FULMAN HAD left the kitchen light burning; it cast a greasy yellow glow across the gold-and-black decor and the fake mahogany paneling. The plastic bag was no longer on the table; only wet rings remained where Fulman and Cara Ray had set their glasses. Sniffing at the glasses, Dulcie lifted her lip in disgust. “Take the paint off a fire truck.”
“It’s here,” Joe said from beneath the table. He backed out, pulling the bag. Peering inside to be sure the papers were still there, he left it in the middle of the floor and galloped to the bedroom, where he had seen a cell phone on a shelf beside the bed.
“Joe, Cara Ray left her purse, they’ll be coming back.”
Joe paid no attention. Pawing open the phone, listening for the dial tone, he punched in the number. The phone’s small buttons made it hard for a cat to hit the right digit. These manufacturers that called their products user-friendly didn’t have a clue.
Lieutenant Brennan answered, evidently relieving the dispatcher. Brennan didn’t want to put the call through; he said Harper could not be reached.
“This is really urgent. There’s no time-“
“He’s on a missing person call-possibly a drowning. That is extremely urgent,” Brennan said coldly, and he again refused to contact Harper.
Well, he needn’t be so surly. But maybe he’d had a bad night. Maybe he had stomach gas, with all the fried food he ate. Hanging up, Joe dialed Harper’s cell phone. He hadn’t memorized Harper’s several phone numbers for nothing; though sometimes the connection on the cell phone wasn’t too good.
Harper answered; he sounded gruffer than usual, short-tempered and preoccupied. Joe described the papers and ledger they had found that linked Fulman to Shamas Greenlaw’s scams and maybe to his death. “Most of the papers are in a hole behind his closet, you have to pull the wallboard off. But the ledger and the most important letters, Fulman put in a plastic bag- meaning to take them with him. He’ll be back here any minute, to get them.”
“What do you mean, linked to Shamas Greenlaw’s death?”
“Fulman and Cara Ray Crisp pushed Shamas overboard; I heard them talking about it. And with Cara Ray’s help, Fulman killed Raul Torres-caused the accident that killed him.”
“You’ll have to give me some facts,” Harper snapped. Joe could picture the captain in his squad car, scowling at the phone as he drove. Joe would not, at one time, have made so bold as to expect the police captain to act on his word alone, without proof. But since the first murder that the cats had been involved with, all the information they had passed to Harper had resulted in arrests and convictions. Every phone call Joe had made had helped the department; he and Dulcie had furnished Harper with information from conversations that the police would not be in a position to hear, discussions the police had no reason to listen to, and for which they would have had no legal right to employ sophisticated electronic equipment-yet conversations that held the key to solving the crimes in question.
“I can’t give you any proof, Captain. From what I overheard tonight, Shamas Greenlaw didn’t pitch over the boat’s rail unassisted. Fulman and Cara Ray did the job; then, because Raul Torres grew suspicious, Fulman set Torres up to die. Fulman stabbed George Chambers and left him for dead. He killed Newlon Greenlaw-hit Newlon with a rock, and he injured Pedric Greenlaw, went away thinking he’d killed Pedric.”
“That’s a long list. Who is this? I can’t run an investigation on anonymous tips like this,” Harper said irritably.
“My tips have been useful in the past, Captain.”
“Will you give me your name, give me a number where I can reach you?”
“You know I can’t do that. Never have, never will. But I just witnessed, in Sam Fulman’s trailer, a direct confession that incriminates both Fulman and Cara Ray Crisp. You’ll have to take my word.
“However,” Joe said, loving to play Harper along slowly, “there is a bit of proof. Fulman’s shirt, a red-and-brown plaid flannel, that is wadded up in his laundry on the closet shelf, is spotted with tiny flecks of dried blood. I’m willing to bet it’ll turn out to be Newlon Greenlaw’s blood.
“Right now, Fulman and Cara Ray are searching Pedric’s trailer, looking for hidden money that they think was lifted from under the Greenlaw house. Two dogs-those dogs that Clyde Damen keeps-dug out an empty bag this afternoon, evidently found it just after the quake, in the cracked foundation.
“Fulman is convinced that it had contained money buried by Shamas. He told Cara Ray that Shamas always buried money, that Shamas called it his tax-free account.”
Harper was silent for so long that Joe thought he’d lost the connection. But then, in a dry, tight voice, “I’m on my way up there. Why don’t you hang around?”
“I’m taking the grocery bag with me, Captain, before Fulman comes back. But the laundry is in the closet, the plaid shirt and, under it, one sample letter and one receipt.
“The bag I’m taking contains ten year’s worth just like them. I’ll leave it in the cave, say, twenty feet back from the entrance, in whatever crevice is handy. White-plastic grocery bag. Should be easy to spot.”
Joe hung up before Harper could accuse him of tampering with the evidence. He stiffened as a ripping noise exploded in the bathroom.
“They’re coming,” Dulcie hissed. “We can’t use the front door. Come on-I ripped the screen off.”
He started to drag the bag toward the bathroom, then leaped back to the bed, took the phone clumsily in his mouth, nearly unhinging his jaws, and shoved it in with the letters. Hauling the heavy bag toward the bathroom, he left it in the hall long enough to slip into the closet and rub his shoulder back and forth across the dusty plywood panel where their pawprints were incised. It was possible Harper would send forensics up here to get fingerprints, depending on what came down. If the officers picked up pawprints, so be it-but he hoped they didn’t. That had been a professional hazard as long as he and Dulcie had been at this clandestine business.
Dragging the bag into the bathroom, he saw that Dulcie had gotten the glass open. It was a tiny little window. Pulling the plastic bag between them, up onto the sink, they barely got it through. As they squeezed through after it, Dulcie caught her breath.
