To Catch A Cat Thief by Sean Cummings ~ Preview Chapters 1-3

The Diary of Penelope Ann Pickersgill

Dear Diary:

I’m trapped. A cloud of dust fills the street as Mom and Dad’s car disappears from sight. I’ve been dumped off at Granny’s like a bag of used clothing at a thrift store.

By rights, I should be back home hanging out with my friends, but instead I’m surrounded by macramé wall hangings and homemade candles that smell like medicinal mouthwash. My ears are ringing with the warbling voice of a dead rock star named Janis.

I’m stuck in Thornhill for a summer with my grandmother.

Sigh.

I love Grandma Bev like crazy, but there is only so much folk art a person can take without losing it. Tina and my other friends back home in Millersville? They’re texting me about the wicked cool summer day camps they’ve been enrolled in. One lets you explore outer space from the safety of the Star Chamber at the planetarium. At the university drama camp, they’re going to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare and finish off with a live performance during Millersville’s big Renaissance festival in the middle of August.

I love Shakespeare. I’m like the only kid at school who actually gets him. I’ve got a leather bound collection of all his plays, and I’ve been known to act out scenes from Othello and post them on YouTube.

But my favorite is Zombie Camp. It’s so awesome because you get to learn zombie makeup techniques. Then you go on the annual Zombie Walk through downtown Millersville along with hundreds of other zombie fans when the comic book con­vention hits town at the end of July.

Unfortunately, Mom and Dad shot me down when they heard that it wasn’t in the city but at Fort Ramsey, which is a hundred miles away at a mountain resort for rich people. But the real reason they won’t let me go to Zombie Camp is because it costs too much. My parents are spending all their cash and the entire summer touring Italy, Greece and the Bal­kans on their second honeymoon, so it’s off to Granny’s house for me. I can’t fault them for rekindling their romanceShakespeare would totally get that.

This is week one of six long, painful weeks of eating mac­robiotic recipes with names like Onion Butter, Sweet Orange in Miso dressing and Brown Hazelnut Rice Balls. I’m going to shrivel up into a dried old husk by the time Mom and Dad get back from their vacation!

And to make everything worse, Grandma Bev owns an evil cat named Sally. She attacks when you head down the stairs, and then she bolts into the shadows while you race to the bathroom for bandages because her razor sharp claws have just punctured your bare leg, and you’re bleeding on the carpet.

Plus there is no TV.

Like none.

At least she has a computer with an Internet connection and I have my phone, so I’m not cut off from the world. I’ve got to plug in my ear buds so I can listen to my mix instead of the World Music that Grandma Bev blasts on her stereo. (Seriously, the speakers for this thing are as big as suitcases, and they make the floor shake.)

It’s 5:00 PM and we’re going to have supperSweet Potato Bisque. I’ll write again if I haven’t been poisoned.

chapter 1

“PENELOPE, IT’S SUPPERTIME!” Grandma Bev called from the kitchen.

“Coming!” I shouted back. I finished my diary entry and stuffed my smart phone in my pocket with a heavy sigh that kicked up a cloud of dust on top of the old desk in the spare bedroom. It used to be my father’s bedroom and gave a dis­turbing peek into his past. Grandma Bev kept everything. Post­ers of heavy metal bands named after medieval torture devices covered up the faded wallpaper. A collection of model cars sat on the windowsill. They might have looked pretty sharp once upon a time, but their paint was faded and full of bubbles and blisters.

I spun around on the chair and shrugged. I had to be the only twelve year old on planet Earth stuck at her grandmother’s house in a hermetically sealed bedroom from the 1980s.

I shambled over to the door and poked my head into the hallway. An olive shag carpet stretched down the hallway to the stairs. Paintings that looked like Technicolor blobs on canvas lined the walls. Somewhere out there, a white Persian cat with a hearing problem and a major league hate-on for everyone except Grandma Bev lay in wait.

I half-expected to be on the receiving end of a pounce. Sally was nowhere in sight. I dashed along the carpet and stumbled as I headed down the stairway. A clatter came from the kitch­en, and the smell of Granny’s latest macrobiotic concoction burned my nostrils.

