Purrfect Heist (Max 89) Preview

Purrfect Heist (Max 89) Preview

The Gray Panthers Ride Again

You know that when a shot rings out in the early morning, it can’t be good. And so when we arrived at the scene and found our neighbor Kurt Mayfield bleeding on the ground, it gave us quite a shock. At the same time, across town, a museum was being burgled by a gang of dedicated gangsters. Were the two events connected? It was up to us to find out. In the meantime we also had to deal with Gran having developed a habit of sleepwalking, a distressed Papillon dog, a dog whisperer with a secret agenda and a collection of Nazi art. In other words: business as usual!

Chapter One

Dooley had been keeping a close eye on his human for the last couple of days, and when he saw her traipsing through Blake’s Field in her underwear, he knew that his concerns had been justified all along. Even his best friend Max had told him that he was exaggerating and that Gran was fine. Obviously she wasn’t fine. She was anything but fine. But since Max was home, he couldn’t tell him that he had been right and that Max was wrong. Not that he would have done so, since that wasn’t Dooley’s style.

He followed Gran from a little distance, making sure she didn’t notice she was being followed. She wouldn’t have liked it since she was a proud old lady and wouldn’t have condoned a chaperone in the form of her own kitty. He wondered where she was going and why she would venture out of the house in the middle of the night, only dressed in her undies. The situation was certainly cause for grave concern. He followed her all the way to the small derelict shack that was still located on the field and hadn’t been taken down, even though the entire neighborhood had asked the field’s owner many times.

He watched from a safe distance as Gran took a seat in front of the shack, on a crooked bench that had seen better days, and folded her hands in her lap, sitting prim and proper. Then she reached into her pocket and took out a bag containing something he couldn’t quite make out. She reached into the bag, and the next moment started singing softly to herself. “Feed the birds,” she sang. “Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag. Tuppence a bag.” And as he watched on in amazement and a rising sense of concern, she started strewing breadcrumbs from the bag. But since it was the middle of the night, there weren’t any birds present to partake in this moderate feast. Instead, a couple of the mice that lived in the old shack emerged from their hiding places, sniffed the air for a moment, and then descended on the breadcrumbs, gobbling them up with relish.

So now Gran had taken to feeding the mice? But why? He simply didn’t understand what was going on, except that he should probably tell somebody before one of the neighbors noticed Gran’s strange behavior and had her locked up in an institution.

He wondered for a moment if he shouldn’t approach the old lady and tell her to go back to bed. He had been lying at the foot of her bed when she had ventured out, but when he had asked her where she thought she was going, she hadn’t replied, but had simply slipped her feet into her slippers and had left the house. And since he didn’t want her to get into trouble, he had decided to follow her and see where she was going.

As he watched, she crumpled up the bag and put it back into her pocket, then rocked back and forth for a moment, humming the same tune under her breath, a happy smile on her face. She was staring before her, seemingly looking at nothing in particular.

The mice had dispensed with the last pieces of bread and returned to their nest to deliver the good news that a new benefactor was in town and that they might be looking forward to many more nights like this, with Gran delivering food to their little home.

Dooley knew the mice since he had made their acquaintance on several occasions, and he could only applaud their good fortune. It still didn’t allay his general sense of unease at this type of behavior from one who he had always admired and loved.

He now wondered if he should tell Marge that her mother had developed this strange new habit of feeding the mice. Marge would worry, of course, since she was that kind of person. But that couldn’t be helped. At least she would tell Tex, and the doctor could take a closer look at the strange behavior his mother-in-law had started displaying lately.

For this wasn’t the first time Gran had ventured out like this, though mostly she had limited her nocturnal sojourn to the backyard. This was the first time she had ventured out beyond the perimeter of her own home. If this kept up, pretty soon she would start wandering all over Hampton Cove, or even the entire island or maybe the state.

As he watched on, he saw that a dark figure had appeared, hiding behind a nearby tree. The dark figure was watching Gran, biding his time. Dooley’s heart jumped into his throat when he realized that his human might be in some kind of grave danger.

Gran hadn’t noticed the dark figure, but then she wasn’t in a state to notice much of anything right now. He wondered if he should warn her that she was being watched.

Then again, it might be one of the neighbors walking their dog in the middle of the night and wondering what Gran was up to. They could be excused for wanting to know what was going on—the same way Dooley wanted to know what she was up to.

He saw that the figure detached themselves from that tree and approached Gran. He still couldn’t make out their face or other distinguishing features, but it was clear that the figure was just as curious to find out what was going on as he himself was.

