Purrfect Spy (Max 88) Preview

Purrfect Spy (Max 88) Preview

The world’s flyest fly is back!

When an actual prince was found murdered at the Star Hotel, we were called in to investigate. It was the start of a very challenging twenty-four hours, with a drive-by shooting following on the heels of the events at the hotel, our friend Harriet being poisoned, trouble brewing at the General Store and Gran launching a new business venture that would make her a billionaire. I had a hard time keeping my wits about me and figuring out what was going on. Fortunately for us, an old friend decided to pitch in: none other than Norm the spying fly.

Chapter One

Carlos Perks stepped out of his car and glanced down at his right foot. He cursed when he saw that he had stepped in a pile of dog poo. At least he thought it was dog poo. It could have been human excrement, since it was a pretty big pile, and no dog he knew produced so much of the stuff, even the big dogs.

He sighed deeply and tried scraping it off the sole of his shoe. He had a big and important business meeting scheduled and he didn’t want to be late. But neither did he want to walk into the meeting and soil the hotel carpet with a bunch of smelly stuff. It was a matter of respect for the cleaning crew who would have to shampoo the carpet after he had been through.

A woman walked up to him and touched his arm. He looked up in surprise, but then he saw that it was his fiancée, Mindy.

“I hate it when this happens,” he grumbled. “Don’t you?”

“I always make sure I look where I walk,” she reminded him tartly. He didn’t like it when she made these cracks, making him feel stupid. But then it was par for the course with Mindy. She did it with everyone she met, and by now it had become a habit that was hard to break.

“Must have been a big dog,” he commented as he glanced around for the culprit. He saw an elderly man walking his dog a little further down the street, but that dog was tiny and couldn’t possibly be responsible for the smear of doo-doo left on his shoe.

Mindy was checking her watch and making impatient noises. “Let’s go, Carlos,” she said. “We don’t want to be late for this meeting.”

She was right. It was a make-or-break meeting for their business. If they didn’t manage to convince the client to put down a big order, they might as well pack up and leave. After all, they had been in business long enough to know that you can’t force fate. You can try and make it go your way by making sure that all the elements are in place, but even then it’s impossible to predict an outcome. Especially in a business as fickle as the one he and Mindy were in. They had recently expanded their product portfolio to pet food and needed the capital to expand.

He gave his shoe one final scrub against the side of the pavement and then hurried after his fiancée, who was already setting a nervous pace in the direction of the entrance to the Star Hotel, where their client would hopefully be in a good mood—a spending mood. Bug spray had been done before, but their particular product was definitely very novel and could set the market on fire if they ended up bagging just another couple of big orders. Even though Prince Abdullah was a repeat customer that didn’t mean they didn’t have to fight for his business.

He hoisted his mock-up up in his arms. The giant fly, which he had christened Virgil, never failed to impress, especially when combined with the PowerPoint presentation he had designed. As he lugged the giant thing into the hotel, he drew plenty of surprised and amused looks from the people in the lobby, who probably had never seen a man carry a giant fly in his arms before. Virgil was also the mascot of their company, which they had named Zap, Inc.

“Come on, come on,” Mindy urged as she pressed the elevator call button. The meeting wasn’t taking place in one of the conference rooms but in the client’s suite for some reason.

They arrived on the third floor, and Mindy traced a path to the door of the suite in question with her high-heeled Louboutins. If Prince Abdullah took one look at Mindy and liked what he saw, he might part with his money for the simple pleasure of being in the woman’s presence. He wouldn’t be the first man to fall for the peppy blonde and certainly not the last.

They paused in front of the designated door, and Mindy gave him a critical look. Then she got busy making sure that his hair looked just so, his shirt was buttoned up, his tie straight and his shoes spic and span.

“You need a personal stylist,” she said finally as she threw up her hands.

“I have a personal stylist,” he reminded her. “You!”

She half-smiled at this. “Funny guy.” She turned serious. “Let’s knock ‘em dead, Carlos.”

“Yeah, let’s,” he agreed. He applied his knuckles to the door, and they waited for Aladdin’s cave to open and shower them with lots and lots of money to make their dreams come true.

When after ten seconds there was no answer, he knocked again. And when there still was no sign that anyone was home, he exchanged a look of concern with his fiancée.

“Maybe he forgot?” he suggested.

“Impossible,” she said as she took out her phone. “He confirmed the meeting this morning.”

