THE FUNERAL was finished. Shamas Greenlaw lay, at last, in his grave. Whether he rested at peace, no one on this earth could say. His cousin Newlon lay next to him, and the family had made a great event of the double funeral. They had ordered matching headstones carved with angels strumming harps, their wings lifted, their eyes cast toward heaven-whether smiling up at the two departing souls, or conveying their regrets as the deceased were cast out in the opposite direction, was equally uncertain.
The funeral had not, as Lucinda feared, been an embarrassing display of bad taste.
She had told Wilma she was afraid Dirken would take over the rosary arrangements, would create a loud, drunken Irish dirge, with loud weeping and louder music, to bid farewell to Shamas. That was why she had planned to meet with Wilma and Father Radcliff the night that she disappeared.
On her way out of the house that evening, to keep the appointment, she heard Dirken calling to her to get a move-on, that it was time for the two of them to leave.
She’d had no intention of taking Dirken. Quickly, she’d slipped out the kitchen door, got in her car, and took off in the opposite direction from the church. She didn’t have time to call Wilma or call the rectory. “I just wanted to be away-from Dirken, from the whole family.”
After Lucinda was released from the emergency room of Molena Point Hospital, the two women had sat at Wilma’s kitchen table late that night. Dulcie, curled up on the rug, had tried to imagine the kind of colorful Irish wake that worried Lucinda, and that the Greenlaws seemed to want, tried to envision the long-winded and drunken eulogies, as Lucinda described to Wilma.
“All I want is to get the funeral over,” Lucinda said. “A traditional, solemn rosary and mass and burial, and then to be done with it. As cold as it sounds, Wilma, all I want is to be done with Shamas.
“Funerals aren’t for the dead anyway,” Lucinda said. “They’re for those left behind. And I don’t need it.
“For that matter, what good will a mass and a rosary do Shamas? Shamas made his bed with the Lord. Nothing in Heaven or earth is going to change that.”
Dulcie had been both shocked and amused.
“The empty money bag,” Wilma had said, gently changing the subject, “the bag the pups dug out. I’m surely curious about that.”
Lucinda laughed. “Oh, I knew about that money, long before Dirken came snooping.
“It started several years ago, when Shamas repaired the foundation. Shamas never did a lick of work around the house. His sudden, unexpected project so puzzled me that I snooped into the garden shed.
“I found the sledge he used to break the concrete, the bucket and trowel with which he’d repaired it; and after that day I watched him more closely, paid attention to the musty-smelling money that Shamas brought back from the bank a time or two. To the way, when he returned from Seattle after a business trip, he always had some excuse, early in the morning, to putter in the yard. And I’d get home from my walk, find he had done a load of laundry. Washed the clothes that, I suppose, he’d worn to crawl under the house. He’d say he had brought so much laundry home from his trip, he didn’t like to burden me with such a lot of work.”
Lucinda smiled. “He must have thought little of my reasoning skills. Must have thought I would never crawl under the house myself, but I did. The next time he left for Seattle I put on some old clothes and took a flashlight and went under there.
“I found a patched place about two feet wide, and a little square in the middle of it, maybe six inches across, where fresher concrete had been troweled in. He must have made the big hole the first time, and then just the smaller one, after that-enough to stick his hand in. I got the sledge from the garage and gave it a whack.
“I was surprised it took so little effort, five or six blows, and the smaller patch of concrete fell right out. When I shined my light in, there was a big canvas bag.
“I didn’t understand why he hadn’t put some kind of screw-plug in the foundation, maybe that looked like a cleanout for ashes, something he didn’t need to cement over each time. I suppose he thought a workman might believe it was a cleanout and try to use it, or that someone else might find it and be curious.
“Well, I didn’t like reaching into that dark place, but I could feel the drawstring. I got it open, and I could feel money, that greasy feel of money and the right size. The bag was filled with packets of money. My heart was pounding, I didn’t know if it was from excitement or if I was scared stiff.
“When I pulled out a packet, I had a whole fistful of hundred-dollar bills! Counting those bills made me feel a little faint. I kept twenty of them and stuffed the packet back into the bag. I was afraid to take more.
“He’d left the box of patching cement in the garage.” Lucinda laughed. “It had directions printed on it just like a box of biscuit mix.
“Well, from that time on, when I wanted extra money, that’s where I got it. When Shamas never caught on, I grew bolder, took enough to set up a new bank account in my name, in a bank Shamas didn’t use, as far as I knew. I had the statements sent to a post office box-I guess I did learn something from Shamas.
