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Cat Laughing Last A Joe Grey Mystery
By Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Thomas T. Beeler Publisher Copyright © 2002 Shirley Rousseau Murphy
All right reserved. ISBN: 1574904388
The man lay facedown, bleeding into the braided rug of Susan Brittain's breakfast room, the fallen keyboard of Susan's computer dangling from the edge of her desk and dripping blood onto his face. The sliding glass doors of the large, bright room stood open, admitting a damp, chill breeze. The white shutter doors of the floor-to-ceiling cupboards had been flung back, the contents of the shelves thrown to the floor, a jumble of office supplies, boxes of costume jewelry, and ceramic dishes. Susan's prized houseplants were crushed beneath broken ceramic planters and heaps of black potting soil; every surface was dusted with soil and with clinging black powder where a plastic bottle of copier toner had burst open, the inky haze charring a blood-splattered doll and crusting the lenses of Susan's good reflex camera.
One shoe print was incised in the toner powder but had been partially smeared away. The computer had been turned on, the program on the screen a list of eBay auction items showing photographs of each offering with its price. The time was 6:30 A.M. Susan had been gone from the house for half an hour. As the victim lay committing his blood toher hand-braided rug, across the village three seemingly unrelated events were taking place, three small dramas that might, at a future date, help construct a scenario of interest to Molena Point police -- and to one gray tomcat and his tabby lady.
At the south side of the village, in the old mansion that housed Molena Point Little Theater, a young tortoiseshell cat prowled alone among the sets, her bright, inquisitive mind filled with wonderful questions. She was not hunting mice or snatching spiders from the cobwebs that hung in the far, high corners of the raftered ceiling. Her curiosity centered on the theater itself. She had watched the sets being built and painted, marveling at the green hills that looked so very like the real Molena Point hills over which she ranged each day. When she backed away from the sets, as the artist often did, the rolling slopes seemed nearly as huge and throbbing with light, the land running on forever along the edge of the Pacific. Only these hills didn't smell like green grass and earth, they smelled like paint. And no houses nestled among them, just scattered oaks, and wandering herds of longhorn cattle and deer and elk, from a time long past.
"Did Molena Point truly look like this?" she whispered to the empty theater. "All wild and without people? And such big animals everywhere? Were there no little cats then? And no rabbits or gophers to hunt?"
Every wonder that the kit had encountered in her short life had demanded vociferous response. She had to talk about each new event, if only to herself. She stood watching the hills, filled with questions, and she looked above her, too, at the ropes and props of the theater, at the catwalk where she liked to prowl, at the electrical buttons and cords that operated the various curtains, and at the overhead pulleys and lights, all complicated and wonderful. Muttering among ragged purrs, she sat admiring the set of the Spanish hacienda, with its deep windows and ornamental grills, and its broad patio with masses of roses blooming. The long, painted tables seemed very real standing about the patio with their white cloths and silver and crystal and vases of flowers, waiting for the wedding party -- for a bride and groom two hundred years dead. And the sadness of the love triangle sent a shiver through the kit, as if Marcos Romeros had just now been shot, this early dawn, as if at this moment he lay dying and betrayed.
The kit relished the stories that humans told -- but especially she loved the ancient Celtic folklore that spoke of her own history. She had never seen any kind of play being made, she had never seen any story brought alive, onstage. This new kind of storytelling filled her with wonder almost greater than her small, tortoiseshell body could contain.
While the tattercoat kit dreamed alone in the empty theater, and the morning sky over Molena Point brightened to fog-streaked silver, the man who lay bleeding in Susan Brittain's breakfast room stirred. His fingers twitched, his hand moved. His eyes opened, his expression puzzled and then afraid.
And across the village in a handsome stone cottage, a phone rang. One ring, two. On the third bell the system switched to an answering tape, recording a long message from a New York literary agent. Ten minutes later the instrument rang again, and an equally terse and irritated communication was committed to the machine from a prestigious New York editor. No one emerged from the bedroom to check the messages, certainly not the handsome, silver-haired author, a man one would expect to stroll out garbed in an expensive silk dressing gown and hand-sewn slippers. But it was, after all, only 6:50, California time. A writer who worked into the small hours had no desire to rise with the sun.
Several blocks away, in the crowded front yard of the Roy McLeary residence, as villagers gathered for the McLeary yard sale, an altercation was about to erupt over a small and unprepossessing wooden box that lay half hidden among cast-off household accessories and scarred furniture. A clash of emotions that would amuse and surprise the dozens of early bargain hunters, and would sharply alert the two cats who lay draped over the branch of a huge oak at the edge of the yard, greatly entertained by the intense atmosphere of the early gathering.
Joe Grey and Dulcie, having come from a predawn hunt up on the open hills, had arrived before daylight prepared to enjoy the bargaining. Though most of Molena Point's yard sales started officially at 8:00 A.M., by 6:30 or 7:00...
Excerpted from Cat Laughing Last by Shirley Rousseau Murphy Copyright © 2002 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. Excerpted by permission.
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