Read The Yellow Cat Mystery Online

Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.

The Yellow Cat Mystery (5 page)

BOOK: The Yellow Cat Mystery
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“It takes practice, just like anything else,” Bobby said seriously. “You have to learn how to swing the ball right and remember to follow through, so you will have control and accuracy—they’re the most important.”

“Does everyone bowl alike?” Djuna asked.

“Oh, no,” said Robert. “Some people throw a straight ball but most
good
bowlers throw a hook ball because it’s the easiest to throw. A straight ball carries away the pins in front of it and whatever pins happen to be knocked over; but a hook ball hits the pins at a better angle and its spin knocks over more of them.”

“I guess it does take a lot of practice,” Djuna said in an awed voice.

“Sometimes Dr. Hammer—he’s a dentist upstairs—comes down and practices for an hour at a time to smooth out his swing. He has me just set up the Five pin and throws at that. He throws a hook shot, and oh boy, can he hook them in there between the One and Three pins!”

“Which pins are they?” Tommy asked.

“One is the first pin and Three is the next one on the right,” Bobby explained. “If you hook the ball in between them it is aimed right at the Five pin—that’s the center pin in the third row. If your ball goes in the One-Three pocket you usually knock over
all
the pins and get a strike.”

“You certainly know a lot about it,” Djuna said with proper respect. “How much does a strike count?”

“Ten points, plus all the pins you get on your next two balls in the next frame,” Bobby said. “If you don’t get all the pins with your first ball but get the rest of them with your second ball you get what they call a spare. For a spare you get ten, too, plus all the pins you get with your
first
ball in the next frame. Dr. Hammer comes in and practices for spares, too. He has me set up the Seven pin and throws at it for a while and then switches and has me set up the Ten pin and throws at that. They’re the corner pins in the last row and the ones that you usually need to get on your second ball for a spare.”

“Dr. Hammer must be a bowling nut,” Tommy said.

“He is, kind of,” Bobby said. “He told me he took an office in this building so he could be right close to the bowling alleys. He has his own special ball he had made.”

“Is it here now?” Djuna asked with interest. “Could we see it?”

“Sure,” Bobby said. “It’s over here on the rack. But be sure you don’t drop it.”

He led them over to a rack on which there were several canvas bags holding private bowling balls. He took down the one that had Dr. Hammer’s name on a tag attached to it and opened the zipper. First he took out a pair of elkskin bowling shoes and said, “He has his own special shoes, too.” Then he inserted his fingers in the holes of the composition ball inside and pulled it out of its carrying bag. The eyes of all three of the boys were shining with admiration as they inspected the mottled jade-green beauty of the ball.

“How much does it weigh?” Tommy asked.

“Sixteen pounds,” Bobby said.

“And it’s made special, just to fit him?” Djuna asked.

“Sure,” Bobby told him. “Its drilling—the finger-holes—are curved and matched exactly to his grip. And see,” he added, indicating a number on the ball, “it has a registered number for identification.”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” Djuna said. “How do they measure it so it just fits his grip?”

“In that grip-fitter over there,” Bobby said, pointing. “C’m’ere, I’ll show you.” They moved over before a composition grip-fitter ball that stood on a special rack. “You put your thumb in this place here,” Bobby explained as he handed Dr. Hammer’s ball to Djuna, “and then spread your fingers until you find the right holes for your two middle fingers. Then they measure with those round gadgets down to one thirty-secondth of an inch. It
has
to be right when they’re through with it.”

“I’d hate to drop this on my toe,” Djuna said, as he hefted Dr. Hammer’s heavy ball.

“I guess I better put it back,” Bobby said. “Dr. Hammer might come in.” He took the ball back and put it in its canvas bag with Dr. Hammer’s elkskin bowling shoes, and put the canvas bag back on the rack.

“Hey, what about coming over to the beach with us for a swim?” Tommy asked Bobby.

“I can’t, this afternoon.” Bobby grinned. “But maybe I can tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Tommy said. They flipped their hands at one another and Tommy and Djuna departed.

“Jiminy crimps,” Djuna said. “Bobby certainly knows a lot about bowling.”

“Yeah,” said Tommy. “He knows a lot—period. He’s the best student in my grade.”