“I always knew when he put cash in the bag. I could hear him down there tapping-he would leave the radio or TV on in the living room to mask the sound. And he would either have just arrived home from a trip, or have come directly from the post office or from UPS.
“Well, then Shamas died and Dirken was here poking around. I took all the money out of the bag, put some in my account, but most of it in a pillow slip. Left the empty bag in there for Dirken to find-my little private joke.”
Lucinda smiled. “With Dirken sneaking around telling me those silly stories about how the house had dry rot, I found his backbreaking work with the pick and hammer most entertaining.”
Dulcie, too, was highly entertained. She wanted to cheer for Lucinda. Well, she thought, the funeral had come off all right. The Greenlaw clan hadn’t turned the mass into a loud and abandoned display, or turned the rosary into a dirge of unseemly weeping. Nor was there any unchurchly music at the gravesite, such as the marching band Dirken had favored tramping through the cemetery tootling on horns and beating drums; the mass and burial ceremonies had been restrained and tasteful.
If a number of ushers of severe countenance stood in strategic locations about the church and cemetery, scowling at any show of wildly unleashed emotions, that fact may or may not have contributed to the solemnity that prevailed among the worshipers. If those ushers looked like cops in civilian attire, that, too, may have added to the sober atmosphere, as did Captain Max Harper’s presence, where he sat at the back of the church. The Greenlaws, every one, moved through the ceremony as quietly as a gathering of nuns, their bowed heads and clasped hands a solemn credit to Shamas and Newlon Greenlaw.
The Church of the Mission of Exaltation of Molena Pinos, with its lovely eighteenth-century Spanish architecture-its heavy beams and antique stained-glass windows, its hand-decorated adobe walls and whitewashed plank ceilings painted with garlands of age-faded red roses, its thick clay floors-and its ancient traditions, embraced the Greenlaws in their parting ceremony as generously as it had embraced, over the centuries, any number of murderers, confidence men, and horse thieves, whenever such deaths occurred among the general populace.
Cara Ray Crisp did not attend Shamas’s funeral; nor did Sam Fulman. One could only imagine Cara Ray there among the mourners, dressed in the form-fitting little black dress that she had bought for the occasion, her eyes cast down with maidenly grief.
In point of fact, Cara Ray, like Sam himself, spent the hours of Shamas’s leave-taking sitting on a hard steel bench behind the bars of Molena Point City Jail, Cara Ray attired in a gray wraparound dress two sizes too big for her, and prison-made tennis shoes without stockings, and Sam sporting a regulation prison jumpsuit dyed bright orange.
And while the funeral and wake might have been circumspect, the party that followed was another matter. Held in the dining room of the Seaside Hotel, just up the coast, flowing with rich food, Irish whiskey, and loud with Irish music, and paid for with moneys contributed unknowingly by shopkeepers and car dealers across the U.S., the party would have made Shamas proud.
Though Shamas’s ghost, if he had attended this parting event, would have been chagrined at the triumph apparent in the eyes of his grieving widow, would have been shocked at Lucinda’s high color and contented smile. Shamas’s ghost would have boiled like swirling smoke at the sight of Lucinda and Pedric Greenlaw standing close together, their eyes meeting warmly, their hands lightly touching.
Nor would Shamas have liked the ceremony that occurred three weeks later, on the crest of Hellhag Hill.
Not that Lucinda cared what Shamas would think, any more than she cared if the whole village gossiped about her for making such a commitment so soon after her husband’s death, and so very late in her life.
This was her and Pedric’s private moment. People could say what they liked. This was a union that carried no load of past expectations, and none of the face-saving that she had tried to maintain while Shamas was alive. The slate, in short, was wiped clean. Lucinda didn’t give a damn.
Max Harper, avoiding the wake, did attend with pleasure the gathering atop Hellhag Hill-as did Wilma Getz, Clyde Damen, Charlie Getz, and the three cats.
Only the pups were not invited. They had been confined in a box stall in Max Harper’s stable, where they couldn’t tear up anything but the stable walls.
The wedding was held on a bright Saturday afternoon three weeks after Shamas’s funeral. Now was the time for the Dixieland band and champagne and laughter. The party delectables were catered by George Jolly. The ceremony was performed by a local justice of the peace, a jovial man fond of unorthodox weddings, Dixieland music, and cats; the site of the ceremony was the small, grassy plateau just below Hellhag Cave. The nuptials were simple, and brief. The moment Pedric kissed the bride, the band burst out with a marching number that accompanied the guests as they climbed the steep hill to the reception, held on what had been the site of the Moonwatch Trailer Park.
