Excerpt from Cat on the Edge
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Gripping the cord in his teeth, [Joe Grey] lifted the receiver off the hook and laid it silently on the pale marble surface. The phone's push buttons were a cinch, once he figured out how to squinch his paw real small. Crouching with his ear to the receiver he listened to the phone ring....

On the twelfth ring, when Clyde answered, panic hit him. What was he going to say? He couldn't do this, this was insane. He didn't know what to say.

"Hello?" Clyde shouted again. "Who is this? Speak up!"

Joe couldn't speak, couldn't even croak, his throat was dry as feathers.

"Who is this? Clyde yelled. "Say something or hang up, it's too early for games!"

It's me," Joe said, swallowing. "It's Joe Grey."

He was certain that the minute he spoke, the pharmacist would hear him, but at the back of the store the old man didn't look up. He could hear Clyde breathing.

"It's me. It's Joe--it's really me. I thought I'd better tell you why I left, yesterday morning."

No response.

"I thought you'd want to know that I'm all right. I thought maybe you'd be worried, looking for me."

Clyde shouted so loud that Joe hissed and backed up, his ear ringing. "What kind of sick joke is this! Who the hell is this? What have you done to my cat!"

"I am your cat," Joe said softly. "It's me. It's Joe. The tomcat who put three permanent scars on Rube's nose and tore a patch out of Barney's muzzle that grew in black instead of brown. It's me, Bedtime Buddy. Rakish Ruckster," he said, repeating Clyde's stupid pet names. "Favorite Feline."

Through the receiver, he heard Clyde swallow. This was a blast. "Listen," Joe said, "do you remember yesterday morning when I was wiggling around under the covers, then I got down and I was sort of mumbling to myself? Do you remember what you said?"

Clyde's breathing was clearly audible.

"You said, 'For Christ's sake, Joe, stop it! It's too damned early to be horny!' Then you went back to sleep, and the window shades were getting light."

There was a very long silence. Joe watched the pharmacist. The old man had heard nothing. His gray hair caught the light as he bent over his work wiping up the counters. At the other end of the phone, Clyde seemed to revive himself. "How--how did you know ... Who the hell is this! How did you...? Then, after another very long silence Clyde said, "What--what is your favorite breakfast?"

"Cream and Wheaties with chopped liver," Joe said, grinning. "No one," he said, "no one could know that but me, buddy."

The silence threatened to stretch into Monday. Then Clyde said, "If it's really you, where the hell are you? I'll come get you."

Joe licked a bit of rat fur off his lip.

"Well, where? And why the hell did you leave! How come you can use the phone and you never told me? How come you can talk? How come you never told me you can talk?" There was another silence, then, "Christ. This can't be happening. And isn't this house good enough for you? Just because you can talk, you think you're some kind of celebrity?"

"I can't come home. Someone is following me."



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Excerpt from Cat Under Fire
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The night was cool, and above the village hills the stars hurled down their ancient light-borne messages. High up on the open slopes where the grass blew tall and rank, a small hunter crouched hidden, his ears and whiskers flat to his sleek head, his yellow eyes burning. Slowly he edged forward, intent on the mouse which had crept shivering from its deep and earthen burrow.

He was a big cat, and powerful, his short gray coat sleek as velvet over his lean muscles; but he was not a pretty cat. The white, triangular marking down his nose made his eyes seem too close together, as if he viewed the world with a permanent frown. To observers he seemed always to be scowling.

Yet there also shone in his golden eyes a spark of wit, and a sly smile curved his mouth, a hint that perhaps his interests might embrace more of the world than simply the palpitating mouse which awaited his toothy caress--a clue that this big gray tom saw the world differently, perhaps, than another cat might see it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The mouse sped, streaking for its path, and Joe exploded across the little clearing. With one swipe of scimitar claws he raked the creature up into his waiting teeth, it fought and struggled as his fangs pierced the wriggling morsel.

The mouse knew a moment of apocalypse as it hung skewered and shrieking in the cage of teeth clamped through its body. Joe bit deeper into the warm, soft flesh, the sweet flesh. The mouse screamed and thrashed, and was still.

He crouched over it tearing away warm flesh, sucking up sweet, hot blood, crunching the mineral-rich bones, and the surprising little package of stomach contents. The stomach usually contained grass seed or vegetable matter, but this morning he was rewarded by a nice little hors d'oeuvre of cheese from the tiny mouse stomach. Camembert, he thought, as if the mouse had lunched on someone's picnic. Or maybe it had gotten into the kitchen of one of the houses that dotted the hills. He could taste a bit of anchovy, too, and there was a trace of caviar. Joe smiled. Its belly was full of party food.

How fitting. The mouse had taken its final repast from the silver trays of a party table. Molena Point's cocktail crowd had supplied, for the little beast, an elegant last meal, a veritable wealth of pre- execution delicacies. Joe grinned, imagining the small rodent up in mouse heaven, gorging for eternity on its memories of anchovies, beluga, and Camembert.



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Excerpt from Cat Raise the Dead
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Within the dark laundry room she stood to the side of the door's narrow glass, where she would not be seen from the street, stood looking out into the night. The black sidewalk and the leafy growth across the street in the neighboring yards formed a dense tangle, a vague mosaic fingered by sickly light from the distant streetlamp. Pale leaves shone against porch tails and steps, unfamiliar and strange, and beneath a porch roof hung a mass of vines, twisted into unnatural configurations. Beneath these gleamed the disembodied white markings of the gray cat, where it crouched staring in her direction, predatory and intent, waiting among the black bushes for her to emerge again into the night. She steppcd aside, not breathing, moving farther from the glass.

But the cat turned its head, following her movement, its yellow eyes, catching the thin light, blazing like light-struck ice, amber eyes staring into hers. Shivering, sickened, she backed deeper into the shadows of the laundry room. clutching her voluminous black raincoat more tightly around herself, nervously smoothing its lumpy, heavy folds.

She couldn't guess how much the cat could see in the blackness through the narrow glass; she didn't know if it could make out the pale oval of her face, the faint halo of gray hair. The rest of her should blend totally into the darkness of the small room, her black-gloved hands, the black coat buttoned to her throat. Even her shoes and stockings were black. She had no real understanding of precisely how well cats could see in the dark, but she imagined this beast's vision was like some secret laser beam, some infrared device designed for nighttime surveillance.

She could only guess that the cat had followed her here. How else could he have found her? Somehow he had followed the scent of her car along the village streets, then tracked her, once she left the car, perhaps by the smell of the old cemetery on her shoes, where she had walked among the graves earlier in the dav? Such skill and intensity in a common beast seemed impossible. But with this animal perhaps nothing was impossible.

Earlier, approaching the house, she hadn't seen him, and she had watched warily. too, studying the bushes, peering into the late- afternoon shadows, then had slipped in through the unlocked front door quickly. Not until she had finished her stealthy perusal of the house, taking what she wanted, and was prepared to leave again had she seen the beast, waiting out there, crouched in the night--waiting just as, three times before, it had waited. Seeing it, her mouth had gone dry, and she had wanted to turn and run, to escape.

But now the sounds behind her down the hall kept her from fleeing back through the house to the front; she was trapped here.

The cat moved again shifting among the shadows, and for a moment she saw it clearly, its sleek gray coat dark as storm clouds, its white parts stark against the black foliage.

It was the kind of big, square beast that might easily tackle a German shepherd and come out the winner, the kind of cat, if you saw it slinking toward you through a dim alley, ready to spring, you would turn away and take an alternate route....



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Excerpt from Cat in the Dark
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

In the bedroom of the white Cape Cod cottage, moonlight shone through the open windows and a fitful breeze fingered across the bed, teasing the ears of the tomcat who slept curled in the blankets, his muscular body gleaming as sleek as gray velvet. Beside him on the double bed, his human housemate snored softly, clutching the pillow for warmth, unaware that Joe Grey had clawed away the covers into a comfortable and exclusive nest. Clyde, naked and chilled, was too deep in sleep to wake and retrieve the blankets, but Joe Grey stirred as the breeze quickened, his white paws flexed and his nose lifted, catching an elusive scent.

He woke fully, staring toward the open window, drawing his lips back in a grimace at the stink he detected on the cool night air.

Tomcat.

The smell that came to him on the ocean breeze was the rank odor of an unknown tom--a stranger in the village.

. . . . . .

This could be a stray from the wharf who had decided to prowl among the shops, or maybe some tourist's cat; whatever the case, he didn't like the intruder's belligerent, testosterone-heavy message. The beast's odor reeked of insolence and of a bold and dark malaise--a hotly aggressive, sour aroma. The cat smelled like trouble.

. . . . . .

Pawing free of the confining bedcovers, Joe Grey walked heavily across the bed and across Clyde's stomach and dropped down to the thick, soft rug. Clyde, grunting, raised up and glared at him.

"Why the hell do you do that? You're heavy as a damned moose!"

Joe smiled and dug his claws into the rug's silky pile.

Clyde's black hair was wild from sleep, his cheeks dark with a day's growth of stubble. A line of black grease streaked his forehead, residue from the innards of some ailing Rolls Royce or Mercedes.

"You have the whole damned bed to walk on. Can't you show a little consideration? I don't walk on your stomach."

Joe dug his claws deeper into the Persian weave, his yellow eyes sly with amusement. "You work out, you're always bragging about your great stomach muscles--you shouldn't even feel my featherweight. Anyway, you were snoring so loud, so deep under, that a Great Dane on your stomach shouldn't have waked you."

