An excerpt of Cat Bearing Gifts, the 18th book in the feline P.I. Joe Grey cozy series by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (available November 20, 2012).
Tortoiseshell Kit and her elderly housemates, Lucinda and Pedric Greenlaw, are hurt in a terrible car crash on a winding California coastal road. The accident is terrifying enough, but then two dangerous men steal the Greenlaws’ car, making off with a secret hoard of jewels and gold carefully hidden inside its doors. Meanwhile… Joe Grey and his tabby companion discover two men hiding in an abandoned stone cottage that smells of mildewed money…and human blood. Could they be tied to the crimes against the Greenlaws—and perhaps even to the larger mystery involving the very source of the cats’ magical powers?
The confusing events that early fall in Molena Point began perhaps with the return of Kate Osborne, the beguiling blond divorcee arriving back in California richer than sin and with a story as strange as the melodies spun by a modern Pied Piper to mesmerize the unwary. Or maybe the strangeness started with the old, faded photograph of a child from a half-century past, and the memories she awakened in the yellow tomcat, maybe that was the beginning of the odd occurrences that stirred through the coastal village, setting the five cats off on new paths, propelling them into two forgotten worlds as exotic as the nightmares that jerk us awake in the small hours frightened and amazed.
The village of Molena Point hugs the California coast a hundred-and-fifty miles below San Francisco harbor, its own smaller bay cutting into the land in a deep underwater abyss, and its shore rising abruptly in a ragged cliff along which Highway One cuts as frail as a spider’s thread. Maybe the tale commences here on the narrow two-lane that wanders twisting and uncertain high above the pounding waves.
It was growing dark when Lucinda and Pedric Greenlaw and their tortoiseshell cat left their favorite seafood restaurant north of Santa Cruz. Lucinda had carried Kit to their table hidden in her canvas tote, the smug and purring tortie curled up inside anticipating lobster and scallops slipped to her during their leisurely meal. Now the threesome, replete with a good dinner and comfortable in their new, only slightly used, Lincoln Town Car, continued on south where they had reservations at a motel that welcomed cats—an establishment that even accommodated dogs if they didn’t chase the cats, or pee on someone’s sandals.
They’d departed San Francisco in late afternoon, Pedric driving, the setting sun in their eyes as it sank into the sea, its reflections glancing off the dark stone cliff that soon rose on their left, towering black above them. The Lincoln took the precipitous curves with a calm and steady assurance that eased Lucinda’s thoughts of the hundred-foot drop below them into a cold and churning sea. In the seat behind the thin, older couple, tortoiseshell Kit sprawled atop a mountain of packages, her fluffy tail twitching as she looked far down at the boiling waves, and then looked up at the dark, wooded hills rising above the cliff against the orange-streaked sky. The trip home, for Kit, was bittersweet. She loved the city, she had loved going around to all the exclusive designer’s shops, riding in Lucinda’s big carryall like a spoiled lap dog, reaching out a curious paw to feel the rich upholstery fabrics and the sleekly finished furniture that Lucinda and Pedric had considered. She loved the city restaurants, the exotic foods, she had rumbled with purrs when they dined grandly at the beautiful old Mark Hopkins Hotel, had peered out from her canvas lair secretly amusing herself watching her fellow diners. Part of her little cat self hadn’t wanted to leave San Francisco, yet part of her longed to be home, to be back in her own village with her feline pals and her human friends, to sleep at night high in her own tree house among her soft cushions with the stars bright around her and the sea wind riffling the branches of her oak tree. Most of all, she longed to be home with her true love.
It had been a stormy romance since the big red tomcat showed up in Molena Point nearly seven months earlier, when he and Kit had first discovered one another, on the cold, windy shore. Pan appeared in the village just two months after Christmas, right at the time of the amazing snow storm, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in Molena Point for forty years—but the likes of that handsome tomcat, Kit had never seen. Almost at once, she was smitten.
