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Authors: Shirley Rousseau Murphy

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BOOK: Cat Cross Their Graves
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“The cops can't remove anything from a house without a search warrant, Kit. And they can't get a warrant without seeing a judge, the judge has to sign the warrant. But we can, Kit. We can take anything we can carry, anything we can haul out.”

Leaping again at the hole, she dug her claws into the rotted wood, scrabbling and breaking off disintegrating splinters. Praying that Fenner hadn't returned, to hear her, she hoisted herself up into the bathroom. She was making so much noise, she must sound like a battalion of giant rats clawing at the bathroom floor. But she
couldn't
leave the envelopes under the sink. If the cops couldn't come into this house without a warrant, she had to move the evidence.

Surely an officer could casually slip into the yard when the house was empty, and happen to see the envelopes lying inside a floor vent—with the envelopes
at the right angle, they would be visible; the department could say he'd just been walking by and seen that pale, smooth paper beyond the grid, and had wondered. And surely a cop could get those vent grids off. The use of tools, of screwdrivers and pliers, was a wonderful skill.

Such a story, for the law to use, sounded implausible even to Kit, but it was the best she could think of. They could do it, they could slip up to the vent and reach in for the envelopes. Slipping a paw under the linoleum, she clawed the two big brown envelopes out, her heart racing like a freight train, listening for Fenner to come back, listening for him in the next room.

Clawing the envelopes free, she had to bend each one double to force it down the hole. Silent and alone, she fought the evidence through the little hole, heard it drop onto the rubble below. She was so hungry and so very thirsty. But she wasn't going to drink out of that toilet, no way. She wished the other cats were there with her, wished longingly for Joe Grey and Dulcie, someone to help her, someone to lean on. Someone to lovingly wash her face and lick her ears.

She wished, most of all, that she had some breakfast. Her stomach was so hollow it ached. Squirming, wriggling, she dropped down beside the envelopes. Between her clawing at them and dragging them over the dirt and rusty nails, they were going to look pretty strange.

Well, she couldn't help that. Pulling them across to the far vent, one at a time, she listened and listened for his car. She still didn't know how she was going to get out.

If she didn't get out, if she didn't let Captain Harper know where to find the evidence, it would rot under there. And so would she. But she daren't dwell on that. Maybe when Fenner came back, if she went back up into his room and waited until he came in, maybe she could scorch out behind his heels, slide out through the door before he closed it. It was worth a try. She didn't have much choice.

D
ulcie couldn't stand, any longer, the painful chill
that separated her from Joe. Dropping from the picnic bench to the ragged grass, she started down the garden. She had never meant to hurt him; she was only keeping a secret she felt bound to keep. Trotting down through the rough grass, she crouched beside the low retaining wall just below where Joe stood brazenly watching the coroner photograph the little hand. Dr. Bern and every cop there was aware of Joe; they were all poised to chase him away.

Was it something about Joe's bold attitude that kept them from shouting at him again or carrying him, clawing, out of the yard? If someone tried that, she thought, smiling, all hell would break loose. She couldn't believe Joe was doing this. What was wrong with him? Slipping up onto the wall beside him, she crouched close. Was his nervy defiance the result of his anger with her?

But as much as she loved Joe, she wasn't going to
lay his problems on her own back. She was doing what she had to do about Lori, what she felt was right. When Joe turned to look at her, his yellow eyes fiery with challenge, she gave him a long, steady look in return. His stupid tomcat rage wasn't going to cow
her
.

Joe stared, then returned his attention to the coroner. Had she seen a twitch of amusement, a willingness to make up? But she'd have to make the first gesture, Dulcie knew. Below them, John Bern worked with a teaspoon and a tiny, soft paintbrush, removing fragments of earth from the little bones. And then, working with tweezers, he pulled away thin, evasive roots and lifted any tiny fragments of unidentified debris.

Carefully Bern removed a bit of rotting cloth from the soil, then picked out what looked like a dirt-encrusted button. At intervals he stopped to take pictures, shooting close-ups from every angle. Both Dulcie and Joe, held by the scene, nearly forgot their differences. Bern, while waiting for the forensics people, was doing more than Dulcie had expected. Twice as he worked, the cats listened as he spoke on his cell phone with Drs. Hyden and Anderson, eager to follow their wishes. Apparently the two were on the road already, heading down from Sacramento. Had this discovery sparked an unusual eagerness in the two forensic anthropologists, to send them so quickly on their way? With the seeming age of the little hand, this grave might, for many investigators, mark the possible end to a long and discouraging search.

