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32

Cat Cross Their Graves

Jack Reed watched cop cars approach the house from both ends of the street. Sitting in his truck, he had a wild thought to bail out and take off running, get away through the backyards and up into the hills.

But they'd have him, he couldn't keep running forever. Soon as they got in the house, saw what was there, it would be over. He didn't know how much they knew about the buried bodies, or, in fact, what they knew about Fenner. He was tired, so damn tired. Tired for a long, long time. Settling back in the seat, he watched two squad cars pull to the curb and two more come up behind them. Harper was in the lead car. Jack knew he had to get out of the truck and go let them in. No point doing anything else. A sour relief filled him, heavy as lead. But a feeling that eased him, too. Maybe he could sleep now. Maybe.

But what would happen to Lori?

If he hadn't swung by the house after lunch to pick up some light-fixture catalogs for a client, would Harper have broken in? Did he have a warrant? Likely he did, Harper pretty much went by the book. He sure as hell hadn't brought half the department out there without a warrant just to knock on the door and question him. What did they know? What were they after, exactly? He watched Harper step out of his unit. The tall, thin chief was in uniform, not in his usual jeans and boots. He stood on the sidewalk looking toward Jack, waiting for him. Harper's hands were at his sides, calm and relaxed, but ready, his thin face drawn. Slowly Jack got out.

As he headed cross the yard, his work shoes crunched on the gravel as loud as gunshots. There was a detective with Harper, guy in jeans and tweed sport coat. Dallas Garza. Jack knew who he was, moved down from San Francisco PD. Square, smooth Latino face as solemn as death. Jack felt nothing but exhausted, he'd forgotten how to feel anything much, really didn't care anymore.

Even if he'd seen them before he turned onto the street, they'd have found him. You want to run, you had to make plans. Money, food. Cover your tracks. Even Lori had made better plans. Harper and Garza stood on the porch waiting, both men grim. He got out, wondering, if he ran, would they draw on him? A crazy, light-headed excitement filled him. That was the answer. Do it. Run, end it here! End it now!

Suicide by the cop, they called it. He stood at the bottom of the three steps looking up at Harper and Garza; then he moved on up, his keys in plain sight in his hand, stepped past them to unlock the door. He'd known Max Harper ever since he moved to the village. He'd thought sometimes of going to Max, telling him the whole thing. But he didn't have the guts. It was when Natalie left and took Lori that he shut down.

Before that he'd done the only thing he knew to do. Shut the kid in. Natalie hated him for that. When he heard that Fenner was out on good time, he'd locked her in, locked Lori in the house. But then he had to look at the two of them, Lori and Natalie, their dark eyes hating him. He'd run the business, done his work, come home at night to that. But he'd had no choice, the law couldn't protect Lori even if they knew, even if they tried. Natalie thought he could do something different. But what? There was nowhere to send Lori where Fenner wouldn't find her if he wanted. What could either of them do? And then Natalie took Lori and left him, the two of them, and he thought maybe they'd get away all right. It was best that Natalie did that. Wasn't his burden no more.

But after they ran away he shut down for good. And then Natalie died and Lori was back and it started all over again. What could he do but keep the kid in? Live with her hate. Because Fenner knew about her, Hal'd told Fenner she was smart, the letters Hal got while Fenner was in prison, Fenner knew. Didn't they censor that stuff? Then Fenner got out the second time; he saw Fenner in the village and then Patty Rose was shot

Unlocking the door, he pushed it back and stepped inside, moved back against the open door so the law could enter. He'd thought, when Patty was killed, of going to Harper. But he'd kept looking for Lori, real worried, didn't want to put Lori in more danger, with Fenner out there somewhere. Then that morning early he saw her go in through the library window, and he knew she was all right, knew where she was hiding. And then he saw Fenner watching the library, and that put the fear in him.

Harper and Garza had moved on into the room, stood facing the couch where Fenner sprawled facedown in splattered blood. Spinning around, Harper drew on Jack and backed him away from the open door, backed him against the wall.