The figure walked right up to Gran and stood before her. Gran still didn’t react in any meaningful way, and that’s when Dooley understood: she was sleepwalking!

He had heard about this kind of behavior, where people get out of bed in the middle of the night and do all kinds of stuff that they later don’t remember. It was not a good thing, especially since she was far from home and vulnerable, as the situation showed.

His words of warning were stuck in his throat, or he would have called out to Gran to wake up and get out of there. For the person had taken out what looked like a great big knife and now stood wielding it in front of Gran’s face. The old lady was still smiling and didn’t seem to notice what was going on.

The figure must have realized that she formed no threat whatsoever, for he or she put the knife away again, waved a hand in front of Gran’s eyes, then shrugged and took off.

Dooley breathed a sigh of relief, and even more so when Gran finally got up and started on the short trek home.

It wasn’t long before she was crawling back into bed and dragging the covers over her ears. Dooley eyed her for a few moments from his vantage point at the foot of the bed. But when he heard his human’s slow and even breathing, he finally lay down his head and slept.

Tomorrow he would tell Marge. Clearly, something had to be done.

Chapter Two

Kurt Mayfield was walking his dog Fifi and wondering not for the first time if his time couldn’t be better spent some other, more productive, way. After all, Fifi had the use of the entire backyard, and if she wanted to, even the field behind the house, though he normally didn’t condone that she snuck underneath the fence.

Still, dogs needed to be walked, or so common sense dictated. And it was true that there was an added benefit in that he got to satisfy one of his secret pastimes: spying on his neighbors. Nobody appreciated it when you blatantly took up position in front of their homes and stared into their living rooms and watched what they did. But when you held a dog on the leash, it was accepted behavior. What he didn’t like about dog walking was that you ran the risk of bumping into other dog walkers, and invariably they would engage him in conversation, asking questions about this or that, generally making a nuisance of themselves. This is why he had adopted the practice of walking Fifi very early in the morning, at six o’clock, and late at night, just before he went to bed. That way, the risk of running into his neighboring blabbermouths was a lot less. Some of them had even started a WhatsApp group and arranged to walk their dogs together. To Kurt, that was what hell must be like. He had kindly declined to be added to the group.

Gilda, his neighbor and also his girlfriend, often told him he was a curmudgeon, and she probably had a point. But then after sixty-eight years of being a grouch, what were the chances that he would ever change? Once a grouch, always a grouch, and he riposted by telling her that she seemed to like him anyway, to which she admitted this was true.

“I have tamed the grouch of Harrington Street,” she said laughingly. “And I should probably deserve some kind of prize.”

Funny girl.

He passed by Blake’s Field and Fifi, as was her habit, yanked and strained at the leash to take a peek inside their local jungle. Years of neglect had turned the field into a haven of weeds and trees and shrubs, and if he had complained to the town council once, he had complained a million times. Ownership of the field was in some kind of legal limbo at the moment, and as long as the lawyers representing the previous owners and the town council didn’t get their act together and turn it into something that was a boon to the neighborhood instead of an eyesore, there was nothing anyone could do about it.

At least it wasn’t a big building pit, for once upon a time there had been plans to develop the land, which would have been imminently worse if it had gone through.

“All right, all right,” he said as Fifi barked up a storm. “I’ll bite.” Probably she wanted to take a look at that old shack, which seemed to hold a special appeal to the little Yorkie. Once upon a time she had even found a dead body there. It had been quite the scandal. A murder, in a pleasant neighborhood like theirs? Absolutely unheard of.

He hurried after Fifi, hoping he didn’t step into something nasty. Since he wasn’t the only dog owner who used Blake’s Field to allow their beloved mutts some off-leash time, the grass had been trampled on and flattened and a natural sort of pathway had formed that led from the street to the shack. He could have followed it with his eyes closed since he had walked this same route many times with Fifi.

She barked happily when they finally reached the old shack, and the moment he unleashed her, she started prancing around and happily jumping up against his legs.

He smiled and affectionately patted her on the head.

“Go on, girl,” he said encouragingly. “You go on.”

This was her time, and she knew it.

He took a seat on the bench that had been placed in front of the shack and watched as his little doggie disappeared into the high weeds that surrounded the shack. From time to time he saw her jumping up, her head briefly clearing the weeds and shrubs, then she was gone again, possibly chasing a rabbit or some other creature of the undergrowth.

The shack itself was home to a colony of mice, and he suspected there were also plenty of rats and other vermin housed there. From time to time a chicken would pop its head up. They used to belong to Ted Trapper but had escaped captivity and were now roaming wild and free, just like all the other creatures that occupied this plot of land.