"Get the hell out of here. Go on out and hunt, let me get some sleep. Go roll in warm blood or whatever you do at night."

"For your information, I'm going straight to the library. What more sedate and respectable destination could one possibly..."

"Can it, Joe. Of course you're going to the library--but only to get Dulcie. Then off to murder some helpless animal, attack some innocent little mouse or cute, cuddly rabbit. Look at you--that killer expression plastered all over your furry face."

"Rabbits are not cuddly. A rabbit can be as vicious as a bullterrier--their claws are incredibly sharp. And what gives you the slightest clue to Dulcie's and my plans for the evening? You're suddenly an authority on the behavior of felis domesticus?"

Clyde doubled the pillow behind his head. "I don't have to be an authority to smell the blood on your breath when you come stomping in at dawn."

"I don't come in here at dawn. I go directly to the kitchen, minding my own business."

"And trailing muddy pawprints all over the kitchen table. Can't you wash like a normal cat? You get so much mud on the morning paper, who can read it?"

"I have no trouble reading it. Though why anyone would waste more than five minutes on that rag is hard to understand."

Clyde picked up the clock, which he kept facedown on the night table. The luminous dial said twelve thirty-three. "It's late, Joe. Get on out of here. Save your sarcasm for Dulcie. Some of us have to get up in the morning, go to work to support the indigent members of the household."

"I can support myself very nicely, thank you. I let you think otherwise simply to make you feel needed, to let you think you perform useful function in the world."

. . . . . .

Trotting down the hall and through the living room, brushing past his own tattered, hair-matted easy chair, he slipped out through his cat door. He supposed he should feel sorry for Clyde. How could a mere human, with inferior human senses, appreciate the glory of the moonlit night that surrounded him as he headed across the village?

To his right, above the village roofs, the Molena Point hills rose round and silvered like the pale, humped backs of grazing beasts. All around him, the shop windows gleamed with lunar light, and as he crossed Ocean Avenue with its eucalyptus-shaded median, the trees' narrow leaves, long and polished, reflected the moon's glow like silver fish hung from the branches--thousands, millions of bright fish. No human, with inferior human eyesight, could appreciate such a night. No human, with dull human hearing and minimal sense of smell, could enjoy any of the glories of the natural world as vividly as did a cat. Clyde, poor pitiful biped, didn't have a clue.



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Excerpt from Cat to the Dogs
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Fog lay so thick in Hellhag Canyon that Joe Grey couldn't see his paws, could barely see the dead wood rat he carried dangling from his sharp teeth. Moving steeply down the wall of the ravine, the tomcat was aware of a boulder or willow scrub only when his whiskers touched something foreign, sending an electrifying jolt through his sleek gray body. The predawn fog was so dense that a human would have barged straight into those obstacles--one more example, Joe Grey thought smugly, of feline senses far keener than human, of the superiority of cat over man.

The fog-shrouded canyon was silent, too, save for the muted hushing of the sea farther down and the occasional whisper from high above of wet tires along the twisting two-lane, where some early-morning driver crept blindly. Joe had no idea why humans drove in this stuff; swift cars and fog were bad news. As he searched for a soft bit of ground on which to enjoy his breakfast, another car approached, moving way too fast toward the wicked double curve, sending a jolt of alarm stabbing through Joe.

The scream of tires filled the canyon.

The skidding car hit the cliff so hard, Joe felt the earth shake. He dropped the wood rat and leaped clear as the car rolled thundering over the edge, its lights exploding against the fog, its bulk falling straight at him, as big as a hunk of the cliff, a mass of hurtling metal that sent him streaking up the canyon wall. It hurtled past, dropping into the ravine exactly where he'd been crouching.

The car lay upside down beneath a dozen young oak trees broken off and fallen across its spinning wheels. The roof and those tons of metal had likely flattened his wood rat into a bloody pancake--so much for his nice warm breakfast.

Where the careening car had disturbed the fog, and the rising wind swirled the mist, he could make out the gigantic form easing deeper into the detritus of the canyon, the car's metal parts groaning like a dying beast, its death-stink not of escaping body fluids, but the reek of leaking gasoline.

This baby's going to explode, he thought as he prepared to run. Going to blow sky-high, roast me among these boulders like a rabbit in a stone oven.

But when, after a long wait, no explosion occurred, when the vehicle continued only to creak and moan, he crept warily down the cliff again to have a look.

Hunched beneath the wreck's vast, dark body--its ticking, grease- stinking, hot-breathed body--he looked up at the huge black wheels spinning above him and listened to the bits of glass raining down from the broken windows that were half-hidden among the dry ferns, listened to the big metal carcass settle into its last sleep. He could hear, from within, no human utterance. No groan, no scream of pain or of terror, only the voice of the sea pounding against the cliffs.

Was no one alive in there? He studied the overturned car, listening for a desperate and anguished cry--and wondering what he was going to do about it. Wondering how a poor simple tomcat was going to render any kind of useful assistance.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The broken, fallen saplings that lay tangled across the wreck's greasy, exposed underside half covered the drive shaft and one bent wheel. He found the source of the dripping sound. It came from the left front wheel, where a viscous liquid, a substance as thick as maple syrup, dropped steadily into a pool among the crushed ferns. When he sniffed the little puddle, the stuff smelled a bit like syrup: the stink of pancake syrup laced with ether.

Backing away, he approached the upside-down windshield that rose from the bracken, the glass patterned like a spiderweb encased in crystal. And now, over the smell of gas, came the sharp scent of human blood.

Behind the glass he could see the driver, white and still, his contorted body wrapped around the steering wheel and impaled by a twisted strip of metal, his head jammed down into the concavity of the roof. There was no way this guy could be alive, not with his chest pierced through and the amount of blood pooling out. The passenger seat had come loose and lay across him. He hugged it firmly in a rictus of pain and death.



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Excerpt from Cat Spitting Mad
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

It was the tortoiseshell kit who found the bodies, blundering onto the murder scene as she barged into every disaster, all four paws reaching for trouble. She was prowling high up the hills in the pine forest when she heard the screams and came running, frightened and curious--and was nearly trampled by the killer's horse as the rider raced away. Churning hooves sent rocks flying. The kit ran from him, tumbling and dodging.

But when the rider had vanished into the gray foggy woods, the curious kit returned to the path, grimacing at the smell of blood.

Two women lay sprawled across the bridle trail. Both were blond, both wore pants and boots. Neither moved. Their throats had been slashed; their blood was soaking into the earth. Backing away, the kit looked and looked, her terror cold and complete, her heart pounding.

She spun and ran again, a small black-and-brown streak bursting away alone through the darkening evening, scared nearly out of her fur.

The was late Sunday afternoon. The kit had vanished from Dulcie's house on the previous Wednesday, her fluffy tortoiseshell pantaloons waggling as she slid under the plastic flap of Dulcie's cat door and trotted away through the garden beneath a light rain, escaping for what the two older cats thought would be a little ramble of a few hours before supper. Dulcie and Joe, curled up by the fire, hadn't bothered to follow her--they were tired of chasing after the kit.

"She'll have to take care of herself," Dulcie said, rolling over to gaze into the fire. But as the sky darkened not only with evening but with rain, Dulcie glanced worriedly toward the kitchen and her cat door.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Joe stood a moment on the covered back porch, his sleek gray coat blending with the night, his white paws and the white strip down his face bright, his yellow eyes gleaming. Then down the steps, the rain so heavy he could see little more than the dark mass of Dulcie just ahead, and an occasional oak tree or smeared cottage light. Already his ears and back were soaked. His empty stomach rumbled. The scent of roast lamb followed the cats through the rain like a long arm reaching out from the house, seeking to pull them back inside.

Along the village streets, the cottages and shops were disembodied pools of light. They hurried uphill, their ears flat, their tails low, straight for the wild land where the cottages and shops ended, where the night was black indeed. Sloughing up through the tall, wet grass, along the trail they and the kit usually followed, they could catch no scent of her, could smell only rain. They moved warily, watching, listening.

It was hard to imagine that a mountain lion roamed their hills, that a cougar would abandon the wild, rugged mountains of the coastal range to venture anywhere near the village, but this young male cougar had been prowling close, around the outlying houses. Nor was this the first big cat to be so bold. Wilma had, on slow days as reference librarian, gone through back issues of the Molena Point Gazette, finding several such cases, one where a cougar came directly into the village at four in the morning, leaving a lasting impression with the officer on foot patrol. Wilma worried about the cats, and cautioned them, but she couldn't lock them up, not Joe Grey and Dulcie, nor the wild-spirited kit.



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Excerpt from Cat Laughing Last
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The man lay facedown, bleeding into the braided rug of Susan Brittain's breakfast room, the fallen keyboard of Susan's computer dangling from the edge of her desk and dripping blood onto his face. The sliding glass doors of the large, bright room stood open, admitting a damp, chill breeze. The white shutter doors of the floor-to-ceiling cupboards had been flung back, the contents of the shelves thrown to the floor, a jumble of office supplies, boxes of costume jewelry, and ceramic dishes. Susan's prized houseplants were crushed beneath broken ceramic planters and heaps of black potting soil; every surface was dusted with soil and with clinging black powder where a plastic bottle of copier toner had burst open, the inky haze charring a blood-splattered doll and crusting the lenses of Susan's good reflex camera.

