Read The Yellow Cat Mystery Online

Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.

The Yellow Cat Mystery (8 page)

BOOK: The Yellow Cat Mystery
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“I’m not going to get mixed up in anything,” Djuna protested.

“Well, you better not,” Tommy warned. “Mom said Miss Annie would never forgive her if you did.”

“Jeepers, can’t I ask Cap’n Andy a question without getting mixed up in something?” Djuna wanted to know.

“I suppose so,” Tommy conceded. “But you be careful.”

They completed the rest of their journey around the yacht basin in silence. When they arrived at the door of Captain Andy’s boat yard they alighted and helped Champ out of his precarious perch in Tommy’s book basket. Champ gave vent to his relief by running around in tight circles, barking to thank them, then dutifully followed them into the boat yard.

Captain Andy wasn’t any place in sight, although his paint can and brushes were standing on a little platform beside the
Amaryllis
as they approached it. Tommy stopped beside the platform, but Djuna said, “I want to look at Pedro’s boat a minute,” and kept on toward the wharf, with Champ following him. Tommy hesitated and then followed Djuna to the wharf. Djuna called Pedro’s name several times and when Pedro didn’t answer Tommy watched with silent disapproval while Djuna got down on his knees on the wharf to examine the brass letters forming the name
My Goat
tacked on the stern of the old catboat.

“For Pete’s sake, what are you looking for?” Tommy asked.

“I don’t know,” Djuna said absently and then his lips began to form letters silently. Suddenly he said,
“Amarillo!
He took that off!”

“He took
what
off?” Tommy asked. Although he didn’t approve of whatever Djuna was doing, he couldn’t help getting excited, too.

“See!” Djuna said, pointing at the stern of Pedro’s boat. “He had letters there to make that Spanish word
amarillo
. You can see the tiny holes where they were tacked on and you can see the whole word underneath the black paint. I think the boat was painted yellow, too.”

“Amarillo?”
Tommy asked. “What does that mean?”

“Yellow,” Djuna said. “It means yellow, in Spanish,” and he bent down and picked up a broken piece of a fighting conch shell and began to scrape a small spot on the coaming of the boat. After a moment the black paint disappeared to show a spot of yellow. “It
was
painted yellow underneath!” Djuna said triumphantly.

“Well, what of it?” Tommy asked querulously. “He had a right to paint it yellow if he wanted to, didn’t he?”

“Let’s find Cap’n Andy,” Djuna said without answering Tommy’s question. He started to run toward the little machine shop with both Champ and Tommy at his heels. Halfway there he stopped as he heard the rasp of a saw in the long, low carpenter shop and altered his course so quickly that Tommy and Champ nearly fell over him.

When they stuck their heads around the doorway of the carpenter shop the clean, fresh smell of hot sawdust came pleasantly to their nostrils. Captain Andy had just finished sawing a piece of cedar with a handsaw as they entered.

“Mornin’ boys,” he said cheerfully, and then he began to laugh as he saw Champ. “Where,” he asked, “did you come by that critter?”

Champ looked up at him a little disdainfully until Captain Andy bent over and scratched him behind the ears. Then his stubby tail began to wag back and forth at such a rate that Captain Andy said, “He’ll shake that thing right off if he ain’t keerful. You don’t see many of them Scotties down here—too heavy-furred f’r this climate. Used to be a lot of ’em up Massachusetts way, where I come from.”

“Say, Cap’n Andy,” Djuna said, when he could contain himself no longer, “did Pedro paint his boat since he came here?”

“Paint his boat?” Captain Andy repeated. “Why, no. It was black when he put in here.”

“Well, did he buy any letters from you to change the name of it?” Djuna persisted.

“Buy any letters?” Captain Andy repeated again. “No, he ain’t bought nothin’ since he’s been here.” Captain Andy looked down at Djuna curiously, and then he snapped his fingers and added, “He didn’t
buy
any letters, but he did trade some. He traded me an E and an L for an M and a Y. Why, what you gettin’ at, sonny?”

“Could I see the letters he traded you?” Djuna asked.

“I think I can pick ’em out,” Captain Andy said. He went over to a long work bench and pulled open a drawer and selected a brass E and a brass L from their respective compartments and tossed them on the bench. Djuna studied them carefully for a moment and then looked up at Captain Andy.

“Did you notice the yellow paint under them?” he asked.

“Certain’y,” Captain Andy said. “That’s the way I could tell them from the other letters. What of it?”

