Authors: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
A Joe Grey Mystery
To the young men
in the Orange County Corrections Department's
Literature-N-Living Program, Orlando, Florida
With best wishes for each of you, always
“They say of some temporal suffering, âNo future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn every agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say, âLet me but have this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before deathâ¦.”
The Great Divorce
At the edge of the sea, the small village, evenâ¦
Now, as Joe Grey and Dulcie stood on the scorchingâ¦
She's shopped all day! Dulcie thought, racing home across theâ¦
Racing home, Dulcie couldn't get Mandell Bennett out of herâ¦
The old man had been home in the village twoâ¦
Dulcie didn't see Greeley Urzey as she raced across theâ¦
The beefy man sat on the bed going through theâ¦
When Dulcie frantically phoned the station, Joe Grey was asleepâ¦
The old man was sitting at a sidewalk table inâ¦
At dusk, up on the open hills where the hotâ¦
Clyde looked up into the shadowed leaves of the oakâ¦
Dulcie and Kit, too, were headed for the Jones house,â¦
The frail vine sagged under Dulcie's weight, but as itâ¦
With her hands tied, Wilma couldn't reach to rip awayâ¦
Dulcie and Kit left the Jones house running shoulder toâ¦
“Even if Dallas finds the safe,” Dulcie said, peering fromâ¦
That soft tapping wasn't caused by the wind; Wilma listenedâ¦
Beyond the Greenlaws' open windows, an owl hooted; and aâ¦
Max left the Greenlaws' moving fast through the village, emergencyâ¦
Joe slunk into the cat carrier growling at Clyde, watchedâ¦
When Cage Jones grabbed Charlie Harper, the only witness wasâ¦
The village streets were filled with heavy evening traffic, theâ¦
Charlie's whole body was sore from the battering Cage gaveâ¦
Wilma watched Violet vanish behind the wall and listened toâ¦
Slipping through the dark village streets, then through heavily shadowed,â¦
Willow and Coyote watched the two women slip quickly inâ¦
“Damn bitch!” Cage hissed, staring down the cliff. “How theâ¦
From atop a crumbling wall, the five cats watched dark-cladâ¦
The house was silent around Greeley, no sound from theâ¦
It was midnight when the old man descended to theâ¦
There was no need now for stealth on the darkâ¦
Following the smell of sugar doughnuts, Joe padded silently intoâ¦
The house next door to where Peggy Milner was murderedâ¦
Wilma and Charlie worked all morning in the gathering heat,â¦
Lilly and Violet Jones, sitting stiffly side by side inâ¦
“Be still one minute, can't you!” Racing across the roofs,â¦
Only now, in the early evening, had the accumulated Julyâ¦
t the edge of the sea, the small village, even among
the shadows of its lush oaks and pines, seemed smothered by the unseasonal summer heat that had baked into every stairway and crevice and shop wall. The rising coastal temperatures, mixed with high humidity from the sullen Pacific, produced a sweltering steam bath that had lasted through all of July, and was not typical for the central California coast. The scent of hot pinesap was mixed sharply with the salty stink of iodine at low tide. And from the narrow streets, the scent of suntan oil rose unpleasantly to the three cats where they sprawled on a cottage rooftop, in the ineffectual shade of a stone chimney, indolently washing their pawsâavoiding the crush of tourists' feet and the scorching sidewalks, which felt like a giant griddle; if a cat stood for a moment on the concrete, he'd come away with blistered pawsâJoe Grey's white paws
blistered. The gray tomcat sprawled, limp, across the shingles, his white belly turned up to the nonexistent breeze as he tried to imagine cool sea winds.
Near Joe, the long-haired tortoiseshell lifted her head occasionally to lick one mottled black-and-brown paw. Kit had the longest coat of the three, so she was sure she suffered the most. Only dark tabby Dulcie was up and moving, irritably pacing. Joe watched her, convinced she was fretting for no reason.
But you couldn't tell Dulcie anything; she'd worked herself into a state over her housemate and nothing he could say seemed to help.
Below them on the narrow streets, the din of strangers' voices reached them, and the shrill laughter of a group of children. Tourists wandered by the dozens, dressed in shorts and sandals, lapping up ice cream and slipping into small shops looking for a breath of cooler air; the restaurant patios were crowded with visitors enjoying iced drinks, their leashed dogs panting beneath the tables. Strangers stared in through the windows of shaded cottages that were tucked among bright gardens, into shadowed sitting rooms and bedrooms that looked cool and inviting. Lazily Joe rose to peer over at a pair of loud-voiced, sweating joggers heading for the beach to run on the damp sand, as if they might catch up to an ocean breeze.
With a soft hush of paws, Dulcie came to stand beside him at the edge of the roof, silent and frowning, looking not at the busy streets below but up at the round hills that rose above the villageâhills burnt dry now, humping against the sky as brown as grazing beasts.