He hesitated. “Maybe he’s in the shower?”

“Let me try,” she said, and hit the door with her fist. The door rattled on its hinges since Mindy was a strong girl who loved her daily gym class and could bench press more than Carlos. He had never been one for physical exertion, preferring to spend his time on his creations. Like the innovative and revolutionary bug spray he had invented all by himself. Or the giant fly he was still holding in his arms. The creature seemed to be staring at him with its huge facet eyes, and even he got a little anxious when he looked into the big fly’s eyes. You could be forgiven for thinking it was real, even though it was all polyester and styrofoam.

“I hope he hasn’t changed his mind,” said Carlos. “We need this sale, sweetheart.”

“I know we need this sale,” she said annoyedly. “I’ll send him another message.”

She expertly and quickly typed out the message on her phone. Her fingers flew over the screen at a dizzying speed. Moments later, the message was sent and she was frowning at the device. “He’s received it, but he hasn’t seen it yet,” she announced. Then ten seconds later, “He still hasn’t seen it.” She lifted her eyes to take in his. He saw that she was starting to get seriously rattled now, which wasn’t like her. “Something is wrong, Carlos. Very wrong.”

“Maybe the prince changed his mind?” he suggested.

“But why? Half an hour ago everything was fine, so what changed?”

He shrugged. But since he was essentially a philosopher at heart, he didn’t think there was a lot they could do right now except accept their loss and go home. There would be other clients since essentially they had an excellent product to sell. Though Prince Abdullah represented their big break. If not for him, they’d never have cracked the Asian market in the first place.

Suddenly there was a sort of commotion on the other side of the door, and he placed his ear to the panel. “Did you hear that?”


“Sounded like… a gurgle or something?”

“What gurgle? I didn’t hear anything.”

The sound had died away, but he had definitely heard it. He wore pretty high prescription glasses, and he’d once read that if you lose one of your senses, the others are all augmented, so his hearing was excellent and a lot better than Mindy’s, who never seemed to hear anything.

“There’s definitely somebody in there,” he said.

“Of course there’s somebody in there,” said Mindy. “Only he doesn’t want to see us, does he? Must have had a change of heart, just like you said. Come on. Let’s go. I’m starting to feel like a fool, and I hate it when that happens.”

And she started to walk away, with that same brisk pace that was so typical for her. But the gurgle had given Carlos pause. Was it possible that the prince was in some kind of trouble?

And so he decided to give it one final shot. He put his fist to the door and gave it a vigorous rap. And much to his surprise, he thought he could detect another gurgle. And so without thinking, he set down the mock-up of Virgil and put his shoulder to the door.

“What do you think you’re doing?” asked Mindy, who had retraced her steps.

“There’s someone in trouble in there!” he said, and took a step back, then assaulted the door once again, this time throwing all of his not inconsiderable weight into it. The door buckled under the pressure, and he flew inside, landing on the carpeted floor, right next to a person.

As he stared at the man, he found himself looking straight into the eyes of Prince Abdullah himself. And in spite of the earlier gurgling, it was undeniable that life was now extinct!

Chapter Two

I had been watching a little bird tweeting up a storm in a nearby tree when a voice rang out inside the house.

“Max! Dooley!”

I exchanged a look of understanding with my friend Dooley, who was studying an ant crawling over a blade of grass and trying its darndest to carry a large crumb to safety.

“Looks like it’s time for us to get off our butts and do some real work for a change, buddy,” I told him.

“Pity. I was just about to help this little fella here feed his family.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, little ant. Looks like you’ll have to carry that crumb over the hill to your nest all by yourself.”

“Who are you talking to?” asked Brutus, who had been sunning himself and lying on his back, all four paws dangling this way and that.

“A little ant,” Dooley explained. “He’s carrying a big load, and I wanted to help him out.”

“What’s going on?” asked Harriet, emerging from a nearby bush. “What’s with all the yelling and screaming?”

“The yelling and the screaming was Odelia,” I said. “Who probably has some new case she wants us to assist her on.”

“Dooley can’t assist her today,” said Brutus. “On account of the fact that he needs to help a little old ant cross the road.” He grinned and gave me a wink.

I rolled my eyes. Brutus has a habit of teasing Dooley from time to time, even though Dooley is probably the sweetest cat in the world. But then again, maybe that’s why he attracts Brutus’s mockery. It’s always the best ones who get scorn piled on top of their heads, isn’t it?