The trailers were gone; the ledge was empty save for one green vehicle of some age, standing at the edge, with a view down Hellhag Hill to the sea.
On the abandoned concrete trailer pads between the brick walkways, small tables and umbrellas had been set up, surrounding George Jolly’s sumptuous buffet table and the bar. The bride and groom sat at a table with Wilma and Clyde, and Charlie and Max Harper. On the table next to them, the three cats took their ease, Joe and Dulcie nibbling from their own party plates, the darkly mottled kit sitting up straight and wide-eyed, watching every amazing activity, hearing every astounding word, looking this way and that, her ears flicking in a dozen directions, trying to take it all in.
From George Jolly’s alley, the kit had gone home with Dulcie. She liked living in a house. She liked life within warm rooms where one was allowed to sleep on soft furniture. She liked the wonderful smells and the surprising, whisker-licking food. She liked this new, loving relationship with humans.
Everything was new and wonderful and amazing to the small, ragged kit. There were no cold winds to bite her. No snarling, cold-hearted cats to haze and snipe at her, to slap her and drive her away from some small nest she had tried to make her own.
She had new friends. She would soon have a new home. Far more adaptable than a human, perhaps, she had launched herself into this new life with all claws grabbing.
But now suddenly she was all tired out. Too much ceremony. Too much talk. Too many new things happening. Surfeited with amazements, the kit curled up on the table and fell immediately and deeply asleep. She slept stretched out with great and trusting abandon, her long bushy tail hanging down over the side of the table, her whole being relaxed into a mass of ragged fur. She looked, with her black-and-brown fur sticking out every which way, more like a moth-eaten fur scarf lying across the table than anything alive.
Lucinda reached quietly to pet her. To Lucinda, the kit was a wonder, a sweet charmer who soon would be their own, hers and Pedric’s. Stroking the kit, and looking around her at the shelf of land that would hold their new home, Lucinda felt deeply content.
The hillside setting would accommodate very nicely a small, rambling structure designed to fit their needs, just herself and Pedric and the kit and the feral cats they hoped they might care for.
Lucinda did not know that the tattered kit’s clowder had moved on; it didn’t matter, there would be other cats.
The house would be designed so the kit would have her own aeries and tall perches among the rough-hewn beams, and of course she would have soft couches to nap on.
Lucinda had not needed the cash soon to come from the sale of her house to Brock, Lavell & Hicks to buy this land; she had used other money for that. Money, she told most people, that she had saved, over many years, from her household allowance. And who was there to say different?
Max Harper listened with some interest to the couple’s plans for their new home; but he was quiet. He seemed, to Joe Grey, particularly withdrawn. Ever since the capture of Sam Fulman-except for that grin of discovery and triumph that Joe had seen when Harper found the evidence in Hellhag Cave-Harper had seemed unusually edgy and stern.
Harper had once told Clyde that when a cop stumbled across facts that added up to the impossible, such a thing might put him right around the bend. That if a cop started believing some of this far-out stuff, he could be headed for the funny farm.
Harper’s late wife, Millie, a detective on the force when she was alive, had handled the nutcases, the saucer sightings and souls returned from the dead. Harper said that when Millie got a case that she couldn’t explain away rationally, it gave them both the creeps.
Clyde and Wilma had passed off the cats’ attacking Sam Fulman as animal hysteria, triggered by the wild leaping and barking of the two pups: the frantic pups had gotten the cats so keyed up that their adrenaline went right through the roof. The two cats went kind of crazy.
Harper might believe them. And he might not. Harper knew animals, he knew that the overexcitement of one creature could infect the animals around him.
He had appeared to buy the story.
But with Harper, one never knew.
The cats watched the bride and groom depart in a flurry of confetti and rice, with tin cans tied to the bumper of Lucinda’s New Yorker, setting out for a few weeks traveling up the California and Oregon coasts.
George Jolly served another round of champagne to a handful of lingering guests. Max Harper settled back, watching Clyde and Wilma and Charlie. The three were filled with questions.
“Long before Shamas drowned,” Harper said, “Torres had gotten friendly with Cara Ray, as a source of information in his investigation of Shamas’s swindling operations. Of course he was investigating Fulman, too, on the same cases.
“Somewhere along the line Torres, checking on Shamas’s bank accounts in half a dozen names, must have realized that Shamas was taking in far more money than he was depositing or laundering, stashing it somewhere. Very likely he knew about Shamas’s reputation among the Greenlaw family for burying money.
“Torres got pretty tight with Cara Ray, picking up bits of information from her. When he heard, from Seattle PD, that Shamas had drowned, he called her.
