Read The Yellow Cat Mystery Online

Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.

The Yellow Cat Mystery (9 page)

BOOK: The Yellow Cat Mystery

They went down to the Snack Bar that was just below Nielson’s on Atlantic Avenue, fastened Champ’s leash to the frame of Tommy’s bicycle, and went inside. Like Nielson’s Restaurant, the place was dim and cool inside; and when they were seated in one of the booths along three sides of the wall they could barely see the waitress who came to take their order. After quite a bit of deliberation over the prices, they finally each chose a cheeseburger because they remembered the one Pedro had seemed to enjoy so much the day before at Nielson’s and how good it looked.

After the girl had brought them their sandwiches and a small bottle of milk apiece, Djuna mentioned Pedro again. If he had been able to see the people in the booths clearly when they came in he probably would not have said what he did. But in the dim coolness of the place and with the wooden partition between the booths reaching nearly to the ceiling he didn’t think that anyone could hear what he said.

“You know,” he said to Tommy, “there’s something awful funny about that Dr. Hammer and Pedro.”

“What do you mean funny?” Tommy asked as he peered at Djuna in the dim light.

“I—I don’t know just what I do mean,” Djuna said. “But I’m almost sure his name isn’t Marteeno, like he said, and I’m almost sure he’s the Yellow Cat. He’s hiding from something or he wouldn’t change the color of his boat and the name, and his own name, too, if he wasn’t.”

“Maybe he’s a smuggler,” Tommy said cautiously. Then he fastened on the idea with more conviction. “I bet you that’s just what he is. That’s why he changed his boat all around.”

“He might be almost anything,” Djuna said thoughtfully. “But I don’t see what Dr. Hammer has to do with it.”

“Dr. Hammer?” Tommy said. “Just because he acted so funny and gave Rilla a dollar for some shells he didn’t even look at doesn’t mean anything. He doesn’t even

“Oh, yes, I think he does,” Djuna said. “They didn’t speak to each other yesterday and pretended they didn’t know each other, but I think they do.”

“How do you know that?” Tommy asked.

“Well, I don’t, for sure,” Djuna said slowly, “but yesterday—do you remember when Pedro asked Mr. Nielson for some paper and a pencil and Pedro went down to the end of the bar to write something on the paper?”

“Oh, sure,” Tommy said.

“I was watching him in the mirror behind the bar after he said good-by to us,” Djuna said. “And I saw him put that piece of paper on Dr. Hammer’s table as he went by.”

“You did!” Tommy said breathlessly. “What did Dr. Hammer do?”

“He didn’t do anything,” Djuna said. “He didn’t even look up. He just stuck the piece of paper in his pocket and went on eating and Pedro walked out the front door as if he hadn’t even seen him.”

“Jeepers, what do you suppose the note said?” Tommy asked.

“You know as much about that as I do,” Djuna said. “But that means they do know each other. And it means that if there wasn’t something wrong with both of them they wouldn’t try to pretend that they don’t know each other. Why didn’t they speak to each other?”

“I don’t know,” said Tommy. “Do you suppose we ought to go and tell the police?”

“I don’t know,” Djuna said. “I don’t know what we ought to do. But I know we’d get in an awful lot of trouble if we told the police things about Pedro and Dr. Hammer and then couldn’t prove anything.”

“We don’t know
about Dr. Hammer,” Tommy said as he washed down the last of his sandwich with a gulp of milk. “Except that he acted kind of crazy when we took Mrs. Pulham’s cat down there yesterday, and he
be crazy if he’s going to fix Rilla’s doll’s teeth.”

“I don’t know,” Djuna said, and suddenly he shivered. “They better turn off this air-conditioning in here or everyone will freeze to death. It must be getting a lot colder outside.”

“You want to get another swim, don’t you?” Tommy asked.

“Oh, sure,” Djuna answered. They counted out their money to pay the check and rose.

“I’ll pay the check,” Tommy said as he gathered up the money, “and you take Champ over to Nielson’s and get his bone. I’ll meet you on the beach in a few minutes.”

“Okay,” Djuna agreed and went out the front door to Atlantic Avenue.

Chapter Six
Djuna Mysteriously Disappears

sat on the beach and patiently waited for Djuna. The cooling easterly breeze that had been fanning the beach for the past two days had shifted gradually, during the morning, until now it was a cold northwest wind. Gray clouds scudded across the sun and far out on the horizon the Gulf Stream was beginning to kick up an irregular pattern that made it appear as if the ocean were washing over a sand bar there.

Tommy put his Basque shirt back on and began to shiver as people gathered up their things to leave because of the biting cold wind. He wished that Djuna would hurry, knowing that if he didn’t come within a few minutes it would be too rough for them to have a final swim. The waves were piling up higher and higher and were breaking farther out on the gray-green water.

