Book: That darn cat



THAT DARN CAT

Аннотация

В 1991 году в журнале «Мы» была напечатана повесть Милдред и Гордона Гордонов «Таинственный кот идет на дело» – вторая книга о приключениях Дьявольского Кота семейства Рэндаллов. Предлагаем Вашему вниманию первую книгу о Дьявольском Коте.

«Информатор X-14» – это последняя надежда ФБР найти и обезвредить двух грабителей банка, которые при бегстве прихватили с собой служащего банка в качестве заложника. Но Информатор X-14 не разговаривает. Он – всего лишь 25 фунтов черного кошачьего меха, который сидел там и мурлыкал.

The zany story of Darn Cat Randall who causes mayhem and anarchy for the FBI and a couple of rascally crooks.

MildredandGordonGordon.THAT DARN CAT

INFORMANT X-14

was the key to the FBI's last desperate hope of locating and apprehending two bank robbers before the fugitives could dispose of the teller they'd kidnapped as getaway insur­ance. But informant X-14 wasn't talking. He was just 25 pounds of black, feline fur that sat there and purred.

HOW A CAT WHO WOULDN'T TALK TOOK THE FBI ON A HIGHLY UNORTHODOX CAPER.

"Please. Don't refer to him as a 'cat' It does something to his ego. Now if I put him down in the reports as D. C. Randall, you know the Bureau. Some guy back there on a desk will tear into us, want to know what the idea is of using initials. And if I put him down as Darn Cat Randall, I hate to think of what will happen. They'll figure I made it up, that I'm being funny. And what about using Randall? Who ever uses a last name with a cat? But you know the Bureau. Full names."

Newton pulled the phone over. "I think we'd bet­ter talk with Washington ."

The zany story of Darn Cat Randall who causes mayhem and anarchy for the FBI and a couple of rascally crooks.

All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

For Mike Zimring

with our gratitude,

our affection.

Foreword

Because of the highly classified nature of the information presented herein, we sincerely hope that our readers will hold the facts set forth in the strictest confidence, including the true identity of Informant X-14. As for the FBI, we must state that that remarkable organization has not been asked to approve or authorize this account of what took place with X-14.

The Gordons

1

Patti Randall was slipping into a half world of drowsiness when the telephone aroused her. By the time she found the instrument on the floor, where her sixteen-year-old sister, Ingrid, had been using it earlier that evening, it gave one half-ring gasp and died.

Returning the phone to the night stand, she saw by the alarm that it was 12:30 a.m. She switched off the light and stretched to her full five feet seven. All evening she had been jangly note 1 hearing strange noises stirred up outside by a wind busy hustling leaves in the September night. At times she would find herself listening intently, trying to sort out the sounds and identify them. She blamed Mrs. Macdougall next door for her uneasiness. Mrs. Macdougall had taken it on herself to look after "those orphans" while the Randall parents were vacationing in Europe .

"If anything happens in the night," she had told Patti, "just scream and I'll hear you." Patti could believe that. Drop a pin, and old Mrs. Macdougall would hear. She was better than a burglar alarm system. In the same breath Mrs. Mac­dougall had continued, "Terrible things are happening every night. Like that woman whose husband was away, and her and her old mother were murdered in cold blood at 2:23 a.m."

And if Mrs. Macdougall said it was 2:23 a.m., that it was. She was a stickler when it came to crime facts.

Patti booted Mrs. Macdougall out of mind and tried con­centrating on the moon high over the orange tree, a skinny moon that had been on a diet, which reminded her uncom­fortably that she had gained two pounds the past month. She was pushing size ten as far as she dared and still continue to work as a model. Only today a glinty note 2-eyed old fool, sitting right alongside his wife at a lunch table in Bullock's pent­house restaurant, had figured her hip measurements down to an inch as she pirouetted before them in a Thai silk sheath.

Perhaps she should wear a girdle, although that would indicate advancing age, and at twenty-three she wasn't going to admit it

She shook off such an unhappy thought and was slipping into sleep when she heard the noise at the back door. She came bolt upright, then smiled inwardly and settled back down into the enormous pillow, knowing the noise indicated that D.C., their twenty-five-pound black cat, was entering the house through the little opening for milk bottles in the wall of the service porch. He would be grunting like a Japanese wrestler as he squirmed through. Talk about a girdle. He was the one who needed a girdle.

She stiffened again as footsteps came over, a man's on the front walk, sharp and determined. And though she had anticipated it, the harsh buzz of the doorbell sent a thrust of fear through her. She searched frantically in the closet for a robe, and all the time the man kept his finger pressed on the buzzer until she could have screamed. She ended up grabbing a thin negligee which covered her but failed to conceal the long, slender legs beneath the blue baby doll pajamas.

Passing Mike's room, she called softly, "Mike," but her twelve-year-old brother wouldn't hear, not that one, nor Ingrid. An assailant could empty a revolver into her without awakening those two.

Hurrying too fast, she struck the corner of the dining table. Now she'd have a big, black blotch there, and if she had to model swim suits she'd look as if she had been in a barroom brawl.

Turning on the porch light, she eased the door open three inches, which was all the safety chain would permit. Greg Balter stood there, the neighbor from across the street. He was a couple of years older than she, a brilliant attorney whom everyone said would go far. He was tall, and all male, and had that kind of innocent face loved by women from the Popsicle to the bifocal age. All except her. She considered him anything but innocent.

"Oh, it's you," she said, anticipating trouble, which he invariably brought, usually over his dachshund, Blitzy, which was one of the two pets he adored. The other was a white Thunderbird.

"I tried calling you." His tone was quasi-conciliatory. She motioned him in and waited. Long ago she had learned the subtle power of silence in an argument. It invariably got the other side off on the wrong foot.

He withdrew the smile. "Your cat …" he began again, reassembling his forces. Their gaze met and locked in hand-to-hand combat.

"What about him?" she demanded tightly.

"Up to now I've been pretty patient. He's dug up my flowers, and left his fingerprints all over my car, and gotten into fights in my back yard – "

"You come over to discuss this at 1 a.m.?"

"And now he's stolen a mallard duck from my service porch."

"He did what?"

He continued, "I saw him leaving with it. He was half dragging it across the yard." His glance slipped to her legs, then he snapped it back as if determined not to be swayed by anything female.

"Now, wait just a minute, Greg. After all – "

He interrupted. "I spent all day in a duck blind in a beating rain. I could've caught pneumonia – and I got one duck. Just one duck. And your cotton-pickin' old cat comes snoop­ing around. I thought I heard something on the back porch, and sure enough, when I went out, the screen door banged shut, and the duck was gone."

She was so furious she could scarcely talk. "And I suppose he reached up, unlatched the screen, opened the door, and walked in?"

"He opened the door and walked in all right. That cat could walk into Fort Knox . Don't ask me how he does it."

It was a moment before she could find words. "Well, that does it. That absolutely does do it. Of all the preposterous, unfair, monstrous accusations – "

She stopped in mid-air as D.C. padded in to learn who was calling. He walked very proudly, head high in the air, bearing the duck in his mouth.

For a second she was stunned, then she reached down in a quick, sweeping motion to seize the duck. But she was not swift enough. D.C. fastened a death hold on the bird. They wrestled, and then Patti gave a hard wrench and tore it out of his mouth, shredding the duck somewhat in the process. Holding it by one foot, she swung it over to Greg whose face was smeared with triumph.

"Just serves you right," she snapped. "What do you expect a cat to do if you go around leaving your game where he can get it? He's a hunter, like you."

"He's a thief," Greg said, staring down in hatred at D.C. "A plain thief. And if I catch him on my property once more, he's going to get a pants full of buckshot. Nine times, if I have to."

She trembled so she could scarcely speak. "Greg Balter, if you dare – "

He turned abruptly and walked away. As she slammed the door, she muttered to herself, "Darn, darn."

D.C. muttered low in response. His full name was Darn Cat, a name given him by her father who was always stum­bling over him in the dark. It was not a name, however, bandied about when their mother was within hearing.

"No, not you," she said, dropping to the floor by him. She started to fondle him, but he stalked away. She wasn't the only angry one. It was getting so that every time he brought a good catch into the house, someone took it away from him. He didn't even get a taste. That was the trouble with people. They wanted it all for themselves. And she needn't try to make up. People always did that. They wanted instant forgiveness after wronging him.

Just then the light picked up something shiny in the fur about his neck. She grabbed him by a hind leg, and he strug­gled. It was a wonder he had any kidneys left, he thought, the way they manhandled him.

In amazement, she removed a woman's wrist watch, which was fastened around his neck like a collar. Mystified, she examined it. Some child would probably be missing a treasure tomorrow, she thought sleepily.

She grinned. "You sure hit the jack pot tonight, didn't you, D.C.?"

2

Patti was sipping coffee in the kitchen the next morning when Inky dragged in sleepy-eyed in her pink cotton pajamas, carrying her clothes with her.

"Point me to the coffee, please," she said.

Patti poured her a cup, steaming hot. "Where were you at 1 a.m. last night when I was set upon and needed your help?"

Inky came awake. "What?"

"Greg was over. D.C. broke into his house and stole a duck."

At mention of his name, D.C. appeared and, without so much as a hello, jumped up on a low kitchen stool, leaped to the drainboard, and from there to the top of the refrigerator. He laboriously set about washing an ear. He would moisten one side of his paw and brush the wet fur energetically. The process would take time but then he had no further plans for the day other than to sleep and fortify himself for the night's rounds.

Inky wriggled into a slip. "I bet he was furious."

"He threatened to murder D.C. if he caught him on his property again."

Inky grinned. "He wouldn't do that. He's nice. I like him lots."

"You like his Thunderbird. I saw you night before last. Traitor."

How could you cope with a man who took the neighborhood youngsters in his car with him when he went to the market or post office? Not that he really cared anything about them, she thought. It was just that he was hungry for companionship. Since his mother's death, he had lived alone in the old family home, cooking for himself, washing dishes, making his own bed, puttering around the yard, and looking after that horrible misanthrope dachshund of his.

Patti yelled for Mike to hurry up, that he'd be late, and started the eggs and bacon. Inky set the table, keeping up a running chatter. "I was so mad I could've blown the whole guidance department apart. Those people haven't got any brains in their head. As soon as I mentioned I wanted a certain home room teacher, the guy froze up and wouldn't even listen. I tell you, sis, it may have been one of God's days, like you're always saying, but it was one of His worst."

"Mike!" Patti shouted again, this time above Ricky Nelson, who had invaded the kitchen in volume sufficient for the Hollywood Bowl. Patti turned the sound down.

Ingrid failed to notice. "I'm going in today and tell Mr. Hopkins he's simply, absolutely got to give me another home room teacher, and if He doesn't I'm going to try tears. I'm going to cry my heart out."

Patti was amused. "You're learning, honey. You're learning fast."

Mike came scuffing in then, looking two years older than the twelve he was. His crew cut was well waxed. "Don't let anybody drop a match on you today," Patti said, handing him his plate.

"Very funny." He ate as if food were going out of style. "Do you think Mom and Dad have forgotten us?" he asked. ''They haven't written in two days." He said it accusingly. He himself had managed one letter to his parents in a month.

Ingrid said, "I don't know how they could leave three such lovely children behind." She shot a glance at Mike. "Well, two anyway."

Mike ignored her. He had a problem to discuss with Patti. He was a box boy after school at Ralph's grocery. "I was stacking the cans up in a pyramid, and this little monster, I didn't see him, and he pulled a can out at the bottom, and got conked, and yells I tried to kill him. I almost got fired. Mr. Mayhew said he'd let me off with a warning, that I had to be more careful…."

He added, "I don't know what to do about the children. If you frown at them, their mothers scream at you. Man, when I was a kid, I couldn't do anything – but this younger generation…."

Patti remembered the watch then, and got it from a chest drawer. "Look at the loot D.C. bagged last night. I figure some youngster put it around D.C.'s neck, and his mother's probably going mad this morning trying to find it."

Ingrid examined it curiously, picked up her schoolbooks, and was halfway out the back door when Mike said, "Hey, you know what?"

He was excited. "You remember that holdup about a week ago, that bank in Van Nuys two guys knocked over for a couple hundred grand – and they grabbed a bank teller – an old lady, about forty – and nobody's seen any of them since. You remember, don't you, Pat?"

She looked blank. "Well – "

"She was wearing a watch like this one. I remember, the paper described everything she had on, and there was a pic­ture with this watch on her wrist."

He continued breathlessly. "She put it on him, don't you see? She's being held prisoner right around here, and D.C. got into the house, and she put it around his neck to get help."

"Wait a minute," Patti said, "an' back up."

"You've got to call the police, Pat. You've got to. You know how old D.C." – he ran a hand roughly over the cat – "wan­ders around and visits people and mooches from them." He turned to D.C. "You love people, don't you, you old hound?"

D.C. licked him appreciatively. He was very fond of this boy he had reared through the difficult pre-teen period, when a youngster lacked the maturity to recognize that a cat's tail was a definite member of his body.

Ingrid said, "Sure, he loves the human race. He doesn't' know any better."

Patti sat quietly. "Now let's not get carried away. Chances are a million to one …"

"The paper said to call the FBI if anybody had any news." Mike, undaunted, was already looking up the number. "Here it is. Hubbard 3-3551. Be sure to tell them D.C. brought the watch home. He might get a congressional medal or some­thing."

D.C. couldn't have cared less. He was above such things. He started work on the other ear. Cleanliness. That was what was important.

3

Zeke Kelso took the call. He was tall and lanky, and had a soft, pleasant, wind-swept Nevada drawl.

"You say your cat brought the watch home?"

"Someone had fastened it around his neck."

"Like a collar?"

"Yes, Mr. Kelso. And D.C. had – "

"What do you call him?"

"D.C." She hesitated a second. "It stands for Darn Cat. You see, father – "

"Would you spell that, please?"

"It's just what you think it is. D-a-r-n."

"D-a-r-n." Unconsciously he raised his voice. "Darn Cat?"

A stenographer taking dictation at the next desk glanced up, and he dropped to a whisper. The Bureau would disap­prove of the use of such a word before the stenos.

He asked, "Are you in a bar somewhere, Miss Randall?"

He heard her shout to someone. "Mike, for heaven's sake, turn that radio off." She returned to him. "No, I'm not in a bar. I'm at home – and his name is Darn Cat – and I can't help it – and you insisted on knowing – and – "

"Is someone with you, Miss Randall?"

"Yes, my brother, Mike. He's twelve – and my sister, In-grid, she's sixteen. Our parents are in Europe . My father, George Randall, works for Lockheed…."

He scribbled the names as fast as she spoke them, listing them on a yellow, legal-size scratch pad. "Miss Randall, would you please open the watch and see if there's anything scratched inside the back cover?"

As he waited, he drummed his fingers quietly on the desk. He needed another cup of coffee badly. He thought he was becoming an addict. He had been up since five, and at the office since six, drafting a lengthy report on a case involving unlawful flight to avoid prosecution for murder. Recently, the work load had been heavy. Seventy-two hours last week. … What was taking her so long?

She came back on the line. "I can't get the back off."

"Try a paring knife."

"I'm afraid I'll ruin the watch."

"That doesn't matter."

After another minute, she said, "Looks like a Y followed by some numbers. They're so small I can't make them out."

He came alive. There was no question this was the vic­tim's watch. They had learned at the outset of the investiga­tion from Helen Jenkins' father that she had had her watch repaired in June 1960, at the House of Neuwirth, 6081 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood , and at that time the repairman had scratched in the identifying Y mark.

As of last night, then, Miss Jenkins had been alive. For seven days they had searched with growing desperation for trace of her and her two captors. Zeke himself had concluded she was dead. The pattern in most of these cases was the same: the hold-up men either freed or killed the hostage within a few hours. Seldom did they want to be burdened with one in flight.

He asked quickly, "Where had he been? I mean, where does your cat usually go – or do you know?"

She laughed softly. "I can see you don't know much about cats, Mr. Kelso. He goes everyplace. He likes people. Thinks he's one of us. And he likes to visit. He waits until dark when the mockingbirds can't see him, because they give him a bad time, and then goes scratching around on doors. If the people are nice to him, he goes back. I think he's got a regular route worked out."

Zeke toyed with a pencil. From the way she talked, not only does the cat think he is "one of us," but she thinks so, too. The long-hoped-for break binged not only on a dame who sounded zany but a cat equally zany. He detested cats; they were barbarians – the entire breed – devouring birds, fighting to the death with all vocal stops pulled out, howling like a bunch of banshees as they made love, purring one min­ute around you, clawing and spitting the next, and then deliv­ering that final insult, the turn of the rear on you with the tail held high.

He caught his thoughts in mid-air. He must be careful not to betray how he felt. The Bureau would tolerate no prejudice. The Bureau believed firmly in the brotherhood of man. The Bureau wanted the objective approach.

He continued with his questions. "Do you know when your cat came in, Miss Randall?"

"Twelve-thirty exactly. I'd had a phone call."

"Might I ask who called you?"

"Well, I didn't get to the phone in time. It was under the bed – I mean, it'd quit ringing, but the party came over to the house shortly afterwards. One of the neighbors from across the street."

"What's her name?"

"It wasn't a her." She paused and, in doing so, knew she had aroused suspicion. "It was a young attorney. Greg Balter. B-a-1-t-e-r."

"Why did he come over?"

She hesitated again, then came out with. it. "D.C. had broken into his house and stolen a duck."

"He'd stolen what?"

"A duck. A mallard duck."

"Oh." He thought about that for a moment "You say he'd broken in – are we still talking about your cat, Miss Randall?"

"Yes, Mr. Kelso, he's very clever. He'll take a paw and if the door is barely ajar he'll open it. Sometimes on a screen door he can jiggle the latch loose."

"What attitude did Mr. Balter take about this? Was he – that is, upset?"

"That puts it mildly. Mr. Balter can get awfully mad awfully fast."

"I'll need a description of the cat. We always get one on – "

He had started to say "informants." A description of a cat? That struck him as asinine. But he did have a card to file in an index, a report to write eventually, and the Bureau in­sisted on details.

He wrote on a separate sheet: Informant. Name: Darn Cat Randall. He frowned, crossed out the Randall, then rein­stated it. Address: 1820 Greenbriar, Sherman Oaks, Califor­nia . Description:

"How old is he?"

"Let me see. We got him when Mike was seven. That makes him five."

"Weight?'

"Twenty-five pounds."

Zeke put down his pencil. "Miss Randall, I have been labor­ing under the impression this is a house cat.'

"He is. Plain all-American cat."

"And he weighs twenty-five pounds?"

"He does have a weight problem. We have to watch his diet."

Zeke swallowed and turned back to the form. "Height?"

"Really, Mr. Kelso…."

"Sorry – you'll have to forgive me. We don't get many cats – I should say we don't get any." He read from a list. "Educa­tion, hobbies, relatives – I guess they don't apply."

He reached a conclusion. "Could I see you soon as pos­sible? I'd like to get the watch." He added cautiously and without conviction, "You could be most helpful to us – you and D.C."

They agreed to meet at Bullock's in Westwood, at 10 a.m., outside the store, on the second-level parking lot. She said, "If we meet inside, one of the girls will ask who you are, and I don't want to try to make up a story, because I always get caught."

As he headed for the supervisor's office, he hummed softly. Passing the steno pool, he was conscious of a dozen eyes fol­lowing him. He was fair game, one of the few single men in the office.

The supervisor on the criminal desk, Robert Z. Newton, looked even more harried than usual. His desk was stacked with reports from the agents, which he would read, initial, and forward to Washington if the leads and facts had been properly developed and set forth, or return to the respective agents with cryptic notes if they had been careless.

On spotting Zeke, Newton brightened. "I see you beat me in this morning. You after my job?" He got up to stretch. He was getting a little heavy about the girth, but determinedly kept his belt at the same notch.

Zeke said, "We've got a break finally in the Jenkins case."

Newton stopped quite still. For seven days agents had worked the case without developing a good lead. They still knew little more than the bare facts: that at 10:05 a.m. two men, somewhere between twenty and thirty years of age, wearing Halloween masks, had escaped with $202,400 in cash from the Van Nuys Federal bank, forcing Helen Jenkins, forty-one, to accompany them at gun point. As happened frequently, the eye witness accounts varied widely regarding the height of the men, their build, their clothes, and the weapons they carried. Only on the escape car was there gen­eral agreement, and, as usual, it had been stolen and was found deserted three hours later in a Studio City parking lot. The victim's father, Thomas Z. Jenkins, sixty-six, who was bedridden, provided the lead about the watch.

Zeke said, "But it's the darndest note 3 setup you ever heard. I don't know…." He changed tack. "Here, I'd better give it to you the way it came in. I just took a call from one Miss Patti Randall, 1820 Greenbriar Street , Sherman Oaks."

