Read Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery Online
Authors: Anna Kern
(A Murfy the Cat Mystery)
Dedicated to the memory of Pooky
January 1, 2015
I put down my book,
The Meaning of Zen
, and see the cat smiling into her fur as she delicately combs it with her rough pink tongue. “Cat, I would lend you this book to study but it appears you have already read it.” She looks up and gives me her full gaze. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she purrs, “I wrote it.”
by Dily Laing
Beachside, Florida, December 15:
Friday morning, ten days before Christmas, shoppers crowded the sidewalks in downtown Beachside, a tourist town on the east coast of Florida still in the process of renovation, the physical location not beach side, as the name implies, but about two miles inland.
Christmas decorations were up––huge wreaths and banners hanging from the art-deco style streetlights, and tiny lights wrapped around palm trees planted at equal intervals on the brick sidewalk. Some of the storefronts of the mostly art-deco style buildings decked according to the owner’s personal taste were not at all in keeping with the classy image the city wanted to portray. Tourists and locals in shorts and sandals were in the holiday spirit even though the temperature was in the eighties––not bothered by the incongruity of the frosted glass windows and the hot sun scorching their skin.
A slight-built man of average looks lingered near the entrance of Hall’s Jewelry. His pale complexion and white legs pegged him as a tourist of an undetermined age. He took a quick look up and down the street, and wiped the palms of his hands on his gray, cargo shorts before he entered.
The store was busier than usual, and that was a plus. Nevertheless, he looked a little disconcerted when he walked in and saw the security guard as none of the merchants on Ocean Street had ever hired a security guard before. His upper lip twitched––the security guard was unexpected, but the guard was old and slow; he could outrun him if necessary. He squared his shoulders, meandered to the counter displaying diamond engagement rings and waited for the wide-eyed, sales associate behind the counter to finish up with her customer.
After looking at several rings and not liking any of them, he said, “My girl is amazing … I want the ring to be exceptional….” He gave her a half-smile. “Do you have some loose diamonds you could show me? I have an idea for the setting, and perhaps that would be the best way to go.”
Vainly running her fingers through a mop of copper red hair, and avoiding eye contact with the other customers waiting for her assistance, she put away the last two rings he’d asked to see.
“As you probably know, we deal mostly in estate jewelry, so we don’t really have a large selection of loose diamonds.”
“Yes, I know that,” he said, perhaps a bit too sharply. “What you do have will be unique, I’m sure,” he added with a disarming smile.
“Please step down to the end of the counter,” and to the other customers, she said, “I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”
Although, there was nothing to be suspicious about, she located the security guard before she unlocked the bottom drawer of the glass case. She took out a tray and set it on the counter.
“We have a beautiful marquee cut, two-carat, retails at fifteen thousand,” she said as she handed him an eye loupe.
“Um…I think I’d like a traditional round stone,” and he returned the diamond to her. He selected another from the tray, pretended to drop it accidently, and replaced it with the glass one he had in his hand.
He made it a point of looking at his watch. “Hey, I didn’t realize it was so late. My girlfriend is in the shoe store down the street, and she’s going to come looking for me any minute if she doesn’t see me out there waiting for her,” he said, edging away from the counter.
“Do you live here or are you a visitor?”
“Yeah,” he said, his eyes darting about, “I live here. I’m going to have to come back another time, though. Thanks a lot for your help.”
The diamond safely in his hand, he hurried toward the exit, and paused long enough to look back and see the sales associate reach for the eye loupe.
“Since each of us is blessed with only one life, why not live it with a cat?”
Friday morning, ten days before Christmas, Misty and I were on duty at Antiques & Designs. I was at my post on the checkout counter keeping a watchful eye on things while Misty, a smallish cat with a quirky personality, viewed the parade of humans passing by the display window.
Alyx Hille and her best friend Maggie Broeck are the owners of the store. Alyx, five feet two inches tall, brown hair cut in a shaggy sort of style, hazel eyes and a beautiful smile, generously shares her home with Misty, Pooky––who prefers the security of home––and me. My name is Murfy and I’m also a Felis catus. I look and behave like an ordinary cream tabby with green eyes, but I’m not––ordinary, that is. Alyx is my human, and my mission is to comfort and protect her, no matter what it takes.