“Maybe he thought she knew about the money, knew where it was, maybe thought they could join up. That’s the way we read it. If so, that was the moment he stepped over the line from investigation to the other side, thinking how to get his hands on Shamas’s stash. What Torres didn’t know was that Cara Ray was also seeing Sam Fulman.”
Harper paused to light a cigarette. “Assume Cara Ray knew about the money and played Torres along. There’s some indication that she thought Torres was tight with Seattle police, that he might suspect she and Fulman killed Shamas. Say she gets scared. Couple that with the fact that Fulman knew Torres was investigating him along with Shamas, and you have two people wanting Torres out of the way.
“When Torres takes off for L.A., on an investigation and to pick up the antique Corvette he’d bought from a dealer down there, they figure he’ll make a little detour into Molena Point to look for the money. They decide to do him.
“Cara Ray honeys Torres up and makes plans to meet him in Molena Point on his way back from his LA. investigation, have a few romantic days together.
“That early morning, the motel took a phone call to Cara Ray’s room. Operator heard a man answer. The call was from a woman, at about four A.M. There’s no record of the caller’s number; it was local. We have a witness who saw Torres leave the motel at four-thirty, in the Corvette.
“None of the maids had seen Cara Ray for maybe twenty-four hours. We found a note in her room: ‘Honey, my sister’s sick. Going to run down to Half Moon Bay. Back late tomorrow night.’
“She has a sister there, but she hadn’t been sick, hadn’t seen Cara Ray for several months. She lied at first to cover for Cara Ray, but then decided she didn’t want her own neck in a noose.”
Harper smiled. “So much for family loyalty.
“Very likely Cara Ray went up to Fulman’s trailer, called Torres from there, said she had car trouble, wanted him to come get her.
“Say Fulman is down on the highway in the fog, waiting for Torres’s Corvette. He’s sitting there ready to hit a blast on the horn, or maybe parks his car across the road-something to make Torres put on the brakes hard at that curve, squeezing out the brake fluid.
“There were skid marks on the road, but not enough other markings to make much of a picture. However,” Harper said, “we have the cut brake line, with Fulman’s prints on it. We have Torres’s billfold, which was removed from the Corvette along with the brake line, before my men got there that morning.
“The lab found, along the broken edge of glass from the car window, particles of leather from the wallet. Besides Torres’s own prints on the leather and plastic, we have a good partial print for Fulman.”
Joe and Dulcie couldn’t help smiling-and could hardly help laughing at the expression on Clyde’s face. They didn’t have to whisper,
“We have a pair of Fulman’s shoes from the trailer,” Harper said, “and casts of the same shoes at the scene. Enough,” the captain said, easing back in his folding chair, “to prosecute Fulman for Torres’s murder. And maybe enough to prosecute for Newlon Greenlaw’s death. And enough hard evidence, as well, to take Fulman to court on several counts of fraud. Both Washington State and the Feds want him for the machine-tool scams he and Shamas were working.”
“But what about George Chambers,” Clyde said. “Was it Fulman who stabbed Chambers?”
“No prints on the knife,” Harper said. “And Chambers didn’t see his attacker. There may not be enough there to make anything.” Harper didn’t seem to want to talk about Chambers.
Joe and Dulcie glanced at each other, wondering if Chambers had seen Fulman and Cara Ray kill Shamas? If he had not been asleep in his cabin, after all? If Harper might be protecting Chambers as the only remaining witness to the murder of Shamas Greenlaw?
“But then,” Charlie asked, “did Fulman try to kill Pedric because he knew about the bag of money?”
“I’d guess the whole family knew there was stash hidden somewhere. That they just kept out of Dirken’s way, that it was Dirken’s call, and that they knew they’d get their cut. No, I’m guessing he tried to kill Pedric because Pedric was getting too friendly with Lucinda.
Tubman might have been afraid Pedric would clue Lucinda in on the scams they were running, and that she would come to us, turn him in.
“When Fulman attacked Pedric, he most likely thought he’d killed him.”
Joe and Dulcie looked at each other and turned away smiling. Harper would never know that the one witness to that attack and Newlon’s murder slept on the table only a few feet from him-a witness who would never face a jury in a court of law.
Joe, licking his shoulder, caught a glance from Clyde, a pitifully chastened look that made Joe want to roll over laughing. Clyde’s misjudgment and embarrassment provided a frame of mind that, if Joe played his cards right, should be good for several weeks’ worth of gourmet dinners from Jolly’s, to say nothing of an improved breakfast menu.
