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“I DON’T like to give you advice,” Joe told Clyde from atop the back fence, “but dogs really don’t respond very well to…”

Clyde looked up from the ragged lawn where he was trying to make Selig sit at heel. “Of course you like to give me advice. When have you ever been shy about laying your biased feline opinions on me?” Selig, in response to Clyde’s command, lay on his back, waving his paws in the air.

“So do it your way,” Joe said, amused.

Clyde turned his back, giving the pup his full attention. “Up-Sit,” he told Selig.

Selig wriggled and whined.

Clyde jerked the lead. Selig flipped over onto his feet and danced in a circle around Clyde, leaping to slurp his tongue across Clyde’s nose.

Silently Joe watched the little display of superior human intelligence.

Clyde turned to glower at him. “Shut up, Joe, and go away.”

“I didn’t say a word. But I can see that you’re right. You don’t need my advice. Anyone can tell you’re doing wonders with that puppy. I’d say you have absolutely no peer as a dog trainer. In fact-“

“Can it, Joe. The truth is, he’s just too young to train. He’s still a baby. In a few months when he’s older, he’ll-“

“In a few months when he’s older, if he keeps on playing with you and ignoring your commands, he’ll be a hundred times harder to deal with.”

Clyde sighed.

“For one thing, he’ll be twice as heavy, twice as hard to lift when he pulls that stuff. What you ought to do, is-“

“You’re going to hand out advice whether I want it or not. You can never keep your opinions-“

“You’re losing him, Clyde. You’re losing him before you have a good beginning. You can’t train a puppy like this-you’re going to make him untrainable.”

“And how do you know so much? What makes a mangy tomcat an authority on dog training?”

“I’m an animal. I know how an animal’s mind works. Cat or dog. You’re not thinking like a puppy. You just-“

Clyde stepped closer to the fence, fixing Joe with an enraged stare. “You are an expert in every facet of life. You not only read the editorial page and treat me to your learned interpretations, you are now a dog-training expert. To say nothing of your unmitigated conceit in furnishing the law-enforcement officers of this community with your invaluable consultation.”

“Can’t you move on past that incident? You’ve been chewing on it for days.” Joe glanced around at the neighbors’ houses. All the windows were blank, the yards empty; but he kept his voice low. “What was I supposed to do? The guy’s lying dead in his car, brake fluid dripping all over the place from a brake line that was cut as straight as if it had been sliced with a meat cleaver, and I’m supposed to walk away and say nothing?

“I hear a second car on the highway, hear it honk its horn just before the skid, and there are no other witnesses that I know of, and just because I’m a cat, I’m supposed to withhold that information from the law.

“Well, thank you very much, Clyde, but I don’t think so. And as to the dog training, if you’re so stiffnecked you can’t accept a little friendly advice when it’s offered in a kindly manner, then screw it. Go ahead and ruin a good dog!”

Selig, driven to madness by the lack of attention and his need to play, reared up against the fence, drawing his claws down the wood in long gouges-knowing that if he kept at Clyde long enough, Clyde’s ridiculous attempt at lessons would end and they’d have a nice roughhouse, rolling in the grass. Leaping at Clyde, raking at his arm and cheek, Selig left four long red welts down the side of Clyde’s face, narrowly missing Clyde’s eye, all the time barking with excitement into Clyde’s left ear. Joe imagined Clyde’s eardrum throbbing and thickening from the onslaught of those powerful sound waves. Clyde whacked the pup across the nose with the folded leash, his face red with pain, anger, and embarrassment, and his cheek bleeding.

Joe said no word.

“All right,” Clyde shouted, tossing the leash at the tomcat. “If you’re so damned smart, you train him!” And he spun around and slammed into the house.

Joe stared down at the leash lying in the grass. Selig began happily to chew it, working the good leather into his back incisors and gnawing with relish, his brown eyes rolling up to Joe, filled with deep satisfaction.

Joe considered taking the leash away from the pup and settling him down to a lying position with a sharp command and a few claws.

But he’d only make Clyde more angry, and more out of control.

And what good, for Clyde, if he, Joe Grey, trained the pup? What would Clyde learn?

A cat had to balance his willingness to help humankind with the knowledge that people must learn to do things for themselves.

After all, Clyde had bought a highly recommended dog-training book, and had actually read it. He had registered for, and attended two sessions of the dog-training class that Charlie insisted on-though so far, nothing seemed to have sunk in.

All Clyde did was baby the pups, laugh when they acted silly, and get mad when they didn’t mind him. The trouble with Clyde was, he was a pushover. He wanted the puppies to love him, he wanted to play with them and have fun.

If he’d just figure out how to make learning the best game of all, he could teach them anything. If he could make those babies love their obedience routines, he wouldn’t have a problem.

Trotting along the top of the fence to the maple tree that had become Dulcie’s second home, Joe stuck his nose in among the leaves.

