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THE TEA tray, on the coffee table before the fire, was set with Wilma’s hand-thrown ceramic cups and saucers and arranged with an assortment of lemon bars, scones, and fruit-filled custards. The blazing fire cast bright reflections across Wilma’s deep-toned oriental rug and across the blue velvet couch and love seat. Above the mantel, a rich Jeannot painting of the Molena Point hills lent further richness to the cozy room. Behind Wilma’s cherry desk, the white shutters were open to the stormy afternoon, framing the old oak trees that twisted across her tangled flower garden. Wilma had put on a CD of Pete Fountain, the bright clarinet jazz filling the house with its happy sound. Dulcie sat on Wilma’s desk, her green eyes deeply amused. They were waiting for Lucinda.

“It was a cat,” Dulcie was telling Wilma. “A tiny little cat, riding that big pup. You should have seen Selig racing away with the littlest, scruffiest kitten you can imagine raking his backside. Kitten the color of charred wood, and fierce-angry as a tiger.”

It seemed to Dulcie that all her world suddenly was filled with young animals, both exasperating and lovable. She had spent the morning sitting on Clyde’s back fence beside Joe, watching as Clyde tried to train Selig. Selig had accepted the command, Sit. He knew what it meant, and he obeyed when the mood struck him. But Down seemed a position with which he was not conversant. Clyde might be a fine auto mechanic, but as a dog trainer he was about as effective as a declawed cat in a room full of Rottweilers.

Wilma adjusted the quilted tea cozy and glanced across at Dulcie. “Where do you suppose those cats came from? You always told me the hill wasn’t inviting to cats, that the village cats didn’t like to go there.”

“Sometimes it does seem a frightening place,” Dulcie said. “But that young cat doesn’t seem to mind; she acts as if the whole hill belongs to her.”

Dulcie licked a bit of scone and custard that Wilma had put on a small flowered plate for her. “I saw those cats, the first time, a week after the earthquake, slipping across the hill like shadows. I couldn’t get close, I could hardly see them except the little dark one. She stopped and looked back at me, stood for a long time, staring, before she raced away. I thought she wanted to come nearer, but then she’d glance behind her almost as if the others didn’t want her to get friendly.”

Dulcie smiled. “She’s a terrible little morsel, with that dirty blackish-and-brown fur all matted and sticking out every which way. No more than skin over bones, and she can’t be four months old.”

“Do you suppose they lost their home in the earthquake?” Wilma asked.

“Maybe,” Dulcie said. “Maybe they’re a small feral colony that fled up the coast when the quake hit.” The epicenter of the earthquake had been some eighty miles to the south of Molena Point. “Maybe they’re from one of those managed colonies that you read about.”

Occasionally, Dulcie’s favorite cat magazines would do a story about feral-cat colonies that were fed by groups of volunteers, people who trapped the cats to treat them for illnesses or injuries and give them their shots, then turned them loose again, to live free.

“Little feral kittens,” she said softly.

Wilma stopped fussing with the tea tray and gave her a long look; but something in Dulcie’s tone kept her from pursuing the subject.

That little feral kitten, Dulcie thought. So bold and wild. She ate a bit more scone, lapped up her custard, and watched through the window as Lucinda Greenlaw’s New Yorker drew to the curb. Wilma’s purpose in asking Lucinda over for tea, that day, was not simply social, but to find out about Cara Ray Crisp, a favor for Max Harper. Harper didn’t often ask his friends for this sort of snooping.

Of the five people on the boat when Shamas drowned, Newlon had come directly from docking the Green Lady at Molena Point harbor, to be with Lucinda. Winnie and George Chambers had made their condolence call a few days later; Winnie Chambers had been sympathetic and gentle, but her husband George had seemed stiff. Dulcie had watched him fidget, definitely ill at ease-as if tenderness and excessive emotion were not in his nature. Sam Fulman had come sauntering in two days after Newlon arrived, saying he’d had to run up to the city on business. I’ll just bet, Dulcie had thought. Lucinda had not, of course, expected to see Shamas’s mistress at her door at any time, come to make condolences.

The six members of the sailing party had all performed the duties of crew on the three-cabin vessel, though Dulcie had her doubts about how much work Cara Ray undertook. More likely her contribution was in bed.

In Seattle, where the Green Lady had gone into port after Shamas drowned, the police had put the death down as a drinking accident; Shamas’s blood alcohol had been high enough to easily account, under the midnight-storm conditions, for a fatal error of judgment and balance.

With Dulcie’s phone tip, Captain Harper had become increasingly curious. He had no real grounds, however, to question Cara Ray-hence Wilma’s conversation with Lucinda.

Dulcie, curling down on the desk as Lucinda settled comfortably before the fire, watched Wilma pour out the tea and serve the little plates and listened through the small talk about Wilma’s garden and the weather, as Wilma gently moved the conversation toward Cara Ray’s visits.

