Read The Yellow Cat Mystery Online

Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.

The Yellow Cat Mystery (7 page)

BOOK: The Yellow Cat Mystery
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Because of the bright sunlight outside and the dim coolness inside the restaurant Tommy and Djuna were half blinded when they entered. About a half-dozen of the tables were occupied and there were several people sitting on the high stools at the food bar. They were following Pedro toward the food bar when a voice at one of the tables said, “Hello, boys. Did you get Mrs. Pulham’s cat home all right?”

Djuna and Tommy both stopped and gazed in the direction from which the voice came and in a moment they recognized Dr. Hammer in the dim light. He was wearing his dark glasses and he had a plate in front of him that was piled high with delicious-looking fried shrimp, French fried potatoes and coleslaw.

“Oh, yes, sir,” Djuna said.

“What did that old—what did Mrs. Pulham have to say?” the doctor asked.

“W-w-well,” Djuna said, and anyone could have told that he was thinking pretty fast trying to figure out what to tell Dr. Hammer without telling what Mrs. Pulham had said. “She—she said she would take her cat to the vet in Fort Laurel this afternoon.”

“That’s fine,” Dr. Hammer said as he put half a jumbo shrimp in his mouth. He chewed lustily for a moment while he held his fork upright in his right hand, and he regarded Tommy and Djuna with speculative interest. When he could speak he said, “And what did she have to say about me?”

Both Tommy and Djuna squirmed for a moment and they both wondered how Dr. Hammer would look skinned alive. They were relieved when Pedro called from the food counter, “Come on, boys. I have tol’ Chuck how to make the meelk shake. She ees almos’ ready.”

Dr. Hammer turned his head to stare at Pedro for a moment while Pedro stared back at him, his face expressionless. Then he turned back to Tommy and Djuna. “Never mind,” he said. “You don’t have to tell me what she said. I think I know.” He laughed. “The same to her and many of them.” Tommy snickered and started toward the food bar but Djuna lingered beside Dr. Hammer’s table for a moment longer.

“I guess you like the food you get here better than you do your own cooking, don’t you, Dr. Hammer?” he asked.

“I’ll say I do,” Dr. Hammer replied. “Wouldn’t you?”

“I guess I would,” Djuna said. “Especially if I had to use a gas range like the one in your office.”

“It’s an electric range,” Dr. Hammer said, “but it doesn’t make my cooking any better.”

Djuna laughed and started toward the food bar. Just before he reached it a little boy of about four came out of the swinging door that led to the kitchen. He had blond hair and looked uncommonly like the blond-haired man Pedro had called Chuck, who stood behind the bar. Following the little boy came a black Scotty that looked so much like Champ that for a moment Djuna thought it
was
Champ. The Scotty had a bone half as big as he was clamped in his stout jaws, as he strutted along looking very happy.

“Jiminy crimps!” Tommy said excitedly as he pointed at the Scotty with one hand and at Djuna with the other. “Djuna has a Scotty he calls Champ that looks so much like this dog they could be brothers.”

“Maybe they are,” Chuck Nielson said from behind the counter. Then he leaned over it and looked down at his son and his little black dog and said, “Billy, shake hands with Tommy and Djuna. Djuna has a dog just like Bonzo.”

The blond-headed little boy approached Tommy and Djuna very gravely and shook hands with both of them.

“Where is your dog?” he asked solemnly.

“Oh, we had to leave him at home today,” said Djuna, “but we’ll bring him along next time.”

“Okay,” said the child, and then he and his dog made their way through the front door of the restaurant.

“Jeepers,” Djuna said. “That was
some
bone Bonzo had.”

“Bring Champ around and I’ll give him one like it,” Chuck Nielson said.

“Oh, thank you,” said Djuna, and in his mind’s eye he could see Champ jumping happily up and down and up and down as he held a bone that size above him.

“Okay, boys, here we go!” Chuck Nielson took the large mixing glass from the mixing machine and poured the creamy contents into the two glasses he had put on the counter.

“Don’ drink eet all at wonce or you get beeg bellyache,” Pedro cautioned, smiling at the way they were watching Chuck.

The two boys grinned at Pedro and then they sniffed the nutmeg and each of them lifted their glasses carefully and took a preliminary taste. A moment later they rolled their eyes at each other and said, “Oh, boy!” together.

Chuck Nielson came back from a window that was cut into the kitchen and slid a plate that contained a delicious-looking cheeseburger in front of Pedro. He drew a cup of coffee and put that in front of Pedro, too, and then leaned against the back counter and grinned as he watched Pedro and the two boys enjoy their food.

