Shirley Murphy: Murphy_Shirley_Rousseau_Cat_Coming_Home_BookFi

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Shirley Murphy Murphy_Shirley_Rousseau_Cat_Coming_Home_BookFi
  • Название:
    Murphy_Shirley_Rousseau_Cat_Coming_Home_BookFi
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    HarperCollins
  • Жанр:
    Старинная литература / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2010
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-0-06-201838-0
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    4 / 5
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CAT

COMING

HOME

A JOE GREY MYSTERY

Shirley Rousseau Murphy

For ELT

Joe Cat LeBouef

Lucy

Mousse

Scrappy

Fluffy

And all who went before

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ALSO BY SHIRLEY ROUSSEAU MURPHY

Copyright

About the Publisher

1

FOG AS SOFT as a purr drifted among the twisted oaks and tucked down around the weathered roofs of the old hillside neighborhood, blurring their steep angles. On the twisted arm of a sprawling oak, the gray tomcat crouched above the rooftops licking at his fog-dampened fur, his claws kneading idly as he watched the neighborhood below. The old stucco or shingled homes, denizens from an age past, crowded close to one another among their overgrown gardens, descending the hill with dignity, some perhaps still sheltering their original occupants. This early morning, the tomcat was concerned with only one house, with the small, two-story Tudor that, until this week, had stood empty, its tenants long departed.

It was a simple house, and straightforward, its pale plaster walls set within heavy, crisscrossed timbers. A wide bay window at the front revealed a glimpse of the kitchen, and above the kitchen, behind a narrow ledge of dark shingles, opened the wide windows of two upstairs bedrooms topped by a steeply peaked roof. Only the garage roof was flat, out of keeping with the original design as if it had been added on in later years. Replacing, perhaps, the kind of small detached garage common in the age of the first cars, of the little Model A Fords—the kind of shed that would never have held Maudie Toola’s big black Town Car.

From the moment, three days earlier, when Maudie’s Lincoln parked at the curb and then soon the yellow moving van pulled into the drive, Joe Grey had observed the grandmotherly woman with interest. He knew she had fled L.A., some three hundred miles to the south, after the murder of her son and his wife, but it was even more than the murder that piqued the tomcat’s curiosity; it was something about Maudie herself. Something out of keeping, an attitude that didn’t seem to fit this gentle person, an occasional gesture or glance that seemed out of character in the soft little woman.

The tomcat had no clue that his interest in Maudie would soon involve a whole tangle of confusing events besides the recent murders, that a stabbing soon to occur at the state prison and the brutal home invasions that had already descended upon the small village would prove all to be connected in some way to Maudie herself. This morning Joe puzzled only over Maudie as he watched for her to appear, watched for an early light to blaze on in her bright kitchen.

The shooting of Maudie’s son and daughter-in-law had occurred eight months earlier, east of L.A. on a lonely mountain road as they headed up into the mountains north of Lake Arrowhead. Their destination was Maudie’s weekend cabin on the edge of a tiny, man-made lake, where they planned to enjoy the children’s Easter vacation. Only Maudie and the three children—her grandson and her son’s two small stepchildren—had survived; they were the only witnesses.

THEIRS WAS THE only car on the dark and narrow road, they moved through the night between tall stands of shaggy forest, the scent of pine blowing in through their open windows. Deep within the woods they could hear the occasional booming of a barn owl, solemn and intent. Only where the pines thinned for a moment did light from the low moon flicker into the front seat, catching a gleam of Caroline’s honey-colored hair and of Martin’s white baseball cap. Caroline’s two children and Martin’s little boy, Benny, were crowded into the backseat with Maudie, Benny snuggled against his grandma. They were all startled when headlights blazed suddenly into the car from behind them, blasting out of the night as if the overtaking car had snapped out of another dimension. Martin slowed to let the speeding vehicle pass so he could safely make his left-hand turn. Instead of passing, the big pickup cut its speed and pulled alongside, keeping pace with them. Maudie glimpsed the passenger for only a second before she saw the gleam of metal, too, and shoved the children to the floor, crouching down over them as a fiery blast exploded, and another. In the front seat Martin jerked and fell sideways; she could see him between the bucket seats, twisted and slumped beneath the wheel. It all happened in an instant, their car skidding sideways headed for the dense pinewoods. Maudie could see Caroline leaning across Martin’s body fighting the wheel, trying to keep them from crashing, trying to reach the emergency brake. A third shot burst from the big pickup and their car spun out of control, skidded off the shoulder, went over on its side, and crashed into a tree. The engine roared, and flooded, and died. The pickup cut out around them screeching tires, kicking up gravel, and was gone. Silence in the car. Neither Caroline nor Martin moved; all was dark and still.

The couple had been married just four months; Caroline was a widow of two years, her husband having been killed in Iraq. Maudie’s son, Martin, an airline pilot, had filed for divorce when he learned that his wife, Pearl, during his absences, would go off for days leaving Benny alone in the house to fend for himself, the six-year-old child begging meals and spending many nights up the street with Caroline Reed and her two children. When Martin was home between flights, Pearl had seemed a caring enough mother, though her nature was cold. Certainly the couple had had their problems, but Martin had stayed for Benny’s sake—until he learned how much he had ignored of the little boy’s life. Only when he pressed Benny for details had Benny confided that, when they were alone, his mother would drive him out of the house or, if she had company, she would lock him in his room.

Benny was always a quiet child, and Martin berated himself for not seeing clearly the little boy’s pain. What use was it to provide well for his family if he couldn’t take proper care of his neglected child. Stricken and ashamed, he had told Pearl to move out, had gotten a restraining order against her coming anywhere near Benny, had filed for divorce, and had asked Caroline if Benny might stay with her until he found live-in help. Caroline told him the arrangement need not be temporary, that her two kids liked having him there, that that was where Benny felt safe and loved, that was where he wanted to be when he couldn’t be with his daddy. Benny, in his loneliness, had drawn Martin and Caroline together, and nearly a year after Martin divorced, they knew they had fallen in love and would marry.

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