Oh my, how Pan did purr for her, and how nicely he hunted with her, letting her take the lead, often easing back and letting her make the kill—but yet how bold he was when they argued, decisive and macho and completely enchanting. Even as much as she’d loved San Francisco, she felt lost and small when she was parted from him. Why can’t I be in two places at once, why can’t I be at home with Pan and Joe Grey and Dulcie and Misto and our human friends, and have all the pleasures of San Francisco, too, all together in the same place? Why do you have to choose one from the other?
In the city, the Greenlaws had hit every decorators’ showroom of any consequence, thanks to their friend, interior designer Kate Osborne who had unlimited access to those exclusive venues. How fetching Kate had looked, ushering them into the showrooms, her short, flyaway blond hair catching the light, her green eyes laughing as if life was a delicious joke, and always dressed in something creamy and silky, casual and elegant. Kate’s scent of sandalwood blended deliciously with the showrooms’ aromas of teak and imported woods and fine fabrics.
Lucinda and Pedric had made wonderful purchases toward refurbishing their Molena Point house. Ten new dining chairs and five small, hand carved tables were being shipped down to the village, along with a carved Brazilian coffee table, three hand embossed chests of drawers, and six bolts of upholstery fabric that were far too beautiful for Kit to ever spoil with a careless rake of her claws. The bundles of fabrics and boxes of small accessories filled the Lincoln’s ample trunk and wide backseat, along with the Greenlaws’ early Christmas shopping, with gifts for all their friends; Kit rode along atop a veritable treasure of purchases—to say nothing of even greater riches hidden all around her, inside the doors of the Lincoln where no one would ever find them.
They had stayed with Kate in her apartment, too, with a grand view of the bay where, lounging on the windowsills, Kit could watch San Francisco’s stealthy fog slip in beneath the Golden Gate bridge like a pale dragon gliding between the delicate girders, or watch a foggy curtain obscure the bridge’s graceful towers as delicately as a bridal veil. But best of all were their evenings before the fire, looking out at the lights of the city, and listening to the stories of Kate’s amazing journey: tales that filled Kit’s dreams with a fierce longing for that land, which she would never dare approach. Kate’s adventure was a journey any speaking cat would long to share and yet one that made Kit’s paws sweat, made her want to back away, hissing.
In her wild, kitten days, she would have followed Kate there, down into the caverns of the earth and she would have ignored the dangers. But now, all grown up, she had learned to be wary, she no longer had the nerve to race down into that mysterious land, overwhelmed by wonder. Now only her human friend was brave enough to breach that mythical world with a curiosity at least as powerful as Kit’s own.
It was just last June that Kate had phoned her Molena Point friends to say she had quit her job in Oregon and moved back to San Francisco. But then, after that one round of calls, no one heard from her again. Their messages had gone unanswered until two weeks ago when, in early September, she resurfaced and called them all, and this time her voice bubbled with excitement. She spoke of a strange journey but left the details unclear, she talked about a gift or legacy, a sudden fortune but she left the particulars vague and enticing.
Now, Kit, safe in the backseat as Pedric negotiated the big Lincoln down the narrow cliff road, idly watched the white froth of waves far below glowing in the gathering night. She sniffed the wind’s rich scent of kelp and dead sea creatures and she thought about the wealth that Kate had brought back, treasures Kate insisted that Lucinda and Pedric share—as if gold and jewels were as common as kitty treats, or as a box of chocolate creams to pass around among her friends.
Though she made sure the Greenlaws’ took some of that amazing fortune back with them, to Molena Point, she had in fact already sold much of the jewelry, traveling from city to city, Seattle, Portland, Houston, taking care that she wasn’t followed, telling the dealers the most plausible of stories about her many European visits where, she said, she’d acquired the strange and exotic pieces. Though the gold coins she’d insisted on giving to the Greenlaws were common enough. She’d had them all melted down and recast into the tender of this world, they could be sold anywhere without question. “No one has followed me,” Kate said, “no one has a clue. If anyone did, don’t you think they’d have come after me by now? Someone would have broken into my apartment weeks ago, or intercepted me on my way to a bank or getting off a plane. And now,” she’d said, with a little smile, “who would suspect a respectable couple like you of carrying a car full of jewels and Krugerands?”