While they were eating, a man who sat on the stool next to Pedro kept staring at him. Twice he turned his head as though he were going to speak to Pedro. Finally, the third time, he said, “Say, bud, ain’t your name Ramon Gomez? Didn’t they use to call you the Yellow Cat?”

Pedro didn’t turn his head as the man spoke to him. At first he didn’t even seem to hear the man. He went on eating his sandwich. Then he turned his head slowly and said, “You spik to me?”

“Yeah,” the man said. “I ast you if I didn’t see you fight at the Sports Arena in Miami under the name of the Yellow Cat. Ain’t you Ramón Gomez?”

Pedro’s teeth flashed white against his mahogany skin. He slowly shook his head, touched his chest, and said, “Me, the Yellow Cat? No, No! My name ees not Gomez. My name ees Pedro Marteeno. I nevaire fight weeth anybody.”

The man beside Pedro wrinkled his forehead and said, “I never see anything like it before. You certain’ look like him. The spittin’ image.”

“He handsome fella, huh?” Pedro said, and flashed his teeth again.

“Not when Del Rey, the Havana Hurricane, got through with him that night at the Sports Arena, he wasn’t,” the man said. “He looked like a hunk o’ fresh chopped hamburger.”

“So?” Pedro said stiffly.

“Oh, nuttin’,” the man said. “Skip it.” He rose, dusted off his hands and made his way toward the door.

“What’s-a matter with heem?” Pedro asked as he watched him go.

“Just a case of mistaken identity, Pedro,” Chuck Nielson said, and then he turned to Tommy and Djuna, who were gazing at Pedro with new interest, and asked, “What about another milk shake on the house, boys? Keep your teeth from falling out.”

“I don’t know if I could, Mr. Nielson,” Djuna said, but his eyes belied the words as he added, “That was the best milk shake I ever had in my life.”

“Sure, you could,” Chuck said, and he began to mix them another drink.

Just after he put the mixing glass in the mixing machine Pedro said, “Chuck, do you have a leetle piece of paper an’ a pencil you loan me?”

“Sure,” Chuck said, and he took a pad of paper and a pencil from the counter under the mirror and tossed them in front of Pedro. Pedro picked them up and moved down to the end of the counter and began to write laboriously while the boys watched their milk shake whirling merrily in the mixing machine.

When Pedro had finished he stuck the piece of paper on which he had been writing carelessly in his pocket and returned the pad and pencil to Chuck. “Well, boys,” he said. “I have to go back to
My Goat
now. Maybe someone want to feesh, no? You come see me again, eh?”

“Thanks for the drink, Mr. Marteeno,” they said in chorus. Pedro lingered for a moment while Chuck Nielson took their milk shake from the mixing machine and poured it into the two glasses in front of them. Then he moved away as the boys began to drink.

Djuna, as he drank, was looking into the tilted mirror behind the back counter. His eyes grew wide as he saw Pedro hesitate for a brief instant as he passed Dr. Hammer’s table. As he hesitated he slipped a piece of paper on the table beside Dr. Hammer’s plate. Dr. Hammer, Djuna saw, didn’t look up. He just moved his hand over the piece of paper and slipped it into his pocket while he went on eating and Pedro kept on toward the front door.

Djuna drank the rest of his milk shake very thoughtfully until Tommy brought him out of his reverie by saying, “If we want to get another swim before we go home for supper we better hurry.”

“Okay,” Djuna said with a start. Both of the boys thanked Mr. Nielson for the milk shakes and then they waved a hand at Dr. Hammer as they dashed by him and out on the street.

They had another quick dip, retrieved their sneakers and Tommy’s shirt from the spot where they had left them, and then mounted Tommy’s bicycle as the sun began its swift descent. A great bank of woolly white clouds that were banked tier on tier against the bright blue horizon to the west turned to gold and yellow as the sun began its plunge and then became a symphony of pink and purple and mulberry to herald the coming of night.

When the boys arrived home and told Mrs. Williams about the milk shakes Pedro and Mr. Nielson had bought for them, Mrs. Williams threw up her hands in pretended horror. “I suppose,” she said, “that you’ve spoiled your appetites and won’t be able to eat any supper. I wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble if—”

“What’re we having, Mom?” Tommy asked. He could tell by the way his mother acted that they were going to have something special for supper.

“Never you mind,” Mrs. Williams said. “Champ will eat it if you can’t.”

