“WHAT THE hell!” Fulman shouted. The cats heard him heaving broken glass or china, as if into a metal container. “Damned quake! Damn California quakes. I’ll take a North Carolina tornado any day.”

Cara Ray giggled, a high, brittle laugh.

Crouched on the closet shelf beneath Fulman’s dirty clothes, Joe and Dulcie listened to his heavy step coming down the hall.

“And what the hell’s that!”

He stood just outside; they imagined him looking down at the scattered letters and invoices, then they heard him snatching up papers. He stopped once, perhaps reading some particular letter. “Damn it to hell. The quake didn’t do this. Someone’s been in here.”

“Who, lover? What is it? What’s happened?”

He was quiet again, shuffling papers. Outside among the trailers the excited voices had quieted, as if those residents alarmed at the quake had taken Fulman’s advice and returned to their suppers.

“Don’t look like they took nothing,” Fulman said. “Maybe the quake scared ’em off. Check the windows, Cara Ray. See if one’s open or unlocked. Get a move on.” He jerked the closet door open; light from the kitchen blazed in through the rumpled shirts and shorts, beneath which the two cats crouched, as still as two frozen cadavers.

From beneath a fold of laundry, they could see Fulman kneeling below them, pushing papers and boxes back into the hole, his brown hair rumpled, his thin shoulders stringy beneath a thin white T-shirt. Sliding the plywood panel onto its screws, he turned away from the closet but did not close the door. They heard, from the kitchen, a drawer open, and in a moment he returned, carrying a hammer, his thin lips pursed around a mouthful of nails.

Kneeling again, he nailed the panel in place tighter than the surrounding wallboard had ever been secured.

When he had gone, the cats burst forth, panting for fresh air, and peered out where he’d left the door cracked open.

A sickly yellow light burned over the kitchen sink. They could see one of the shoe boxes and the small black ledger on the kitchen table; they watched as he fished a white-plastic grocery bag from a kitchen drawer and shoved the ledger and papers inside.

Dropping the bag on the table beside the empty box, Fulman fetched a bottle of vodka from the cupboard, with two glasses and a can of orange juice.

The cats remained in the closet for the better part of an hour. If the great cat god had been smiling down on them tonight, he’d have provided them with a tape recorder-or an electronic bug hooked directly into Molena Point PD. If ever a murder confession was thrown in their furry faces, this was the moment.

As Fulman mixed the drinks, Cara Ray prowled the trailer. Instead of her little pink skirt, she was wearing form-fitting tights printed with Mickey Mouse, an item she had apparently picked up in some children’s department, maybe as a lark, little-girl clothes that looked far more fetching on Cara Ray than on any child they were made for. Above Mickey Mouse, she was snuggled in a huge chenille sweater the color of raspberry ice cream. Her long blond hair hung loose. Her face was scrubbed clean of makeup, making the tiny blonde look vulnerable and innocent. If she were to appear in court like that, she’d snow any jury.

Sipping her drink, wandering down the narrow hall, she moved into the bedroom, trailing her fingers along the walls and molding, prompting Dulcie to wonder if she had already tossed the cupboards and drawers at some earlier time, and was now pressing for less obvious hiding places. She opened the closet door, her head inches below the cats, stood looking down at the wall where Fulman had nailed up the plywood.

But what was she looking for? Certainly she’d heard from Fulman about the empty canvas bag. But maybe she didn’t believe that Lucinda had the money.

Sitting down at the table, Cara Ray’s glance scanned the ceiling, as if imagining the dead spaces above the thin plywood.

Fulman’s expression was dryly amused. “You won’t find any money in here, Cara Ray.”

She did not look embarrassed, only startled. She looked back at him evenly.

“What I want to know, Cara Ray, is how did she get into that concrete wall? When that wall cracked, in the quake, well, hell, you saw it. That whole wall-as thick as the wall of a federal pen.”

“So how come it cracked?”

“Someone cracked it before the quake.” He looked at her intently. “That old woman had to have help.”

“Whatever. She has the money now.” She paused. “Doesn’t she, Sam?” Beneath the table, Cara Ray’s fist tightened. “Or maybe it was Torres; maybe he got here before he said.”

