Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery (5 page)

BOOK: Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery
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“Any cat that misses a mouse pretends it was aiming for the dead leaf
.”

––Charlotte Gray

CHAPTER ELEVEN:
Family Portraits Arouse Suspicion

Alyx and Maggie were having breakfast, and Maggie asked when they were going to start evaluating Althea’s things.

“I was thinking of going over there tomorrow for a preliminary inventory. Her niece made it very clear she wants this wrapped up as soon as possible,” said Alyx.

They discussed what they were going to do and decided to buy the antique pieces and conduct an estates sale for the rest of the items on the premises. Alyx said she would mark the pieces accordingly.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I think I can handle it alone.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind being there by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine. Besides, you have plans for the day. You don’t need to be spending your time babysitting me.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. Too bad her cat never turned up.”

“Yes, it is. I hope someone found him and gave him a home. He’s a handsome cat, and I know you don’t usually hear this about cats, but I thought he had an intelligent look in his eyes.”

“I think a cat is a cat except for Murfy––he’s something else––my imagination doesn’t take me farther than that.”

That observation of my special skills was fine with me––the less people suspected, the better I could do my job.

First thing the following morning, Alyx drove to Althea’s condominium with me riding along in my carrier. Althea’s car was gone, so Alyx parked in the driveway. I assumed someone had moved Althea’s car into the garage––more than likely, her niece had sold it.

As Alyx headed for the front door with me in tow in my carrier, she greeted an elderly man sweeping his driveway.

“No one’s home,” he said as he leaned on his push broom and squinted at Alyx. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Are you a relative?”

“No, I’m a friend. I’m the one who found her body.”

“I heard she was murdered. Why would anyone want to kill her? I don’t know. This is such a crazy world; can’t trust anybody, no more. Most residents living here are over 65-years old, you know, and this has us all scared. I don’t like it when you have to be suspicious of everybody.” He shook his head, “No, sir, I don’t like it one bit.”

Alyx stepped over the strip of grass separating the two driveways and introduced herself to the stooped gentleman who had a full head of white hair and cloudy blue eyes––remnants of a once young, handsome face.

“My name’s William, William Emmett. You can call me Bill.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Bill. How well did you know Althea?”

He shrugged his bony shoulders, “She wasn’t very friendly, kept mostly to herself except for when that cat of hers ran out. That’s when she’d talk to the neighbors––when she went looking for him.”

“That’s what I was going to ask you about. Apparently, the cat ran away again. He wasn’t in the house when I found Althea. A friend of mine has been checking every day, with no sign of Simon. Have you seen him by any chance?”

“No, I didn’t know he was missing. I thought someone had taken him in.”

“Well, I know Althea would want someone to take care of her cat, so if you do see him hanging around, I’ll appreciate it if you give me a call.”

She pulled a business card from her purse and handed it to him.

“I’ll be sure to do that.” He squinted at the card and put it in his pants pocket. “Did her niece inherit everything?”

“That’s what she said.”

“So she’s gonna sell this place?”

“Yes, I think so.”

He rubbed the top of his head in a circular motion. “Now…doesn’t it take some time for all that to go through the court and all before she can do anything?”

“All I know is that she’s the executor of the estate, so I think she can do whatever she wants.”

He nodded, not fully convinced. “Didn’t mean to be nosy. I was just wondering that’s all.”

Bill was quite a talker, and I realized that if Alyx didn’t make a move soon, she’d become his captive audience, so I let myself be heard.

“That’s my cat Murfy letting me know he wants to be let out of his carrier. Nice talking to you Bill. My friend Maggie and I own Antiques & Designs on Ocean Street. Althea’s niece has asked us to dispose of the contents of her condominium, so you’ll be seeing me again.”

She unlocked the front door of Althea’s house, and froze to the spot for a moment. It was evident the police had not conducted a neat and orderly investigation. It was disappointing that they had not shown a little more respect for the dead woman. Then again, maybe this was as neat as they were when they searched for evidence.

Alyx let me out of the carrier before she took the self-adhesive tags out of her tote bag and started inspecting each piece of furniture, marking those that Antiques & Designs wanted to buy for re-sale in the store, the first piece being the slant-front desk. Did Althea really think it was the same desk that she’d purchased all those years ago in Sierra Leone? Apparently, her story about the desk burning when the house caught fire was a lie.

Eventually, Alyx finished tagging items on the first floor and we moved on to the second floor. I was right behind her. Alyx looked confused as she stood in front of the portraits still hanging in the guest room. She took them down and put the portraits in the truck when she finished tagging the estate sale items on the second floor. Then, she took a walk around the outside of the building; I presumed she was looking for Simon. When she came around to the front, she waved at Bill, and we left.