Within half an hour, Bern had freed the child's
lower arm, digging so slowly that Dulcie wanted to yowl with impatience. The arm was so frail and so entangled with roots that it had to be a touchy job. It was so darkly stained by the earth in which it had lain that it seemed almost fused with the ground. Bern tried once, carefully, to remove it, but then he left it in place. He continued slowly removing the softer soil around it, fragment by tiny fragment, until he reached the little shoulder.

Despite the heavy rains that had wet the garden, the deeper earth was not sodden but only damp. As if the rainwater had drained quickly through the topsoil and, perhaps forming rivulets through the lower clay, had run off between the timbers of the retaining wall to the canyon below. Joe lay with his front paws tucked over the edge of the wall, so fascinated with Bern's work he seemed to have forgotten that the doctor might look up any minute. When he did remember, he jerked up quickly, turning to lick his shoulder. He looked straight at Dulcie, too, but now his look was gentler. She softened her own gaze, and lifted a paw to him.

Below them, Dr. Bern had uncovered the child's shoulder bone, working so slowly, Dulcie thought she'd explode from impatience. Both cats waited, unmoving, as inch by excruciating inch Bern's excavation revealed the child's head and, much later, the little upper torso. Bern's face and high forehead were slick with sweat, not from heavy digging but from tension. Twice more he talked with Dr. Hyden, following the anthropologist's instructions. The cats stared down at the child's rib cage, at the delicate bones, at the little thin neck bone and the child's
fragile skull, and the friction between them, the foolish misunderstanding, seemed pointless. Except, when Dulcie thought of Lori's unnamed fears, she saw too sharply the shadow of Lori superimposed over those little bones.

She started when she heard Wilma's voice, and turned to look back up the garden. Wilma was leaving, telling Cora Lee and Mavity, loud enough for Dulcie to hear, that she was going to look again for “that runaway cat, help Lucinda and Pedric look. That kit will be the undoing of us all.” Glancing down the garden, Wilma gave Dulcie a reassuring look, then was gone. Dulcie heard her car door slam, heard her pulling away.

It was perhaps four hours later, when the little body was fully revealed, that Hyden and Anderson arrived. The cats heard their car pull in, heard two doors slam and a trunk open, then close. The first softer light of evening was falling, not dark yet but softening, and though the wind had died to a whisper, it had turned colder. The two men came around the house, pausing to speak with Dallas Garza.

Hyden was tall, very thin, with brown receding hair. His long, smooth face seemed filled with quiet patience. He wore loose, faded jeans, a limp khaki shirt, and high-top tennis shoes. He carried a black leather camera bag. James Anderson was shorter, very square, with coal-black hair, and with his deep, vivid coloring and high cheekbones, looked like he might have American Indian blood. He was dressed in a faded blue jumpsuit that had seen many launderings, and he wore leather sandals over white crew socks. He carried a small canvas bag that he set care
fully on top the wooden retaining wall. At their arrival, Dulcie and Joe had moved away from the dig—these two didn't look like they would tolerate cats in the way. They had a good enough view from the bushes without incurring any more wrath.

The men stood studying the body. Hyden talked with John Bern for some time, asking questions and making notes, while Anderson took pictures. Kneeling close to the bones, he shot just a few inches away, apparently aiming at the surrounding as much as the body, working so close Dulcie thought he must have a special lens. It was some time later that the coroner took his leave and the two anthropologists began, with painstaking care, to remove the frail bones from their grave. Fascinated, the cats didn't think of leaving, of missing the smallest detail. The day was nearly gone, and officers were bringing lights and drop cords from the squad cars, and two large canvas bundles.

The cats watched Hyden and Anderson place the bones, one by one, in a long wooden box like a coffin, carefully packing each in folds of clean, soft paper. As horrifying as was this child's grave, Dulcie was heartened by the care with which the doctors handled the little skeleton, exhibiting not only skill and precision but respect for this little human who had so violently lost its life. She looked with distaste at the head wound that had possibly killed the child, though there could have been any number of soft flesh wounds that the doctors would never find. They watched as four officers erected two long tents over the site, and two more officers set up the spotlights on tall poles, running a hundred-foot drop cord into
the lower apartment of the seniors' house. Dulcie looked at Joe and laid her paw on his.