“I think Dooley is doing a great job,” I said. “Keep up the good work, buddy.”

“Thanks, Max,” said Dooley, pleased by this endorsement.

“Oh, please,” said Brutus. “If every ant needed the assistance of a cat they’d get lazy and would stop building their nests for themselves. It’s exactly this kind of struggle and strife that builds character, Max.” He balled a fist and shook it. “It builds backbone. So taking that away from your little old ant is doing it a disservice. It’s crippling him and making sure he won’t be able to get through life and challenge its hurdles and vicissitudes.”

“Gee,” said Dooley. “I didn’t think about it that way, Brutus. But I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t help this little ant but encourage it to carry its load all by itself.” He lowered his face to the ant. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ant. Looks like you’re on your own. But not to worry. Brutus says it will build character and give you backbone.” He gave me a questioning look. “Do ants even have a backbone, Max? Do they have a spine?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. My knowledge of ants is very sketchy, I have to admit.

“Okay, I’m not telling you again,” said Odelia, suddenly busting through the kitchen door and walking out into the backyard. She stood there, her fists planted on her hips. “Lazy bunch,” she said, but she smiled as she said it, which softened the blow her words caused.

“I’ll have you know I’m not lazy!” said Harriet. “I’ve been thinking very hard about my next project, which is going to bring us all a lot of money, so that’s time well spent, wouldn’t you say?”

“And what project would that be?” asked Odelia.

“Too soon to tell,” said Harriet. “That’s why I was thinking so hard.”

“And what about you, Brutus?” asked our human. “What were you doing?”

“I was, um… also thinking hard,” said the big black cat. “In sync with Harriet, you know.”

“Thinking about the same project, huh? What about you, Max?”

“I was looking at a bird,” I said truthfully. I didn’t see the reason to lie about being lazy. After all, some of the greatest minds claim that being lazy causes fresh thoughts to pop into one’s head, and the best ideas come from their inventors being lazy and doing nothing.

“And you, Dooley?” asked Odelia.

“I was thinking about helping this ant,” said Dooley. “But Brutus said I shouldn’t, since it has to carry its burden all by itself, so it can build a backbone and deal with vivid tunes.”

“Vicissitudes,” Brutus corrected him.

Odelia’s smile widened. “Okay, what I wanted to ask you is this: do you think you’ll be able to drag yourselves away from your busy lives to assist me in a new investigation?”

“What investigation?” asked Harriet.

“A prince has been murdered at the Star Hotel,” said Odelia. “And hotel management has called it in. So Chase and I are going over there to take a closer look at what’s going on.”

“A prince has been murdered?” asked Harriet, her eyes sparkling. “Now that I have to see. I love princes,” she confessed. “They’re rich and handsome.”

“Not this one,” said Odelia. “This one is dead.”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Harriet. “Princes always travel in packs. Where there’s one there are bound to be others.”

“Okay, so let’s go,” said Odelia, as she clapped her hands. “You know the drill. Talk to any and all pet witnesses you can find, and extract as much information from them as you can.”

She certainly made it sound easy, but I know from experience that some of these pets don’t want to talk to a couple of cats, others are too traumatized by the death of their humans to collect their thoughts and say anything useful, and still others are downright hostile and a menace to any cat with a healthy sense of self-preservation, which I pride myself to possess.

But since Odelia is the boss and we are her loyal pets, we did as she asked and abandoned our respective positions on the lawn to traipse after her. Moments later, we were en route to the downtown area where the Star Hotel is located. A boutique hotel that caters to a wealthy clientele, it sets the standard for any hotels eager to supply excellence of service to its guests. I’ve never actually stayed there, but I’ve been there plenty of times, as it seems to attract both the upscale clientele I mentioned but also the criminal element eager to prey on that same clientele. I guess wealth inspires envy and covetousness in people who don’t want to work for a living but simply relieve those who do of their hard-earned personal possessions.

We arrived at the hotel to see several police vehicles parked in front of the building. Kingman, whose owner runs the General Store, was looking at us from across the street, and so we waved at him. “Remind me to talk to Kingman when we’re done here,” I told Dooley.

“But why, Max? Do you think he has seen what happened?”

I shrugged. “He’s a potential witness, that’s all.”

Since Kingman likes to sit in front of the General Store, which is located directly across the street from the hotel, there’s always a chance he might have seen something—or someone.