Garza checked Fenner for dead, but they all knew he was. Jack stood cold and silent while Harper cuffed him and then called the coroner. He wondered if he'd get life. Didn't want that, he'd rather die. He prayed for Lori, though, couldn't remember praying since he was a kid.

Little Lori, she'd been hiding in the library all that time. Bright. Maybe she'd do all right, in spite of the mess he'd made.

Likely hid there in that walled-up place that went under the alley. When he and Hal first started the business they'd worked in the other building rewiring the two apartments and the store. Pulled old dead wires out, had to go in the library basement to make sure they were already cut loose.

Four more cops came in, men he knew. Stood around him while Harper snapped a leg chain on him. What did they think? He wasn't fighting no cops. He watched Garza and a uniform move away to clear the house. Clear the house of who? They know it was me. He guessed cops had to follow procedure. Harper stood looking at him like he expected him to say something. He looked at Harper and felt nothing. What was the point of anything? You were born, stuff happened to you, and you died. What was it all for? Natalie had said, You don't care about anything! You don't care about your own child.

He cared about Lori, but she wouldn't believe that. And what difference had it made? Except, Lori was still alive. He never knew why Fenner wanted Lori or those other kids. He knew what Fenner said, what Hal'd said. But he never could figure the rage that filled Fenner.

Coroner's car was pulling up. Harper had left the front door open. Jack stood with his back to it, his cuffed hands behind him rubbing against the rough wood. In a minute they'd put him in a squad car, take him over to the jail. Maybe he'd get a private cell, not have to talk to anyone.

He didn't feel Fenner's kind of rage when he beat Fenner, he just wanted Fenner to end. And he didn't want no farting around with some sharp public defender, either, trial strung out forever trying to get him off with a couple of years. He'd never been cuffed before, never been in jail, let alone prison. He didn't look forward to that, to the gangs, the harassment. He moved aside as two medics came in, and the coroner behind them. As they knelt over Fenner, Harper nodded toward the door.

Jack moved outside ahead of the chief and down the walk and slid into the squad car ducking his head under Harper's firm push. Cops didn't want you to hit your head, didn't want a charge of brutality. He waited unmoving as Harper snapped his leg chain to the floor. Wanted to make some remark about all this security, but he remembered about the guy in Sacramento, slipped over the seat back of a CHP unit while he was handcuffed, cop left the key in the ignition. Guy took off with the black-and-white, and that left the CHP boys red faced, and that made him start to smile. Not much made him smile anymore.

Driving him to the station, Harper didn't say a word. Marched him inside, took him right on into an interrogation room-room the size of a walk-in closet, no windows, and a barred door. Small table where you could lean your elbows, and two folding chairs. Surveillance camera mounted high in one corner. Whoop-de-do, he was on TV He didn't think they could use a recorded interview in court. But what difference? Didn't make no difference. Harper sat down across from him.

He studied Harper's quiet brown eyes. Wished he could face the man not as he now was, but as the old Jack Reed. He and Harper'd played poker together once in a while, killed a few beers when he, Jack, did some wiring up at Harper's place. Wired his little barn, four stalls facing each other across a covered alleyway. Put in lights in the alleyway and the one stall Harper used for a tack room, and floods outside.

That was the old Jack Reed, drinking beer with the police chief. Jack Reed with a beautiful wife and a beautiful little girl. Harper sat waiting. Jack looked back at him feeling nothing until Harper began with the questions. Started off talking soft and easy, then when Jack didn't say much, Harper shot the questions at him. Jack was answering as best he could, trying not to get mad, when a big gray cat came down the hall, stood looking in through the barred door. Big gray cat with white markings. When Harper turned to see what he was looking at, the cat slipped away, was gone like it had never been there.

Harper turned back, looking steadily at Jack. Jack couldn't tell if Harper knew Lori'd run off, but he started asking about Lori.