“I
have
to talk to you. I couldn't tell you before. But now…with that little grave…Now I have to tell you.” Her mutter was so low that no human could hear. Joe looked at her and twitched an ear, and for nearly the first time in two weeks, the two cats were easy with each other. Moving close together, they left the bushes and made their way up the garden, through the falling dark. And as they padded away from the seniors' house, they watched every shadow, listened to every tiniest sound, searching for the kit. They glanced back only once, down at the lower garden where the spotlights shone bright within the tents.

“Will they work all night?” Dulcie asked.

“Maybe. There could be more bodies, those guys are feverish to find out.”

“What kind of person would murder a little child?”

“Maybe there
is
just the one child, maybe it wasn't a murder, maybe an accident, and whoever caused it panicked. Buried the child and ran.”

“Maybe,” Dulcie said doubtfully. And she took off through the tangled neighborhood gardens, then scrambled up a vine to the rooftops, Joe racing close beside her. And they headed, without discussing the matter, for the courthouse tower, where, from its high platform, they could see nearly all of the village.

G
alloping across the peaks and shingles, swerving
to the edges of the roofs, the cats peered over, searching the darkening streets for the kit. Dodging between stone chimneys and roof gardens, they scanned the alleys and the courtyards below them. They saw no cats at all, not one. Skirting third-floor penthouses with their tiled stairways and jutting dormers, they peered into windows blinded by drawn curtains or revealing empty rooms. They gained the narrow steps that spiraled up the courthouse tower, raced up thinking that they might, from the tower's high parapet, see Kit, a small speck on the streets or roofs below.

In this California village where occasional earthquakes were a given, only a few buildings rose over two stories. The taller clock tower was a singular exception; it provided for the cats, and for space-loving villagers and bold tourists, a dramatic view of the small village. Who knew how safe the tower was,
how well it could withstand a really hard temblor? Such matters did not bother a feline; a cat could usually detect a shake some minutes before it hit, long enough to race down to solid earth again.

Now, circling ever higher through the deepening evening, Joe glanced back at Dulcie and looked down longingly at the red tile roof of Molena Point PD, almost directly below them. In the brightening light of the early half-moon, the department beckoned to Joe, distracted him from Dulcie's problem and even from searching for the kit. Fixed on Max Harper's domain, he wondered if the fax machine was already spitting out electronic information, or if the dispatcher's computer was feeding her data from long-dead files, buried intelligence that would provide Max Harper and Dallas Garza, and Joe himself, access to the lives of missing children—and perhaps of that one dead child.

Gaining the parapet, the two cats leaped from its open piazza to the top of the brick rail, five stories above the streets. Crouched on the rail, they watched the moon-washed clouds above them, and the car lights below flicking in and out beneath the pine and cypress trees. Scanning the ever-changing shadows of the rooftops, their gazes sought any small, dark shape racing or lurking, but half Joe's attention remained on Molena Point PD. On the files from across the western states and from archived FBI records that, combined with information the forensics team would develop, was all they would have to identify the small victim. Though Dulcie didn't see how, in this very old case, she and Joe could be of help. Even if the department was able to identify the
child, this wasn't the kind of murder where a cat could track a suspect or toss his house. This killer was years gone, could be dead himself.

But, she thought, Lori was not an old, unsolved case. And she looked with speculation at Joe. She felt so strongly that Lori needed them now, needed their help now—if they
knew
how to help her, without stirring up trouble for the child.

Stretching along the top of the brick rail, in the slanting moonlight, she studied Joe, then studied the stark shadows below among the peaks and chimneys, the pale rivers of the streets, the dark pools of the crowding trees. The world below seemed totally empty of cats. From the other side of the parapet, Joe looked across at her, his gray coat gleaming silver in the moonlight, the white strip down his nose squeezed into a frown, his yellow eyes narrowed with impatience. “So, spill it, Dulcie. You've been as closemouthed as a crooked cop.”

Dulcie looked at him, her tail twitching with nerves. “If I tell you, this is our secret. You won't tell anyone? Not Clyde, not Wilma or Charlie?” She wished with all her heart that the kit was there, so she could tell her, too.

“This can't be about the grave,” Joe said, “about the dead child. So is it about Patty Rose? But why…?”