Only a few rugged shell collectors, and a couple of lone fishermen who were casting into the heavy surf, were left on the beach when Tommy finally decided to go look for Djuna. Far up the beach, where a narrow strip of land jutted out into the ocean, the Mounds-borough Light began to blink in the coming storm. A few large drops of rain splattering on the sand beside Tommy finally made up his mind. He ran up to the parking space and across the road to Nielson’s Restaurant.

Chuck Nielson was standing at the closed front door scowling at the gathering storm as Tommy appeared. His scowl changed to a pleasant smile as he opened the door for Tommy.

“Hello, there,” Chuck greeted him. “How did Champ enjoy the bone I gave him?”

“I don’t know!” Tommy answered. “What happened to them? I’ve been waiting over on the beach for them over an hour.”

“Why, they left here more than an hour ago,” Chuck said. “They just stayed long enough to get the bone for Champ.” A gust of wind drove the cold rain against the front window as Chuck added, “Looks as though we got ourselves another one of those Yankee storms. It has dropped twenty-five degrees since noon.”

“I’ll bet my father is worried,” Tommy remarked as he gazed anxiously out the window. “He’s a bean grower.”

“Yes, I know,” said Chuck. “No danger of a freeze yet.”

“But there may be by morning,” Tommy said. “Did Djuna say anything about where he was going?”

“No,” said Chuck as he peered at Tommy’s anxious face. “But come to think of it, I believe he started down Atlantic Avenue instead of toward the beach. I’d not swear to it, but I think they went to the left when they went out.”

“Toward the Waterway?” Tommy asked.

“In that direction,” Chuck told him. “Hope you find him,” he added as Tommy ducked out into the rain and went over to the parking space to get his bicycle.

The wind was driving the rain before it in a solid wall of water as Tommy pedalled west on Atlantic Avenue. He was worried now because he could remember other times when Djuna had begun to puzzle over some problem. And he could remember, only too well, the things that had happened afterward. He knew that if Djuna had gone back to the yacht basin it was to learn more about the things they had talked about at luncheon, and he knew that Djuna might really have found some trouble.

The quick tropical storm had abated somewhat when Tommy arrived at the door of Captain Andy’s boat yard. But the sky was still overcast and the northwest wind was whipping up little whitecaps on the Inland Waterway as he entered the yard.

He finally found Captain Andy, busily working in his machine shop, and shouted, “Have you seen Djuna?”

Captain Andy shut off the power on the small precision lathe on which he was working and said, “Hey? Can’t hear you with that lathe goin’.”

“Have you seen Djuna?” Tommy shouted again; and then, realizing he didn’t have to shout now, added, “He and Champ were supposed to meet me on the beach almost two hours ago but they didn’t come.”

“No. Haven’t seen him since he left here with you,” Captain Andy said. “I bin workin’ in here ever since I saw there was a storm comin’ up. Bin here all afternoon. You say he had his black dog with him?”

“Yes,” Tommy told him. “I went on over to the beach after we had lunch at the Snack Bar and Djuna went to Nielson’s because Mr. Nielson said he would give Champ a bone.”

“Nope, ain’t seen hide nor hair of neither of ’em,” Captain Andy said, and then he added thoughtfully, “but I heerd a dog barkin’ just a spell ago. Sounded awful mad, too. I noticed it because it sounded like it might o’ been one of them Scotties. You know, they got a high, harsh kind of a bark.”

“Was it right around here?” Tommy asked.

“Kind of off thataway,” Captain Andy said, waving a hand toward the Inland Waterway. “I didn’t think nothin’ much about it.”

“Oh, dear,” Tommy said. “I hope Djuna hasn’t got himself in trouble again.”

“That was what you was worryin’ about afore,” said Captain Andy. His shrewd old eyes regarded Tommy levelly. “What kind of trouble is he apt to be gittin’ in?”

“Well,” Tommy said—and suddenly he decided to take Captain Andy into his confidence. He took a deep breath. “You remember this morning he asked you if Pedro Marteeno had ever bought any letters for his boat from you?”

“Oh, gracious, yes,” said Captain Andy, and he looked puzzled. “What kinda trouble’d that lead to?”

“Yesterday,” Tommy tried to explain, “when Pedro took us over to Nielson’s for a milk shake, a man there asked Pedro if his name wasn’t Ramón Gomez and if he wasn’t a prizefighter who fought under the name of the Yellow Cat. Pedro told him his name was Pedro Marteeno and he said he had never fought with anyone.”