Kate and Pedric together had removed the Lincoln’s door panels, using special tools, one that looked like a fat, ivory colored tongue depressor, and a long metal gadget that might pass for a nail puller or a bottle opener. They had tucked twenty small boxes into the empty spaces, taping them securely in place so they wouldn’t rattle or become entangled in the wires and mechanisms that ran through the inner workings of the car. Pedric was as skilled in these matters as any drug smuggler, though his lawless days were long past. Kate said the coins were theirs to use any way they chose, and Lucinda suggested the village’s animal rescue project, which the cats’ human friends had organized early in the year to care for the many pets that had been abandoned during the economic downturn, cats and dogs left behind when their families moved out of foreclosed homes. There was enough wealth hidden in the car to build a spacious animal shelter and still leave a nice buffer for the Greenlaws, too, against possible hard times to come.
“I’ve seen what can happen,” Kate said, her green eyes sad, “when a whole economy fails. That land, that was so rich and amazing…all the magic is gone, there’s nothing left but the ugliest side of their culture, all is fallen into chaos, the castles crumbled, the crops dead, the people starving. Everyone is drained of their will to live, not even the wealth I brought back was of use to them. What good is gold when there’s nothing to buy, no food, nothing to trade for? People wandering the villages scavenging for scraps of food, but with no desire to plant and grow new crops, no ambition to begin new herds or bring any kind of order to their ruined world. All their richly layered culture has collapsed, they are people without hope, without any life left in them. Without,” Kate said, “any sense of joy or of challenge. Only the dark has prevailed, and it feeds on their hopelessness.”
Now, as night drew down, fog began to gather out over the sea, fingering in toward the cliff as if soon it would swallow the road, too. As they rounded the next curve, Kit could see, far below, the lights of a few cars winding on down the mountain—but when she looked back, headlights were coming down on them too fast, truck lights higher and wider than any car, racing down the narrow road. A second set of lights flashed past that heavy vehicle, growing huge in their rearview mirror, then the big truck gained on the pickup again, accelerating at downhill speed, the two vehicles moving too fast, coming right at them, their lights blazing in through the back window, blinding her. The truck swerved into the oncoming lane, passing the pickup, its lights illuminating the rocky cliff—then everything happened at once. The truck and pickup both tried to crowd past them on the left hand lane, forcing them too near the edge. The truck skidded and swung around, forcing the pickup against the cliff, their lights careening up the jagged stone. At the same instant the cliff seemed to explode. Pedric fought the wheel as an avalanche of dirt surged down at them. Kit didn’t understand what was happening. Behind them great rocks came leaping down onto the truck and a sky-full of flying stones skidded across their windshield. She thought the whole mountain was coming down, boulders bouncing off the pickup, too, and on down toward the sea. Pedric crashed through somehow, leaving the two vehicles behind them. The stones thundering against metal nearly deafened her, a roar that she knew was the last sound she’d ever hear in this life.
And then all was still. Only the sound of the last pebbles falling, bouncing across their windshield and dented hood.
Victor Amson’s old gray pickup raced too fast down the steep two-lane, its bare tires squealing around the curves, its headlights glancing off the stony cliff, following the taillights of a big produce truck, drawing close on its tail. The truck driver swerved onto a turnout at the sheer edge of the drop, impatient for him to go on past. As Vic swung into the oncoming lane, he could see the round-faced driver giving him the finger. Prickly bastard. Moving on around him, Vic smiled, grateful that nothing was coming up the hill; though the narrow, winding road didn’t bother him. Beside him, his passenger was hunched way over to the center, his eyes squeezed shut with fear. Didn’t take much to scare Birely.