When we returned to the shop, it was late morning, and Maggie hadn’t left for the day yet. Alyx asked if she had time to discuss a figure for Althea’s furniture and pick a date for the estate sale. Maggie said she did and when they decided that they couldn’t do it for another three weeks, Alyx told her about the family portraits that had been left hanging on the wall.

“Do you think you can get along without me tomorrow? I’d like to take the portraits to Althea’s niece and I don’t know how much time I’ll need.”

“Sure, that’s fine, except … why are you going?”

“Okay, I think there’s more to this than it appears. Don’t you think it’s odd for Carole to leave the family portraits for the estate sale?”

“Not really. Maybe she didn’t know the people.”

“Yes, she did, Althea told me who they all were. One is Althea and her husband on their wedding day and the other is Carole’s grandparents.”

“Alyx, not everyone has an appreciation of their ancestry, you know.”

“I know, yet something doesn’t seem right. I learned from her next-door neighbor that Althea had several visitors the day before I found her body.”

“Really. Who were they?”

“Carole and her son, Carole’s son and another man, and a different man whom he couldn’t identify––he only saw him from the back as he was leaving.”

 
“Do you even know where Umatilla is?”

“I know that it’s west of here. I have a GPS, I’m sure I’ll find it.”

“Okay, Alyx,” Maggie sighed, “No use trying to talk you out of it. Drive carefully; you know how bad the highway traffic can get.”

“Yes, I know. Unfortunately, it’s the only east-west highway. It seems that road has been under construction forever––long enough to build a new one, I’d say. Of course, by the time they finish the new road, traffic will have doubled again.”

The rest of the day at the store was uneventful. On the way home that evening, Alyx stopped at the supermarket and came out with a bag of unknown cat food. She filled one of the bowls at home with the new food, and we ran to sniff and taste. Misty and I agreed it was pretty awful, turned tail, and left Pooky crunching away as if it was her last meal. Her behavior was understandable though––she’d experienced hunger and nearly starved to death when her humans abandoned her by the side of a busy road. Misty and I have never experienced hunger; our bowl is always full. We let Alyx know when it isn’t.


Your cat may never have to hunt farther than the kitchen counter for its supper nor face a predator fiercer than the vacuum cleaner
.”

––Barbara L. Diamond

CHAPTER TWELVE:
A Disappointing Trip

Something jarred me awake. I opened my eyes and saw Misty hunched down on all fours, her face only inches from mine. Annoyed at being disturbed, I flicked the tip of my tail. She insisted I sit up as she had something to say and wanted to be sure that I heard it. I indulged her request and started washing the sleep out of my eyes. She asked a legitimate question; I gave her a legitimate answer.

Relentless in her pursuit for answers, she demanded to know why I didn’t go with Alyx to Umatilla. I said I didn’t see any reason to go. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t concerned about Alyx any longer since nothing had changed. I had nothing to say and started to walk away. She persisted. Who was the cat that I’d spent the night with and why did I let him slit the screen? She wasn’t going to like the answer, so I said that I didn’t want to discuss that either.

Misty relied on me to explain things to her––things about human and cat behaviors, and she made it clear that she didn’t understand, and that there couldn’t possibly be an explanation for my behavior of late.

I knew she was confused, yet I couldn’t tell her of the conflict raging within me––there was so much that Simon said he could teach me. He confirmed what I’d suspected all along, that all cats have a purpose, and that is to provide comfort to humans, even if it’s just to purr. I learned that some cats possess better developed senses and can do more for their humans than others do––in some cases, actually protect them from harm. I wanted to know how.

You see, before I adopted Alyx, my mother told me that the
M
on my forehead made me special in the same way that it made my father special. She said he was a Felis catus genius and since I had the same mark, so was I. Sad to say, I never met my father. He was picked up as a stray by Animal Control before I was born––one of the dangers of being an outdoor cat even if you’re a genius.

Maybe my mother was right about the genius part. I did have a better understanding of humans and the laws that governed them than my housemates did, and I could do things that never even occurred to them. I concluded that since there are levels of intelligence for humans, this could also be true for cats.

Misty moved away, pulled her string closer, and held it securely in both paws. Pooky, who’d been grooming her tail, pretending not to be listening, curled up by her side––close, though not so close that one might think it was intentional.

I knew Misty was hurt and disappointed, and I did think she deserved an explanation; nevertheless, there was so much going on right now that I was distracted from doing the right thing.