“Look,” she breathed, staring away down the hill.
Down on the highway, two black-and-whites were parked along the shoulder. The cats could see officers moving along the lower cliff. “What are they doing?” Dulcie said softly. “They can’t be here already to answer your call. What’s happening?”
But Joe’s mind was on the package. On the ground below them, its stark white plastic reflected light where there was no light. If Fulman came around behind the trailer, he couldn’t help but see it.
They heard, behind them, the trailer door open. They flew out the window as Cara Ray’s soft tread came down the hall. Landing hard in the darkness, grabbing the bag, they hauled it underneath the trailer, against a rear wheel.
They were crouched beside the wheel, trying to punch in the number for North Carolina information, when Joe saw, standing between two trailers, a dark figure nearly hidden: a tall, slim man, his dark jacket and pants fitting neat and trim-a uniform. A cop. And the man’s lean, easy stance was unmistakable.
Every hair down Joe’s spine stood at attention. Harper couldn’t be here so soon-he had barely hung up the phone from talking to Harper. “Dulcie, Harper’s out there-“
But Dulcie was busy speaking to an operator three thousand miles away. He listened to her make several calls, then she looked up at him, her green eyes wide and dark. “I got a disconnect for Bernside Tool and Die. No such number.”
“Shh. Keep your voice down. Dulcie…”
“The special operator couldn’t tell me how long it might have been since that was a good number, if ever.” She licked her paw. “Those Bernside Tool and Die invoices were dated just a few months ago.”
“Dulcie, Harper’s here.” Joe crouched, watching Harper’s feet coming toward them, up the brick walk, the police captain moving swiftly and silently in the shadows. But Dulcie was dialing again, speaking in a whisper, asking information for the number of Valencia Home for the Elderly.
“I can’t speak any louder. Please listen.” She asked the operator several questions, then looked up at Joe.
“No listing. Not in Greenville, North Carolina.”
Before he could stop her, she had dialed again, and asked for a special operator, and was laying out a long list of questions. She hung up at last, dropped the phone into the plastic bag. “There is no Valencia Home for the Elderly,” she whispered. “Not in Greenville, South Carolina, either. Not in any nearby city.”
“Dulcie, Harper’s standing just on the other side of this wheel, at the bottom of the steps.”
She paid attention at last, creeping out to look. Above them, they could hear Fulman and Cara Ray arguing-the floor must be thin as paper.
“Harper’s going to knock on that door,” Joe said, “and we-“
“We, what?” she hissed. “No one knows we’re under here. And if they did…? We’re cats, Joe.
She asked several questions, and hung up, grinning.
“They never heard of Valencia Home for the Elderly. They suggested I try Greenville, South Carolina. I told them I’d already done that, that it was the same story.” She began to purr. “Fake nursing home, fake machine-tool business. I can’t wait for Harper to find these letters.”
“He isn’t going to find them if we don’t hike them out of here and stash them. I don’t…”
There was a knock at Fulman’s door, then soft, sliding footsteps above their heads, as if Fulman had slipped off his shoes, approaching the door quietly. They heard Cara Ray mumble.
“Don’t be stupid,” Fulman hissed. “Why would a cop-?”
“They know something, Sam. Oh my God-“
They heard rummaging from the area of the dinette. “Where is it? Where the hell is it, Cara Ray? What’d you do with the papers?”
“Forget the papers. I don’t have them. I want out of here.”
“Where did you put them? What the hell-?”
“I didn’t touch the damned papers!”
“Keep your voice down. What the hell! Has that damn cop been inside? He can’t do that. What about my rights!”
“I want out, Sam. I don’t-“
“And how would you suggest we do that without walking right into him? Go out through the roof?”
“A window-the bathroom window’s open.”
“It’s the only window on that side, Cara Ray. Except the kitchen window. They’re both dinky. You might squeeze through, but I can’t. Go on if that’s what you want.”
From between the wheels, the cats could see, on the little porch, Max Harper’s size eleven police-issue black oxfords. They heard Cara Ray in the bathroom, fiddling with the window. But suddenly right above them came a sharp, metallic click. The kind of businesslike double click of heavy metal, as when someone slips a loaded clip into an automatic.
Joe leaped at the phone and slapped in Harper’s number, praying he’d answer.
He got the little recording that informed him the phone was not in use at this time. Harper had turned it off, to avoid it ringing as he stood watching outside Fulman’s door.
But maybe Harper had heard the click, too. He had moved off the porch fast, backing against the wall. The door was flung open.
Stepping out onto the porch, Fulman looked down at Harper. The cats didn’t see a gun. Fulman’s hands hung loose.
“You remember me, Fulman. Captain Harper, Molena Point Police. I’d like to talk with you.”
Fulman stepped back into the trailer. Harper moved in behind him. The door closed.
No sound came from within. The cats strained to hear. Joe made one more hasty call, whispering, then they fled down the hill, dragging the grocery bag, the plastic shining stark white in the darkness-it would look, to a casual observer, as if it was hurrying down under its own power; the cats would be only shadows. Backing down the hill, hauling it along together like a pair of bulldogs, their teeth piercing the plastic, the thin plastic tearing on rocks and bushes, they got it down at last between the boulders and into the mouth of the cave.
In the wind they heard no sound from up the hill, not Harper’s voice or Fulman’s. Whether the silence portended good, or signaled that Harper was in trouble, they had no way to know. Hauling the bag into the cave, they tried to gauge twenty feet, then to find, in the blackness, a crevice or niche in which to stash the evidence. Joe didn’t like being so far beneath the earth. As they moved deeper still, all sounds from without faded to silence.