“The killer won’t have come crawling out of the window, if that’s what you’re suggesting, Max,” said Brutus, who was in one of his vitriolic and acerbic moods today I noticed.

“He could have passed by the window,” I said. Many a killer will pass in front of the window of the room he has selected to satiate those murderous urges and will be seen from across the street. Though Brutus was right in suggesting that it was a long shot.

The elevator took us up to the third floor, where plenty of police activity was already taking place, with officers talking to any and all neighbors of the guest who had been killed. Before long, we arrived at the room in question, and when we entered, immediately came upon the dead person, who was lying just beyond the door, in the entrance hall.

Abe Cornwall, the county coroner, was crouched next to the man, studying him intently, trying to ascertain what had made him the way he was. The victim was a swarthy individual, I saw, and dressed in uncommon garb: a long flowing white robe and also a headdress that I hadn’t seen very often on the streets of Hampton Cove. He also had a perfectly coiffed little black beard that must have cost him plenty of time in the morning to make look just right. He was quite young, I thought. Late twenties maybe, or early thirties. Handsome, too.

“Looks like he was killed by two gunshot wounds to the chest,” said Abe as he pointed to two bloodied spots on the white robe. “This second one will probably be what killed him. It still took him a while to die, though, according to the couple who found him.” He looked up with a sparkle in his eyes. “He was still gurgling when they found him. Gurgling, Chase.” He pointed to the man’s face. “See the blood on his lips? Poor guy tried to call out for help.”

Chase made a face. “Caliber?” the detective asked curtly.

“I’ll know more when I dig out the slugs. But it’s a small caliber weapon.”


“Looks like it. But like I said, I’ll know more once I get this fella on my slab.”

“Who found him?” asked Odelia.

“A couple selling bug spray,” said Chase. “They were expecting a sales presentation and instead walked in on this. They’re in the room across the hall, waiting to be interviewed.”

“Bug spray?” asked Abe with a grin as he got up to his feet. “I didn’t know the good people from Abou-Yamen were in the market for bug spray. It’s just a lot of desert over there, right?”

“Even in the desert there are bugs, Abe,” said Chase. “There are bugs everywhere.”

“I’ve never been to Abou-Yamen, I’m sorry to say,” said Abe as he peeled off his plastic gloves. “From what I’ve heard it’s a beautiful country. And the climate is perfect, of course.”

“Too hot for my taste,” said Chase. “But then I’ve never liked the heat.” He glanced down at the victim. “But you’re right. It is a little odd that a prince from the kingdom of Abou-Yamen would meet with a couple of bug spray salespeople in a hotel room in Hampton Cove.”

“And be murdered for his trouble,” said Abe. He smiled. “One thing I can tell you right now, it wasn’t bug spray that killed him.” He gave Chase and Odelia a two-fingered salute. “I’ll have my report on your boss’s desk at my earliest possible convenience. Feel free to peruse it to your heart’s content. I find that it makes for excellent reading. But then I guess I’m biased.”

Odelia and Chase watched him walk away. “An artist who loves his own work,” said Odelia. “You have to admit it’s admirable.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” said Chase. He gestured to the door. “Interview the witnesses, spouse?”

“Lead the way, spouse.”

Chapter Three

We found our two witnesses in the room across the corridor, as promised, and it was true that they looked discombobulated, but then I guess most people will feel this way when they come across a dead body. It’s one thing to see it in the movies or read about it, and quite a different experience altogether to encounter it in real life. Both of the people we saw looked extremely pale, with the woman looking as if she was about to throw up—or perhaps she already had.

In a corner of the room, I saw a large mock-up of a fly, and it immediately attracted my attention. It isn’t every day that you see a fly blown up to such proportions, and I immediately made a beeline for the bug. As mock-ups go, it was extremely well done and looked very real.

“This is amazing, Max,” said Dooley. “It looks like a real fly—only ten times bigger.”

“How about a million times bigger?” said Brutus as he studied the bug from every angle.

“I think it looks scary,” said Harriet. “Imagine if this was an actual fly. It would wreak havoc on our town, you guys. It would be like a horror movie! It would be fly armageddon!”

“It’s not a real fly,” I said. “It’s just plastic and rubber and foam with a lick of paint. Though it’s true that it’s extremely well done. Whoever made this is an artist in their own right.”