Althea Burns, a frail, older woman, made her last payment on the late eighteenth-century George III, slant-front desk that Alyx had been holding for her, and asked what time to expect delivery.
“It will be sometime this afternoon for sure. I’ll give you a call later about the exact time. Okay?”
“All right, Alyx, I’ll wait to hear from you.”
As Althea walked past me, she said she wished she could find a playmate for her cat. She’d voiced that thought before. Fortunately, Alyx had never acted on Althea’s request and, I must admit, I was a little disappointed when she agreed today.
“How about I bring Murfy with me and introduce him to your cat when we deliver your desk?”
“That would be wonderful, Alyx! I’ll see you and Murfy later.”
As Althea walked out, a slight built man entered the store. He pulled his black baseball cap lower over his wrap-around sunglasses and in the process bumped into Althea, saying nothing in the way of an apology. He wiped his hands on his shorts, and quickly made his way directly to the slant-front desk scheduled for delivery that afternoon.
Sitting next to the store’s only concession to the season––red candles in an elaborate antique candelabrum surrounded by a Holly branch––Misty observed the man intently.
The commotion caused by a screaming child being dragged out of the store momentarily diverted my attention, and when I looked back, the man was running his hand over the inlaid work on the desk, keeping his eyes averted, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
A couple of minutes later, he turned to leave and tripped over Misty, her indignation heard all over the store. I bounced off the counter and ran to her aid ready to do battle if necessary.
Now, all eyes were on the man. Alyx started to say, “I’m so sorry …”
The man lowered his head, sidestepped over me, and ignored her as he hastened past.
Bernice, one of the store employees, came up to the counter and asked Alyx, “What was that all about?”
“That was the strangest thing––I don’t know what it was all about. I’d better go check on Misty, and make sure she’s all right.”
Misty, a gray cat with blue eyes, wasn’t used to rough treatment, and getting stepped on hurt her feelings––put her out of sorts, and she sought refuge under a highboy. No amount of cajoling could get her to come out, so Alyx let her be. I figured she’d have to come out eventually, so I sat nearby and offered moral support.
Alyx left and returned a short time later carrying the design board and samples she’d worked on that morning. She dropped it all on the counter when Maggie Broeck flew through the front door, slightly out of breath, her face flushed.
“Alyx, you’re not going to believe what just happened; Hall’s Jewelry was robbed!”
“You were there in the store?”
“Yes, I walked in right after it happened.”
Alyx pulled up a chair for Maggie and one for herself.
“As we discussed yesterday, I went to see Chet Hall about next month’s Downtown Merchants Association meeting. The police arrived right after I walked in, and I stayed to find out what happened. I heard Susan say that someone stole a thirty thousand dollar loose diamond. She said she got suspicious when the customer left abruptly. She examined the last diamond that he’d looked at and discovered it was glass. The security guard ran after the thief, but lost him in the crowd.”
“I didn’t think Chet traded in such expensive stones.”
Maggie shrugged her shoulders. “I guess he doesn’t usually; this was a special case. He wanted to help out a longtime resident, a widow in financial need due to her husband’s medical bills.”
“I guess it was only a matter of time before thieves found their way downtown,” Alyx stated with an obvious note of disillusionment as she glanced at the antique train station clock on the wall.
“Maggie, I have to leave right now if I don’t want to give our new client a reason to fire me. I should be back in about an hour. If you speak to George in the meantime, ask him what time he can deliver Althea’s desk.”
Alyx was back from her meeting with the new client when George called about an hour later. Maggie answered and smiled into the receiver. The conversation was short.
“George said he can deliver the desk at four.”
“That’s perfect,” said Alyx. “Althea was here earlier, and she’s very excited about finally getting the desk home. As much as I hate to see that desk leave the store, I’m glad it’s going to Althea. It has more meaning for her than it does for me.”
Maggie was noticeably quiet.
“Is everything okay with you and George?”
“Yes, everything is fine. What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“Based on your cryptic comments in the last couple of weeks, I sense that something is going on underneath the surface.”
