20

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THE EVENING was dark in human terms. But to Joe and Dulcie the cliffs and the sea and the house trailers that rose above them were as indistinct and faded as an old, worn movie projected with a failing bulb.

Beneath the looming trailers, wind soughed between the greasy wheels.

They saw no light in any trailer except far down at the end, where a lone square of yellow spilled onto the asphalt; thin voices came from that direction.

They had not found the tortoiseshell kit.

Approaching Sam Fulman’s trailer, they studied its black panes and tightly closed door. The wind shook and rocked the big, wheeled home, snapping its white metal sides. Above the sporadic rattling, they listened for some sound from within.

Only the wind.

Leaping at the doorknob, grabbing it between raking claws, Joe swung, twisting it. Kicking the door open, he dropped inside.

Crouched on the dirty linoleum, they listened again. The dark, chill interior had a hollow, empty feel. Joe sniffed at a shirt that hung over a chair, its wide, red and green stripes resembling a circus tent-a shirt they had seen Fulman wear. And now they knew his smell, from their encounter in Lucinda’s yard.

“Ease the door closed,” Dulcie whispered. “Someone’s out there; I can hear him walking.”

Joe pushed the door-he didn’t mean to latch it. But the wind took it, and the sudden slam sounded like thunder. Leaping away, the cats looked for a place to hide.

There was no space under the couch or under the bed, both were built atop drawers. Every inch of the trailer was filled with cupboards and drawers made of dark, wood-grained plywood, with here and there a dead panel. The footsteps approached, stopped just outside.

No use trying to conceal themselves in the shower; the curtain was transparent. They fought the closet door, but couldn’t open it. As the visitor came up the steps, they dived behind the bed’s bolsters. Crouched among the dusty upholstery, they were gently rocked as the trailer, itself, was rocked precariously in the twisting wind-they felt as if they were adrift at sea.

They heard the door open and peered out from behind the bolster as Dirken stuck his head in.

“Sam? Sam, you there?”

When no one answered, Dirken entered. “Fulman? You here?”

Receiving no reply, Dirken walked the length of the trailer, looking into the bathroom, the bedroom, and the closet; he moved warily, as if he had heard the front door close.

At last, deciding he was alone, he began to snoop. There was no other word for his stealthy prodding, as he opened the closet and rummaged among Fulman’s clothes; turning away, he left the door ajar. Returning to the kitchen, he pulled out drawers and opened the cupboards, examining the contents of each; every few minutes he stepped to the window to look out. He seemed to find nothing of interest in the kitchen except some small cellophane packets. Tearing off the wrapping, he stood munching; the cats could smell peanut butter. He picked up a magazine from the table and leafed through it, grinning-then from somewhere down the row of trailers, a door slammed.

Dirken left the trailer quickly, shutting the door without a sound.

“What was he looking for?” Dulcie said. “Not the money; he knows Lucinda has that.” She sneezed from the dust in the bolster.

Joe turned to look at her. “What if Fulman and Lucinda made off with the money together-to keep it from the rest of the family? Or to hide it from the IRS? Maybe Dirken thinks they stashed the money here?”

Dulcie looked back at him, her eyes gleaming like black moons. “But what about Cara Ray? Did they cut her out?”

“Why not?” Joe shrugged. “What if Cara Ray’s not what we think? What if she came here to get the goods on Fulman? Maybe from the start was working with Torres on his investigation?”

“But the way she talked-as if she-” Dulcie sighed.

“This stuff makes my head ache. Come on, Joe, let’s toss this place and see what we can find.”

Fighting the ornate latches that had been designed to keep the cupboards and drawers closed when the vehicle was in motion-and apparently designed to keep out nosy cats-they pawed into every inch of the trailer, looking for money, for bloodstained clothes, possibly for the crude weapon that had killed Newlon. The gold-and-black linoleum beneath their paws, the gold alligator couch and thick maroon carpet and cloth-of-gold drapes amused Dulcie. “I wonder-did he plan the decor himself?”

Springing to the kitchen counter, she pawed through the dish cupboard, through canned goods and a small stack of clean shirts and underwear. She found nothing to interest the police.

Joe, investigating the clothes hanging in Fulman’s closet, leaped to the high shelf, where the laundry was wadded. Flehming at the sour, musty stink, he gave a ragged mrrrowr of discovery.

Dulcie sprang up beside him. Pawing through Fulman’s dirty clothes, they smelled human blood.

“Here,” Joe said, fishing out a plaid flannel shirt.