There were two men dressed in work clothes standing in front of the directory on the wall as the two boys came out of the bowling alleys. Between them stood an upright hand truck that contained a metal cylindrical tank. They were staring up at the building directory and as Djuna and Tommy came opposite them one of the men turned and said, “Hey, bud, do you know is there a Dr. Hammer in this building?”

“Yes, there is,” Tommy said. “He’s on the top floor, on the left-hand side.”

“Whyn’t they put his handle on the direc’ry, then?” one of the men said peevishly.

“I wouldn’t know,” Tommy answered as he and Djuna started toward the street. Djuna was frowning as he looked back over his shoulder at the two men, now making their way toward the stairs at the back of the arcade with the tank for Dr. Hammer. Then he turned to stare at them, until Tommy, who had walked on ahead, called back, “Come on, for Pete’s sake! It’ll be time to go home before we even get to the beach!”

“That’s
funny,”
Djuna said to himself, and then he ran after Tommy.

Ten minutes later they left Tommy’s bike on the beach parking lot. Down on the beach they shed their Basque shirts and sneakers and a few moments later they were at the edge of the surf. The waves were about three feet high as they came crashing in on the beach. When Djuna saw a woman come up gasping after a wave had rolled her over and over he looked back over his shoulder at the tanned life guard who sat in his little tower back from the water’s edge, and then he looked at Tommy. “How do you get out where you can swim, without getting rolled around like that?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s easy,” Tommy scoffed. “You wait until after a wave breaks and when it starts to flow back you run into it and then take a shallow dive through the next one as it’s breaking. It’ll be deep enough to swim in, and if there is another wave breaking right behind the first one you just duck your head and dive through that, too, until you get out where there are just rollers. When you get ready to come in, you just swim and ride on the wales. If you time it right, the last one will bring you right up on the beach. Then you scramble out before another one hits you. Watch!”

Tommy stood back as a wave broke on the beach. As it began to recede he raced into the water and just before the next one broke he dove through it. His head popped up on the other side of it and then he ducked his head and went through another one that began to break. After that there were just rollers and he turned over on his back and nonchalantly waved a hand at Djuna to show how easy it was.

Djuna, who could swim like a muskrat, followed Tommy’s instructions and was soon out beside him. They turned on their backs, wiggling their hands and feet just enough to stay afloat in the exhilarating waters, and gazed up lazily at the blue arc of heaven above them. A formation of ungainly pelicans overhead lumbered south to cast their shadows upon the beach; and behind the beach coconut palms swayed in the gentle breeze.

“Jeepers,” Djuna said. “It doesn’t seem possible that I was shoveling snow, only day before yesterday!”

When they had had enough of the water they rode the waves back to the beach and Tommy remembered that his mother had told him to remind Djuna to put on his shirt when he came out of the water so he wouldn’t get too much of a sunburn on the first day. Tommy, whose skin was the color of saddle leather, didn’t have to worry.

They started to wander up the beach and Tommy groaned as he saw a little girl of about ten coming toward them. When she was only about a dozen feet away Tommy whispered, “Oh, for Pete’s sake, here she comes!”

Djuna followed Tommy’s gaze and saw a plump little girl with a round face dotted with innumerable freckles. Her skin was of the strawberry blonde variety that didn’t tan, but just burned. She was almost as red as a boiled lobster, but it didn’t seem to bother her any. When Tommy said, “Hello, Rilla,” she didn’t answer him. She didn’t even look at him. She had her gaze on Djuna from the moment he saw her and she just continued to stare at him. When she had stared at him so long that Djuna began to squirm, she spoke. But before she spoke she put one hand partially over her mouth trying to hide the unflattering braces that she was wearing to straighten her teeth. She was carrying an orange bag in one hand and a stick in the other.

“You’re the boy with the funny name that Tommy told me was going to visit him, aren’t you?” she lisped. “Djuna—that’s the funniest name I ever heard of.”

Djuna didn’t say anything, because he knew he shouldn’t say what he wanted to say. He endured her inspection as well as he could, although he felt like turning and running to get away from it. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he racked his brain trying to think of something to say. Finally, because she had spoken about names, he asked, “What’s
your
name?”

“Amaryllis,” she said promptly and with great pride. “Mama says that when I was a baby I was the most bee-yoo-tiful baby she had ever seen so she decided she would name me after a bee-yoo-tiful flower, and she did.”