Fulman shook his head. “I searched his car that morning. He didn’t have nothing. And why would the old woman act like she had the money if she didn’t?”

“I don’t know, Sam. Could Torres’ve come up from L.A. earlier than I thought? Used a second fake name- been in another motel? Could’ve been here all along while I was down seeing my ‘sister’ like I told him? Snooped around that old house, found the money- maybe knew right where to look? Could’ve gone up into that wall from under the house?”

Cara Ray pushed back her long, pale hair. “So when I called him that morning, said that I had car trouble coming back from my sister’s, he’d already got the cash?

“He could have hid it right there in his motel room, the one at the Oak Breeze, even, and I never thought to look. Damn it to hell. I should have tossed his room, before… Before, you know. So where is it now? You think maybe the maid got it, some little bitch sneaking into the dresser drawers and feeling under the mattress? Or maybe,” she said hopefully, “maybe Torres put it in a safe-deposit box.”

Fulman snorted. “Torres wasn’t that fond of banks. And you can’t get a safe-deposit box, Cara Ray, without having a bank account, not in California.”

“So he had a bank account. He traveled up and down this coast! If you’d done some phoning to the banks, you could’ve found out. You had plenty of time, Sam.”

“Don’t snap at me, Cara Ray. I didn’t know the old woman had gotten the money. You’re the one who didn’t toss his room. You’re the one who said the money was in the house wall. Said it was the last thing Shamas told you. If you’d found out exactly where in the damn wall…”

He gulped down a shot of vodka. “Dirken thought it was there. All those repairs. Who knew that old woman could be so sneaky? And then those two damn dogs find the empty bag!”

She held out her glass. “You never even suspected the old woman.”

He slopped vodka into her glass. “Why would I? Her acting like she was about out of it, like she didn’t know nothing about what Shamas did.”

He sat down at the table. “Maybe she didn’t know- until that old fool Pedric told her.”

“That why you tried to do him, Sam?”

“I never thought he’d tell her about the money.”

“So why did you-“

“The Seattle stuff, Cara Ray. He knows about that, from Shamas. I don’t need her prying into that.”

“And now, the old man can still tell her. Thanks to your messing up.” She sucked at her drink. “And probably he will.”

“Well, he doesn’t know about the other.”

“Unless Newlon told-“

“Newlon can’t testify now. And what did he know? Newlon was the one who searched for Shamas, who went down in the sea for him. Newlon was the one who found him, hanging there with his foot tangled in the line-Newlon didn’t have a clue.”

Cara Ray’s face colored with a blush of guilt.

“What the hell? What did you tell him, Cara Ray?”

“I didn’t tell him. He knew there was something, all that scuffling before you shouted that Shamas was overboard. Newlon looked right at me, said, ‘No one would trip over them dogs, Cara Ray. Not Shamas. Shamas was sure on his feet.'”

Fulman shrugged. “Well, he can’t say nothing now.”

Cara Ray’s heart-shaped face fell into a pouting scowl. “I still don’t see why you made all that fuss, hustling those dogs off the boat before you called Harbor Patrol. Seems to me-“

“Because, Cara Ray, they were driving me crazy. I didn’t think I could stand the damn dogs another minute, jumping all over me-cops all over the place, and them dogs underfoot every time you turned around.”

“All the more reason for the cops to believe Shamas fell over them. I still don’t see why you changed your story at the last minute, why you were in such a hurry suddenly to get the dogs out of there.”

“Because, Cara Ray, the cops might think we were all drunk or crazy on drugs, letting those dogs run on deck at a time like that. Who knows, cops might try to slap a manslaughter charge or something on us, for carelessness.”

“That’s a crock, Sam. You don’t believe that.”

But then her eyes widened. She fixed a cold look on him. “Did Shamas have a stash with him? Big money, hidden on the boat somewhere? Is that why you left before the cops got aboard? Is that why you took the dogs off-used them for an excuse? So you could get into Seattle and hide the money before we called the cops?”

She stared hard at him. “Is that it, Sam? The dogs covered for you, while you took the money off?”

