Cat on the Money
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The first 8 parts of this story appeared in Cats Magazine, which was discontinued before the remaining installments of the serial could be published.



The evening was cool as Joe Grey crossed the village, trotting though the shops' little front gardens and beneath the twisted oaks that shaded Molena Point's cottages. Heading for the Wanderer Motel where the three women were staying, he saw Police Captain Max Harper parked at the curb in one of the department's battered surveillance cars, dressed in civilian clothes, his western hat pulled down as if napping.

Keeping to the shadows, Joe slipped into the motel patio, rolling on the warm brick paving as casually as any village tomcat out for an evening's ramble. Then, padding into the bushes, he leaped to one windowsill and then the next, concealed by the flowering foliage, looking in beneath blinds and around curtains.

Where female voices came from a lighted room, he peered through a crack beside the drapes and through the open window, to see one of the look-alikes pulling on a sweater. All three pretty, blond contestants were there, in various stages of dress, all such striking doubles for movie star Patty Rose that he might have been watching three vintage movies running on adjacent screens.

The room was a mess, clothes dropped and flung on every surface, open suitcases on the floor. Of the three women, Gail Gantry was the most animated, flushed and outgoing--she looked, as Harper had said, like a go-getter. Dressed in jeans and a bra, she sat barefoot on one of the three beds, painting her toenails. "You're wrong, Dorothy." She glanced over at her virtual twin with the dark nail polish and thinner eyebrows. "I say, with Frances dead, Patty Rose won't be part of the parade. Won't have anything to do with us; we're bad PR."

Dorothy picked up a wadded towel and began to wipe her sandals. She wore gray tights and a gray sweatshirt. Her voice was harsher than Gail's. "Oh, she'll be there. She'll make the publicity work for her."

The third look-alike, Beverly Barker, watched them from where she sat at the desk putting on makeup. She seemed the only one who wasn't a natural blonde--Joe could see the dark roots. She was dressed in a pale pink pants suit. "I don't see how you two can act so offhand, with Frances dead. She was one of us--and she might have been murdered. I don't see how you can go on with this cat festival, or even stay here."

"We have to stay," Gail said coldly. "Last thing the cops said--stay in the village. Anyway, it's all good exposure."

Beverly looked at Gail. "That's so cold. And what if she was murdered?"

"That's silly. How could she have been? You read the paper. Anyway, if you're serious about being an entertainer..."

"We are entertainers," Dorothy interrupted. "But this gig is a drag. And I don't see it getting any better."

"It isn't a gig, yet," Gail said. "And it won't be, Dorothy, if you take that attitude."

Dorothy tossed her towel into the corner, then rummaged in a suitcase balanced on the night stand just beneath the window where Joe Grey was crouched. He could see, beneath a silk slip among a clutter of what appeared to be bottles, the shape of a handgun. No other object he could think of would have that same configuration.

Well, but Frances Farrow hadn't been shot. The police weren't looking for a gun. And there was no law that prevented Dorothy from having one, if she wasn't a felon--there was only a law against how she was storing it. After all, she had driven down alone from Seattle. Maybe the gun made her feel safer.

Or was Dorothy, too, involved in the thefts? Were there two sets of thieves at work, stealing from Molena Point's small businesses, each hoping the other would be blamed for all the crimes?

Or maybe Greeley and the black tomcat had set up these women to look guilty? Azrael and that old man would stoop to any low deed.

Beverly smoothed the crease of her pants suit. "I think the cat festival is a sweet idea, with all the toy cats and cat-printed T-shirts in the windows, and the animal shelter bringing kitties to adopt. Just think of the cats that will find homes."

"Right," Dorothy said sourly. "Patty Rose isn't going to turn down a cause like that, she'll be right up there on the lead float, handing out kitty treats."

The phone rang, and Gail picked up. "Yes?" Then her voice went soft. Turning away from her roommates, she laughed, and glanced at her watch. "Yes, that's perfect. See you then. Me, too, honey."

She hung up, looking smug, tested her toenail polish and slipped on her sandals. Snatching a blue sweatshirt from the open suitcase on the floor of the closet, she pulled it on. "You ladies ready for dinner? I'm having a nice, buttery lobster."

"Why doesn't your date buy you dinner?" Dorothy snapped. "That beach-bum too cheap to spring for a meal?"

"For your information, I don't have a date."

"Oh. I thought, the way you looked at your watch..."

"Tomorrow night," Gail said. "If it's any of your business. I'm hungry. You coming?"

And the three headed out the door like the best of friends, leaving Joe Grey alone on the windowsill, considering their empty room.

He was sorely tempted. Who knew what he'd find in there, besides possibly a handgun?

But who knew what he'd miss of the ladies' various evening activities?

Abandoning his urge to claw the screen open, he galloped out through the garden and along the sidewalk, dodging the feet of wandering tourists, shying away from reaching hands and from little cries of, Ooh, look at the beautiful cat. His coat is just like gray satin. Where do you suppose he's going in such a hurry?

When the three women turned in to the Shrimp Bowl, Joe swarmed up the trunk of an oak tree by the front window and settled among its branches, his color blending into the oak's bark, only his white paws and nose visible. He'd barely gotten settled among the leaves when, across the street, Captain Harper's surveillance car pulled up, out of sight of the cafe. Interesting, Joe thought, that Harper hadn't turned this kind of duty over to one of his two detectives.

Watching the women order, he considered slipping inside. The restaurant tables were close together, the room crowded. Who would notice a swift shadow among a room full of feet? He was about to drop out of the tree when he saw, half a block away, a black cat leap across the rooftops and vanish among the peaks. Azrael?

Scanning the street, he did not see Azrael's human partner. Maybe the tomcat was staking out a mark, meaning to return later with the old man. Joe was still looking for Greeley when he realized that the three women were having a heated argument.

They argued all through dinner. What a shame, when they should be enjoying the fine lobster and broiled salmon. They were barely finished eating when Gail and Dorothy rose, both tossing some money on the table.

They parted at the door, not speaking, swinging away in opposite directions, abandoning Beverly with the remains of her salmon and a hurt look. For roommates rehearsing a song and dance number together, these three didn't get along too well.

Dropping from the tree, Joe followed Gail, gliding smoothly among the tourists' hard shoes, a twitch of excitement biting at his belly--the adrenaline rush of the hunter. Glancing back, he watched Dorothy, too, wishing Dulcie were on her trail. But no, Dulcie had been stubbornly set on hanging around Otter Pine Inn to spy on Alice Manning, a project about as productive, in Joe's opinion, as staking out an abandoned mouse hole.

Crossing the street behind Gail, he went up a pine tree to the roofs, his claws scrabbling bark down onto tourists' heads. He didn't see Harper's car. He was trotting along the metal gutter above Gail, watching her saunter casually along below him when, from the corner of his eye, he saw a black tail and black haunches disappear through the window of a second floor office. Joe paused for only a moment.

There was only one reason for the black tomcat to enter a building at night from the rooftops. He pictured old Greeley waiting somewhere on the street, out of sight, hunched up in his wrinkled leather jacket, his lock picks and drill ready to rip off another Molena Point shop. Abandoning Gail, Joe Grey headed for the open window, his ears back, his claws ready to rout the two thieves.

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. All rights reserved.

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