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.



Patty Rose's antique Rolls Royce led the parade, its top down, its white paint polished and gleaming, its brass fittings as bright as the afternoon sun that hung just above the sea. Patty, dressed in white satin, sat on the back of the front seat, looming above her liveried driver, smiling and waving. Dorothy Daniels had been right when she said Patty wouldn't miss being queen of the festival, wouldn't miss the publicity--though she wasn't throwing kitty treats.

On the warm, shingled roof high above the crowd, Joe Grey and Dulcie had the best seats in the village, their only competition a dozen scolding grackles--the dark, pushy birds sensibly keeping their distance from lethal claws. Behind Patty's Rolls Royce came the Molena Point high school marching band, then a team of mounted riders dressed in white Western wear. Then the lead float, done in many colors of crepe paper and carrying the three look-alikes clad in black cat costumes, their cat masks seeming to smile as they performed little dance steps--teasers for their act to come on the stage that had been set up at the edge of the beach. On their float behind the three blondes were two rows of kennel cages, each with a clean, pretty cat cozied down on a blanket. The animal shelter must have chosen their most laid-back charges. All the cats seemed comfortable, unperturbed by the noise and the crowd. The float's banners proclaimed:



Behind the float came more riders, then seven more antique cars, including the yellow Chevy roadster belonging to Joe Grey's housemate. Clyde Damen was all decked out in a clean white turtleneck and sport coat. Beside him rode his red-headed girlfriend, Charlie Getz. When she spotted the cats on the roof above, she waved to them with a secret smile.

Following Clyde and Charlie came another marching band, then three more floats carrying village children dressed in cat costumes. All along the length of Ocean Avenue, the shops were decorated with cat banners, cat flags and cat kites. Stuffed toy cats were featured in the windows among displays of women's wear, sweaters embroidered with cats, and cat jewelry. Although many shops were closed for the occasion, they had provided handsome decorations.

The book store had an exhibit of cat books and a three-foot-tall Puss-in-boots made of crepe paper. One of the nicest women's stores was hosting a cat-princess puppet show. And on every corner, Molena Point Animal Shelter had placed adoption booths with comfortably caged cats and charming young attendants.

That aspect didn't charm Dulcie. "I hope people don't take kittens on a whim, like they would a toy, then not care for them."

"Do you always have to look for sand in the milk dish?"

"I don't always. But you've seen kittens... Oh, never mind." And she turned away crossly.

But Joe licked her ear. "They're handing out brochures, Dulcie. And the volunteers are talking to people who want to adopt--they're screening them and explaining the basics. Telling them what a little cat needs to be healthy and safe. I listened to one. She sounded like she knew what she was doing."

"I hope so," Dulcie said dourly. "I don't... Look. Is that Azrael slipping along the roof above the gift shop?"

They watched the black tom disappear within the shadows above the Mink Collar, a jewelry and leather boutique. At the same moment, on the sidewalk below them, Alice Manning came along behind the gathered onlookers; she was dressed in denim shorts and a white pullover. This had to be Alice; the other three were on the float.

But it was Azrael who held Joe and Dulcie's attention, who sent them racing across the roofs to the end of the block, dropping down to the balcony of the Mink Collar.

Pushing through the open window where Azrael had disappeared, where they could smell his scent, they explored the storage room then trotted down the stairs into the shop, searching beneath the display cases and in the cupboards--then followed his trail to a door that would open to the alley.

It was bolted from within, but a black cat hair clung to the metal. Nothing else in the store seemed to have been touched. The cash drawer beneath the computer was locked.

"Maybe he was casing the place for later," Joe said. "Maybe he saw us and left while we were crossing the street."

Dulcie said nothing, stood looking around, lashing her tail with irritation.

They returned to the roofs, silhouetted now against the sinking sun. Below them the parade was ending, the floats gathering at the edge of the beach where the stage had been built and lights strung from poles. The three masked blondes sat on the edge of their float, bantering with the crowd. Some distance away, Alice Manning stood on the sand with her husband, the two of them eating hot dogs. Joe and Dulcie could see, beyond the parade route, several squad cars drifting along the quiet streets. They watched the performers gather, watched families spread out blankets on the sand in front of the stage, their backs to the setting sun and to the crowd that milled around behind them. Soon the entire shore was filled, people shouting the songs from Cats and cheering the black-cat dancers. Joe and Dulcie's ears rang with the lyrics.

When the look-alikes' numbers were finished, the three performers stepped down to mix with the audience. One of them headed for the outdoor ladies' room, carrying a black duffel bag that must have been tucked out of sight on the float.

"Probably went to change clothes," Dulcie said. "Those leotards look hot."

But she came out still dressed in skin-fitting black, still carrying the bag. The three women were separated now; as night fell and the jazz band began to play, they were hard to keep track of. Folks began to dance on the blacktop at edge of the beach, and one black-clad blonde moved away through the crowd toward a stand of cypress trees.

"Stay here, Dulcie. Watch the others." And Joe Grey was gone, following her.

The entertainment was long, with readings, more jazz numbers, and an announcement by a representative of Molena Point Animal Shelter that 27 cats and kittens had been adopted. Dulcie, watching for Joe, began to fidget. Soon she was pacing the shingles, her ears back, her tail twitching, staring away toward the cypress trees and the sea cliffs. It was during a jazz instrumental number that she heard a sharp thunk somewhere behind her, as if the branch of a tree had broken. Nervously she searched the beach and the line of tall cypress that loomed dark in the gathering night. No sign of Joe, no telltale white chest and paws gleaming in the darkness.

As the number ended and a jazz guitarist came on stage, Dulcie saw, five blocks away, two squad cars take off fast, moving south, their lights flashing but no sirens.

Crouched on the shingles, she felt her heart thunder. What had happened? And where was Joe Grey? A siren screamed down the street behind her, and she spun around to see a rescue vehicle careen across Ocean, turning toward the beach. She took off fast across the rooftops. Joe was out there, he had followed that woman exactly where the police were headed. Galloping across ancient mossy shingles and through a half-built second story addition between studs and sawhorses, racing over the slick tile roofs of expensive oceanfront homes, she followed two more police cars to where the emergency vehicle had screamed to a stop.

A black-clad body lay on the sand, sleek in its tight suit, the face very pale. A perfect replay of the corpse at Otter Pine Inn.

Except this victim was a man.

Larry Cruz lay surrounded by police, the paramedics bending over him. His diving fins and mask, his hood and weights lay scattered across the sand. There was a bullet hole in his chest. The medics were doing their best to stop the bleeding and bring him back. As they worked on Larry, Max Harper's car arrived. Dulcie ducked down, watching the captain step out with Detective Juana Davis, and the familiar routine began. The yellow tape, officers urging people back out of the way. Davis with her camera, her dark, short hair falling over her cheek. Soon the coroner was there to do his chilling work. Dulcie hardly paid attention to the investigation, as she searched beyond the gathering crowd, looking through the darkness for a small speck out on the sand--and for the black-clad woman he had followed.

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. All rights reserved.

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