Dulcie, curled up atop the fence, was glued to the scene at the Greenlaw house like ticks to a hound’s ear. The sporadic hammering he’d been hearing all afternoon came from a second-story dormer, where Dirken, perched on a tall ladder, was replacing some siding, nailing on the boards none too evenly. Joe nudged her. “You want to hunt? It’s getting cool. The rabbits…”

She shook her head, watching Dirken. “He ripped the siding off and looked all around inside with a flashlight. There’s a dead space in there, I think it goes under the attic. Those boards he took off, they’re maybe a little bit soft, but not really rotted. I had a look-until he chased me away.” Dulcie smiled. “I don’t think Dirken likes cats.

“Anyway, that siding’s no worse than the rest of the house.”

She glanced at Joe, saw his expression, and her eyes widened. “Okay, so I’m hanging out here too much. So come on,” she said softly. “Let’s hunt. Whatever he’s looking for, I guess he didn’t find it.” She gave him a sweet, green-eyed smile. “Come on, Joe. Let’s go catch a rabbit.” And she fled along the fence, dropped down into the next yard, and led Joe a chase through the village and up the tree-shaded median of Ocean, slowing at the cross streets, racing across the park above the Highway One tunnel and up into the hills.

There, among the tall, dense grasses, they killed and feasted, reveling in warm blood-for a few hours, indulging their wild, pure natures, forgetting the tedious intricacies of civilization and the trials of the human lives that touched them. Racing across the hills, madly, deliriously dodging and leaping, they came to ground at dusk in the ruins of an old barn and curled up together for a nap, daring any fox or raccoon to approach them.

But just before dawn they shrugged on again the cares of civilized life. Trotting home, they indulged in a detour up the roof of the Blankenship house and heard, through the open window, Mama talking to black-and-white Chappie, whom Dulcie had brought to her when he was a kitten. Chappie was grown now and handsome. Mama talked, but Chappie didn’t reply; nor could he, except with soft, questioning mews. A good thing, Dulcie thought, that he’s just an everyday cat. If he could talk, Mama wouldn’t let him get in a word. Leaving the Blankenship house, they fled through the village to Jolly’s alley-a lovely example of civilization, the brick paving regularly scrubbed, the stained-glass windows of the little shops all polished, the jasmine vine neatly trimmed and sweet-scented, and the gourmet offerings always fresh, set out for village cats.

There they breakfasted on Jolly’s cold prime rib, leftover shrimp cocktail, and a dab of Beluga caviar; and it was not until the next night that Joe’s opinion about dog training was vindicated, that Max Harper gave Clyde exactly the same advice, word for word, that Joe Grey had given him.

Joe was sauntering up the back steps to the dog door when he heard dog claws scrabbling inside, on the linoleum, and Harper’s angry voice. “Get down! Stop that!” There was a yip, and puppy claws skidded across the kitchen floor.

Pushing inside to the heady smell of broiling hamburgers, Joe paused in the laundry, where old Rube and the three cats were taking refuge.

The kitchen was alive with the two gamboling pups rearing and bouncing like wild mustangs crazy on loco weed. Max Harper sat at the kitchen table, his long legs tucked out of the way, observing the enthusiastic youngsters in much the same way he might watch a gang of hophead street kids tearing up his jail.

Harper did not hate dogs. Harper loved dogs. When his wife, Millie, was alive they always had several German shepherds around their small ranch.

But Harper’s dogs, like his horses, were well mannered, carefully and patiently trained. As Joe stepped into the kitchen, Harper was saying, “I don’t mean to tell you your business, Damen. But these young dogs need a bit of work.”

Joe turned away, hiding a grin.

“They’re growing pretty fast,” Harper said. “The bigger they get, the harder they’re going to be, to-“

Clyde turned from the stove. His expression stopped Max.

“You don’t want my opinion?”

Clyde said nothing.

“Well, of course you’re right. They’re your pups, you don’t need to be told how to handle them.” He gave Clyde a long, droll stare. “I’m sure you’ll work it out- find homes for them before they tear down the walls.”

“They’re only puppies, Max. Don’t be so critical. You sound just like-like Charlie” Clyde said hastily, glancing down at Joe. “Charlie says that stuff.” He took a long swallow of beer. “They’re just puppies. The vet says they’re only four or five months old. Give them time, they’ll settle down.”

“You’re saying they’re too young to train.”

“They’re just babies!” Clyde repeated.

“And already as big as full-grown pointers. If you don’t do something now, before they get any larger, they’ll be completely out of hand. If you don’t mind my saying, what you ought to do is…”

Clyde banged a plate of sliced onions onto the table, slammed down bottles of catsup and mustard, and dropped two split buns into the toaster.

Joe dared not make a sound. Laughter stuck in his throat like a giant hair ball. He watched Hestig rear up to smell the grilling hamburgers, watched Clyde drag the pups out to the backyard and shove the plywood barrier across the dog door. Clyde turned to look at Harper.

“Wilma says you were asking her some questions about Shamas Greenlaw’s relatives. What are you working on?”

“Simple curiosity,” Harper said shortly.

Clyde raised an eyebrow.