Dulcie cut a look at Joe, mirroring his disgust. These people were beyond sick. No matter how big a womanizer Shamas Greenlaw had been, he hadn’t deserved being pushed overboard by these scum.

“Here it is,” Joe whispered, “the whole scene laid out for us, and what are we going to do with it?” He sat up tall on the closet shelf, his yellow eyes burning with frustration.

“Shamas was stupid anyway,” Cara Ray said. “Dogs don’t belong on shipboard. I told him…”

“Well, Cara Ray, they-“

“Filthy beasts, doing their mess all over. I told Shamas I wasn’t cleaning it up.” She widened her eyes at Fulman. “You cleaned up plenty of dog crap. Cleaned it up all the way from Seattle back to San Francisco.”

She looked puzzled. “You get all the way back here with those mutts, then you turn ’em loose. Why did you do that, Sam?”

“Getting too big to handle. Got loose the morning I-the morning Torres wrecked his car. They were wild, jumped out of my car, ran down the road. I figured to hell with ’em, let ’em go. They’d make their way, someone down in the village ‘ud feed ’em-and someone did,” he said. “Anyway, I decided I didn’t want to be hauling them around, right in Newlon’s face. Keep reminding him, keep him all shook up. Not too swift, was Newlon.”

“And that old couple, Sam. That George Chambers. You botched that one, too. Don’t you think the cops-“

“Someone was coming, Cara Ray. Right up the street headed right for me. I thought-Chambers didn’t move. Went limp as a rag. I thought he was dead, Cara Ray.”

“Trouble with you, you try to do someone, and you panic. Decide they’re dead when they’re not. Why do you do that, Sam? We could’ve just skipped. Now you’ve got two men dead and two wounded, and don’t you think the cops-?”

“You do one man, Cara Ray, you might as well go for it. The ones after that don’t count. Besides, the Fulmans and Greenlaws never get caught. Well, caught maybe once in a while, but we always walk. Worst that can happen, the family goes bail and we skip, lose the bail money.”

Fulman smiled. “It’s in the family, Cara Ray. Luck. Plain Irish luck”

Cara Ray watched him nervously. Her scrubbed face was not glowing now; she looked pale, as if she was having doubts about Fulman, as if she was losing her nerve.

But then her eyes narrowed. “I want my share of the money, Sam. I don’t need all this grief for nothing.” Her gaze widened. “Are you sure there ever was any money in that bag? Or was the old woman making an ass of you?”

“Shamas always buried money, Cara Ray. Everywhere he lived. The other women never knew- you’re the first he told.”

“Maybe he was getting senile,” she said, laughing. “I would have sworn Lucinda never knew.”

Cara Ray rose, poured herself another drink, found a box of sugar, and stirred two heaping teaspoons into the vodka-laced orange juice. “You never make it sweet enough.”

She turned on him suddenly. “Maybe Shamas took it all with him on shipboard. Maybe you have it all, Sam.” Leaning over the table, she pushed her face close to his. “How much money did you get, Sam? How much of Shamas’s tax-free stash, as he called it?”

“Don’t be stupid, Cara Ray, you know I wouldn’t cut you out.”

She sat down again, ran her hand down her leg, smoothing her Mickey Mouse tights. “Far as that goes, maybe Pedric and the old woman and their sweet little early-morning walks, maybe they carried the money away then, a little at a time.”

“And hid it where, Cara Ray? In Pedric’s trailer? He’s not that stupid.”

She shrugged. “Maybe buried it, maybe down the hill somewhere, under those rocks.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “And why not his trailer? Brought it right on up here and hid it somewhere in there that even you wouldn’t think to look-maybe inside a wheel? In the water tank or something.”

“I don’t know, Cara Ray, that’s-“

“And now with the old man in the hospital, and his trailer empty, I’d think you’d-“

Fulman rose. “He wouldn’t hide it there, Cara Ray. He’d know we’d all look there. Me, Dirken, Newlon…”

He stood watching her. “But I guess it wouldn’t hurt to smoke it over-now, while he’s out of the way.”

Snatching his jacket from the chair, he headed out the door. Cara Ray gulped her drink and followed him.

And Joe and Dulcie abandoned the closet, intent on their own hurried agenda.


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