He didn’t mind, as long as they didn’t cross the boundary with his backyard and enter his private property. Even the vermin of this world should know its place.

He glanced around, and when he didn’t see anyone, took a small silver case out of his jacket pocket, extracted a cigarette, and lit one up. As he took a long drag, he closed his eyes with relish and directed a plume of smoke at the sky. Gilda had told him that smoking was a filthy habit, and to accommodate her, he had cut down to two ciggies a day: one during each time he took Fifi for her walks. Another benefit of having a dog.

As he fixed his eyes on a point in the distance where he knew his house was located, he thought he saw something bright red hanging from a nearby tree. He frowned as he got up. As far as he could tell, he had never seen anything hanging from that tree before. Maybe another dog walker had accidentally left it behind? Or maybe kids had been playing there, even though most of the parents living on this block strictly forbade their offspring from venturing out there, since there were rumors that drug addicts used the shack to engage in their favorite pastime. In other words: not exactly a playground.

He walked up to the tree and saw that the red item was a sweater. He took it down and studied it. No name tag. It looked new and probably belonged to someone who was missing it now. He wondered if he should take it along to give to his neighbor Chase Kingsley. The cop could take it into the station with him and drop it off at the lost-and-found. As he folded up the sweater, something fell out of a hidden pocket. It was a piece of jewelry, and as he picked it up from the ground, he saw that it was a little golden cross. Very nice, he thought as he turned it over in his hand. And probably expensive. There were markings on the cross, but since he hadn’t taken his reading glasses along with him, he couldn’t quite make them out. He closed his fist around the little trinket and was more determined now to hand it over to Chase. He’d know what to do with it.

He returned to the bench to finish his smoke when he thought he saw movement in the shrubbery nearby. “Fifi?” he said. But it wasn’t Fifi who emerged. It was a large person wearing a hoodie, which partially obscured his or her face. Before he could ask what they were doing there, the stranger took out a gun and pulled the trigger. Kurt felt a stinging pain in his chest, and as he went down, he thought that of all the things that could happen to a person walking his dog, the oddest had to be to get shot and killed.

Poor Fifi. Now what would become of her?

Chapter Three

I had been idly glancing out of the upstairs bedroom window when I thought I heard a loud bang. The kind of bang that only a gun can make. As it seemed to be coming from Blake’s Field, I wondered if perhaps someone had taken advantage of the early hour to go and do some hunting. As everyone knows, there are plenty of rabbits that have made the field their home, and some people seem to enjoy rabbit meat as much as others like chicken or beef.

Next to me, my friend Dooley also looked up. “What was that?” he asked.

“Sounded like a gunshot,” I said. “Coming from Blake’s Field.”

He shook his head. “I’m telling you, Max, ever since Gran started walking around in the middle of the night, I haven’t slept a wink.”

I could have told him this was a blatant lie, for I had seen him—and heard him—sleep a perfectly sound wink at the foot of Odelia’s bed. Dooley likes to divide his time between my home and that belonging to Odelia’s mom and dad. In other words, his loyalties are divided between his own human and Odelia, who is probably the more responsible of our pet parents. Though Odelia’s mom, Marge, isn’t too shabby either.

“I just hope that Gran hasn’t been shot,” said Dooley, as he gave me a look of alarm.

“If you like, we can go and take a look,” I suggested. “Though it’s probably kids playing with a toy gun.”

I have to say that it had sounded like a real gun, though, and not a toy alternative, since they don’t make that much noise. And since we didn’t want to wake up our humans, we decided to take a look for ourselves before we alerted Odelia and Chase.

Next to the bed, a second smaller bed had been placed, where Grace slept. At one point, she would get her own bedroom, but for now, she still enjoyed sleeping in her parents’ bedroom. The sound of the gunshot must also have awakened her, for she yawned and stretched. “What was that noise?” she asked.

“We’re not sure,” I said. “But we think it was a gunshot.”

“It was coming from Blake’s Field,” said Dooley.

“We’re going to take a look,” I added.

“I’ll come with you,” she said, and threw off her blanket.

“No, you’re not,” I said. “You will stay right here.”

“But I want to come!” she insisted.

“It might be dangerous, Grace,” I said.

“As long as I’m with you guys, there’s no danger,” she argued. “You will be my bodyguards, won’t you?”

And since she is one of those people who likes to do as she says and do it now, she climbed down from her bed and padded in the direction of the door.

“At least wear some shoes,” I said.

“And a coat!” Dooley added.