Once Vic was free of the truck he sailed right on down the mountain, driving one-handed, his tall, wiry frame jammed in behind the wheel, his lined face catching light from the dash in a cobweb of wrinkles, a thin face, narrow nose, his pale brown eyes too close together. Worn jeans and ragged windbreaker, rough, calloused hands. Long brown hair streaked with gray, hanging down, caught on the back of the seat, loosely tied with a leather band. He drove scowling, thinking about those three cops in their patrol cars watching him when he came out of that fence’s place.
The damn fuzz might not have been on his case at all but they sure as hell made him cranky, their marked units parked there in front of the consignment store. That had made Birely fidget, too. Birely’d wanted to ditch the truck to get the cops off their trail, steal another car on some backstreet and then hit the freeway, he said they both should have had haircuts, that shaggy hair always set a cop off. Suspicious bastards, he said, and he was right about that.
Having passed the truck, Vic was coming down on a big sedan, shiny black in the wash of his headlights, maybe a small limo, its red taillights winking on and off as it negotiated the winding road, its headlights sweeping along the ragged cliff. When his lights hit it right, he could see a lone couple in the front seat, and what looked like a small dog perched up in the back. On past it, farther down the steep grade, occasional taillights winked, gearing down the steep curves, maybe trucks hauling their loads to one of the small coastal towns that stood like warts down there along the marshy shore. The truck behind gained on him again. Birely went rigid as a fencepost, glancing back, trying not to look down over the steep drop, his faded brown eyes turned away, his bony hands nervously clutching at his worn-out leather jacket that he’d probably picked up at some rescue mission. They had, until they hit the mountain road, been passing the bottle of Old Crow back and forth but now, when Vic offered the bottle, Birely shook his head, glancing sideways toward the hundred foot drop and scooting over even tighter against the middle console, his fists tight whenever their old tires let out a squeal. Made Vic wonder why the hell he’d linked up with Birely again after all these years, the guy was a total wuss, always had been. Scared of his own shadow, clumsy, always out of sync with what as going on around him, a real screw-up.
Years back, when they were younger and ran together some, any time Vic had something profitable going, Birely managed to screw it up. Every damn time. Make a mess of it, blow the plan, and they’d end up with nothing for their trouble but maybe a night or two in the slammer.
He’d dumped Birely, after that, didn’t see him for years. Until three months ago, he’d run into him again. That was just after he’d confiscated this current pickup truck from a ranch yard north of Salinas, slapped on different license plates courtesy of a roadside junkyard, bolted on an old rusted camper shell he found dumped back in the woods. Heading over to the coast, it had started to rain when he ran into Birely outside a 7–11 when he’d stopped for beer. Birely sat huddled on a bench out in front, under the roof that sheltered the gas pumps, sat eating one of them dried up package sandwiches, and you’d think they were long lost brothers, the way Birely went on. Bastard was broke, and happy as hell to see him.
Birely said he was headed over to the coast because his sister had died, how he’d read it in the paper. He still had the clipping in his pants pocket, all wrinkled up. Going on about the house she’d left to some stranger instead of to him, when he was her only family, how it ought to be rightfully his. How he meant to confront this woman who’d supposedly inherited Sammie’s worldly goods, and how Sammie’d had a stash of money hidden away somewhere, too, way more than just a few hundred bucks, and he wanted to know what had happened to that. Listening to Birely’s tale, Vic decided he was glad to see the poor guy after all, decided he’d give his old friend a lift and maybe help him out some. He knew that area pretty well, Molena Point and back up the valley, he’d used to grow a little weed back up in the hills there, break into a few cars now and then, never anything big time, and never did get caught.
Birely’d told him Sammie’d been shot to death, if you could believe it, her body buried right there under her own house. That hurt Birely, but mostly it was the loss of an inheritance, the loss of Sammie’s love and confidence, that she’d leave everything to a stranger, that made him mad at the whole damn world. He didn’t seem so much mad at the killer as he was mad at Sammie for getting herself killed and for leaving him nothing.
Birely needn’t fret that the cops wouldn’t find Sammie’s killer, they’d already done that, the guy was doing time right now up at Quentin, some local realtor there in Molena Point killed her, and that was a long story, too.
