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17

Cat Cross Their Graves

Hurrying home across the rooftops, Joe Grey peered down past the gutters to the streets below, then studied the rising, falling roofscape once more. Scanning the shingled valleys and peaks around him for the kit, he felt heavy with fear for her-and silently he cursed her. Nearly dead on his paws, his poor cat body wanted more than anything a deep restorative slumber among the warm blankets. A healing snooze until morning and then a nice rich omelet thick with cheese and sardines and kippers. Comfort food as only Clyde could create, heavy with life-giving fat and cholesterol.

Dulcie would say, "How can you think of your belly, with the kit missing?" But he couldn't even search for a flea on his own back without sufficient fuel. Hunting for the kit was stressful at the best of times, and tonight, yawning and worn out, his belly as empty as a deflated balloon, he just wished the damn cat was at home, in bed, safe with Lucinda and Pedric.

But around him the night remained empty. The windswept rooftops were all deserted, no small shadow flicking through the cold blowing dark, not even a bat or a roof rat, the world as deserted as the mountains of the moon. Galloping across the last oak limb above the last narrow street, Joe headed for his own safe roof. Home looked mighty welcome, the new second story with its big windows and solid stone chimney, and Joe's private tower sticking up atop the peak-as fine a sight as a tropical island to a lost sailor. Galloping across the new cedar shakes, loving the feel of them under his paws and their new-wood smell, he slipped through his plastic cat door into his private retreat. Into his window-walled, hexagonal, cushioned aerie-and collapsed exhausted among the pillows.

With the wind rattling outside, he was thankful for the heavy, double-glass windows. Ryan, when she designed his tower, had installed them so Clyde could open them from inside the study simply by climbing the sliding book ladder and reaching up through the cat door. She had no idea that Joe could slide those windows to suit himself, from inside or outside, as his mood dictated.

But all the same, she had created a perfect design for the tomcat. Joe's retreat commanded a superior view of the village rooftops and of the sea beyond. It welcomed the ocean breezes on hot days and the low south sun in winter. And as the mean midsummer sun arced overhead, the generous overhang blocked its hottest rays.

Now, though, the winter rains had lashed wet leaves across his closed windows, dark red and brown leaves sticking as stubbornly as bugs stuck to a car's windshield. Windows sure needed washing, he'd have to speak to Clyde.

After a short restorative rest he rose, padded across the cushions, and had a long drink from his water bowl. Clyde did keep that washed and filled with fresh water every day. Then he pushed through the cat door. Slipping down through the ceiling of the master suite, he paused on the rafter, looking down and around him.

Nothing stirred beneath him. Desk and easy chair and bookshelves stood dark and tranquil. From the master bedroom, he heard only Clyde's snoring. Dropping onto Clyde's desk, barely missing an empty coffee cup, he sniffed it. Colombian with a touch of brandy. The desk was littered with catalogs for automotive parts, and a neat stack of orders stood beside the cup, all filled out and weighted down with the stapler. Since Joe was a kitten, given to tobogganing across desktops on a stack of loose papers, Clyde always left his papers weighted. During Joe's youth, Clyde's orders and correspondence were usually wrinkled or ripped and always embossed with tooth and claw marks that, he had told Clyde recently, turned each into an original and endearing memento. Pity Clyde hadn't saved them. Like those copper-encased baby shoes that little old ladies kept to remind them of when their aging children were babies. Imagine the joy of those trashed automotive orders, pasted in a scrapbook, to recall for Clyde Joe's kittenhood.

Leaping from the desk to the carpet, he crossed the study, past the file cabinets and bookcases, past the squat legs of the leather chair and love seat, and through the open sliding doors into the master bedroom. There he paused before the hearth, soaking up the last warmth from the dying logs. When, yawning, he leaped onto the bed, Clyde groaned, and his snores grew ragged as a buzz saw. Joe pawed at Clyde's cheek, politely keeping his claws in. Clyde jerked from sleep and sat straight up, swearing.

"Can't you go around the bed? To your own side? Why did you wake me?" Clyde stared at the clock. "It's one in the morning, Joe! Do you have to wake me before you can sleep? Do you have to ruin my night before you're happy? You want to make sure I see every stain of blood and mud smear you're leaving on the clean sheets?" Clyde's dark hair went every which way. His cheeks and chin were rough with stubble, and there were shadows under his eyes.

"My paws are scrupulously clean. I am not smearing blood or mud on the sheets. I woke you to ask if you'd found the kit. Wilma doesn't answer her phone. Lucinda and Pedric didn't find her. I thought-"

"You think if I'd found her I'd be asleep? You think I wouldn't have called Lucinda? I just got to sleep, Joe. I've been looking. Wilma's fine. We're all worn out looking for that damn cat. I just left Wilma. I just got to sleep after looking all night for the damned cat!"

"You can't dance the light fantastic until all hours the way you did when you were twenty?"

"You woke me up to assess my physical condition?"

"I woke you to ask if you'd found the kit."

"You woke me because you were hungry!" Clyde stared at him sharply. "Hungry! You can open the refrigerator. You know how to do that. So why wake me! Did it occur to you that I have to get up in the morning? Do you ever once think-"

"Spare me. I've heard it all. You have to get up and go to work. Someone in this family has to make a living. Someone has to pay for the kippers and smoked salmon with which certain cats insist on being provided." Turning his back, Joe pawed his own pillow into the required configuration, kneading it energetically. He was too tired even to go downstairs and eat. Behind him, Clyde turned over. Joe looked around, regarding Clyde's naked back. "You heard about the bodies, the buried bodies?"

Clyde rolled over, glaring. "I know about the graves. I know about the two buried children. I know that Hyden and Anderson are down from Sacramento. I know that they haven't finished digging, that there are tents over the back garden and uniforms guarding the scene. I know that you and Dulcie were tramping all over the crime scene, right in plain sight, which was patently stupid. Have I missed anything? That's not like you, Joe. It's not like Dulcie. What got into you today? You cats have always been-"

"We were not tramping all over the crime scene. We were most diligent about staying out of the way, about not contaminating evidence. What do you think we-"

"And I know that earlier tonight you were on the dispatcher's desk pawing through department faxes that are none of your business, and that Mabel Farthy fed you fried chicken that she took carefully off the bones before she gave it to you."

Joe looked at Clyde for a long time before he turned away again and began to wash his paws. He felt Clyde roll over. He debated whether to go downstairs for a snack. That fried chicken seemed days ago. Already Clyde was snoring. Joe sat on his pillow, frowning.

Clyde would know about the graves from Max or one of the detectives or Wilma or Charlie. But Joe hadn't thought Mabel Farthy would have occasion to blab. Why would she tell Clyde about something as casual as a little tete-a-tete that included fried chicken? You couldn't do anything in this village; a cat had no privacy.

The fact that Clyde cared enough about him to want to know what he was doing did not excuse Clyde from snooping. Stretching out across his pillow, Joe yawned and, like Clyde, was gone at once into deep, untroubled sleep.


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