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Inspector Paws and the Wonders of Europe
By Rosemary Budd
Copyright © 2013 Rosemary Budd
All right reserved.
Chapter One I'm not the sort of cat that normally jumps at the drop of a hat, but this was no normal day, and I was not my normal self. When the gym bag—with me in it—dropped to the floor, I not only jumped, I'm embarrassed to say, but I yowled at the top of my lungs.
"Shhhhh," Stella hissed. "Do you want them to hear us?"
The presence of Stella, my so-called caretaker, didn't give me any warm, fuzzy feeling of relief. In fact, I'd bet my furry tail she was the one who zipped me into this gym bag. I clawed at the sides of the bag, but my newly clipped nails couldn't penetrate the tightly woven canvas. My back feet caught on one of Ernie's old gym socks and slid out from under me. I sprawled at the bottom of the bag, my nose jammed against something cold and metal—Ernie's Rolex watch. He must have tossed it in the last time he went to the gym and forgot to put it back on. He wouldn't need it now. Dead men had no need of a watch.
They said he died of a heart attack. They said he knocked his heart pills off his desk and wasn't able to get to them. They said it was death by natural causes. The persistent tingling in my whiskers told me that was a load of dirty cat litter. Ernie wasn't the sort to be careless with his heart pills. Hadn't he nearly exploded the day my troublesome tail knocked them off the coffee table? He made it very clear to me then how important those pills were to him and that I had to keep that tail of mine under control.
I'd crawled into the gym bag to escape the crowd of Ernie's so-called friends and relatives who'd invaded our house to mourn his death. At least that was what they said they were doing. It was a strange way of mourning, if you ask me—more like a party. Of course, the humankind have a strange way of doing most things. Scratch my ears and pull my whiskers, the more I try to figure them out the more strange they seem.
Jesse Cook's guitar music wafted up the staircase. That was Ernie's favorite music from his private collection. He never allowed anyone into his study, let alone near his private collection. Ice clinked against the edge of their glasses. They'd broken into Ernie's liquor cabinet. Their voices rose and fell like waves crashing against the rocks. Some even laughed. Sarah's nervous giggle trickled up the staircase, slid under the door, and seeped into the gym bag. I covered my ears with one paw and reached for the cold comfort of Ernie's watchband. Suffering swordfish. You'd think at the very least Sarah would be mourning. Wasn't she Ernie's favorite silly moppet?
"Where's your mother?"
Morris Gilby's booming voice blotted out the rest of the noise. I pressed my paws tighter over my ears. Ernie's law partner was my least favorite of the humankind. Every time he came over, he deliberately stomped on my tail and pretended it was an accident.
"She went upstairs," Stewart answered. As the eldest of Stella and Ernie's litter, he always seemed to feel it was his right to answer for his sister, and Sarah never seemed to mind. "Shall I get her for you?"
Stella had been tottering back and forth on those patent-leather stilts she likes to wear. She stopped abruptly. I peeked through the mesh window of the gym bag. The bright pink of her shirt, reflected ten times over in the mirrored closet doors, dazzled my eyes and made me blink. That was the shirt she bought for the trip she and Ernie had been planning. Ernie hadn't liked that shirt. He told her it made her look like a red hot tamale. Stella tiptoed over to the door and leaned one ear against it.
"No, don't bother," Morris Gilby said. His voice lowered but still rose above the babble below. "You did get her to cancel the trip, didn't you?"
"Finally." Stewart's sigh of exasperation slid under the bedroom door. "I had to really put my foot down, though. Can you believe she'd even think of going off on a trip the day of Dad's funeral?"
Stella stamped one of her black patent stilts into the plush carpeting. She ground her teeth together. "It wasn't my idea to have the funeral on the same day," she muttered. I watched all ten of her reflections stomp over to the bed, fling the flap of her suitcase closed, and zip it shut. Ernie hadn't liked that suitcase with the huge orange poppies plastered all over it. He'd laughed so hard the day Stella brought it home that I thought he'd gotten into my catnip. He reeled around the room with tears running down his face.
"You're not really going to take that, are you?" he asked. He tried to wipe away his tears of laughter with the back of his hand.
"I most certainly am," Stella answered. "It's unique. No chance of getting lost. We'll see who's laughing when my luggage gets there and yours doesn't."
The suitcase thumped down beside me, and I jumped.
"Really sorry about your dad," Morris Gilby said. "I'll miss him."
They all said that, but my tingling whiskers told me one of them was lying. Ernie's death had been no accident. I just needed to figure out which of them was better off now that he was dead.
Morris Gilby? I wanted it to be him, but why would he kill Ernie? As his sole law partner, Ernie's death would cause him a lot of hassle and more work. From what I'd seen of the man, he wasn't the kind to be chasing after extra work. How many times had I heard Stella complain about the long hours Ernie put in while his partner had time to golf and travel and generally slack off?