He referred to his notes. "She said that at 12:30 a.m. her black cat, named D.C., an abbreviation for Darn Cat, returned home with one mallard duck stolen from the home of Greg Balter, attorney, 1817 Greenbriar, and a yellow gold watch fastened around his neck like a collar. At my request she opened the watch and the scratch mark on the back cover definitely establishes it as the one Miss Jenkins was wearing at the time of her abduction."

"Hold on, Zeke. What kind of a cock-and-bull yarn you giving me?"

"I didn't believe it myself until I asked her to open the watch."

"You mean we've got a cat for a lead?"

"A big one. Twenty-five pounds. And solid black."

Newton sat back down in the swivel. "Well, I'll be…. I've been in the Bureau fourteen years and I've had a lot of strange informants in my time. .. ."

His mind checked the possibilities with the experience honed by those fourteen years. "As I see it, we've got several leads we can work. We can try to find out where this cat was last night, which will probably prove negative, and – "

Zeke broke in. " – We can run a surveillance on him to­night when he leaves the Randall home – "

Newton smiled. "What with – another cat?"

Zeke continued, "And if he goes back to wherever they're holding Miss Jenkins …"

"Yeah." Newton appraised that lead, shook his head. "May not be easy to follow a black cat in the dark. And if he makes ..you – if he knows he's being tailed …"

"I've got some ideas," Zeke said. ^The trick is to think of him as a person, map it out the same as we would anyone." "No," Newton said with a poker face. "No, I don't think so. Might work out better if you thought of yourself as a cat."

4

Finished with the dishes, Helen Jenkins put the butter in the refrigerator, closed the door, and leaned against it. Dan stared quizzically from the doorway where he stood guard when she was in the kitchen.

Each night she moved slower, the tension and exhaustion eating deeper. She feared she might suffer a heart attack. Her cardiogram at the last check-up had disclosed a devia­tion. She had reached an age, her physician said, when she could tolerate only so much stress. Ten years of caring for her crippled father had consumed her mentally and physically, even though she did love him deeply.

And now this horror that was in its seventh day, that seem­ingly had no end.

She pushed back her hair, which was beginning to string. She was badly in need of a permanent. Funny, the situation she was in, how the condition of her hair disturbed her so.

"I'm going to bed and read," she said.

He blocked her way. He was a head taller, and thin to the point of emaciation. Unlike Sammy, he ate little, and was always doing something – pacing about, sitting down, getting up. His nervous hands, never quiet, drove her wild. This second they were adjusting the gun pushed inside his belt.

Suspicion swept his weary eyes. Usually she read in the cramped little living room while Sammy and he played poker.

"Sure," he said, and stepped aside. But not before he had studied her intently for evidence that she was breaking. And if she did, she thought, what then? What would they do if she lost her balance, turned hysterical and screaming?

Not that she would. She had stood up under a lot these last years. She had watched her father deteriorate from a big, rugged man, full of zest for living, to a bed patient. She had watched her dreams for love and children and a home decline with him, the years that were her life slipping by, until by now so many had passed that she had run out of hope.

As she crossed the half-dark living room, Sammy glanced up from his usual position by a small table radio. Hour after hour, day after day, he listened to a music station, until she could scream. He was a paunchy runt with a beetle look. Every time he came near, she edged away.

Dan was another matter. Strangely, and against her will, she was drawn to him. He was quiet and intelligent, and had a boyishness about him that an older woman might find attractive. She had no doubt, though, that he would kill with­out compunction if crossed. As long as she minded him, like an obedient child, he would not harm her. Sammy might, and if he tried, she did not know what Dan would do. Probably he would drift away and leave her to Sammy, whom he hu­mored in small matters.

Dan said, "She's going to read in bed."

Sammy wiped a thin coat of oil over the barrel of the thirty-eight he was cleaning. "You mad about something, Jenkins?"

"I'm tired."

Sammy smiled. "Don't get sick on us, Jenkins. We'd have to shoot you like an old horse, wouldn't we, Dan?"

Sammy looked at the barrel. "You sit right over there where you always do, Jenkins."

"Sit there yourself," she snapped.

Sammy got to his feet slowly. Dan said, "Too hot a night to get all heated up, Sammy."

Sammy turned toward him. "Too hot, huh? Okay for you to say – but I got the watch tonight, and I'm not going to sit in that doorway from now to seven in the morning."

"I'll take it until midnight," Dan said. Each night the rou­tine was the same. They took turns watching her, while she slept, from a chair they placed in the doorway to the bedroom.

Sammy shrugged, "Anything you say, Dan. I'm just along for the ride." He chuckled. "And my split."

They tensed then, all three, as a scratching noise came over from the kitchen door, which trembled audibly as someone tried it. A soft brush o'f sound followed, so faint they could not distinguish what it was.

In a swift, almost fluid movement, Dan slipped to the door. Sammy stood where he was, his thirty-eight aimed on the door. Dan listened as his hand turned the knob. He dropped into a crouch behind the door, then pulled it open, staying out of sight of anyone who might be there, and leaving the party a dead target for Sammy.

Out of the night came the biggest black cat she had ever seen. He poked his head in a few inches in an exploratory manner. Dan said, "Come on in, kid," and closed the door behind him. She herself felt the tensions and fears of days slip away. She laughed hysterically; it was good to see some­thing from the outside world.

The cat walked uncertainly about the kitchen, not quite sure of his ground. Then he sat down on his haunches and looked up at them, from one to the next, and chose her. He sat up on his hind feet and stuck out a paw. Dan squatted down and shook hands with him. That ritual taken care of, the cat walked to the refrigerator and scratched on the door. "He's hungry, poor guy," Dan said.

She restrained the cat, who wanted to climb inside the refrigerator, while she located the calf liver Dan had bought that day. She placed it on a newspaper, and the cat devoured it as if he hadn't eaten in a week, the rascal, because from his sleek fur and size she knew he was well fed.

Dan took the perfectly good kitchen towel and dragged it along the floor with the cat sinking his claws and teeth into it, trying to hold it. "I had an old black cat 'bout half his size when I was a kid," Dan said. "He was some cat. Me and the kids would play with him by the hour. He went everywhere we did, including the movies. We'd sneak him in, and half through the show he'd get tired and start meowing, and the manager would go up and down the aisle trying to find him, but we'd pass him from row to row."

Afterwards, they settled down in the living room, and the old routine began. Dan and Sammy played poker, and she read with the cat curled up in her lap. Once Sammy said, . "Thought you were going to bed, Jenkins?"

She never read a word, and when Dan glanced her way once, she remembered to turn a page. Here in her lap she had a communication line to the outside world, if she could only think how to use it. If she had a piece of paper and a pencil, and a moment to write something….

Then she began casting about for a personal article that anyone finding might associate with her, and eventually the idea came of attaching the watch. Fortunately, it had an ex­pansion-type bracelet. Barely moving her fingers, she slipped the watch from her wrist, her heart pounding so hard she feared it would give her away. She wet her lips, then realized that even such a small act might tip off Dan. He had an in­stinct for reading her thoughts.

Slowly she moved the watch across her lap, inch by slow inch, until she had it near the neck of the dozing cat. And then she hesitated. He might resent having the watch put about him; he might arouse suddenly and resist or meow, and attract the attention of the two men. If he jumped down from her lap in protest, they would see the watch.

She decided on a quick move, one of desperation. She slipped the bracelet around the cat's neck and rose almost the same instant, holding the cat firmly. She walked swiftly to the back door, which was verboten to her, a door she must never touch under threat of death. The cat struggled violently in her grasp, about to break free, and behind her Sammy shouted her name low and sharp and threateningly, and she heard Dan's chair being pushed out. She reached the door as Sammy grabbed her, but before he could restrain her she opened it and tossed the cat out.

She turned swiftly to face him. "He had to go out," she said.

He struck her across the face. "I've told you, Jenkins, you get a shot in your guts if you ever touch a door."

Dan pulled him back. "He had to go out," she repeated. He held her a second before releasing her. "Okay," he said, "Get to bed."

She went through the bedroom, and once inside the bath­room locked the door behind her. This was the only privacy she had. The bathroom had no window and was so small she could scarcely change her clothes. The building was ancient, and this apartment little more than a rabbit hutch, with only the kitchen, living room, the one bedroom, and this inside bath. They had nailed down every window in the place, which left only the kitchen and front-room doors as possible escape avenues.

As she scrubbed her face, she heard Sammy – it was always Sammy, since they had their duties divided between them – winding the alarm clock, which he would set for seven. She had to be up at seven, and dressed by seven-thirty. Sammy then raised the shades, since someone might think it odd if they were always pulled. She was not allowed in the bed­room during the day,

She remembered the first night when she had sat up until dawn, afraid to go to sleep, afraid they would molest her. They had never touched her though, and the realization grew that she was too old to interest them. But still, as the days went by, she feared the age difference might grow less.

At midnight Dan rose from the straight chair in the bed­room doorway and stretched. "Okay, she's all yours."

Sammy glanced up in exasperation from the table where he was playing solitaire. He looked back at the cards, and with an angry scoop swept them to the floor. He kicked them as he moved to take up his post. "Let her pick 'em up," he said. "Do her good. She needs to squat some."

Sammy looked in on her. The night light was on, and the air conditioner in the nearby window was blowing gently. They kept the conditioner on all night, the same as the radio in the daytime, so that if she did cry out suddenly, the cry would be muffled.

He took a long look. She was lying on her left side, half curled up. "I'm getting darn tired of her," he said.

"So who brought her? I kept telling you to dump her out."

"Sure, didn't matter if the cops was about to plug us, I was to stop the car, run around and open the door, and help her out."

"You panicked, Sammy. You plain lost your big, fat head."

Sammy swung about, fists clenched. "Don't try eatin' me out. Don't try it," He turned away. "I've got the shakes to­night. Wish I had a drink."

They had agreed at the start that neither would take any­thing stronger than a beer. "More guys've been caught that way," Dan had said. "One drink too many and we all talk."

And now Sammy flared up again. "And while you've got the sledge hammer out, who grabbed her in the first place? We could've shot our way out easy enough."

It was in the open now, what they had been thinking for seven days, this one major error they had committed. Some­one had set off the alarm in the bank, and outside people stopped, and a few drifted over to look in. Dan saw quickly that, as they left, a man or even a boy in the gathering crowd might jump them, since there was always one crazy fool about. To thwart such a move, Dan seized the woman and forced her at gun point ahead of them to their car. That move was brilliant, Dan thought, but then he had shouted repeatedly and angrily at Sammy to slow up so he could push her out. Grudgingly, Dan would admit only to himself that it had never occurred to him that no matter how fast Sammy was driving he could have opened the door and shoved her out. So what if she had been killed in the fall?

Now Dan said softly, "Okay, we both got the shakes. So let's take it easy, huh? We're stuck with her, and that's that."

"Not me. I'd take care of her. Right now." He looked down at his hands, palms up, the fingers wide apart and curl­ing slightly. "She'd never know what happened. She'd just go away in her sleep. You've got to know where to put the thumbs."

Dan stared in disgust. "What about the body?"

"I got a bin spotted in an alley back of Ventura Boulevard . You know, one of those big bins the stores toss their empty cartons in."

"So we heat up the neighborhood with cops all over the place – if we don't get caught first dumping her." He paced about. "I'm not about to gamble two hundred grand and our necks on a long shot like that."

Sammy took out a pack of cigarettes, offered Dan one. "Got a light?" Dan produced a match, and Sammy continued, "Look, we've got to do it sometime. We can't stay here for­ever." He grinned. "Maybe you're thinking of adopting her, huh? Maybe you're just crazy for a mother."

Dan took his time lighting the cigarette. "It's not easy get­ting rid of a body. But I'll come up with something. Give me time, Sammy, a little time."

5

Patti eased the Volkswagen into a space at the farthermost point from Bullock's entrance on the second level. She watched the rearview mirror, and eventually saw him ap­proach. He was a tall man, and in need, she thought, of some home-cooked dinners. He was younger than the matu­rity in his voice had led her to believe. She liked his walk, which had an easy roll and none of the exaggerated confi­dence affected by so many young men in business.

He came alongside her slowly, looking her over, too, and enjoying what he saw – a girl with an early-morning, dew-on-the-daisies look, and yet reflecting smartness and a touch of sophistication, qualities he liked in a woman when com­bined with naturalness.

"Miss Randall?" he asked tentatively, and she nodded.

"I'm Zeke Kelso." He showed her his credentials.

She barely glanced at the card, "Won't you get in?"

She was conscious of the middle-aged woman who had parked nearby and whose body was now heading for the en­trance although the head was screwed around in the opposite direction so she could stare at them, and conjecture. A girl drives up and parks, a man does the same, and the man gets in the girl's car. An early-morning rendezvous. The head swiveled back into position only when the body collided with that of another shopper.

Zeke was saying, "Thanks for calling us right away." He offered her a cigarette, which she refused. "I've got to ask you questions, a lot of them. I hope you don't mind?"

"Not at all."

He was looking her over rather thoroughly, and she said, "I've always thought what a break a man got being an FBI agent. He can case a girl from head to foot on the grounds he is trying to evaluate her."

He grinned, the way he always did when he was flustered. "Forgive me – I really was – "

"Studying my character?" She laughed.

He got down to business immediately. "Now this cat, what time does he usually leave the house?" He added, "Ex­cuse me if I ask some silly questions but I've never been around a cat. I don't know their habits."

"I can see that. Well, he usually takes off as soon as it gets dark. Daytimes, the mockingbirds give him a rough time. The second he sticks his nose out, they shout their Indian war cry, and swoop down on him like a flock of dive bombers. They hit him in the back and take off before he can spring for them. Poor old guy. He's got some deep-seated neuroses because of them."

"You mean if it weren't for the birds he might go out sooner?"

She nodded. He ran a hand through his hair. "We could scare them off, fire a few shots." He thought that over. "No, we couldn't. The SPCA would be on our necks if they ever found out we set out deliberately to frighten birds."

He reached a decision. "Well, dark's better for us anyway. We want to follow him tonight, Miss Randall, and if be should go back to wherever they're holding her …"

She shot him an incredulous, sidewise glance. "You mean you think you can follow a cat?"

"We've got to."

She shook her head. "Oh, brother," she murmured.

"I'll need to use a room in your house as a base of opera­tions, preferably a back room, so that if somebody calls un­expectedly I won't be caught in the living or dining rooms."

"You could use my parents' bedroom, except it's upstairs, and that wouldn't be so good, would it?"

Zeke shook his head, and she continued, "How about mine? I'll move in with my sister."

"I hate to disturb you."

"We'd like to do anything we can – anything at all."

He took from an inside pocket a map of her neighborhood. "You said over the phone that the Lillian Nelson home" – he indicated the house – "was the farthermost point you knew about."

"Yes, she called us one day. Sounded like a real swell gal. She'd gotten the phone number from D.C.'s collar. You see, we keep a little metal tag attached to the collar, in case he gets lost, and she said if he didn't come around every few nights, she'd worry about him. She said he'd scratch at the back door instead of the front, since there's a police dog that lives across the street. Not that he would care too much about a dog because he's taken on a few around here, but I guess, well" – she smiled – "when he's out on a social call, he doesn't want to get into a knockdown fight."

She pointed to the map. "I think he always takes this di­rection. We've had calls from neighbors here – and here – but never from anyone east or south of us."

He scribbled down the names of the known neighbors D.C. had visited. He noted that D.C. returned home anywhere from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. "If he isn't in when we get up, we send Mike out to whistle for him."

"Whistle?"

She nodded. "We taught him to answer to a whistle when he was a kitten. I've always thought it sounded so silly to go through a neighborhood calling, 'Here, kitty, here kitty.' Especially to a man cat. It must do something to his ego, don't you think?"

He was taken back momentarily. She confused him, threw him off balance. He sneaked a quick look at her, and her eyes were laughing. He knew then there had been a lepre­chaun in her family somewhere.

He took down the names of the immediate neighbors, and asked numerous questions about them. He covered Greg even more comprehensively than the others.

"Who're his friends?" he asked.

"I wouldn't know."

"I thought perhaps – "

"That we dated?" She shook her head. "I don't think he dates anyone – steady, that is. He's in love with a dog and a car. He told Inky once he couldn't afford both a wife and a Thunderbird, and he'd rather have the Thunderbird. But really, Mr. Kelso, I don't see that this has anything to do with the case. Mr. Balter definitely isn't holding anyone in his house. If he were, Mrs. Macdougall would know about it. She's as knowledgeable about what goes on as the FBI."

He laughed, and then returned to D.C. "What kind of a temperament's he got? I mean, does he have a good disposi­tion?"

That could be an important factor, perhaps a deciding one, in this kind of a case.

She answered softly, "You shouldn't ask me, because I'm prejudiced. I love him so much that if anything happened to him…." She remembered the time he developed an infec­tion in his cheek, and for days lingered in the hospital be­tween life and death. They were almost too scared to call each morning for fear he had died during the night. Mike scarcely slept, and Ingrid canceled her dates so she could visit him at the hospital evenings, even though he was so far gone he didn't recognize her.

She continued, "I can't stand people who become sickly sentimental over pets, can you? But the truth is that he's an affectionate guy who gets under your skin. You'll see. You rub his ears and he purrs all over."

That'll be the day, Zeke thought. He asked next where the cat slept.

"On my sister's bed." She wanted to tell him that it was not because he liked Ingrid best, because he was careful to show no favoritism. But Mike thrashed about too much to permit D.C. a good night's rest, and as for herself, she didn't enjoy the idea of D.C. awakening at five in the morning, walking the ridge of her long figure, and peering down at her as if to ask if she were going to sleep the whole day through. She had tried pretending he was not there, but that attitude only prompted him to take a good-morning swipe across her cheek with his sandpaper tongue, an act more telling than a dash of cold water. After a few mornings of that, she had dumped him unceremoniously out of the win­dow into the geraniums. For days afterwards he pretended she did not exist.

Zeke was saying, "I should see the cat right away."

"I wish you wouldn't call him 'cat.' It bothers me. It's just as if – well, as if he were a cat. His name's D.C."

She hurried on. "I'm curious. Why do you want to see him?"

"I need fingerprints – I mean, paw prints."

"What in the world for?"

"We might pick up his trail from last night if he stepped in mud or dust."

She stared in amazement. "I've heard the FBI was thor­ough but I just wouldn't – I wouldn't believe – "

"Neither would I, Miss Randall. But cat or no cat, if we've got a desperate situation, we're going to work it out lead by lead."

She said she couldn't leave her job but she would call the school and arrange for Inky to return home at the noon break. "But don't hold it against D.C. if he seems unfriendly," she cautioned. "He'll be sound asleep and may not like the idea of being rousted out."

Returning to the office, Zeke hurried past a couple of secretaries who would have asked him to a bowling league tournament if he had paused.

When he had first arrived in the Los Angeles field di­vision a year ago, the switchboard operator, who was a strawberry blonde in her late thirties, had warned him that he wouldn't "last a month with those ghouls around." And it was true the girls had used all kinds of pretexts for dates, such as would he like to help with plans for the annual picnic? He, in turn, had invented illnesses and urgent business, and had survived by walking briskly and adopting a desperately busy attitude. Somehow, though, it didn't seem in keeping with his stature as an FBI agent to bring in a desperate criminal one hour, and the next behave like a fugitive.

He found Bob Newton where he had left him, huddled over his reports. "We're all set for the surveillance tonight," he told Newton . "She's letting us use a back bedroom, and the cat leaves the house about dark, which should be around seven thirty-five. I'm on my way out there now to meet him."

Newton said, "I wish I wasn't tied down here. I'd like to see how you go about interviewing a cat."

"I'm getting paw prints, a photograph, the usual. I'm figuring on working this the same as any case."

Newton rose to stretch his big frame. "You're lucky to draw a cat. I get so tired of people."

Zeke grinned and placed the map of the Randall neigh­borhood before Newton . "As far as she knows, the cat has never ventured more than two miles, to this point here where one Lillian Nelson lives. The cat comes around two and three times a week, Miss Nelson says. She's assistant to an executive out at 20th Century-Fox, Perry Lieber, and will co-operate with us all the way."

He took a second to study the map. "I thought we'd show Helen Jenkins' photo around within this radius, to postmen, clerks in supermarkets and drugstores, apartment house man­agers and janitors – really go through the area. And then we'll get busy making discreet checks on everyone who's on the voters' registration lists, although that will take time, what with about four thousand names."

Newton nodded approval. He liked the way Zeke con­ducted his investigations. He was not only thorough but moved fast.

Newton cautioned him, "Keep it all quiet, Zeke. Remind everyone working with you to move discreetly. You know without me telling you that if those two guys smell an in­vestigation, the consequences could be tragic. If they panic, the odds are overwhelming they'll murder the victim."

