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.



She'll head for Santa Monica, Joe Grey thought as he leaped into Clyde's roadster and they took off after Gail's green compact. As he drove, Clyde snatched the phone from its cradle and punched in 911. Joe stood with his paws on the dash, watching Gail slip along ahead of them just at the 50-mile limit so not to attract attention, moving south down the coast highway among light traffic, with the stolen money and jewelry tucked safely beside her.

Clyde said, "You sure she shot Larry Cruz?"

"I saw her shoot him," Joe said patiently. "Dulcie and I followed her to the cliff. The money was hidden in that cave. She had to dive, to get in. She buried the gun on top the cliff.

"They're coming," Clyde snapped, looking in his rearview mirror. "Two black-and-whites. Get down, Joe! Now!"

Joe dropped to the seat beside Dulcie. Clyde could be so bossy. Clyde slowed as the squad cars passed them.

The officers were on Gail before they hit the sirens and started the red lights spinning. As they pulled her over, Clyde parked some way behind. She didn't resist, didn't try to outrun them as Joe had guessed she might. They watched her step out and assume the position, face to the car, hands on the roof. Watched as she was searched and handcuffed, and her car was searched. Apparently she had no other gun. She seemed very demure now, the picture of surprised innocence. For a second, Dulcie felt sorry for her; the little tabby had that pitying look in her green eyes until Joe nudged her. Then she straightened, watching with satisfaction as the blonde was locked into the back of a squad car--this woman who had killed Larry Cruz for no reason other than greed.

Police Captain Max Harper sat among the ruffled curtains and potted ferns of Otter Pine Inn's tearoom, dressed in full uniform, the thin, leathered man looking totally out of place surrounded by delicate white wicker and Patty Rose's fine china and fancy tea cakes--looking far more out of place than Joe Grey himself felt, cozied down on the window seat eating smoked salmon from a flowered plate. It took a certain polish, the tomcat thought, to make himself at home in any surroundings, from garbage cans to silk cushions.

From atop the baker's rack, Dulcie watched, amused. Seeing Clyde and Max Harper at a fancy tea was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But how could the two have refused? Patty Rose's requests were as imperative as a presidential summons--her purpose in this little gathering was to bid Alice and Jim Manning goodbye after their two week stay and to apologize for the ugly events surrounding the contest--not that she'd had any control over such matters.

Dorothy Daniels and Beverly Barker had been invited, but both women had gone home, deeply distressed by the shooting. Very likely, Joe thought, resolved never to be involved in another such contest. The way Joe had it worked out, Gail had been diving the morning of the tearoom break-in, because there had been another burglary just after the tryouts for the cat festival. He was guessing that Gail had gone, that morning before dawn, to stash the money. Or maybe she had waited on the beach while Larry dove.

Assume that Frances Farrow was suspicious of Gail and had followed her down the beach, Joe thought, getting her own shoes wet. Frances follows her to the tearoom, sees Gail walk in through the unlocked door--which Azrael had seen to some time during the night.

Frances sees Gail open the safe, wearing her gloves with that smell of the sea. Gail takes the money, locks the safe, is leaving when Frances appears and confronts her. Gail tells her it's none of her business and to get out of the way. Frances refuses. Gail shoves her, hits her in a vital spot, denting the silver pendant and causing the unexpected reaction of commotio cordis--jolting the electrical circuit that controls her heart. Frances falls dead.

Gail is terrified. She gets out of there fast. But the black tomcat returns when the commotion begins in the morning, leering in through the window. He has no conscience, that one.

It could have happened that way. But still Joe wondered about Alice Manning. While Gail and Azrael were robbing the village shops, passing the money to Larry to hide and maybe using Larry as lookout, did Alice know about their operation?

When the police recovered the money and jewelry that were hidden in the spare tire well of Gail's car, the count had been $1,500 short of the money stolen--the same amount that was taken from Charles, Ltd. Likely that was what Gail hid in her suitcase as he watched through the motel window, thinking she was Alice--or had that been Alice?

Gail would have had to do some quick changing, doubling back to the motel after she left the restaurant, then changing again after she stashed the money. But not impossible, he thought, given the time frame and the short distances.

The stolen crystal and leather items were still missing. The lab had found fibers from Frances Farrow's leotard on Gail's gloves that Joe had dropped on Harper's desk--had found just what Joe thought they'd find. However, the charge, in that death, could be no more than manslaughter.

But the gun that killed Larry Cruz, though Gail apparently handled it with gloves, showed one good print, on the end of the magazine, that was unmistakably Gail's. Now, Gail was safely locked up. Her human partner was dead.

But her feline accomplice had vanished. And of course, in Max Harper's version of the robberies, there was no black tomcat.

"Gail worked for a locksmith in San Diego," Harper said, sipping tea from the ridiculously small cup. "She was there five years, then worked a year for a security firm before she moved to Santa Monica, where she met Larry. Before that, she lived for a year in Panama. We're not certain what she was doing there, but likely that has no bearing on the case."

Doesn't it, Joe Grey thought, smiling.

"And you didn't get back all the money?" Jim Manning asked.

"No," Harper said. "But we have the murder weapon. It was buried out on the cliffs."

"That was lucky," Alice said. "How did you find it? Did you have a tip?"

Harper looked at her gently, and said nothing.

"And you caught Gail in her car, leaving town," Alice said. "That's good police work." She watched Harper expectantly, waiting for additional details.

Harper didn't offer any. What was it about Alice Manning, Joe wondered, that put Harper off? The captain turned to Patty. "You knew Larry had a fetish for you, Patty. For your movies, for your look-alikes, and for Patty Rose memorabilia. You saw his room after we searched it, the walls papered with your photographs and old movie bills."

Patty laughed. "Some of that stuff is worth some money today. He had a real collector's den. I knew he had a fixation about the old movies, but I didn't think too much about it."

"It didn't occur to you that he might be dangerous? Why did you hire him?"

Patty shrugged. "Alice asked me the same. I don't know. I didn't think he was dangerous, just a little strange. Harmless. I guess I liked the guy."

Joe and Dulcie exchanged an amused look. And it was not until that evening, as the cats sat on the kitchen counter watching Clyde broil a steak, that the $1,500 turned up.

They didn't hear a thing. The steak was sizzling and a CD was playing Dixieland. When Clyde went in the living room to change the record, he saw a white envelope lying on the rug inside Joe's cat door. A thick envelope that, when he opened it, contained a sheaf of fifty and hundred dollar bills.

Switching off the porch light, Clyde stepped outside. Neither he nor the cats saw anyone. There was no note in the envelope, only the money. There were no cat hairs stuck to the bills. Joe examined it for tooth marks but found only one tiny indentation in the corner--it could have been made by any sharp object. The scent of the envelope was such a mix of perfumes, lotions, hamburger, French fries, and maybe cat spit, that even Joe couldn't sort it out.

"So who left it?" Clyde said, laying the envelope on the coffee table and picking up the phone to call Harper.

"Likely we'll never know," Joe said. "Wonder why they brought it here?"

Clyde shrugged. "The shopkeepers will be happy to have it." He made the call, then returned to the kitchen to carve half the sirloin into rare, thin slices for Joe and Dulcie. He served them on the best china.

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. All rights reserved.


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