Purrfect Guitar (Max 80) Preview

Purrfect Guitar (Max 80) Preview

Furry Furry Cats

When well-known pop star Brick Bracken’s cherished guitar Marybud was stolen, it set in motion a series of events that would have wide-ranging repercussions. The only people not impacted were Gran, Scarlett, Wilbur and Francis Reilly. They were too excited about their upcoming flight to the Moon on a spaceship provided by crypto billionaire Zyklon Burke. Their cats weren’t happy about this, and so they decided to go on strike, led by strike leader Harriet, and run away from home to take up refuge in Ted Trapper’s brand-new garden house. Against the backdrop of all this, that other pop star Charlie Dieber’s PA was murdered, but how that tied into all of the above is a tale you will have to read in this latest entry of my chronicles.


Chapter One

Luke Boynes picked up the small nosegay of flowers he had purchased and wondered if it would suffice. He had been pondering popping the big question since his first date with Molly. It was love at first sight, at least on his part, but he wasn’t sure the feeling was entirely reciprocal. His best friend Sam had told him in no uncertain terms he was a fool if he didn’t gird his loins and do the right thing. All he had to do was screw up his courage, get it over with, and very soon the wedding bells would ring out, and they’d all be able to put their feet under the table at the appropriate venue, and Sam could finally brush up on his oratory skills and deliver the best man speech he knew he had in him.

Luke wasn’t so sure, though. The last time he’d seen Molly, she hadn’t been as keen as she could have been on being cloistered with him for the duration of the evening. In fact, she had been disappointingly distracted by her phone, which led him to believe that those warm feelings she may have harbored at the outset of their acquaintance had already cooled down considerably.

It was the curse of the Boynes. At the first meeting, any potential partner they met would be over the moon with delight, but that initial excitement wouldn’t last, and before long, the fire died, and what was left were the faint feelings of what could have been but never would. It had been thus for his big brother Jackson, still pining for the girl who got away fifteen years ago, or their sister Margery, whose prince charming had ultimately found love and happiness in the arms of another woman. Even their mom and pop had only found each other after many wrong turns and botched matches. But at least they did find each other, which was more than could be said about their unfortunate offspring, still chomping at the bit to get to the starting line.

He wandered into the venue he had selected for his lunch date with Molly and admired the scenery, which mainly consisted of many hopefuls just like himself, wining and dining their sweethearts to within an inch of their lives, eyes locked on the target while murmuring those sweet nothings that made all the difference. All in all, it lifted his heart to such an extent he felt a glimmer of hope that today would be the day. The day he would be able to link his lot to the most lovely woman on the face of the planet and possibly the universe.

So he took a deep breath, announced to the maître d’ that he had reserved a table for two and was immediately brought to the spot in question, where he proceeded to await the arrival of the party of the second part—Molly Ashmore.

It wasn’t long before he started to wonder if she had read his messages, for even twenty minutes into the proceedings, the woman was still a no-show. Just when he was thinking that all his hopes would be dashed and he had fallen victim to the Boynes curse once again, suddenly the russet curly head of the only girl in the world made itself seen entering the premises and glancing hither and thither in search of the man who had swept her off her feet—or at least had made a valiant attempt at doing so.

Molly looked radiant as always—tonight perhaps a little more so than usual—though it could also be Luke’s prejudice, as the glasses he was wearing had suddenly been substituted for the kind of rose-tinted ones your true lover likes to wear on these occasions. He felt his pocket for the ring box he had concealed there for the moment suprême, swallowed away the lump of unease that seemed to have permanently taken up position in his throat, thereby dislodging the mint that he had stuck under his tongue and gulping it down. He got up to greet the lady in question. Only when he made to greet her in the ebullient fashion he knew was de rigueur on these occasions, instead of heading straight to his table and settling down, she made a beeline for a nearby table instead. As he watched on in a sort of stupefied manner, his jaw dropping a couple of inches out of sheer perturbation, he saw she was greeted by a young man who looked awfully familiar to him. And as the couple shared a smile, his foggy brain trying to grasp what was going on, one thing did penetrate: instead of writing his best man’s speech as he should be doing, Sam had been wooing the girl Luke had earmarked for his own. For it was indeed his best friend who now took Molly’s hand and proceeded to lovingly gaze into those wonderful eyes!

