Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery (10 page)

BOOK: Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery
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“I have noticed that what cats most appreciate in a human being is not the ability to produce food which they take for granted––but his or her entertainment value.”

Geoffrey Household

: The Artist

The practice began with Alyx and Maggie dropping in at the Café for coffee and muffins-to-go before they opened the door to Antiques & Designs. Novie, the owner, told them they were welcome to come in before she opened to the public and stay for as long as they wanted. Later, she extended the invitation to other Ocean Street merchants.

While she waited for her coffee, Georgia Hamilton, owner of The Chandlery joined Alyx at the counter, with money and check in hand.

“Hi, Alyx, running late this morning?”

“Yes, we all have one of those mornings once in a while, don’t we?”

“I have one of those mornings every other day.”

Georgia had one of those infectious laughs that people couldn’t ignore.

“What’s new in your neck of the woods?” Alyx asked.

“Not much happening in my candle world, though I did hear something that might interest you.”

The cashier placed Alyx’s coffee on the counter and Alyx removed a couple of dollars from her wallet to pay for it. She and Georgia waited for their change, and then walked out together with me in tow.

“So what did you hear that I might want to know?” queried Alyx.

“A friend of mine who owns a collectible and antique store in Miami told me that last week an American Indian woman came into her store and asked if she was interested in purchasing some hand-crafted jewelry that she said she’d picked up for half-price from someone who wanted out of the business. When my friend took a close look at the jewelry, she noticed that some of the pieces were exactly alike––not something you see in handmade items.”

“What did your friend do?”

“She told her to come back the following day; of course, she never showed up. In the meantime, my friend looked up information on the Internet and learned that there are a lot of supposedly handmade Indian articles being sold to unsuspecting tourists that are actually mass produced overseas.”

“That’s not a crime, is it?”

“No, as long as the item indicates the country of origin; it’s only a scam when an item is said to be “authentic” Indian made. Then it becomes a federal crime, and the penalty for that can go up to two hundred-fifty thousand dollars in fines, and five years in prison.”

Alyx shook her head in disbelief, “Thanks for the information. That’s something that I haven’t encountered so far.”

“Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that in my business, but it could affect me personally. I’m wondering now, if the Amish quilt I bought for eight hundred dollars was really made by the Amish––or someone in China.”

“If you like it, I don’t think it matters.”

Alyx saw Mary Zenn patiently waiting for her at her shop and took a couple of steps backwards, “Have a good day, Georgia,” she said and hurried to her front door.

Mary fit the clichéd description of an artist with curly blond hair sticking out in all directions, running shoes that looked too big for her feet and wearing the same style (an oversized dress) that she’d worn when Alyx first met her at the Arts Festival on Ocean Street. I remember their meeting then.

Mary’s booth had a simple display of only three framed pieces of artwork on their own homemade easels. The covered card table offered two more samples, and several canvases were casually leaning on either side of the table.

Mary had greeted her with a shy smile and no sales pitch. Alyx had stood back and taken a critical look at the three paintings.

“Your artwork is different than the other abstract art I’ve seen today.”

“In the art world, this is called Abstract Expressionism. The artist expresses his state of mind with the intention of evoking an emotional chord in the viewer.”

“The colors you used reflect such a serene state of mind that I can actually feel myself relaxing as I look at it.”

“You have an artistic eye. These pieces are a kind of Abstract Expressionism called Chromatic Abstraction which focuses on the emotional resonance of color.”

Alyx introduced herself. “My friend Maggie and I own Antiques & Designs, a couple of blocks down the street,” she said, indicating the direction of the store.

“Glad to meet you, Alyx. I’m Mary Zenn. I’ve stopped in your store a couple of times. I really like your retro stuff and the way you display it.”

“I take it you’re from this area, then?”

“Yes, I live in Grand Oaks Apartments.”

“I know the place. I love the large windows, and I imagine you do too.”

“Yes, I do. My apartment faces west; I have a great view of the marsh, and it’s all very inspiring, especially the sunsets.”

Alyx looked at the scanty display of artwork and asked if she’d been painting long.

“I’ve been painting since I was five years old; this is my first art show.”

“I take it you have more artwork at home?”

“Oh, yes. This being my first time, I wasn’t sure how much to bring with me, and it looks like I was right. I’ve only sold a couple of pieces, and both buyers were from out of state.”

“Mary, I really like your work, and I have an idea that might benefit both of us.”

