Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.
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named Djuna peered anxiously out the window of the big, gray bus as the door opened and the driver called, “Dolphin Beach! Dolphin Beach!”
Djuna picked up his heavy suitcase, took a firmer grip on the leash of his little black Scotty, Champ, and scrambled down the steps to the Federal Highway. The door clanged shut behind him, the overhead light turned green and the big bus rumbled into the northbound traffic.
Djuna looked carefully around for his friend Tommy Williams, and for Tommy’s father and his car. There were all kinds of cars whizzing north and south on the highway; and Djuna, in spite of his mounting anxiety as he failed to see Tommy, was fascinated by the license plates of so many different states. When the traffic light turned red there were just as many cars whizzing east and west on the main street of Dolphin Beach, a street called Atlantic Avenue.
There were gaudy gas stations on all four corners of the intersection, and when Djuna could not see Tommy he made his way toward the one behind him that had a small sign above the door: B
An attendant wearing a blue jumper leaned down to pat Champ on the head as Djuna approached him and said, “Do you know Tommy Williams?”
“Can’t say as I do,” the man drawled. He grinned as he saw the perspiration streaming down Djuna’s face and added, “Why don’t you set down that heavy suitcase? Is Tommy supposed to meet you here?”
“Yes, sir,” Djuna told him. “But I guess his father would have to bring him. He’s a bean grower.”
“Harry Williams?” the man asked. “Lives out on the Dixie Highway?”
“Yes, sir,” Djuna said eagerly. “Do you know Mr. Williams?”
“Sure do,” the man said agreeably, and then he peered at Djuna more closely and said: “You look kinda puckered out. You just get in?”
“I took the train from up North yesterday morning and sat up all night,” Djuna explained. “I got into Miami this afternoon and took the bus back up here because my train didn’t stop here.”
“Well, put your suitcase in the office there and stop sweatin’,” the man said. “Tommy or his pappy will show up. People ain’t in such a hurry down here, the way they are up North. Makes ’em live longer. Take your Scotty for a walk and give him some sunshine. He’d look good with a tan.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you,” Djuna said as the man left to gas a car. He put his suitcase inside the door of the gas station and then led Champ over to the corner of the intersection. Above the Atlantic Avenue sign on the corner was a sign that had an arrow on it pointing east: T
. Over the traffic light in the center of the intersection was still another sign that had an arrow on it pointing west: T
. There were office buildings and stores on each side of Atlantic Avenue for about a block in each direction and then the street became residential. There were bright green lawns in front of the pastel-painted houses and around most of them there were bushes with clusters of salmon or red or purple flowers, and green hedges with scarlet blossoms that Djuna had never seen before. But there were beds of yellow lilies and varicolored petunias that were just like the ones he had seen in lawns up North.
About a mile down the road that led to the east, Djuna could see a bridge, and then a little farther on the road seemed to end. His pulse quickened as he imagined that where the road seemed to end there was a long sandy beach and beyond the beach the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
When the traffic light changed to green he scurried across the Federal Highway and sauntered down Atlantic Avenue toward the business section. He passed a tackle-and-bait store that had all kinds of fishing equipment in the window; a real estate office that had a map of Dolphin Beach in the window; a super-market that had a sign saying it was air-conditioned; a variety store; a drugstore that was featuring sun-tan lotion in the window; and a gift shop. Beyond that there was a light green stucco house with red flowers climbing over the roof, surrounded by a darker green lawn of Bermuda grass. A blood-red sun shone through a hazy sky in the west and great puffs of cumulus clouds floated lazily on the horizon.
Djuna was wondering if the deep red flowers that climbed over the roof of the light green house were anything like rambler roses when he first saw the cat—an enormous yellow cat.
An old lady had come out on the porch of the light green house and was putting the yellow cat in a wicker carrying-basket when he first saw it.
Before Djuna realized what had happened, the end of Champ’s leash was no longer in his hand and Champ was racing across the green lawn toward the porch as fast as his stubby legs would carry him. When the hair on the cat’s back suddenly stood straight up and it started to spit, the old lady gave it a final shove into the basket and slammed the basket lid.
