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.

PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4
PART 5 PART 6 PART 7 PART 8
PART 9 PART 10 PART 11 PART 12


PART 6

Joe Grey, carrying the plastic bag in his teeth, trotted through the patio's flower beds, heading for the Molena Point PD. If the police lab found fibers from the dead woman's leotard clinging to the gloves, Captain Harper would have his killer--accidental death, maybe. Or a clever murder? And even if murder couldn't be proved, Harper would likely have his thief.

The night was dark, the moon thin. Climbing a jasmine vine beside the Chinese restaurant, Joe made his way across the roofs hauling the bag like a mother cat dragging a large and unwieldy kitten. Crossing the streets on the branches of the twisted oaks, trying not to trip on his slick plastic burden, he was soon on the roof of the jail.

He backed down a tree, his claws in the bark, the bag dangling over his shoulder as if he were a homeless wanderer with a see-through pack. The police parking lot was well lighted, with the area walled on one side by the police station, on the other two sides by the jail and the courthouse; the fourth perimeter was open to the street. He crossed beneath the squad cars..

He was nearly to the steps, looking up at the heavy metal door of the station, when a car turned in--Captain Harper's surveillance car. Joe scutched into the shadows beside the steps, crouching over his burden. He didn't need Harper to find him here with vital evidence. Harper already had too many suspicions about the "phantom snitch."

The car door opened and the tap of Harper's boots approached across the concrete; Joe's heart was quivering like a cornered rat. Harper climbed the steps inches from his nose and unlocked the metal door. Before it could slam, Joe was through behind his heels, hauling the plastic bag, flinching when the door banged shut. As Harper moved quickly up the hall into the squad room, Joe fled for the nearest conference room dragging the bag--a demented retriever unwilling to let go.

He collapsed beneath a chair, panting. Sometimes the stress of such moments got to him. He could use a quick pick-me-up, just now. A ham sandwich or a nice fresh rat. Or some of George Jolly's imported gourmet treats. He was dreaming of Jolly's Deli, of smoked salmon and fine cheeses, when Harper came running down the hall again, his boots thundering and three officers pounding behind him. Joe peered out as the back door banged open; they disappeared through it, and he heard three cars roar away.

Dragging the bag, he fled for the squad room where he could hear the police radio. Crouching under Harper's desk, he heard the dispatcher repeat her call. Commercial burglary at Charles, Ltd.

Had they been robbed before he, himself, entered? Or after he left? Or had Greeley and the black tomcat been in there after all, maybe hiding in one of the dressing rooms? That made him feel really stupid.

Harper and his men had left without sirens. Joe knew they'd patrol quietly for anyone fleeing the scene, then would enter the shop in silence.

Slipping up onto Harper's desk chair, he dropped the bagged gloves on the blotter, meaning to take off after the law. The big squad room was nearly empty, a couple of guys at their desks writing reports, the dispatcher behind her counter. He was about to make a dash for the front door, see if he could leap up unseen, push the release button on the wall and ease the door open, when he felt a draft coming from the back of the building.

There were no windows in the back, and he hadn't heard that door open. The only other door was to the courthouse, and it was kept locked at night. Dropping down to take a look, he heard a brushing sound in the hall. Crouched for fight or flight, he peered around the corner--and was face to face with Dulcie.

His tabby lady looked back at him, her green eyes wide with amusement. "I followed you. Come on, Joe, get out of the hall. The janitor will close the door in a minute, he'll see us."

They slipped back into the squad room, under Harper's desk. "Janitor's cleaning the courthouse," Dulcie said. "He propped the hall door open, into the station. He's not supposed to do that--if Harper knew, he'd get him fired. I got into the courthouse when he went out to put some buckets on the steps."

"Great security. So how did you find me?"

"I saw you from the tower; I was following Larry Cruz. He and Gail--I think it was Gail--went in that bar on the next street."

"I thought you were watching Alice Manning."

"I was on the roof beside their window. She and her husband had a cozy dinner for two, in their room, in front of the fire, then snuggled up watching an old movie. It was nice," she said, purring. "She wears pink satin pajamas."

"What time was that?"

"I got there about 8:30, left an hour later."

"I saw Alice outside the Shrimp Bowl, about then--or did I? I thought it was Alice. Khaki skirt and blouse. Could you see her the whole time? Could she have gone out later?"

"She pulled the curtains about nine. I left at 9:30; the tower clock had just struck the half hour. I couldn't see in any more, but the movie was still playing, I could hear it and could see the lights moving across the curtains. I guess she could have gone out.

"After she pulled the curtains, I was ready to give it up and drop off the roof, when I saw Larry Cruz standing across the street looking up, watching the Mannings' windows. Dark clothes, standing in the shadows. I don't know how long he'd been there. I guess he could see right in, before they pulled the drapes, it's only the third floor, and they were right by the window. When he turned away, I followed him over the roofs.

"He stopped in the deli, got a sandwich, ate it walking around. He was all over the village. He met Gail near the courthouse, she was waiting for him--I guess it was Gail," Dulcie said, her green eyes widening. "She was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. She gave him a package, he tucked it in his shirt, under his jacket, and they went in the bar."

Joe said, "Charles, Ltd. was robbed tonight. I was in there, I thought I followed Azrael in, but I couldn't smell him. It might have been the shop cat. Found no one downstairs, and nothing looked disturbed. No sign of Greeley."

"Don't you think it's strange that we haven't seen him?"

He sat looking at her. "You saw Alice in her room from 8:30 to 9:00. After that, you thought she was there. At 9:30 you left, and followed Larry. He meets Gail--you think it was Gail--about 10:00. They go in the bar." Joe frowned, his ears back, his yellow eyes narrowing. "Say Larry has partnered up with Greeley, planning to lay the blame on Alice. Say he was watching Alice's room to be sure there were no witnesses to where she was, when the burglary came down."

"But..."

"I wonder if room service saw her when they delivered their dinner. They could testify she was there, not ripping off the men's store."

"Dinner was in paper bags," Dulcie said. "Takeout Chinese. Smelled good." She licked her whiskers. "Maybe they got tired of fancy hotel food. So there was no room service. Manning picked up their order himself, was coming in when I got there."

Dulcie rolled over, her tabby stripes blending with the shadows. "And there's something else. This afternoon, on the inn's patio, I was waiting for Larry. I thought I might learn something, the way you said. He came in from his car, that red Acura, carrying a black duffel bag, like divers use for their wet suits and equipment, and he smelled of the sea. His shoes were sandy, and when I sniffed around his tires they smelled of little dead sea creatures and tar, and there was sand in the treads."

"So, the guy's a diver."

"And the corpse's feet were wet from the sea."

"What are you saying? We should take up diving, slip on a couple of wet suits and..."

Dulcie pressed against him, warm and sleek and purring. "I think we should follow him next time he goes to dive. Who knows what we'll find?"


Copyright 2001 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. All rights reserved.


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