Mary replied with an enthusiastic nod when Alyx asked her if she wanted to display some of her art at Antiques & Designs.

“Great!” replied Alyx. “Bring it in anytime. I’ll let everyone know to expect you.”

The next day, Mary had arrived with five pieces of her work. Alyx was alone in the store, and they worked together to pick a spot for the display. At first, she had trouble selling anything, but now she was selling one or two pieces a month. Alyx kept encouraging her by saying that not everybody appreciated old things either, yet she was still in business and more successful every day.

We arrived now at the shop and Alyx greeted the young artist as Mary reached down to pat my head. “Hi Mary, I’m glad you’re here. I have a check for you.”

“And I have a painting for you.”

As soon as we entered, Mary’s eyes immediately went to the wall behind the counter to see if anyone had purchased her artwork.

“Who bought it, do you know?” She always asked that because, as she explained, it was important to her to know if members of her community appreciated her art.

“Someone from Palm Beach bought the blue-green piece and two other smaller pieces. He also took your card. Looks like you might get more business from him in the future. Maggie said he was very interested in knowing more about you––the artist.”

“Oh, well, at least it’s a Floridian, if not a Beachsider.”

The check was for one hundred dollars more than the price marked.

“Alyx, there must be a mistake,” said Mary looking at the check. “This is way more than what I expected.”

“Well, when Maggie saw the interest in the man’s face, she decided to ask for more. Frankly, we both thought they were worth more than what you marked. She said he didn’t hesitate. I hope you’re not mad that she took the liberty to do that.”

“No, of course not. You’re the one who forced me to put a price on them. I was willing for you to price them in the first place, remember?”

“Yes, and I remember telling you that if you didn’t value your work, no one else would either.”

“You’re right; I don’t have enough confidence … I’m getting better … watch!” To prove it, she folded the check with a flourish and put it in her purse without further discussion. “Well, here’s the latest.” She held up the canvas. The piece was larger than the others, and it had lots of color. Alyx looked for a price tag and didn’t find one. “How much?”

“Well, I was going to ask you what you thought.”

“What do you think its worth, Mary?”

She lifted her shoulders and squared her chin a smidgen. “I think it’s worth three hundred dollars.”

Alyx raised her eyebrows and said, “That might be too confident a price.”

“Okay, two hundred, and not a penny less.”

“You’re the artist. Two hundred dollars it is.”

“Yes, I am, aren’t I? Shall I hang it up or will you?” she asked without hesitation.

“You do it, that way you can rearrange the pieces however you want.”

The canvas was soon up and Alyx stood back. “Mary, I think this is a winner––it’s absolutely beautiful,” she said in awe. “I love the luminescent colors.”

“What’s on the canvas is not a real picture; the rectangles with the softened edges in shades of blue and white are whatever the beholder wants it to be,” Mary added.

Alyx couldn’t hide her emotions when Mary hugged her and thanked her for her support. She said her family didn’t understand her kind of art, and had never encouraged her or shown any interest in her work, and at times, they had even acted as if her art was an embarrassment to them.

“I predict wonderful things will start happening to you soon, and I’m glad for the small part I played.”

Later in the day, Alyx and Maggie were gone. Misty decided to risk another rebuff, and slid through the partially open door, stopping halfway through. I invited her in, and she entered without looking at me, skirting the outer edge of the room before she took a seat on the worktable. I joined her there, scattering a few fabric swatches in the process as I paced on the long worktable.

I owed Misty an apology for ignoring her and for hurting her feelings. I explained that I needed to set everything aside for a while.

My apology wasn’t enough for Misty, however. She questioned why Simon didn’t tell me who had killed Althea. I told her that I had asked Simon that question; and that his answer was that he wasn’t around when it happened. Misty angrily spit out that he must have been out prowling with his friends to see how many more cats he could get to join him on his mission of good. I was stunned and I turned, facing her. Her head jerked up to look at me. She had figured out that I was considering joining Simon and she hesitantly asked when I planned to go.

Misty, and I had a special relationship; our bond had formed on that first day that Alyx had brought her home from a garage sale that included a box of free kittens. Misty depends on me to teach her and to explain things she doesn’t understand; she’d be lost without me. I knew at that moment what I’d known all along––I wasn’t leaving.