The front and sleeve smelled of blood and, hardly visible in the red-and-brown squares, were tiny splashes of dried blood.

With a clever paw, Dulcie began to fold the shirt into a packet small enough to carry in her mouth. “Better leave it,” Joe said. “For Harper to find, where the killer left it.” He leaped down, among a tangle of shoes.

“What if Fulman comes back? What if he has second thoughts, decides to get rid of it?”

“Leave it for the moment, Dulcie. Look at this.”

She dropped down beside him.

At the side of the closet, a bottom panel was loose, the screw holes in the plywood enlarged so they were bigger than the screws; the panel appeared secure until you looked closely.

Sliding and lifting the plywood between them, the cats pulled it off, easing it down onto the carpet.

Its dusty surface recorded pawprints as Joe slipped into the dark recess.

There was a long silence. Soon he peered out at Dulcie, flicking his whiskers in a broad grin.

He backed out dragging a cardboard folder, one of those rust-colored accordion numbers meant for the organization, by the neatniks of the world, of their paid bills and canceled checks. Behind Joe, in the gloom, loomed four white shoe boxes.

The cats dragged the boxes out into the little hall where faint starglow seeped down through the trailer windows. They opened the folder to find bank receipts that were, at the moment, of little interest to them. The first box they clawed open held letters that did not seem pertinent. But under these lay a small black ledger, each page headed by a proper name, above columns of dates and numbers-Fulman had kept careful financial records. But of what?

“Records of his scams?” Dulcie said. Pawing through the box, they were aware of increasing sounds beyond the trailer, of women’s voices. Clawing open the last bundle of letters, their eyes widened.

The return addresses were all the same: Shamas Greenlaw, at a Seattle Post Office box. The letters were addressed to Sam Fulman, and had been written over a period of approximately ten years.

Sharing out the envelopes between them, they read each letter, looking for clandestine financial deals or for any hint of a scam-leaving, unavoidably, a few innocent tooth and claw marks.

The missives contained nothing more exciting than discussions of family affairs-though it did seem out of character for Shamas to be so concerned about the health and welfare of his great-aunt Sarah. In each communication to Fulman he had apparently enclosed a sizable check, each letter mentioning the amount of the check that was to be deposited to his aunt’s account at her nursing home. At the bottom of each letter Fulman had noted the amount received and the date deposited.

All very efficient.

All displaying a degree of unselfishness that did not seem natural to Shamas Greenlaw.

“And,” Dulcie said, “if he was supporting his aunt, why didn’t he send the money directly to the nursing home?”

The cats looked at each other, and smiled.

“Nice,” Joe said. “Very nice.”

“It’s only conjecture,” she said.

“Yes,” he said, pawing through another box. “And here are the receipts. Valencia Home for the Elderly. Greenville, North Carolina.” He compared the first few receipts with the letters, and with the ledger. The dates and amounts matched. He looked at Dulcie, his yellow eyes as keenly predatory as if the two cats had a giant rat cornered. “Any bets that no such home exists?”

Dulcie grinned; then stiffened as they heard a car pull away and a trailer door slam.

Then silence.

In the next box was a stack of purchase orders from Bernside Tool and Die Works in Spokane, Washington, to a variety of customers. Payments to this company had been made directly by the purchasers. No name appeared more than once. These payments, too, were entered in Fulman’s ledger. Each date coincided, within a few days, with the gifts to Aunt Sarah.

“So,” Joe said, “it was Shamas’s company, and he was donating his income to Aunt Sarah.”

“Sure. Right.” Dulcie fished a letter from the stack, a statement and the matching purchase order. Setting these aside, they pawed the rest of the papers back into their boxes. The cats were inside the closet, maneuvering a shoe box back into the cubbyhole, when the trailer was jolted as if someone had burst through the front door. Glancing around the door as a second jolt hit, they saw the dining chairs flying on their casters, banging into the walls. The closet door slammed closed. Something crashed against it. They heard dishes fall and breaking glass.

When the earth was still again, they felt as if all air had been expelled from the trailer, leaving a gigantic vacuum. As Joe fought the doorknob, they heard, from the far end of the park, scattered cries of distress and amazement.

They worked at the door until they were hissing at each other, but couldn’t open it. When they heard the front door bang open, they thought it was another quake-then wished it had been a quake.

“Fine,” Fulman snarled, stomping in. “Go on back to your suppers. A little jolt never hurt nothing.” The door slammed and a light flared through the crack beneath the closet door-and Fulman’s papers lay scattered, in plain view, up and down the hall.

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