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 night wind scoured across the black cliff, whipping at the cats, and the sea hushed and sucked below them as if it wanted to snatch them away. Quickly the dark figure approached, climbing. She had extinguished the light that was strapped to her forehead. Reaching the crest, she paused to strip off her hood and diving suit, packing them into the duffel bag with her fins. She gave no sign that she had seen them. They watched her remove, from the bag's zippered side pocket, a snub-nosed revolver. The starlight caught its gleam.

Wrapping the gun in a pale cloth and then in a piece of plastic, she took a small, folding shovel from the bag. She knelt almost where they had buried the black plastic package of hundred dollar bills, and began to move rocks aside. Clearing a space not a foot away from where the cats crouched among the rocks, she began to dig. They couldn't let her find the money and be off with it--they crouched, ready to spring at her, hardly breathing.

But she didn't find the package. When the hole was a foot deep, she laid the gun in and covered it, patting the earth down, then stood looking up the beach toward the police cars, toward the moving spotlights where she had shot Larry Cruz. The cats could not see her expression. She turned away at last, and they watched her descend the cliff and cross the sand, heading away from the murder scene, watched her enter the village well to the south, among the quiet cottages, disappearing in the shadows.

"Why didn't she throw the gun in the sea?" Dulcie said, pawing at where it was buried.

"Things wash back up. She'd have to go far out, maybe didn't want to take the time. Maybe she means to dig it up later." And Joe Grey smiled. "Max Harper will have it before she does."

"If we're quick, he will," Dulcie said, pawing sand from her whiskers. "I wonder what she thought happened to the money, when she couldn't find it? I thought sure she saw us."

Joe licked his own whiskers, spitting out grit. "She and Larry fought. Larry said she was holding back, said they were supposed to hide everything, the money, the jewelry, the credit card slips, and split it all later. She said she only held back enough cash for expenses--she accused him of taking the money from her room. Larry said she was crazy. She shouted that he was double crossing her, and just like that she shot him. I didn't even see the gun. She must have had it in her hand all the time.

Joe Grey's eyes were sad. "Maybe she planned to kill him all along. Come on, Dulcie, let's get the money off this cliff. We can't leave it here."

"But who would find...?"

"Azrael. If he comes looking for her, if he catches our scent, he'll find it."

"You think she's his partner? But this evening, Azrael went into the Mink Collar just before she slipped away from the crowd and you followed her. She wouldn't have had time to go in and take anything. Anyway, he left the door locked."

"He could have opened it any time. That shop was closed all day. She could have sneaked in before the floats lined up, then Azrael could have gone back later, during the parade, and locked it from inside."

Pulling away stones with their claws, they freed the black plastic package and dragged it between them down the cliff and across the deep sand. They were both panting when they reached easier going beneath the cypress trees. The package was so heavy they were sure it contained more than paper money, though it couldn't hold all the small items that had vanished, the fine purses and billfolds and silver. Hurrying along over a mat of dry leaves, beneath drooping cypress branches, they headed for Joe's house. They stopped only once, near the murder scene, where the antique cars were parked.

Leaving Joe to guard the money, Dulcie slipped among the feet of the crowd and up into Clyde's open yellow roadster. Crouching on the floor, she punched in the message code on Clyde's cell phone. Her voice was soft. "Go home now, Clyde. We have the money. Please, hurry!"

Hitting end call, wondering if he would check his messages, she slipped up onto the back of the seat for a moment to watch the crowd.

She spotted Alice Manning, with her husband. Then a blonde in a black leotard. Then, some distance away, her twin. But no. There were three. One over by the hot dog stand--all three were there. The diver had returned. Talk about nerve.

She hurried back to Joe. "She's stashed her duffel somewhere and come back to mingle, as if she never left. They're so exactly alike! Who would know?"

Dragging the package through the dark streets for what seemed miles, they covered a distance that ordinarily would be a hop and a playful gallop. Reaching Joe's street at last, and his white Cape Cod cottage, they hauled their burden up the steps.

"This isn't going to fit through your cat door."

"Push, Dulcie. If we can get one edge under the flap..."

"It isn't going to go, not even catty-corner."

They got it stuck twice, then Joe ripped the plastic open.

"Hurry," she said. "The whole neighborhood will see us, with the porch light on. Why did he leave the light on!"

Tearing with claws and teeth, they shoved one pack of hundred dollar bills through, then another, littering Clyde's living room with enough cash to keep every cat in the village in caviar for the rest of its natural life. Beneath the money lay a dozen small plastic freezer bags filled with jewelry. Pushing it all through, they carried each bag and packet across the room, drooling some on the money, and stuffed them under the cushion of Joe Grey's personal and ratty overstuffed chair--its cushions so lumpy that who could tell if there was a fortune crammed down atop the springs.

"Very nice," purred a rasping voice behind them.

They spun, crouching, teeth bared, ears back.

"You two little kitties work very well together," the black tom said. He stood in the dark dining room, his amber eyes mirroring light from the front window. "You've brought it all out from the cave for us. How thoughtful. Come have a look, my dear."

A woman stepped from the kitchen, her blond hair tangled. She wore a blue sweater over her black leotard; she smelled strongly of the sea. Joe wondered where Rube was; he prayed they hadn't hurt the old black Labrador. Normally Rube would be growling and barking. There was not a sound, and that worried Joe. Rube was growing frail, getting on in years.

The woman looked at Joe's chair, where Azrael was clawing the cushion aside. "So, we have the contents of our package. Very nice." She smiled coldly. "And these are the other two with your talents, old tomcat! How good of them to help us." Striding across the room, she tossed the chair cushion away and began to scoop the money and jewelry into a canvas bag. Her voice was not Dorothy's harsh tones, nor Beverly's sweet ones.

Gail Gantry. Bending over Joe's chair, filling the bag with money.

Crouching, Joe Grey leaped, clawing and biting her, unwilling to abandon what they had worked to retrieve. Azrael sprang at Joe--and Dulcie hit Azrael hard in an explosion of claws and teeth. Gail was in the middle, striking at cats and shouting when from the kitchen a black cyclone exploded barking and jumping at her.

Rube had her arm in his mouth. She jerked away, kicking him hard. Ducking away, Rube turned on Azrael. As the black tom sprang to the top of the CD player, Gail plunged through the door running, clutching the bag. Azrael flew out with her, just ahead of Rube's teeth. The cats leaped to the back of Joe's chair, watching through the window as Gail roared away in a green compact and Azrael disappeared across the rooftops--and as Clyde's roadster shot around the corner, into the drive.

Clyde ran for the house. Bursting in, he looked at the handful of scattered hundred dollar bills that had spilled to the rug. He looked at Joe and Dulcie.

"Come on!" Joe shouted. "She has the money. She shot Larry Cruz...Come on, Clyde!"

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. All rights reserved.

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