I picked myself up and caught a glimpse of Grandma Bev in the kitchen. A tie-dyed t-shirt hung loosely over her narrow shoulders, and she wore her snow-white hair in a thick braid that looked strong enough to tow a five-ton truck.

And me? I wore a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt—also tie-dyed. A homemade present from my grandmother. She was all about homemade presents. Last Christmas, she gave me a box of homemade scented candles and a CD of weird, twangy sitar music along with instructions about how to meditate and find inner peace.

“Sally didn’t get you, did she?” Grandma Bev asked as I pad­ded into the kitchen. She held a heavy steel soup ladle that dripped a greenish-brown liquid onto the top of the stove. Each drop sizzled on contact with the hot cooking surface.

“If Sally tagged me, you would have heard me shrieking.” I eyeballed the hallway for the rotten cat. “Can we go to the mall after supper? Just to do some window shopping. Maybe while we’re there we can grab a slushy from the food court.”

She threw me a warm smile and nodded. “That would be fine. I need to visit Herbie’s Health Shack because we’re almost out of organic kale powder. I used the last of it in the soup. You know, it’s the kale powder that gives the soup a nice rich colour. They don’t put enough healthy things in foods these days. I blame the establishment. Always trying to force feed everyone all that genetically modified garbage.”

“You’re probably right about what they’re putting in our food, but I don’t know who the establishment is. Are you saying it’s the government or something?”

Grandma Bev pointed two fingers at her eyes and then pointed them at me. “The government is part of the establish­ment. The establishment is everywhere. They know all. They see all. You have to watch your back with that bunch.”

I slid onto a dinette chair and gazed through the patio door at Grandma Bev’s deck. Most people stained or painted their decks a shade of brown but not Granny. She painstakingly hand-painted images of daisies, rainbows and thick puffy clouds against a neon blue sky. Oh, and fourteen unicorns along with three winged horses. Her small bungalow was the only house on the street with a giant blue octopus painted on the stucco, set against a backdrop of psychedelic colour swirls. And there was an enormous peace symbol on the roof that I was pretty sure could be seen from the international space station.

So yeah, Grandma Bev was a hippie. She got worse when Grandpa Dave passed away three years ago. She joined a protest group called the Groovy Gals of Thornhill. Each Earth Day they chained themselves to the security fence surrounding the site where some big corporation planned to build a nuclear power plant. I told her that nuclear en­ergy is green energy, but that just sparked a big talk about meltdowns. Like the one at a place called Three Mile Island back in the 1970s.

She placed a large bowl of steaming soup in front of me and then served one for herself. As I blew a cooling breath on my spoon, I glanced at the cork board above the table and noticed it was plastered with missing cat flyers. Most had tear-offs con­taining phone numbers.

I slurped back the soup. Surprisingly, it tasted about a thou­sand times better than it smelled. “What’s with all the missing cat posters, Granny? The establishment got them or some­thing?”

“What?’ She gave me a surprised look. “You haven’t noticed all the missing cat posters in town? I’ve collected thirty of them so far. I tore them off lamp posts at the laundromat, and there were a bunch of them at the farmer’s market.”

I pointed to the flyers. “Thirty missing cats in a city of two hundred thousand? That’s not much. They’re probably at the animal shelter.”

Grandma Bev shook her head. “Well now. That’s what I thought, so I went to the animal shelter yesterday morning be­fore you got here. And do you want to know something?”

“What’s that?”

Her eyes narrowed. “They haven’t found a stray cat for more than a week. Not one. And they adopted out their last cat ten days ago, so for the first time ever, the animal shelter is one hundred percent cat-free. Now what do you make of that?”

I crumbled a handful of spelt crackers into my soup and stirred. “Well that’s a good thing, right? I mean, maybe people are taking care of their cats now, and that’s why there are no more strays.”

“Maybe. Or something else might be at work,” Grandma Bev replied. “Tell me, Penelope, can you dig doing something far out with your granny?”

I glanced up from my soup. “Far out? That’s like something cool, right?”

She stirred her soup, nearly dunking her wooden beaded bracelet into the brownish gruel. “Sure. Cool. That’s a good solid word. We’ll use that one. Now. I need to ask you if you’ve ever had your mind blown before because there might be some­thing . . . um . . . mind blowing and out of this world going on.”

