Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery (6 page)

BOOK: Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery
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The day was going fine, until Alyx dragged the arch-enemy––the vacuum cleaner––out of the hall closet. I was grateful that she waited a bit before she turned it on, giving us the opportunity to run. The female cats scattered to their safe places; I stood my ground––it was personal with me. I knew it was a machine, yet something about it distressed me. I tried to fight the menace by staring it down as it came my way sucking everything in its path. I even tried to attack it––the infernal machine kept on whining, and since my housemates were in hiding, I gave up and ran for cover.

“To err is human, to purr is feline.”

––
Robert Byrne

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:
The Encounter

A new year arrived along with Alyx’s New Year’s resolution, which was to donate most of the goodies that customers dropped in the basket to the animal shelter, which managed colonies of free-roaming, abandoned, and feral cats in the area. I think she selected that shelter because of Pooky.

Alyx made up a simple tent card and placed it next to the basket on the counter.
We thank you for
your generosity and we will share with our less fortunate brothers and sisters who have no home. Thank you kindly for your continued support.
(Paw prints).
Murfy, Misty, Pooky.

The desk was now back in the store much to Misty’s chagrin; I wasn’t interested in inspecting it or any of the other pieces of furniture that had come back from Althea’s. On the other hand, Misty had put in a considerable amount of time inspecting the desk. Alyx saw her trying to paw open one of the small drawers and joined her. Misty watched Alyx closely as she pulled all the drawers out, checking each one.

Coming up behind Alyx, Maggie asked, “Are you looking for hidden treasure?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes, I am. I can’t help but wonder if this desk had anything to do with Althea’s murder.”

“In what way?”

“I don’t know exactly. I have a feeling about it, is all.”

“I think Smarts needs more than a feeling. Never mind that; I want to know about the masked ball. How was it?”

“It started out great, and turned into the strangest experience I’ve ever had.”

Alyx looked around. “Come on; we can talk in the workroom,” she said mysteriously. I followed the two women as they talked. “David arrived promptly at seven. Oh, Maggie, he was positively gorgeous in his black tuxedo, the silver at his temples accentuating his soft blue-gray eyes. I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing with pleasure when I saw the elaborate mask he’d brought me––it was gold, decorated with multi-colored feathers and doodads. We left the house laughing; our conversation on the way to the ball was light and festive. When we arrived at the Atlantic Hotel and Conference Center, the President of the Music Theater Society, who’s a familiar face associated with all the elite of Beachside, was directing guests to the ballroom. I greeted her. She’s an older, attractive woman and she was wearing a lovely gown, but, oh, you should have seen the gaudy diamond necklace she was wearing! She smiled at David then turned back to me and said in this snooty voice, “I do believe this is the first time I have ever seen you in something other than jeans. Alyx, you look lovely.” Alyx was pretending to be the lady she was describing and she looked very funny doing her imitation. If cats could laugh, I would have.

Then she continued with her story. “David came to my defense and told the woman that I looked lovely no matter what I was wearing.”

“Good for him,” said Maggie.

“He put his arm around my waist and led me to our table,” continued Alyx. “He asked me if I knew the woman well. I told him she considered me an enemy because I’d refused to redecorate her house when I found out that all her choices were based solely on buying the gaudiest and most expensive of everything.”

“Who did you sit with?” asked Maggie.

“I didn’t know any of the people sitting at our table. Except for the young couple sitting next to me, none of them seemed to be interested in knowing who I was, and that was fine with me. I did recognize some of the city’s prominent citizens from their pictures in the society pages of the local paper.”

“How was the dinner?” Maggie grilled her friend. “I hope at least that was good.”

“Well, let me put it this way,” said Alyx, “The only thing that made dinner memorable was David’s attentiveness. Just before the dancing started, the evening got really weird. I trooped to the ladies room with some other ladies and out in the hallway, a woman in a Marie Antoinette costume wearing a mask grabbed me by the arm and pulled me aside.”