Wilma, on the other hand, had the same smug, I-told-you-so look as the cats. She and Harper had nailed nine members of the Greenlaw clan, including Dirken, on fraud charges across the country from Molena Point to North Carolina. The fact that her old, unreformed probationer was behind bars, as well, and likely to stay there, didn’t hurt her mood, either.
Wilma had terminated her investigative position at Beckwhite’s, laying all future problems back in the lap of Sheril Beckwhite, and had returned to the library, along with Dulcie. Joe had to say, the moods of both were improved. Dulcie, in fact, was wildly cheerful. Whatever problem she’d had, to make her so moody, seemed to have vanished when the little tattered kit came to stay with her and Wilma-though even the pups had driven away some of Dulcie’s scowls and tail-lashings.
It might be, Joe thought, that the pups had found a permanent home. At least maybe Selig had. Selig’s silliness seemed a challenge to Max Harper. The pup got along very well with Harper’s three horses, too, running and playing with them in the pasture.
Charlie seemed reluctant to part with Hestig. She’d said twice, that week, that she might look for a house with a yard.
Joe knew he had been staring at Charlie. She rose, reaching to stroke Dulcie. “Come on, cats. Come and walk with me.”
The three cats dropped down from the table and galloped after her, racing past her as she climbed the steep hillside.
Sitting high atop Hellhag Hill like any four friends out for a walk, Charlie and the cats looked down at the little tables and umbrellas below them, where the last wedding guests lingered, all so small they looked like dolls arranged from a child’s toy set. Beyond the umbrellas, out upon the sea, a billion suns winked and danced across the whitecaps.
To the north shone the rooftops of the village, muted red and pale, drawn together by the dark oaks, then the green hills rolled away toward the low mountains, their emerald curves punctuated with tree-sheltered houses, with little gardens and pale stone walls.
Among the hills, the cats could see Harper’s acreage, his white house and barn and the roof of the hay shed, the fence lines as thin as threads. Three dark shapes moved slowly across the green field where Harper’s gelding and two mares grazed. Two smaller, pale shapes were busy beyond them-deer foraging among the horses.
They could see, down in the village, Joe’s own street, Clyde’s dark roof that always needed shingles, and, across Ocean past the courthouse tower, Wilma’s pale new shake roof and a glimpse of her stone chimney. They could see the red tile roofs of Beckwhite’s Automotive Agency and Clyde’s repair shop, marking the spot where the cats had tracked their first killer- and where they’d had to dodge bullets. They’d been mighty glad to be alive when that party ended. A lot had happened since they saw Samuel Beckwhite struck down in the alley behind Jolly’s Deli.
Below Harper’s home lay the old Spanish mansion with its little cemetery, and farther to the north the old folks’ home. Beyond these, nearer the village, they could see where painter Janet Jeannot had died, where her studio had burned, and had been rebuilt long after Janet’s killer was prosecuted.
Swift movement pulled them back to Harper’s pasture. The two deer were running full out, as if something had startled them.
But they moved strangely, for deer. Too low to the ground, and no leaping.
“The pups,” Charlie said. “They’ve broken out of their stall.”
The cats pictured solid wood walls shredded, perhaps a door latch broken. Running, the pups vanished in a valley. It was only a moment until they came flying up over the rise below Hellhag Hill. Perhaps they were drawn by the music and by the human voices and laughter.
Racing up the hill, they made straight for the reception, crashing in among the tables, overturning empty champagne bottles, snatching food from the buffet. Clyde and Harper moved fast to corral them.
“What a mess they are,” Charlie said, looking at Dulcie and Joe. “What made them attack Fulman like that? Confusion? Selig was terribly confused by that man-he wanted to be friends, then he growled and barked at him.”
Charlie smiled. “Hestig just growled and barked. But they’re good pups. They’ll settle down. They’ll grow up to be good dogs.”
“Well,” Charlie said, “the pups helped save the day for Lucinda.” She grinned at Joe Grey. “You cats did fine work. All those letters from Fulman’s trailer. The letters, the ledger, and the shirt. And, with the pups, I know you saved Lucinda’s life.”
The cats did not reply. They were still shy with Charlie. No need to tell Charlie that it was the kit who had found the two crucial pieces of evidence, or that it was the kit who had identified Fulman as Newlon’s killer.
Charlie might learn, one day, the talents of the tortoiseshell kit; Charlie was so open-minded for a human, so eager to understand. But she didn’t need to know right away.
And the kit? Dulcie had the feeling that this bright-eyed, ragtag, bushy-tailed kitten might have huge wonders to show them all. To show her and Joe, and show those humans like Charlie-show the innocent and uncorrupted of the world, who had the courage and heart to believe.