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.



On the rooftop of the oceanfront cottage, Dulcie was hardly visible, so well did her dark tabby coat blend in with the shingles. Nervously, she watched the police below her working the scene, the curious onlookers--and the black-clad corpse so reminiscent of the corpse in the tearoom.

The coroner knelt over Larry Cruz's body, studying the bullet hole through the dead man's diving suit and searching for additional wounds; although the single shot through Larry's heart must have killed him. Dr. Bern was a thin, button-nosed man; he served as both coroner and medical examiner for the Molena Point PD. She'd heard him say there was no indication of drowning, that the victim had not been hauled out of the sea dead and then shot.

Detective Juana Davis knelt beside him, fingerprinting the dry areas of Larry's diving mask and fins, and searching the pocket that had been built into his diving suit--an unusual addition, Dulcie thought. Davis found it empty. Dulcie puzzled only briefly over what it might have carried, but her thoughts were on Joe Grey. Shifting from paw to paw, she peered away into the night where Joe had disappeared, perhaps following the killer, and she could not be still.

Dropping from the roof to the top of a fence and then to the sand, she trotted through the forest of human legs and out toward the sea, doubling back and forth until she found a single line of shoe prints broken by a narrow row of pawprints, both tracks so fresh that the sand was still trickling in. Dulcie's own paws sank deep. The smell of iodine and dead sea creatures filled her nostrils. The double trail led straight for the rocky sea cliff, some quarter mile away. Hurrying, slogging through sand and increasingly worried for Joe, she arrived at the cliff, panting.

Joe's prints ended where the rocky cliff rose up. The human prints led along a narrow strip of sand between cliff and sea. No breakers surged tonight, only an oily churning as the tide rose.

Racing up the sharp promontory of jutting stone, Dulcie searched the dark escarpment, softly calling Joe's name. There was no answer, no sound but sea. The bleak stone hill was empty. Padding to the edge, she looked down on the black and roiling sea and on the thin sliver of beach. A woman stood there, a black-clad figure, her face and hair as pale as a winter moon.

Quickly Dulcie doubled back, scenting along the rocks, cold with fear for Joe. But then at last she found his trail, descending the cliff along a four-inch-wide shelf, one of a dozen accordion-like ledges tilting toward the water--ridges that had likely formed eons past as the earth heaved up in some catastrophic quake. Padding down the narrow incline, Dulcie shivered, not from the cold.

She liked the sea from a distance, she loved listening to the ocean's pounding heartbeat, which always comforted her. But to venture upon the windy cliffs at night, with the water heaving close beneath her and the tide rising, was another matter.

Where was Joe? Where was Joe Grey?

Beneath her sweating paws she could feel the earth trembling, too, from the pounding of the swells that broke at last against the cliff and that seemed to surge within the cliff, a hollow surging like water crashing into a hidden cave. Yes, there was a cave, it could be seen from another neck of land when the tide was out. Now it would be mostly underwater. Descending the four-inch ledge, she stopped suddenly.

Joe Grey stood below her as if he had materialized from the rock itself, his white face looking up at her, white chest and paws gleaming in the night, his black eyes intense. They spoke no word. Joe turned to look below them.

Down on the beach, the woman was pulling on a black hood over her blond hair. They watched her position a diving mask.

Padding down the narrow ledge, Dulcie pressed against Joe, licking his face and purring. He gave her a whisker kiss and a soft purr. It was all right, when they were together. They watched the woman pull on fins, accompanied by a little ratcheting sound as she tightened the straps. She secured a pale stick to her leg, too, then backed down the sand into the sea. Diving beneath the oily dark water, she was gone, vanished among the swells.

They saw her once, a dark underwater shape hardly visible, moving beneath the cliff and in where the sea hushed hollowly--and suddenly Joe Grey, too, was gone, slipping back into the hole from which he had emerged.

Dulcie followed him through a crack in the stone, a six-inch-wide fissure, as if the cliff had split at some time or perhaps prehistoric tides had washed out a softer part of the rock. She didn't like creeping into the blackness between stone walls that pressed against her shoulders and zinged alarms through her whiskers. The floor of the hole was wet and slick, and as they pushed into the hollowness, the sea's surging came louder. Then, abruptly, the right-hand wall ended and the narrow shelf fell away, straight down to the sea.

Dulcie's paws were sweating. She fixed on Joe's white feet moving away ahead of her, following him blindly until the ledge widened. Then suddenly below them a bright light moved beneath the dark, roiling water like the single fiery eye of a sea monster burning up at them.

Splash. The diver surfaced, her light exploding up, bathing the cliff as they fled away from the edge. Crouching against the wet stone wall, they kept their eyes slitted so as not to reflect the light back at her.

A black hand and arm reached up holding the pale stick, which had been lengthened. It had some kind of pincer at the end, maybe operated by a squeeze handle, Dulcie thought, like a stick for catching snakes, the kind used on TV nature programs. The woman dragged it along the shelf, feeling and poking and tapping, the stick reaching blindly toward them. They kept moving out of its way, backing deeper in--until Dulcie stumbled and nearly fell over something wet and slick.

A package lay on the wet stone shelf, a hard bundle as big as a book, wrapped in shiny black plastic. Joe slid his paw over it. "The money?" he said softly. "The stolen jewelry?"

Below them, the woman hung in the sea looking up, her light exploding the darkness. Could she see them? Crouched just out of the stick's reach, they dragged the package deeper into the tunnel.

The diver, growing impatient, began making little leaps out of the sea, so she could angle the stick higher. With every jump her light came higher, too.

Taking one end of the package in his mouth, Joe backed along the ledge toward the mouth of the tunnel, the stick hitting and scraping beside him. Dulcie carried the other end, the two of them forcing it into the tunnel, fighting to pull it through. The light followed them, but not the stick. Had she glimpsed them when she leaped up? The way seemed twice as far now, the hollow pounding twice as annoying. But at last they were out, dragging the bundle up the narrow ridge, trying to keep it from sliding over the side. It seemed forever until they got it atop the cliff and lay panting beside it, their hearts pounding, the sea wind prodding cold fingers into their wet fur. The night was very bright, after the black cave.

"I'm never moving again," Dulcie said.

"We'd better move, she'll be up here."

"Did she see us?"

Rising, Joe began to tear at the package, ripping the plastic until he could slip a paw in--and his soft cat laugh filled the night.

When he pulled out a paper bundle, beneath his white paw, held securely from the wind, was a stack of hundred dollar bills.

"She's coming," Dulcie hissed. A dislodged pebble rolled down the cliff, then the squinching sound of the woman's wet diving suit. Shoving the packet beneath loose stones, the cats fought to claw rocks over it--stones too heavy to be moved easily by paw.

"She'll have a gun," Dulcie whispered. "Larry Cruz was murdered--shot."

"I know," Joe said. "I saw her kill him."

Dulcie raised her head, looking at him; she felt very small, the two of them alone on the cliff in the night. Far away, down the beach, the whirling red light and police spotlights shone bright and safe. They were frantically digging and pushing at the package when the woman appeared above the edge of the cliff. She was coming straight for them, her fins and gloves dangling in her hand, her blond hair whipping across her face.

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. All rights reserved.

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