Alyx came home from Umatilla around noon. I heard her ask Misty why she looked so sad, and I sauntered out to the living room. I stayed out of the way while she played with Misty and her string––an athletic shoelace Ethan had given her when he couldn’t keep her away from his shoes. Misty was obsessed with it. If she wasn’t dragging it, she was laying on it, and don’t anyone dare touch it without her permission.

A few minutes later, Misty walked away bored, dragging her string behind her. Alyx headed to her bedroom and came out in her grungy housecleaning clothes. She headed for the kitchen, and we heard a big sigh, big enough to get our attention––all of us wondering whose mess she was cleaning up. Of course, no one wanted to look like the guilty party, so no one went to check it out.

I expected to see Alyx come out of the kitchen with her bucket of cleaning supplies. Instead, she grabbed the cordless phone and took it to the living room. I positioned myself on the back of the couch near her head so I could hear the speaker on the other end.

“Hi, Maggie, has it been very busy?”
      

“Why? You want to come in?”

“Not necessarily, but you know I’ll be there if you say so.”

“I’m kidding. The three of us can handle it. Next week, we reevaluate, right?”

“Right.”

“How was your trip to Umatilla?”

“The ride was uneventful. No aggressive drivers flashing their lights at me to get out of the way because I was driving the speed limit instead of the twenty miles over they were doing. For a change, there were no accidents to slow down traffic or bring it to a complete standstill. It actually turned out to be a pleasant drive.”

“Did you have any trouble finding the house?”

“It’s not hard to find an address in a rural city of two thousand residents. I saw their white, plantation style home at the end of the long driveway as soon as I turned off the main road. It was a huge house––at least three thousand square feet, I’d guess, with a four-car garage attached to the house by an old-fashioned breezeway. It didn’t have any trees or landscaping. I assumed the house was new and they hadn’t gotten around to that yet. There was an unfurnished wrap-around porch. I rang the doorbell––not sure anyone would answer and make the whole trip a waste of time.”

“What did she say when she saw you standing there?”

“Well, Carole was pleasant enough and she welcomed me in. She took one of the portraits from me and set it down against the wall in the foyer without even looking at it. I told her I left her a message to let her know I was coming and to call me back if she wasn’t going to be home, and since she didn’t call, I assumed it was all right. She said she appreciated me making the trip, although it really wasn’t necessary, and that I could have just waited until after the estate sale, as we’d discussed.” Alyx sighed.

“Judging from how you said she was dressed when you met her,” I could hear Maggie say, “I’m curious as to what the inside of her house looks like.”

“The living room is unfurnished as is the dining room,” replied Alyx into the receiver. “The rest of the rooms I glimpsed on the way to the family room were sparsely furnished. The family room is the only room completely furnished. The transitional style furniture is tasteful and expensive. A low, decoratively painted cabinet holds a large-flat screen TV. Built in shelves flank the fireplace and showcase beautiful bound books and other
objets d’art
. The room is perfect in every detail. Carole took a seat on the couch, and I sat on the loveseat facing her. I leaned the portrait I carried along the side of the couch and asked how long she’d lived there. A little color appeared on her cheeks then. I was embarrassed for asking when she said that right after they moved in, her husband’s company did some downsizing, starting with his paycheck, and they had to hold off on furnishing the rest of the house.

I asked her what kind of work her husband does and she said his company designs, sells, and installs security systems for businesses and then she quickly changed the subject.”

“Did she say why she left the portraits behind?” Maggie’s voice rang out.

“No, she didn’t and there wasn’t an appropriate place in the conversation to ask.”

“How did she react when she saw them?”

“She didn’t. In fact, she didn’t look at them at all while I was there, which means that she knew who they were and must have left them behind intentionally. Maggie, this whole thing about Althea has me baffled. I don’t understand why she was killed, and who could have hated her enough to want to kill her.”

Alyx shifted the phone to the other ear and I changed position.

“Carole even admitted to me that she and Althea didn’t get along. She said Althea filled her son’s head with stories about the diamond hidden in the desk. Apparently, she had forgotten that her husband had burned the desk. I hope that I didn’t contribute to that illusion.”

“What do you mean?”

“The first time she came in the store and asked me where I got the desk, I told her what I’d been told––that it was part of an estate whose owner had lived out of the country for many years. At the time, I didn’t notice anything unusual; then again, I wasn’t looking for anything unusual. It wasn’t until much later that she told us about her life in Africa.”

“If she thought that it was the same desk why did she wait seven months to buy it?” Maggie asked.