One shoe print was incised in the toner powder but had been partially smeared away. The computer had been turned on, the program on the screen a list of eBay auction items showing photographs of each offering with its price. The time was 6:30 a.m. Susan had been gone from the house for half an hour. As the victim lay committing his blood to her hand-braided rug, across the village three seemingly unrelated events were taking place, three small dramas that might, at a future date, help construct a scenario of interest to Molena Point police and to one gray tomcat and his tabby lady.

At the south side of the village, in the old mansion that housed Molena Point Little Theater, a young tortoiseshell cat prowled alone among the sets, her bright, inquisitive mind filled with wonderful questions. She was not hunting mice or snatching spiders from the cobwebs that hung in the far, high corners of the raftered ceiling. Her curiosity centered on the theater itself. She had watched the sets being built and painted, marveling at the green hills that looked so very like the real Molena Point hills over which she ranged each day. When she backed away from the sets, as the artist often did, the rolling slopes seemed nearly as huge and throbbing with light, the land running on forever along the edge of the Pacific. Only these hills didn't smell like green grass and earth, they smelled like paint. And no houses nestled among them, just scattered oaks, and wandering herds of longhorn cattle and deer and elk, from a time long past.

"Did Molena Point truly look like this?" she whispered to the empty theater. "All wild and without people? And such big animals everywhere? Were there no little cats then? And no rabbits or gophers to hunt?"

Every wonder that the kit had encountered in her short life had demanded vociferous response. She had to talk about each new event, if only to herself. She stood watching the hills, filled with questions, and she looked above her, too, at the ropes and props of the theater, at the catwalk where she liked to prowl, at the electrical buttons and cords that operated the various curtains, and at the overhead pulleys and lights, all complicated and wonderful. Muttering among ragged purrs, she sat admiring the set of the Spanish hacienda, with its deep windows and ornamental grills, and its broad patio with masses of roses blooming.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Several blocks away, in the crowded front yard of the Roy McLeary residence, as villagers gathered for the McLeary yard sale, an altercation was about to erupt over a small and unprepossessing wooden box that lay half hidden among cast-off household accessories and scarred furniture. A clash of emotions that would amuse and surprise the dozens of early bargain hunters, and would sharply alert the two cats who lay draped over the branch of a huge oak at the edge of the yard, greatly entertained by the intense atmosphere of the early gathering.

Joe Grey and Dulcie, having come from a predawn hunt up on the open hills, had arrived before daylight prepared to enjoy the bargaining.... Among the dark, prickly leaves, Joe's sleek silver gray coat blended so well that he was hardly visible. But one white-booted paw hung over the branch, and the white strip down his face and his white chest might be glimpsed among the dense foliage by an observant visitor. His yellow eyes gleamed, too, watching, highly intrigued by the human passion to possess another person's broken cast-offs, Beside him, Dulcie's green eyes were slitted with amusement. The tip of her dark tail twitched, and her dark brown stripes blended with the oak's shadows. Neither cat anticipated the trouble that was about to explode below them; neither was prepared, this morning, for the innocent gathering to turn violent.



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Excerpt from Cat Seeing Double
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

At first, no one saw the lone witness. Not even Joe Grey and Dulcie, crouched high among the branches of the lemon tree, saw the tortoiseshell cat on the rooftops across the street. The two older cats had no glimpse of the tattercoat kit hunched on the dark shingles hidden beneath the overhanging oak branches; they had no hint of the panic that coursed through the kit's small, tensed body.

The community church was set well back from the street within its garden of flowering shrubs and small decorative trees. The non-sectarian meeting rooms of the one-story Mediterranean building were employed for all manner of village functions besides church services, from political discussions to author readings. The kit had hung around the church all morning watching the cleaning crew performing a last polish and setting up buffet tables on the back patio; and she had watched masses of white flowers being delivered and arranged within the largest meeting room. Only when he wedding guests began to arrive had she trotted across the narrow residential street, out of the way of sharp-heeled party shoes and the hard black oxfords of the many uniformed officers. Swarming up a jasmine trellis to the roof of a brown clapboard cottage, she had stretched out where an oak tree's shadows darkened the weathered shingles. She had the best seat of all, with a clear view across the garden and through the wide glass doors to the lectern where the bride and groom would stand, exchanging their sacred vows.

She had watched Charlie and Wilma arrive, Wilma carrying the bridal dress in a long plastic bag and Charlie carrying a small suitcase. What a lot of preparation it took for humans to get married, nothing like the casual trysting of the feral cats she had run with when she was small. The two women entered the south wing of the church through a back door, where the bride would have a private office in which to dress. The kit was watching the growing crowd when, below her, the bushes stirred with a sharp rustle, and a man spoke.

He must be standing between the close-set houses. The timbre of his gravelly voice suggested he was old. He sounded bad-tempered. "Go on, boy, get your ass up there, you haven't got all day."

No one answered, but someone began to climb the trellis, approaching the roof slowly. The kit could hear the little crosspieces creak under a hesitant weight. Padding warily away across the shingles, she crouched beneath overhanging branches, out of sight.

A young boy was climbing up. A thin dirty boy with ragged shirt and torn jeans, his face smudged, but pale beneath the dark smears. His black eyes oblique and hard. His hands brown with dirt. One pocket bulged as if maybe he'd stuffed a candy bar in it, fortification against sudden hunger. The kit knew that feeling.

Peering over, she studied the man who stood below. He was equally ragged, his faded jeans stained, his face bristling with a grizzled beard, his gray hair hanging long around his shoulders. Both man and boy stunk of sharp scents that made the kit's nose burn. The boy had gained the roof. He didn't swing up onto it, but stopped at the edge, turning to look down.

"Go on, Curtis. They'll be filling the church in a minute."

"I don't..."

"Just lie under the branches, no one'll see you. Wait till Harper's in there and the girl and them cops, then punch it and get out. I'll be gone like I told you, the truck gone. You just slip away, no one'll see you."

Clinging in the vines, the boy looked both determined and scared, like a cornered rat, the kit thought, trapped in a tin can with nowhere to run.

"Just punch it, Curtis. Your dad's in jail because of them cops."

Swinging a leg over, the boy gained the roof, crouching near the kit beneath the oak branches. She didn't think he saw her, he seemed totally centered on finding a vantage where he would be hidden but could best see the church.

When he'd chosen his place he removed from his pocket a small smooth object like a tiny radio, and laid it on the shingles beside him. The kit puzzled over it for some time before she understood what it was, this small, plastic, boxlike thing that the boy could hide in one hand. Wilma had one, and so did Clyde. And the old man's voice echoed, Just punch it and get out. She didn't understand--there was no garage door in the church to open. Why would...

Just punch it and get out...

What else could a garage door opener do, the kit wondered, besides open the door for which it was intended? With its little battery inside, its little electrical battery, what could it do?

Just punch it and get out... Wait until Harper's in there, and the girl...

That little electrical battery, that little electric signal...

All the wonders of electrical things that had so astonished the kit when she first came to live among humans, the dishwasher, the refrigerator, the warmth of an electric blanket, the magical lifting of the garage door while Wilma was still in the car, its signal leaping from that opener--its electrical signal leaping...

She remembered cop talk, about triggering devices. She stared across the street into the church where someone had left a gift for the bride and groom, a silver-wrapped package tucked down into the lectern where Charlie and Max Harper would stand to be married. She had seen it earlier as she watched the workers, had thought it was a special present hidden just where the preacher would stand, where the bride and groom would stand, a gift all silver-wrapped with little silver bells on the ribbon...

A special present...

A gift that was not a gift.

The kit exploded to life, racing at the boy, leaping on his back, raking and biting and forcing him away from that electric signal-maker, that plastic box that could send its message across the street into the church, could send its triggering message...

She might be wrong The boy's actions might be innocent. But... Your dad's in jail because of them cops... Punch it and get out... Terrified and enraged, she clawed and raked and bit, driving the boy away across the roof, forcing him toward the trellis. Nearly falling, he swung away down the trellis, the kit clinging to his back.

Before he hit the ground she dropped clear and ran flashing across the street between cars...

There ... there was Clyde hurrying out of the church toward his car as if he had forgotten something. As he leaned into the open convertible, reaching, she leaped to his back nearly shouting in his ear, only remembering at the last instant to whisper...

"Bomb, Clyde, There's a bomb in the church in that oak stand ... in the lectern. A boy on the roof... garage door opener to set it off... tell them to run, all to run... I chased him but..." And she bailed to the ground again and was gone racing back across the street, causing Clyde to shout after her. The street was thick with cars letting people off.

But then seeing her appear at the far side and swarm up a tree to the rooftops, he spun away never questioning the kit's warning. Not daring to question, not this small cat. Never daring to question her any more than he would question Joe Grey.



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Excerpt from Cat Fear No Evil
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

During the first week of October, when an icy wind blew off the Pacific rattling the windows of Molena Point's shops, and the shops, half buried beneath blowing oaks, were bright with expensive gifts and fall colors, residents were startled by three unusual burglaries. Townsfolk stopping in the bakery, enticed by saffron-scented delicacies, sipped their coffee while talking of the thefts. Wrapped in coats and scarves, striding briskly on their errands, they had left their houses carefully locked behind them.

Burglaries are not surprising during the pre-Christmas season when a few no-goods want to shop free of entailing expense. But these crimes did not involve luxury items from local boutiques. No hand-wrought cloisonné chokers or luxurious leather jackets, no sleek silver place settings or designer handbags. The value of the three items stolen was far greater.