The family, of course, would get some sort of inheritance. Money was one of those strange things the humankind are so keen on. It seems to have the same effect on them as catnip does on me. I pictured Stewart crazily rolling around in a pile of hundred-dollar bills, tossing them left and right and snarling at anyone who tried to steal one. He was always arguing with Ernie about money. Suffering swordfish. You'd think a man who'd lived for more than thirty years would have learned to fend for himself by now. Penny, his mate, was forever caterwauling about what she didn't have and couldn't live without. The only good thing about that pair was their daughter, Max. Max, at eleven, had taught me that not all of the human young are born to torment cats. She knew how to treat us felines with the honor due.
I crossed Sarah off my list. She would never kill Ernie for money or for any other reason. She'd have to come down from her never- never-land, where everything was sunshine and roses, to do such a dreadful deed. But her tom, Dennis, was a different breed altogether. He wouldn't hesitate to kill if he felt it necessary. Hadn't he been secretly threatening me ever since I moved in with the Claytons? But what reason would he have to kill Ernie? Surely not for money. He always seemed to have more money than any man could possibly need.
"Come along then, Paws."
Stella's whisper broke my concentration. She grabbed the gym bag and lifted me. I slid backward into the sour stench of Ernie's dirty gym socks. His watch strap slipped out of my grasp. Stella tottered across the room and threw open the French doors to the balcony. A blast of summer heat slapped me in the face.
What in fuzzy hair balls was the lady up to now? Whatever it was, I'd bet my last whisker it wasn't good. Forget my macho pride. It was time to holler for help. I clawed at the bag and yowled.
"Shhhhhh, Paws. They'll hear us," Stella whispered.
I yowled even louder. That was the whole point. Someone needed to hear us and put a stop to whatever was about to happen. Stella pressed the mesh window over my mouth. I scrunched backward, trying to get away from the cloth, but Stella squeezed tighter and carried me through the open doors to the balcony.
"It'll be all right, Paws," she whispered. "Truly it will."
Suffering swordfish! Now I knew I was doomed. Whenever anyone—and especially Stella—says everything will be all right, you know it's time to run for your life. I struggled harder to get free, but before I could even get my feet under me, she tossed me over the balcony railing.
Chapter Two They say when a cat falls, he always lands on his feet. I say that's a load of dirty cat litter. It's true we twist and turn and try to land on our feet. Who wouldn't? But trying and doing aren't always the same. I know from experience. Shivering whiskers. The one thing I fear more than anything else is dropping from a great height, totally out of control, nothing under my feet, nowhere to go but down.
When Stella threw me over the railing, I tried to get my feet under me, but all I got for my twisting and turning was one of Ernie's socks wrapped around my head. Before I could free myself, I landed on my back, clutched tightly in someone's arms.
"Got him!" she yelled.
Great furry hair balls! It was Jo, Stella's best friend—the weird one. The one who wore costumes as if it were Halloween every day. The one who sang to her plants. She said it made them grow faster. The poor things, forced to sit there and listen, probably grew faster just to get out of earshot. She was the one who'd entered the annual bathtub race sitting naked in an old washtub. "Well, whoever heard of getting into a bathtub with your clothes on?" she protested when they hauled her away. Ernie called her crazy, but Stella said she was just a little eccentric, that's all.
Suffering swordfish! I was in the arms of a madwoman.
I clawed Ernie's sock off my head and peered through the mesh window. Jo was dressed to play the part of the getaway driver in one of those 1920s gangster movies Ernie liked to watch. She wore a three-piece white pantsuit, which must have been almost as hot as my fur coat on a day like this. Her dark hair was slicked back with so much grease that I expected any minute to hear it sizzling in the sun. She pushed her dark glasses to the top of her head and peered up at Stella, who was descending the ladder rump first.
"Make it snappy, would ya, doll," Jo said in a raspy whisper. "Gotta blow this place afore that clan o' yours catches us."
Stella's patent-leather stilts slipped on the railings, and she tumbled the rest of the way to the ground.
"Oh, drat! I've broken a heel," she muttered.
She peeled off the offending shoes, picked herself up, grabbed the gym bag with me in it, and ran for Jo's car. The car took off before she could get the door shut. Tires squealed, cars honked, and drivers gestured with rude fingers as we flew past them as if we were in some sort of fast-forwarded movie. Jo pressed her hand on the horn as she whizzed past a logging truck.
"Ain't gonna catch us alive," she called out the open window.
Shivering whiskers! She was right about that. A cat needed every one of his nine lives and more to ride with this maniac driver. I scrunched lower into the bag and hung on tight. I couldn't help enjoying Stella's yelp of pain as my claws dug through the canvas bag and into her fleshy thighs.
"For gosh sakes, Jo," Stella said, "slow down."
"Can't," Jo said. "We're late."
She pushed the car to a new burst of speed and swerved into the other lane. Stella gripped me and the bag even tighter.
"We'll be more than late if you don't slow down," Stella said. "Do you want to kill us all?"