Dropping down to the parapet, Dulcie stared up at him as he began to pace the rail, spinning back and forth on the thin barrier five stories above the roofs, his white paws seeming at every step to slide away into the night. He knew she hated that, hated when he indulged in fancy footwork on the edge of space.

“Come down and I'll tell you. Come down now.”

Smiling, Joe paused on the edge, moonlight catching along his muscled shoulder.

“Come down, please. I promise I'll tell you if you won't grandstand.”

He glared at her, but then he dropped to the bricks, a whiskery leer on his face.

“But you have to promise not—”

“I don't
have
to promise
anything
. Don't play games, Dulcie!” He crouched to leap up again.

She moved in front of him, stood nose to nose with him, her body drawn up tall, her paw lifted and her claws out, as sharp as razors. “If you want to hear, you'll promise not to bring Harper or the detectives into this, or any human. Not until we know the whole story.”

Joe waited, his ears back, his whiskers tight to his tomcat cheeks, his yellow eyes wide with challenge.

“Promise?”

“Tentatively,” he snarled, more a predatory growl than consent.

“I found a child, Joe. A little girl hiding in the library basement, in a walled-off part like a cave. She's around twelve, and so determined to keep herself hidden. She has food, a blanket, everything. But so alone.”

“So why couldn't you tell me that? Where did she come from? How long has she been there? If she's run away, we'll have to—”


That's
why I didn't tell you. Because you'd say we have to tell Harper, that we have to drag in the law. Harper will only call county welfare to take care of her. That's what the law has to do. And I think
that's part of the problem, I think she's afraid of someone in child welfare.”

“Then tell Wilma. If you tell her the kid's afraid of someone in the juvenile system—”

“Joe, Wilma is service oriented. Family services, alcohol rehab, drug rehab, job placement. She depended on them all when she was a probation and parole officer.” Dulcie lashed her tail with frustration; Joe looked back at her, his yellow eyes slowly softening. “Tell me about her, Dulcie. Tell me why she's locked herself in there; it has to be like a prison. Tell me why she's afraid.”

 

But while Dulcie and Joe talked about Lori in her self-imposed confinement, the child was turning handsprings in the moonlight. Giddy with a few minutes of stolen freedom, she didn't guess that she might soon take fate into her own hands, might set in motion her own salvation.

Tonight she had waited, as she did every night in her black concrete hole, until the front door thudded closed for the last time and she heard its heavy bolt lock slide home. Until the last muffled sound faded, of library patrons and staff moving away down the walk and across the garden. She never felt safe until the library closed and everyone had gone, until nothing larger than the library cat could get in. Then, she had two choices. Some nights she just lit her little lamp and curled up under her blanket to read. Some nights she ran through the empty rooms and did cartwheels and laughed out loud, celebrating her freedom.

Tonight she went up into the children's room be
cause she had finished the fourth book of Narnia and wanted the next one. She always hated finishing, no matter how many times she read them.

Moving the bricks and slipping out through the hole, she had pushed aside the little bookcase, leaving the space open for a quick return. Clutching her flashlight, she had hurried up the stairs. The library was hers, the big, empty, moonlit rooms were hers, all the thousands of books were hers. Lori had not the wildest idea that the library cat often had exactly the same thought. No notion that tabby Dulcie coveted the books as she did. That, like Lori, the library cat reveled in the fact that she could read whatever she chose, that she could read all night if she wanted.

Though if Lori ever discovered Dulcie's true nature, she would have no trouble believing. She was only twelve, and she was a reader. Despite her ugly brushes with the adult world, Lori's capacity for wonder had not yet been crippled; she was too strong for that. The powerful life-giving acknowledgment of wonder, that life force that should carry a child on through adulthood had not been twisted by the adults of the world. In Lori's case, maybe it never would be; she was a stubborn child.

In the main reading room she turned off her little flashlight and shoved it in her jeans pocket. Moving across the carpet, she stretched up in the moonlight and danced; she turned handsprings swimming through wavering fingers of light thrown by the wind through the tall windows. She was filled with wild, giddy freedom; she ran, she shouted softly in a breathy mock of a shout. She attempted backflips and collapsed giggling, fell over giggling, rolling on
the carpet as wild with release as any caged young creature, celebrating the only freedom she was able to gain. Handspringing between the stacks and whirling across the reading room between the long tables, surrounded by thousands of books, Lori thought of Mama saying, “Be happy, Lori.” Oh, Mama would laugh at her, Mama would love that she had hidden here, taking charge of her own life. Mama said you had to be a problem solver if you wanted to survive.