Well the house she’d lived in wasn’t much, but more than Birely’d ever had or wanted, until now. Sammie’s death seemed to change him—he was Sammie’s only family, but look how she’d gone and done him, she’d even made a regular will, leaving the big lot with its two small houses to, “Some woman friend of hers,” Birely’d whined. “I’m her own kin. Why would she do me like that, leave it all to this Emmylou Warren? I met that woman once or twice when I came that way up the coast, stopped to see Sammie, just some dried-up old woman, nothing special about her. Who could be so special, over Sammie’s own brother?”
“Maybe Sammie thought you wouldn’t want a house,” Vic had said, “being a hobo and all. You always said you couldn’t stand to live under a roof, to be fenced in, you always said that.”
“Maybe. But there’s more than the house, there’s the damn money, I never said I wouldn’t want the money, I just never thought about her dying. Well, the newspaper didn’t say nothing about no money, just a will leaving the property. Maybe,” he said, frowning, “maybe this Emmylou Warren don’t know about that.”
“Where’d your sister get money?” Vic had said, watching Birely as alertly as a rattler onto a mouse.
“Old uncle left Sammie a wad. Even after all these years, she still had half of it, she told me that’s what she lived on. Except for those times she worked at some job, housecleaning, bagging groceries. She was real tight with money. Told me she still had over half of it hidden away different places, right there in the damned house. Old bills left over from the middle of the last century. She never did like banks. Our old uncle, he stole it but she never would tell me much about that. Well hell, she was just a little girl when the old guy sent it to her, mailed it to her in a box, for Christ’s sake, from somewhere in Mexico.”
It was such a wild story Vic wondered if Birely’d made it all up, a pie-in-the sky daydream because he wanted there to be money and maybe because he wanted a reason to be mad at Sammie. That would be like him, mixed up sometimes between what was real and what he thought was real. But hell, whatever was in the poor guy’s head, what could it hurt to take pity on him and go have a look.
They’d come on over to the coast, got to Sammie’s place, got a glimpse of the old woman who’d inherited the property, living right there in Sammie’s house. They’d watched her for a few days, while they lived in the truck, hidden back up in the woods or moving the old pickup around the winding village streets from one small neighborhood to another, sleeping at night in the rusty camper shell and, in the daytime, approaching the old woman’s house on foot. They’d watched her for over a week, doing some kind of carpentry on the house during the day but she went to bed early, the lights would go out at eight or nine, and they never once saw her go up the hill through the woods, to the old stone cabin on the back of the property, she seemed to have no interest in the old abandoned farm building that was on Sammie’s land, Birely said Sammie hadn’t had much use for it, either, just left it there overgrown with bushes and the roof half fallen in. Said the land here was plenty valuable, that if she ever needed any more money she could sell it easy but she never did.
Late one night they’d moved into the stone shack when Emmylou was sound asleep, house all dark, and they didn’t make a sound, didn’t use a flashlight. Vic had picked the old lock, and had jimmied the padlock on the shed, hid the truck in there, fixed the lock back so it looked untouched, still hanging rusty against the peeling paint of the old, swinging shed door
The single stone room had maybe been workers’ quarters back in the last century, when there were mostly little scraggy farms up here. At some time, rough planks had been fitted up against the bare stone walls, nailed onto two-by-fours, most likely for warmth. Stained toilet and old metal sink in one corner. Stone floor, cold as hell under their sleeping bags.
It was some days before Birely, lying in his sleeping bag staring at the plank walls, said, “Money could be up here, where no one’d think to look. Maybe she didn’t leave Emmylou all of it, maybe she left some for me to find, in case I wanted to come looking. Sure as hell she didn’t put it in any bank, she got that from Uncle Lee, he robbed banks. He told her, never trust your money to a banker. As little as she was, maybe nine or ten when he left for Mexico, I guess she listened.” Birely shrugged. “Sammie lived all her life that way, hiding what she earned and, years later, hiding what Uncle Lee sent her. She was in her twenties, then. Lived alone all her life, stayed to herself just like the old man did, never got cozy with strangers—until this Emmylou person.”