“Mind blowing?” I asked.

Grandma Bev folded her worn fingers into a steeple and leaned toward me. “Mysteries always happen at night, Penelope.” She whispered so quietly that I half-expected my sixth grade teach­er, Mrs. Gupta, to storm into the kitchen with a lecture about talking during class. “When everyone is fast asleep—close to midnight—I think someone or something is coming for the cats of this town. I can feel it in my bones.”

I sipped again at my soup and then wiped my mouth with a napkin. “Coming for the cats? Granny, what are you talking about?”

She threw her hands in the air, and her eyes opened wide as saucers. “Conspiracies are all around us, Penelope. Can you dig it? The establishment puts fluoride in the water sup­ply. Big oil companies make people drive gas guzzling SUVs when it would be better for the planet if everyone rode a bike or joined a car pool. High fructose corn syrup is in every­thing these days—even yogurt! My generation is the one that discovered that yogurt tastes groovy as well as being healthy in the first place, and now the man is stuffing it full of fac­tory made sweeteners. And reality TV—that’s the biggest conspiracy. It exists to tune you out of the real reality, the one that’s right in front of your eyes if you’re brave enough to look.”

“Um . . . focus, Granny,” I said, hoping to run interfer­ence. If I didn’t, she’d probably start planning a dairy protest march. “Let’s just go to the mall and check out the health food store after supper.”

Her wild look faded and she shrugged. “I guess you’re right. I’m sorry for the rant, but these things make me so angry. I’d say young people don’t get it, but that’s what our parents and grandparents said about us in the 1960s. Man, karma is so trippy sometimes.”

I finished my soup and placed the empty bowl in the sink. Grandma Bev didn’t have a dishwasher because she said that every load of dishes washed used enough energy to power a village in Sudan.

“I’ll get started on the dishes, okay?” I reached for the dish soap. “And I’ll keep any eye on the establishment at all times. I promise.”

She flashed me a warm smile and dug into her bowl of soup. “Groovy, Penelope. We’re going to have a gas this summer.”

chapter 2

GRANDMA BEV WAS WICKED COOL if you could get past all the flower child, peace, love and groovy talk. It did get a bit tiring when half the stuff she talked about made her sound like she had a couple of screws loose. The good news was that she didn’t pinch my cheeks like other grandmothers did. She didn’t try to buy my affection with gifts, because she didn’t have a lot of money and even if she were rich, she said that she’d never sell out to corporate fat cats.

My Dad and Aunt Ruthie sent Grandma Bev money each month to help her make ends meet, and she sold homemade soap and candles from her own website. Last year she earned enough to buy herself a new van after the old daisy-covered Volkswagen van conked out once and for all.

Well, sort of new. She drove an eight year old Dodge Caravan that ran on bio-diesel. The Groovy Cruiser. It had a psychedelic paint job of bright paisley swirls, and just like on the roof of the house, there was an enormous peace symbol on the hood.

If you didn’t mind hand thrown clay pots and posters of some dead guy named Jim Morrison, her house was pretty basic. The living room had a plaid sofa that was as lumpy as cold oatmeal and a pair of vinyl bean bag chairs that were older than my father. The wall leading upstairs was lined with black and white photos of my grandparents at rock concerts surrounded by their flower children friends.

She looked beautiful when she was young. She had long au­burn hair just like mine, only she parted hers in the middle and held it place with a tie-dyed head band. Grandpa Dave, the love of her life, was beside her in every picture. I knew that she missed him like crazy because his ashes were in one of her hand-thrown clay pots on the nightstand next to a clock radio.

For the record, someone’s ashes beside my bed would give me nightmares on a galactic scale. I didn’t care if it was a dead loved one or not.

Grandma Bev had one prized possession: her collection of more than a thousand paperback detective novels. She was so mad about detective novels that she superglued a bunch to­gether to make a chair. She sat there to read the latest detective novels that showed up in her mailbox.