“I know you don’t think he’s my type because he’s average-looking and shy, and it surprised me too when I started seeing him. George is a kind, gentle man. There’s nothing going on, and I don’t want to talk about it now anyway.”
Alyx closed the catalog in front of her, placed it back on the shelf with the others, and casually changed the subject by asking, “Do you mind if I take off a little early today?”
“Of course not. Are you nervous about tonight?”
“No, I’m not at all. I guess the fact that I’ve seen David and spoken to him often during the past few months makes it seem normal to have dinner with him. I’m looking forward to a pleasant evening with a sexy, handsome man. I hope I don’t act too eager and scare him away.”
“What? You act too eager or David get scared? Neither one is a remote possibility.”
“I’m not sure how to take that, so I’ll ignore it and keep you out of trouble.”
“I hope your cats like your choice of dress this time,” Maggie said with a smile, referring to a panicked call she’d received the night of a dinner party that Alyx had hosted earlier that year.
“I’d keep my clothes away from the cats, if I were you; they’re not only smart, they have good taste,” Maggie teased.
“One is never sure, watching two cats washing each other, whether it’s affection, the taste or a trial run for the jugular.”
Misty was always ready to play a game of hide-and-seek, and I searched for her where I last left her. The game was a simple one, and served its purpose; I hid, waited for her to walk by, and pounced on her. Sometimes the playing did get a little out of hand and my nip turned into a bite, forcing her to defend herself. Misty doesn’t hold grudges; and the bite was soon forgotten, although the self-defense lesson was not.
I spied her sitting next to the desk that the nervous man had been examining when he stepped on her. When she spotted me heading her way, she took off at a gallop, under, over and around the antiques and vintage furniture, looking over her shoulder to make sure I followed. I caught up with her on the wide, majestic staircase off to the side of the room, curving up to the loft area on the second floor. I was mystified, as this was a very different Misty.
She led the way to the back section of the loft that was closed to customers, and filled with broken furniture that handyman George Lucas would one-day repair or recycle into something else. I nimbly jumped on a three-legged table supported by another piece of furniture. It took Misty two false starts before she made it to the top.
What she had to say was troubling; the man who’d stepped on her wasn’t wearing sunglasses or a cap when he’d walked by the display window, she said. He’d pulled them from his pockets and put them on right before he walked into the store.
To my knowledge, humans have poor vision and generally take off their sunglasses when they go indoors, so why go to the trouble of disguising himself before entering the store?
Misty lifted her back leg, licked it a couple of times and left it up in the air, distracted by I don’t know what. I licked her ear to get her refocused on her story, and she continued.
Apparently, when the man was examining the desk, he opened some of the small drawers, took whatever he was chewing out of his mouth, and stuck it in one of the drawers. She said she went to take a closer look and that’s when the brute stepped on her.
Contrary to popular belief, cats can process information as quickly as any human can. It was obvious that the man was trying to disguise himself, and if my deduction was correct, the man who stepped on Misty was the diamond thief.
The problem was how to relay the information to Alyx. Communication with those of my kind has never been difficult. We have our ways. Humans use words, and that’s the problem. Misty, however, was sure I’d figure something out––I always did.
I complimented her on a job well done. She said she needed a snack, jumped from the table, hit the floor with her chin, and walked away as if that was the only way to land. She pranced down the stairs, and I followed her to the checkout counter where she fished out her favorite bag of soft treats from the basket that customers kept full. The classy, raven-haired woman tapping her manicured fingers on the counter paid no attention, and with the bag awkwardly dangling from her mouth, Misty walked away in search of someone to open it for her.
The woman at the counter didn’t wait long before she left, and I turned my attention back to the slant-front desk. I stood on my hind legs, peered in the pigeonholes that flanked a central-banded door and tried to open the variety of small drawers. The experience tired me out. I then drifted back upstairs for a nap, and, disturbed by what Misty had told me, I didn’t fall asleep right away.
You see, I left home at a very young age and my mother didn’t have time to teach me much of anything. I do remember her telling me that according to legend, I had the mark of the gods––the
on my forehead was proof of it. Supposedly, that mark made me special. I don’t think it’s only because of the mark––I do have a brain––and it was telling me that the thief hid the diamond in the desk.