Djuna fought to suppress a snicker. Not because of the silly thing the girl in front of him had said but because of what Tommy was doing. He had managed to edge around in back of Amaryllis so that
she
couldn’t see him but Djuna couldn’t help seeing him. Tommy had put his forefingers in the corners of his mouth to spread it wide and at the same time he was wiggling his ears with his thumbs, just behind her back.

To keep from laughing Djuna remarked, “That’s a pretty name.”

“Of course it’s a pretty name,” said Amaryllis. “That’s why my father named his yot after me. He named it Amaryllis, too. I bet you haven’t got a yot.”

“Sure he has,” Tommy scoffed as he took his fingers out of his mouth. “He has two—one in each pocket. He—”

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Amaryllis shouted in derision. “One in each pocket. That’s the silliest thing I ever heard of, Tommy Williams!” She turned her attention back to Djuna and said, “I asked Tommy to bring you over to see our house and Mama’s flower gardens. We have the biggest house in Dolphin Beach, and my father has three automobiles, too.”

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy said.

“What did you say, Tommy Williams?” Amaryllis asked, whirling on him. “What did you say that for? You know we have!”

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy repeated.

“Don’t you say that again, Tommy Williams,” Amaryllis said, and stamped her foot in the sand. “Don’t you make fun of me!”

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy said again. “Horsumpphat! Horsumpphat!”

Amaryllis clenched her teeth and managed to turn her back on Tommy and said to Djuna, “Would you like to walk up the beach and go shelling with me?” She lifted the cloth bag she was carrying and rattled the shells in it.

“Well, I guess not,” Djuna said. “We’ve got a lot of things to do and—”

“I’ll take you over to our house afterwards,” Amaryllis interrupted to say.

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy whispered in her ear.

Amaryllis jumped and then she swung the bag of shells at Tommy’s head. Tommy ducked and said, “Horsumpphat!” as she swung it again. He danced out of the way.

“Oh, you!” Amaryllis spluttered. She was shaking with fury as she turned her back and walked away as fast as she could walk.

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy called after her and she broke into a run.

Djuna and Tommy both threw themselves on the beach and rolled with laughter. When he could speak Djuna said, “What does that word mean that you kept saying to her?”

“It doesn’t mean anything, but she thinks it does,” Tommy said. “One day when she was telling me about all the things she and her father have I didn’t know what to say so I made up that word and just kept saying it until she got so mad she couldn’t talk any more.”

Djuna giggled and said, “Who is she?”

“Pop says she’s Mr. Hamilton’s worst mistake,” Tommy told him.

“Oh, her father is the man in the bank?”

“Yeah,” Tommy said. “She’s
awful!”

“She
is
pretty bad,” Djuna agreed. “Does her father really have a yacht?”

“It’s a cruiser, about the size of that one we saw going up the Inland Waterway yesterday,” Tommy said. “He keeps it over in Captain Andy Jackson’s boat yard when it isn’t in the yacht basin. Captain Andy is painting it right now.”

“Could we go see it?” Djuna asked.

“Sure,” Tommy said. Then he made a condition. “But if
she’s
there, I won’t go near it!”

Chapter Four
Djuna Finds a Strange Goat

D
JUNA
and Tommy set their bare feet down carefully as they made their way across the hot pavement of Sunrise Boulevard and started down the sidewalk on Atlantic Avenue toward the yacht basin. On their right a bulldozer was snorting and chortling as it cleared away a tangle of sea grape, scrub, palmetto, and lianas on some vacant lots. They stopped a few minutes to watch it and Djuna said, “What are they doing there?”

“I don’t know,” Tommy said, “but probably tomorrow there will be a motel or a string of a half-dozen apartments there. They seem to build ’em overnight.”

“Do you suppose there are snakes in there?” Djuna asked.

“Prob’ly,” Tommy said. “Rattlers. There aren’t too many around, but you have to watch out in the high grass and the scrub. Back in the Everglades there are plenty of moccasins. They’re just as dangerous as rattlesnakes.”

“Gee, I’d like to go back into the Everglades,” Djuna said. “Do you suppose your father would drive us there to see it?”

“I think so,” Tommy said, “sometime, before you go back. There are all kinds of wild animals there—deer, black bears, wildcats, pumas, and just millions of alligators and water moccasins.”

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