“For the last week or so, we’ve had a rash of shoplifting. Petty stuff.”

“The past week,” Clyde said.

“About the same length of time that Shamas’s relatives have been camped up at the Moonwatch. I’m just a bit curious.”

“Same kind of curiosity that took you sliding down Hellhag Canyon the other night.”

“What’s this, some kind of cross-examination?”

Clyde just looked at him.

“That trip down the canyon was well worth the trouble,” Harper said.

Clyde said nothing.

“I got a phone tip. Okay?”

Clyde’s gaze flickered.

The toaster popped the buns up. Clyde snatched them out and began busily to butter them.

Harper sipped his beer, watching Clyde. “Maybe I didn’t give you all the details. The night I went down the canyon, I get down to the wreck, my torchlight picks out a couple of scrape marks in the earth, where my men hadn’t stepped.”

Clyde dished up the burgers and put them on the table. Harper reached for the mustard. “There were pawprints on top of the scrapes. Big pawprints. And a small set of prints, like maybe a… squirrel.”

“You saw animal prints,” Clyde said.

“On top the animal prints was the clear print of a jogging shoe.”

“So someone went down the canyon. People go down there to hike. Naturally a hiker would be curious, seeing a wrecked car, particularly a vintage Corvette. Pity, to wreck a nice car like that.”

“To say nothing of getting dead in the process,” Harper said dryly.

“So you found a shoe print,” Clyde said with less rancor. “And…?”

“Portions of the same print leading to the brake line, and two going away from it. Fragments, but enough to show a grid.”

Clyde put down his hamburger and paid attention.

“Several of the prints had been stepped on by the diamond pattern of my men’s boots-both those men wear the same brand of boots. Someone besides my men was down there,” Harper said, “just after the wreck. First, some kind of animals came prowling, directly after the wreck. Then a man wearing jogging shoes-those sets of prints were laid down before my men arrived-and my men were on the scene not ten minutes after the accident.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Harper looked hard at Clyde. “I’m saying that the brake line could have been switched after the wreck. That there’s evidence it may have been switched. Why are you so defensive?”

“Why would I be defensive?”

Harper shrugged and sipped his beer. “Maybe those two pups belonged to the dead man. That would explain why they were roaming around Hellhag Hill where you said you found them. Or maybe they belonged to the guy in the jogging shoes, maybe they followed him down the hill, were milling around while he switched the brake line.”

“That’s a lot of conjecture. I’ve never heard you-“

“All conjecture, so far. All bits and pieces. I’m simply playing with the possibilities. Say the pups wouldn’t follow him back up the canyon, say they got silly and ran off the way pups will, and later wandered up Hellhag Hill, where you found them.”

“So what does that prove? What does that have to do with the brake line?” Clyde looked hard at Harper. “For that matter, what about the dead man? What have you got on him?”

“I thought I told you. Raul Torres was a PI working out of Seattle.”

“That’s all you told me.”

“Hotshot PI. Irritated the hell out of Seattle PD.”

“Hotshot in what way?” Clyde asked, popping another beer.

“In the way he ran his investigations. Always mouthing off, Seattle tells me. Making people mad.”

Clyde shrugged.

“Seattle’s interested in what Torres might have been working on, down here. Torres’s secretary said he was meeting a girlfriend, but Seattle thinks he was on a case.”

“You have a line on the girlfriend?”

“A Seattle girl, living in San Francisco. Had a connection in Molena Point, a friend down here.”

Joe watched Harper, puzzled. Was Harper not telling Clyde everything? And what, exactly, did that mean?

“Seattle says she’s something of a high roller. Particularly likes yacht cruises.”

“Cara Ray Crisp?” Clyde asked.

Joe relaxed. Harper was just stringing it out.

Harper nodded, and busied himself arranging sliced onions on his burger.

Clyde rose, fetched a jar of horseradish from the refrigerator, and behind Harper’s back cast a scowl at Joe that was deep with meaning, that said, Get out of here. Now. Go out to the backyard, Joe, and catch a mouse.

Joe leaped to the counter and settled down, glaring.

Clyde looked as if he might wring a little cat throat. But he turned back to Harper. “Do you suppose Cara Ray was seeing Torres while Shamas was alive? What kind of case was Torres working?”

“We think it’s possible he was running an investigation on Shamas.”

Clyde couldn’t help but glance at Joe. “What kind of investigation? Women? You mean Lucinda actually-“

“No, Lucinda didn’t hire him. He had apparently been checking into a Seattle machine-tool manufacturer, for some company that got stung on their products. It’s possible Shamas was involved. The secretary wasn’t too sure what it was all about, she said she only does a few letters and the billing. She thought it was some kind of lawsuit.” Harper busied himself with his second burger.

Clyde was quiet.

Joe Grey sat very still, pretending to look out the window into the dark backyard. But beneath his sleek silver fur, every muscle twitched. Max Harper’s words had fired every predatory cell; he was as wired as if Harper had waved a flapping pigeon in his face.

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