"It's the weekend, Jack. There's no school. She playing with friends? You want to tell me where?"

"They're out somewhere, a bunch of kids. I don't know where. They came by for her."

"Kids from school? You just let her run around in the village without telling you where she's going? Does she go to school every day?" Harper must know she didn't.

"What is this, Max? If you brought me down here to book me for Fenner, then get on with it." Though of course Harper would ask questions, seeing the windows all boarded up. As little as Jack cared anymore, he could see the tangle he was making. Maybe better just to lay it out for Harper, why the plywood over the windows, why he'd killed Fenner. He was going to burn anyway, if not for Hal, then, sure, for Fenner.

And then Lori would be alone and she'd have to go to child welfare, she'd have no choice. Well, they'd take care of her, state paid them to do that.

"Why the plywood, Jack? What's that all about?"

He was thinking where to start, how to start, when the cat appeared again pressing against the bars peering in. Gave him a shiver down his spine, that cat, so he found it hard to talk.

Reed doesn't want to talk in front of me, Joe thought. Was I staring? Made him nervous? Dulcie says I stare at people so hard they get shaky. Oh, right, one little cat can make a grown man shaky. Well, he's not going to talk with me watching him. Whatever the reason, the guy's tongue-tied. Backing away out of sight again, Joe lay down on the cold tile floor. He could hear, behind him up the hall, Mabel Farthy dispatching a patrol car to a drunk fight. No one needed a drunk fight in the middle of the day, in this village. It wasn't like they had any real bars, just restaurants that served drinks. He thought Mabel probably had Fenner and Harper on her monitor, maybe with the sound turned down.

In the other direction, on down the hall past the interrogation room in Dallas Garza's office, he could hear the faint echo of Harper's voice where Garza and Detective Davis were watching on the closed-circuit TV. Clyde would give a nickel to be here, Joe thought, would be as anxious to hear Reed's story as Joe himself.

It was only after Clyde was convinced there wouldn't be any shooting at Reed's place that he'd loosed his grip on Joe and let him out of the car-with the usual sigh of resignation. Clyde had had no way, though, to gracefully hang around, with cops all over the place; Joe guessed he'd gone on back to the shop to work on one of his vintage cars.

Well, Clyde could hear the story tonight when Max and Charlie came over for dinner. That was why Clyde had shown up at the station in the first place, when he'd snatched Joe up from outside the front door-to invite Max and Charlie to dinner because Charlie's new car had arrived.

Everyone but Charlie knew that Max was shopping for a new vehicle for her, one she could use for her cleaning business, for ranch work, or for hauling paintings to exhibits. Max was as anxious as a kid, wanting to surprise her. The small red SUV had been delivered yesterday to Clyde's shop, and would be sitting in Clyde's driveway when they got there for dinner.

Slipping to the bars of the interrogation room again, Joe peered in. Immediately Reed stopped talking and stared at him. Joe, even before Harper swung around to look, bolted away down the hall toward Garza's office and inside beneath the detective's printer stand, where he made himself comfortable on a small rug that Garza had brought from home and that smelled like dog. Both Garza and Davis had their backs to him, watching the monitor that was mounted high in the far corner.

Davis, curled up in the tweed easy chair, had her shoes off and her feet tucked under her. The chair had also come from Garza's house-the city of Molena Point didn't pay for luxuries; the chair, too, smelled like dog, the smell so immediate that it was as if the framed photographs of Garza's English pointers that hung on the walls had acquired an additional dimension. On the screen, Jack Reed was saying, " almost from the time Fenner began that group in L.A. Don't know what it was about those people that drew Hal to their ideas. He was never strange, as a kid. Shy, maybe. A sort of misfit in school, a follower-"

"And that's why you killed Fenner, because he'd influenced Hal, involved Hal in the killings. And Hal?"

"I killed Fenner to keep him away from Lori, keep him from killing Lori like he did the others. And Hal that was rage. I saw that dead child, Hal standing over her a black rage. I purely lost it.