But Champ didn’t get a chance to eat it. When Mrs. Williams served them each a whole broiled Florida lobster, dripping with melted butter and lemon juice, on a plate that also contained a big pile of crisp, brown French fried potatoes, anyone would have thought they hadn’t had anything to eat for three days. With the lobster they had tender ears of Golden Bantam corn that had been picked from the Williams garden, behind the house, only a half hour before, and a green salad with some more of Mrs. Williams’s special dressing on it.

“I just can’t get used to having strawberries and corn out of your own garden at Christmas time,” Djuna said.

After supper Tommy and Djuna helped Mrs. Williams wash and wipe the dishes. After that, Djuna asked Mr. Williams if he had a Spanish dictionary.

“Surest thing you know, Djuna,” said Mr. Williams. “I carry a combination Spanish-English and English-Spanish dictionary with me all the time. Have to, with half my hands speaking Spanish only.”

“What do you want that for?” Tommy asked Djuna.

Mrs. Williams carefully closed the closet door where she had just put some dishes and turned around and looked at Djuna very intently as he curled up in a chair and began to leaf through the dictionary.

“I just wondered about a couple of words,” Djuna said, and he managed to hide the snicker that leaped to his lips. “For one thing, I wanted to know if your girl’s name is Spanish.”

“My
girl!” Tommy said. “What girl? What are you talking about?”

“Amaryllis,” Djuna said innocently, and added, “Rilla.”

“My
girl!” Tommy shouted and his face became red. Both Mr. and Mrs. Williams laughed and his face became more red. “Why—I—I—she—I—” Tommy spluttered, and then he gritted his teeth because he was so mad he couldn’t speak.

“I take it back,” Djuna said, a little alarmed when Tommy became so angry.

“You better,” was all that Tommy said before he went out into the kitchen to draw himself a glass of cold water.

Djuna turned to the A’s in the dictionary. He couldn’t find
Amaryllis
. The closest thing to it was
Amarillo
, in Spanish, which meant “yellow” in English. He remembered then the question the man beside Pedro had asked him that day in Nielson’s Restaurant. He looked for “cat” and found it was
gato
in Spanish. He then learned that
el
was the word for “the” in Spanish. He looked up a lot of other words, one word leading to another, and was nearly asleep in his chair when Mrs. Williams said it was time for him and Tommy to go to bed.

Both Djuna and Tommy were yawning as they brushed their teeth, got undressed and climbed into bed. Tommy was half asleep when Djuna said aloud,
“Gato
in Spanish means ‘cat’. But if you mix up the four letters in
gato
, it spells ‘goat’—in English.”

“Wh-a-a-t?” Tommy asked, trying to rouse himself.

“Nothing,” Djuna said sleepily. “Good night.”

“Good night,” Tommy yawned.

Chapter Five
Rilla Sells Some Sea Shells

D
JUNA
was unusually quiet and thoughtful as he and Tommy weeded the Williams home vegetable garden the next morning after breakfast. When they had finished, and Mrs. Williams had given them each the quarter Mr. Williams had promised them, they took the basket Tommy used for carrying schoolbooks and fastened it on the front of Tommy’s bicycle. They had taken it off the day before so that one of them could ride on the handlebars while the other one pedaled. After a little experimenting they had found that they could fix an improvised seat on the rear mud guard for the one who wasn’t pedaling. They put the basket back so that Champ could ride to the beach in it. Djuna had remembered the big bone Billy Nielson’s Scotty had been carrying and Mr. Nielson’s promise to give Champ one like it.

Champ looked very suspicious when they put him in the basket and throughout the ride from Tommy’s house to the Inland Waterway he kept looking back at them for reassurance. “It’ll be worth it when you get that bone,” Djuna told him from time to time to cheer him up.

It was while they were crossing the bridge over the Inland Waterway that Djuna said, “Let’s ride around past the yacht basin and go in and see Captain Andy for a minute.”

“Let’s go for a swim first. If we get cooled off now we’ll stay cool when it gets hot later on,” Tommy argued.

“Why can’t we go for another swim when it gets hot?” Djuna asked, reasonably enough.

“Say!” Tommy said. He was pedaling now and he couldn’t turn and look at Djuna’s face as he wanted to. “What was that you said to me last night when I was half asleep?”

“I don’t think I remember,” Djuna said.

“Oh, yes, you do!” said Tommy and added, “You sounded as though you were getting mixed up in something again. You better be careful!”

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