As I washed up in the bathroom, the mirror caught a flash of white. The kind of flash of white that told you a no good cat named Sally was on the prowl. I’d taken precautions: a fully primed and ready Super Shooter water pistol sat on the counter in case she tried to corner me in the bathroom. I snatched it with my left hand and then slinked into the hallway.

“Rotten, no good, Sally,” I grumbled, stalking along the car­pet. After I checked behind the linen closet door, I turned to spot the tips of white ears poking above the first step on the stairway. I froze and took aim with the Super Shooter as those ears slowly rose higher. I shut one eye and gently placed an index finger on the trigger. Two icy blue eyes with pupils as black as frying pans sized me up. I let loose with a series of long squirts and nailed the evil feline right between her ears. Sally howled and launched off the carpet, tearing down the steps and leaving nothing more than a haze of white fur.

I smiled and spun the water pistol on my finger. I headed down the stairs, slipped into my flip flops and grabbed my sun­glasses. Grandma Bev appeared in the mudroom wearing a pair of bell bottom jeans and a white t-shirt covered with peace symbols. An ancient fringe shoulder bag dangled from one shoulder and a pair of tiny rectangular wire-framed sunglasses with purple lenses rested on the bridge of her nose.

“I see you’re armed against a sudden cat attack.” She grabbed her car keys. “Did Sally get you this time?”

I shook my head and gave the water gun a little shake and then set it on the kitchen counter. “Nope. She won’t be plan­ning any sneak attacks on me for a while, either.”

“Groovy, kiddo,” Grandma Bev said through a grin. “Let’s hit the open road!”

***

We headed up Hoover Street with the stereo blaring, and I slunk down in my seat. We crawled along at about ten miles an hour under the speed limit. That gave pedestrians tons of opportu­nity to stare at the Groovy Cruiser as it passed by thumping to the rhythm of a flute and drum duet. The music wasn’t awful; it was just weird—too weird for the average person. I didn’t get psychedelic music, but when any kind of music poured out of the windows of a car or truck, it bugged me. Did my grandmother care if people stared at her? Not a chance. If she did, she would have started wearing what she calls “old lady clothes” long ago.

I peered through the tinted glass of the rear window and no­ticed a city bus drive by with a huge ad on the side. It said “Ro­land Industries” over a giant picture of a hand filled with grain. The bus stopped at a shelter with a poster of the exact same ad.

“Granny, what’s with all the Roland Industries advertisements?”

“Don’t get me started about that bunch,” she said with a hint of annoyance in her voice. “They add things to your food in laboratories—all designed to make those rotten industrial farm­ing corporations make more money. Roland Industries opened a branch office in Thornhill, and they’re on a ridiculous adver­tising blitz.”

We passed another Roland Industries billboard. “Maybe some­one should do an advertising blitz about missing cats,” I said.

The Groovy Cruiser veered to the right, and Grandma Bev jammed on the brakes. She put the van in park and flew out the door, straight toward a mailbox with a large missing cat poster taped on the side. She tore it off and returned to the van a few seconds later, sticking the poster on the dashboard with some of the leftover tape.

She pointed to the poster. “It’s a conspiracy!” she bellowed over the blaring music. “Another poor kitty has been taken, Penelope. And the fuzz don’t care about it because they’re too busy giving people parking tickets to make money for City Hall!”

The poster featured a very large and very fat Siamese cat. The headline read: “Have you seen Sam? Stolen from our home on July 2nd. Reward! Please help find Sam.”

“It’s just another missing cat, Granny. It’s awful that he’s gone. Maybe the police do care but they’re too busy stop­ping criminals in town.” I turned down the stereo.

Grandma Bev buckled her seatbelt and signalled left. In seconds, we were crawling down the street again, still about ten miles an hour below the speed limit. At least this time, the music wasn’t rattling people’s windows as we passed by.

“The library. We need to go to the library,” she said firmly. “I know you want to go to the mall, but there are a couple of books I have on hold, and it closes in ten minutes.”

“Oh I love the library!” I said. “Will there be time to pick up a book for me to read?”

She glanced at her watch. “You bet! We’ll get you some reading material. Maybe some Shakespeare. You could do a one-person show for me.”