Adding insult to injury, Molly gazed right back and seemed to like it too!

It was, in other words, a broken Luke Boynes who staggered out of the restaurant, his ring still in his pocket, his song unsung, his roseate dreams unfulfilled and his heart at the bottom of the canal he set out to drown himself and his sorrows in. In due course he arrived at his destination, and he would have jumped in if not another man had beaten him to the punch. And when he looked a little closer, he saw this man looked very dead indeed, which gave him a feeling foul play might be involved here. And since he was essentially a law-abiding citizen, even when his heart had just been ripped to shreds by the two people he thought most of in this world, he took out his phone and called it in.

Even he could see that his own plight wasn’t as bad as that of the waterlogged person floating in the canal. He may have had a symbolic knife plunged into his back by his best friend, but at least he was still alive and breathing, while this poor sucker was obviously as dead as a dodo.

And so he sank down on a nearby bench and awaited further proceedings.

Chapter Two

I had been studying a snail who had decided to make our lawn its new home when a sound alerted me that important developments were imminent. The snail moved at a snail’s pace, which is par for the course with these creatures, and as a consequence my attention had waned. So this distraction in the form of Odelia emerging from the house and calling out my name was welcome.

“Max, there’s been a murder. Let’s go,” she said in that crisp, businesslike tone she likes to adopt when the call comes in. More often than not, the person on the other side of that call is her uncle, chief of police of the lovely hamlet we live in, and also more often than not, the tidings he brings are not of the kind to bring a song of joy to one’s lips. Our hamlet may be small and lovely, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely devoid of the criminal aspect. Even in paradise, a snake will eagerly slither about, its perniciousness to perform. Such is the case that many a murder has taken place in Hampton Cove of late, and since Odelia is married to a policeman and is a policeman’s niece, more often than not her expertise is called upon to assist in tackling these cases. And since she happens to be in a position to rope me and my friends into those inquiries, we gladly comply.

“What’s going on, Max?” asked Dooley now—my best friend and wingcat.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Odelia says there’s been a murder.”

“Oh, no!” said Dooley, who is a peaceable type of cat and doesn’t appreciate it when people go about murdering other people. “Who’s the victim?”

“No idea,” I said as I got to my paws and stretched.

Like me, Dooley had been resting peacefully on the lawn, allowing grass to tickle his belly and generally taking a load off his paws. At the bottom of the garden, something stirred underneath the rose bushes, and the sound of a giggle gave us an indication as to who might be causing those stirrings.

“Harriet! Brutus!” I yelled, therefore. “Duty calls!”

A furry face popped out from between the roses. It belonged to Harriet, the white Persian not looking all that happy about this rude interruption.

“What is it this time?” she asked with a touch of annoyance.

“Murder,” I said in what I hoped was an appropriately grave tone.

She rolled her eyes. “Again? Maybe you can handle this one, Max?”

Now it was my turn to turn a little censorious. “You know the drill, Harriet.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sakes,” she said, and for a moment, I fully expected her to blatantly refuse to play ball. But then she emerged from her favorite bushes, her boyfriend Brutus in tow.

“I’m not sure I signed up for this,” said the butch black cat. “When did I sign up for this? Cause if I did, I must have been suffering a lapse of judgment.”

“You signed up for this when you moved in,” I said with a smile.

I could fully understand where he was coming from. After all, cats aren’t usually dragged along on these investigative outings by their humans. But then Odelia isn’t a regular person. She’s the kind of person who can talk to cats, just like her mother and grandmother and all of their forebears—a gift handed down the generations from mother to daughter. A genetic quirk, if you will, that has made Odelia the most sought-after reporter in town since she can always be relied upon to dig out the most insignificant clue and link it to the investigation. All because we hand her those clues on a platter, since cats are the perfect sleuths. Always ready to bring our inquisitive minds to bear on any mystery, and capable of talking to other pets and get them to spill the beans.

