Authors: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
A Joe Grey Mystery
For Pat, as always.
And for Jake, weimaraner of many talents
who powerfully touched our lives.
We have reawakened ourselves to the vital and different roles that animals can play in our livesâsometimes with significant, even life-changing consequences. Veils of mystery and misunderstanding are being liftedâ¦.
Animal Miracles: Inspirational
and Heroic True Stories
Ryan Flannery had no idea, when she dressed for theâ¦
She was reaching for her suit jacket when she rememberedâ¦
At first, no one saw the lone witness. Not evenâ¦
The debris-filled smoke twisted and began slowly to settle. Theâ¦
In the darkening evening, Ocean Avenue's two lanes were closedâ¦
The platters of party food were empty, the wedding cakeâ¦
Ryan woke before dawn, but woke not eagerly looking forwardâ¦
The back of the closet was empty, only her clothesâ¦
Detective Garza stood with his arms around Ryan but lookingâ¦
The images of death remained with Ryan long after Dallasâ¦
News of a murder in Molena Point traveled swiftly throughâ¦
The parking lot of Molena Point courthouse was shaded byâ¦
The old man was a fast driver. He took theâ¦
The Landeau cottage stood among live oaks in the risingâ¦
Leaping at the sill, Joe snatched and clung, hanging byâ¦
The aromas of garlic and chilies drew Ryan like aâ¦
The rusty wire netting of the chicken houses was halfâ¦
“Very smooth,” Joe said, leaping on the breakfast table, landingâ¦
Rocky Face Inn outside San Andreas featured private patios withâ¦
At each small, paintless shack, Max stepped out, hallooed theâ¦
Clyde's attic, once a dark tomb for generations of deceasedâ¦
The brick-paved patio of Burger Basher was lit by lanternsâ¦
A week earlier, Joe Grey would have sworn that thisâ¦
When Ryan left Burger Basher heading for Clyde's place toâ¦
It was 4:40 in the morning when Ryan pulled intoâ¦
Kit stared out of the fireplace at the tall, black-suited,â¦
The pan-broiled steaks were two inches thick, crisp and darkâ¦
Police dispatcher Mabel Hammond saw the gray tomcat slip intoâ¦
The roof had been raised; its two long slanting surfacesâ¦
When Ryan left the job at noon with Rock, headingâ¦
had no idea, when she dressed for the wedding of Chief of Police Max Harper on Saturday afternoon, that she would soon face the police not as a wedding guest among friendly uniformed officers, but as a prime murder suspect. No notion that the tentative new friendships she'd made within the department would turn without warning to that of investigators and possible offender.
An hour before the ceremony, half-dressed in a slip and scuffs and the first skirt she'd had on in weeks, she stepped into the kitchen alcove of her studio apartment to nuke a cup of coffee. Through the wide front windows the dropping sun blinded her, reflecting from the village rooftops and repeated as hundreds of brilliant signals across the surface of the sea, as if all the sea creatures held up little mirrors attempting to communicate with the land-bound before evening descended. Nearer, just below her balcony, the mosaic of rooftops among the oak trees was as serene as a storybook hamlet where all promises ended happily-ever-after. No smallest twinge of unease touched her, no sixth sense
that early the next morning uniformed attendants to a murder would fill her garage stringing yellow crime tape, the coroner working on poor Rupert taking care not to disturb any evidence among the stack of broken windows with which the body was entangledâher ex-husband lying white and lifeless among shards of colored glass. And Ryan herself facing Detective Dallas Garza answering her uncle's questions as, cold and detached, he recorded her formal statement.
Pouring a cup of cold coffee left from breakfast, a brew that at 3:00 in the afternoon closely resembled crankcase oil, she stuck the cup in the microwave. She needed something to keep her awake. Even at what she considered the tender age of thirty-two she could no longer stay up until 1:00 in the morning and feel human the next day.
She'd driven down late last night from the mountains after paying off her carpenters and wrapping up a construction job, wanting to be back home and have her work squared away in plenty of time for the wedding. She'd pulled into her drive well after midnight dead for sleep, had unloaded the precious stained glass windows she'd found in a junk shop in San Andreas, locked her garage and truck and come upstairs. Pulling off her boots and jeans, she had fallen into bedâwondering only briefly why her tarp, folded behind the stack of windows, had what looked like cracker crumbs and half-a-dozen Hershey wrappers among the layers when she unfolded it.
Someone had been in the truck bed, but she wasn't sure when. Maybe one of the kids hanging around the job site, up there. Well, nothing was missing. Too tired
to care, she'd rolled over and known nothing more until nearly dawn.