“He’s too lazy to fight,” Captain Andy said with a chuckle.

“But maybe he isn’t,” Tommy said a little desperately. “Anyway, last night Djuna borrowed my father’s Spanish dictionary and began to look up words. Then this morning when we came over here he looked at the name on the stern of Pedro’s boat and he saw where someone had painted over the word
on the stern. That means yellow, in Spanish. And then Djuna figured out, after you told him Pedro had traded an E and an L for a M and a Y, that Pedro had juggled the letters around so that his boat was called
My Goat
. But Djuna says it
The Yellow Cat
, in Spanish, at one time; and that’s the name the man asked Pedro about.”

“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s aunt!” Captain Andy exploded. “You mean to say Djuna figured that all out?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Tommy said. “He can figure almost anything out. He—he—”

“Now, now,” Captain Andy said, noticing for the first time how agitated Tommy seemed to be. “He’s all right. Just because he didn’t come to the beach don’t mean he’s hurt, or somethin’. He—”

“But don’t you see, Cap’n Andy,” Tommy interrupted, “that, if Djuna is right, Pedro has done something pretty bad and is prob’ly hiding from the police? If he found out that Djuna—”

“Just keep your wig on, sonny,” Captain Andy said. “C’mon, we’ll go out and take a gander at the stern of Pedro’s boat and see if what Djuna figured out is true.”

“But—” Tommy said. Captain Andy wasn’t listening. He was going through the doorway of the machine shop. Tommy followed him as fast as he could. But Captain Andy had stopped and was staring at his wharf when Tommy caught up to him.

“His boat ain’t there!” Captain Andy said with astonishment. “It’s on’y the second or third time he’s been away from the wharf since he’s been here.”

“That’s what I was going to tell you,” Tommy said. “I noticed it wasn’t there when I came in. You see, if Djuna came over here to talk to Pedro and wasn’t careful, Pedro might have—”

“Now, now,” Captain Andy said again. He walked down on the wharf with Tommy following him and looked over at the yacht basin. “All the fishin’ boats is out,” he said. “Prob’ly a party talked Pedro into takin’ them out, too. And by gum, if this weather keeps blowin’ up he’s a-goin’ to have a mite o’ trouble gettin’ back. That water runs faster’n a scar’t fox comin’ in the inlet on a high tide.”

“You think maybe he’s just gone fishing?” Tommy asked with relief.

“I don’t know, of course,” said Captain Andy. “But I wouldn’t get riled up about Djuna. He’ll show up an’—”

“But don’t you suppose we ought to go and tell the police about Pedro and—” Tommy began.

“Tell the police!” Captain Andy said sternly. “Tell ’em what? You don’ want to get Pedro in trouble if he ain’t done nothin’. He’s a little lazy, mebbe, but you can’t send a man to jail for that or there’d hardly be anybody out of jail.”

They made their way back to Captain Andy’s machine shop and Captain Andy made ready to resume his work.

“But if Pedro
the Yellow Cat and is hiding and—” Tommy began again.

“It sounds to me,” Captain Andy interrupted, “as though this boy, Djuna, was a leetle too smart for his britches. Sounds as though he
Pedro to be this Yellow Cat, so he figgered out a way to make him that. Like I said, you jest keep your wig on, Tommy. When Pedro comes back I’ll check on that name thing and then we’ll decide what to do.”

“Yes, sir,” Tommy said, glad to be relieved of the responsibility. He was still worried but he was sure that Captain Andy would know what was best. “I guess I better go home and see if Djuna is there,” he added.

“That’s just what you better do,” Captain Andy said. “That’s prob’ly what Djuna did when he saw this storm blowin’ up. If he’s bright enough to figger out all them things you jest told me about, he ought to be bright enough to git in out o’ the rain.” He looked at Tommy’s rain-soaked Basque shirt and swimming trunks and chuckled. “Drop in tomorrow mornin’ with Djuna and we’ll talk them things over.”

“Yes, sir,” Tommy said. “Good-by, Captain.”

“’By, Tommy,” Captain Andy said and turned back to his lathe.

Tommy mounted his bicycle again and pedaled down Atlantic Avenue and over the bridge across the Inland Waterway toward the Federal Highway. The sun was trying desperately to break through the overcast as he crossed the Federal Highway. But there were new storm clouds gathering in the northeast behind him as he saw Rilla Hamilton walking down Atlantic Avenue toward the business section of Dolphin Beach. She was carrying a round zippered pigskin bag in one hand and her other hand was wrapped around a medium-sized doll. As Tommy came up behind her, Mrs. Pulham’s big yellow cat came languidly across Mrs. Pulham’s lawn and sniffed at the bag Rilla was carrying.

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