After they discussed the number of agents and the kind of equipment they would need for the operation, Zeke said, "I've got a problem. How'm I going to file him in the in­formants' card index?"

Bob Newton raised an eyebrow. "The cat?"

"Please. Don't refer to him as 'cat.' It does something to his ego. Now if I put him down in the reports as D.C. Randall, you know the Bureau. Some guy back there on a desk will tear into us, want to know what the idea is of using initials. And if I put him down as Darn Cat Randall, I hate to think of what will happen. They'll figure I made it up, that I'm being funny. And what about using Randall? Who ever uses a last name with a cat? But you know the Bureau. Full names."

Newton pulled the phone over. "I think we'd better talk with Washington ."

At an uncluttered, polished desk in the Department of Justice building, the supervisor on the Bank Robbery desk took the call. He was a husky, big-boned, ex-quarterback who overwhelmed the swivel.

"Just a minute," he said. "Must be a bad connection."

He jiggled the phone, listened again, pressing the receiver vise-tight against his ear. "Did you say cat? C-a-t? A plain cat?"

He listened some more. "Yeah. D-a-r-n. Darn Cat. Now look here, Newton , somebody's pulling your leg…. Who checked it out? … Uh-huh … I'll get back to you in a few minutes."

He walked briskly down a long, spotless corridor where an errant piece of paper would have been apprehended as quickly as a criminal, and turned into a door marked: DIRECTOR.

The decision came through from the top. Darn Cat henceforth would be listed in the card index and all reports as Informant X-14. Under the anonymous cloak of X-14, his identity would be held secret for all time, and no one, ex­cept those actually working the case, would know that he was of a species other than human.

6

Patti thought the day surely had gone into extra innings. She was that tired as she strolled into Lingerie modeling an Italian knit. She made a complete turn before two women in their thirties and, when one inquired about it, said, "It is smart, isn't it? It has that something to it. And it's only thirty-nine ninety-five in Young Misses on the upper level."

Young misses? Whom did Bullock's think it was fooling. No one shopping in Young Misses could produce a driver's license to prove she belonged in that age group.

She turned in a hurry on hearing the crash, and couldn't believe what she saw. Greg was on the floor wrestling with a mannequin that he had knocked off a display table, a mannequin wearing only a girdle. He was struggling to get a firm hold so he could replace it.

In a couple of steps she reached him, and rescued the mannequin. "The idea," she said, "and in public."

As he straightened his clothes, she snapped the girdle. "I don't know why women have to wear more harness than a dray horse while men with their pot bellies. . . ."

She took him by the arm and steered him out of Lingerie. He recovered his legal dignity quickly. "Imagine running into you. I was trying to find Glassware."

"You came through Glassware on your way to Lingerie."

He smiled guiltily, and in that instant she was tempted to forget about last night, the horrible things he had said, the threat against D.C.'s life. Her heart began pounding. To stay mad at him would be like trying to hold a grudge against Cary Grant.

Actually, she had to admit, she did not know Greg too well. Their few chance meetings had produced little more than a passing greeting, or a strong desire on her part to strangle him, especially when he complained about D.C. or permitted his dachshund to continue the slow murder of her apricot tree in the front yard.

Inky and Mike knew him far better. Inky, perhaps too well. He was an older man to fall in love with, the way the girls in novels did. Inky pretended that she almost passed out every time he picked her up in the Thunderbird. Once she had insisted on baking him a batch of cookies, and he had said he had never tasted better, when in truth they had all the flavor of sawdust.

As for the neighborhood women, they behaved ridiculously around him, although they did not approve of his way of life. The idea that a man would want a house complete to garbage disposal and flower gardens, but minus a wife, seemed subversive to all womanhood. And the fact that he could cook, and make up his bed every day, which was testified to by the wife with a window that looked directly into his bedroom, was a frontal assault on womankind. The consensus was, therefore, that he should either get an apart­ment or marry. "If he'll wait a couple of years," Inky had said, "I'll make the house legitimate."

Now he was saying, "I got a little excited last night. It was just that I worked so hard getting that duck. I almost got pneumonia. I stood all day in a blinding rain – "

"I remember. You stated it so brilliantly last night."

"I was tired, awfully tired. I'd lost a case I'd worked months on." He ended lamely, "So you can see how it was with me."

"Did you mean it when you said you'd take a pot shot at D.C. next time you caught him in your yard?"

"Golly, no. I wouldn't hurt anything, you know that. Why, I even carry spiders out of the house –on a newspaper."

"They're the worst kind. They usually get hanged."

"Get hanged? What're you talking about?"

"Haven't you noticed? Every time somebody's on trial for murder, he tells how he wouldn't hurt a fly or a spider or something smaller than a matchbox, but oh brother, let him get his hands on a cranium …"

"Honestly, Patti."

She was growing nervous. Customers were glancing their way with that rapt, bless 'em look.

"They're figuring I'm not very far along if I can wear this," Patti said.

"What?"

She indicated a sign, maternity, then added, "Look, Greg, I'm supposed to be working."

"Sure, sure. How about dinner tonight? Maybe down on Olvera Street . I know a Mexican spot where you can get the best enchiladas."

"From that same Killarney factory back in New Jersey that makes the Chinese fortune cookies?"

"I wouldn't wonder."

"I don't know, Greg. I've got – "

"I don't blame you for being mad. You ought to get a good attorney and sue."

"That's an idea." Her eyes crinkled up. "How about a conference with one at seven o'clock?"

7

As Zeke came up the path, Ingrid opened the door. In the next yard, Mrs. Macdougall, who was watering her roses, had her ears hung out over the myrtle hedge. The neigh­bors all agreed that her instinct for sensing a development was flawless.

Ingrid called, "Hello, Mrs. Macdougall. Beautiful day." Mrs. Macdougall nodded. Her beady little eyes tracked Zeke like those of an old hound dog that waits to flush out a quarry. Her face had hardened with the years into one expression that she proudly and fiercely maintained.

Taking stock of the situation, Zeke said nothing, nor did Ingrid until she closed the door behind him. "Really, that old snoop," Ingrid said, and then she quit to stare appraisingly at him. Here she had a living, breathing FBI agent on the hoof, a hero on a par with Ricky Nelson and Chubby Checkers.

"I'm Zeke Kelso."

"I know. My sister called me. Isn't she the most? Didn't you like her an awful lot? I like sisters. Brothers are all right but you can't talk to them, about serious things, I mean." She was chattering, she knew, but when she was flustered she just did.

"Your sister said – "

"She told me. He's back in my bedroom. I didn't know whether to wake him up or not before you got here. He didn't get in until five this morning. He came in about one, sis said, but he got mad when she took the duck away from him, and went out and tied one on, I think."

He nodded absently. By now he had photographed the living room in his mind. He walked to the only window and looked out past an apricot tree to a low, white, stucco house across the street. It was reached from the sidewalk by a curving flagstone walk that ran between tree roses. To the right of the house was a driveway that led to a garage at the rear of the lot.

Zeke turned back to her. "I'm sorry to get you out of school."

"I'm not. That school does everything except put numbers on our backs. It's awful." She led the way through the spot­less living room. "But then I don't think it's going to be there much longer with me in the chemistry lab."

He shook his head. "Take it from an old veteran. They never blow up or burn down."

She laughed; she liked him immensely. Patti had said she would. Patti had said, "He's awfully nice. So behave your­self and don't embarrass him." As if she had ever em­barrassed a man! Except maybe the geometry teacher who was such a doll and so shy. She and the other girls had gotten together during the noon break and decided they'd take turns winking at him that afternoon, and the poor man had almost fled the classroom.

As they passed the television, she said, "Do you look at Dr. Kildare? I think he's a living doll. My pulse must be going 150 a minute when I watch him. I get these crushes on people I don't know and never will. Axe you married?"

"No."

"I didn't think so. You don't look the type. Rosa and I were talking yesterday about the biological urge – we're study­ing family relationships – and we decided – "

"Couldn't you bring the cat out here?"

"No, come on. If you want to do anything to him, you'd better do it while he's sleepy."

They passed through a dining room with unmatched pieces of furniture, accumulated at various stages as the Randall family economy climbed from one plateau to another. She continued, "Do you really think D.C. can help you? Golly, I hope so. All morning I've been thinking what if I was that woman, alone with those two horrible men ready to kill her, and wondering this very minute if anybody had found the watch."

Before he could answer, she added, "Will D.C. get a medal? Mike says he will. Mike's my brother. He's only twelve and I've got to be a good influence on him. Mother say it means so much to a man later on if he has the right kind of woman around him when he's growing up."

She led the way into a small room that looked like a zoo. Stuffed animals, some so big and real that Zeke felt he should keep an eye on them, stared at him from the floor, the bed, and a shelf that ran around two walls. In the dead center of a fluffy, white bedspread stretched D.C., look­ing like a long black leopard. He was groaning and his legs and paws were twitching. "He's chasing something in his sleep," Ingrid said.

"Holy Toledo !" Zeke exclaimed. "That is a cat?" He was the most formidable feline Zeke had ever beheld.

Ingrid crossed to the window where she closed the drapes. "What're you doing?" Zeke asked, forgetting all about D.C.

"Giving Mrs. Macdougall something to talk about." He smiled then, and he had the nicest smile she had ever, ever seen. He stepped over and opened the drapes. "I've got to think of my reputation," he said, grinning.

"Oh." She nodded in complete understanding. "The FBI."

"The FBI.

She put a hand on D.C.'s stomach and the hand shook like a vibrating machine. "Hey, you old, lazy bum, wake up. You got an FBI man here who wants to know where you were last night, and you'd better tell him the truth. Come on, come on."

Slowly and grudgingly D.C. eased one eye open, revealing shock and angry irritation. Here she knew he hadn't gotten in until almost dawn and needed his rest. He was hurt that she would do this. It was not like her at all. His eye then moved to encompass Zeke, and he wondered who that jerk was. He had never seen him before, and if he never saw him again it would be soon enough. He closed the eye. Sometimes they went away if he pretended they weren't there. Man, what a hang-over. His head was bursting out the fur seams, and a wrench had gotten loose and was flying about as the head plummeted through space. If he could only get hold of the head and anchor it.

At a strange sound, almost like hissing, D.C. aroused with a painful start. Momentarily he thought he was being set upon, then realized it was the jerk sneezing. He rose to flight position, but when Ingrid reassured him he stretched his muscles, all of them, humped his back about two feet high, and eventually relaxed and stretched lengthwise to about five feet, tail tip to whiskers.

"Sorry, but I'm allergic to cat fur," Zeke said. He sneezed again, and tears welled up in his eyes. He walked away from D.C. "Always have been."

"Like hay fever."

"The same." He took out a handkerchief to dry his eyes. "If you've got a Kleenex. …"

She pulled several from the mouth of a pink hippopotamus sitting on her frilly dressing table alongside a picture of her father and mother.

As she handed him the tissues, she said, "I've never seen an FBI man before, except in the movies. I saw Glenn Ford in Experiment in Terror. I thought he was positively, def­initely terrific, didn't you?"

This was no time to bring up Glenn Ford, he thought. The comparison at this moment between Mr. Ford and himself was devastating.

"He sure was." Blast Glenn Ford, he thought. If he had been allergic to cat fur, he wouldn't have looked so good either.

Ingrid cuddled D.C. and rubbed his ears. "I'm sorry I had to wake you up, terribly sorry, but it is almost one o'clock and time for your breakfast. I'll feed you real good, and you'll feel better then."

D.C. licked her and switched his high-fidelity purr to maximum volume.

She turned to Zeke. "Patti says we love him for different reasons. I love him because I need something to mother and care for, and Patti loves him because he's an old friend, sort of like a comfortable old shoe."

Patti was so perceptive. She said that for Mike , D.C. was a link with a boyhood that was slipping away, and that he wanted to hold to: days spent stretched out in the back yard under the Chinese elm with D.C. scampering about like a puppy, and Mike throwing a stick, and D.C. retrieving it. And then both dead tired, and sleeping in the shade, with D.C. knowing that Mike would ward off any dragons that happened to be prowling about.

As for their mother, D.C. was the children's cat, something a child needed while growing up, in the same category as the right books to read, the right school to attend. And for their dad, he was still Darn Cat, a nuisance who stole his easy chair every time he got up and scattered his darn cat hairs all over everything. But Dad enjoyed the hoked-up enmity. He would have been as grieved as the rest of them if anything happened to D.C.

note 4

As Ingrid talked, holding the cat half in her lap, Zeke ap­proached D.C. warily. D.C. eyed him suspiciously as Zeke placed a sheet of speciment paper under a paw, then ran a finger in between the pads and pushed out dirt. Outraged, D.C. yanked the paw back. He knew he should have washed his paws last night but he was so pooped when he got in. Ingrid continued rubbing his ears and that mollified him some, but he had made up his mind definitely. He did not like this jerk, and the sooner he got lost the better. "What're you doing that for?" Ingrid asked. "I'm going to send this specimen" – he indicated the dirt – "to the lab where they will run it through what we call a spectrographic; examination. That's a process that works on the principle that every substance – this dirt here, for instance – gives off its own light waves when heated to an extremely high temperature. And the lab photographs the light waves. So we get a picture, so to speak, of the dirt from his paw.

"We'll also take specimens of soil from different neighbor­hoods around here. Then if this specimen from D.C.'s paw matches any of the others, that may mean D.C. was in that particular area last night. As you may know, the soil in neighborhoods varies. The soil in your yard may not be any­thing like that a half mile away."

Ingrid sighed. "I don't get it."

Zeke sneezed. "I don't either but you've got to admit I make it sound good in a confusing sort of way."

He proceeded to set up a flash camera. "I want to get a good picture of him to show the children around here. He may have been in some of their homes, or they may re­member having seen him, and maybe we'll learn about other neighborhoods he has gone into that you don't know about."

When he was ready, he said, "Can you get him to sit up? I'd like a straight-on shot."

Ingrid lifted D.C. and shoved his haunches into place, but when she let go he sank like a heap of jelly. She tried again, coaxing him and rubbing his ears. "I guess he's weak from hunger. I'll get him something to eat."

After she left the room, Zeke tried to prop the cat up. "Come, kitty, please, kitty," he said in his most endearing tone. "Nice cat, nice cat." D.C. reared back and hissed and spat. He recognized a hypocrite when he saw one, and brother, here was one.

"Why you little so-and-so," Zeke muttered under his breath. "Just you try that again."

Ingrid returned unexpectedly, bearing a dish of canned cat food. She said coldly, "I heard you swearing. I didn't think an FBI agent – "

"I was not swearing. I was using some perfectly good king's English to work off a few repressions."

"Don't you like cats?"

"I love them." He sneezed again. "Honest to goodness, I love them." Allah forgive me, he thought, and J. Edgar Hoover, and the Kennedy brothers.

"I don't think if you're a dog man Patti will like you. She can't stand dog men. We've got a neighbor across the street – he's awful nice – but Patti can't stand him because he has a dachshund, and this dachshund comes over all the time to our apricot tree, and the tree is dying, and Patti, who never gets mad about anything, says she's going to call the police or the fire department or someone."

She asked unexpectedly, "Do you have a dog?"

"No, not now. I did, a long time ago."

He had been six that Christmas when his father brought the collie pup home, and Zeke had named him Tom after an old, gnarled ranch hand. The collie had grown up along with Zeke. For seven years they roamed the hills and can­yons together, and went to a country school where the teach­er didn't mind a dog curled up under a desk. Then one morning Zeke got up to find Tom missing, and went calling him. He found him behind the clump of dark red oleanders, by the corral, shot by an unknown prowler. Two of the ranch hands helped Zeke bury him under a cottonwood, and Zeke carved Tom's name with his pocketknife across a fence board and put it up as a marker. The last time he was home, two years ago, he had sauntered down to the cottonwood and propped up the marker that years of wind and rain had toppled.

Zeke was proud of the strategy he worked out for tak­ing D.C.'s picture. It proved, he told Ingrid, that man was smarter than a cat, a moot point in certain circles. It was all a matter of timing. Under Zeke's instructions, Ingrid lifted the plate of cat food to a calculated point in the air, and D.C. pushed himself up on his haunches to reach for it. He did this only after a certain amount of rumination. He took into consideration, with a glance through nar­rowed eyes at Zeke, that this might prove a trick. But the smell of fish was strong, and he figured he could trust his girl.

As he reached for the plate, Ingrid withdrew it, and in that second before D.C. could follow it, Zeke took his picture.

The flash momentarily blinded them. Afterwards, in tell­ing his fellow agents about it, Zeke credited D.C. with pulling off the fastest cat-disappearing act in history. One second he was on the bed reaching for the dish, and the next he had vanished. Talk about genii. This cat had a built-in one.

"I should've taken his prints first," Zeke said regretfully.

After a brief search they found D.C. under the bed where he dared them to come after him. The FBI be hanged. Ingrid, on her knees, tried to reach him, but he only backed off, look­ing hurt. It was getting so you couldn't trust anyone.

"I can't go all the way under," she said, looking up at Zeke from a position that reversed the head and derriere. "I'll get dirty and Patti will murder me. I'm supposed to keep my room as clean as Mom does while she's gone."

She offered a suggestion. "If you get on the other side, and we both use our arms, one of us can grab him."

Zeke took off his coat and unholstered note 5 his gun, placing it carefully on the bed. He suppressed an overwhelming urge to use it. He got down on his hands and knees with all of the caution and prudence a man should show when setting forth on a tiger hunt. The thought sped swiftly in and out that if he should be injured, say with a slash across the face, he would find it difficult to explain exactly how it happened in the memo the Bureau would require. And from D.C.'s expression, it was evident that D.C. intended to scar him for life.

D.C. asked no quarter, and had no intention of giving any. He was in the same position that a man would be with two elephants closing in. The fact that he was small had never occurred to him, nor that he was outweighed many times over. And while he was angry to the point of murder with Zeke, he was furious and hurt that Ingrid would give aid and comfort to the enemy.

"You ready?" Ingrid shouted, looking under the bed as Zeke's eyes found the level of hers.

"I guess so." If a dangerous killer had lain in wait there, Zeke would have known what to do. The FBI Academy in Quantico had coached him thoroughly about how to handle such situations. But he had no idea how to apprehend this unco-operative informant. He readily perceived that if he grabbed him, he might lose a hand.

Ingrid's hair fell over her tilted, puckish face. "We'll have to go for him at the same time, and fast, and back him toward the wall."

"I'll count to three."

On three, they both lunged. D.C. was in a weakened con­dition, of course, since he had had no breakfast. But he still had sufficient strength to slash out with the speed of a Samoan knife thrower. Zeke stood his prone position with courage, and while he missed capturing D.C., possibly because of the blood running down his hand, he forced D.C. in Ingrid's direction where she got a hammer lock on D.C.'s hind leg. She pulled him out and took him into her arms, mumbling soothing words. But D.C. would have none of them. He glared unmercifully at her, utterly and forever disowning her. He gave her a swift kick with his hind leg, strong as a crossbow, a maneuver which propelled him halfway across the room. She frowned and asked, "Do you have to take his paw prints? I just don't know – "

Then she saw the blood, and crossed the narrow hall to the bathroom. She returned with a wet towel and a tube of anti­septic paste, and doctored Zeke over his protests that it was nothing at all, which it was.

"I've got to get his prints," Zeke said determinedly. Unlike the photograph, though, this involved actual physical contact, and the Bureau would insist on good sportsmanship– He dared not use knockout pills or chloroform.

D.C.'s attitude changed inexplicably. He sat on Ingrid's lit­tle gold chair, before the make-up table, and washed himself. He was following Paul Gallico's perceptive observation: When in doubt, wash.

From a brief case Zeke brought forth an ink pad and sever­al blank fingerprint cards. Each had ten spaces. Through eyes swollen half shut he studied one of the cards, uncertain where to place D.C.'s paw print. He decided that it should go in the space set aside for the thumb.

Ingrid's glance hopped from the ink pad to her white bed­spread and white carpet, and she suggested they fingerprint D.C. in the bathroom. Zeke hesitated, suddenly conscious that Ingrid was very much a woman – lovely, sweet, uncompli­cated. He had no idea how they could become so calculating and devious by twenty-five.

She stood in the doorway, looking quizzically at him, with D.C. in her arms. He thought of the Bureau. Oh, what the blazes, he decided; he'd already broken enough regulations to get himself deported to Wake Island .

In the bathroom she dumped D.C. into the blue tub before D.C. could assimilate that he was in this room only for an evil purpose. What a lousy, dirty trick to put him into some­thing he couldn't get his claws into.

"Here," she said, "you hold his front paws and I'll pin down his rear."