Waking, she'd lain in bed staring out at the black September sky, then dropped into sleep again like diving into deep, silky water. Awakening again at 9:00 feeling dull, she'd showered, unpacked her duffel, dumped her laundry in the washer, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast, and spent the middle of the day cleaning out her truck, putting away tools and stacking the antique windows more securely in the big double garage. Seven beautiful old windows she'd bought for a song, with wonderful designs of birds and leaves. It was amazing what you could pick up in the little back hills junk shops even today when every tourist was a bargain hunter.
Clyde had left a message on her phone tape, that he'd pick her up at 3:30 for the wedding. The ceremony was scheduled for 4:00 with a casual reception afterward in the garden of the village church. Ryan had helped Charlie pick out her wedding dress, and Charlie's aunt Wilma and several friends had handled the arrangements and the caterer and informal invitations, all of which had given Charlie a prime case of nerves. Charlie Getz, inclined to be a loner, was better at the easel or the typewriter or at housecleaning and maintenance repairs than at sorting out the details of a social function that would change her life as she knew it.
Because Charlie's parents were dead and she had no close male relatives, Ryan's uncle Dallas would give her away. And Clyde Damen, Max Harper's lifelong friend, would be best man. She wondered if he'd show up for his official duties dressed in sweatshirt and jeans.
Never one for polish, Clyde was as unlike Ryan's philandering ex-husband as it was possible to be, and that made her like him quite a lot.
As she reached to open the microwave, a scratching sound at her window made her start. Turning, she caught her breath then swallowed back a laugh.
Two cats crouched on the sill peering in at her: Clyde's big gray tomcat and his lady pal, dark-stripped Dulcie. Two bold freeloaders who, before she left for San Andreas, had been at her door every morning.
How could they have known she was home? Or had they come every day for two months, expecting the handout they'd grown accustomed to? Oh, surely not. No cat was that tenacious, and certainly these cats never went hungryâthough at the moment, with their noses close to the glass, their whiskers drawing delicate patterns through the dusty surface, they presented the picture of ultimate greed and impatience.
And the tomcat had brought her a gift.
From the gray cat's sharp white teeth dangled a dead mouse.
Joe Grey held his kill securely by its rear, its fur matted and wet from mauling. She stared at it, and looked into the burning yellow eyes of the self-satisfied tomcat, and choked back a laugh. Joe remained staring at her, his expression growing to deeper impatience. He began to shift from paw to paw.
Did he think he was going to bring that thing in the house? Was the mauled mouse a gift? An offering to human gods?
Knowing Joe Grey, she didn't think so. If that cat
considered anyone a god in his relationships with humans, the god would be Joe himself.
Both cats cocked their ears, watching her. The tom's short fur was as sleek as gray satin clinging over strong muscles, the white triangle down his nose and his white paws and chest looking freshly scrubbedâno tinge of mouse blood. His yellow eyes were fierce. Clearly he expected her to hurry to the door and to formally accept his treasure.
His tabby lady was more demure. Her brown curving stripes, catching the light of the dropping sun, were as rich as silk batik. Her pink mouth was open in a plaintive little mew that sounded through the glass as thin and wavering as a cry from another dimension. Ryan reached to crack open the window.
“As happy as I am, Joe, to see you kill the mice, as grateful as I am for your efforts, you're not bringing that thing in here.”
Joe Grey glared as if he understood, as if this was not an acceptable response.
The tomcat's avid commitment to ridding her garage of mice, an undertaking that had begun several months ago, had left her both puzzled and amused.
Having complained to Clyde about the vermin, about the voracious little beasts that had burrowed into her brand-new rolls of insulation and were nibbling on the electrical cords of her power tools, she hadn't expected Clyde to offer up his own private feline exterminator. She'd have poisoned the mice, but she had feared for the neighborhood pets; and Clyde had insisted that Joe Grey would eradicate them. Of course she hadn't be
lieved him. “Why should they hunt in my garage when they have all the wild hills? You can't
a cat where to hunt, Clyde. I've seen them hunting up the hills. I've seen those two killers dragging rabbits through the grass.”
“You feed them when they show up, give them a little snack, and install a cat door into your garage, and I guarantee they'll catch the mice.”
“But that's silly.”
“Try it. I promise.”
“A cat door will only let in more mice.”
“The mice are already getting in somewhere,” he had pointed out, “despite the fact that you and Charlie went over the garages of both duplexes and patched all the holes. What difference is one more opening? Trust me. Cut the door, and leave a little snack.”
Build it and they will come, she'd thought, wanting to giggle.
“Just do it. Joe and Dulcie will clear the place.”
Out of desperation she'd followed his instructions, visualizing extended families of mice marching in through the newly cut cat door to set up housekeeping, vast generations of rapacious rodents settling in to gnaw the cords off drills and saws and droplights. Reluctantly she had put in the cat door and then had gotten on with the job at hand, which was the renovation of Clyde's backyard, transforming his weedy garden and scruffy lawn into a handsome outdoor living area.