Five minutes later, my grandmother parked the Groovy Cruis­er, and we raced through the main doors of the library. I dashed over to my favourite section—the one with graphic novels. I scanned the spines of each one. There were the usual anime books and an illustrated version of three of Shakespeare’s plays that I had read before. My lips curved into a satisfied smile when I saw a Batman graphic novel that I hadn’t read.

Batman kicked butt. Period. If superheroes existed in the real world, they’d be like Batman. Striking terror in the hearts of petty criminals. Guarding the city from fire escapes and ledges above dark and dingy alleyways, where you were certain to get mugged if you were dumb enough to head down one after dark.

There weren’t many graphic novels featuring female super­heroes. I tried to read Wonder Woman, but her costume was a stupid bathing suit and not practical at all for laying a beat-down on bad guys. Sure, she could bench press a battle tank—but come on—an invisible airplane? You’d see her coming from a mile away.

I flipped through the pages, marvelling at the gritty black and white artwork.

Grandma Bev gave my shoulder a tiny squeeze. “Batman? Oh, so violent! But Catwoman—now she’s a superhero. Plus her cos­tume is trippy. I loved Eartha Kitt when she played Catwoman.”

Grandma took the comic, and we headed to the front check­out counter.

“Okay, I don’t know who Eartha Kitt is,” I said. “And Cat­woman is a super villain—she’s not a hero at all. Batman rules. He’s the world’s greatest detective, Granny, even Sherlock Holmes would admit that. You should have a read sometime, because I know you’re nuts about detective novels.”

“I prefer my detectives to be frumpy old English women or hard living men in rumpled trench coats,” she said.

We checked out our books, and Grandma Bev slung her book bag over her shoulder. I was about to ask about going to the mall again when we both stopped dead in our tracks and stared at the library bulletin board by the exit doors.

Missing cat posters plastered every square inch of the cork board. There were dozens of them with snapshots of every shape, size and breed of cat you could think of. There were so many flyers that distraught cat owners had to tape flyers on the wall below the bulletin board.

One flyer pictured a basket of kittens. The headline read: “Please help find Slipper’s babies! Please help find Slippers too! Reward.”

“Far freaking out, Penelope!” Grandma Bev shouted, like she’d just won ten thousand dollars on a scratch and win ticket. “You see! You see! The cats . . . someone is stealing the cats! Even my Sally isn’t safe!”

I wouldn’t shed a tear if Sally wound up being abducted, but I knew she’d slice anyone to ribbons if they tried to take her. I pursed my lips tightly and scanned all the posters. “Oh man,” I gasped. “Granny, maybe there is something happening to the cats in this town. But who would steal cats? I mean, all they do is sleep, purr and shed cat hair all over the place.”

Grandma Bev dropped down onto one knee and slid the book bag off her shoulder. She reached inside and pulled out a thick hardcover book. The cover pictured a pale-faced, bug-eyed creature with a slit for a mouth and no nose. A collage of black and white snapshots of flying saucers and mysterious lights in the sky made up the background. In the foreground were bold, white, spooky letters: “U.F.O’s.”

“I think they’re being abducted by aliens, Penelope,” my grandmother said grimly.

chapter 3

I WAS A BIT OF A DOUBTER when it came to the whole alien abduction thing. Any species of extraterrestrial would have travelled tens of thousands of light years to get here. They would need an advanced form of transportation for interstellar space travel that was so complex it would basically melt Earth people’s brains if we tried to understand it. Still, I had to admit, solving a mystery about missing cats might actually be more in­teresting than sitting around my grandmother’s house counting the days until I could go back home.

“Okay, Granny,” I said. “Let’s just say we are being watched. Why Thornhill when there is an entire planet of far more inter­esting places to visit? And why steal these cats? Why not some other city’s cats?”

“Food,” she said with a hint of dread in her voice. She pulled the van into the garage and hopped out. “It’s obvious to me. The aliens are stealing the cats, and they’re eating them. We’re just the start. I bet they’re planning on hitting other towns too. Why, Planet Earth has a near unlimited supply of cats to eat when you think about it. But they won’t get Sally. Over my dead body!”

She marched into the house clutching the book bag against her chest. I climbed out of the Groovy Cruiser and headed into the mudroom just in time to hear her stomp through the house smashing a pair of aluminum pots together with a series of deafening clangs.