A five-hundred-thousand-dollar painting by Richard Diebenkorn disappeared from Marlin Dorriss's oceanfront home without a trace of illegal entry. A diamond choker worth over a million vanished from Betty and Kip Slater's small, handsome cottage in the center of the village. And the largest and hardest to conceal, a vintage Packard roadster in prime condition was removed from Clyde Damen's automotive repair shop, again without any sign of forced entry.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Clyde had purchased the Packard in rusted and deteriorating condition from a farmer in the hills north of Sacramento who was later indicted for killing his grandfather. It was now a beautiful car, in finer shape than when it had come from the factory. When Clyde opened the shop very early, planning to spend the morning on his own work, the space where the Packard had stood beside a half-finished Bentley was empty. Shockingly and irrefutably empty. A plain, bare patch of concrete.

Before calling the cops Clyde did the sensible thing. He locked the shop again and went out into the village to find his housemate, a large gray tomcat. Finding Joe Grey trotting along the street Clyde swung out of the car and rudely snatched him up. "Come on, I have a job for you!"

"What's with you!" Joe hissed. "What the hell!" . . . . . .

"I need you bad," Clyde said. "Need you now."

At this amazing announcement, too surprised to argue further, Joe allowed himself to be hoisted into Clyde's yellow Chevy coupe and chauffeured around to the handsome Mediterranean complex that housed Clyde's upscale automotive shop. Joe was a big cat, muscled and lithe. In the morning sun, riding in the open convertible, his short gray coat gleamed like polished silver. The white triangle down his nose gave him a perpetual frown, however. But his white paws were snowy, marked with only one stain of mouse blood, which he had missed in his hasty wash. Standing on the yellow leather seat of the Chevy, front paws on the dashboard, he watched the village cottages and shops glide by, their plate glass windows warping in the wind. . . . . .

Clyde pulled up behind the shop, unlocked the back shop door, and slid it open. "Don't call the station yet," Joe said, trotting inside. "Give me time to look around. . . . . . . You're buying me breakfast for this favor."

"You had breakfast. Your belly's dragging with mice."

"An appetizer, a mere snack. Are you asking me to work for nothing?"

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"May I point out to you, Joe, that no one else in Molena Point has deli delivered to their cat door."

"The deli guy doesn't know it's the cat door. I tell them--"

"What you tell them is my credit card number. If I weren't such a sucker and so damned kindhearted--"

"I just tell them to leave it on the porch. Why would they suspect the cat door? What I do with the delivery after they leave can't concern them."

"No one else in the world, Joe, pays his cat's deli bill . . ."



HOME CAT MYSTERIES



Excerpt from Cat Cross Their Graves
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Up the Molena Point hills where the village cottages stood crowded together, and their back gardens ended abruptly at the lip of the wild canyon, a row of graves lay hidden. Concealed beneath tangled weeds and sprawling overgrown geraniums, there was no stone to mark the bodies. No one to remember they were there save one villager, who kept an uneasy silence. Who nursed a vigil of dread against the day the earth would again be disturbed and the truth revealed. On winter evenings the shadow of the tall, old house struck down across the graves like a long black arrow, and from the canyon below, errant winds sang to the small, dead children.

There had been no reports for a dozen years of unexplained disappearances along the central California coast, not even of some little kid straying off to turn up at suppertime hungry and dirty and unharmed. Nor did the three cats who hunted these gardens know what lay beneath their hurrying paws. Though as they trotted down into the canyon to slaughter wood rats, leaping across the tangled flower beds, sometimes tabby Dulcie would pause to look around her, puzzled, her skin rippling with an icy chill. And once the tortoiseshell kit stopped stone still as she crossed the neglected Bower bed, her yellow eyes growing huge. She muttered about a shadow swiftly vanishing, a child with flaxen hair. But this kit was given to fancies. Joe Grey had glanced at her, annoyed. The gray tom was quite aware that female cats were full of wild notions, particularly the tattercoat kit and her flights of fancy.

For many years the graves had remained hidden, the bodies abandoned and alone, and thus they waited undiscovered on this chill February night. The village of Molena Point was awash with icy, sloughing rain and shaken by winds that whipped off the surging sea to rattle the oak trees and scour the village rooftops. But beneath the heavy oaks and the solid shingles and thick clay tiles, within scattered cottages, sitting rooms were warm lamps glowed and hearth fires burned and all was safe and right. But many cottages stood dark. Despite the storm, it seemed half the village had ventured out, to crowd into Molena Point Little Theater for the weeklong Patty Rose Film Festival. There, though the stage was empty, the darkened theater was filled to capacity. Though no footlights shone and there was no painted backdrop to describe some enchanted world and no live actors to beguile the audience, not a seat was vacant.

Before the silent crowd, the silver screen had been lowered into place from the high, dark ceiling, and on it a classic film rolled, a black-and-white musical romance from a simpler, kinder era. Old love songs filled the hall, and old memories for those who had endured the painful years of World War II, when Patty’s films had offered welcome escape from the disruptions of young lives, from the wrenching partings of lovers.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Now in the darkened theater, as the last teary scenes drew to a close, Charlie leaned against Max’s shoulder, blowing her nose. On her other side, Ryan Flannery reached for a tissue from the box the two women had tucked between them. Patty’s films might be musicals, but the love interest provided enough cliff-hanging anxiety to bring every woman in the audience to tears. Over Charlie’s bright-red hair and Ryan’s dark, short bob, Max Harper glanced across at Clyde with that amused, tolerant look that only two males can share. Women--they always cried at a romantic movie, squeezed out the tears like water from a sponge. Charlie cut Max a look and wiped her tears; but as she wept at the final scenes, she looked up suddenly and paused, and her tears were forgotten. A chill touched Charlie, a tremor of fear, She stared up at the screen, at Patty, and a fascination of horror slid through her, an icy tremor that held her still and afraid, a rush of fear that came out of nowhere, so powerfully that she trembled and squeezed Max’s hand. He looked down at her, frowning, and drew her close. “What?”

“I don’t know,” She shook her head, “Nothing. It . . . it’s gone.” She looked up again at Patty, at the twenty-year-old Patty Rose deep into the love scene, and tried to lose herself again in the movie.

But the sense of dread remained, a feeling of regret so vivid that she was jolted completely out of the story. A sense of wrongness and danger that made her grip Max’s hand more tightly. He drew her closer, uneasy himself now, and puzzled.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When Charlie shivered again, Max squeezed her shoulder. She looked up at him and tried to smile. His lean, leathery good looks eased her, his steadiness reassured her. The deep lines down his cheeks were smile lines, the tightness of his jaw reserved for less pleasant citizens than his redheaded bride. She leaned into his hard shoulder, rubbing her cheek against his sport coat; he had worn the cashmere jacket she liked, over a dark turtleneck and faded jeans. He had bought their tickets for all six showings mostly to please her, but she knew he was enjoying Patty’s films. She snuggled close, trying to pay attention as the last scene played out. Wadding up her tissues and stuffing them in her purse, she pushed away whatever foolish imagining had gripped her; but she was so engrossed in her own thoughts that when Max reached into his pocket to answer his vibrating cell phone, she was startled. The dispatcher knew not to buzz him here. Not unless the matter was truly urgent.

As he lifted the phone from his belt, the chill touched her again. As he punched in the single digit for the station, sirens began to scream across the village, patrol cars and then the more hysterical wailing of a rescue unit. Max rose at once and quietly left the theater, was gone so fast she had no time to speak to him. Watching his retreating back, she felt Ryan’s hand on her arm--and the chill returned, making her tremble, cold and uncertain. She could not remember ever having had that sudden lost, frightened sensation minutes before the sirens screamed. When Ryan took her hand, she rose helplessly and followed Ryan and Clyde out the side exit, ahead of the departing crowd.

Ten minutes before the sirens blasted, the tortoiseshell kit awoke just as startled as Charlie, just as eerily scared. When the sirens jerked her up from her tangle of cushions on her third floor window seat, she immediately pressed her nose against the cold, dark glass.

The time was near midnight. Above the village roofs and chimneys, above the black pools of wind-tossed trees, the distant stars burned icy and remote. Impossible worlds, it seemed to Kit, spinning in a vastness that no one could comprehend. Beyond the inn’s enclosing walls, a haze of light from the village shops shifted in the wind as indistinct as blowing gauze; against that pale smear, the black pools of trees rattled and shook. She stared down past the lower balconies to the inn’s blowing gardens and patio, softly lit but deserted. What had waked her?

Nothing moved on the patio but the puppets of the wind. She heard no faintest sound.



HOME CAT MYSTERIES



Excerpt from Cat Breaking Free
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

"We don't need that bimbo living next door,” the tomcat hissed. “Why would they rent to the likes of her?” His ears were back, his yellow eyes narrowed, his sleek gray body tense with disgust as he paced the top of the long brick barbecue, looking down at his human housemate. He kept his voice low, so not to alarm curious neighbors.

Joe Grey and Clyde had been together since Joe was a kitten, though it was just four years ago this summer that he discovered he could speak. He didn’t know whether that revelation had been more shocking to him or to Clyde. For a human, to wake up one morning and find that his cat could argue back couldn’t be easy. Joe paused now in his irritable pacing to study Clyde, then glanced toward the high patio wall behind him. Peering as intently as if he could see right through the white plaster barrier to the house next door, he considered the backroom of their neighbors’ vacation cottage where Clyde’s old flame had taken up residence.

“Bimbo,” the tomcat repeated, muttering. “Why did they rent to her?”

