Authors: William Campbell Gault
Cat and Mouse
Open Road Integrated Media
All of the above helped to keep this book from being stillborn.
HERE WAS AN ANCIENT
but glistening bronze Camaro with mag wheels on our driveway when I came home for lunch. I knew that car; it was Corey Raleigh’s, the town’s youngest private investigator. He had studied under me in a way; he had worked for me before starting his own one-man agency in his parents’ garage.
He was a lanky young man with a shrewd instinct for the dollar and a fervent admiration for the fictional exploits of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Lew Archer.
He was in the kitchen, talking with our housekeeper, Mrs. Casey, his surrogate mother.
“Long time no see,” I said.
“I’ve been in Los Angeles,” he explained, “on a case. Man, that’s where the action is, right?”
“Right. That’s why I moved up here.”
Mrs. Casey said, “If you two are going to talk shop, why don’t you talk it out on the deck? I’ll bring our lunch out there.”
Mrs. Casey does not approve of the trade I had practiced in Los Angeles. Nor is she happy about the fact that Corey now practiced it here in San Valdesto.
We sat in back under the shade of the overhang next to the pool. I said, “Your fame must have spread if they called you from L.A.”
He shook his head. “My aunt has a cassette and record store in North Hollywood that’s been robbed a lot. All I did down there was play night-watchman.”
“And that’s what you call action?”
“Of course not! But I had my days free and I made the rounds of some of the agencies down there. Boy, the stories those guys told me!”
“I’m sure at least three percent of them were true. Did you apprehend any burglars?”
He nodded. “Kids, punks. I hated to turn ’em in.” He paused. “I wondered if you had anything going that you needed help on. Things have been kind of slow at the office.”
I shook my head. “Remember, I’m retired, Corey.”
His smile was cynical. “Sure you are. That’s why you renewed your license this spring.”
Then Mrs. Casey came with our lunch, beef stroganoff. For Corey she serves beef stroganoff; for the master of the house it is usually a ham-and-cheese sandwich.
We sat and ate and talked of other things, in deference to Mrs. Casey. Then she went to her room for the first of her daytime dramas on the boob tube and I walked with Corey to the front door.
I closed the door and was two steps away from it when it opened again. Corey stepped back in and said, “There’s a cat on your front lawn and I think it’s dead.” He pointed at a spot at the far end of the driveway.
We walked there together. It was a sleek and slender cat of pale fawn, blue-eyed and short-haired, with darker ears, paws, tail, and face. It was dead; its throat had been cut.
“Jesus!” Corey said. “Some son-of-a-bitch—It’s a Siamese, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “Some kinky kid, probably. Look, don’t tell Jan about this, or Mrs. Casey. I’ll dump it in the trash can. It’s collection day.”
“What kind of kid would do this?”
I shrugged. I could see the collection truck at the far end of the road. I picked up the cat by its tail and put it in the half-filled trash can and buried it with clippings from the full one.
Corey suggested, “Maybe one of the neighbors saw who put it there. Maybe you ought to ask them.”
I shook my head. “It would get back to Jan. Forget it.”
“Never!” he said.
I didn’t have to ask the neighbors. One of them, Bill Crider, was coming across the street toward me as Corey’s car pulled away.
He told me, “I saw you put that cat in the can just now. I thought, when I saw the car go by, it was one of those throwaway newspaper peddlers. If I’d known what it was I would have got his license number.”
“What kind of car was it?”
“An old Plymouth two-door sedan, gray. It had a rumpled left rear fender. Thank God, Sally isn’t home. She’s a cat lover.”
Sally is his wife. I said, “You’d better not mention it to her. The cat’s throat was cut.”
He stared at me. “What kind of creep would—Should we go looking for him? He could still be in the neighborhood. It only happened about ten minutes ago.”
“He must be long gone by now,” I said. “He sure as hell wouldn’t dump it in his own neighborhood. And there aren’t many people driving old Plymouths in this neighborhood, Bill.”
He nodded. “That’s for sure. But there have been two houses burglarized up here in the last week. Maybe we ought to start a neighborhood watch.”
“Maybe. I’ll phone Sheriff McClune. He’s a friend of mine. Did you get a good look at the driver?”
He shook his head. “Damn it, no.” He sighed. “We moved up here from L.A. just to get away from this kind of thing. This was going to be our sanctuary for our senior years.”
“I’ll phone the sheriff,” I repeated.
“Okay,” he said dully. “But I still think we should start a neighborhood watch.”
A sanctuary for seniors. I hadn’t reached that plateau yet; I would have to wait for my sanctuary. Since Hiroshima the only guaranteed sanctuary was the grave.
I phoned the sheriff’s station and McClune was in. I told him what had happened.
“Brock,” he said in an even voice, “we are currently investigating two burglaries in your neck of the woods and you phone me about a dead cat.”
“The cat’s throat was cut,” I explained. “Don’t you think that might indicate the guy is a weirdo?”
“Yes,” he said wearily. “An old gray Plymouth two-door sedan with a rumpled left rear fender? I’ll put out the word. When are we going to play poker again?”
“As soon as Bernie arranges another game.”
“Maybe we ought to have one without Bernie. He
“Not always. I nailed him for three hundred one night.”
“I remember,” he said. “That was eighteen months ago. But hell, we need him, don’t we? We need the challenge.”
“We do. He teaches us humility.”