I didn’t understand why Simon, with all his knowledge, seemed to be a little envious of me. I wondered, but only for a second, how he would react when I told him I wouldn’t be joining him. The truth was that I’d known all along that my place was with Alyx.

Ready for a snack now, Misty, and I made our way to the basket of goodies on the checkout counter, disappointed at the meager supply, and there we sat patiently waiting for someone to come along and dispense the tasty treats before they all disappeared.

“The pull of the outside world is strong; there is also a pull towards the human. The cat may disappear on its own errands, but sooner or later, it returns once again for a little while, to greet us with its own type of love. Independent as they are, cats find more than pleasure in our company.”

Lloyd Alexander

Three Is One Too Many

“Alyx, this is David. Please call me when you get this message.” Alyx put her phone down without returning the call.

Maggie plopped down on the Victorian-style couch in the workroom and asked why she was pouting.

“It’s David. He left a message for me to call.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know if I should.”

She told Maggie she didn’t know what to say to him. She hadn’t changed her mind about their relationship and he could be so persuasive She didn’t trust herself.

“Maggie, am I crazy? He’s handsome, successful, charming, kind...”

“And the cats like him,” added Maggie, her best argument yet. “What else could you ask for in a man?”

Alyx leaned back in her chair and studied her nails. “Right. I’ll call him.”

She called his office and his assistant answered. “Dorinda, this is Alyx. David left a message to call him back. Is he available?”

“Hi, Alyx. No, he’s not here. He said if you called, I was to let him know immediately, so he could call you right back.”

“That’s not necessary. Please just tell him that I called the next time you speak to him.” I could tell that Alyx was thinking hard about something. Then she seemed to make up her mind and spoke up.

“Maggie, I’m going back to Althea’s place. I won’t be gone long.”

Maggie didn’t look up. “What are you going to do?”

“I want to take another look around, see if I missed anything.”

“Be careful, Alyx. Someone may be after something in that house.”

“I’ve thought about that; that’s why I have to get there first. Besides, I don’t think anyone would be stupid enough to come back in bright daylight.”

“Well, they could be watching and know you’re involving yourself and possibly think that you might have found something to incriminate them,” Maggie argued.

“Maggie, I know you can’t help being concerned, but please stop playing my mother, and stop worrying about me. I’ll be careful. Nothing is going to happen to me.”

“Stop playing your mother? I’m four months younger than you, and don’t you forget it.”

“You won’t let me forget that, will you?.”

“Seriously, Alyx, do you want company? I have a couple of free hours.”

“No, thank you. I’ll see you later.” Alyx grabbed her purse and was out the back door in a flash.

I had also wanted to return to the condominium, and this was my opportunity. I surreptitiously followed her out. I saw the tailgate down and so I leaped into the truck bed. She focused on her mission, and only took a cursory look around for me. I hunched down in the corner of the truck bed, behind a rolled up rug and hoped the ride wouldn’t be too rough.

A bit shaken on arrival, I decided to let Alyx see me so I could ride back up in the cab. She opened the front door to the condominium, and I slipped in ahead of her, something I’d mastered as a kitten, startling her as expected. She first opened all the shutters and drapes, then started her search upstairs while I started mine downstairs. I went over every inch and then started over. When I looked up, I saw Alyx coming down the stairs and, at the same time, I saw a flash of silver wedged at the base of the first stair step where the carpet met the tile. I had it out by the time Alyx reached the bottom step. The silver object was less than two inches long with a diameter about the size of a pencil. I lifted it up to her and she grabbed it from my teeth. The object safe in her purse, we jumped back in the truck, and she backed out of the driveway. On the way, her phone rang, and when she saw who was calling, she stopped to answer it.

“Alyx, I’d like to see you as soon as possible; I have something I have to tell you in person,” I could hear Hunter say through her cell phone.

“All right. I’m on my way back to the store right now.”

“I’m leaving the Courthouse now, so I’ll meet you there.”

Hunter wasn’t the type to beg, so I wondered what he had to tell Alyx that he had to tell her face to face? Alyx must have been wondering the same thing and she picked up speed and we were back to the shop in a jiffy. When Hunter walked into the workroom five minutes after we did, Alyx made room for him on the couch.

“My ex told me that she’s been harassing you,” he said apologetically.

Alyx looked up, surprised, and turned to face him. “She told you she followed me home and almost sideswiped me?”

Now it was his turn to be surprised. ”No, she didn’t tell me that. She said she called you several times during the night, but she said nothing about following you. How do you know it was Joann? Did you see the driver?”