“Who was it? What did she say?”

“I had no idea who she was. But I assumed it was David’s ex-wife when she said to enjoy the evening and to remember that David was
hers
anytime she wanted him back. The inflection in her voice was unmistakable as to her intentions.”

Maggie got up to refresh her coffee, and a worried expression crossed her face when she turned away from Alyx. She smelled trouble the same as I did.

“Did she say anything else?” asked Maggie.

“That was it. She turned and walked away. Melissa, the young woman I sat next to at the table was waiting for me by the door and I just followed her into the bathroom. My hand was shaking violently as I tried to apply fresh lipstick, and I had to stop before it ended up all over my chin. Melissa asked me if I knew who the woman was, and I said I sort of did and let it go at that.”

“What about David? Did you tell him about the encounter?”

“I didn’t mention it. I put it out of my mind and tried to enjoy the rest of the evening. David turned out to be a delightful dancer––I didn’t step on his toes once,” Alyx joked.

“Did you see Marie Antoinette again?”

“I saw her on the dance floor; her mask was off and her eyes were boring into David. I couldn’t tell if he made eye contact with her––he must have because as soon as the music stopped, he walked me back to the table. He looked like he wanted to say something to me, but the opportunity was lost when one of his colleagues asked me to dance. So we both danced with different partners and came back to the table together. David never said a word about the woman. When midnight arrived, we all toasted with champagne. David said, ‘Here’s to the beginning of a new year that I hope will be filled with our happy memories.’ And just as he said it, I could see Marie Antoinette staring at me from across the room, her glass raised, as David put his arms around me for the traditional New Year’s Eve kiss. Some happy memory.”

I held my breath as Alyx seemed to hold hers. Then she continued, “We left before the room started to empty. The ride home was quiet. I don’t know if David had seen his ex-wife follow me to the restroom or the exchange between us. The goodnight kiss he gave me at the door was at best tentative. I didn’t invite him in and he didn’t ask.”

“It’s hard to believe,” offered Maggie, “that David Hunter, the famous trial lawyer, would ever be at a loss for words. How do you feel about what happened?”

“Maggie, you know I like David. I don’t want to get involved with someone who still has issues with his ex-wife.”

“Yes, but how do you know it’s his issues? Maybe it’s all hers.”

“Whatever the case, it’s not a clean break, and I don’t want to deal with it.”

“Although you haven’t asked,” said Maggie, “I’m of the opinion that you should talk to David about it. At our age, men like him don’t come along too often.”

“For heaven’s sake, Maggie, I’m not desperate.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Alyx, and you know it.”

At that moment, Nelda appeared at the door asking for help on the floor, and the girls’ conversation ended there.

Later, tucked away in a secluded spot in the loft, I tried to reconnect with the diamond thief. I knew what the man looked like, knew his first name and was sure his last name wasn’t
Baby
as in
“Mark, baby; you’re toast.”
I knew this because a few days before the diamond robbery, someone had left the back door of Antiques & Designs open, and I couldn’t resist taking a walk down the alley. While I was strolling, I saw two men arguing. Actually, only one was doing the arguing, the other––much smaller in stature––was silent. In a threatening tone, the beefy man with a red bulbous nose was poking his finger hard at the other man’s shoulder, his face inches away. Between clenched teeth, I heard him say,
“You got two more days to pay up, Mark, baby, or you’re toast.”

At the time, I didn’t have the slightest idea who the beefy man was and I still don’t. However, I’m sure that the man who was threatened in the alley and the man who came into the store right after the jewelry store robbery are one and the same. I concentrated as hard as I could to recall all I’d seen and heard in the alley, searching for the slightest clue to help me identify the thief and the determine a way to tell Alyx. In my mind’s eye, I saw the man dressed in business clothes: brown slacks, white shirt, conservative striped tie, and brown shoes with tassels. When he saw me in the alley, he started acting strange; he seemed to lose interest in the other man. The altercation didn’t last long. The large man drove away in his car, and the other man started walking down the alley. Out of curiosity, I followed him.