“And here I thought I’d lead a perfectly peaceful life,” Brutus grumbled. “But instead I’m being dragged from crime scene to crime scene with nary a respite.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not that bad,” I said. “How long has it been since we were called in to assist in some murder or other crime? Must be weeks.”

“It’s easy enough for you,” said Harriet, joining her boyfriend in voicing his qualms about the tasks that had been awarded to us by Odelia and her family. “With that big brain of yours, you solve these murders in a heartbeat. It’s much harder for us, not having been blessed with a sixth sense when it comes to sniffing out clues and chasing suspects. Oftentimes I feel we’re simply along for the ride. Nothing but a sideshow. Bit players you can bounce your ideas off of.”

“You know that’s not true,” I said, aghast at these accusations. “I’m sure Odelia appreciates your input as much as she does mine. Probably more, in fact.”

Harriet preened a little. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“No, I’m not!” I said emphatically. “We’re all in this together, and Odelia couldn’t do this without you, Harriet. Or you, Brutus. Or Dooley, of course.”

“My ideas are always very good,” said Dooley proudly. “The best, in fact.”

Now even Brutus was grinning. “Aren’t they just?”

“I still feel we should be given a bigger role in Odelia’s investigations from now on,” said Harriet, not prepared to let her grievance be dismissed so easily. “I daresay Brutus and I should be allowed to take the lead, not you.”

“Fine with me,” I said. As long as we got a move on, I was ready to agree with any of her demands, even if I wasn’t entirely sure she’d be prepared to put her money where her mouth was.

She stared at me. “Are you sure about that, Max?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “If you want to take the lead on this investigation, be my guest. I’ll take a backseat, and you won’t hear a single peep from me.”

She smiled. “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear, Max.” She turned to her mate. “Snuggle bug, from now on we’re in charge. So let’s crack this case like no case has ever been cracked!”

And so she charged forward and disappeared into the house.

Brutus gave me a helpless look. “Max, are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “If Harriet wants to take the lead, I say let her.”

He sighed. “Oh, boy. I have a feeling we’re in for a bumpy ride!”

Chapter Three

 When Odelia arrived at the location her uncle had specified over the phone, she found both the Chief and her husband Chase in situ, as well as Abe Cornwall, the county coroner, who was busily inspecting the waterlogged corpse that had been dragged from the canal. Apparently, the body had gone into the canal at some point before the McMillan Street lock and had been prevented from being swept along further, which was just as well, as it may otherwise have ended up in the ocean, never to be found.

“So what do we have?” she asked as she knelt down next to Abe.

The fizzy-haired coroner gave her an appreciative look. “Aren’t we in a good mood today? What’s the occasion, if I may ask?”

She smiled. “No particular occasion.” That wasn’t entirely true, though. Since she and Chase had been married now for a year, they had planned to celebrate the occasion by going away on their own to New England and spend the weekend at a great little hotel they had found online. Her mom would take care of Grace, and it would be just the two of them for one long weekend. She couldn’t wait to leave and had been looking forward to it for weeks.

“Okay, so this man is dead,” said the coroner, getting down to business.

“I can see that,” Uncle Alec grunted. “But what made him this way is what I would like to know.”

“Well, that’s a little hard to ascertain just from looking at him,” said Abe as he studied the mortal remains of the man a little closely. “He suffered some bumps and bruises, but whether those were sustained before he fell into the canal or after is something I’ll have to determine once I get him on my slab.”

“So he could simply have stumbled into the canal on his own?” asked Chase, who stood wide-legged and arms crossed as he stoically surveyed the scene.

“That’s exactly right, detective,” said Abe.

“So no foul play?” asked Uncle Alec.

“Not that I can determine at first glance.”

Uncle Alec immediately perked up to a great degree. “Well, that’s that then,” he said, much buoyed by this information. “Accidental death. Makes life a lot easier for us, that’s for sure.” He turned to his niece. “I’m sorry to drag you out like this, honey. But when the call came in, I thought there’d been a murder.”

“There could still have been a murder,” said Abe, deciding to rain on the police chief’s parade. “What I’m saying is that it’s too soon to tell.” He gave Uncle Alec a meaningful look, causing the latter to bridle a little.