They could see nothing moving there, no human hiking the dusty trails, no rider on horseback; the deer and small wild creatures would be asleep in the shade, if they could find any shade. Even among the ruins hidden among the highest slopes, the feral cats would be holed up in cool caverns beneath the fallen walls. For a long time Dulcie stood
looking in that direction, her peach-tinted ears sharply forward, her head tilted in a puzzled frown.
“What?” Joe said, watching her.
“I don't know.” She turned to look at him, her green eyes wide and perplexed. “I feel likeâ¦As if they're thinking of us.” She blinked and lashed her tail. “As if Willow is thinking of us, as if
knows how I feel.” She narrowed her green eyes at him, but then she rubbed against his shoulder, brushing her whiskers against his. “I guess that makes no sense; maybe it's the heat.”
Joe didn't answer. He knew she was upsetâand females were prone to fancies. Who knew what two females together, even at such a distance, could conjure between them? Maybe both Dulcie and the pale calico had that fey quality humans found so mysterious in the feline. Maybe their wild, feral friend, with her unusual talents of perception and speech that matched their own, maybe she did indeed sense that Dulcie was worried and fretting. Who knew what Willow was capable of?
But Dulcie was worrying over nothing, as far as Joe could see. Dulcie's human housemate had gone off before, for the weekend, driving up the coast to the city, and Dulcie had never fretted as she did now.
Now, Dulcie thought she had reason, and Joe looked at her intently. “Prisoners have escaped from jail before, Dulcie. That, and the fact that Wilma is later than she promised, does not add up to disaster. You're building a mountain out of pebbles.”
Dulcie turned, hissing at him. “Cage Jones better keep away from her. Wilma's done with supervising him and too many bad-ass convicts like him, done with the kind of stress they dumped on her for twenty years. She doesn't need any more ugly tangles and ugly people messing up her life.”
But despite what either Dulcie or Joe thought, tangles were building, complications that would indeed snare Dulcie's housemate. The scenario had started two months earlier on the East Coast, when an old man entered the continental U.S. When Greeley Urzey stepped off that plane, he set in motion events that would weave themselves into Wilma Getz's destiny as surely as a cat's paw will snarl a skein of yarn.
The old man's flight from Central America entered the States officially at Miami, where passengers would connect with other flights after lining up to go through customs inspection. Deplaning, Greeley smiled, sure of himself and cocky. He'd slip through customs clean as a whistle, as he always did, not an ounce of contraband on him, this time, for the feds to find. Even if he'd had anything tucked away, he'd have waltzed right on through slick as a greased porker, always had, always would, he'd never yet got caught. And, he thought, smiling, there were better ways to bring what he wanted into the States.
He'd gotten most of it through over a period of years, tucked in among household furnishings in them big metal overseas containers. Them feds couldn't search everything.
Well, that part was behind him now. Half of it already cashed out and stashed away, and in a few days he'd have the rest, all
ever need. He didn't live high like some of them fancy international types: high on the hog, and dangerous.
He fidgeted and shuffled through the long, tedious customs line with its pushy feds and too many nosy damn questions, but after that hassle he still had a good share of the four-hour layover to do as he pleased; enough time for the one important phone call, make sure his contact was in place. Then a couple of drinks and a decent meal instead of them cold airline snacks you had to pay for. Sure as hell not
like the old days on Pan Am, free champagne if he flew first class, a nice filet and fancy potatoes all included in the price of your flight, good Colombian coffee and a rich dessert. Now it was pay, pay, pay, and lucky to get a dry sandwich. Even customs, in the old days, didn't make all this fuss. Boarding was the same wayâall this new high-powered routine they said would stop terrorists. So high tech that for a while there they were stopping babies in arms from boarding, refusing to let toddlers in diapers on the plane if they didn't have all the right ID. Sure as hell the world had seen better days.
He'd boarded in Panama City at seven
and now, approaching the Bay Area and nearly suppertime, his whiskers itched and his rough gray hair tickled under his collar. The flight from Central America seemed longer every time he took it, though he didn't return to the States often. He'd gone to work for the Panama Canal Company when he was twenty, and then later for the Panamanian government, a forty-year hitch all together. Now, at last, with a little fast footwork, he was getting together the kind of retirement money that would let him laugh at the rest of the world.
Well, he sure as hell wasn't retiring stateside. A visit to California every few years was plenty. Better living in the tropics, better weather, better people. Hell of a lot more opportunities. Too bad a man had to come up to the States to sell his takeâif he wanted to sell it safe, not get a knife in his ribs.