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty!” Grandma Bev called from the kitchen. “Here kitty, kitty kitty, kitty!”

I plugged my ears and followed her into the kitchen. “Granny, why are you banging those pots together?” I shouted.

She glanced at me and smashed the two saucepans together one final time. Sally, the evil cat from the fifth dimension of you-know-where, sauntered into the kitchen and hopped up on the counter beside her.

“She’s deaf, Penelope.” Grandma Bev stroked Sally behind the ears. “Sally can feel the vibrations when I bang these pots together. That’s how I call her.”

I eyeballed the cat and reached out to stroke her thick white fur. She immediately coiled back like a spring, and her tail puffed out to twice its size. Then she hissed and took a swipe at me with her left paw.

I bolted back a few feet. “Deaf or not, that cat is just plain evil.” Sally-the-cat dashed off the counter and tore into the basement as if she’d somehow read my lips.

“It’s very bad Karma to say something nasty about anyone or anything, Penelope,” Grandma Bev said with a huff. “Sally might not be able to hear you, but that doesn’t mean she can’t see your negative aura. And anyway, maybe she knows the aliens are after her.”

I slid onto the stool beside the island and rested my chin on my hands. Grandma Bev pulled the books out of her bag and placed them in front of me.

“There aren’t any aliens, Granny. Okay, yeah, a bunch of cats in town have gone missing, but that doesn’t mean a space ship came down to Earth to steal them.”

Grandma Bev padded over to the fridge and opened it. “Prune Juice or Pineapple Kiwi?”

I noticed the disappointment in my grandmother’s voice and thought for a moment that my disbelief in alien abduc­tion might have hurt her feelings. “Pineapple, please.” I flipped through Grandma Bev’s encyclopaedia-sized UFO book with a subtitle that proclaimed the Earth was about to be invaded by aliens: Keep Watching the Skies! Inside were hundreds upon hundreds of photographs dating back as far as the 1920s. They showed everything from grainy black dots floating in front of a flat grey sky to multicolour lights flashing high on a hill over­looking a clear mountain lake.

Grandma Bev placed a glass of juice in front of me and then pulled out a stool across the island. “You might think I’m whacked out, Penelope,” she said with a sigh. “But I’ve been around a lot longer than you, and I can tell you there are mys­teries in this world of ours that no scientist can ever explain. Stonehenge, Atlantis . . . the Nazca Lines.”

I arched my eyebrows and leaned forward. “Nazca lines? What are those?”

She hopped off the stool and dashed to the living room, returning with a coffee table book entitled Mysteries of the An­cient World. “Inside this book are mysteries that have blown the minds of scientists on an epic scale.” She flipped through the pages and pointed to a photo of a giant bird that had been scratched into the earth. And the image was huge—big enough that it would take you like twenty minutes of walking to travel from the bird’s head to its feet.

“The Nazca Lines are a collection of massive geoglyphs lo­cated in the Nazca desert in Peru,” Grandma Bev said. “They date back more than fifteen hundred years and they’re in the shapes of spider monkeys, hummingbirds—you name it. The largest ones are more than two hundred yards across, and the only way you can see them is from up on high. You know, like in a plane or a hot air balloon.”

My phone buzzed and vibrated on the kitchen island. I grabbed it and swiped a finger across the glossy screen to see a text message from my friend Tina. My heart sank. She was en­rolled in Cosplay Camp—which was a jillion kinds of cool. She gets to spend the summer designing costumes ranging from superheroes to epic movie monsters. Plus she gets to learn pro­fessional makeup techniques and then show off her stuff at the big Sci-Fi convention at the Radcliff Hotel & Convention Center in August.

I hit the text icon. A picture popped up on my screen show­ing a homemade cape and black cowl with long pointy ears.

Tina: I’m doing a Batgirl costume. How cool is this?

I made a sour face, stuck out my tongue and took a selfie. The picture loaded, and I attached it to my message back to Tina.

Pen: Way cooler than what I’m doing.

“Penelope. It’s rude to text people when you’re having a con­versation with someone who’s in the same room.” Grandma Bev frowned.