They went into position like a couple of rehearsed wrestlers. Zeke sneezed, pressed a paw on the pad, sneezed again, and hesitated a split second. In putting the paw down on the card, should he roll the paw toward him or away from him? Now with humans, he rolled thumbs toward the subject, fingers away.

"Whats the matter?" she asked, standing right behind him and half leaning into the tub so that her weight would anchor twenty-five pounds of lurching, heaving, spitting, snarling flesh.

He pressed the paw down and withdrew it, and heaved a sigh. It was a good print, one of the best he had ever taken.

"Okay, I've got it," he said, and, having said it, felt the teeth sinking in.

He let go of D.C. with an old Iroquois war cry, and D.C. promptly let go of him and scrambled out, leaving his prints on the tub, the vinyl, and the dining room carpet as he streaked for the outdoors, preferring the hell of the mocking-birds to the indignities he had been suffering.

"Have you had tetanus shots?" she asked.

"Yes."

"It's all right then. Don't worry about it." She glanced at the paw-printed tub. "Will they come off?"

"I don't know. You may not believe it, but I've never fin­gerprinted anyone in a bathtub before."

As he opened the door to– leave, and was thanking her, and she was telling him any time, that she did this every day, and it was nothing, he looked at her gently until she averted her eyes. Golly, he was thinking, I'd like someday to have a daugh­ter like her.

The trouble was, you never knew how they would turn out. If only they were returnable merchandise….

8

Zeke ran a thorough check on Greg Balter, which revealed that Balter had no criminal record, had a high credit rating, and held a reputation for integrity with his fellow attorneys and the judges in whose courts he pleaded his cases. He was liked immensely, from the fellows at the ninety-nine-cent car laundry where he regularly got his Thunderbird washed to the girls at Bob's where he just as regularly showed up for hamburgers.

Zeke found that Greg shared a suite of offices with two other attorneys on the third floor of a Sherman Oaks office building, one of those modern structures seemingly supported by nothing more than steel and concrete stilts. Around such a building Zeke had a horror he might sneeze and start the building walking down the street.

Greg looked up curiously when the solidly built secretary with the size nine feet showed Zeke in. "So I've got big feet?" she said, noting Zeke's glance.

Zeke stopped, dumfounded. Greg came to his rescue. "Ellen, please, I've told you not to brag." As Ellen disap­peared with a chuckle, Greg offered a firm handshake and in­dicated a chair constructed along the same lines as the build­ing. Greg leaned back in his swivel then, and waited warily. The chances were that the FBI was calling about one of his cases.

Zeke wasted no time. "I thought you could help me in a case I've got out in your neighborhood. I'm sorry that I can't tell you anything about it – "

"You don't have to with me," Greg broke in. He was ex­hausted and on edge. He had had a particularly trying after­noon. A client – an elderly, motherly looking soul – had con­fessed on the witness stand during cross-examination that she had lied about the facts in an auto accident. It was the first time he had been deceived by someone he represented.

Zeke continued, "I know this may sound ridiculous to you. It did to me when I first heard about it – but you have a neigh­bor across the street, Miss Randall, who has a cat that roams around a good deal, and we're trying to trace the cat's whereabouts for last night…"

He trailed off. Greg had come upright in the swivel, all cordiality gone, his lips pulled into a grim line.

Puzzled, Zeke said slowly, "It's important that we know where he went since a woman's life is in jeopardy… ."

Greg rose slowly, and Zeke noted with amazement the clenched fists. "What'd she tell you?" Greg asked, staring down at him.

"Who? Miss Randall? I don't think I understand."

"You wouldn't be here if you did." He began pacing, oc­casionally slamming a fist into a palm. "I don't know what cock-and-bull story she made up to sic the FBI on me but it must've been a whale of a good one for you guys to swallow it."

Zeke said, "She didn't tell us anything. It doesn't have any­thing to do with her."

Greg raised his voice above Zeke's. "Don't try to cover for her. I'm an attorney, same as you. I know you're not supposed to divulge the source of your information – but I know."

Zeke said sharply, "You've got it all wrong – "

Greg interrupted. "I had this duck. I'd spent all day in a blinding rain. Almost got pneumonia. A mallard duck."

"Please, Mr. Balter, I'm not interested in your duck."

Greg sat down hard in the swivel. "Her cat stole the duck at about twelve-thirty last night – or this morning it would've been."

Zeke shouted, "I'm sorry about your duck but – "

"So I went over to get my duck back. I had every right – and I caught the cat red-handed." That didn't sound right, so he corrected himself. "I caught him with the evidence in his mouth. He had committed a felony and I told her so."

"Now wait a minute, – you've got to listen to me."

"I've tried to be a good neighbor. I bought Mike a basket­ball last Christmas, and her kid sister's around all the time selling tickets and raising money. She's about to dollar me to death. Oh, sure, I said some nasty things but who wouldn't when he's stood all day in a storm … but I went over today at noon and apologized although I don't know why the blazes I did."

"If you'd just listen," Zeke shouted, seeking to recover the initiative. What in the world had gone wrong? He had come in to ask a few simple questions, such as he asked a hundred times a week, and a mallard duck had waddled into the in­terrogation.

Greg was not to be talked down. "What kind of jurisdiction has the FBI got anyway? Don't tell me the cat crossed a state line."

Zeke surrendered. He rose, hat in hand, and picked up his brief case. Immediately Greg simmered down. "I'm sorry." He wiped the nervous sweat from his forehead. "I've had a rough, day."

"I haven't had exactly a normal one myself," Zeke re­marked. He added, "I assure you, Mr. Balter, our case has nothing whatsoever to do with Miss Randall or your duck. I thought you might know where the cat goes nights, that maybe some neighbor or friend had mentioned to you that he drops by for a visit."

"You're the craziest FBI agent I ever met, coming around here asking where a cat goes, in all dead seriousness."

"Yeah, I know. Since seven-fifty this morning, my mental status has been a cause of concern for myself, too, Mr. Balter. But regardless, please give it some thought. If you do know where the cat goes – maybe even you've seen him some night when you've walked your dog."

Greg shook his head. "No, I can't help you. Sorry." He grinned unexpectedly. "I guess I should feel hurt. I thought he was giving my yard his exclusive attention. From the looks of it, I didn't suppose he had time to do any excavation work elsewhere."

Greg added, "If you pick him up, let me know. I want to help with the prosecution."

9

The briefing session began at 4:30 p.m. Twenty-four agents, chosen carefully for their skills, crowded into Super­visor Newton's small, hospital-like office. They were of all ages, though the majority were in their early thirties. They wore dark, conservative suits and ties, and looked like attor­neys, which they were.

Zeke stood before a diagram that had been chalked in on a blackboard. The chart showed the Randall home and an area for two miles about. Zeke said, "Our informant will leave the house at approximately seven forty-five. I will trail him out and attempt to stay with him until he leaves the yard. According to our information, he will go around the house on the east side, keeping well under the shrubbery, and will emerge at this point."

Newton never took his eyes from Zeke. Newton doubted if he could have chosen a better agent to run this highly un­orthodox shadow job. Zeke missed no detail. He charted a sur­veillance with the same diligence that a highly skilled crim­inal attorney would follow in briefing a court trial. And yet he possessed a great human quality. The people in his cases were people with homes and children and problems. He'll probably be liking the confounded cat before tonight's over, Newton thought to himself.

Now Zeke stepped to a blown-up photograph of the Ran­dall home. "He will remain here several minutes before crossing the street, where he will enter the back yard of an attorney, Greg Balter."

Newton broke in. "I think you should point out that we do not have the co-operation of Mr. Balter. In fact, we haven't asked for it, due to Mr. Balter's hostility toward the informant."

Zeke continued, "If he follows this pattern, which is his in­variable nightly routine, the number one agents will pick him up on their sound cone, which will be stationed at this cross street."

The "sound cone" was a parabolic mike that could be aimed like a rifle to pick up the faintest noise from a distance of three hundred yards.

Zeke continued, "Miss Randall informs me that the cat will not object to wearing an old collar with a small bell at­tached. He used to wear it all the time, but when it wore out she didn't replace it. But she's getting it repaired today. How­ever, if he wants to, he can move so stealthily the human ear can't pick up the sound of the bell."

The parabolic mike would "hear" the bell, though, and "follow" D.C. from a distance sufficiently far away so that he would not know he was being shadowed. "We're told that it's imperative he doesn't know we're around," Zeke contin­ued, "since he might become self-conscious and return home.

"Now, at the same time that the sound cone men have him under surveillance, other agents will attempt to watch the in­formant, also at a distance, through an infra-red scope."

The scope was an instrument that used infra-red rays to "light up" the dark. An agent could look through it, and see a person – or cat – almost as clearly as in daylight.

"We will mesh this maneuver through an Operations Cen­ter in the back of a drugstore at this point, which is about two blocks from the Randall home. Supervisor Newton will be in charge, and will keep in touch by radio with all cars and agents on foot, as well as myself in the back bedroom of the Randall residence."

Newton interrupted. "You should know that several agents are already scouring the area for possible paw prints, and are showing the informant's photograph to children. We may get a lead from them before the informant leaves the house, and if we do we will relay it to you."

Zeke continued, "You're probably wondering how we are going to identify the informant once he leaves the house, since a black cat looks like any other black cat." He smiled. "Maybe to a black cat another black cat doesn't, the same as a Chinese to a Chinese, but to me they do. We're taking care of that by applying phosphorescent paint to the hair on the tip of his tail."

10

Zeke's lank frame looked strange in the blue quilted chintz chair as he huddled over a two-way radio that he had set up alongside the extension phone in Patti's bedroom. In the doorway Ingrid and Mike watched avidly, Mike's eyes on the equipment, Inky's on the man.

Sprawled on the bed was D.C. with his white-tipped tail curled around so he could reach it with his tongue. No mat­ter how strenuously he washed it, he culd not lick it clean, and he was pained deeply. They had ruined him for life. Not since Mike was ten had he been painted. He could never explain it to his friends. What would Poker Face, who lived in the next block, think? Poker Face wouldn't say anything, of course, since D.C. invited him into the house occasionally for a bowl of milk, a liquid D.C. loathed.

Zeke said into the mike, "Car fourteen. Come in, fourteen."

The answer came immediately. "Car fourteen in. We're in position. All set."

Zeke said, "Car fifteen. Come in, fifteen."

And so it went as Zeke checked each car. As he was fin­ishing, he heard the front door slam. Ingrid swung about but thought better of the idea. Any other night she would have run to meet Patti, to hug her and hear what was the latest in the world of fashion and business. Inky could scarcely wait to get a job modeling, and the fervent hope that she could had inspired her to give up virtually all food, except an occasional hot fudge nut sundae.

As Patti came down the hall, she called, "Inky, what's been going on in the bathroom?" She was wearing her no-nonsense voice.

She entered the bedroom and stopped short on seeing Zeke. He spoke up quickly. "I'm to blame, Miss Randall. We finger­printed D.C. in there. I should’ve cleaned it up." He added, "We had a little difficulty."

Mike put in, "It's a good thing Mom isn't here." Ingrid said hurriedly, "It was my idea, sis." She turned to Zeke, "You're a doll to take the blame but I won't let you, al­though I admire a man who protects a woman. Not many men do."

"Horse-radish," Mike said.

Patti tossed her jacket on the bed beside D.C. and stooped to rub his ears. D.C. stretched and purred loudly. She was without doubt the best ear rubber in the business. "Don't worry, I'll clean it up later."

"Huh!" Mike exclaimed. "If I so much as breathe in the bathroom I have to wipe up the moisture."

Zeke said to Patti, "I'm sorry about taking over your bed­room. I'll put everything back like it was when I finish." Patti smiled sweetly. "Would I be upsetting the FBI too much if I get a change of clothes?"

Zeke grinned. "Come and go any time you want to. Make yourself at home."

Mike asked, "You wearing your black lace panties to­night?"

She stood motionless, her hands poised stiff over the draw­er they had been about to explore. Ingrid screamed, "Michael Randall! How could you?"

Zeke said quietly, "Don't let it bother you, Miss Randall. I had an older sister – and I said the same things." She turned, and the look was a kiss.

Mike went to her. He was as near crying as a man of twelve dared to come. "I was just teasing, Pat. I'm a louse." She put her hand to his cheek. "So run along and let's forget it, huh?"

When he was gone Inky said, "The maturing process is hard. You say things and wonder why. I was the same at his age. He'll grow out of it."

Zeke shook his head as he returned to the radio. "I don't know. Most of us don't. I've been saying things all my life I shouldn't have."

At that moment the phone rang, and Ingrid picked it up on its first note. Her voice dropped, and she carried the phone over to the far window.

"It's a boy," Patti said. "I can always tell. She sounds like Sandra Dee."

Zeke sneezed, and the sneeze reminded him. "I was won­dering about the cat's dinner."

She fished a dress out of the closet and shut the door behind her, standing very straight in a patch of evening sun. "You promised to call him by his name."

Zeke shifted uneasily. "I did, didn't I?" He couldn't take his eyes from hers. Afterwards he thought they were blue, but he was never sure. "About D.C.'s dinner. What if you didn't feed him at all tonight? Wouldn't he go out earlier look­ing for something?"

"That's not what he looks for," she said without thinking. "I mean …"

Zeke grinned. "I know what you mean."

In the background Ingrid's voice grew louder. "I don't know whether I can go at all, Eddie. I'll have to ask my sister…. I can't help it, I never do anything without asking my sister. Okay, I'll let you know, Eddie. Good-by."

Patti stared in disbelief. "Since when have you ever asked my permission to do anything?"

Ingrid returned the phone to the night table. "Well, you didn't want me to tell him the truth, did you? Eddie's all right, I guess, if you want to run around with an encyclopedia, but I don't want to go with him to the prom, unless nobody else asks me."

"And I'm the villain, if you need one?"

Ingrid turned. "You don't mind, do you, sis?" She displayed her most ingratiating smile. "I don't know what I'd do without you. You're so sweet to me."

"Horse-radish!"

As Ingrid started for the door, Zeke called to her, "Miss Randall." At the "Miss," her eyes lighted. At last, here was someone who knew and respected her age. And he was smil­ing. He was a living doll. She would write' Mr. Hoover when this was over and tell him.

Zeke said, "As a special favor, would you keep your phone conversations brief? We're running our own phone in here later but right now we have to depend on this one."

"Why, of course, Mr. Kelso. I'll do anything you want me to. Anything."

"And no dates here tonight, please. No boy friends."

She shot Patti a glance. I'm not permitted boy friends on a Tuesday night due to certain customs in this family that date back to medieval times. The thinking in this family – " She never finished. An explosion shook the room, set the pictures on the wall to trembling and. the cosmetics on the make-up table to clinking. Zeke tensed as his thoughts scram­bled to place and identify the sound. Ingrid did it for him. "It's nothing. Mike set off another rocket. He's going to blow up the whole neighborhood someday but we must make sacri­fices for science."

"I want to speak to him," Zeke said sharply. "Call him in, will you?"

Ingrid disappeared the same moment that the front door­bell buzzed. "Excuse me," Patti said.

Zeke followed her silently down the hall, keeping out of sight as she opened the front door. He relaxed when the con­versation between the two identified the caller as a tree man. "It's dead, Miss Randall. No life in it at all. Nothing to do but take it out." Zeke couldn't hear what she said but the man answered, "I don't know. Might have been. But these apricots, they get old like the rest of us and die."

Mike came in then, trailed by Ingrid. Zeke asked his co­operation. Would he mind foregoing rocket research tonight? "I don't want D.C.'s nerves shattered," Zeke explained, re­turning to the bedroom. He noted that for some inexplicable reason D.C. did not seem particularly disturbed. He was still washing away on that tail. He should have taken to the sub­terranean depths when the rocket went off. But he hadn't. He had just sat there calmly and washed that long tail. This laundry bit, pursued over an extended period, was begin­ning to bother Zeke.

Zeke continued, "It's important that we don't do anything to upset his nerves tonight."

"He hasn't got any," Mike countered.

Ingrid nodded. "You don't get that kind for two dollars at the SPCA note 6 фактор VII (свертывающей системы крови) , антифибринолизин, проконвертин]."

Mike continued, "I've got one more rocket to go. He doesn't mind, do you, you old skunk." He roughed up D.C., and D.C. was pleased no end. He never missed a lick, transferring his tongue action from his tail to his boy. He shot a mis­chievous glance at Mike and grabbed his hand with his two front paws, sheathing the claws so he wouldn't hurt him, and then seized a finger and gently tightened his teeth.

"Oh, so you want to get rough, huh?" Mike fell to the bed and began wrestling with D.C.

"Please," Zeke shouted, the sweat breaking out on him. "You're getting him all upset."

Ingrid yelled, "Michael!" and Mike quit, much to D.C.'s displeasure. He crawled along the bed after Mike, shooting out a paw, trying to pull him back.

Mike straightened. "Don't you worry, Mr. Kelso, old D.C. will take you straight to those guys tonight. He's braver than most anybody. He wouldn't be scared to walk right into gun­fire. We've got this police dog down the street, the biggest police dog you ever saw, but he doesn't come up around here since D.C. ran him out a year ago."

Mike added, "I'll wait until tomorrow to fire the other rocket."

He left, and Ingrid followed. She stopped as she passed Zeke, standing quite close to him. "You're so masterful," she said. "I wish the boys at school were, but let's face it, they don't measure up. They absolutely don't."

When she was gone he sat down again in the robin's-egg-blue chair, and ran his long, bony fingers along the heavy cording. D.C. paused in his ablutions to glare at him, and Zeke glared back. "It's mutual, chum. It's mutual."

Two hours to go.

In the kitchen Ingrid mixed up a batch of scrabble. "He hates me. He just hates me. And it hurts so. I was only trying to help the FBI with the fingerprinting and all. But he thinks I helped the enemy, and he's never going to sleep on my bed again. He went straight to your room after it happened. Acted like I wasn't on earth. When I tried to make up, he moved away, like I wasn't there, and – "

"He'll get over it," Patti told her. "He'll stay in my room for a while to teach you a lesson."

Ingrid nodded. "I know just how he feels. He'll forgive me, but not right away."

After tasting the scrabble, she tossed in another sack of peanuts. "Greg picked me up on the way home from school. Said he'd been looking everywhere for me because he wanted my advice on how to handle a girl who went to him to get a divorce."

Patti interrupted. "Let me get this straight. He wants your advice?" She added to herself, "Oh, brother!"

"She's about my age – well, she's seventeen – and she's been married only six months. To a high school guy she's known since she was a kid. And do you know what's bothering her?"

Invariably she hastened to answer her own questions before anyone else could. "Her husband doesn't open car doors for her like he did before they were married, or light cigarettes, and carry in the groceries. So she thinks he doesn't love her any more, and she wants Greg to get her a divorce, but Greg is trying to talk her out of it, although he'll lose two hundred dollars – that's how much he charges for a divorce – and he really needs the two hundred."

"And of course he consulted you. Natch note 7. Since you're an authority on love."

"All right! Anyway, he wanted to try out his approach on me. Get my reaction, he said."

The doorbell rang and Patti hurried to answer. A neighbor woman handed her a letter from her parents that had been delivered by mistake. Patti let out a yell that brought Ingrid and Mike, and they sat on the arms of the overstuffed chair while her fingers ripped into the envelope, which bore the postmark, Helvetia .

" Helvetia ?" asked Mike. "Where's that?"

" Switzerland , you dumb bunny," Ingrid told him.

"Well, why don't they say so?"

Patti took two notes out, one from each of their parents. Their dad wrote about Lucerne , Switzerland . He told how the English had colonized Lucerne , "a former Swiss town," but, with the usual English diplomacy, permitted the Swiss to fly the Swiss flag and, also with typical English courtesy, tol­erated a certain number of American and German travelers to visit the colony.

Mike said, "He's as funny as Art Buchwald."

"Who's he?" Ingrid asked.

Mike emitted a worldly sigh. "I'm surrounded by morons. I battle ignorance day after day."

"You don't know either," Ingrid countered. "You see a name somewhere and you go around acting like you know him."

Patti read the note from their mother, who recounted what they had seen in Italy . Their mother would squeeze every possible dollar's worth out of the trip. She would visit every art gallery and museum and take every tour that could be managed on a back-breaking, foot-wrecking, fourteen-hour-a day schedule. Their dad would go along willingly, although he would prefer to wander down little back streets, and poke into out-of-the-way places, and eat at small inns, and sit at sidewalk cafes, and watch the crowds go by. He was interested in people alive and on the hoof, not in the venera­tion of the old because it was old. He would remark that what the place needed was a wrecking crew to clean up the debris of a thousand years, and their mother would be shocked, not knowing that the people living in the area wished the same, that nights many of them looked at maga­zine pictures of modern bathrooms and yearned for them, but knew they would have to content themselves with the same old drab w.c. note 8 to the end of their days.