"But I wasn't sorry afterward. I knew felt like there was more than one body down under that garden. I thought back about Hal's fishing trips, and was sure of it." Jack looked at Harper. "Fenner I don't know if he was ever sane. I don't know why that L.A. judge didn't give him life. Lock him up or fry him, keep him off the street. Just because those others wouldn't testify against him, would never say he was involved The cops knew he was."

Davis mumbled something to Garza, and shook her head. As if she agreed, as if LAPD or the DA should have tried harder. Maybe Fenner was free to kill Patty Rose because some squirming L.A. judge didn't have the balls to make the DA dig farther, and to lock Fenner up for life. Joe wondered how many more kidnapped children and young women were murdered because of an unrealistic attitude on the part of a few state and federal judges or inept juries.

Certainly neither detective looked like they were sorry that Jack Reed had done Fenner. Garza rose and poured two mugs of coffee, handed one to Juana, and sat down again. On the screen, Reed was describing, as best he knew, Irving Fenner's history, and Reed's view of Fenner's twisted motives. For over an hour, Joe lay beneath the printer table fitting Reed's story together with the facts he already knew.

To believe that extra-bright children would grow up to force the world into some kind of slavery dictated by geniuses was so twisted that it made Joe want to claw everything in sight. To believe those children should be eliminated or forcefully diverted from their intense interests made him wish he'd done Fenner himself. No one ever said Joe Grey was an altruistic do-gooder. In his view, the very children Fenner had killed might have accomplished great and wonderful things in the world.

He knew from his own metamorphosis, from ordinary cat to a speaking, sentient being, the value and wonder of clear and perceptive thought. To kill a child who had a sharper, clearer view of the world was to kill what life was all about. When the interrogation was finished, when Jack Reed was led away to be locked in a cell, Joe left the station still out of sorts. So grouchy that even that night as Clyde prepared dinner, he felt snappish and bad tempered.

"What's with you? What happened after I left Reed's?" Clyde said, tearing up greens for a salad.

"They arrested Reed. What else?"

Clyde turned to look at him. "I provide you with taxi service direct to an in-progress police raid. Chauffeur you right to the scene. Don't tell me, 'They arrested Reed'! What happened?"

"I hardly saw any action. Place was swarming with cops. Medics. The coroner."

"Medics, Joe? The coroner?" Clyde waited, his hand raised as if he'd swat Joe.

Joe grinned. "Reed killed the little bastard, killed Fenner dead. I only got a glimpse of Fenner as they carried him out, limp as a dead rat, blood all over, before they pulled the sheet over him."

Clyde smiled, lowered his threatening hand, and opened the oven to test the corn bread. "And they took Reed in?" Joe nodded. Clyde pulled out the oven rack, slipped a knife down into the middle of one golden mound, and held the knife up to the light. "And I suppose you hightailed it right on back to the department, heard the whole interrogation." Joe glanced at Dulcie, crouched beside him on the deep windowsill. She smiled, and kept her silence.

Clyde turned around to look at Joe. "Well? What did Reed say?" He checked the other loaf, then removed them, setting them on a rack to cool.

Joe shrugged. "Jack talked about Fenner, his sick mind, why he killed those kids. It's too bad Fenner won't stand trial-for Patty, for those dead children." He turned to wash a hind paw. "His death will save the state a lot of money. But a lot more information would come forth if he stood trial. Make people think a little. Where's the kit? She's the one who found Fenner, she ought to be in on this."

"She's with Lucinda and Pedric," Dulcie said. "They'll be along. They brought us down from Harper's earlier. No one wants to miss the fun; Charlie doesn't get a new car every day." Charlie had needed reliable wheels for a long time. When her crew used her cleaning van, which was fitted out with every possible cleaning apparatus and with tools for household repairs, Charlie had to drive an ancient car of Max's that was less than dependable.

"I wonder," Dulcie said, "without the kit, would the cops have found Fenner? It's amazing that Fenner was able to move around the village for two days after he killed Patty."

