A stranger lies dead beneath the village Christmas tree, with a little child the only witness to the shooting. As the police scramble for leads, the grey tomcat, his tabby lady, Dulcie, and their tortoiseshell pal, Kit, launch their own unique investigation. As they care for the child who may be the shooter's next target, the cats realize they're facing their most heartbreaking case yet—and that they must catch a cunning killer if they have any hope of saving Christmas.
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Cat Deck the HallsA Joe Grey Mystery
By Shirley Murphy
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Shirley Murphy
All right reserved.
He reached the village half an hour before midnight, cutting over from San Jose to Highway One, on the coast, the child tucked up warm in the seat behind him. She slept soundly, her faded doll clutched close to her, one of its angel wings tucked beneath the seat belt. He had made a wide nest for her, had filled the floor well with the cheap pillows he'd bought in the first drugstore he came to, and with their two duffel bags. With the blanket laid over, the backseat of the rental car was just like a regular bed. She had a new drawing pad and crayons and a picture book back there, but she hadn't touched them much. Any other six-year-old would be raging for action, bored out of her mind, wanting to run and work off steam—as she once had, he thought sadly, seeing a sharp picture of her when she was smaller, laughing on the park swings and chasing a ball in their walled garden.
Above the highway, the night sky was black, he could see no stars, no moon. The only illumination came from flashing car lights racing north on the freeway as he and the sleeping child headed south from the airport. The car was rocked periodically in bouts of wind and rain, the storm raging and then easing off only toreturn every few miles. He was worn-out from the trip, from the long waits going through security, the delayed schedules and plane changes. He'd made the call from San Jose but had to leave a message, said the flight was delayed, that he'd just swing by and if he saw no light he'd get a motel and they'd be there in the morning. It was too late, tonight, to get anyone out of bed.
He was hungry, though. Their simple supper seemed ages past. He hoped the child would be hungry—if she woke at all. At last, heading downhill into the small seaside village, he left the heavy traffic, passing only three cars, all coming uphill as if maybe going home to the hillside houses behind him. The streets were slick from rain. He rolled his window down and could smell the sea. With the wind easing off, he could hear the surf, too, crashing half a mile ahead; that would be at the end of Ocean Avenue, he remembered from the map.
Driving halfway through the village, he turned up into gentler hills among close-set cottages. Molena Point had no street lamps, its narrow streets were dark beneath the trees. Shining his headlights on street signs, he found the house he wanted, but not by an address, there weren't any house numbers in the village. He wasn't able to see much on the dark streets, but he found his destination by its description and he slowed, looking. Yes, everyone was in bed. He started to get out, to see if there was a note on the door, but something made him pause.
Parking for just a minute, studying the house, he thought he saw movement in the shrubbery, something dark and stealthy. Puzzled, he watched uneasily, then decided it was nothing, just shadows. What was wrong with him? Tired. Tired from the trip, and from tending to the child. Her malaise dragged him down real bad. Though the shifting of shadows was not repeated, still he felt edgy, and did not leave the car; he didn't feel right again until he'd moved on, made a U-turn in the black, empty street and headed back down to the village.
Even in the small business section, the streets were lit only by the soft illumination from shop windows shining down onto the wet sidewalks, and by the softly colored lights of motel signs reflected on the slick, mirroring surfaces. He saw two motels with their vacancy signs lit, but first he moved on, looking for a café. Each shop window gleamed like a small stage set with its own rich wares, diamonds and silver, expensive leather and cashmere, imported china, Italian shoes, oil and watercolor paintings and bronze and marble sculpture, a feast of riches for such a small village. Windows stacked with children's books, too, and with toys, and brightly wrapped Christmas boxes to entice a child with imagined surprises. The quaint restaurants were all closed for the night, their windows dark, nor were there any moving cars on the streets, though it wasn't yet midnight. Just parked cars, maybe left overnight by tourists already asleep in their motel rooms. On this stormy night, even so near Christmas, the whole town had buttoned up early, and he thought of bed with longing. He really was done in after the long flight and then the drive down from San Jose, bone tired and achingly hungry. But most of all, he wanted to get some food into the child before he checked in to a motel and put her to bed. He had not expected all of the village to be closed, not a restaurant lighted, not even a bar, and he passed only a couple of those. Cruising the narrow, tree-sheltered streets not finding what he sought, he parked beside a small shopping plaza and got out. Stood listening, hoping to hear the echo of voices from some unseen café within. He was eager suddenly to hear another human voice, but he could hear nothing but the surf, and the dying wind—as if he'd stepped into some kind of time warp, as if everyone on earth had vanished except himself and the child, as if all the world was suddenly empty.
No voices. No canned Christmas music. No sound of another car on the streets until one lone vehicle turned on to Ocean and approached, moving slowly toward him and then speeding up and going on, the dark-clad driver invisible within the dark interior. A bicycle swished past, too, and turned left, and that made him feel less isolated.
Excerpted from Cat Deck the Halls by Shirley Murphy Copyright © 2007 by Shirley Murphy. Excerpted by permission.
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