“But you said…”

“I said that at first glance I can’t find any sign of foul play. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.” He got up with a slight creaking of the knees. “I’ll know more once I’ve done a post-mortem. In the meantime, perhaps you can try and find out who this poor man is and how he ended up here?” He gave them a fine smile. “That is, after all, part of your job description?” And with these words, he bid them adieu and gave his team the go-ahead to remove the body from the scene.

“What did he mean by that?” Chief Alec asked.

“He meant that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” said Chase as he rubbed his chin. “Who called it in?”

Uncle Alec gestured to a forlorn figure seated on a bench nearby. And so Odelia and Chase walked up to the man, whose name turned out to be Luke Boynes, and who looked a little shell-shocked, as was only to be expected.

“I didn’t see him at first,” said Mr. Boynes. “And then when I did, I thought he had fallen in, so I…” He gulped a little as he thought back to the terrible moment he had come upon the dead man.

“You did a good thing there, Mr. Boynes,” said Chase as he placed an encouraging hand on the man’s shoulder. “Many would have walked away.”

“How did you happen to be here, if I may ask?” said Odelia.

“Oh, I just wanted to go for a walk,” said Mr. Boynes. “Clear my head, you know.” When they both waited for more information, he relented. “I had arranged to meet a woman in a restaurant, but as it turned out, she stood me up. So I…” He turned a sad look in the direction of the canal, and Odelia thought she saw all. Could it be that this man had intended to take his own life but had changed his mind after he saw that floater? Her keen reporter’s mind sensed that there might be a story here, but that this wasn’t the right time to pursue it. She still filed it away in the back of her mind for later use. Once Mr. Boynes had recovered from the shock, she’d have another little chat.

“Let’s get you home,” said Chase. “Where do you live, Mr. Boynes?”

The man gave them a feeble smile. “Luke, please. And you don’t have to go to any trouble on my account, detective. I can make my own way home.”

“Nonsense,” said Chase determinedly. “After the shock you had, you shouldn’t be driving home all by yourself. Do you live alone, sir?”

Luke nodded sadly. “I do, yeah. Unfortunately.”

As he got up, a ring box fell from his pocket. Odelia picked it up and glanced inside. It was a neat little bauble, and any girl would be happy to receive it. She closed the box and handed it to the sad-looking man. “I believe this is yours?”

With a touch of embarrassment, he took it from her hand and tucked it away. “I won’t be needing that anymore,” he murmured, and then they handed him over to one of Chase’s officers who would escort him home and make sure he got there safe and sound and wouldn’t be left to his own devices after the ordeal he’d suffered. All part of the ‘job description,’ as Abe would have said.

They watched as the body of the drowning victim was placed on a stretcher and tucked into a waiting ambulance, to be taken to the coroner’s office, and then the arduous task began of trying to ascertain who the man was and how he had ended up dead in the canal. Officers were dispatched to talk to passersby and people who lived along the canal, and divers to search the bottom of the canal closer to the lock in search of any paraphernalia that might have belonged to the victim and shed some more light on the circumstances of his demise.

While her uncle and Chase oversaw the proceedings, she returned to the car to dispatch her own team of researchers in the form of her four cats. Their mission brief was clear: talk to any pet witnesses who might have seen something, and more specifically try to determine if foul play was involved or if the death of their John Doe was simply the consequence of a tragic accident.

Chapter Four

After Odelia had given us her instructions on how to contribute to her and Chase’s investigation, I had to check my first impulse to spring into action. Instead, I patiently waited for Harriet to issue her own directives as to how to proceed. She was, after all, in charge now. At first, she didn’t seem to grasp the significance, for she simply continued to groom herself and seemed oblivious that her troops were awaiting her command. Then, when three pairs of eyes followed her every move, she finally seemed to realize that something was expected of her and said, “What are you waiting for? Didn’t you hear what Odelia said? Let’s get a move on, you guys. Hop to it, and be quick about it!”

“But… what do you want us to do, exactly?” asked Dooley.

“Odelia said to investigate, so let’s investigate,” she said.

“But… investigate what, exactly?” Dooley insisted.