"Slick," Joe said, watching Clyde toss the salad. "Or lucky. He must have ducked every time he smelled a uniform."

Clyde smiled knowingly.

"What?" Joe said.

"Street patrol picked up Fenner's car. I talked with Max. They found a kid's baseball uniform in the trunk, with the insignia of the junior high on it. A kid's jacket emblazoned with fluorescent pictures of Michael Jackson, and a kid's school backpack."

"Kit sure didn't see him in those duds," Joe said. "She'd have told Harper that."

But Dulcie was shifting impatiently from paw to paw. "You said you heard it all, the whole interrogation. What else did he Reed say?"

Joe watched Clyde stir the bean soup. It smelled good on this cold winter night. "Harper's going to tell you, he'll walk you through the whole interrogation. Doesn't he always? I'd just be repeating it."

"Come on, Joe."

Joe sighed. "He killed Fenner because he was afraid for Lori. He killed Hal in a fit of rage because Hal had killed a child. Can't say I blame him. They were crazy, criminally insane. That cult Sick minds who thought they were saving the world." He considered Clyde's scowl. "No one said I have to take a moderate view of the world. I'm a cat, no one expects me to temper my judgment with civility. I sometimes wish the courts could see the world through feline eyes. Sure would simplify life. In a cat's view, Jack Reed would get a medal for killing Fenner, not be subjected to endless police interrogation and prison." And he turned to wash his hind paw.

Clyde was still scowling. "You have to balance civilized human law against the fire in your belly, Joe. If we all went by the fire in your belly, we'd be living like cavemen. Look at some countries-torture and rape because there's more corruption than civil-" A loud knocking at the door caused Clyde to immediately turn on the kitchen TV in case anyone had noticed voices; they heard the front door open. "Dinner ready?" Max shouted.

"In the kitchen," Clyde yelled over a newscast. And their friends came crowding in, bringing the wet, icy wind in with them, pulling off boots and coats in the kitchen. Max and Charlie, and Dallas, then Lucinda and Pedric and Wilma directly behind them, Lucinda carrying the kit inside her coat, warm and snug. Joe heard Ryan Flannery's truck pull up, then Davis's VW. Ryan and Davis were last through the door, Davis bringing wine, Ryan bearing a large bakery box. Shutting the door, shutting out the wind, they hurried into the kitchen. Ryan set the box on the counter, giving Clyde a hug and a kiss on the cheek that made Dulcie smile.

"New project?" Charlie said to Clyde, nodding toward the front drive where a canvas-covered vehicle sat, presumably a newly purchased antique car in need of tender attention. Clyde was always buying a "new" relic-rusty, neglected, begging to be restored.

Clyde nodded. "New baby. Didn't have room at the shop." He turned away, setting a covered tureen on the table. The newly remodeled kitchen was twice the size of the old one, and a great place for company. Ryan had not only torn out the wall to the unused dining room, she had added a handsome Mexican tile floor, redone the kitchen cabinets, and installed a bay window over the sink where the cats could supervise the cooking while remaining out of the way.

Joe watched his friends fixing drinks-wine for Lucinda and Pedric-and wondered when Max would unveil Charlie's new car. Watched them gather around the big table to dish up bean soup and salad and corn bread. Joe and Dulcie and Kit, settled in the bay window with their three bowls of soup and crumbled corn bread, glanced at each other with satisfaction.

Lori Reed was safe again, and Fenner was dead. And maybe Jack Reed would get an easy sentence if the court was sympathetic. Dulcie and Kit looked at each other, both lady cats wishing Lori Reed was there with them, among their friends, with her own place at Clyde's table-though Lori was enjoying her own hot supper tonight with Cora Lee and Mavity and the two dogs. Lori would sleep in a warm bed tonight, before the fire in Cora Lee's upstairs bedroom in a home where, if she chose, she might enjoy a far longer welcome.


| Cat Cross Their Graves | c