There were no cupboards in the stone shed to search, no attic, no place to hide anything except maybe in those double walls. They’d started prying off one slab of wood and then another, putting each back as they worked. Used an old hammer they’d found in the truck, had muffled the sound with rags when they pulled the nails and tapped them back in real quiet, moving on to the next board, and the next. Underneath the boards, some of the stones were loose, too, the mortar crumbling around them—and sure as hell, the fifth stone they’d lifted out, behind it was a package wrapped in yellowed newspaper. Unwrapped it, and there it was: a sour-smelling packet of mildewed hundred dollar bills. Birely’d let out a whoop that made Vic grab him and slap a hand over his mouth.
“Christ, Birely! You want that old woman up here with her flashlight, you want her calling the cops?” But nothing had happened, when they looked out the dirty little window no lights had come on down at the house below.
“Hell, Vic, there’s a fortune here,” Birely said, counting out the hundreds, old, sour smelling hundred dollar bills.
Took them several days to examine all the walls. They’d found ten more packets, and made sure they didn’t miss any. They came away with nearly nine thousand dollars. But even then, Birely said that originally there’d been maybe two-hundred-thousand in stolen bills, and he’d looked down meaningfully toward the larger house.
Over the next weeks, whenever they saw the old woman get in her old green Chevy and head off into the village, they’d go down through the woods and search the house, and that tickled Birely, that he still had his key to the place, that Sammie’d given him years back, in case he ever needed a place to hide out from the law or from his traveling buddies.
While they searched her three rooms they took turns watching the weedy driveway so the old woman wouldn’t come home and surprise them. Emmylou Warren was tall, skinny. Sun browned face and arms wrinkled as an old boot. Long brown hair streaked with gray. She had a couple of cats, maybe more, there were always cats around her overgrown yard and going in and out of the house. They’d see her drive in, unload lumber tied on top the Chevy, cats rubbing against her ankles. Birely said, “You think that’s Sammie’s money she’s spending for all them building materials? Or,” he said, his face creasing in a knowing smile, “or did Sammie only tell her about the money, tell her it was hid, and she’s looking for it?”
“Sammie would do that,” he said. “That’s exactly what she’d do, to keep from paying inheritance. Sammie didn’t like the gover’ment any better than she liked banks.
“That’s why she’s tearing up the walls,” Birely said, scowling at the nerve of the woman. “Tearing them up just like we’re doing, and it’s rightfully my money.”
“If she’s found any,” Vic said, “why’s she driving that clunky old car? I’d get me a new car, first off. And if she is looking for the money, why would she have help coming in, those two carpenters that are here sometimes, and that woman carpenter? She wouldn’t have no one else around. That dark haired woman’s a looker, I wouldn’t mind getting to know her better.” Slim woman, short, roughed up hair, fit her faded jeans real nice. He’d heard the old woman call her Ryan, she drove a big red king cab, her own logo on the side, Ryan Flannery Construction. Pretty damn fancy. Well hell, Vic thought, she’d be too snooty to give him a second look.
They burned no lights in the stone house at night, and didn’t cook none, or warm up their food. Just opened a can of cold beans, kept a loaf of bread handy and maybe donuts. He missed hot coffee. Even in the hobo camps they boiled coffee. And they didn’t drive the truck, just left it hidden in the shed below and hoped she’d stay away from there. If they needed beer and food they’d walk up the hill through the woods and then down the next street to the village. Carried out their trash, too, dropped it in a village dumpster, in one alley or another, always behind a different restaurant. Fancy place like Molena Point, even the dumpsters were kept all neat and covered.