Harriet rolled her eyes. “Do I have to spell it out for you? How about some initiative? Some enterprise? Some imagination!” She waved an impatient paw in the direction of the canal lock. “Just go forth and be fruitful, will you?”

I fully expected her to add ‘and multiply,’ but she stopped short of doing so. Instead, she started licking her impressive tail, making sure it looked just so. Clearly, she was intending to adopt a paws-off approach to her personal leadership style that would see her paw soldiers do all the actual paw-work. It was one way of doing things, of course, and who was I to offer any criticism? So instead, Dooley, Brutus, and I toddled off in the direction of the lock.

“What does Harriet mean by being fruitful, Max?” asked Dooley.

“Far be it from me to interpret our fearless leader’s words, Dooley,” I said. “But as I see it, she probably wants us to go out there and find clues.”

“Clues and potential witnesses,” Brutus clarified. “Anyone who saw something or heard something or smelled something. Anything at all.”

“Oh, I see,” said Dooley, though I could tell that he didn’t. Not really.

We had arrived at the spot where the body of the dead man had been found floating. No doubt the current had tried to take it past the lock but had seen its progress hampered by the man-made construction, causing the body to thunk against the sturdy wooden doors that had been built to regulate the difference in water level so that boats could safely navigate the canal. Judging from the state of the body, that thunking had gone on for a little while, giving it a decidedly careworn aspect and reducing it to a shadow of its former self.

The lock itself was an impressive feat of engineering, and we got there just in time to see a diver submerging himself into the murky waters of the canal to look for possible clues as to the presence of a dead man in that spot—though what Uncle Alec was hoping to find was beyond me. Then again, possibly this was standard procedure when a waterlogged body was found on the Chief’s watch.

Mayor Butterwick, the Chief’s wife, had also arrived, and her face registered concern. I could see why. Like a lot of Hamptons towns, Hampton Cove caters to the tourist trade, and it’s never a good look for any town trying to attract that kind of business to suddenly start dragging waterlogged corpses from canals. It’s not what most people are looking for when selecting a holiday destination.

“Charlene doesn’t look happy, Max,” said Dooley, who had noticed the same phenomenon. “Why is that, you think?”

“Yeah, do you think there’s trouble in paradise, Max?” asked Brutus, referring to the fact that Uncle Alec and Charlene had recently tied the knot.

“I think Charlene’s concern is strictly connected to the fact that no mayor likes to see their town get any bad press,” I said. “It might attract a species of person called the disaster tourist, and nobody wants to have those around.”

“And why is that?” asked Dooley. “Isn’t any tourist a good tourist?”

“Not when all they want is to snap pictures of dead people and post them on their social media,” I said. “It sends the wrong message, and might lead to bad publicity for this lovely town of ours.”

“Oh, I see,” said Dooley, nodding. “People want sun and surf when they come to the Hamptons, not death and decay and rotting corpses.”

I grimaced. “Something like that.”

“Nicely put, Dooley,” Brutus murmured. He sighed. “So where do we begin? I don’t see any pets around, you guys. No dogs or cats as far as I can tell.”

He was right. Which led me to assume that perhaps Harriet had wanted us to talk to the non-pet variety of species, of which I was sure there would be plenty. Birds, for one thing, like to go for the bird’s eye view and can generally be relied upon to be excellent witnesses. Or the bugs that live in the high grass that covers the bank of the canal and offer the worm’s eye view. Or even the ducks that my eagle eye could spot. “Why don’t we go and talk to those guys over there?” I suggested.

Brutus took one look at those ducks and made a face. “I don’t like ducks,” he confessed. And I could see where he was coming from. Once upon a time he had fallen foul of a group of ducks in our local park when he accidentally ended up in the duck pond. It had put him off ducks for good. But since a sleuth worth his or her salt never lets their personal hang-ups stand in the way of good detective work, we set paw in the direction of our feathered friends anyway.

“You do the talking, Max,” said Brutus. “And if they come too close, I’m out of here—is that understood?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Though I wouldn’t worry about these ducks becoming aggressive, Brutus. They look the peaceable kind.”

“And how would you know?” he grumbled. “They look pretty nasty to me.”