“Why, nothing much,” Djuna said. “I was just wondering about something.”

“Well, you better stop wondering,” Tommy warned him. “My mother said that if you got in any trouble she—”

“What’s this … what’s this?” Captain Andy said as he stared down at Djuna. The twinkle had faded from his eyes now and his face was very serious. “You don’ want to be gettin’ in no trouble, Djuna. Land sakes, ain’t there enough for a boy to do down here, what with fishin’ an’ swimmin’ an’ sechlike, so that he don’t have to go
huntin’
f’r trouble?”

“Oh, yes, sir!” Djuna agreed. “I—I’m not going to get in any trouble, Cap’n Andy. I was just thinking—”

“Well, you’d better stop thinking, too!” Tommy interrupted to warn him.

“Okay.” Djuna laughed and said to Tommy, “Is it all right if I go swimming?”

“Sure! Let’s get going,” Tommy said. “I want to see what Champ will do when he sees the ocean.”

“Come back any time; boys,” Captain Andy said. He picked up the pieces of cedar he had been sawing as the two boys and Champ went whooping toward their bicycle.

But while they were riding up Atlantic Avenue toward the beach Tommy could restrain his curiosity no longer. He finally blurted, “Say, what was all that about another word on the name of Pedro’s boat, and those letters he traded an’ everything?”

“It’s not anything very important, I guess,” Djuna said. “Only I think now that Pedro lied to that man yesterday who asked him if his name was Gomez and whether he wasn’t called the Yellow Cat.”

“Why?” asked Tommy in amazement. “I had forgotten all about that.”

“Because his boat used to be named
El Gato Amarillo,”
Djuna said, mispronouncing the Spanish words. “That
means The Yellow Cat
in Spanish! Pedro traded an E and L for the M and Y he now has on his boat that make
My. El
means ‘the’ in Spanish.
Gato
is ‘cat’ in Spanish and
amarillo
means ‘yellow.’ He took off the word
amarillo
entirely and changed
gato
round so that it spells
goat
. And when I scraped off the black paint you could see that it had once been painted yellow underneath. And Cap’n Andy said it used to be a catboat, until Pedro took out the mast and put in an engine.”

“Say,” Tommy said excitedly. “Do you remember how mad Pedro got when I told him Captain Andy told us it used to be a catboat?”

“Sure,” Djuna said. “I remember. And I remember how funny he acted when that man asked him if his name was Gomez, too.”

“What do you suppose made him change his name?” Tommy asked.

“He prob’ly did something and is hiding,” Djuna said. “He wouldn’t go to all that trouble if he wasn’t.”

“Jeepers,” said Tommy. “He seemed a little funny-acting, but he bought us a milk shake and asked us to come and see him again. I wonder what he did?”

“Prob’ly something pretty bad,” Djuna said. He started to say something else but stopped as they came to the beach parking space and alighted. They lifted Champ down and both began to laugh as Champ began to growl at the waves breaking on the beach. A moment later he dodged away from Djuna’s outstretched hands; as Djuna tried to snap his leash on his collar, he ducked; and then he scampered across the beach and down to the water’s edge to bark his protest at the noise and fury of the breaking waves.

“We’ve got to catch him,” Tommy said. “They don’t allow dogs on the beach.” They caught him, but not before a wave had caught him first and rolled him over and over until he was in a panic.

After they had secured his leash to Tommy’s bicycle they both ran back and plunged through the surf together and then dove through the next two waves to get out where they could really swim.

They were coasting up and down the rollers on their backs when Champ’s shrill bark came to them. Djuna lifted his head and groaned as he looked toward the beach.

“He’s slipped his collar and he’s chasing sandpipers and the life guard is chasing
him!”
Djuna groaned.

“Oh, my gosh!” Tommy said. “We’ll have to go get him.”

“We’d better leave him home tomorrow,” Djuna said as they started to cut through the water to the beach.

“And look what’s waiting for us!” Tommy said a few moments later as they climbed out of the water.

“Hello, Djuna! Hello, Tommy!” Amaryllis cried through the brightly gleaming braces on her teeth as Djuna looked up. Both of the boys spoke to her politely and then started after Champ. But Rilla wasn’t so easily discouraged. She raced right along behind them. She caught up to them after Djuna had grabbed Champ and was carrying him back to the parking space.

“Isn’t he the
darlingest
doggie!” Rilla said, as she fell in step with them. Champ closed his eyes for a moment in silent indignation. When he opened them he looked at Rilla and then he looked up at Djuna and licked his face. But he was too polite to say what he thought of Rilla.

