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Cat Cross Their Graves

The minute the weather cleared, Ryan's building crew began to work again on the Harpers' new living room, leaving Charlie and young Dillon finishing up Charlie's studio. Having installed and mudded the drywall, Charlie couldn't wait to paint the walls and move into her new space.

Now it was nearly noon; Ryan's crew had the living room walls framed and were waiting for a lumber delivery, and for the crane to lift the heavy beams into place. She and the four carpenters and her uncle Scotty were kneeling beside the corner of the new foundation where she'd spread out the blueprints when she heard the lumber truck turn into the long drive. Rising, walking out to show them where to drop the load, she was only vaguely aware of the phone ringing inside the house.

Waiting for the truck to back around, she scanned the pasture to make sure the three dogs were safely confined before the lumber was dropped. Rock stood at the fence huffing softly, watching every move in the yard. The big silver Weimaraner was protective of Ryan even in a work situation, and that was all right with her. But the big dog was consumed with interest, too. As curious as any cat, she thought, grinning.

Rock had been a stray, abandoned and uncared for. A beautiful, purebred dog who should have been treasured. She was still amazed by her good luck in finding him-or, in Rock finding her. Motioning the truck into position, she was watching its bed lift and tilt to drop its load when Charlie came out the back door looking distressed, her freckles dark across her pale cheeks. Ryan nodded to Scotty to take over, and turned to see what was wrong.

"It's Genelle Yardley, they took her to the hospital. She fell. Wilma found her unconscious, on the floor by the bookcases. Sprawled out of her walker as if she'd been reaching for a book. Wilma called nine-one-one, and started CPR." Charlie had a large, flat package under her arm.

"No one was with her? I thought the senior ladies-"

"They're in and out all day, they never leave her for long. Susan and Gabrielle are still in the city. Cora Lee fixed her breakfast this morning and ate with her, then left. She said Genelle had unexpected company, a little girl, a neighbor child, I guess. When Mavity went down half an hour later to clear up the breakfast things and make her bed, the child had gone. Mavity left Genelle resting on her chaise on the porch with a comforter over her. She always wants to be outside. See as much of the world as she can, I guess," Charlie said sadly. "Little things, her flowers, the birds…

"Wilma stopped by about forty-five minutes after Mavity left; she found Genelle, lying by the bookcases. She hadn't wheeled her oxygen over with her, so when she fell, she couldn't reach it. Half a dozen books were scattered on the floor around her, volumes of Celtic myth."

Charlie looked at the newly delivered lumber and beams, at the framed walls. "It's going to be a wonderful room, Ryan. I'm going into the village to mail these drawings, then by the hospital, see if I can lend any moral support. Dillon's in my studio, sanding."

"I'll look in, make sure she doesn't sand the paper off the board. Give Genelle my love. I guess she won't get her tea party on Monday."

"I wouldn't bank on that. Genelle's tougher than she looks. That woman wants a tea party, she'll have a tea party. Though she might prefer a smaller group, not all the Friends of the Library."

"What if she doesn't leave the hospital?"

Charlie shook her head. "Then we'll have the party there. If these are Genelle's last few days, then we'll have a catered tea in the hospital. All the fixings, all the flowers and goodies the inn can put together." Clutching the flat package between her knees while she pulled on her coat, she turned away to her van.

Pulling away up their long, private lane, Charlie thought about Genelle trapped in a hospital bed when she'd rather be tucked up under a comforter on her own terrace, the sea breeze on her face, the color and smell of her garden around her. She wondered which of the neighbor children had come visiting. Most kids didn't want to be around sick people, didn't know what to say to them. Turning onto the hillside highway that led down to the village, she looked out at the sea, thinking about death. Thinking about Genelle's tenuous tie to life. And fear touched Charlie, fear of what came after.

What are we? she thought, chilled. Do you just go out like a light when you die? Or is there something more?

If there was an eternal life, was it like that great rolling sea that stretched away below her? Flowing forever to endless shores, carrying uncountable dead souls like swarms of plankton to new lands? Carrying each one to a new challenge beyond their old, discarded life? And she had to laugh at herself. She'd never thought that any one religion was the only right one, that all others were misinformed. That seemed so silly. But she guessed that no doctrine was going to call departing souls "plankton."

Well, her own soul wouldn't be lost just because of her irreverent imaginings, she'd never believe that, either. Any intelligence vast enough to create this world and all in it had to be more easily amused than angered.

Below her the hills were like emerald from the heavy rains. She never tired of their brilliant green curves, which dropped and rolled below her. At home, the horses couldn't wait to get out into the pasture to gobble up the new grass-Max would let them have just so much, then shut them in their stalls again. Horses, like some people, would indulge themselves until they were sick. Like I am with chocolate, she thought. And she thought about the kit, also with a sometimes obsessive appetite, and she smiled and said another little prayer that the kit kept safe.

Crouching over the black page of the album, Joe and Dulcie studied the photographs of Lori's family. Joe was still grinning, like the Cheshire cat. But this wasn't Alice's fantasy, this was real. What they had found was real. Shocking. Amazing. Very real.