We approached the ducks in a rather stealthy way, since a lot of ducks like to take flight the moment they see a cat come anywhere near them, and we didn’t want that kind of thing happening now—not when they might prove to be valuable witnesses in our ongoing inquiries.

“Hey there, ducks,” I said by way of greeting, since we weren’t on a first-name basis yet.

The ducks gave me a dirty look. “What do you want, cat?” asked one of them, possibly the leader. There were three of them in all, and this one was a male, judging from its plumage.

“Yeah, what do you want, cat?” asked a second duck, a female this time.

“We just want to ask you a couple of questions,” I said.

“We don’t buy from strangers,” said the male duck.

“Yeah, whatever it is you’re selling, we don’t want it,” said his friend.

“We’re not trying to sell you anything,” I assured the ducks. “We just want to ask you about the dead man that was dragged from the canal just now.”

“Dead man? What dead man?” asked the male duck.

“I didn’t see no dead man,” said the second duck.

It was at this moment that the third duck piped up. It seemed younger than the others, and could have been a duckling, or perhaps it was simply small for its age—I admit I’m not a fowl expert. “I saw the dead man,” said this duck or duckling. “My name is Philip, by the way—what’s yours?”

“Max,” I said. “And these are my friends Brutus and Dooley.”

“Philip, don’t say another word,” said the male duck.

“Oh, Dad, these are nice cats,” said Philip. And to us: “Don’t mind my folks. They’re old-fashioned and don’t like cats for some reason.”

“There’s a very good reason we don’t like cats!” said the dad. “Remember what happened to your uncle Henry? He almost lost a limb because of a cat attack. Don’t come any closer!” he suddenly yelled when I took a step in his direction. “I’m warning you, cat—I’ve got a gun and I won’t hesitate to use it!”

I wondered where the duck could possibly be concealing a gun, and so I figured he just might be bluffing. I decided not to call his bluff, though, and took a couple of steps back instead. “So you saw the dead man?” I asked the kid.

Philip nodded fervently. “I saw him floating around.” He made a face. “He smelled funny so I decided to give him a wide berth. Do all humans smell funny, Max?”

“Only if they’ve been dead a while,” I assured the youngster.

“Or if they’re not very big on personal hygiene,” Brutus murmured. He was eyeing the ducks closely, just in case they got up to any funny business. Likewise, the ducks were eying us with distinct suspicion—mindful of what had happened to this Uncle Henry of theirs.

“Did you happen to see the dead man before he ended up in the canal?” I asked.

Philip thought hard about that one. “I’m not sure,” he finally admitted. “Humans all look the same to me. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”

“True,” said his mom.

The kid shrugged. “I just figured this particular human had gone for a swim and liked it so much he decided to keep on swimming.”

“That’s an awfully long swim,” his dad scoffed.

“I’ll say,” Brutus grunted.

“Humans like to go for swims,” said Philip defensively. “Remember that guy a couple of days ago? Even you said he was crazy, Dad.”

“That’s true,” the dad admitted. When I gave him a quizzical look, he elaborated, “We get our fair share of swimmers here, but this guy took the cake.”

“He must have been in there for hours,” said his wife. “Kept diving and coming up for air as if it was some fancy schmancy pool and not a smelly canal.”

“Would you say the canal is smelly?” asked her husband.

“I would,” his wife confirmed. “It’s very smelly, and you know it. And if you were anything like your brother Henry, you would have taken us out of here a long time ago.”

“It’s not as easy as that,” the duck grumbled.

“There’s a perfectly nice pond in the park,” said his wife. “My sister lives there with her kids, and she keeps telling me it’s a regular paradise compared to this awful canal.”

“The pond is full,” said her husband gruffly.

“It’s not full! There’s plenty of space for an enterprising duck who’s prepared to show some initiative!” She rolled her eyes. “My mother warned me against you. But did I listen?”

“Dad doesn’t like Grandpa and Grandma,” Philip whispered. “And they don’t like him.”

“I like them perfectly fine,” said his dad huffily. “But they’ve poisoned all the other ducks’ minds against me. Can I help it I wasn’t born in Hampton Cove but in Hampton Keys?”