This time, their mother's recital was briefer than usual. As she closed, she wrote, "We're seeing so many wondrous places that Dad and I've dreamed about since we were first married, but sometimes I wonder if it's worth taking six weeks out of our lives with you, when we have such little time to enjoy you before you grow up and are gone. Our hearts are with you every day, no matter where we go. We love you all so much, and being away seems to make the love a little more precious, until at times it hurts."

When Patti finished, they sat quiet a long moment, deeply moved. Then Patti said briskly, "Let's get dinner. They haven't died, you know."

Mike cleared his throat. "The minute they get back, I'm going to hit them up for a bicycle, before they forget how much they love me."

Ingrid turned on him. "You're horrible. Absolutely horrible. Isn't he horrible, sis?"

11

Sammy left at seven to pick up the morning newspapers from the large stand at the corner of Ventura and Van Nuys. They bought the newspapers religiously. They remembered a friend, old Al Bricker, a smalltime gangster, who had been apprehended because he failed to read the night before that an informant had tipped off the police. Dan had said, "I read it someplace, knowledge is power, and that's a truth if there ever was one. We'll play it the way the big shot executives do. They read everything they can get their hands on about their competitors."

To date, their reading had provided them with little knowl­edge. The police, and hence the newspapers, apparently knew nothing beyond the bare facts concerning the commission of the crime. Knowing this gave the two a sense of security and eased the tension.

This morning, however, when Sammy returned, he was chewing his gum hard, they way he did when he was shaken. "That dame up front," he said, referring to the landlady. "She stopped me, and I know she'd been waiting for me to come along. I could tell 'cause the door opened real quick-like. Not like when somebody's going out."

"Get to the point," Dan snapped.

"Cripes, give me a chance. Well, she stopped me with a good morning, and I tried to hurry by but she asked me be­fore I could, how was your wife. Getting better, I told her. She said she'd cooked a chicken and had some broth and would bring it in. I said she was on a diet. What kind of a diet, she asks me. Never heard tell, she says, of a bronchitis patient being on a diet. I said she'd gone into something worse, and she asked me what, and I said the prethers, and we had to be careful what we gave her."

"What else?" Dan demanded impatiently.

"That was it. We got to move fast. We've got to get rid of the broad before that dame comes around."

"I can't understand it," Dan said. "Something must've hap­pened. She's never shown any interest in us before."

They had canvassed this entire area to find a landlady who looked as if she would mind her own business, and an apart­ment on an alley, so they could come and go without passing through a foyer. The day they rented the place she had been extremely impersonal, almost curt. She had let them know she would not disturb them if they left her alone. "The rent's eighty-five a month furnished as is. If you wear out a broom, you buy another. I don't want no tenants pestering me."

They told her they were brothers, and then when they seized the bank teller they had a problem. Dan solved it by telling the landlady, "My wife and me, we've been having trouble. I figured when I moved in here we'd broken up for good but she shows up today and we got everything settled. I know you'll want more money, now there's three of us."

"Ninety-five for three."

"That sounds reasonable." He added, "I want you to meet her soon as she feels like it. She's got a bad spell of bronchitis and taken to bed but she'll be up and about soon."

The landlady had offered no comment. Her attitude was that if she never met his wife, that would be all right with her.

Now Sammy said, "I got a brain storm in the night."

Dan showed no interest. He was pacing about, thinking. Sammy continued, "If we forced forty or fifty sleeping pills down her, it'd look like she conked off on her own."

Dan's look stopped him. "What're we going to do, hang around while they pick up her body and find out who she is?"

"No, we'll powder out."

"And leave a trail a mile wide? The landlady's seen us, and she'll pick us out when the cops bring their little album around, and then they'll plaster our pictures in the papers, and we won't be able to stick our heads out the rest of our lives."

Sammy squirmed. They both had records, and hence mug photographs on file. They had been caught within hours after their first job together, the heist of a Yuma , Arizona , bank. A clever attorney, though, had upset the witnesses to such an extent that the bank manager, who had been positive in his identification of them, had become confused. To their amaze­ment, the jury acquitted them.

Dan continued, "What're you trying to do, Sammy, make the ten-most-wanted list?"

They quieted at the sound of water running in the bath­room, and fell into their usual places in a couple of easy chairs with the newspaper divided between them.

A quarter hour later she emerged with heavy gray circles under lifeless eyes.

" 'Bout time you were getting out here," said Sammy, checking his watch. "What you trying to do? Starve us to death?"

She started for the kitchen. He was on his feet like a spring­ing tiger, and grabbed her. "When I say something, you lis­ten, you hear me?"

"I heard you. I didn't think an answer was needed."

Dan said, "Make it ham for me. I'm hungry enough to eat a bear."

Sammy let her go. "Go on, you heard him. Get in there." He cuffed her on the rear.

Controlling her anger, she asked calmly, "What do you want me to do? Blow up, so you can slap me around? Is that what you want? I've played ball, haven't I?"

"Cut it, Sammy," Dan said.

She continued, addressing herself to Dan, "My dad's got a birthday today. He's sixty-seven, and very sick. He hasn't got much longer to live, and if he doesn't hear from me, if he thinks I'm dead … what I'm getting at is, could you tele­phone him and say I'm all right'"

Dan put down the paper while Sammy watched for a cue. "Sweetheart, you know they've got a tap on your old dad's phone, and the minute I call him, the cops pick me up. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you, because you'd be all alone with Sammy."

"Hey, Jenkins," put in Sammy, "what about that?" He turned to Dan. "No, I don't think so. I like 'em hungry-look­ing. No hips, no – "

"Okay, Sammy. Let her get breakfast."

In the kitchen, she got the eggs, bacon, and ham from the refrigerator, and began the monotonous daily routine. In the beginning, when they had insisted she cook for them, she had balked, then realized she would anger them without accomplishing anything. It was then, that first night, that she de­cided she would never cross them. She would act submissive in the hope she might catch them off guard.

In studying her possibilities for survival, she concluded she must somehow attract attention from the outside to the apart­ment. The physical setup, though, was against her. The win­dows were nailed fast, and those in the living room hung with curtains too heavy to see through. Only ten feet beyond was the brick wall of the next building. Since the apartment was on the rear, only an occasional person passed by. In the kitch­en itself Dan kept the Venetian shades drawn, which was logical since the sun struck that side until midafternoon.

As a result of her bank training, she examined every possi­bility carefully. If she had known about electricity, she could have shorted a wire, blown a fuse, and brought someone into the apartment. But she hadn't the faintest idea how to induce a short.

The next possibility that had occurred was to start a fire. She watched for a chance to drop a match into the kitchen wastebasket but Dan kept her under close observation. Then, three days ago, she reshaped the idea. She left a roast in the oven, turned the flame to five hundred, and propped the oven door open slightly with a knife. As she left the kitchen, she closed the door. She had hoped the roast would burn, the smoke fill the kitchen and seep out the back window, and a passer-by call the fire department. But Dan, always alert, smelled the smoke before it had accumulated sufficiently. In­stead of opening the outside door to air the kitchen, he turned on the exhaust fan, and they sat in the smoke until the fan slowly carried it out. "What you trying to do, get the fire de­partment in here?" he asked with that uncanny instinct for seeing through a matter. But while he might be suspicious, he could not be sure. Accidents like that did happen. After that, however, he checked the burners before they left the kitchen.

And then last night this stray cat had offered her another chance. By now someone had found the watch. The question in her mind was, would they identify the watch? Surely the newspapers had carried her description and what she was wearing. Surely her father had given them the photograph taken at a bank picnic only a month ago, and she had had the watch on her left wrist at the time. She had no idea, though, what the newspapers had printed. Dan and Sammy clipped out stories relating to the crime before passing the papers to her. Twice when news broadcasts came over about the holdup, they switched to other stations.

And another fear ate into her. Would the newspapers carry the story if the watch were found? If they did, she was dead. Literally dead. Surely the police would realize this. But then again, maybe the cat's folks would tell the newspapers.

As if he were reading her mind, Dan asked, "What time you got, sweetheart?"

She went about the chore of turning the bacon with a steadi­ness that belied the grab of her heart. "I don't know. I've mis­placed my watch. When I got up this morning, it wasn't on the night table. I must've put it down somewhere."

Sammy's voice came over from the living room. "You're get­ting old, Jenkins."

"She's not that old," Dan said softly, and to her, "You don't just lose a watch in a three-room apartment."

"I'd lose my head if it weren't screwed on."

Dan was not to be diverted. "You try real hard to find it, huh? Right after breakfast you start looking, and you keep looking until you find it. We wouldn't want you to lose your watch, would we, Sammy?"

Sammy laughed. "You don't think we swiped it, do you, Jenkins?"

Dan was smart. She wondered how long it would take him to think back to the cat.

12

Patti applied her make-up swiftly and expertly. She had told Greg she would come over to his house when she was ready for their date. Ingrid, she had said, would be having friends in and it might be awkward if he called for her. She couldn't have him accidentally discovering Zeke.

On her way out, she looked in on Zeke and D.C. Zeke smiled and rose quickly from the chintz chair.

"He won't get hurt, will he?" she asked. "I mean, if there's any shooting? …"

Zeke sobered. "I promise you I won't let anything happen to him. We'll wait until he's out of the place before we move in."

He was sincere. No matter what he thought of the party in question, he would take every possible step to safeguard him. The Bureau would expect no less. An agent must never per­mit his personal feelings to influence him in his relationships with people, which he guessed included cats since all cat lovers took the cats' point of view that they were people.

She experienced a warm glow. Just talking with Zeke Kelso was as comforting as stepping into the sun on a day when golden aspen leaves were falling. He was totally unlike Greg. He moved and talked slower, as if he had no place to go and was in no rush to get there. And still, he gave an im­pression of quiet determination and singleness of purpose that would carry him plodding over any mountain.

Dropping to the bed, she rubbed D.C.'s ears. He looked up at her with adoration, and twisted his head about so he could lick her wrist. This was his girl. He hadn't reared her, as he had Inky and Mike, but he was just as fond of her. When the others forgot, she remembered his dinner. And she was quieter. In times of stress he could climb into her lap and be assured of a haven where he could rest body and mind.

"I won't be home until about eleven," she said, "but Inky and Mike will be here, and if there's anything you want they'll take care of it. You'll find them very dependable."

He thanked her, and watched as her trim, sharply deline­ated figure glided out the door and turned left.

In the dining room she stopped before the mirror above the chest for one final check. She had had only one slice of meat for lunch, and some unborn peas, which her Uncle Bob would have said were a great waste of pea potential. And she swore they showed in a neat little pad on her right hip. She remem­bered then to get two frozen dinners out of the deep freeze for Mike and Ingrid. Zeke had had dinner, so he said, prior to arriving.

In the living room she stopped very still on discovering Inky crying, then dropped quickly beside her on the divan, taking her into her arms. On the record player in the far cor ner "The Unfinished Symphony" was approaching its con­clusion.

"Hon, what in the world?" Patti asked.

"It's so beautiful," Inky managed to say. "So beautiful."

Patti stood up quickly, letting Inky drop. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Ingrid Randall, act your age. Why do you play it if you know you're going to cry?"

"I felt like crying. I just felt like it – and it's so beautiful I can't help it."

Honestly, that kid. Her record collection included Bee­thoven, Bob Newhart, Wagner, Pat Boone, Verdi, Ella Fitz­gerald, Julie London, Debussy.

Inky continued, "I guess I'm going to have to go to the dance with Eddie. I thought sure Tommy was going to ask me. His sister said he was but I can't wait much longer. Oh, sis, why can't a girl ask a boy? Why must it always be the boy?"

"It's man's last stand in a changing world. Something like Custer's."

She was about to leave when she remembered how shat­tering these crises could be. Turning back, she said, "Look, hon, sometimes a real sensitive guy has a hard time getting up enough courage to invite a girl. Why don't you ask him casually if you're going to see him at the dance? You know, be subtle in a sledge hammer sort of way."

Ingrid's tears vanished. Going out the door, Patti said, "See you about eleven. Take good care of the FBI agent. I'm not sure he's safe around D.C." As she closed the door, she added, "Or you either."

She hurried down the path to the sidewalk, conscious that Mrs. Macdougall was watering the roses again. No wonder they didn't bloom. They were always going under for the third time. Patti called out hello, and Mrs. Macdougall nod­ded in a robot kind of manner. She hadn't smiled in a quarter of a century and had no intention of shattering precedent. She said something that Patti didn't hear. Overhead there was the roar of sound chasing jets around.

Passing under the apricot tree, a blackened skeleton limned against the soft evening sky, Patti felt the pull of sadness. That tree had helped to rear Inky and Mike. Her mother had trained it for its mission when it was a sapling by snipping its main stalk, so it would branch out low from the ground and be a good "climbing tree." Every few years, in successive turns, they had shinnied up it to hide in its foliage, and sit very still, and watch the world pass by on the sidewalk beneath. They had hissed catlike at unsuspecting dogs, and barked at cats, and surprised hand-in-hand couples by shouting their names loudly. That tree was a part of her past, and now, like almost everything in her past, was going. It was a part, too, of the house, shading it in the summer, and in the winter dropping its leaves to let the sunshine in. Without the tree the house would look like a plucked chicken.

That blasted Blitzy, she thought.

The dog watched her cross the street with an evil glint in his sharp little eyes. He was squatting in his usual spot on top of the divan in Greg's living room, looking out the pic­ture window. When she was a few steps away, he snarled. She snarled right back. Taken by surprise, he tumbled back­wards, landed hard on the floor, and yelped furiously. She returned the bark as she passed by, rather proud that she still retained such an accomplished "wuf, wuf." As a youngster she had spoken the dog language fluently and without an accent.

She rang the front doorbell several times, and when no Greg answered, started around the house. What she saw in the driveway stopped her cold. There stood the white Thun-derbird note 9 being washed vigorously if not efficiently by two small boys who greeted her gaily. And squatting beside a rear white-wall tire, which was as immaculate as a cleric's collar, was Greg. He wore a pair of Levi's that should have been put away to rest in their old age, and a work shirt stiff with paint accumulated from many jobs. "Didn't expect to see you," he mumbled, walking toward her and away from the boys.

"I thought we had a date."

"Didn't you read the fine type? It says: Both parties will consider this contractual agreement canceled if either en­gages in practices considered detrimental to the other."

"What in heaven's name are you talking about?"

"I apologized, didn't I? I told you I was sorry, although it was your cat who stole my duck. And you led me to believe – "

"Greg!"

" – that everything was okay between us when all the time you had sicced note 10 the FBI on me – and all because I wanted my duck back that I'd stood all day in the rain – "

"For heaven's sake, hush up and listen to me."

"Okay, so you've had your fun. The FBI questioned me, and while they didn't tie me to a spit and break me – "

"Greg!" She screamed his name so loud that he stopped, startled. She said in a steady, controlled voice, "I did not sic the FBI on you. I did not – "

"Answer me this: Did you or did you not tell the FBI agent about last night, that your cat came over – "

"He wanted to know where D.C. had been and I told him – "

"I don't understand you, Miss Randall. So help me I don't, running to the FBI when it was your cat, although for the life of me I can't imagine what story you told them to bring them down on me. That I was threatening your life? That I was a spy and stuffed the duck with messages?"

"If you'll give me a chance, Greg. I'm trying to tell you that I told the agent nothing. He wanted merely to know – "

"I heard you. He wanted to know where D.C. had been.

The FBI's got nothing else to do but chase after cats. One

big, lousy, stinking fat cat, and you tell me the FBI wants to

know where he was. Cripes, you don't think I'm so stupid »>

He trailed off as she started away. Any second the tears would come and she was darned if she would let him have that satisfaction.

"Patti," he called weakly. He shook his head like a punch-drunk prize fighter. He was confused. A cat, a duck, the FBI, an angry woman – he couldn't put the parts together in logical fashion.

He returned to the car. One of the boys asked hesitantly, "What was the blast about?"

"Look at you," he yelled. "You've got more water on you than the car. I'm not paying you to take a bath."

The other boy asked, "Is the FBI going to arrest D.C?"

"I wish they would. But they wouldn't dare. The people wouldn't stand for it, Congress wouldn't, the President wouldn't – because cats can do no wrong. I don't know who's handling their publicity but they've got the best press any­body ever had in the history of mankind."

As she entered the house, she was so angry her bracelets jingled. Ingrid looked up with surprise from a magazine. "Sis," she said tentatively, recognizing the anger she knew all too well. "Whatever – "

"He broke the date."

"Greg did?"

"Yes, your big, fine, noble hero thinks I turned him in to the FBI. I couldn't tell him the truth. He thinks it's all be­cause of the row we had last night."

Ingrid put her arm about Patti. "Don't worry, when it's all over, and we tell him – "

"He'll say we tricked him, that we should've told him."

"I'll talk to him. He'll listen to me."

"Then you date him. Me, I've had it."

She hurried to the back bedroom where she took Zeke by surprise, one leg swung up over the chair's arm.

"What did you tell Mr. Balter?" she asked without pream­ble. "He's furious with me, thinks I got the FBI after him."

D.C. came awake with a start and prepared to leap. He knew that tone. Zeke rose in astonishment. "I don't under­stand – "

"Me neither. Flinging his old mallard duck up into my face again. Why did you bring the duck into it?"

"Look, Miss Randall, I didn't bring the duck into it. I haven't got the slightest idea how the duck ever got into the act. I went to see him as routine procedure. He's a reputable attorney, a man who could be trusted, and I thought he might have information about the cat's – I mean, D.C.'s – where­abouts the night before. He might have given me a lead that would have cracked the case wide open. But before I had time to ask any questions, he was talking about some crazy duck, and how he almost got pneumonia, and he kept talking about it. It was like I'd punched a button that blew up a volcano."

She was not satisfied. "Why did you think he'd know any­thing about D.C.? Did you think they went out on the town together every night?"

"Please, Miss Randall, the neighbors may hear."

She crumpled into the nearest chair. "Forgive me, I'm get­ting as bad as that character across the street."

D.C. settled back down. He was glad he wasn't the one catching it.

At least one neighbor had heard. Mrs. Macdougall, washing dishes next door, put a small finger in her ear and shook the finger vigorously. But, removing it, she still couldn't make out the words. She could only hear Patti and a man talking in raised voices.

"That girl," she said to her husband, "she's got a man in her room – and her carryin' on like that before a baby sister and a little boy."

Her husband, who hadn't said a word all evening, emerged from behind the sports page. "You don't say?" A look stole into his eyes. "You don't say!"

Mrs. Macdougall did say. "No wonder – the whole pack of 'em taking sun baths half-naked. 'We don't want the children to grow up curious,' her mother saying, and her so respectable-lookin'. 'Nothing to be ashamed of, the human body.' Rubbish and tommy rot note 11!"

13

As zero hour approached, the tension mounted. A dozen agents spread out fanlike over the area, stopping children of all ages to show them the picture of D.C. "I've lost my cat," an agent would say. "Thought maybe you'd seen him around."

Boys especially studied the photograph at length, discussing it among themselves. Only one, though, remembered seeing a cat that size. He recalled that he watched the cat paw at a door across the street from him, and gain admittance. Agents .relayed the lead immediately to Operations Center .

Other agents skirted thief-like along flower beds and shrubs, stooping to examine mud spots created by yard sprinklers. When they found cat tracks, they would place the photo­graphic reproduction of D.C.s paw prints alongside for com­parison. Dogs growled at them, housewives cast suspicious eyes on them, and boys hounded them. "Whatcha doin', mis­ter?" they'd ask, catching an agent on his knees peering under a bush. They thought he had lost something, which was a rather reasonable conclusion, and wanted to help hunt. The agents were noncommittal. A grunt or two usually classified an adult as unfriendly, and the little snoops would drift on.

"Somebody's going to call the police," said one agent, "and they'll pick us up for being drunk or nuts, or both." Another said, "I'm not going to tell even my wife what I was doing today."

Block by block, they scoured the area with typical Bureau thoroughness. If D.C. had stepped into soft earth or crossed a dusty alley, they would have found his track. But not a single one did they come across, attesting to what Patti had told Zeke, that D.C. had a great penchant for cleanliness. Even when he smelled a flower – and he was a great nature lover, she said – he would remain on the grass and project his neck the required distance.

At Operations Center in the back of the drugstore, Super­visor Bob Newton ran a final check on twelve radio cars, spotted at strategic points on side streets near the Randall home, on four sound cone units, and on six agents equipped with infra-red scopes.

Newton cautioned them, "Remember we're dealing with a highly sensitive type of informant. Maintain a close surveil­lance but keep in mind at all times that you must not do any­thing that will alarm the informant."