“I made it,” said the artist in question. “It was for my presentation to Prince Abdullah. We’ve developed a new type of bug spray, a much improved version of our old one, and I decided to bring along this fly to add a little oomph to my sales pitch. These things tend to be very dry, and so I thought that some didactic material would help get our message across.”

“And that message is?” asked Chase, who was busy taking notes, but couldn’t help darting an occasional look at the fly, which was a real eye-catcher.

“Our bug spray is one hundred percent environmentally friendly,” said the man, whose name was Carlos Perks and who was a chemist. “Most insecticides are very harmful to the environment, and so they should be used with extreme caution. My bug spray is perfectly safe. It can even be inhaled or ingested by a person and they won’t experience any adverse effects.”

“And still one hundred percent effective in eradicating the pests,” said his fiancée, whose name was Mindy Horsefield. The woman was making a superhuman effort to engage herself in conversation, but it was clear to all present that she was having a pretty hard time at it.

“Maybe you should lie down, Ms. Horsefield,” Odelia suggested. “We can do this interview at a later time.”

“No, let’s do it now,” she said adamantly. “Better get it over with.”

“So can you tell us in your own words what happened when you arrived at Prince Abdullah’s room?” asked Chase.

“Well, I knocked,” said Mindy. “And when there was no answer, I knocked again. And then, just when we were about to go, Carlos thought he heard a sound coming from the room.”

“What kind of sound?” asked Odelia.

“Like a gurgle?” said Carlos. “Or maybe a groan or something? It’s just that we thought that maybe the prince had forgotten about our meeting.”

“Even though he had texted me only half an hour before that the meeting was definitely a go,” said Mindy with a shrug. “So I knew that he must have changed his mind.”

“But then you heard this gurgle or groan,” Odelia prompted.

Carlos nodded. “That’s right. It seemed to come from inside the room, and so I decided that maybe the prince was in some kind of trouble. And that maybe we should get in there.”

“And then you broke down the door,” said Chase dryly.

Carlos gave him a nervous look. “I’ll pay for the damage, of course.”

“Nonsense,” said Mindy. “You acted on impulse. The impulse to save a life. And turns out you were right. Someone attacked the prince. Only we were too late to save him.”

“Is he…” Carlos gulped and I could see his Adam’s apple jumping up and down. “Is he dead?”

“I’m afraid so, sir,” said Odelia. “He was shot.”

“Shot!” said Mindy. “Oh, my God!”

“You didn’t hear a gunshot?” asked Chase.

Both Carlos and Mindy shook their heads. “Like I said, all I heard was some kind of strange gurgle coming from inside the room,” said Carlos. “I wasn’t sure what it meant but I got this sudden feeling that something was seriously wrong, and that maybe I should do something.”

“If it had been up to me I would have gone down to reception,” said Mindy. “But Carlos figured he couldn’t wait that long. So he burst into that room and…” She grimaced and her face went a shade paler than it had already been. “And then we saw…” She closed her eyes.

“I fell to the floor and came face to face with the prince,” said Carlos softly as he stared before him and wrung his hands. “He was just lying there, looking at me. Eyes wide open.”

“I knew the moment I laid eyes on the prince that he was dead,” said Mindy. “He had that look in his eyes, you know. A look of terror. Like you see in the movies sometimes.”

“Was there anyone else in the room apart from Prince Abdullah?” asked Chase.

Mindy shook her head. But then she slung a hand to her face. “Oh, my God. You mean, the killer?! You think he was still in there?” She turned to Carlos. “He could have shot us, too!”

“I don’t think he was in there,” said Carlos. “If he was, we would have seen him.”

“He was probably hiding,” said Mindy. She turned to Chase. “Was he there, you think?”

“I’m sorry, but at this moment we have no way of knowing,” said Chase.

“But… is there another exit?”

“There’s the balcony,” said Chase. “Most likely he got out that way.”

Mindy looked sick now. “I’m sorry, but I need to…” And suddenly she bolted in the direction of the bathroom, slammed the door, and a moment later we could hear the telltale sounds of a person relieving themselves of the remnants of their breakfast.

“Apologies for my fiancée,” said Carlos. “It’s the first time that she… that we… I mean, we’ve never…” He swallowed with some difficulty, and I got the impression that he would soon be joining Mindy in that bathroom.

“Let’s go and find us some witnesses of our own,” Brutus suggested, and darted a final look at the giant fly.