“It’s got nothing to do with that, and you know it,” said his wife. “The fact of the matter is that you feel too good to mingle with the other ducks. Just because you were born in a mansion owned by a famous pop star, you think you’re better than the rest of us.”

“Were you really born in a mansion, Dad?” asked Philip.

“I was,” said his dad proudly. “A mansion owned by none other than Charlie Dieber.”

The three of us shared a look of dismay. We had made Charlie Dieber’s acquaintance in a distant past, and the experience hadn’t been a happy one, to say the least.

“So why don’t we move back there?” asked Philip.

“Ask your mom,” said the duck unhappily.

“Hampton Cove is where I was born and raised, and I will not leave my family,” said Philip’s mom decidedly. “And there will be no more talk about moving to Hampton Keys—is that understood?”

“Yes, Mom,” said Philip obediently.

“There’s a good duck,” she said.

Philip gave me a wink. “Once I’m big enough, I’ll go exploring,” he whispered. “Take a look at this Charlie Dieber’s mansion for myself and meet my dad’s family. It’ll be grand!”

I could have told him that he was in for a big disappointment, but since I believe that every person—or duck—should be allowed to decide their own fate, I wisely kept my tongue.

“So about that swimmer,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back in a more productive direction.

“Oh, right,” said Philip. “Well, he spent all day in the water, and then he came back the next day and did the same thing. So I kinda expected him to show up a third day in a row, and when he didn’t, I kinda felt a little sad—I’d gotten used to having him around by then.”

“Could he be the dead person you saw floating around in there?” I asked.

Philip nodded slowly. “I’m not sure. It’s possible, of course.”

“With humans, you can expect anything,” said his mom. “They’re tricky.” She was looking at her husband as she said it, and I had a feeling she wasn’t referring to the mystery swimmer.

“I like Charlie Dieber,” said Philip’s dad defiantly. “A gentleman and friend to ducks.”

“Just because he liked to throw you the odd piece of bread doesn’t make him a good person,” said his wife. She sighed heavily. “You are entirely too gullible, Marcus.”

“And you are entirely too critical, Martha,” he shot back. “Charlie is fine.”

“Well, if he’s so fine, why did you move to Hampton Cove, huh?”

“I followed my heart,” he said.

She softened a little. “Oh.”

“Love does that.”


“Don’t mind them,” said Philip. “Grandma says they’re passionate. And Grandpa says they’re pre… prespo… presposterous. I wouldn’t know, since I’m just a duckling.”

I smiled. “I think you’re a very clever duckling, Philip. And I want to thank you for telling us about that swimmer. When would you say you saw him?”

“Oh… about three days ago maybe? Grandma came over for a visit—she does that every week—so it must have been Tuesday, since that’s her regular day.”

“Heaven forbid she would skip a week,” Marcus murmured.

“Anything else you can tell us about the swimmer?” I asked.

Philip thought hard. “Well… he wasn’t alone. There was a woman with him. She didn’t go into the water, though, but stayed on shore while the man was in the canal. Oh, and she was on her phone the whole time. But then most humans are on their phones the whole time.”

“What did she look like, this woman?” I asked.

“Um, small and cute and blond,” said Philip.

“And what would you know about that?” said his mother, much dismayed.

“I may be a duckling, but I have eyes in my head, Mom,” said the precocious youngster. “She was petite.”

“Petite!” said his dad, throwing up his wings.

But the kid was not impressed. “Petite and blond and cute and her name was…” He thought some more, then finally brightened. “Hannah! At least that’s what the man called her every time he dredged something up from the canal and deposited it on shore. And she called him…” More thinking ensued, which finally yielded a result. “Doug! That’s right. Doug and Hannah. I remember thinking they had funny names. He was very handsome, by the way. Like a movie star. And so was she. Two movie stars frolicking in the canal—or at least he frolicked. She, not so much.”

And now he was dead—at least if it was the same man. So no more frolicking would ensue. We thanked Philip profusely, said our goodbyes to Martha and Marcus, and took our leave, safe in the knowledge that we had gleaned some great clues—possibly even the identity of the dead man.

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