In the Randall home Zeke cleared everyone out of the bed­room at seven-fifteen on the theory that D.C. might sense something was brewing if they gathered en masse. Before Patti left, he checked again the route that D.C. would follow. Patti remembered then that D.C, in heading for Greg's home, would keep considerable distance between himself and one specific garage. When he was quite young, she related, D.C. had followed a playful kitten into this garage. As he nuzzled the kitten, which had skunks for parents, the most terrible thing happened. For weeks afterwards scarcely anyone spoke to him, nor was he permitted in the house, and, in fact, even the dogs gave him a wide berth.

Patti said, "He's never gone into another garage. Some ways he's a lot smarter'n we are. He never makes the same mistake twice."

Now Zeke sat by a two-way radio, which he held to a whis­per. In the hallway the cuckoo clock ticked with a confidence few clocks have these days. On the bed D.C. was curled into a tight ball, sound asleep. He was wearing his old collar, and seemingly had welcomed it when Patti fastened it .about his neck. A collar did something for a man, gave him a cer­tain distinction.

Zeke's eyes were so puffed that the cat was a black blur, and Zeke wondered how he was going to run the surveillance. Silently he lectured himself. His attitude toward D.C. was utterly unreasonable. He had no basis for his prejudice. He was guilty of the worst possible type of discrimination. He must exert every effort to change.

Seven forty-five passed, and Zeke grew more fearful with the ticking off of each minute. Almost on the stroke of eight, though, D.C. aroused, and took his bearings. His gaze passed over Zeke as if the latter were another piece of furniture. He padded to the window then, pulled aside a drape, and looked out to take a reckoning of the time and temperature.

Zeke said into the mike, "All units stand by. Informant about to leave house."

On seeing something outside, D.C. battened his ears down until only his slit eyes showed. Whatever he saw, though, failed to interest him long, for he quietly returned to the de­pressed spot in the bed and began his nightly ablutions.

"All units," Zeke said. "Informant has changed mind. Will keep you advised."

Zeke sat on the bed, reached over, and pulled D.C. to him. He remembered his resolution and smiled down at the cat. His smile was not returned. D.C. wanted no part of him.

Murmuring, "Nice guy – nice guy," Zeke picked him up by the middle to stand him up. D.C. promptly collapsed. Just as promptly Zeke propped him up, which was a tactical error. At the end of his patience, D.C. sank a claw into Zeke's right arm, above the wrist. Zeke was caught so by surprise and pain that he used a few old ranch hand words he had forgotten he knew.

In one quick stroke, as if he were roping a calf, Zeke seized D.C.'s hind legs, took a good hold on him, and carted him upside down through the hallway, into the kitchen, and to the service porch door where he dropped him uncere­moniously. He unlatched the door and D.C, growling a few choice words himself, looked out.

"Get out there, you big baboon," Zeke said. "Go on, go on before I break you – "

At a faint footstep behind him, he stopped. He sensed that Patti stood there, and hated to think what her expression was. Below him D.C. planted his feet firmly. Now that he had re­inforcements, he would stand his ground.

Zeke said softly, "Look friend, it's a warm, beautiful night Go on, live it up."

He turned. "Oh, hello. Didn't know you were around. Can't seem to get him out, and it's past eight."

He gave a little laugh. "I thought I'd encourage him." Gen­tly he put his foot to D.C.'s rear and pushed him out. As if by magic, D.C. was back in the house before Zeke could close the door.

Patti said, "You can't make him do anything he doesn't want to. He's stubborn, like the rest of the Randalls."

"He's got to go," Zeke said. "We've got thirty men waiting on him."

She took a piece of raw beef from the refrigerator, stepped out of the door, and dangled it. D.C. stared at it curiously from inside the service porch. Did they think he was that naive? Patti, of all people, resorting to a low trick like that.

Patti looked up at Zeke. "Even if we do get him out, he'll just mope around. He had too big a night last night."

Thereupon D.C. turned and headed back toward the bed­room. Patti excused herself to help Mike with his homework, and Zeke followed D.C., who dallied on the way, once to take a couple of swipes at last year's Christmas gift, a catnip mouse whose innards had filtered out and was now only a wrinkled skin. He received Christmas gifts along with the other members of the family, and quite a few cards. During his formative years he played with his gifts by the hour, but now he was above such nonsense. Oh, he would take a swat or two at a present, to let his folks know he was appreciative. But with maturity had come a sense of dignity, of place. Place was very important, and especially difficult to maintain in this family.

Zeke bided his time until D.C. returned to the bedroom, and then Zeke resorted to a scurrilous trick. He detested him­self for it but his desperation was such that he couldn't resist. Casually he maneuvered around D.C., who stretched full length on the bed. D.C. kept his head raised, his gaze trailing Zeke.

When he had gained D.C.'s rear, Zeke pretended to stare out of the window until D.C. was lulled into a sense of security and lowered his head flat with his body. He closed his eyes and prepared for a night's rest. Still standing by the window, Zeke removed his shoes, and stealthily approached the cat from behind. He remembered, as he had been taught in the FBI Academy , to watch for squeaky boards that would betray him. His movements were slow and fluid, his breath­ing' stilled. In all of his years as an agent he had never been more skillful. In one swiftly executed and brilliant ma­neuver, he dropped to the bed, and the same instant grabbed D.C.'s forelegs, locking them in his left hand. Before D.C.' could react, Zeke pulled him up against his body, so that the cat's rear legs would be too pinned down for effective action.

With his right hand Zeke attempted to force a waker-upper pill down the cat's mouth, but D.C. anticipated the move and locked his teeth. "Take this," Zeke muttered. "Doggone you, take this." A hind paw tore his shirt and located soft flesh. Zeke stifled an outcry but bravely and doggedly held on. He moved the pill along the clenched teeth until he discovered an opening where they met improperly. He pushed the pill in and closed his hand about D.C.'s mouth to keep him from spitting it out.

"Heaven help me," he mumbled to himself, "if Washington finds out I'm doping cats."

D.C. half choked, and swallowed three times before Zeke released him. Quickly Zeke backed away, which was a wise move since all the savagery of a thousand generations of ancestors lashed out for the jugular vein, or any kind of old artery handy. For a frightened moment, Zeke thought the cat was going to spring for him. But D.C. recognized superior force and stopped where he was. He sat on his haunches a long time, and then the fury slipped out of his eyes and tri­umph sneaked in. First he assured himself Zeke was watch­ing, and then, only as a cat can, spat out the pill that he had carefully held on his tongue. He spat it with a hair-raising sound effect. He spat it as far as possible, which was well beyond the bed. His expression said, You want tricks, man, I'll give you tricks.

Zeke sank into the chintz chair, the wind gone from him. He didn't know quite why all of this had befallen him. There he was at his desk this morning, minding his own business, feeling the high spirit of the early hours, the challenge of an­other day, the pleasant warmth of a rising sun, the happy thought of a second cup of coffee, and then he had taken the call. If someone else had, he might have been assigned a nice, respectable homicide with a perfectly normal informant.

Along about eleven Patti drifted in. "Want me to loan you a pair of Dad's pajamas? They'll be a little big around the middle, and you'll look like a clown."

He shook his head. He had better stay up, on the chance that D.C. would change his mind.

"No use to," she said. "He's bedded down but good for the night."

She dropped to the bed beside D.C. and rubbed his neck. He groaned happily in his sleep.

"I had a pinto once," Zeke said. "Loved to have me do that."

She smiled, and in no time discovered they had a mutual love for the outdoors. She said, "Dad was in lumber when I was growing up, over in Arizona . I guess I was a dreamy-eyed kid. I remember I used to ride through the Coconino forest on the excuse I was seeing how many different species of birds I could count. But I was always expecting to meet some tall, handsome guy I'd fall for."

The family had moved to Los Angeles when the work grew too rugged for her father; she had attended the University of California at Los Angeles ; and she had taken up modeling when a girl friend found her a job.

"But I'm not very ambitious. I don't care about staying in modeling. Time catches up with you too fast. Besides, you get so hungry."

By now the world outside was quiet, all of the noises having collected themselves and run off. She continued dreamily, "I've got just one burning ambition. I want to have two boys like Mike and two girls like Inky. The only trouble is that a man's necessary, since you can't order kids yet out of the Sears Roebuck catalogue."

As she talked, she grew increasingly conscious of the inti­macy of the moment – Zeke in her room, his long hulk draped over the chintz chair, his head resting against the back. A short time before he had been a stranger, but he was the kind who after a half hour of talk was an old friend.

"Sure you don't want some pajamas?" she asked, rising.

He said no, and sneezed hard. "You wouldn't have anything for hay fever, would you?"

14

The next morning Patti overslept, and there was more hubbub than usual. Mike was upset. "I can't tell the rocket club not to come, can I? We've been plannin' it for a month."

"Listen, Mike," Patti' said, plugging in the electric skillet, "don't give me trouble."

"D.C. won't mind. He likes rockets." Mike roughed up D.C., who, refreshed by a good night's sleep, was watching the proceedings from his usual place on the refrigerator, sur­veying it all with that benevolent attitude he graciously be­stowed on humans after wolfing down a tin of cat food.

"Cancel it," Patti said.

"What'll I tell 'em?"

"That I've got a migraine."

"That'd be lying."

Ingrid spoke up. "Can't you get it through your skull, Michael Randall, how serious this is, how everything depends on our helping Mr. Kelso?"

She turned to Patti, "I don't think I'll ever be able to understand him. He would undermine the FBI for an old rocket club."

She cracked the eggs and dropped them in the skillet Patti had prepared. "Pray for me today, will you, sis?"

"Huh?" said Patti, looking up.

"If I don't pass geometry, after all I've done for that stupid school." She shrugged. "Oh, well, as I always say, flunk now and avoid the June rush.'

She turned the eggs and continued, "And I'll simply die if Tommy doesn't ask me, especially if I hint around."

"What a drip," Mike said.

"You pick your friends and I'll pick mine." She hurried on. "I'm going over to Bethie's after school. Okay?"

Bethie was Beth Ann Nixon, a tall, striking girl with a poise and maturity remarkable for her age. Or any age, for that matter.

"Okay," Patti said, appreciating the fact that Ingrid kept her posted on her whereabouts. Not many kid sisters were that thoughtful.

Zeke emerged then, drawn and haggard. He had dozed in fits and starts, to quote him. He stared with something akin to rage at the clear-eyed D.C.

"How do you want your eggs?" Patti asked. He protested, insisting he would get breakfast on his way to the office.

Ingrid pushed him toward a chair. "I'll get your breakfast. I just love to cook."

"Would you mind repeating that?" asked Mike.

"She's a good cook," Patti said.

Zeke seated Patti, and then Ingrid, at the breakfast table, and Ingrid beamed. Zeke informed them that another agent would report at 8 a.m. to take over the day shift. He was apologetic about disrupting their home. He promised he would slip in and out as unobtrusively as possible. He said he real­ized that little things might give away the presence of some­one in the house, such as the position of the bedroom drapes in the daytime. Patti opened them on rising, but he and his fellow agent would keep them drawn. It was possible, too, that neighbors might hear their movements, although they would remove their shoes and walk about in their stocking feet. He questioned her about the time the postman came, and the milkman, and if any cleaning woman or neighbor might enter.

"You're wasting your time," Patti said. "You couldn't push D.C. out with a ten-ton tractor in the daytime. The mockingbirds stand guard in shifts at the back door."

"You mean a great big cat like him is afraid of a mocking­bird?"

"Not afraid. Paralyzed."

Blasted cat, he thought. It was a horrible enough fate to draw a cat as an informant in the first place, and even worse to draw a cat that was a coward….

Shortly after breakfast Patti left the house. She had paused to examine the apricot when Mrs. Macdougall descended on her, all two hundred pounds. "You poor, poor child. I saw the light burning in your bedroom when I got up to take my drops. My heart's been troublin' me, I came near to dyin' one night, and the doctor gave me these drops. And I said to Mr. Macdougall – he always wakes up when I get up – I said, 'Wilbur, somebody's been taken ill over at the Randall home!' " She added by way of explanation, "I could hear you and the doctor talking."

Patti reddened, and detested herself for it. All her life she had acted guilty when under suspicion. "Not the doctor, it was the radio you heard, Mrs. Macdougall. I couldn't sleep."

"Oh." The one word said Patti was a liar.

"Forgive me," Patti continued, "I've got to run. I'm late already."

She cut swiftly around Mrs. Macdougall, who would have blocked her if given half a chance. Patti kept her eyes straight ahead as she passed Greg's. Blitzy threatened her as usual from the safety of the picture window. Some day, so help her, she was going to throw a rock through that win­dow.

She was waiting on the corner for the bus when Greg brought his car alongside her. "Patti," he called. She turned away. He whistled then and heads pivoted for a block. "I'm coming after you," he said, and started to leave the car.

She climbed in quickly, her blood pressure high enough for a stroke. "I don't like your tactics, Mr. Balter, but I'm not going to stand there and have you create a scene."

She grabbed her head as the car's sudden propulsion pushed her body back until her eyes popped. He said quickly "I know how you feel and I don't blame you. I don't know what got into me last night. I know you didn't set the FBI on me, but I'd surely like to know what's behind it. What I'm trying to say is that I'm terribly sorry and couldn't we strike the night off the calendar?"

Her blood pressure leveled off, her pulse advanced, and her anger did an about-face and turned inward. She found her­self wanting to forgive him. That old Greg Balter charm. Well, let him save it for a jury. She'd be hanged if she would be swayed by it after the way he had stood her up. And it was only last night. He didn't even give her anger time to die and be provided a decent burial. But that was because his was a child's, quick to run away, while hers was mature, slow to arouse and slow to fade.

"You mean," she asked with a fall chill in the air, "like bury the duck?"

He nodded. "I think we should give him a special funeral. It isn't every duck that gets investigated by the FBI."

She muttered, "Huh!" and he shot her a sidewise glance. As the blocks passed, he talked along easily, as if there had been no last night, no hot-tempered accusations. He wanted to know about detergents, and sought her advice on other household matters. He was having trouble with his mother's old vacuum cleaner, and asked if she would help him choose a new one. She stalled; she had such little time with her parents away and Mike and Ingrid to look after.

Then it was that he braked to a sudden stop, and she al­most went through the windshield. "You need seat belts," she said.

He didn't hear. The jolt switched his thinking. "Which re­minds me, I saw the FBI man who talked with me yesterday leaving your house early this morning."

She was momentarily stunned, and then the anger crept back in. "He asked me the same questions he did you. He wanted to know where D.C. had been."

"And that was all?"

"Yes."

He took the casual approach. "Would you stick to that story if you were under oath on the witness stand?"

"Are you implying – ?"

"Now, hold on, Patti – "

"You the same as said I was lying. You picked me up be­cause you wanted to cross-examine me. Well, I'm not one of your witnesses to be grilled like a common – "

"Patti, please."

The car had come to a halt at a stop sign, and she burst out the door, almost getting run over in her haste. He slid out and hurried after her, calling to her. A motorcycle officer wheeled in, blocking him, and gave him a ticket for deserting a car in traffic.

As Zeke checked into the FBI office that morning, the re­ceptionist, Dinkie, who could scarcely sit in her tight, plaid skirt, said, "They're holding a drawing on you back in the steno pool."

"A what?"

"You know, like a turkey raffle. The one who wins gets to ask you to the picnic Sunday."

He moaned, and she hurried on. "If you need rescuing, I'm available."

"I don't know. I'll probably be busy. I've got this cat I'm running a surveillance on."

She lifted an eyebrow. "Really, Zeke, we don't refer in the Bureau to a woman in that way."

"No – no – I mean – well, I mean cat, just cat."

As he left, he saw she was bewildered. Her expression clearly said, Poor guy, he's got a crack in the old cylinder block.

15

When Greg came along at dusk that evening, walking Blitzy, Ingrid was sitting Indian style in pink capris on the front porch, her lips moving silently.

"Hi," Greg said, reining the dachshund to a sharp stop. Ingrid held up her finger for silence, then, after a few sec­onds, smiled and said, "Hello, Greg."

"Whatcha doing?" Blitzy pulled on his leash, straining to reach the apricot.

"Counting the cricks a cricket makes so I'll know how hot it's going to be tomorrow."

"Oh." He ran her words through his mind again for a quick recheck. "Tell me, does this streak of insanity run all through your family?"

Ingrid wrinkled up her nose at him. "Everybody knows that if you count the number of cricks a cricket makes in a minute, that's what the temperature will be. I counted eighty-three cricks, so it will be eighty-three tomorrow."

"Blitzy!" He pulled the dog back. "What else are they teaching over at Van Nuys High these days?"

She smiled and rose, and remembered to stretch. A model couldn't sag. "I better get with my homework. I'm studying so hard it's pathetic. I'll probably have a breakdown but my teachers couldn't care less."

Greg nodded sympathetically. "It's the Russians. We've got to be better in everything we do, including pounding knowledge into our kids, and they in turn chew out their kids for not being as smart as ours."

As she started away, he said, "Understand you've got a friend staying with you." She stopped dead still.

He continued, "Mrs. Macdougall tells me she heard your sister talking with someone in the middle of the night, a man, and she thought somebody was sick but Patti said every­body was fine."

Ingrid moistened her lips. "I'm sorry, Greg. You know I wouldn't keep anything in the world from you. But I wouldn't dare discuss my sister's activities."

"You don't mean – ?"

"She'd kill me if I said anything. She'd just kill me."

Greg stood speechless, his bare face hanging out. She con­tinued in a soft, husky voice, "I think she ought to get mar­ried – to someone real nice like you."

He laughed. She thought he had the merriest laugh, and couldn't help thinking how wonderful it would be to get up mornings and hear that laugh.

"That reminds me," he said. He took out his wallet and ex­tracted a five-dollar bill. "I haven't paid you this month for your public relations work."

She hesitated about taking the bill. "No, Greg, I'd repre­sent you for nothing. You know I would."

"Please – it's a job."

She took the money. "Thanks. I can really use it. Be seeing you."

She disappeared into the house where she found Patti wash­ing the dishes. Grabbing a towel, she started drying them. "I was talking with Greg."

Patti stopped washing. "Yes?"

"Mrs. Macdougall told him you had a man in your room last night."

Patti turned. "That old snoop! I'm going to strangle her one of these days. You didn't tell him – ?"

"No, sis, you made me swear – "

"Inky – what did you tell him then?"

"That I couldn't discuss my sister's business, that you'd kill me if I did."

Patti raised her voice. "Inky! You led him to believe – "

"You've got to make 'em mad, sis. Mad and jealous. It's the only way. You'll never get married if you – •"

Patti cut in sharply, "So you're an authority – at sixteen."

"No, but I know Greg…." She trailed off as Patti dried her hands, walked to the window, and stood with her back to her. Ingrid said, "Golly, I didn't mean to do anything."

When there was no answer, Ingrid continued, "Well, say something. Don't give me the silent treatment. Yell at me."

Patti turned and her voice was low. "I know you didn't intend any harm. I guess I was hurt suddenly. I didn't want him to think . .."

"You love him?"

"You don't have to be in love with a man to want him to like you, to respect you. As a matter of fact, I'm furious with him. He goes snooping around everywhere asking questions like he was a Senate committee."

Tearfully, Ingrid put the five-dollar bill on the kitchen table. "I've been working for him. Doing public relations."

Patti stared incredulously. "You've what?"

"You know, so you'd get the right image. He wanted you to understand him. He said if a business could hire a press agent…"

"You let him bribe you? You turned spy on me?"

"No, sis, no. I never told him anything about what you said, or anything. He just paid me to tell you what a wonderful guy he is, which he is. Please, sis, don't look at me that way. I didn't mean …"

"You took money from him – "

"He said if big business could do it – "

"Big business isn't the same as a family, as two sisters who've been close together, who've – "

"Sis, please, you make it sound so awful. I thought it was all right. I didn't mean . .."

Suddenly Patti laughed and picked up the bill while Ingrid stood transfixed, near tears. "I'll return this to him," Patti said. "I'll return it with much pleasure."

"You won't say anything that'll hurt him?'

"Don't worry. I'll handle his sensibilities with great care, although I doubt if he has any. Now run along and get your homework done."

"You're not mad at me?"

"Forget it."

"I'd absolutely die if you – "

"Absolutely, positively, definitely die?"

Ingrid smiled wanly, and Patti's gaze followed her as she disappeared crestfallen into her room. That kid, how Patti loved her, the image of herself at sixteen, the same quick hurts, the same hopes and desperate wants, and even the same dialogue. And Mike, she loved him too, but in a different way – Mike who never did what he was supposed to do but didn't do it in the most appealing way as he wandered in a boy world of his own dreaming.

She took a deep breath. She was proud of her family, proud that it was bound together by more than "Wagon Train" and a place to eat and sleep.