They'd taken off from Miami in early afternoon, the sun over the left wing blazing in his eyes as they banked to head west. Full of a good meal in an airport cafÃ©, he'd leaned back in his seat, in a better mood, going over his moves. Planned to pick up a rental at San Francisco Airport, better known as SFO. Get the montly rate, and he could use a car
that long. Check into some airport motel, hit the road early tomorrow morningâfirst, the short drive down the coast to Molena Point. Couple of hours, get in and out of the village nice and easy, not run into his sister. He sure didn't want to see Mavity now, she asked too many questions. She always had been too damned judgmental. Then head south for L.A., on 101. Long trip down and back, but that couldn't be helped if he wanted cash in his jeansâwanted cash in the bank, in big numbers. He didn't look forward to those megalane city freeways in southern California, he was too used to the slow, crowded streets of Panama and the narrow jungle roads.
When he'd gotten back to San Francisco and took care of business, he'd make one more quick trip to Molena Point without Mavity's knowing. Later on, though, he planned to spend some time in the village, and camp out at his sister's.
He'd waited a long time to make this sale and he wished the price was higher now. But the time was right, and his contact to the fence was available nowâor would be when he got to L.A. Strange, Cage Jones in and out of prison all those years and leaving his half of the stash hidden like he did.
Well, Greeley thought, he had salted his own share away, too, while he was out of the country. But in a safer place. Sometimes, you had to trust a bank.
But Cage never did. Well, everyone to his own. Question was, where had Cage hidden it?
Greeley smiled. He'd find out; might take some time, but he had time.
Right now, the hard part was done. They'd both got their share into the country. Now, once he picked up Cage from prison, selling his own share would be a piece of cake.
Somewhere along the way he'd buy a car, maybe one of them old-fashioned-looking PT Cruisers; that old thirties
era look suited his sense of humor. He wasn't never no high roller to be buying some fancy convertible, he wasn't out to impress no one, and he liked doing things his own way.
Looking ahead, he could see the lights of the Bay Area now blazing out of the dark. Hell of a lot more lights spread out than you saw over Panama City. Propping his feet on his wrinkled leather duffle, Greeley settled into the feel of the big 757 cutting speed and dropping altitude. Soon felt the little bump as she let down her landing gear. Pilot's tinny voice over the loudspeaker said the city was sixty-five degrees and foggy, and that made him shiver. He wished this coast had warmer summers; here it was May and he doubted it would get much warmer except maybe a few scattered days in July. Pulling his coat around him, he settled deeper into his seat as the plane hauled back and touched down; deafened by the roar of the plane on the runway, then waiting to deplane, he went over his schedule again to make sure he hadn't missed anything.
The minute the door opened, everyone stood up and crowded into the aisle. Greeley stood, too, but didn't move out, picked up his leather duffle and set it on the seat beside him, watched them crowd out like a flock of brainless chickens.
The next days went smooth as glass; he'd missed nothing in his planning. When it was over and he had the cash, he headed down the coast in the rental car, for Molena Point; but again he didn't call his sister. He closed out his now empty safe-deposit box, and in three other village banks he opened modest checking accounts and new SD boxes, each in a new and different name for which he had obtained new IDs in the city. He filled the boxes with sealed envelopes containing bound packages of hundreds. Then he took himself back to the city for a little vacation. Nice but modest hotel room where he watched stateside TV, read the papers,
enjoyed room service. Didn't do no shopping, fancy clothes meant nothing. He'd buy a car later, in Molena Point, after he'd made his presence known to Mavity.
She wouldn't be happy to see him. She lived with three other women now. Strange thing to do, putting her bit of money from the condemnation sale of her marsh-side house into a fourth share of a house big enough for the four old women. The chicken feed she called her savings. Said she wanted to keep her independence, not go into a home. Well, he could understand thatâbut likely she'd gotten scammed somehow in that house deal and just didn't know it yet.
It was nearly a month later, in mid-July, that Greeley was ready to return to Molena Point and move in with his sister. He booked the short flight from SFO on a one-way ticket. He didn't call Mavity; she'd figure out some reason he couldn't stay there with her. He'd take a cab from the airport, give her a nice surprise.
At least the weather had turned hot; even on the coast it was up in the high nineties, hot as hell itself, just the way he liked it. On the short flight, and again as he swung into the cab outside the little peninsula airport, he thought about them two village cats. Them talking catsâhe'd had his share of those snitches. Hoped they kept their distance, this time.
He sure didn't want them hanging around him, nosing into his business. Them cats saw too much. They got into too many places, always snooping, damn near as nosy as his sister. And talk about judgmental. Them Molena Point catsâ¦Not judgmental like the black tom who used to run with him, who'd used to break into stores with him. Azrael'd been opinionated, all right, and he sure as hell said his piece.
But that black tom, he wasn't never hot for law and order.
That Joe Grey and his tabby friend, those two thought they were God's gift to law enforcement.
Somewhere he'd heard, maybe from his ex-wife, there was a third cat hanging around with them. Another snoop, you could bet. Well, he didn't want no truck with cats, no more than he did with cops. Just wanted to be left to his own affairs, thank you.