“Sorry, Granny. I slipped the phone into my pocket. “So. Those Nazca lines. They’re just ancient art, right? Like cave­men used to paint on the walls of caves in France. I watched a documentary about it online, and scientists said they’re like thirty thousand years old.”

She raised a finger. “Modern humans painted on cave walls, not cavemen. They were the same as us in more ways than you can imagine, and you’re close on the age of the paintings. The oldest known cave painting dates back around forty-thousand years. It’s far out when you think about it. People who looked like us did those paintings. People just as intelligent as you and me. They were our ancestors. Even back then, humanity felt a burning need to leave its mark.”

I flipped through the book and found a picture of a giant monkey etched into the ground. “Well that explains these Nazca thingies. It was just humans doing art. Maybe they felt a need to leave their mark only it was fifteen hundred years ago, not forty-thousand.”

Grandma Bev placed her weathered hands on my cheeks and looked into my eyes. “Open your mind, Penelope. Human be­ings have only been flying since 1903 and those glyphs in Peru are more than fifteen hundred years old! Now you tell me why a bunch of ancient Peruvians would create works of art that can only be seen from an airplane fifteen hundred years before the Wright Brothers first took off in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.”

Well, she had me there. Okay, so Nazca lines were an un­explained mystery and sure, the world was filled with tons of mysteries, but what did that have to do with cats? There had to be a reason for their disappearance that didn’t involve visitors from another planet. We sat together quietly flipping through the pages of the UFO books Grandma Bev bor­rowed from the library. The early evening sun hovered low in the sky and threw long shadows that stretched across her psychedelic deck.

“It’s summer, Penelope.” Grandma Bev closed her book. “We could spend eight weeks together going to the beach every day or doing picnics or camping in the back yard. But I have an idea that might be even groovier than telling ghost stories and roast­ing marshmallows over an open fire.”

My mind flashed to the picture of Tina’s way cool Batgirl project, and my heart sank a little. I glanced up at her and blink­ed a few times. “What’s that?”

She hopped off the stool again and went to the book case in the living room, returning a few moments later with a very old hardcover book clutched tightly against her chest. She slid it onto the counter top in front of me. “This is the very first detective novel I ever read. I was the same age as you are now when my grandfather gave it to me. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle This edition was published in 1910. From the very first paragraph, I was hooked on detec­tive stories and how a brilliant mind can solve a mystery.”

My eyes drifted over pages that had turned yellow from the passage of time. I reached out to turn the first page but held back for a moment, afraid to touch the book because I didn’t want to damage it.

“So, you want me to read detective novels all summer?” I asked. My shoulders slumped. I kind of hoped we could go to the lake or do some day trips to a few country fairs. I didn’t expect to spend my summer going through dusty old books at my grandmother’s house.

“Consider it research,” she replied, still beaming. “I live in a city where cats are disappearing, and I’ll bet you a trip to the spa that nobody knows why. Call me crazy, but this is a mystery and we could try to solve it, Penelope. We could become detectives in our own right and find out why we’re seeing missing cat posters all over town. Maybe it isn’t the aliens. Maybe it’s something even more sinister than that. We could put our heads together, sweetheart. You and I could solve a real-life mystery—and wouldn’t that be the trippiest thing in the world to tell everyone about when school starts in September?”

I gazed into my grandmother’s eyes and at that moment, it no longer mattered to me whether aliens had taken the cats or not. I loved my grandmother with all my heart, and at least I’d have a chance to prove to her that the town’s cats weren’t food for extra-terrestrials. She really wanted to do this with me. It was important to her.

So I did what comes naturally when you love your grand­mother. I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a big hug. “Okay, Granny. Let’s find the missing cats. It’ll be fun.”

“Far freaking out!” She hugged me back. Then she raced down the hall to the closet and returned seconds later with two strips of tie-dyed cloth in her hands. She tied a bright orange and blue band around her head and then wrapped a purple and green one around mine.

“We’re going to solve this mystery, Penelope,” she said ex­citedly. “We’re going to find out why all the cats have disap­peared.”

“And then we can go to the mall?” I asked.

She gave my shoulder a small squeeze. “Yes, dear. And then we can go to the mall.”