As she started for the back bedroom, Mike came bursting noisily through the front door. She tensed, held her breath, and tried shutting off her hearing in anticipation of the slam­ming of the door.

"Hey, Pat," he yelled. "Greg's going to pay me three dollars a week to mow his lawn. He says you're underpaying me over here, and it's against the minimum wage law, and you're guilty of peonage, and he'll take it to court for me."

Patti bristled. "You tell Mr. Balter – "

Mike didn't hear. "He's a great guy. Do you know what he's doing? He's taking all the kids over at the boys' home to the circus."

"That's fine," Patti said. "Be sure to thank him for the paid advertisement. I just hope you collect for it."

"What d'ya mean? Whatcha talking about?"

"Your timing's bad, boy."

He backed toward his. room, his eyes wide with astonish­ment and mild shock.

In her bedroom she found Zeke walking aimlessly about. D.C. had moved from the bed to the chest of drawers, where he had barely enough room to place the body between her cosmetics. He never yet had knocked a bottle over. He was washing his white-coated tail. If he had any one outstanding virtue, it was perseverance.

Zeke asked, "Doesn't he ever do anything but take baths?"

She laughed softly. "Not so loud, please." She crossed to the closet to get a dress. "You've given me quite a reputation. Our next door neighbor overheard us talking last night and told everyone I had a man in my bedroom."

He was concerned. "I'll have a talk with her when this is over."

"What about the others? Mr. Balter?" She laughed again. "I'll tell you. You can hang a banner across the house, IT WAS ONLY AN FBI AGENT, NOT A MAN."

Zeke said, "If her ears are that sharp, I'd better move the equipment into the closet so she can't hear me talking over the radio."

The cuckoo peeked out, cucked eight times, and shut the door after himself. D.C. aroused and, after several yawns jumped to the bed and walked to the window at the far side to look out. Not a bad night, not bad at all. He stretched one hind leg as far as it would go, then the other, and arched his back. There was nothing like a good day's sleep to tone your muscles. He yawned again. He might as well take a swing around the neighborhood, knock off a dog or two, see what he could mooch, and check Greg's service porch. And if he found another duck, he would keep it for himself this time.

He looked up at Patti out of liquid amber eyes and meowed softly. He might be an old roue going out on the town, but he carried it off with a nice touch of innocence. Patti stooped to rub his ears and he moved away. Affection was something to be exchanged at the proper time and in the proper place, such as after a good meal, but not when he was going out and had other matters on his mind.

Patti followed him out of the room. One thing he had taught them well was to open doors on command.

Zeke whispered into the mike, "All units, all units. In­formant leaving house. Will follow and advise."

16

Helen Jenkins extended her hearing as far as possible. She was stretched out on her right side, her arm under her head to lift it from the pillow. In the living room Dan and Sammy were talking, quite low but still loud enough for her to catch the conversation. Earlier, they had switched off the air conditioning, deciding the night was to • cool to operate it without someone thinking it strange.

A half-hour ago she had come to bed, and been so exhaust­ed that she had had to struggle to stay awake. But she had re­sisted sleep, thinking she might overhear them. For the first ten minutes she pretended she was restless, which was normal for her, and then had turned as usual from her left to her right side before simulating sleep.

Now Dan was saying, "You don't just lose a watch. I've got a smell for these things. You remember the Johnson job, how we cleared out of there two hours before the cops broke the door down, because I smelled them coming?"

Sammy coughed; he smoked too much. "Big thing. She loses a watch. So what? I lose things and don't find 'em for weeks."

"I don't know where else we could've looked." She could hear Dan walking about thumping a chair, the wall, the way he did when he was disturbed. "If I could just figure it…."

Sammy was striking a match, the box kind; he didn't like the packets. "That dame up front will be nosing around soon."

"I'll stall her."

"You're kiddin' yourself. Once one of those dames gets started – I tell you we got to move fast and without Jenkins. We got to get her off our backs. You sit around thinking, talk­ing, doing nothing, and we're going to get messed up for sure."

He coughed hard, then continued. "It's easy. Nothing to it. We drop her in one of those bins I was telling you about, over in the alley, back of the stores. What can happen driving over there? Four blocks. No stop signal. No cops hiding around at that time of night. The newsstand closes at eleven, the theater a block up the street empties about the same time. We'll pile a lot of cartons on her and nobody'll know until they pick up the boxes at nine the next morning."

She broke into a sweat and a roar filled her head. A step tapped softly on the floor, coming her way. She clenched her fists so tightly she was like a board. She sensed that the step stopped in the doorway. She battled a compulsion to make a dash for the front door. If they shot her down, wouldn't it be better than waiting here? At least she had a chance, a small one.

But her body balked, controlled by her reasoning, which prompted her to breathe long and slowly, long and slowly, as if she were sound asleep, to keep her eyes closed no matter how much they wanted to open.

The step receded, and she sagged. One of them had wanted to assure himself she was still sleeping.

She tensed again at the sound of Dan's voice. "I don't like any part of it."

"She's gotten under your skin. That's a bad sickness. I almost got myself shot once, there was this dame…"

"Knock it off, Sammy." Dan's tone was deadly. "You know I never let a woman shake me up when I'm on a job. But I play it my way. That's how we set it up. My way. Real close."

"A guy who plays it too close, maybe he's just plain …" Sammy thought better of it.

"Plain what, Sammy?"

"Nothing, nothing."

"I asked you, Sammy, plain what?"

"Gripes, if I could just get a drink. I tell you, I'm stir crazy. I could punch a hole in that wall, like a guy I knew once. He punched a hole clean through a wall. We got all this money, and for what? No dames, no liquor, no golf, no fresh air. We're in a stinking, lousy jail. And her in there, she's going to have the screaming willies. You taken a good look at her eyes? What're you going to do when she starts yelling? Yeah, what you going to do? Put a shot through her like some goof-up kid who loses his head? And get knocked off making a break?"

Dan said slowly, "Maybe you got a point there."

Sammy continued, "It's not like there'd be any blood. Few minutes after she's asleep I'll lay her away, and we'll have ten hours before they find her. You tell the landlady ahead of time we got a job in another town, so she won't get all stirred up when she finds us gone. We can make five, six hundred miles…."

"What if she screams?"

"I've never had one yet. These fingers, they move so fast. You should see 'em. And strong. You wouldn't believe it. They could strangle a horse. Comes from my ma making me take piano. She used to say, 'I'll give you good learnin', start you right.' But I never got anything out of her except these fingers. No, Dan, she won't scream."

They never knew how close she came to it at that second.

17

As D.C. disappeared around the Randall house, Zeke moved swiftly across the back yard. His foam rubber soles touched the thick sod softly and noiselessly. He smelled a strong burnt powder odor as he passed Mike's "launching pad," and then the heavy, cloying scent of a night-blooming jasmine.

Rounding the corner, he brought himself up short and scanned the long, narrow passageway between houses for sign of movement. The night was so black that he could barely discern the outline of shrubs. He was conscious of his own breathing, which was loud in the stillness. He noted he was opposite the Macdougall kitchen, and sensed a presence in­side. He dropped to a squatting position.

Up near the street a luminous tail swished back and forth from under a shrub as D.C. cased the layout ahead, his eyes mica bright. A fellow couldn't be too careful in scouting enemy territory. In that no man's land beyond, dogs roamed about, determined to maintain their fancied superiority, thinking themselves a superior race. He hated the breed. And tomcats lurked out there like so many punk hoodlums, eager to win a reputation for themselves fighting.

D.C. swished his tail again. That jerk who had followed him out of the house was stalking him. He thought he was being quiet, as if D.C. didn't have a good hearing. D.C. knew what he was up to. The jerk thought he had a duck buried, and the minute D.C. dug it up the jerk would steal it. From the beginning D.C. had had him pegged as a no-good, two-faced sneak.

As D.C. started to cross the street, Zeke trailed him, al­ways keeping the same distance between them. Suddenly tires screeched as a car rounded a corner and bore down on D.C. at fifty miles an hour, its dual pipes roaring. Seized with panic, Zeke raced into the street, waving his arms and shouting. The headlights were two brilliant spots racing to­ward him with unbelievable speed.

D.C. neither hurried nor slowed his pace. He chose to ig­nore the car. There were times when a man must assert his rights to what was properly his, and he had as much right on the street as anyone.

Zeke leaped for his life as the car's headlights encompassed him. The driver slammed on his brakes and the car shrieked to a stop, only feet from D.C., who neither turned nor ran but continued leisurely to the far sidewalk. If a man held his ground, they always stopped.

Zeke leaned against a tree, wheezing like an old race horse. The driver yelled at him, "You stupid bum. Whatcha trying to do, get yourself killed?"

He shouted other imprecations until the first shock wore off. From the far side D.C. looked up with interest. The night was starting off fairly well. He went under a parked car where he sat motionless, observing his eight-inch-high view of the world ahead and, more specifically, Greg Balter's house and the driveway.

Zeke reduced his breathing to a point near normal, and said into the mike, "Informant under car. Repeat – informant under car."

Two miles away a police officer in a cruise car leaned for­ward in his seat. He had no business tuning in the FBI radio band, but he and his partner were experiencing a dull night. He asked, "Did you hear that, Tracy ? An informant – under a car."

Tracy nodded. "Those FBI boys sure get some weirdies."

His partner agreed. "Probably dead drunk."

On hearing footsteps, Zeke lighted a cigarette. A worker approached, returning home late, and looked Zeke over as if he might be the Boston strangler. Zeke crossed the street, angling to a point some distance from the car being used as a forward outpost by D.C. Zeke whispered into the mike, "All cars, hold where you are."

A police dog appeared from out of nowhere, caught D.C.'s scent, and started in his direction. Zeke hurried to intercept the dog, having visions of D.C. being too maimed to continue his nightly round. Zeke and the dog almost collided. Zeke booted the dog with his foot, and the dog, taken by surprise, backed away in amazement, and then remembered to growl. Zeke said, "Get out of here," and raised his hand as if to strike him. The dog cowered in terror.

Out of the darkness came a middle-aged woman, that ro­bust, healthy type who takes long walks to keep in shape. Her stride quickened at the sight of the raised hand, which Zeke dropped instantly, but not in time. "You monster, you," she screamed. "I ought to call the police." She turned toward the dog, who was engaged in a strategic retreat. "Hey, Pete … Pete."

Zeke slinked into the darkness, walking rapidly. At the same moment D.C. shot across Greg's front yard and raced down the driveway, his collar bell tinkling. Zeke caught merely a flash of black under a street light. He hurried after him, and halfway down the driveway fell over a child's bicycle. Even in falling he never took his eyes from the white tail whisking itself ahead of him, a luminous tail that seemed disembodied. He rose quickly, fearful he would lose the in­formant and be censured by the Bureau, maybe even draw a cut in salary. An agent could expect serious repercussions if he lost a surveillance in an important case.

The tail stopped under a shrub and once more began de­scribing pale arcs in the blackness. Zeke had an uneasy feel­ing that those quick eyes had spotted him. He stood as mo­tionless as a cigar store Indian and waited for the cat's next move. While waiting, he picked pieces of embedded gravel from the palm of his hand, and wondered if Operations Center had heard him fall. The thought flashed in and out that children who parked their vehicles any old place should draw a police ticket the same as adults, and if the little violators couldn't pay the fine, go to jail.

The tail steadied and a head emerged with the ears flattened down. The head drew the body after it, and everything – the head, the body, and tail – once more arranged themselves in proper juxtaposition. Slowly D.C. treaded pantherlike across Greg's back yard. He came to a pause by a tuberous begonia and sniffed it. He scanned all of the shadows in the yard, and brought his inspection to rest finally on the back door, which had been flung open wildly on several occasions in the past by a party completely deranged.

All of this time Zeke remained stationary by the corner of the house, hidden in a shadow cast by a eucalyptus. The night continued quiet, and in the stillness be recognized both enemy and friend. Nothing could move without creating sound, including himself.

He watched engrossed as D.C. began an excavation job by the tuberous begonia. He began slowly, and then warmed up to his work with enthusiasm until his feet were kicking out the dirt with machine-like strokes.

Zeke said into the mike, "Informant under bush, digging in Balter back yard."

In the police car two miles away Officer Tracy shook his head incredulously. "Digging? What goes on, Al?" "Must be digging up a body in a homicide." "With a midget?"

Running half doubled up, Zeke slipped to the cover of a shrub across the way from D.C. He had barely gained the shrub when a shotgun blast roared through the night, so close by that the explosion deadened his hearing. As he fell flat to the ground, he saw the cat shoot ten feet straight into the air, as if riding a missile. Zeke swung in the direction of the shot as he struck the ground, and in the same instant his hand drew the thirty-eight Colt. His finger went homing to the trigger as his eyes darted around the yard searching for the party manning the shotgun. He was so keyed up that he jumped when a door slammed hard, as if the door were violently angry. At once he pegged it as the back one to the Balter house. He waited a long, dragged-out second, continu­ing to watch the door, fearful it might open a crack to per­mit the shotgun to take aim. Only once did his eyes leave it, and that time to sweep the yard for the cat, who was no­where in sight.

He heard the growing, excited babble of voices as neigh­bors opened windows and doors and others streamed out of their homes. He whispered rapidly into the mike, "Unknown party fired one shotgun blast from back of Greg Balter house, then apparently fled. No sign of informant. Come in ten, twelve."

"Twelve in. Lost informant. Went completely off scope."

"Ten in. No informant on sound pattern. Continuing to scan."

Zeke continued, "All units. Attempt pick up trace of in­formant. Neighbors closing in here. Am returning to opera­tion base. That's all. Out."

18

Patti was pressing a dress in the kitchen when Zeke came through the back door. He was too discombobulated, as her Uncle Bob would say, to knock.

"Hello," he said, and brushed by her on his way to her bedroom.

She pivoted in surprise. "Just hello? Nothing more?" In-grid and Mike wandered out of the living room where they had been watching one of television's most famous surgeons operate.

Zeke never paused. Trailed through the dining room and down the hallway by all three, he said, "Somebody opened fire on us with a shotgun. Over in Greg Balter's back yard. Everything was going according to schedule. The cat was digging and all of a sudden Cape Canaveral blew up."

Entering the bedroom, he went to the closet where he had moved the technical equipment.

"Where is D.C.?" Patti was beside herself. "Is he dead?"

Zeke said into the mike, " Operations Center , Operations Center . ZK here. I'm back at base. Believe shot fired by un­known party standing inside service porch of Greg Balter home. Probability unknown party fired to kill either myself or informant or both."

Patti shouted, "What about D.C.?"

Zeke continued into the mike, "Will remain here until neighborhood quiets down. Will advise if further develop­ments."

Signing off, he turned to Patti. "I don't know, Miss Randall. The last I saw of your cat he was suspended in mid-air. I don't know whether he came down or not." He took an enormous handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face.

"He's dead," Patti said quietly, and Ingrid added, "Oh, no."

"I doubt it.. I don't think he can be killed by anything less than an atom bomb."

"You're the FBI," Patti said slowly, resisting the tears. "I thought you'd protect him. I thought the FBI always did. But you walked away and left him."

"Miss Randall. … I did not leave him. He left me." He added, "I couldn't wait around. I couldn't explain this to the neighbors. I couldn't tell them I was an agent running a surveillance on a cat. It would have hit the newspapers, and the fugitives would have read about it and put two and two together."

"You walked away and left him."

Ingrid choked back a sob. "Please, sis, don't. What could Mr. Kelso do if he had stayed around? If D.C.'s gone" – she hesitated, almost breaking – "he's gone." She turned to Zeke. "I'm glad you're back. It might have been your body over in Greg's yard instead of D.C.'s."

She put an arm about Patti. "It wasn't Greg who fired the shot. I know it wasn't."

Mike cleared the husk from his throat. "How come you didn't spot the guy first, like Glenn Ford? He didn't let any­body sneak up on him and fire away."

Zeke ran a hand through his unruly hair and was pondering an answer when a loud, demanding knock reverberated through the house. They froze into an old-fashioned portrait sitting. Patti recovered first. "I'll get it. You stay here." She indicated Ingrid and Mike.

She paced slowly to the front door, taking all the time she could to collect herself. She switched on the porch light and drew the door open a few inches. "Oh, it's you," she mumbled.

Greg charged in, bearing a bedraggled tuberous begonia, which he proceeded to shake in her face. "Clara Peabody – –finest specimen obtainable. And look at it. Watered and cared for with my own hands for six months, and nourished by God, and in six seconds destroyed by your cat."

She stood staring, then shook her head to try to make sense out of this wild onslaught of verbiage. He continued rapidly, "Sad to say, my begonia's dead but he's still alive, and wailing like a banshee. So if you don't mind too much, Miss Randall – that is, if it's not interfering with your personal affairs" – he looked around the room for evidence of a man – "would you come and get the little monster?"

He added, "He's up a tree right over my bedroom."

"You took a shot at him," she said angrily. "You deliber­ately tried to kill D.C. I never thought you'd go that far. But you set out with – with – "

"Premeditation?"

"That's it, that's what it was, premeditated murder."

He stared at her with calculating eyes as a thought took shape. He asked slowly, "How did you know I took a shot at anything? Who told you?"

"No – nobody. I heard the shot."

"You heard a shot, and you knew it was my shotgun. You recognized it from its tonal quality."

"I knew," she insisted stubbornly. "You threatened him once. Remember? You said you were going to give him a pants full of buckshot. Those were your exact words. You said – "

"Did your boy friend tell you he was prowling around in my back yard like a burglar, and drew a gun, and was going to kill me in cold blood?" He raised his voice. "Tell him to come on out and we'll settle this man-to-man."

"Greg!" She started to cry. "Greg, how could you suggest, how dare you? …"

"Don't tell me he didn't run back in here?"

"Greg!"

"He shot out of my place like a rocket."

"If you choose to believe Mrs. Macdougall …"

"That old busybody." Quickly he drew a legal brief in his mind. "But there was a man in my yard, and you knew I'd taken a shot …"

"If you have prowlers, call the police. Don't come roaring over here."

She was so furious she could have kicked him on the shins, but she controlled herself admirably, she thought. She said, 'Til get into something and come over."

He calmed suddenly, shaking his head. "Well, I did it again, didn't I? I'm always doing it with you."

"You'd better do a little public relations work on yourself, Greg, instead of hiring people to do it for you."

He stood like a boy caught robbing the deep freeze. She walked to the hutch, picked up the five-dollar bill, and handed it to him. "Here's your five dollars. I don't want to see you throw your money away. Nobody can do anything about your image."

Greg took the bill as if it might snap at him. "I do care, Patti, don't you see? Why don't we sit down like sensible people and calmly and quietly – "

"Okay – whenever you think the description fits you."

"If you'd keep your cat tied up …"

"And have him turn into a frustrated, neurotic old man?"

"You'd rather have a frustrated, neurotic old neighbor maybe?"

She repeated, "I'll get into something and come over."

As he left, he said, "All right, and be sure to bring the fire department with you, because, man, if that cat had had some­thing to hold to he'd have been the first one on the moon."

In the glare of giant spotlights a ladder rose from the bed of a fire truck straight toward D.C., who sat swaying on the highest branch. He looked with keen interest on the equip­ment below and the mob of firemen, police officers, and neighbors. Not bad, not bad at all. Man, he really had a blast going. It was odd. Some nights he went out and couldn't find any action, and other nights, when he was only half trying, he would hit it lucky and get a whole neighborhood out of bed.

He saw his assassin wandering around down there, and the hair from his neck straight down his backbone stood on end.

As a fireman reached for him, D.C. hissed and backed further out on the limb. He never permitted strangers to touch him. Besides, it was a long way down if he were dropped, and his springs were not exactly factory new.

The fireman beat a retreat when he saw an intent in D.C.'s eyes that could be catalogued only as murderous. On the ground below, Greg said, "Let me up there. I'll get the little fiend."

"Don't," Patti half screamed. "He'll murder him. He's al­ready tried once tonight."

Greg started up, moving fast and with the agility of an athlete. From his eyrie above, D.C. watched fascinated. With each rung Greg took, D.C. whisked his tail a little more in anticipation.

At last Greg took the final step on the ladder, which swayed in the wind. He drew a deep breath, steadied himself, and stared into D.C.'s eyes, which observed him with a hunter's instinct for timing. That was the secret, timing. If he were off even a second….

Greg reached for him, which was a gross mistake since it put on display one long, narrow arm. D.C. would have sworn from a cursory examination of the exposed part that Greg was thick-skinned, but he drew blood easily in one knifelike swipe that began a little above the elbow and ran to the wrist. Greg almost backed off the ladder. Below, a fireman yelled in alarm. Greg groaned and swore, and D.C. smiled.