“I wondered the same thing. Carole said I didn’t know her aunt very well. She had money and could have paid for the desk when she saw it. Evidently, Althea told Carole that she could probably get the desk for half of what I was asking, if not free. By then, I had a knot in my stomach.”

“I’m sorry, Alyx. I know you thought a lot of her. It sounds like she was starting to lose her grip on reality––you can’t hold her responsible.”

“Carole said the same thing. She said her aunt was sick and although they released her from the mental health facility where she’d lived for ten years, she was never the same. I said that I understood and that was the reason I felt compelled to find out who killed her and why. At that point, Carole got up and I took it to mean it was time for me to leave. She walked me to the door, thanked me for bringing the portraits, and shut the door before I stepped off the porch. I got in the car and saw a vehicle approaching, clouds of dust in its wake. Since the driveway wasn’t wide enough for two vehicles, I waited for it to pull up. A skinny young man in baggy jeans, black t-shirt and a black cap, lumbered up to the side door without looking at me.”

“Not a very friendly bunch, are they? I’m sorry the trip was such a disappointment.”
 

“I know. I’m thinking that maybe I should forget about it and leave it for Smarts to handle.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that, although I don’t believe you. Did you do anything else––like shop for a ball gown?”

“On the way to Umatilla, I passed the Sand Hill Mall and thought it might be a good idea to stop on the return trip and look for a dress for the masked ball. It didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore though when I pulled into the parking lot. I drove around the lot twice before I found a parking space out in the boondocks. Inside the mall, people were aimlessly wandering around, some with shopping lists in hand, others with scowls on their faces and I couldn’t wait for all the hustle and bustle to be over. Anyway, after an hour of shopping, I was ready for a break and took the escalator down to the food court. As you know, shopping has never been high on my list of favorite activities, and I always reward the effort by having something I don’t normally eat, usually some greasy fried food. I remembered why I was there before it was too late, and opted for a salad instead. I finished lunch and wasted another hour not finding anything I liked.

I reached the lounge area in the middle of the mall, and stopped to listen to the string quartet playing. The musicians, in formal attire, looked bored and played well, so I decided to sit and listen for a while. I’m not a classical music fan; I didn’t know the piece they were playing. I was so enthralled, I didn’t move until they took a break, thirty minutes later. When I got up to leave, I saw the handsome violinist who had made eye contact with me once or twice, walking towards me. Okay, don’t laugh. I was in a hurry to avoid him and I nearly ran into a decorative column that wasn’t there before.”

That started Maggie laughing. “I’m sorry, you’re so funny when a man pays you the slightest attention, and I can’t help laughing.”

Alyx smiled and said, “I’m glad you think it’s funny.”

“So you still don’t have a dress for the event of the year on New Year’s Eve?”

“Yes I do. I found a dress that I think is perfect for the occasion.”

Alyx described the simple elegant green satin gown that she found at a little dress shop in what used to be the downtown commercial area in Agape Beach.

“The gown sounds gorgeous. Do you know what your mask looks like?”

“No. David said he wanted to surprise me. I’m sorry that you and George can’t make it. It would have been fun.”

“Yeah, I know. George didn’t want to tell his son to change his flight reservations, so we have to pick him up at the airport that night and, of course, we can’t leave him home alone.”

“Who made his reservations?”

“His son did––since he had no plans to go out. Anyway, you have fun. Have a glass or two of champagne for me, and I want to hear all about it.”

“If I have fun, for sure you won’t hear all about it,” she joked. “Okay, now do you want to know the other reason I called?”

“Sure, why did you call?”

“Sit down if you’re standing because you’re going to be shocked when you hear this. Do you think your cleaning lady would be interested in another client?”

“Betty Quattelbaum would be delighted. She mentioned the other day that a client had moved away and she was looking for another. Who’s interested?”

“It’s me. I admit it; I’m not superwoman, and I can actually afford to pay someone to come in to do the one job I have always hated. It doesn’t mean I’m lazy or pampering myself; it means I’m choosing where to direct my energy.”

Maggie chuckled. “You don’t have to explain or justify it to me, sweetie. I’m glad you’re finally starting to put yourself first.”

“It’s easy to put myself first now that I’m the only one standing in line.”

“Good point. Hold on, I’ll get you her number.”

Later, while Alyx was busy around the house, Pooky took the opportunity to sneak a few morsels from the non-diet food bowl. She understood she had special food to eat and she was not to eat the other food. Still hungry and food still in the other bowl, she sat far enough away, yet close enough to scoop out a few morsels, and casually drag each one over with her paw. Alyx saw what she was up to and allowed her to sneak another paw-full before she cleaned up the leftovers.
 

BOOK: Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery
8.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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