here about the Cats and Curios Mystery Series. I’m the narrator – in some of the chapters at least. Most of time, I’m simply referred to as Oscar’s niece. I prefer to do my part anonymously, but I guess it slipped out at the end of HOW TO WASH A CAT that my name is Rebecca M. Hale.

Am I one and the same as the author? Well, no, not exactly. We do have a lot in common though. There’s our names, of course. You’ve already picked up on that. And, we bear a striking physical resemblance to one another. But then, I suppose there are a number of middle-aged, brown-haired women walking around San Francisco.

Let’s see. We both once worked in the city’s financial district. She was a lawyer at a firm over on Montgomery Street; I had an accountant position in a high-rise office building a few blocks away. I think we’re much happier in our current professions. (She’s a full-time writer; I’m an antiques dealer.)

I guess we both enjoy some of the same activities – running, hiking, exploring San Francisco, and learning about its history. Like me, she also has two cats named Rupert and Isabella. I see from her Facebook page that she’s picked up a few more recently. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I could live with that many cats.

Isabella lifts her head from her paws and chirps out a crisp Mrao, as if in agreement.

The niece strokes her chin, reflecting.

You know, there are a couple of odd things about that author-Rebecca. For one, she has this strange fascination with frogs. She’s always studying them online, going to visit them in zoos. She even went to a frog jumping competition out in Calaveras County, if you can believe it. I don’t particularly care for the slimy creatures myself. Funny, I seem to come across an unusually high number of them here in the Green Vase. Hmm.

Recently, Rebecca’s developed an interest in alligators. She went to see one at a science museum in Golden Gate Park. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but in the latest book, HOW TO TAIL A CAT, I found an albino alligator in my basement.

She shudders with remembrance.

What’s that? You want to know about the original owner of the Green Vase – my Uncle Oscar?

Just then, a loud bump echoes up from the basement.

The niece leans over the counter and stares worriedly at the floor. Isabella leaps off the bookcase and stealthily creeps toward the back of the store. Rupert bolts from the top of the recliner and scoots underneath it.

After a second crashing thump, the woman hurries around the counter and ushers her visitor out the front door.

Uh…sorry to cut this short, but you’ll have to excuse me.

As soon as the door swings shut, the niece secures the tulip-embossed lock and joins Isabella at the rear of the showroom. Bending to the floor, she reaches into a small recess in the flooring for a metal handle. As she tugs up on the handle, a square hatch opens, revealing a set of rickety steps leading down into the room below.

Grabbing a heavy-duty flashlight, the woman begins a tentative descent into the basement…

** Thanks to the publisher, I have one (1) copy of HOW TO TAIL A CAT to give away. Contest open to residents of the US only. Contest ends September 16. Leave a valid-email address with your comment. The book will be shipped directly from the publisher. **

Meet the author
Rebecca M. Hale is the NY Times bestselling author of the Cats and Curios mystery series and the Mystery in the Islands series. She and her cadre of cats live in Western Colorado. Visit Rebecca on Facebook or Twitter.

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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