After a week, all signs of mice in her garage had vanished.
Maybe this mouse that Joe dangled was the last one.
Maybe, she thought giddily, Joe Grey had brought this last mouse to her to receive her final stamp of approval.
Or her final payment? Would he present a bill? Or was this extermination job in partial exchange for Clyde's yard renovation? Well, Clyde
been pleased with the renovation.
Months earlier, when a small, exclusive shopping plaza was built behind Clyde's house, it had turned the property line at the back into a two-story concrete wall that destroyed Clyde's view of the eastern hills. She'd pointed out the virtues of the new wall, how it could be turned from what Clyde considered a negative feature to a positive asset. In the plan she submitted, she'd made every effort to replace the loss of a view with satisfying architectural interest, enclosing the outer limits of the yard with six-by-six pillars that met the smoothly plastered wall and supported a heavy overhead latticework in a simple Spanish style. This structure framed the maple tree and enlarged deck, the new southwestern style fireplace, wet bar, and outdoor grill. Beneath the trellises she had constructed a series of raised planters arranged in different heights among plastered benches. They'd installed tile decorations for the high wall, and had arranged interesting, bold-leafed plants against it.
, an eyesore turned into a handsome private retreat.
Soon, now that she was home from the San Andreas job, she would begin the second phase of Clyde's renovation, a second-floor addition, jacking up the attic roof to create the walls of a new master bedroom and study. Here in this small, lovely village of Molena Point, with its high demand for real estate, Clyde's upgrading was
well worth the investment. The third phase of his project would complete the transformation as she opened the kitchen to the small dining room, then nudged the face of the Cape Cod cottage into a more contemporary aspect with a Mexican accent. Some people might call that bastardization. Ryan called it good design.
In the five months since she moved to Molena Point, she'd accomplished a lot. Had gotten her local contractor's license and the necessary permits to launch RM Flannery, Construction, had put together two good crews, and had finished three jobs beside Clyde's: a drainage project for four ladies who had just bought a home together for their retirement, the addition in San Andreas, and the far more complicated Landeau vacation cottage here in the village, which waited now only for the new handwoven carpet that had been ordered from England. The rug wasn't part of the architectural work but was the province of her sister Hanni, who had done the interior design. All in all a satisfying beginning for her new venture.
She had escaped San Francisco for Molena Point the night she finally decided to leave Rupert, had packed her personal possessions into cardboard boxes, loaded them into a company truck and taken off in a cold rageâin a move that was long overdue. Heading south along the coast, for the village she loved best in all the world, for the little seaside town where she had spent her childhood summers, she was filled not only with hurt anger at Rupert but with excited dreams for a new beginningâher own business, totally hers, completely free of Rupert.
But she fully intended to receive in cash her share of
Dannizer Construction, which she had helped Rupert to build.
Her sudden decision to leaveâwhen she found another woman's clothes in her closetâhad been bolstered by the fact that her uncle Dallas and her sister Hanni had already moved to Molena Point, that both would be nearby for moral support. Dallas had taken a position as chief of detectives for Captain Harper in the smaller and more casual police department, shaking off the heavy stress of San Francisco PD for his last few years before retirement. And early this spring Hanni had opened a design studio in the village, leaving the large city studio where she had worked under too much pressure. Maybe this sudden midlife bid for new directions, this need to pull back and be more fully one's own boss, was in the blood.
When she looked again at the window, the gray tomcat was still staring.
“That's very good, Joe Grey. I'm proud of you. It's a fine mouse. But you
bring it inside.” What did he want her to do, fry it up for supper? At her words, his yellow eyes narrowed with defiance, his stubborn look so droll that she cracked open the door a couple of inches to see what he would do.
The sight that met her made her choke.
On the mat lay five dead mice lined up as neatly as the little toy soldiers she'd marshaled into rows, as a child.
The instant she cracked the door open, the tomcat dropped the sixth mouse precisely beside the others. He didn't try to bring it in; he simply laid it on the mat perfectly aligned, and looked up at her.
Was he grinning? The cat was definitely grinning.
She studied the tomcat, and the six dead mice presented for her review. This was some trick of Clyde's. He must have slipped up the steps and set up the dead mice as a joke. Now he would be watching her, hidden somewhere, like a kid glancing around the corner of the building. Except, what had made the tomcat drop the sixth mouse there?
She looked along the street for Clyde's car and up the side streets as far as she could see. Maybe he'd parked the yellow roadster up the hill on the back street.
But where did he get the mice? How could he have made the cat take part in such a ruse? Make the cat look in the window at just the right moment, dangling another mouse in his jaws, and then lay it on the mat?