“Too bad it’s not a real fly,” said Dooley. “I’m sure it would have a great story to tell.”

It reminded me that once upon a time we had made the acquaintance of an actual fly, who had done some great work for us. The thing is that cats are great spies, but even they can’t beat a fly, since they can get into any room and simply spend time there, unobserved by anyone. The proverbial fly on the wall, in other words, but then for real.

Dooley must have also remembered our friendly spying fly, for the moment Harriet and Brutus had left the room, he said, “I wonder who Carlos used as a model to create this, Max. Do you think it was our friend Norm?”

I smiled. “I’m sure he didn’t need to use a model, Dooley,” I said. “He probably found a picture of a fly online and used it to create this mock-up.”

“I wish Norm was here now,” said Dooley. “I wonder what he would think about this mock-up. Like looking in a mirror, I imagine. Only one of those funny mirrors at the playground that make you look ten times your own size.”

And just when we were about to leave the room to look for those pet witnesses Odelia had mentioned, a fly flew in through the open window and settled on the wall next to the giant mock-up. And as it took in its likeness in polystyrene, it seemed not to like what it saw, for suddenly it burst out, “That is not how I look!”

Dooley gaped at the fly. “Norm, is that you?” he asked.

The fly seemed to notice us for the first time, for suddenly he cried, “Dooley! Max! Oh, it’s so great to see you guys!”

I would have said that a lot of hugging and backslapping followed, but unfortunately, flies are too small—or cats too big—to engage in that kind of friendly interaction. So instead, we simply sufficed by taking up position closer to our friend and expressing our surprise that we had just been talking about him and all of a sudden there he was.

“It’s such a pity to see you!” said Dooley.

“You mean serendipity,” I corrected him.

“That, too!” Dooley cried, happy to see our friend.

Over the course of our investigations, we’ve made so many great friends and met so many pets and other creatures that it’s always fun to see them again. And since once again we were faced with a mystery, Norm had arrived just in time.

“What are you guys doing here?” he asked. “Except looking at this abomination, of course.”

“It belongs to that guy over there,” said Dooley, pointing to Carlos. “He has designed a bug spray that is lethal to bugs but safe for humans and pets, and so he wanted to demonstrate it to a potential client by using it on this mock-up fly.”

“I don’t think he was actually going to try and kill the mock-up fly,” I told him. “Since it isn’t a real fly, you see.”

“Of course it’s not a real fly,” said Norm. “It doesn’t even look like a fly!”

It certainly looked like a fly to me, but then what do I know? It’s like being a dog and figuring all cats look the same, and vice versa. I guess it’s the same with flies. To me, all flies look the same, even though they’re probably all different.

“A man was murdered,” I said in answer to Norm’s question. “And so it’s up to us to find out what happened.” I gave him a curious look. “You wouldn’t have a moment to spare, would you?”

“I thought you’d never ask. A nice murder mystery is just what I need. To take my mind off things, I mean.”

I was afraid to ask but did so anyway. “Take your mind off what things, Norm?”

“Trouble with the missus,” he said.

“I didn’t know you were married?”

“Oh, I am. Only now it looks as if I won’t be married much longer. It all started when I refused to condone her desire to start a family, you see.”

“You don’t want to start a family?”

“Of course not! I mean, fathering hundreds of kids? Who has the time? I’ve got my own ambitions. And you know what it’s like: the moment you start a family, you’re trapped. Trapped in the kind of drudgery that is death to a creative and enterprising fly like me. Anyway, when I told her I didn’t want kids, she blew her top. I had to get away, so I decided to take a tour around the block. And who would I meet? You guys! I’m telling you, it’s kismet!”

It certainly felt like kismet to me, and so we told Norm all about the murder inquiry that we had been tasked with. He immediately agreed to use his unique skill set to get us the information we needed to tackle this mystery. And as he flew off to talk to any witness he could find, we did the same. Without the flying part, that is.

I just hoped that we could put this case to bed real fast, for I experienced a pressing and urgent need to return to my backyard and finish doing what I was doing before Odelia came to fetch us, which was exactly nothing.

Chapter Four

Rogelio Hartshorn checked his watch, then took a final long drag from his cigarette and threw it on the floor, extinguishing it with the heel of his fine Italian shoe. “What’s taking her so long?” he muttered annoyedly. He’d been standing in front of Mitzy’s Tea Shoppe for so long he felt as if he was about to become a permanent fixture to this section of Hampton Cove’s downtown area. A living statue, in other words, though if it took much longer, he might just as well be a dead statue.