When Pa turned so strange, Mama did what she could for him, she talked to doctors and she got help from the county. But when nothing helped, when Pa started to lock Lori in the house, Mama waited until he left for work, then packed them up and they were out of there, heading for Greenville. She wished Mama was here to read with her. The first time she'd stepped into Narnia she was really little and Mama read to her,
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,
and she wished Mama was here now, to share it. To love her and hold her, the two of them wrapped in Mama's quilt, wished they could talk and talk like they used to do. Moving across to the big, soft chairs by the fireplace, she took the
Molena Point Gazette
from its shelf because Mama always read the paper and Lori didn't like to miss Snoopy or Mutts. The everyday funnies in this paper were in color just like on Sunday. Kneeling on the chair, she hunkered over the table. She liked “For Better or Worse,” too, but sometimes that one made her feel lonely. How would it be to have brothers and sisters, to be a big family all together with so much going on all the time and a father who loved you? The page opposite the comics
always had a boring list of notices like charity events and dance recitals, but Lori read everything—pill bottles, cereal boxes. Now, in last week's paper, she was reading about a boy at a beach barbecue who thought he could walk on coals when another article caught her eye. She grew very still. The name “Vincent and Reed Electrical Contractors” held her; the name was twice mentioned and that made her feel both proud and lost.

TEA TO BE HELD FOR GENELLE YARDLEY

A tea will be held on Wednesday at Otter Pine Inn to honor Genelle Yardley on her sixty-sixth birthday. The tea will be hosted by Friends of the Library and by actress Patty Rose, in the inn's charming tearoom. Ms. Yardley has recently placed into trust for Molena Point Library her commercial building next door to the library. On her death, this will provide for a new children's wing and an enlarged reference collection. For many years, Ms. Yardley was known for her storytelling, for charming and original children's fantasies set on the central coast. A small edition was published locally. The book has long been out of print and is a collectors' item.

For the last twenty years of her career, Ms. Yardley was office manager for Vincent and Reed Electrical Contractors. She left the firm four years ago. She has continued to write folk tales that she has never sought to publish. She has spent much of her time working with Friends of the Library.

This Genelle Yardley had worked for Vincent and Reed, for Pa's company. She'd worked for them for ever so long, since before Lori herself was born. Lori had heard the librarians talk about a Genelle something, and about a tea party, when she was up in the children's room. One of the librarians said Genelle had something terminal, that meant you were going to die, like Mama. In Greenville, the doctor told the social worker that Mama was terminal; he thought she, Lori, wouldn't know what that meant.

The librarian said Genelle's neighbors would take her to the party, put her folding wheelchair in the car along with her oxygen tank. Mama had had an oxygen tank. Lori guessed that tea party must be something this Genelle wanted very much before she died. Where do you go when you die?
Mama, if you're somewhere, can't you tell me? Can't you just give me a sign, like a seagull flying around my head three times when I go out in the dark morning? Or like a seal rising up out of the ocean to look at me in a special way? Something so I'll
know
there's another place and you're in it?

Or are you too far away to do that?

Or is there nothing? Are you just cold dead, rotting in the ground?
But Lori wouldn't let herself think that, she couldn't think that Mama had just stopped being, disappeared into nothing. She had to be somewhere.

And this Genelle Yardley who was going to die like Mama. Was she scared? Had Mama been scared, underneath, and never told her? Or did Mama really know for sure where she was going? But how could anyone know?

And more important right now was the fact that Genelle Yardley knew Pa. She'd worked for Pa, had worked for him a long time. Maybe Genelle Yardley knew what happened to Pa to make him so different all of a sudden. Maybe she knew things that even Mama didn't know?

Did Mama ever go to Genelle Yardley to ask questions? No matter how Mama tried to understand what made Pa change, he would never talk to her, he only shouted at her.

As far as Lori knew, Mama had never gone to any of their friends for help. Mama would have been ashamed to do that.

Sliding down from the chair, Lori headed across the reading room with a whole new plan flaring in her mind. Genelle Yardley knew about Pa. Genelle Yardley knew secrets that she, Lori, needed to find out.

BOOK: Cat Cross Their Graves
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