Lieutenant Bernard Vogel of the San Valdesto Police Department was another of my cop friends. Unfortunately, he is more cop than friend, which is endemic among the boys in blue when they deal with private eyes—or former private eyes. I had learned that in my maiden years in Los Angeles.
The mist began to drift in at about three o’clock. It was a dense fog when Jan got home. It had been a slow and dangerous trip for her down the curving pass from Solvang, she told me, where she had gone to see a client. Jan is an interior decorator working for Kay Décor.
“And what’s new on the home front?” she asked when I brought her her drink.
“Nothing exciting. I was talking with Bill Crider this afternoon. He thinks we ought to have a neighborhood watch.”
“Because of those two homes that were burglarized?”
“They were daylight burglaries,” she informed me. “The prevailing opinion is that they were high school kids.”
I hadn’t known that. I don’t read the local paper.
“At the noon hour, the lunch hour,” she explained. “And what did they steal? No jewelry, no bonds, no paintings, no antiques. Only the cash they found.”
“They must have been kids,” I agreed.
She sipped her martini. I took a swallow of my beer. I asked, “Do you remember that cat you had when we were courting?”
“Was it a Siamese?”
She shook her head. “A Burmese. They look a lot alike. What brought this on?”
“Nostalgia, I guess. I was thinking…we don’t have a cat or a dog, not even a canary.”
“All we have is us,” she said, “us and Mrs. Casey. Isn’t that enough?”
“I guess. But the way things are going these days I’ve been thinking maybe a mean Doberman wouldn’t be a bad investment.”
She smiled. “You and your nyctophobia! Turn on the tube and let’s see what’s going on in Tinsel Town.”
We caught the opening news story on Channel 2 in Los Angeles. The creature known as the Valley Intruder had entered another home in that area, raping and strangling a seventy-nine-year-old widow. That ran his police estimate to fourteen rapes or murders or both.
“Turn it off,” Jan said, “and make me another martini.”
“Coming up,” I said. “Do you notice that the creep invades only those homes that leave a door or a window unlocked?”
“Yes, macho man. But we have you for that, don’t we?”
I gave her my injured husband look and went to get her another martini. I have this chauvinistic feeling that if we ever get the women’s-rights movement rightfully established in this free country we maligned males might finally achieve equality.
We watched “Masterpiece Theatre” on the PBS channel after dinner in the den. Mrs. Casey watched a rerun of
on the tube in her room. Mrs. Casey has cinematic taste; she stays with the golden oldies.
The day’s restlessness didn’t invade the night. I slept soundly, all the doors and windows locked.
Larry Rubin, my bookie, phoned me when we were eating breakfast. He had a hot one, a cinch, running in the sixth at Santa Anita, he informed me. Did I want a piece of the action?
I told him to put me down for a double sawbuck, and asked, “How’s it going with you these days?”
“Great! I’ll be back to my Cadillac days in another month.”
“Maybe even a Mercedes?”
“Jews who buy German cars,” he informed me coolly, “have no memories.”
“Sorry, Larry. No offense meant.”
“And none taken. Any goy who lends me five grand and doesn’t even charge interest has to be a brother. By the way, I was down in L.A. over the weekend and stopped in at Heinie’s. He told me there was some guy down there asking about you. He wanted to know where you had moved to. Heinie told him he didn’t know. I guess he didn’t like the looks of the guy.”
“I’m glad. Heinie is a great judge of character. Let me know if I win,
When I came back to the kitchen Jan asked, “Who was that?”
“Larry Rubin. He has a hot one running at Santa Anita. I told him I’d go for twenty on the nag.”
“I’ll take ten of it. Okay?”
“Yes. Cash, please?” Jan likes to win but resents paying.
She sighed. She got up and went into the living room to get her purse. She came back and handed me a ten-dollar bill. I decided not to tell her what Larry had said about German cars. Jan runs a Mercedes.
It was at Heinie’s, my favorite bar and grille, that I had met Larry Rubin. He was a horse player then, not a bookie. The boys and girls at Heinie’s called him The Wizard Of Odds.
they claimed, could rate a horse or a jock or a track or any significant combination of the three as accurately as Larry. I agreed with that. Larry was the only horse player I’d ever known that bookies tried to avoid.
Unfortunately, like all mortals, Larry had a grandiose view of his skills in other fields of wagering. So he would go to Vegas when he was overly flush and try his skill at blackjack, poker, and roulette.
As any sane gambler knows, Las Vegas is the last place to go if you want to beat the odds. The houses in Vegas arrange their own bizarre odds and they are not designed to give the sucker a break. Suckers are what keep them in business. That is why they court the convention trade. Winners are not welcome in Nevada.
It was when his great gift at picking winners began to fade that Larry decided to move over to the other side of his profession. But Los Angeles is a highly competitive bookie area. He came up here after his last trip to Vegas, along with his bride of two weeks, a Vegas chorus girl. He came up broke. I lent him five thousand dollars for seed money; he paid me back in four months.
I had insisted on the no-interest bit; Larry’s tips had kept me eating in the early days of my chosen trade after leaving the Rams. Owing and being owed; I believe in that.
I waited until Jan went to work before phoning Heinie at his home number. His bar didn’t open until eleven.
“Well, stranger!” he said. “It’s about time! I thought you’d died.”
“Not yet. Larry Rubin told me this morning that some man was asking about me down there.”
“Yeh. Probably a bill collector. I told him I wasn’t sure where you were now, the last I’d heard it was Patagonia. He was a mean-looking bastard, a big guy.”