“They only just bought the house,” Clyde said. “Maybe they need the money.”

“But why Chichi? And how did she find you?”

“Leave it, Joe. Don’t get worked up.” Clyde sat on the back steps with his first cup of coffee, enjoying the early-morning sunshine. He scratched his bare knee and smoothed his dark, neat hair. “Call it coincidence.”

The tomcat replied with a hiss. Chichi Barbi was not among his favorite humans; “bimbo” was too polite a word for the thieving little chit. “Maybe they don’t know she moved in. Maybe she broke in, a squatter, like that homeless guy who. . .”

“Don’t start, Joe. Don’t make a federal case. That’s so way out, even for your wild imagination!”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dropping down from the barbecue to the chaise, Joe stretched out along the green cushion in a shaft of sunshine, and began to indolently wash his white paws, effectively dismissing Clyde. Around man and cat, the early-morning light was cool and golden. Within the patio’s high, plastered walls their little world was private and serene--a far cry from the scruffy, weedy plot this backyard had been some months ago, with its half-dead grass and open to the neighbors’ inquisitive stares through the rotting, broken fence.

Above them, sunlight filtered gently down through the new young leaves of the maple tree to the brick paving, and around them, the raised planters were bright with spring flowers, the plastered benches scattered with comfortable cushions. Beyond the trellis roof that shaded the barbecue, they could see only a glimpse of the neighbors’ rooftop, which now sheltered Chichi Barbi. Despite his dislike of the woman, Joe Grey had to smile. Chichi’s sudden appearance might be innocent or might not, but for the two weeks since she’d moved in, she’d made Clyde’s life miserable. He’d started locking the patio gate, and kept the draperies pulled on that side of the house. He locked the front door when he was home and he studiously avoided the front yard, slipping around the far side of the house to the driveway, sliding quietly into his yellow Chevy roadster and pulling out with as little noise as he could manage.

“Anyway,” Clyde said, “the morning’s too nice to waste it thinking about some neighbor. How much damage can one airhead do?”

The gray tomcat’s yellow-eyed glance telegraphed a world of ideas on the subject. “You have a short memory-and an amazing tolerance.”

“Come on, Joe.”

Joe kneaded the chaise pad in a satisfying rhythm. “One airhead bimbo with a big mouth and a nonstop talent for trouble, to say nothing of amazingly sticky fingers. One thieving bimbo who will rip a guy off for five hundred bucks and never once act guilty or ashamed. Who shows up here crawling all over you like she never stole a thing, all smiles and kisses.” Joe stretched, enjoying the brightening caress of the sun. The golden morning light, gleaming across the tomcat’s short gray coat, made it shine like velvet and delineated every sleek muscle. Joe’s white paws and white chest were washed to an immaculate gleam; the white strip down his nose shone as pristine as new porcelain. There was no stain of blood from last night’s hunting, no smallest speck of grime to mar his perfection. Watching Clyde, he yawned with bored contentment--but his yellow eyes were appraising, and, looking up again at the patio wall, he imagined Chichi spying on their conversation. He envisioned the brassy blonde climbing up on a ladder to peer over, could almost hear her brash and bubbling “good morning,” almost see her flashing, flirty smile.

No, Chichi Barbi hadn’t driven down here from San Francisco for an innocent vacation, with no idea that she’d be living next door to Clyde Damen. No way he’d believe that degree of coincidence.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The radio went silent. They heard two car doors slam, then two men’s voices, one speaking Spanish as they headed down the drive, to the entry to Chichi’s back bedroom. They heard the men knock, heard the door open, heard Chichi’s high giggle as the door closed again, then silence. Rising, his ears pressed back with annoyance, the tomcat leaped from the chaise to the barbecue to the top of the plastered wall, where he could see the door and the drive.

An older brown Plymouth coupe stood in the drive. Stretching out along the top of the wall, Joe watched the one bedroom window he could see; the other was around the corner facing a strip of garden and the drive. Inside, Chichi was sitting on the bed facing the two men who sat in straight chairs, their backs to Joe. The three had pulled the night table between them and were studying some kind of papers they had spread out. Frowning, the tomcat dropped from the wall down into the neighbors’ scruffy yard. Racing across the rough grass and around the corner, he leaped into the little lemon tree that stood just outside Chichi’s other window.

Scorching up into its branches he tried to avoid the tree’s nasty little thorns, but one caught him in the paw. Pausing to lick the blood away, he tried to keep his white markings out of sight, hidden among the sparse foliage. What were they looking at? A map? He climbed higher, stretching out along a brittle limb, peering down.

Yes. A street map of the village. He could see the words “Molena Point” slanted across one corner. One man was Latino, with collar-length black hair. The other was a gringo, with sandy-red hair and short beard. Of what significance were the streets and intersections that the Latino man traced so intently with one stubby finger? Joe could not see the notes Chichi was making, where she had propped a small spiral pad on the corner of the table. He tried to peer around her shoulder but couldn’t stretch far enough without risking a fall out of the spindly little tree. He caught a few words, but they were doing more tracing than talking. They seemed to be working out some scenario. It was clear to the tomcat that these three were not, by the wildest stretch, planning a Sunday church picnic.



HOME CAT MYSTERIES



Excerpt from Cat Pay the Devil
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

At the edge of the sea the small village baked among its oaks and pines smothered by unseasonal summer heat; the scent of hot pinesap mixed sharply with the salty stink of iodine at low tide. Among the tangle of cottage rooftops the three cats, avoiding the crush of tourists on the narrow streets below, sprawled high on the shingles in the shade of a stone chimney; panting and washing their coats, they waited futilely for a breath of cooler air, or maybe even a break in the weather. The coastal heat, mixed with high humidity from the sullen Pacific, produced a sweltering steambath that had lasted through all of July, and was not typical for the central California coast. It was the longest hot spell anyone could ever remember for this time of year. Heat had baked into every shop wall and had turned the roofs into a giant griddle; if a cat stood for a moment on the concrete sidewalk he’d come away with blistered paws--Joe Grey’s white paws felt blistered. The gray tomcat sprawled limp across the shingles, his white belly turned up to the nonexistent breeze, as he tried to imagine cool sea winds.

Near Joe, the long-haired tortoiseshell lay panting, lifting her head occasionally to lick one mottled black-and-brown paw. Kit had the longest coat of the three so she was sure she suffered the most. Only dark tabby Dulcie was pacing, nervous and irritable.

Joe watched her, convinced she was fretting for no reason. You couldn’t tell Dulcie anything, she’d worked herself into a state over her housemate and nothing he could say seemed to help. Below them on the narrow village sweets, the din of strangers’ voices reached them and the shrill laughter of a group of children. Tourists wandered the streets by the dozens dressed in shorts and sandals, lapping up ice cream and slipping into small shops looking for a breath of cooler air; the restaurant patios were crowded with visitors enjoying iced drinks, their leashed dogs panting beneath the tables. Strangers stared in through the windows of shaded cottages that were tucked among bright gardens--the shadowed sitting rooms and bedrooms looked cool and inviting. Lazily Joe rose to peer over at a pair of loud-voiced, sweating joggers heading for the beach to run on the damp sand, as if they might catch up to an ocean breeze. Behind him he heard the hush of paws, and Dulcie came to stand at the edge of the roof beside him; but she stood silently frowning, looking not down at the busy street below but up at the round hills that rose above the village--hills burnt dry now, humping against the sky as brown as grazing beasts.

They could see nothing moving there, no human hiking the dry, dusty trails, no rider on horseback; the deer and small wild creatures would be asleep in the shade, if they could find shade. Even among the ruins hidden among the highest slopes the feral cats would be holed up in cool caverns beneath the fallen walls. For a long time Dulcie stood looking in that direction, her peach-tinted ears sharp forward, her head tilted in a puzzled frown.

“What?” Joe said, watching her.

“I don’t know.” She turned to look at him, her green eyes wide and perplexed. “I feel like . . . as if they’re thinking of us.” She blinked and lashed her tail, “As if Willow is thinking of us, as if she knows how I feel.” She narrowed her green eyes at him; but then she rubbed against his shoulder, rubbed her whiskers against his. “I guess that makes no sense; maybe it’s the heat.”

Joe didn’t answer. He knew she was upset--and females were prone to fancies. Who knew what two females together, even at such a distance, could conjure between them. Both Dulcie and the pale calico had that fey quality that humans found so mysterious in the feline. Maybe Willow did indeed sense that Dulcie was worried and fretting who knew what she was capable of? But Dulcie was worrying over nothing, as far as Joe could see. Dulcie’s human housemate had gone off before for the weekend, driving up the coast to the city, and Dulcie had never before fretted as she was fussing now,

Now, she thought she had reason. Joe looked at her intently. “Prisoners have escaped from jail before, Dulcie. That, and the fact that Wilma is later than she promised, does not add up to disaster. You’re building a mountain out of pebbles.” Dulcie turned hissing at him. “Cage Jones better keep away from her. She’s done with supervising badass convicts and with the kind of stress they dumped on her for twenty years. She doesn’t need any more ugly tangles and ugly people messing up her life.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On the short flight, and again as he swung into the cab outside the little peninsula airport, [Greeley] thought about them two village cats. Them talking cats--he’d had his share of them. Hoped they kept their distance, this time. He sure didn’t want them hanging around him, nosing around. Them cats saw too much. They got into too many places, always snooping, damn near as nosy as his sister. And talk about judgmental. Them Molena Point cats . . . Not judgmental like the black tom who used to run with him, who used to break into stores with him, Azrael’d been opinionated, al right, and he sure as hell said his piece.