A white van slowed down and he glanced in its direction, hopeful that it would be the woman he’d been waiting for. Her name was Marjorie Collett, and for some reason she had told him to meet outside the tea shop and not in his office, where he mostly met new clients. When the van was almost level with him, a window was lowered and an automatic firearm appeared. And as he stared at the deadly contraption, it started spitting out bullets and hammering his surroundings. As he stood there, too shocked to react, the weapon was quickly withdrawn, the window raised, and the van sped off, with screeching and smoking tires.

For a moment he just stood there, then he checked himself for bullet wounds. He didn’t feel any pain, and his corpus seemed fully intact, so he let out a long, shuddering breath of relief.

Several people came hurrying up to him, to see if he was all right. He would have told them he was fine, but for some reason found that in the brief moments that gun had spat out a series of bullets in his direction, he had lost his capacity for speech. When finally his vocal cords decided to report for duty once more, he breathed, “The police! We have to call the police!”

“Way ahead of you, buddy,” said a thickset man as he held up his phone. He then yelled into the device, “Yes, a drive-by shooting! On Grover Street! Better hurry and catch those gangsters!” The moment he had disconnected, he held up his phone once more. “I got the whole thing on my phone,” he told a still-stricken Rogelio. “I was filming that cute little statuette over there when this thing went down and so I got it all on film. Wanna see?”

And without waiting for Rogelio’s approval, he showed him the video he’d shot of the incident. All Rogelio could think was that he looked very pale and could do with some more time spent outside instead of in his office. The Bahamas, maybe, or Hawaii. The most miraculous thing, though, was that he was fine, even though an attempt had just been made on his life.

“How are you feeling?” asked a woman, giving him a solicitous look as she checked his body for bullet holes. “I don’t see anything,” she added, and Rogelio couldn’t help but notice there was a touch of disappointment in her voice, as if the carnage she had been expecting hadn’t been delivered and she personally blamed him for the lack of cooperation.

“I don’t think I’m hurt,” he announced as he checked the wall behind him and saw that it was riddled with bullets and had suffered plenty of damage to the brickwork.

“It’s almost as if they missed you on purpose,” said the man who had shown him the video.

“Impossible,” said the woman. “You’d have to be an incredible marksman to shoot around a person in such a way.”

“You’re probably both right,” said a third onlooker. “The AR-15 is a weapon that’s known for its accuracy. It’s very hard to miss, especially considering they fired off an entire clip.”

“Okay, so they were probably incompetent shooters,” the woman amended her statement.

“Incompetent or not,” said a fourth witness, “you, sir, are one lucky son of a gun.”

Rogelio let out a sigh of relief. “Extremely lucky,” he agreed.

Just then, a car pulled up at the curb, and a couple of police officers jumped out. One of them made a beeline for him and asked, “Was it you who reported being attacked, sir?”

He nodded, glad that the cavalry had arrived. “That’s right.”

“I saw the whole thing, officer,” said the video man. He swung his phone. “And I’ve got it all on video. It’s right here, from the start to the very shocking end, with our brave hero still standing while all around him devastation was wreaked by that hailstorm of lethal bullets strafing the rustic scene.” He grinned and gave Rogelio a wink. “I write crime thrillers as a hobby. And I hope you won’t mind, but I think I’ll use this in one of my next books.”

He nodded, unsure how to respond to this. “Okay, sir, let’s get you out of here,” said the cop as he started steering him in the direction of the police vehicle.

“I really don’t know what happened,” he said. “One moment I was standing there, minding my own business, and all of a sudden this van slowed down and they started shooting at me!”

“It’s all right here,” said the woman as she gestured to the wall that was pockmarked with bullet holes. “There must be at least two dozen bullets that were fired, see? Maybe more.”

One of the officers approached the wall and nodded thoughtfully. “It’s a miracle you escaped with your life, sir,” he said.

In a shaky voice, he admitted, “You can say that again!”

But then he was ushered into the car, and moments later they were mobile. It was only then that he remembered that he’d been waiting for Marjorie Collett to arrive. And as he took out his phone to send her a message he wouldn’t be able to honor their meeting, he wondered for the first time why he would have suddenly found himself the victim of an attempt on his life.

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