Perhaps it was the word kill. Perhaps it was just the sight of the world whizzing past my eyes. At that precise moment it occurred to me I'd left one person off my mental list of suspects, the one person who would benefit from Ernie's death more than anyone else. Stella would inherit almost everything. Not only that, but she'd now be free to do whatever she wanted. How often had I heard her yell at Ernie, "Of all the men in the world, how'd I get stuck with you?" Of course that was when they were arguing about something. Other times she could be so mushy that I had to close my eyes and pretend not to see them.
"Hey." Stella grabbed at Jo's arm. "That was your street. Shouldn't we get rid of Paws now?"
Get rid of me? My fur stood on end. I couldn't have moved if a whole pack of cougars were chasing me. Great sloughs of salty sardines! Could they be in this together? Had they gotten rid of Ernie, and now it was my turn?
"No time," Jo said. She pressed her hand on the car horn and swerved again, barely missing a yellow taxi. "We have to catch that ferry, or we'll miss the flight."
I dared to take another breath. They weren't getting rid of me just yet. But when? Would they wait until we were on the ferry and dump me overboard? I could feel the fur rising again. If there's anything I hate more than falling, it's falling into water. Shivering whiskers! I can't even float. Somehow I had to find a way out of this mess, but panic had taken over my brain, leaving no room for reasonable thought.
"Oh, Jo! We've missed it!"
Stella's wail made me jump.
"No, we haven't."
Jo buzzed her window open as the car screeched to a halt by the ticket gate. She slapped a wad of money through the window.
"Sorry, ma'am. You've missed that one," the man at the gate said. "Next one's—"
"It's not gone yet. The ramp's still up," Jo interrupted. She leaned half out of the window. Her claws sunk into the man's arm. "We have a flight to catch and we have to be on that boat."
The man looked down at his arm and then back up at Jo's face. His eyes widened.
"All right. All right."
He pulled his arm out of Jo's grasp, handed her a ticket, and spoke into his microphone.
Jo shoved the gas pedal to the floor. The car's tires squealed in complaint. We sped toward the ferry ramp, taking the speed bumps far faster than was intended. Stella's head banged against the roof of the car. Mine banged against the zipper of my gym bag. Ernie's watch fought its way to the top of the bag and draped itself around my neck. I sprawled helplessly under Ernie's socks as the car screeched to a stop.
"We made it." Stella's voice was breathless.
"Well, of course we made it. Was there any doubt?" Jo snapped. She yanked her car door open and got out.
Stella patted me through the canvas bag.
"It'll be okay, Paws," she said.
Who was she trying to convince? Herself or me?
"You're fine," she cooed. "Just go to sleep. We'll be back before you know it."
That sounded a lot like the story she told me when we went to that vet's place—the place where they prodded me, poked me, and stuck me with needles. The first time she left me there, they cut off my you-know-whats. How dare she tell me everything's going to be fine?
I started in on the bag even before the door slammed shut. I clawed. I scratched. I chewed. The bag wouldn't tear. Why did Ernie have to buy the best of everything? Why couldn't he have settled for a cheap bag, one that would rip at the first clawing?
Exhausted, I slumped into the bag, buried my head in one of Ernie's socks, and reached for the cool comfort of his watch. Perhaps if I fell asleep, I could escape this nightmare, go back to the good life, life before Ernie died. But the huge Doberman slobbering and drooling at me from the window of the next vehicle and the yipping, yapping Shih Tzu challenging him from the car on the other side took me back to the days before I'd even met Ernie, back to the alleys of Nanaimo where I'd been born.
If anyone had told me then that I'd be living with humans, I'd have batted both their ears trying to knock some sense into them. I had no intention of becoming one of those pampered pussies in their padded cat trees that pretended to ignore me when I prowled past. It was only after a close encounter with a villainous cougar that I changed my mind. I didn't have that many of my nine lives left. Living with the Claytons would give me protection, or so I thought. They had a big yard, no kids to torment me, and as I'd been raiding their garbage for the past three years, I knew they had lots of good food. So I moved in.
The Doberman lunged at the window of his vehicle. Saliva drooled from his fangs. I cringed lower into Ernie's socks. Where was my protection now? I'd have been better off in the alleyways. At least there I could make a run for it.
"Shut up, you!"
Stella rapped on the window of the Doberman's vehicle. The Doberman's eyes widened, his head drooped, and he slunk away to the other side of the vehicle. Stella yanked our car door open. She grabbed me up off the seat, slid into the car, and plopped me down on her lap with such force I thought I'd lose my last feed of kibbles. The car door slammed. I cowered even lower into Ernie's socks. The last time Stella had been in a temper like this was when Stewart and Penny had ganged up on her, telling her she couldn't go on the trip. "It's just not seemly," Penny had said. Stella had thrown her drink, barely missing Penny, and shattered her treasured china vase.
Excerpted from Inspector Paws and the Wonders of Europe by Rosemary Budd Copyright © 2013 by Rosemary Budd. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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