The four names were neatly captioned in white ink on the black paper. The photograph showed Lori at about five or six, an elfin child with big, dark eyes. Natalie and Jack were young, a handsome couple with their arms around each other. "That must have been a while before Lori and her mother moved away," Dulcie said. "But who's the other man? Who's Hal?"

"Jack's brother," Joe said. Hal Reed stood with Jack beside a company truck emblazoned with "Reed, Reed, and Vincent." Below the company name was painted "Jack and Hal Reed. Bruce Vincent." Vincent, the third partner, was not in the picture.

Joe looked at Dulcie, his whiskers and ears close to his head, his yellow eyes slitted with triumph. "You didn't see the other pictures, the ones the kit found, that Harper and Garza dug out from under that cottage."

She looked at him, trying to be patient.

"Harold Timmons, Dulcie! I swear, Hal Reed is Harold Timmons. He was in the pictures that Kit found, standing next to Irving Fenner."

"I don't-"

"It's the same guy. Harold Timmons served time in those L.A. killings. Harold Timmons is Hal Reed. Jack's brother."

She stared at him. "Lori's uncle Hal."

"Lori's uncle Hal. Convicted in the L.A. killings."

"Is that… Is that why Jack locked her up? Not to keep her captive?" She looked at Joe, her green eyes huge. "But to keep her safe from Hal? But Hal's gone. Jack-"

"And maybe," Joe said, "to keep her safe from Irving Fenner, too?"

The two cats were quiet, thinking about that. "Where is she?" Dulcie whispered. "Where's Lori? Alone, in the library? And Fenner's out there."

Closing the album and gripping it in his teeth, Joe lifted it back into the box and nosed the lid into place. "Let's get out of here. We can-"

"Call from my place," she said. "Now, Joe. I want out of here now."

Galloping beside her to the garage, Joe was acutely aware of Dulcie's sudden uneasy feelings. Slipping into the garage beside her, he watched her leap to the top of the piled boxes, leap again, and he followed her up and through. Clawing at the plywood, pulling it back into place behind them, he was tense to get to a phone, get Harper over there to toss the Reed house- before Jack Reed, too, developed a sense of impending crisis.

Within minutes they were out the attic vent hole and into the oak tree. Even as they sailed from the tree to the ground, the hairs along Joe's back hadn't stopped bristling. But they were out of there, thank the great cat god for that, and were racing for a phone. They were scorching through the bushes when Dulcie stopped, stood looking at him.

"I'll make the call," she said softly. "If you'll hightail it over to the station, be there when Harper picks up."

"What's the difference?"

"I don't know. See what this call stirs up," she said softly. "Maybe we'll find out what Hyden was so excited about." She didn't know why, but she wanted him to be there. This case was Joe's baby, Joe had followed the cops when they retrieved the newspaper clippings, he was the one who had seen Harold Timmons's picture. "This is your party. Well, and Kit's party, big time. Go on, Joe. Go on over to the station."

Joe grinned, nosed her ear, and took off up a pine tree to the rooftops, heading fast for Molena Point PD. And Dulcie, watching him disappear across the roofs, turned and raced away through the tangled gardens, heading home. She had no idea the kit could have used their help just then. No idea that as they had fought their way out of Jack Reed's house, the kit was holding another lone vigil-that Kit wasn't finished with her surprises.

Kit was trotting across the roofs when she heard loud, angry voices on the sidewalk below. The sounds of two men arguing, plenty of shouting. Racing to the edge, leaning over with her paws in the gutter in a morass of rotting leaves, she peered down over the china shop's sign.

Two men stood below her, toe to toe. The tall man was really angry, shaking the little man: It was Irving Fenner. The kit froze, watching. She still didn't understand why, after he'd killed Patty, Fenner hadn't run away. Except, he'd wanted Lori. Now that he'd lost Lori, was he again looking for the child? But surely Fenner didn't think he could stay in this small town for very long without the cops finding him. That he'd been able to hide until she found him quite amazed the kit. Peering closer at the logo on the tall man's uniform, she realized that was Jack Reed. Her ears sharply forward, her whiskers bristling, Kit listened. Reed was saying, "You came up here to kill Patty, you bastard! I hope the cops-"

"You going to turn me in, Reed? Like you did in L.A.?"

"What're you doing here, what're you after?" Jack looked across the street at the library. "You watching someone, Fenner? Lori!" He grabbed Fenner and shook him. "What have you done with Lori?"

"You think I'd fool with your kid, Reed, after you blew the whistle on me?"

Reed shook him harder. "You were after Lori, even back then. Sick, Fenner. You're sick." He pulled his fist back. "Where is she? Where's Lori? What've you done with her!" He twisted Fenner's arm behind his back and marched him to a white truck. A pickup truck, a "Vincent and Reed" truck. People on the street just stood, looking.

Kit swallowed, trembling. Crouching, with her paws in the leaves getting soaked, she watched Reed shove Fenner in the truck, then swing around into the driver's seat. The next instant, they were gone. And Kit took off over the rooftops, heading for the nearest phone.