Djuna shouted, “Champ!” as loudly as he could and started to run after him. Champ shouted back, “Don’t be
—it’s a CAT!”—at least that’s the way his series of fierce barks sounded as he scrambled up the steps.
“Get that horrid little dog out of here!” the old lady screeched at Djuna as he reached the porch. The cat was spitting inside the basket as the little old lady lifted it off the floor, and Champ raced around and around her, trying to get at the basket.
“Gee!” Djuna panted as he managed to get a firm hold on Champ’s leash. “I’m awful sorry! He—he saw your cat before I did, and yanked the leash right out of my hand.”
“Well, it’s a good thing for him I got my cat inside the basket,” the old lady said indignantly. “He’d have scratched his hide off. Where did you ever get such a ridiculous-looking animal anyway?”
“Why, why, I’ve always had him,” Djuna said, and added lamely, “He’s a Scotty.”
“He looks as though he belonged on the end of a mop handle,” the old lady said tartly. “Why don’t you teach him to obey you?”
“He usually does,” Djuna told her quite seriously, and added, “Down, Champ!” Champ sat down and looked up at him through the shaggy black hair that drooped over his shoe-button eyes. His long red tongue came out and he began to pant so hard he seemed to rattle.
“For goodness’ sake!” the old lady said. “Why don’t you give him some water? He’s thirsty.”
“Why—why—I—” Djuna stammered, “I guess I forgot it. I was so excited about getting here I—”
“Wait a minute. I’ll get a pan,” the old lady said, and she went into the house, taking the cat’s carrying-basket with her. She came back in a minute with a small tin basin filled with water. When she put the basin down on the porch Champ licked her hand to thank her before he took any of the water.
“Well, I declare,” the old lady said, and she stroked Champ while he drank, “for a dog he’s quite cute.” She straightened up and looked at Djuna and said, “Where ’re you from? Where ’re you going? What’s your name?”
“Why—why—” Djuna began to answer, but he couldn’t say anything else, because he was so mixed up with so many questions being fired at him at once that he couldn’t think of any of the answers.
“Speak up! Speak up!” the old lady snapped as she sat down in a metal porch chair. “Cat got your tongue?” Then she laughed and added, “No, but a cat almost got your dog. Just as I told you, Tootler—that’s his name—would have scratched the black hide off him. He’s got an ulcerated tooth and he’s been as mean as a skunk with boils. I was just going to take him down to the dentist when you came along.”
“Take him to the dentist?” Djuna exclaimed with astonishment. “Don’t you mean a vet-vet-veterinarian?”
“No I don’t mean a vet-vet-veterin-arian,” the old lady mimicked. “My husband was a dentist before he died and he always took care of Tootler’s teeth. If
could do it, so could this young dentist who just came to town and bought my husband’s equipment. Besides, there ain’t any vet in Dolphin Beach. I can’t afford to take him all the way to Fort Laurel to the vet. I can’t afford to even take a taxi downtown to the dentist. But I’ll be able to, if he ever pays for my husband’s instruments.” The old lady stopped speaking as she peered at Djuna more closely. “What did you say your name is?” she asked, after a moment.
“Djuna,” he told her. “I just got in on the train from up North. I’m going to visit Tommy Williams here during my Christmas vacation from school. Do you know him?”
“Williams … Williams,” the old lady said as she cocked her head on one side and pursed her lips. “I know a lot of Williamses, but none with a son named Tommy. I know all the old-timers here. Prob’ly the one you know is a newcomer.”
“Yes,” Djuna said eagerly. “Tommy only came down here last year. His father inherited some land and he came here to become a bean farmer.”
“And prob’ly don’t know beans about it,” the old lady stated. “My name is Mrs. Pulham. People used to call my husband Dr. Pullem,” she added, and chuckled. Djuna had thought at first that she was an awfully cranky old lady, but now when she smiled and her eyes softened at the mention of her late husband’s name she seemed quite nice.
“I hope the new dentist can fix your cat’s tooth,” he said and then he looked at the watch on his wrist and said, “Jeepers! I better get back to the bus station. Tommy was going to meet me there when I arrived, but he wasn’t there, so I thought I’d look around a little. He may get there and think I didn’t come, and go home.”