They’d kept on slipping down to the house whenever Emmylou went out, searching where she was starting a tear-out, fishing back between the studs, but then one night she came up the hill snooping around the stone house. They were inside sitting on their sleeping bags eating cold beans and crackers, they heard her come up the steps, saw her through the smeared window and they eased down out of sight. They were sure she’d have a key, but she didn’t come in. They’d stayed real still until they heard her leave again, her shoes scuffing on the steps, heard her rustling away down through the bushes, heard her door open and shut.
They’d waited a while after her lights went out, feeling real nervous. They’d opened the shed door real quiet, shoved some food and their sleeping bags in the pickup, with what money they’d found, hoping she wouldn’t hear the pickup start. Had eased up the dirt lane and around through the woods, and moved on away from there. Had parked for the night way up at the edge of the village beside an overgrown canyon. Had waited until dawn, then had made a run back down near Emmylou’s place, where Vic tended to a deal he’d made, there in the neighborhood. Had picked up some goods he’d told this little gal he’d sell for her, up in the city. Gal with two little girls, light fingered woman with some fancy, stolen clothes to sell. A nice stroke of luck, when he’d seen the woman and her older child shoplifting, and had got the goods on them. A nice little deal he’d set up with her: he’d make the sale and take his share, and not turn her in to the cops. He’d met with Debbie, picked up the goods, and then headed for the city. Let Emmylou think they were gone for good—if she ever was onto them living right there above her.
They were gone a week up the coast, boosting food from a mom-n-pop grocery or a 7–11, and they’d gone on into San Francisco, where he’d made the business transaction. That turned out pretty good, except for the damn cops sitting out in front, there. Well hell, the goons hadn’t followed them, maybe it was just coincidence, maybe they were watching someone else.
He’d made a bit of cash off that, and who knew what other arrangements he might make with Debbie Kraft. Now, headed back down the coast to the stone shack, he hoped the old woman had settled down and they could finish looking for the money. Vic was daydreaming about what he’d do with that kind of cash, when the produce truck he’d passed came roaring down again right on their tail, its lights so bright in his mirror he couldn’t see the road ahead. Swearing, he eased over to let it pass. Truck hauled right down on them, riding their bumper. Let the bastard tailgate that big sedan up ahead, it was moving too damn slow anyway. That was what was holding him up, some rich-ass driver in that big Lincoln Town Car—one more curve, he was right on top the Town Car, too, and the damn truck was climbing his tail. Swearing, he pulled over, pushing the big sedan closer to the edge. “Go on, you bastard!” Why the hell didn’t the guy driving the Lincoln step on the gas, get on down the grade? Vic drew as close to the edge as he could to let the truck pass, tailgating the Town Car, then pulled toward the left lane. But the truck shot past him, rocking his truck, kicking up gravel, shaking the road with a hell of a rumble and its headlights made the cliff look like it was moving—well, hell, the cliff was moving, rocks falling, bouncing across the road. He stood on his brakes but couldn’t stop. The whole mountain was sliding down. The Town Car shot past, rocks thundering down across its tail. A whole piece of the mountain was falling. The big truck skidded. Vic smashed into its side, and into the cliff. The front end of his pickup crumpled like paper, squashed against the bigger bumper. The passenger door bent in against Birely like you’d bend a beer can, Birely struggling and twisting between the bent door and the crumpled dashboard. Pebbles and rocks rained down around them. The produce truck lay turned over right in his face. One headlight striking off at an angle, catching the rising dust, its other light picking out the black Town Car on the far side of the rock-fall, where it had plowed into the cliff. That light shone into the interior where the driver and passenger were slumped, and picked out through the back window the eerie green glow of a pair of eyes, he could see the animal’s tail lashing, too, and realized it wasn’t a dog. A cat. Who would travel with a cat! A damn cat, its eyes reflecting the lights of the wrecked truck where it peered out, watching him.
Copyright © 2012 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
In addition to her popular Joe Grey mystery series for adults, for which she has received ten national Cat Writers’ Association Awards for best novel of the year, Shirley Rousseau Murphy is a noted children’s book author who has received five Council of Authors and Journalists Awards. She and her husband live in Carmel, California, where they serve as full-time household help to two demanding feline ladies.