We hurried after her, and I wondered what else we could say to make her stay put. The last thing we needed was for Grace to get shot out there in Blake’s Field. Even if it was just kids playing, the field definitely was not a place for her to hang out. She was too little and Dooley and I hardly qualified as bodyguards.

But since Grace does what Grace wants, we had no alternative but to follow her out of the house and then to the fence, where Chase has put a sort of stepladder to allow us to climb the fence and climb down the other side. He probably didn’t think it would also give his daughter license to do the same thing. Without waiting for us to catch up, the little girl was already clambering over that fence with surprising agility, almost as if she had never done anything else her entire life.

“She’s an expert climber, Max,” said Dooley, admiration clear in his voice.

“I’ll say,” I said.

“No, I said,” he said.

“It’s an expression, Dooley. It means I agree with what you just said.”

“Oh, right,” he said, and hurried up and over that fence to make sure that Grace wouldn’t get into all kinds of trouble.

I brought up the rear as I often do. I’m one of the heavyweight cats of this world, you see. Some people call me fat, but I would argue that it’s simple genetics and that I was born with big bones. With some effort, I also made it over the fence, and when I arrived on the other side, it took me a moment to locate my friend and Grace. They had already ventured deeper into the weeds, and when I finally caught up with them, I saw they had reached the clearing in the center of the field. A shack has been built there, with a car wreck located next to it. It’s mostly home to several colonies of mice, and also a colony of shrews and even a colony of ants, but when I looked closer, I saw that it wasn’t mice or shrews or ants that were crawling all over the place but a larger species of creatures.

“Rats!” said Dooley with dismay. “Max, look, it’s rats!”

“I can see, Dooley,” I assured him. There were indeed plenty of rats, and as we ventured a little closer still, I saw they were all sitting around an object that was lying on the ground. It was the body of a man, and as we took a good look at the man, I saw that he was familiar to us. It was none other than our next-door neighbor Kurt Mayfield!

Next to his body, a little doggie sat. It was Fifi, our good friend the Yorkshire terrier. She looked absolutely devastated, and had one paw draped over her human’s chest, and the other brought up to her face to wipe her tears.

“Max! Dooley!” she cried. “Someone shot Kurt!”

So that was the gunshot we had heard. It wasn’t kids, or a hunter hunting rabbits. It was someone taking a shot at the retired music teacher!

The rats had fled the moment we arrived, and a good thing, too, for they might have considered Kurt a nice meal and could have started nibbling at him, which is not what you want when you’ve just been shot.

“The blood must have attracted them,” I said, pointing to our neighbor’s blood-soaked shirt.

“Is he still alive?” asked Grace, who had also toddled up to the man and seemed unsure how to proceed.

“He’s alive,” said Fifi. She gave me a pained look. “I wanted to come and get you, but I was afraid to leave him alone with these rats. They were very mean to me, Max. They said I shouldn’t stand in the way of a nice snack. And they also said there was enough for all of us and I was being selfish for not wanting to share!”

“We’ll go and get Odelia and Chase,” I told her. “Come on, Grace. Time to leave.”

“I’ll stay here,” said Fifi, “and guard him, shall I?”

“You do that,” I said.

And so we hurried back the same way we had come, to wake up our humans and make sure Kurt got the help he needed.

“Is he dead, Max?” asked Grace. “It’s just that I’ve never seen a dead man.”

“And nor should you see one,” I told her. “At your age all you should see are the dolls you like to play with.”

I could have kicked myself for allowing Grace to tag along. Though I also knew there was absolutely no way I could have stopped her. In that sense she had inherited her mother’s stubbornness. One day she would make a great reporter—or cop—or both, like Odelia.

“I hope he won’t die, Max,” said Dooley. “Fifi would be devastated if he died.”

“All the more reason to make haste,” I urged.

We slammed into the bedroom, me panting up a storm, and Dooley and Grace still as light on their feet as they had been when we set out. One advantage was that when I jumped up on Odelia’s chest, she immediately was wide awake. I may not be the fastest cat on the block, but I’m the best at waking people up through the judicious application of the force of gravity.

“Max,” she groaned sleepily. “How many times have I told you not to sit on my chest?”

“It’s Kurt,” I said, not wasting any more time. “He’s been shot.”

Immediately, she was wide awake, and sat up with a jerk. I fell to the floor and when she saw me, Dooley, and Grace looking up at her, she realized I wasn’t kidding.

“Chase,” she said urgently, as she elbowed her husband in the ribs. “Wake up. Kurt Mayfield has been shot.”

It probably wasn’t the best way to start our day. But it was a darn sight better than Kurt’s start. I just hoped he would live. For Dooley was right: if he died, Fifi would be devastated.

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