But that black tom, he wasn’t never hot for law and order. That Joe Grey and his tabby friend, those two thought they were God’s gift to law enforcement. He didn’t need them nosing into his business.

Somewhere he’d heard, maybe from his ex-wife, there was a third cat hanging around with them. Another snoop, you could bet. He didn’t want no truck with cats, no more than he did with cops. Just wanted to be left to his own business.



HOME CAT MYSTERIES



Excerpt from Cat Deck the Halls
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The body was discovered only a few minutes after the killer fled. It was glimpsed by a lone and silent prowler looking down from the roof of a plaza shop. By a four-footed wanderer trotting across the steep shingles enjoying the lull in the storm, a lone adventurer out to discover what might be new in the night. By a tortoiseshell cat out on the prowl, to see what she could see.

Below the darkly mottled cat, the streets were deserted. The only movement was the police unit making its way slowly up Ocean--out on the prowl, too, she thought companionably.

As she crossed the plaza roof, she smelled blood, and then cordite. Startled, she approached the plaza below her, and was suddenly shaken by the smell of death. Nose twitching, she padded to the edge of the roof’s rounded tiles and looked down into the enclosed gardens.

Here atop the single one-story shop at the front of the complex she was below the rest of the building, and below the top of the plaza’s Christmas tree, below its crowning star. For a moment the colored lights blinded her. As her pupils contracted, she saw the body under the branches and she hissed and backed away. But then she crept to the edge again, looking.

The man lay unnaturally twisted, his body angled awkwardly between the tangle of oversize toys, his face whiter than paper except for the dark blood spilling from a wide and gaping wound down the side of his forehead and cheek. He was dead, no question, the sour smell of death filled the night. He was beyond help now, beyond any help in this world--but the little child who clung to him was alive and shivering, a little girl lying curled against the dead man, clutching him tight, her face pressed against him and her little tense body shivering with silent sobs.

Crouching and still, the tortoiseshell cat looked out to the street. The deepest shadows were pitch-black, impenetrable even to feline eyes. The smell of death was so sharp it made her draw back her lips, her teeth bared, her whiskers flat against her darkly mottled cheeks. She lifted a paw, but didn’t back away, she stood watching the dead man and the little silent child with her arms tight around his arm and neck, her face burrowed into his shoulder, her little white sweater soaked with his blood.

She thought the child might be five, maybe six years old: it was hard to tell, with humans. Beneath her bloody white sweater she wore little blue tights, and little white boots with fake white fur around the tops. Her hair was jet-black, her skin milky. A ragged cloth doll lay forgotten beneath her, a doll that seemed to have little padded wings. a homemade angel doll.

Kit studied the black shadows of the plaza but did not see a lurking figure. She was crouched to leap down to the child when the little girl choked out a tiny, thin sob, a small, lost sound perhaps too faint for a human ear, and that sob frightened and hurt Kit all the more deeply. This child had been abandoned in a way no child should ever be abandoned, this child should be laughing and reaching up among the laden branches and golden bells and ribbons, not hovering terrified against a dead man, filled with incomprehensible loss: and a terrible pity filled Kit, and an icy fear.

The dying wind carried the scents of Christmas that lingered from the shops, of baking, of nutmeg and ginger and hot cinnamon, all mixed, now, with the stink of death. Away across the roofs behind Kit, the courthouse clock struck midnight. Twelve solemn tolls that, tonight, were death tolls.

This afternoon the village and plaza had been crowded with hurrying shoppers, the park across the street filled with white-robed carolers and with the velvet soprano of Cora Lee French, ". . . rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. . ." And now there was no one but a little abandoned child and, somewhere unseen, a killer with a gun, for surely that was a gunshot wound. What else could it be? Kit was alone in the night with a dead man and a lost little girl, and an unseen killer. Nervously she washed one mottled black-and-brown paw, trying to get centered, trying with calming licks to soothe her frightened inner cat.

And then she spun around and bolted away across the rooftops racing to bring help.



HOME CAT MYSTERIES



Excerpt from Cat Playing Cupid
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Turning in his swivel chair to face the bookcase behind him, Dallas reached for the other cold files he’d shoved out of the way between copies of the California Civil Code, his hand brushing against the gray tomcat where Joe lay curled up, dozing. Damned cat really had taken up residence, Dallas thought, amused.

Maybe Joe Grey’s nose was out of joint, with Clyde about to be married. Maybe home had already changed, probably the house was in an uproar. Knowing Ryan, they might already be rearranging furniture, cleaning out cupboards to accommodate her belongings. If cats were anything like dogs, the gray tom wouldn’t like any disturbance in his home and routine. Change, to an animal, translated into threat.

With enough provocation, who knew? The tomcat, Dallas thought, might move into the station fulltime.

“Things bad at home?” he asked the tomcat, scratching Joe’s ear. “Ryan won’t throw you out, you know. Or,” he said, looking into Joe’s yellow eyes, “could you be jealous of her?”

Joe glared at him, and Dallas grinned. “You’ve had your own way around the house for a long time. Maybe you don’t like competition from a new roommate and her dog?”

The tomcat studied him almost as if he understood.

“And why aren’t you out catching mice instead of schlepping around in here sleeping and cadging treats from the dispatchers? The time you spend in the department, Joe, you might as well move in and get yourself on the payroll.”

The tomcat turned to lick his paw, and then looked at Dallas sleepily as if willing him to get on with his own business and leave a cat to nap in peace. Dallas scratched Joe’s head until Joe tired of the attention, sat up, licked the other white paw and gray leg, then washed the white strip down his dark nose.

“Strange,” Dallas said companionably, “that Lindsey was so uptight. I hope that wasn’t guilt talking.”

The gray cat, still washing, raised his yellow eyes to Dallas.

“This wouldn’t be the first time a guilty party brought evidence to the attention of the law,” Dallas told him, “trying to turn away any new suspicions.”

Joe Grey yawned in Dallas’s face, lay down again on the bookshelf, and seemed to go back to sleep. Dallas watched him, a grin touching his stern Hispanic face--he found he liked having the cat to talk to.

He’d never cared much for cats until this one, he’d always been a dog man. Pointers, fine gundogs. But this cat, in some ways, seemed more like a dog than a cat. Joe was, for one thing, a pretty good listener, more attentive than Dallas expected cats to be--the gray tom seemed, in fact, nearly as responsive to his moods as were his dogs.

Part of the comfort in talking to an animal--dog, cat, or horse--was that they didn’t offer advice, didn’t tell you what to do. Animals were sympathetic and willing listeners, but they couldn’t repeat what they heard. Couldn’t pass on some casual remark, or the contents of a phone conversation or high-security interview--and as Dallas stroked Joe Grey, appreciating the cat’s admirably mute ways, he didn’t see, when the tomcat ducked his head under the detective’s stroking hand, the cat’s sly and knowing smile.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Joe Grey twitched an ear and rubbed his whiskers against Dallas's hand. Dallas scowled at the stack of paperwork that seemed to grow every day. Cops always had too much paperwork, Joe thought, curling up on the blotter, directly in Dallas's way, so that the detective had to work around him; when Dallas pushed him gently aside, Joe didn't get up and move, but stretched out, taking up more space and shoving away papers with his hind feet. . . .

“I can’t clear up this mess with you on top of it,” Dallas said. Lifting Joe, he set him down at the end of the desk, determined to clean up his paperwork. Free up the coming weekend so he could enjoy Ryan’s wedding, Joe thought, without a cluttered desk waiting for him.

“This wedding better go smoothly,” Dallas said, almost as if he could read Joe’s mind. “We don’t need to call in the bomb squad.” And that wasn’t a joke, the tomcat knew too well. Just a year ago a bomb explosion had created a near disaster at the wedding of the police chief, the church nearly demolished and several people injured minutes before the guests would have filed in.

A lucky, anonymous tip had averted calamity, had probably prevented a mass murder--a tip that Dallas and the chief still wondered about, the tomcat thought, smiling.

“But no one,” Dallas said, “has a grudge against Ryan or Clyde, not the way a few scum would like to seriously damage anyone in law enforcement.” Ryan and Clyde weren’t cops, but still . . . Ryan was like Dallas’s daughter, and Clyde was a close friend to many in the department.

Praying that Dallas was right, that nothing ugly would happen, Joe looked up at the detective, purring companionably.

“No,” Dallas said, pummeling Joe as if he were a dog, until Joe hissed a warning and Dallas withdrew his hand. “Sorry,” he said. Then, “No, nothing bad is going to happen. This will be a quiet, happy wedding--low key, just as Ryan and Clyde want. The department would take apart anyone who tried to make it otherwise, anyone who tried to harm those two.”



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Excerpt from Cat Striking Back
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The setting moon laid its path across the sea, brightening the white sand and the little village, picking out the angles of its crowded roofs and glancing off the windows of the shops and cottages; moon glow caressed the shaggy pines and cypress trees and pooled dark shadows beneath them along the narrow streets. The only sound, at this predawn hour, was the hush of waves breaking on the shore. But inland, all was silent. Where the hills rose round and empty, the moon’s path washed in bright curves. Between the moonlit hills, the narrow valleys were cast in blackness so dense that the tomcat had to make his way by sound and by whisker feel, by familiar smells, by the degree of the slope and the feel of the earth beneath his paws, rocky or soft or bristling with dry grass or smooth where sand had blown across the narrow game trail, each encounter marking more clearly his exact location in relation to home. The tomcat traveled alone, encumbered by his heavy burden.