“No. It was too dark.”

“How about the car? Did you see the color or make?”

Alyx shook her head. “What kind of car does she drive?”

“A black BMW. Alyx … listen, I’m sorry about all this. I had a long talk with her and she promised not to bother you again. This isn’t like Joann; she has more class than that.”

“You came here to make excuses for her?”

“No, Alyx, I came here …”

Alyx put her hand up to stop him from continuing. “She says she’s going to stop? What does she want you to do in return?”

He took a deep cleansing breath, “She wants to have dinner with me once or twice a month. I agreed. It seems like precious little if that’s what it takes to stop her from bothering you.”

Alyx got up slowly, and ponderously walked to her desk as if she were trying to get herself under control.

me? That’s what you call it? I call it
me. Thanks for trying to protect me, David, but don’t do me any favors, I think I’m capable of taking care of myself. Now, if you don’t mind I have some work to do.”

He didn’t move. “It won’t last long, Alyx. I promise. She’ll get tired of me.”

“David, please go.”

He lingered at the door. “I’ll call you.”

“I don’t think you should do that for a while.”

She turned her back to him, waited for him to leave before she answered the phone, and for the next half hour listened without really hearing a client describe the decorating elements of the private home she was staying at in Palm Beach.

Maggie returned about an hour later and asked her if she’d found anything important in the condominium. Alyx showed her the silver object I’d found that Alyx had now wrapped in a tissue.

“Murfy dug up something very interesting.”

“That’s a nitroglycerine pill case, isn’t it? Where did he find it?” asked Maggie.

“I saw him digging at the base of the stairs where I’d found Althea’s body. He alternately tried to dig it out with his paws and pick it up with his teeth. I’m afraid he probably wiped off any prints, or at least smudged them pretty good.”

“It’s still a clue, one that would have been overlooked otherwise.” said Maggie, examining the case closer, without touching it. “It looks like this was attached to something.”

“It’s like the one Al Jacobs clips to his belt loop,” said Alyx, “It might belong to whoever killed Althea.”

“Which means the killer would be someone with a heart condition.”

“In other words, someone with a bad heart and a motive––no pun intended,” joked Alyx.

“Are you going to turn it over to Detective Smarts?”


“Won’t you get in legal trouble if you don’t? You should call David and ask him what to do.”

Alyx’s emotions flared. “I can’t ask David.…”

With that, Alyx told her all about David’s visit, and Maggie put her arm around her shoulders. “David will work it out with his ex, honey. You’ll see.”

“I’m not so sure he can,” said Alyx. “He said he’s doing this...this business of allowing himself to be intimidated into seeing his ex-wife for me, but I can’t help but think it’s because he hasn’t disconnected from her yet. She’s manipulating him, Maggie. I can’t help wondering what else she’ll coerce him into doing next. Don’t you see where this is going?”

Maggie tried to calm her down. It was apparent Alyx was in no mood for logical arguments; she was hurt, and, yes, she admitted, she was jealous.

“I want him to be free of his ex-wife, not to get more entangled.”

She walked out of the workroom and stopped to listen when she overheard a customer ask Bernice what she found most enjoyable about working at Antiques & Designs.

“That’s easy. It’s the people who walk through the front door,” Bernice answered. “I’ve watched people come and go through that door and wondered about their lives just by the look on their faces. Couples come in sometimes so in tune with each other that they don’t even have to speak, and you say to yourself, ‘that’s how I want my marriage to be. What can I do to make it like that?’ I see single women obviously starting over––not sure that they can make it on their own, going forward anyway, and you have to admire their strength and be inspired to get over any little setback you might be experiencing. Then there are the older couples who look so much alike you think they’re genetically related; their hair is cut in the same style, and you know they must use the same hair color.”

The customer laughed at that. “You should write a book; you certainly have an endless source of material.”

“Maybe one of these days,” said Bernice, “when I have more time to play.”

A wistful smile whispered over Alyx’s lips. Was she wondering what her customers saw when she came into view? Did they see a strong, successful woman, or the one scared to take a chance on love? I wondered that myself.

At home that night, I told my housemates about the day’s events. They understood that whoever had dropped that pill case must be frantic to get it back, and that meant vigilance on all of our parts. The plan was as before; Pooky, would be in charge of security at home, while Misty and I had the store.

BOOK: Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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