He kept looking over his shoulder, and at first, I thought he was watching for the other man, but when he started walking faster and I kept pace with him until we were both running, I realized that he was running away from me! The poor man must have had ailurophobia––fear of cats! I slowed down and he ducked in the back door of the last building on the block.

After thinking about the incident in the alley for some time, it suddenly came to me––
brown shoes with tassels and no socks––
Alyx would certainly recognize that and I started working on a plan.

“Cats always know whether people like or dislike them. They do not always care enough to do anything about it.”

––
Winifred Carriere

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
: What the Neighbor Saw

Alyx and Maggie parted company after they returned from their client’s home. Alyx didn’t tell Maggie where she was going; only that she’d see her back at the store later. As usual, I was ready to jump in the truck. The way I figured, it wouldn’t hurt to try, and she could always say no if she didn’t want me along; there are always other ways to get information. Luckily, she let me tag along and we ended up at Althea’s condominium.

Bill Emmett, Althea’s next-door neighbor, was outside working on his little pocket of a garden, a planting area in front of his townhouse-style condominium.

“Hi, Bill. Do you remember me? I met you earlier this week. My name is Alyx,” she said.

“Oh, sure, I remember you. I never forget a young, pretty face,” he grinned.

“Thank you; but I’m not so young.”

“When you’re ninety, anything less is young.” He laughed; Alyx smiled. “Brought your kitty again, I see.” Alyx ignored his comment but I snuggled up between the two of them so I could hear their conversation.

“Bill, I know the police have asked you questions as to what you saw or heard the night Althea was killed. I wonder if there’s anything you might have remembered since.”

“Funny you should ask me that because I was discussing it with the wife the other day. She’s eighty-nine; doesn’t get out anymore, only for doctors’ appointments, and she likes to get her hair done once a week. Someone commented on the expense of getting her hair done and I said it’s cheaper in the long run if it keeps her happy, if you get my meaning.”

Alyx nodded and tried to get him back on the subject. “What were you and your wife discussing?”

“Because we live on a cul-de-sac, we get a lot of people turning around when they realize they’ve reached the end of the street and there’s no exit. I usually don’t pay much attention, except the day you came by with the delivery. I happened to be looking out the kitchen window and I remember I saw a car following you. It didn’t come this far; it parked in the visitor parking lot across the way,” he said, pointing in that direction. “It caught my attention because no one got out of the car. My wife called to me from the couch to bring her a glass of water; she doesn’t walk much anymore. You see how it is. When I went back to the kitchen and looked out the window, the car was gone. I forgot all about it until yesterday. I told Jo-Jo––that’s my wife––that I should tell the police. She didn’t agree because my vision isn’t so good anymore, and she says maybe I was wrong.”

I thought his vision might surely be good enough to see a vehicle, if not the driver. Alyx must have thought the same thing, and she asked him about the driver.

“I didn’t see his face; it was hidden by some sort of cap and sunglasses.”

“You said he was driving a dark sedan. Was it gray, brown, black?”

“It was a dark color is all I can tell you for sure.”

“Have you given this information to the police?”

“No, because I can’t swear to what I saw. My wife is right. My distance vision isn’t so good anymore and my close-up vision isn’t any better.” He laughed again.

“Thanks for the information, Bill, and don’t worry about swearing to what you saw, maybe someone else closer to where the vehicle was parked got a better look.”

She declined his invitation for coffee, telling him she’d love to meet his wife another day when she wasn’t pressed for time.

I wondered if anyone else had mentioned the vehicle to the police. Then again, the vehicle may not have been following them at all, simply going in the same direction.

BOOK: Deadly Diamond: A Murfy the Cat Mystery
9.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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