Atop Wilma's cherry desk beside the sunny window, shielded from the neighbors' view by the white shutters, Dulcie spoke into the speaker of Wilma's phone. The deep-toned living room, with its crowded bookcases, stone fireplace, rich paintings, and oriental rugs, always eased her, always calmed her anxieties. As she described for Max Harper the photographs of Jack Reed and his family, she imagined Joe Grey crouched above Harper's desk, listening. Imagined Harper and the gray tomcat joined in spirit by their mutual and intense objective. Giving Harper the location of the album in Jack's bedroom, she wondered how long it would take him to get a warrant. If the judge was in his chambers, maybe not long.

"Will you tell me your name?" Harper said, as he always did. "Tell me how to get in touch?" This was a ritual question to which Harper no longer expected an answer. Likely he'd never stop asking. Giddily, Dulcie wanted to tell him her name, wanted to say, Oh, you can reach me at Wilma's. If I'm not home, leave a message. Or call Clyde, Joe will pass it on.

Right. Having said all that was necessary for the case at hand, she terminated the call, pressing the speaker button, then sat staring at the electronic instrument, already feeling lonesome. She loved hearing Max Harper's voice right in her ear, close and personal. Loved the feeling that Molena Point's police chief was her secret friend, loved the giddy amusement of mystifying him. Loved knowing that he would never learn the identity of his two snitches. Seeing Captain Harper nearly every day, when she was in her dumb-animal guise, she always felt such a delicious high. She loved knowing that she and Joe and Kit had passed on to him the latest secret intelligence; for Dulcie, these were among life's most amazing moments.

Gloating over her morning's work, she had turned to leap down when, from the kitchen, she heard her cat door flapping, and then the thudding gallop of Kit racing through. Kit burst into the dining room and under the table as if bees were after her, nearly decapitating herself on the chair rungs. Through the living room like a runaway freight train and up on the desk-a streak of dark fur and streaming tail that nearly knocked Dulcie off the edge of the desk.

Crouched on the blotter, the kit pawed at the phone in a frenzy, pawed at the speaker button nearly exploding with impatience, and punched in the number that Dulcie had just dialed.

Lori, hurrying up into the hills, heard the courthouse clock strike noon. She was hungry again, in spite of her big breakfast with Cora Lee and Genelle and her cake and milk at Jolly's. Mama would say she was making up for lost time. When she thought about Pa snatching that man up and into his truck, she still didn't know what to make of it. What did Pa know? Did he know the beetle man had kidnapped her? Or was it something else? But she had to smile, because Pa was sure mad. She didn't like to think about what was going on, maybe she didn't want to know.

It was nicer going up the hills in the daytime, among the pretty cottages and with the sun so warm on her back. Seemed like forever since she'd felt really warm. The way seemed shorter, too, than when she'd climbed up in the cold dark with the wind pushing at her, and afraid of every shadow. When she saw the tall Victorian house ahead, with its gingerbread and its Secret Garden wall, she ran the last block, could hardly wait to be inside.

Letting herself in the gate, she didn't see Genelle down on the terrace. Maybe she was inside, maybe Cora Lee had come back to make lunch. Something nice and hot. Mama used to make bean soup and corn bread with cracklings. Crossing through Genelle's tangled garden, her stomach gurgled. Pushing through between tall clumps of brown grasses that were all frondy on top, stepping carefully around clumps of bright-red flowers, she listened. The garden was very quiet now, even the birds were still. Along the stone walk that wandered down to the terrace, tiny butter-yellow flowers bloomed. They had been closed this morning. And all across the garden, among the other plants, there were bushes of bright-yellow daisies that didn't seem to mind the cold. There was no one on the terrace.

The long stone veranda was empty, the little round table was bare. Not a cup or dish, and the chairs were pushed carefully in. On the chaise, Genelle's quilted comforter was wadded up and abandoned. Where was Genelle? Was it Genelle for whom Cora Lee had gone off in such a hurry, had something happened to Genelle? Quickly Lori moved to the glass doors, peering in.

The glass doors were closed, and there was no light within. When she tried the door, it was locked. She knocked, then put her ear to the glass.

No sound, nothing. Had Genelle gone back to sleep, maybe on a couch? Shivering, she knocked again, then moved down the terrace to the end and tried the heavy wooden door that must be the front entrance. She rang the bell first, then knocked. When no one came, she tried that door, but it, too, was locked. Lori shivered, turned, and made her way up the garden ducking under small trees and tall bushes, working her way around the house until she found a back door, and then another sliding one on the far side. Both were locked. She would not ordinarily try to get into someone's house, but something was wrong, something had happened to Genelle. Was this why Cora Lee had left so upset and not come back?

When she was certain that she couldn't get in, she returned to the terrace and curled up on Genelle's chaise under the comforter, covering herself totally, wondering what to do. She worried about Genelle and thought about her wanting a secret garden. She didn't know where else to go. Even outdoors, in the garden, she felt safer than on the street. Genelle had to come back sometime-if she was all right. Or else Cora Lee would come, she thought with a chill. But beneath the quilt she grew warm at last, deliciously warm. Waiting for Genelle, Lori slept.

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