“I suppose Cara Ray drove down to Molena Point alone?”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s here alone. Well, at least she hasn’t mentioned anyone else. She doesn’t drive over, except that first time. She walks the few blocks from her motel. The second time she came, Dirken drove her home. The next night, too, because it was late, nearly midnight.” Lucinda raised an eyebrow. “I expect Newlon and his cousins would all have liked the opportunity.”

“She didn’t mention anyone she might have driven down from the city with? Or perhaps someone she knew here in Molena Point?”

“No, she didn’t. The woman is not that free with information about herself. What is it, Wilma? Why the questions?”

“Nothing,” Wilma said. “Simple curiosity. If she is such a beauty, as you say, I thought perhaps… one would wonder if there’s a… gentleman friend.”

Lucinda went silent, drawing into herself. “You mean another gentleman friend, since Shamas.” She looked at Wilma helplessly.

This was not, Dulcie thought, easy for either of them.

“She spent a lot of time with you,” Wilma said. “I suppose she talked about the accident.”

Lucinda nodded stiffly. “She did. On her first visit. But she said nothing that the Seattle police didn’t tell me, if that’s what you’re after.”

“She seems,” Wilma said smoothly, “to have made herself very much at home.”

Lucinda flushed. “She… made no bones that she was Shamas’s ‘good friend,’ as she put it.”

Lucinda sipped her tea nervously. “She has no shame. She told me how she had loved to sit on shipboard in the evenings listening to Shamas tell his wonderful tales.”

“That first visit-what else did she talk about?”

“What is this, Wilma? What are these questions? Why are you doing this?”

“I’m trying to understand,” Wilma said quietly. She did not mention Max Harper, nor would she. What she was doing for Harper, Dulcie knew, put Wilma almost in the category of a police snitch. And a snitch didn’t reveal her role; that did not make for good law enforcement.

“I’m trying,” Wilma said, “to understand why Cara Ray came here. And why you’ve allowed her in, Lucinda. Not once, but three times. What could she possibly…”

“It was the Greenlaws,” Lucinda said crossly. “Dirken, Newlon-they made her very welcome; that first day, they asked her to stay the evening.”

“Did you… show her around the house?”

Lucinda flushed. “She said… that Shamas had bragged so about it.”

Dulcie felt her tail lashing. She couldn’t believe that even Lucinda would be so spineless. She could just imagine Lucinda taking that woman on a nice little guided tour of Shamas’s home, pointing out all the valuable antiques.

Was that what Cara Ray was looking for? Small items she might steal, valuable pieces that perhaps Shamas had mentioned? His old and valuable chess sets, for instance, which had been written up once in the Gazette. Or the authentic scrimshaw and carved-ivory collection that Shamas had liked to show visitors. Had Lucinda showed them all to Cara Ray? What was it in human nature that made people so trusting?

“Why do you allow it?” Wilma said gently. “Why don’t you send her packing?”

“I truly don’t know. Partly, I suppose, a false sense of good manners. It’s hard to break habits instilled in you so severely as a child. The same hidebound manners,” Lucinda said with uncharacteristic boldness, “that keep me from sending the whole Greenlaw tribe packing.

“Well,” she said, smiling, “at least the Greenlaw women have begun to do the cooking. Not that I like their heavy meals, or like them in my kitchen. But I don’t have to cook for that tribe.”

Ibet you still have to buy the groceries, Dulcie thought with a catty little smirk.

“The rest of the clan will arrive in a few more days,” Lucinda said. “Then the funeral, and they’ll be gone again, and Cara Ray, too.

“Oh, I dread the funeral, Wilma. His family is going to turn it into a regular dirge of moaning and weeping and showmanship. I don’t think they cared a fig about Shamas, but they’re planning all manner of things for the wake, weepy poetry readings, flowery speeches-I’d rather have no ceremony.”

“Certainly,” Wilma said, “this Cara Ray won’t have the nerve to show her face.”

“She has bought a new dress for the occasion. ‘A little black dress,’ she told me.”

Wilma’s eyes widened. “She wouldn’t actually…”

Lucinda’s face flushed. “She intends to be there. She’s a whore, Wilma. Nothing but a common whore.”

Dulcie stared-she had never heard Lucinda speak so plainly. Maybe there was more grit to Lucinda Greenlaw than she had ever guessed.

“Lucinda, send that woman packing,” Wilma said. “Back to San Francisco. Don’t let her take advantage of you.”

“I… have a feeling about her, Wilma. That… that she knows things about Shamas I should be privy to.”

“What sort of things?”

“Something important. Something… I don’t know. Not personal things, but something to do with the estate, with his businesses. I want… to keep her around for a while.

“She’s buttering up Shamas’s nephews shamefully, but-well, they were all on shipboard together. I just… don’t want to send her away, yet, Wilma.”

Dulcie washed her paws, puzzling over Lucinda. All the pieces she knew about Lucinda Greenlaw never seemed quite to fit together. Lucinda seemed so shy and docile, yet sometimes she was surprisingly bold.

Dulcie was still wondering about the old lady that evening, as she and Joe peered through the lighted window into the crowded parlor-as they watched Cara Ray make nice with the younger Greenlaw men, the little blonde flirting and preening, drawing cold looks from Lucinda.

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