Neither Tommy nor Djuna said anything to her, either; but Rilla wasn’t discouraged by that. She kept babbling on while they tried to figure out a way of escape.

“You,” she said to Djuna, “will be sorry you didn’t go shelling with me yesterday, when I tell you what happened.”

“Why?” Tommy asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

“Because I sold the shells I collected for a dollar, a whole dollar!” Rilla said. “And you could have had half of it if you had helped collect them.”

“What kind of shells were they?” Djuna asked. He was thinking that he and Tommy might be able to take the Jungle Cruise on the
Jungle Queen
, the excursion boat that was moored at the yacht basin, if they could collect some shells and sell them.

“Oh, just any old kind,” Rilla said. “There was one Scotch bonnet among them, but it was broken.”

“Who’d you sell ’em to?” Tommy asked, and he sounded skeptical.

“To Dr. Hammer, the new dentist,” Rilla said.

“Dr. Hammer!” Tommy said. “What does
he
want with them?”

“Oh, he’s a conch—conchol-o-gist,” Rilla said importantly. “That’s what he told me. He knows all about shells. He told me he’d give me five dollars if I could find a paper nautilus for him.”

“What’s a paper nautilus?” Djuna asked.

“It’s a bee-yoo-ti-ful shell!” Rilla said. “It—”

“It’s a shell an octopus makes to hold her eggs until they’re hatched,” Tommy said explosively. “My father told me about it.”

“An octopus! Why, Tommy Williams, it
couldn’t
be! An octopus couldn’t make such a bee-yoo-ti-ful shell. I know—”

“Look!” Djuna interrupted, “if we could find one of those shells and sell it to Dr. Hammer we could go on that Jungle Cruise!”

“Oh, I don’t know if he’d pay
you
five dollars,” Rilla said. “I think he bought mine because he likes me. He didn’t even look at the shells before he bought them. He said he liked to see young people interested in conch—conchol-o-gy. He didn’t even take the shells with him. He told me to keep them and he’d leave a pigskin bag at our house today that I could use to bring them over to his office this afternoon. He said it would be handier to carry them in a regular bag with a handle than to carry them around in the orange bag I had.”

Tommy and Djuna were only half listening to her as they slipped Champ’s collar over his head and tightened it. But they both began to laugh at the next thing she said.

“And Dr. Hammer,” she said, “is going to fix my doll’s teeth, too. I’m going to take my dolly with me when I take the shells to him this afternoon.”

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy said.

“Fix your doll’s teeth!” Djuna said, when he could stop laughing. “I didn’t know dolls had teeth.”

“He told me to bring the shells and my doll this afternoon,” Rilla said angrily as she glared at Tommy. “And then I’m to call for them right at fifteen minutes after four tomorrow—Saturday afternoon. He wrote it down on a piece of paper for me so I won’t forget it, the way dentists give people a card with their appointment on it so they won’t forget. He wants me to come at
exactly
4:15 tomorrow, because he has to take a train for Jacksonville at 4:30.”

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy said again.

“I’ll slap you, Tommy Williams!” Rilla said.

“Horsumpphat!” Tommy said and he ducked as Rilla swung a fat fist above his head. “Who ever heard of a dentist fixing a doll’s teeth!”

“If he’s going to get a train at 4:30, why doesn’t he have you call for your doll earlier?” Djuna asked.

“I don’t know why and I don’t care,” Rilla said angrily. “That’s when he told me to come, and that’s when I’m going.” She glared at Tommy again and then said to Djuna, “If you were a nice boy you wouldn’t be visiting Tommy Williams.”

“Oh, horsumpphat!” Tommy said again.

“I hate you, Tommy Williams!” Rilla said with a fine display of fury and she went bouncing angrily back to the beach. Djuna and Tommy stood grinning as they watched her disappear beneath a beach umbrella.

“I’m getting hungry,” Tommy said. “Let’s take some of our money and buy a sandwich at the Snack Bar down below Nielson’s.”

“Is it time for lunch?” Djuna asked. Then he grinned as he put his hand on his stomach and said, “I guess it is. Will they let Champ in that place?”

“Oh, no,” Tommy said. “It’s supposed to be against the law to let a dog in a restaurant down here. We can fasten his leash to the bike again.”

“He won’t mind,” Djuna said, “because after we have lunch I’m going to get that bone for him at Nielson’s.”

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