Padding down toward the first scattered houses, he walked clumsily, not his usual bold gait but spraddle legged and awkward, stepping wide around the half dozen mice that dangled against his chest, their tails gripped tight his sharp teeth.

He was a big cat, muscled and sleek coated, as silver-gray as burnished pewter. A narrow white strip ran down his nose, and his belly and paws were white, too--one paw spattered, now, with mouse blood. His tail was docked to a short, jaunty length, the product of a kittenhood disaster. His yellow eyes gleamed with the look of a fighter, but his eyes were alight, too, with a smile; he turned once look back up the hills behind him, watching his tabby lady Dulcie and their younger, tortoiseshell friend Kit move away, trotting higher up across the open land. He had only just parted from his two companions, the lady not satisfied only with hunting, but hurrying off to folk their overly curious noses--typical females, he thought tenderly.

Take care, Joe Grey thought, watching the two cats moving swiftly away up the moon-washed hills.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Pushing through a forest of stickery holly bushes into the overgrown side yard, trying to keep his dangling charges from catching on the protruding thorns, he was just approaching the empty swimming pool when a smell stopped him, a smell that made his fur bristle.

When the divorcing couple vacated the house, the pool had been drained. Why they hadn’t covered it, why the city hadn’t made them cover it, the tomcat didn’t know. The concrete and tile chasm was cracked and stained. Silt and debris had collected in its bottom into a sour-smelling mire. But now, another kind of stink drew him up short, a scent far stronger than the rancid mud or the sweet, musty smell of the mice he carried.

The stink of death, of blood and human death.

As many murders as the tomcat had witnessed in his busy life, he knew that smell intimately, but he still found human death unsettling, not at all like the death of the simpler animals who were his normal prey.

Sniffing again, he told himself this might be animal blood, but he knew it wasn’t. He stood looking around him, listening. . . . .

As he approached the abandoned pool, the grass growing up through the cracks in the coping tickled his paws. Standing at the edge, he looked over.

In the first weak light of dawn, the mud and slime on the bottom still held the blackness of night; the view was murky even to a cat’s sharp vision. He could see that one area had been disturbed, the mud and moss so churned up that surely something much larger than himself had squirmed around, or had been moved around, and then had been dragged across the pool to its far side; the drag marks were accompanied by a line of shoe prints embossed sharply in the mud. A man’s shoes, and the indentations had been there long enough to have filled with seeping, muddy water, The double trail led to the tile steps which, if the pool had been full, would be underwater. The tile was covered with slime that would be slippery, but the wide track led upward and over the coping to the tile apron. Moving around to stand above the steps, he studied the disturbed surfaces.

From this angle, he could see dark spatters of what looked like blood. Letting the mice rest for a moment on the tile while still firmly gripping their tails in his teeth, he took a good whiff.

Yes, blood, Human blood, nearly dry now despite the damp surround. He could tell, by other scents, that it was a woman who had died here,

The footprints and the slithery smear headed across the patio to the concrete drive and straight up toward the street. He followed, taking care to leave no paw prints on the pale cement. Halfway up, the trail stopped. From that point on, the drive was unmarked. Someone had dragged the body from the bottom of the pool to this juncture. And then, what? Studying the concrete, he found several small marks where the tire of a car had picked up mud and deposited it. Sniffing along the concrete, dragging his mice, he caught the faint scent of the man, too, though it was so mixed with the smell of human blood and of sour mud that he wasn’t sure he would be able to identify it if he should smell it again later. There were no other tire marks, no other footprints. The tomcat, standing alone on the empty drive dangling his mice, studied the surrounding yards and looked up and down the street.



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Excerpt from Cat Coming Home
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Fog as soft as a purr drifted among the twisted oaks and tucked down around the weathered roofs of the old hillside houses; on the twisted arm of a sprawling oak, the gray tomcat crouched above the rooftops licking at his fog-dampened fur. His claws kneaded idly as he watched the neighborhood below. The old homes, denizens from an age past, crowded close among their overgrown gardens, descending the hill with dignity, some perhaps still sheltering their original occupants. This early morning, the tomcat was concerned with only one house.

From the moment three days earlier, when Maudie’s Lincoln parked at the curb and then soon the yellow moving van pulled into the drive, Joe Grey had observed the grandmotherly woman with interest. He knew she had fled L.A., some three hundred miles to the south, after the murder of her son and his wife, but it was even more than the murder that piqued the tomcat’s curiosity; it was something about Maudie herself. Something out of keeping, an attitude that didn’t seem to fit, an occasional gesture or glance that seemed out of character in the soft little woman.

The tomcat had no clue that his interest in Maudie would soon involve a tangle of confusing events, that a stabbing soon to occur at the state prison and the brutal home invasions that had already descended upon the small village, would prove to be connected to Maudie. This morning Joe puzzled only over Maudie herself as he watched for an early light to blaze on in her kitchen.



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Excerpt from Cat Telling Tales
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The rising sun fingered in through the glass walls of Ryan Flannery’s upstairs studio, and a fire burned on the hearth against the dawn chill. The brightening room smelled of fresh coffee from the pot on the big worktable where Ryan and Clyde sat surrounded by stacks of real estate ads and flyers. The lingering scent of frying bacon and waffles had drifted upstairs, too, mixed with a whiff of Joe Grey’s breakfast kippers. He lay purring, stretched out across the mess of real estate come-ons, his hind feet anchoring a pile of foreclosure notices, his front paws idling with a stack of price lists and specs the couple had been collecting for weeks. Licking a bit of maple syrup from his whiskers, he marveled at the propensity of his two favorite humans to complicate their lives they needed another falling-down cottage to renovate like he needed a bed full of hungry fleas. . . .

Clyde and Ryan had been married just a year next week, but nearly from the moment Clyde slid the ring on her finger and engulfed her in a bear-hug kiss, they’d celebrated their marital bliss fly throwing themselves into buying run-down houses, taking advantage of the falling market to launch into the small but challenging remodel projects that were a sideline for Ryan, turning each dilapidated shack into a bright little home so appealing that, despite the economic downturn, it sold often within days of being listed This, on top of her full schedule of new-house construction, indicated a form of insanity that could beset only the human mind.

Though maybe, Joe thought, Ryan’s creative inner fire was, after all, somehow akin to the same burning drive that made a cat stalk, capture, and kill; maybe, indeed, the same single-minded kind of obsession and commitment. . . .

Rolling over, he edged into a patch of sunlight that shone down through the clerestory windows; the bright shaft streaming past him picked out, as well, the carved antique mantel with its hand-painted tile insets, each bearing the image of a cat--cats whose history often perplexed Joe, their uncertain origin an aspect of life that sharply unnerved the tomcat, that told him more about his own ancestry than he cared to dwell on. . . .

Now as the sun rose higher, its warming rays touched not only the cat tiles of the mantel, but the letter that stood on top, a small pink envelope propped against a stack of architectural books. A letter that seemed to Joe as insistent as a blinking neon sign, awaiting Ryan’s attention, a missive he found both repugnant, and worrisome. . . .

The message carried an aura of disaster, of bad karma, if you will, that made his fur twitch and his paws tingle with sharp misgiving. The fact that Ryan didn’t want to talk about it was sign enough that the request was going to screw up their lives. What was really worrisome was that, though she’d set the letter aside, she hadn’t ignored it to the point of laying it facedown and slapping a book over it, or dropping it in the round file. This unsolicited bid for bed and hoard would, sooner or later, require her dutiful response. Joe knew what answer he’d give, but he guessed Ryan wouldn’t follow his advice. Social courtesy is a human trait that most cats don’t consider of much value. Except, of course, when that courtesy is toward the cat himself. . . .

Leaping from the table to the mantel, he read it again, looking pointedly at Ryan. This, not pie-in-the-sky real estate investments, was the dilemma facing them right now. He looked at the photograph of Debbie herself and the two little girls that she had enclosed hoping, perhaps, to charm an invitation from the Damens. There wasn’t much charm apparent. . . . The best-looking one of the group was the cat, and even he didn’t look too happy. The older child held the big red tabby awkwardly in her arms, squeezing him so tight the cat’s ears were flat to his broad, tomcat head. The camera had caught his ringed tail blurred, swinging in an angry lash, the cat obviously practicing great restraint in not slashing his juvenile captor. Debbie’s letter didn’t mention the cat, until the very end.

". . . Here’s our picture that my neighbor took last year, the girls were cute then but they’ve gotten so gangly now. In the picture, Tessa is four, Vinnie is eleven. I don’t have the cat anymore, Erik used to throw things at it, so I guess it ran away. A neighbor said it hung around the nursing home up the street, that they took it in, but then that burned down. The kids won’t stop whining after it, so stupid. I’ll see you soon, I do hope you have room for us, otherwise I don’t know where we’d go. . . ."

This was just great, just what they all needed, a whining houseguest with two kids, One that looked like a royal pain--and practically on Clyde and Ryan’s anniversary, which they’d planned to spend having a quiet dinner with close friends. Joe looked again at the picture, focusing on the red tomcat, a handsome young fellow with wide, curving stripes. There was a certain look about him, a sharp awareness in his wide amber eyes that made Joe wonder, that made him pause with a keen curiosity. Debbie didn’t seem to care that he might have died in the nursing home fire, in a shocking and painful death. Had she even bothered to look for him? Or was a child’s lost cat like a lost hair ribbon, of only passing note and no value?



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Excerpt from Cat Bearing Gifts
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

It was growing dark when Lucinda and Pedric Greenlaw and their tortoiseshell cat left their favorite seafood restaurant north of Santa Cruz. Lucinda had carried Kit to their table hidden in her canvas tote, the smug and purring tortie curled up inside anticipating lobster and scallops slipped to her during their leisurely meal. . . .

They’d departed San Francisco in late afternoon, Pedric driving, the setting sun in their eyes as it sank into the sea, its reflections glancing off the dark stone cliff that soon rose on their left, towering black above them. The Lincoln took the precipitous curves with a calm and steady assurance that eased Lucinda’s thoughts of the hundred-foot drop below them into a cold and churning sea. In the seat behind the thin, older couple, tortoiseshell Kit sprawled across a mountain of packages, her fluffy tail twitching as she looked far down at the boiling waves, and then looked up at the dark, wooded hills rising above the cliff against the orange-streaked sky. The trip home, for Kit, was bittersweet. . . .

Part of her little cat self hadn't wanted to leave San Francisco, yet part of her longed to be home, to be back in her own village with her feline pals and her human friends, to sleep at night high in her own tree house among her soft cushions with the stars bright around her and the sea wind riffling the branches of her oak tree. Most of all, she longed to be home with her true love.

It had been a stormy romance since the big red tomcat showed up in Molena Point nearly seven months earlier, when he and Kit had first discovered one another, on the cold, windy shore. . . . Almost at once, she was smitten. Oh, my, how Pan did purr for her, and how nicely he hunted with her, letting her take the lead, often easing back and letting her make the kill--but yet how bold he was when they argued, decisive and macho and completely enchanting. Even as much as she'd loved San Francisco, she felt lost and small when she was parted from him. Why can't I be in two places at once, why can't I be at home with Pan and Joe Grey and Dulcie and Misto and our human friends, and have all the pleasures of San Francisco, too, all together in the same place? Why do you have to choose one instead of the other?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Now, as night drew down, fog began to gather out over the sea, fingering in toward the cliff as if soon it would swallow the road, too. As they rounded the next curve, Kit could see, far below, the lights of a few cars winding on down the mountain--but when she looked back, headlights were coming down on them fast, truck lights higher and wider then any car, racing down the narrow road, then a second set of lights flashed past that heavy vehicle, growing huge in their rearview mirror, then the big truck gained on the pickup again, accelerating at downhill speed, the two vehicles moving too fast, coming right at them, their lights blazing in through the back window, blinding her. The truck swerved into the oncoming lane, passing the pickup, its lights illuminating the rocky cliff--then everything happened at once. The truck and pickup both tried to crowd past them on the left-hand lane, forcing them too near the edge. The truck skidded and swung around, forcing the pickup against the cliff, their lights careering up the jagged stone. At the same instant the cliff seemed to explode. Pedric fought the wheel as an avalanche of dirt surged down at them. Kit didn't understand what was happening. Behind them great rocks came leaping down onto the truck and a skyful of flying stones skidded across their windshield. She thought the whole mountain was coming down, boulders bouncing off the pickup, too, and on down toward the sea. Pedric crashed through somehow, leaving the two vehicles behind them. The stones thundering against metal nearly deafened her, a roar that she knew was the last sound she'd ever hear in this life.

And then all was still, only the sound of the last pebbles falling, bouncing across their windshield and across their dented hood.



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Excerpt from Cat Shout for Joy
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Before Joe arrived at Misto’s cottage, when Dulcie and the old cat were alone together, he’d given her a.deep, steady look. “Life and death hang in balance, now, Dulcie. My life is ending. But you, alone, guard new lives.”

How could he know that? She had looked at him, shocked, her green eyes wide.

But then she smiled. Of course Misto would know her most private secret. How often did the old cat know what was in another cat’s mind, what lay hidden in the past or even ahead in the future. How often did Misto divine secrets Dulcie could never dream.

“As the end of my days draws near,” he’d said, “three bright new lives have begun for you, my dear. Oh, yes,” he’d said, twitching a whisker. “Three dear little lives snuggled safe and warm in your most secret world. And,” Misto had said, studying her, “you have not yet told Joe Grey.”

She had told no one. Except her human housemate, because how could she not tell Wilma, when Dulcie threw up her breakfast every morning?

But yet Misto knew, with those same powers that let him remember ages long past and let him see into the future. “Three kittens, three tiny mites,” he’d said, “snuggled within, secret and warm and happy.” And he had known more than that about her unborn kits; he had said, with a faint and, ragged purr, “Three strong babies waiting eagerly to be born, two boy kits, and a calico girl.

“And,” he had told her, “there is an amazement about the calico kitten. She . . .” But he began to yawn, and before he could continue the old cat had drifted into sleep, as was often the way since his illness. Maybe it was the medication sending him dozing, or maybe he thought he had said enough. Dulcie only knew that now, prowling the roofs in the cold fog, she fidgeted with unanswered questions. What had Misto started to tell her? What about her girl kitten, what amazement?

And, though she longed to tell Joe Grey about the kittens, still she didn’t know how to tell him. What would Joe say when he learned that new little lives waited within the dark of her sheltering body? Would he want kittens, this tomcat whose very existence was committed to the exciting dangers of tracking human criminals? To the uncertainties of helping the law, of apprehending evil? Would fatherhood hold him back from what he was born to do? Would rallying around helpless babies, while burning to chase after human scum, only make him restless and cross? Joe Grey was not an ordinary tomcat to casually father a litter and then disappear. Would the innate commitment, the very responsibilities of kittens, his kittens, only distress him?

And, she wondered, if she told Joe about the kittens now, would that news make Misto’s impending death seem even more cruel by comparison? As if the inestimable powers of the universe meant to take Misto’s life in exchange for the three new lives soon to be?

She knew that made no sense. But would such an idea strike Joe, as he grieved for their dying friend? Would such thoughts make him turn away from her joyous secret?

Or was the intention of the greater powers not to exchange life for life, but instead to fill the emptiness, once their friend had departed? To bring new happiness into their world through these young, fledgling spirits?

No matter how she pondered the question, she didn’t know how to tell Joe. And she didn’t know when to tell him. Now, as they watched the foggy streets, still she kept her own counsel. Though she was amused that Joe hadn’t already guessed, by the look of her. She liked to think she was still svelte and sleek, that no one would see her condition. But when at home she posed before Wilma’s full-length mirror looking at herself sideways, she could see the gentle curve of the babies that waited safe beneath her tabby-striped fur.



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Excerpt from Cat Shining Bright
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Two weeks after the kittens were born their eyes were open and their tiny ears unfurled. Another week and they could see and hear very well and were toddling about their pen. Now, when they heard Joe Grey come in through the cat door, they squealed with delight. When Joe jumped into the cat pen that Wilma had set up in the kitchen, the babies climbed all over him, pummeling and mauling him, rolling under the tomcat’s gentle paws. The biggest question in both parent’s minds, the same question that nudged those few humans who knew the cats’ secret, was, when would the kittens say their first words? Would they speak? Would they be speaking cats like their parents and like tortoiseshell Kit and red tabby Pan? Or would Joe and Dulcie’s babies grow up without knowing the human language, without the humanlike talents of their parents? Everyone was filled with anxious hope, with nervous waiting.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

June rolled away, and still no kitten said a word. Soon it was July and then August. The kittens at three months old were all claws and teeth, loud and demanding yowls, boundless energy, leaping from chair to table, climbing draperies; but they said nothing. A cat tree stood by Wilma’s desk looking out at the garden, another at the dining room window, a third in the bedroom, their carpeted shelves and climbing posts already shredded by sharp claws where calico Courtney and her buff colored brothers leaped, flew, battled one another, wildly fierce and happy. And still, the kittens were silent.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Not until a week after Buffin’s debut, as Wilma called it, did Striker shout out his own first words, and he sounded just like his daddy. Wilma stood tying back her gray hair into a pony tail, watching Striker’s usual crazy race around the house. Even Wilma, a retired parole officer who had seen plenty of mayhem, shivered at the chances the kitten took. She watched him sail to the top of the china cabinet, leap six feet up to the cat tree, foolishly misjudge his balance, lose his footing and plummet to the buffet, knocking a glass bowl of flowers to the floor spilling blossoms and water and shattering the vase—Striker’s shout filled the house.

“Damn! Damn, damn it to hell,” he yowled.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

But what of calico Courtney? The calico was keen and observant, she saw everything, she listened to every conversation. She would lie in Wilma’s lap as Wilma read to her, lie purring but mute, loving the ancient myths, listening in total silence—until one evening she suddenly put her paw on the page, on the very words Wilma was speaking. She sat up straighter and began to read aloud, just where Wilma had left off. She read the tale smoothly all the way through, she spun the story out as lyrically as Wilma herself had ever done.

When she’d finished, they were all silent. Joe Grey looked so ridiculously proud that Dulcie leaped to the chair and licked Courtney, both she and Joe smug with their calico’s cleverness—until the morning that the words Courtney read brought not smiles but alarm. Sitting on the kitchen table on the edge of the newspaper, she placed a paw on the front page article. “‘CAR THIEVES MOVING DOWN THE COAST. TO HIT MOLENA POINT AGAIN?” She looked up at Wilma. “What is this? What are car thieves? What does it mean, to hit Molena Point? Hit how?” She kept reading, dragging her paw down the lines of type.



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