Greg returned to earth with the suggestion that they should fire a tranquilizer into D.C., the way humane officers do when they trap an escaped wild animal. "It's the only way you'll ever get him down without somebody losing an arm."

Ingrid proved him wrong. After much pleading she was permitted to climb the ladder. D.C. followed her progress with an expression on his little face of consummate happi­ness. He had known all along that eventually she or Patti would come for him. They spent their lives protecting and caring for him, and in this crisis they would not let him be carried down in ignominy by the enemy.

He leaped to her shoulder and licked her on the cheek. He kissed her not only because he loved her but because he had the largest audience of his career. People relished little gestures like that. It simply got them deep down.

And it did. Watching below, a woman tugged at her hus­band's robe. "Did you see that, Joe? He kissed her for saving his life." Joe grunted.

Holding his arm, which a fireman had bandaged, Greg said to Joe, "Cats! They've got everybody in Hollywood beaten seven ways to kingdom come for acting. They're all fiends in baby clothes."

Once on the ground, D.C. reached over from his perch on Ingrid's shoulders to lick Patti, and then the three, Ingrid, Patti, and Mike, thanked the officers and firemen profusely.

In her good nights, Patti reluctantly included Greg.

19

The next morning at breakfast Helen Jenkins remarked quietly, "I heard you talking last night."

Sammy choked on his bacon and Dan became a study in still life. "Care for more coffee?" she asked, and when Dan nodded by rote, she poured with hands steadied by a will she never knew she possessed.

She had stayed awake the entire night. The two men had finished their discussion around 2 a.m. by setting her stran­gulation murder for the next evening. They wanted time to notify the landlady they were leaving town to take jobs elsewhere.

For several hours she had been too panicked to think but shortly before dawn she organized her thoughts like so many figures on the report sheet at the bank. After consider­ing the pros and cons, she decided on a frontal attack. If she revealed she knew their plans, she would throw them off balance and perhaps gain an advantage. More important, though, she might talk them out of their plan temporarily, and win an additional day or two.

Sammy said, "I told you she wasn't asleep, that she was faking."

Dan turned to her, his face devoid of expression. "If you heard us, you know we don't want to do it."

"You don't," she said, pressing the attack, "but Sammy does."

Sammy grinned. "Nothing personal."

Strangely, his sadistic jibes no longer disturbed her, now that death was so close. "That's reassuring," she retorted, determined to match him. He glanced sharply at her, sur­prised that she no longer cringed under his verbal torture.

A shaft of sunlight fell on her to warm her and renew her courage. The sunlight and the normalcy of breakfast about the kitchen table, pouring coffee and serving bacon and eggs, tended to destroy reality. It was as if she had seen a play and was discussing it with a couple of the actors.

She continued, "You might as well know that I'm not going to bed tonight, so it won't be as easy as you thought. When you try it, I'm going to scream so loud I'll bring half the neighborhood down on you before you finish. I've been quiet and done what you said because I wanted to live, but if I'm not going to . .."

"We don't want to," Dan repeated. He finished the coffee with one gulp, like a man who needed it. "But we've got a problem. Nobody on earth knows we did the bank job but you." He studied her sidewise, never moving his head, seek­ing to capture and analyze her thoughts.

She said, "If you let me go, and I said anything, you could get my father. It'd be the same as if I killed him. Do you think I'd do that?"

Sammy dropped his fork. "Hey, what do you know, she's a con woman. Here we thought we picked up a dame who was legit and we got ourselves a con artist."

Dan never took his gaze from her. "That's enough, Sammy." He switched back to her. "What do you take us for? A couple stupes? You'd run babbling to the cops the minute we turned you loose. Maybe you wouldn't want to, but you would. It's human nature. We all got to talk – Sammy here, and me, and you. We all got to spill everything we know."

She forced some coffee down. "You think you won't be caught but you're smart enough to know, Dan – "

Sammy interrupted. "Hey, Jenkins, that's good. The old buddy, buddy approach." He mimicked her. "Dan."

She ignored him. " – You've got to figure on it. So far you've held up a bank but if you add murder to it now …"

Sammy said, "Do you hear that, Dan? She thinks we're amateurs. Jenkins, if Forest Lawn paid us for every time we sent them a customer … hey, Dan, that's an idea. We ought to get a commission."

"Don't try to be funny," Dan said. He rose, folded his napkin, and turned toward her. "If you've got any other ideas, I'm listening."

Sammy pretended to shudder. "Gripes, gives me the creeps sitting around with the victim talking about it." He came up with a nasty little laugh. "Doesn't seem like good sports­manship."

He added, "You and your big ears, Jenkins. Now you've got to suffer until we put you out of your misery. And here I had it all figured out so you'd never know about it."

Dan said, "Get lost, Sammy. Just get lost." He added, "How about tuning in on the news?"

Sammy shrugged and rose. As he was leaving, he said to Dan, "Don't let her con you into anything."

Dan waited until he heard Sammy turn the radio on, then said, "You're working on me because you think I've got feel­ings. No, sweetheart, no feelings. They're something I can't afford. Might cost me my hundred grand and my neck. The only reason I hesitate about putting you away, I don't know what to do with you afterward that'd be a hundred per cent safe. You see, I don't believe in playing the odds. I go only for a fixed winner. So I've got to figure it out. Something to do with you afterwards that's a sure bet or something with you on the hoof that doesn't get us into trouble."

She straightened her shoulders, so he wouldn't know about the rumbling fear deep down. "You could take me wherever you're going. You need somebody to cook and wash for you."

He pushed his plate back with a hand none too steady. He hadn't touched his bacon and eggs, "We can pick up a couple girls along the way to do that – and other things, too. A com­bination package. They won't know who we are and won't care as long as we buy them a fur or a piece of rock."

He rose as if to end the talk and, going to the sink, washed his hands. "You're playing for time. You figure you may get a break. Well, forget it. You only get a break in this world when you make one, and you're not going to get the chance."

She retorted, "You do it, and you can hide out somewhere for a month, maybe two months, but not for too long, and you know it, just as you know you'll go to the gas chamber for it. Wouldn't it be smarter to turn me loose and let me talk? You could get to Mexico before the police got started, or board a plane for the Orient. If you tied me up, you'd get a head start of a few days before anybody came in here and found me."

He took a long time drying his hands. "I don't go for Mex girls, or Jap ones. I want my women American. Like you, sweetheart. You're getting to look awful good to us. Sammy was saying we had to put you away before he did something he shouldn't."

She stared at her plate. Her voice stayed only above a whisper. "I don't understand how you could take a human life. Sammy perhaps, but not you."

His eyes drifted away, staring into some distant corner of the past. She had stirred some random feeling that had long lain dormant. "Not you," she repeated.

He put a match to a cigarette. "I think Sammy pegged you right. A con woman." He took a quick, nervous puff.

Sammy appeared then in the doorway. "Is eleven o'clock to­night okay, Jenkins? We could make it for midnight, couldn't we, Dan, if that's a better time for Jenkins."

20

Patti was modeling an abbreviated play suit in the store's garden section when she spotted Greg making his way to­ward her. Hurriedly, she pirouetted before a bulging middle– aged woman who would have had no business in a play suit even in the privacy of her own home.

Greg stepped up. "Please, I've got to talk with you."

She walked on, and he followed. "Even a criminal gets a defense."

She stopped very still by a patio table and an umbrella, fearful he would create a scene. He talked as if she were a leprechaun who might vanish. "About last night. So much happened."

"I don't care to hear about last night," she said.

"I didn't take a shot at D.C. There was this guy sneaking around, and I fired over his head. I only wanted to scare him. I didn't know your cat was anywhere about until I fired the shot and saw him flying through the air."

"You're making it up, Greg. You said you were going to give him a pants full of shot – "

"For heaven's sake, Patti, are you going to throw that in my face forevermore? I was mad when I said it. You know how I get. I wouldn't even step on his tail – because you love him and I love you."

"You what?"

"That's what I said."

She considered the matter. That same old charm. He only had to smile, and that did it. That wiped out all of his trans­gressions. "Why didn't you tell me last night you were firing at this mysterious prowler?"

"Because when I turned on my patio light, there was my begonia dug up by the roots, and something snapped in me."

"Something always snaps in you."

"And afterwards, well, D.C. clawed my arm half to shreds – I had to see a doctor today and get it bandaged. Anyway, can we forget it? Can we start all over again?"

She looked up at him. "Greg, tell me, how can you be so sweet in the daytime, and such a stinker nights?"

"So much happens at night. Did you hear me? I said I loved you."

"You pick such romantic spots." She looked at him sharply. "I still think you took a shot at D.C."

"So help me, on my boy scout honor."

He hurried on. "You know I love you or I wouldn't've hired Ingrid and Mike to do P.R. work for me."

"That was pretty sneaky."

"I'm sorry about that, Patti. But you do crazy things when you're in love. As you can see, I'm doing my own P.R. job now."

"Greg, please, I'm working. Couldn't we talk about this tonight?"

"But I've got to know now, I'm going out of my mind. Who is the fellow ? Is it serious?"

"What fellow?"

"Please. I couldn't sleep, didn't get an hour's sleep all night. Inky said – "

"Inky thinks I need a reputation."

"You mean – ?"

"Exactly."

"But Mrs. Macdougall?"

"She's an old gossip. You know that, Greg."

"Yeah – and is she far out. She told me she saw a man following D.C. last night. How crazy can you get?" He thought the matter over, then was forced to add, "But she was so positive she heard voices – "

"Surely you don't think a man spent the night in my bed­room, because if you think that – "

"No, no, of course not. It's only .. ."

"It's only what, Greg?"

"I've got this temper, and when I hear something like that. .."

"I knew a man once, had a violent temper. And then one day he saw it was ruining his life, ruining his business and his home, and he said to himself, never again. And today he's the calmest, nicest human being you ever met. So you can do something about it, Greg, if you want to. I think it's like drinking too much. Sometime or other you have to face up to it and call it quits."

"I quit this morning. Believe me …" He walked too close to a display of Mexican pottery ware and his coat sleeve brushed a large bowl, which toppled. She caught it in time.

"I'm a bull in a china closet," he said.

She looked at him dreamily. "I bet when you were a little boy your mother always held you tightly by the hand when she took you into a store."

He could have kissed her, and would have before everyone if a young man had not suddenly lost interest in a barbecue he was pricing and turned to admire her; and his pretty wife, catching him in the act, said, "No, George, I'm not going to buy you that even if it is your birthday."

When she left work that afternoon, Greg was waiting to drive her home. She emerged carrying a potted begonia. "With my regrets – and D.C.'s," she said, handing it to him. "Clara Peabody."

He inspected the plant with a critical eye. "I'll accept your regrets but I don't know about D.C.'s. Are you sure he's sin­cere about this?"

She laughed and, while he held the door, slid into the front seat. She asked solicitously about his bandaged arm. He pre­tended considerable pain but said, "It's nothing. Nothing at all." He asked then, "Are you positive he's a cat? I mean, well, you know how they get babies mixed up in hospitals. Maybe he was a panther cub and they put the wrong tag on him."

She sat close to him. "You know only one side of him."

"You mean there's another?"

"When he curls up in your lap and starts purring, you know that this little bit of life – "

He broke in. "Tell me, are we talking about the same cat? Little bit of life? Two hundred pounds of savage fury. And I've got an arm to prove it."

"You're so prejudiced. If you'd just try to like him …"

"I'll try. Because nothing could be all bad that you love so much."

As he drove, the world turned into a fairyland set to music. Even the traffic signals seemed to play a melody. She scarcely heard Greg talking. He was asking about going to the Cocoa-nut Grove at the Ambassador Saturday for the dinner show.

He said, "I've got something to celebrate. I got those kids together who wanted a divorce. They came into the office today and you should've seen their faces. They just needed somebody to crack their heads together and tell them it was time they were acting like adults."

He asked then, "How about me bringing my duck over tonignt and you roasting it?"

She stalled, and reality, stark and stern, padded back in. He was immediately suspicious. "I promised Inky I'd go to a PTA meeting," she lied and, having done so, felt the warmth in her cheeks.

"Tomorrow night then?"

"Could I let you know in the morning? The folks will be home this weekend and … now, Greg, don't get excited. Don't be so suspicious. I want to, you know that, even if nights do have a rather peculiar effect on you."

He turned back the temper admirably, and even produced a half-hearted smile. As he let her out at her front door, they saw the tree movers cleaning up the last vestiges of the apri­cot they had cut down. "I'm sorry," he said, "although frank­ly, I don't think Blitzy had anything to do with it."

She thanked him for the ride and said she would give him a ring the next morning. Crossing the sidewalk, she passed Mr. Macdougall, who gave her an old rake smile along with a greeting. We are all bounders together, the smile seemed to say. Hurrying up the walk, she shot a quizzical glance back­ward. What's got into him, she wondered.

As Mr. Macdougall let himself into the living room, his wife looked up from the front window where she had been manning the outposts of decency. "Just look at her, all sweet innocence, and her with a man in her room again tonight, and her folks so nice."

''Terrible, terrible," Mr. Macdougall agreed.

"I don't know what this generation's coming to."

"Same as the last. No good."

"Wilbur!"

21

Humming to himself, Greg parked the car in the drive­way and walked around to inspect the front yard, which Mike was mowing.

"Nice job," Greg said. He stripped three one-dollar bills from a roll he was carrying.

"My sister says I can take only a dollar," Mike announced sorrowfully. "She says you're trying to corrupt me and I should be ashamed. I thought she'd pat me on the back for being such a good businessman." He added thoughtfully, "She should encourage me since I'll probably have to take care of her in her old age."

Greg said, "She's a wonderful person, Mike."

Mike grinned. "That's what everybody tells me. Oh, well…"

Greg handed him the dollar. "We'll see what we can do about fringe benefits. Maybe a movie now and then. Your sister couldn't object. It's all a part of modern business. You know, pensions, free aspirin, Blue Cross, free haircuts, paid vacations, free bail bonds, and, of course, free psychiatric service since everybody's nuts these days."

Mike grinned broadly and headed for the garage to put up the mower. Still humming, Greg entered the house by the front door, picking up a newspaper on the way in. As he closed the door behind him, he was slowed by the abnormal quiet. "Blitzy," he called, and hurried into the living room where he stopped suddenly, stunned.

Blitzy, curled up on the floor by the divan, looked dead. Greg stood a moment, paralyzed. Blitzy dated to his high school days. In his sophomore year, Greg had sneaked him home one night. His friend, Hal, who lived the next street over, had found the puppy wandering aimlessly about, half-starved, but Hal's folks refused to let him keep the dog and were going to call the pound.

Now Greg dropped beside the little dachshund, and, with a swell of relief, saw he was breathing. "Blitzy," he said softly, "Blitzy." He rubbed the dog's head gently for several minutes and kept calling his name, but failed to bring him back to consciousness. He then telephoned Blitzy's old "family doctor," a veterinarian who had brought the dachshund through several illnesses.

While he was waiting for him to come, Greg sat anxiously on the floor by the dachshund, trying to get him to respond. A half-hour later, the veterinarian, Dr. James T. Newhall, ar­rived. He was on the pudgy side with a round, beaming face and a boyhood love for animals.

When he finished his examination, he rose, puzzled. "Heartbeat's good," he commented, "and as far as I can de­termine he hasn't suffered any physical injury. But some­thing has caused him to black out. A shock of some kind."

Greg was baffled. Blitzy, as usual, had been in the house alone all day. "He's gotten to an age when he doesn't like to run around much. Sits here on top of the divan most of the day and watches – watches. …"

His words drifted away as he stared out of the window. "No – it couldn't be," he mumbled to himself.

"What couldn't be?" asked Dr. Newhall.

"Nothing.

"You saw something out there," persisted Dr. Newhall. "Something that might have given him a jolt."

Greg looked sheepish. "The neighbor across the street – she had a tree taken out today. It was his favorite tree."

Dr. Newhall smiled. "That could do it. Happens over and over, same as with people. That tree was his security, part of his life, his world." He shook his head. "A frightful thing to have happen to you." He added hurriedly, "That is, if you're a doxy. Well, we'll give him whirlpool baths and see if we can bring him out of it."

His car had scarcely pulled away when Mrs. Macdougall waddled up. "Poor little fellow, we all loved him so. I'm going to miss him sitting in the window when I water my roses. I always looked over – "

Greg broke in. "He's going to be okay. He merely suffered a shock. Miss Randall cut down his favorite tree."

"Oh, I'm so glad – I mean, that he's all right. My, what a start that gave me, seeing the doctor carry him out and him looking like he had passed on to his reward."

All in the same breath, she asked, "And how is poor Miss Randall, is she feeling better? I saw you bringing her home, and with the doctor waiting in her bedroom, I didn't want to barge in but I'm so concerned for the poor girl, her health never was any too good, too skinny, that kind they can go so fast, I had a cousin the spittin' image of her …"

Greg left her standing in midsentence. Unmindful of traf­fic, he cut diagonally across the street. A neighbor passed and said hello but he neither saw nor heard her.

He knocked hard and repeatedly on Patti's door, until Ingrid, out of breath, answered his summons. "I want to see your sister," he said without preliminaries, his voice shaking.

Ingrid stared a moment before calling to the back recesses, "Patti, the monster's here." Turning to him, she said, "Greg, please, remember your image."

"The heck with my image."

"Oh, Greg, just when I thought… I've got a boy friend like you, but he carries tranquilizers and uses them when he's about to go into orbit."

"I don't need any. I'm not excited. I'm going to keep perfectly calm."

He continued hastily, "Poor old Blitzy. Did you see? The vet just carried him out. He's going to give him whirlpool baths, and see if he can bring him out of shock."

Patti appeared, and her eyes brightened at the sight of him. Ingrid put in hurriedly, "Blitzy's sick."

"Your apricot," Greg said. "He watched them cut it down and went into shock. Something to do with his social security. But that's not why I came over. Mrs. Macdougall heard a prowler in your bedroom, and since you and the kids are by yourselves …"

He brushed by Patti and Ingrid, saying, "I'd better take a look."

"Greg!" Patti called so loudly that he stopped. "I just came from the bedroom. Nobody's there."

"Can't be too careful these days," he said, continuing dog­gedly.

"For heaven's sake, Greg, if you don't trust me, if you think I'm lying to you …'

Ingrid said quickly, "Please, Greg, listen. You're getting excited, and after you promised me …" She caught up with him in the hallway and grabbed him by the arm. "Come on into my room. I want you to hear a new Belafonte record I just got."

Greg pulled away, but then Mike, emerging from his room, blocked his way. "Hi, Greg," he said with an old-pal affableness note 12 that was unlike him, "you're just in time to help me assemble my Telstar model."

Mike stood his ground, bringing Greg to a quick, awkward halt. Behind him Patti asked, "Greg, how could you – how could you let an old busybody wreck everything between us?"

Ingrid piped up, "Yes, how could you, Greg?" She added, "If you don't believe my sis, I'll swear to it, and you know I wouldn't swear to anything and hope to die if I …"

Mike said, "This is the greatest model yet. You never saw anything like it."

Greg shoved him aside and stepped into Patti's bedroom.

At the pounding on the front door, and Ingrid's call for Patti, Zeke anticipated trouble. He picked up his hat and coat and brief case, and stepped into the closet. He never could explain it afterwards but just as he was closing the door D.C. shot into the closet with him.

Zeke rid himself of a good sneeze to get into shape before Greg arrived. He heard the loud talking in the hallway, In-grid joining Patti in an effort to stop the onrushing Greg, and Mike making one last, brave stand.

Zeke reconnoitered in the small, dark closet. He remem­bered to switch off the radio. D.C. seemed quiet enough, rubbing against his trouser leg as if they were old friends.

Zeke heard Patti say, "I told you nobody was back here. I can't understand you, Greg. I just don't understand how you could believe that old gossip over me."

Greg was walking about. "I didn't believe her. But I got to thinking, what if somebody was hiding in your bedroom, and I didn't do anything about it, and tomorrow I read in the newspapers …" ,

And then Zeke heard Ingrid, "I'm terribly disappointed in you."

Near tears, Patti said, "You suspected me. You thought I had a man here."

Ingrid said, "I think it's all a mistake. Just a mistake. Let's have a Coke and a good laugh about it."

Zeke felt a sneeze approaching, and pressed a forefinger against the base of his nose to suppress it. So why don't they get Greg Balter out? What in heaven's name are they waiting for? He couldn't stall the sneeze forever, not with the blasted cat brushing back and forth, back and forth, across his right calf.

He never knew exactly how it happened. All he remem­bered was that he pushed D.C. gently aside with one foot, and the next instant D.C. screamed murder in a shriek that must have rocked the neighborhood. Zeke's blood shot through him like a drag race in progress, and thunder filled his head, and his body was paralyzed, until finally the little man at the controls of his shocked brain climbed out and ordered him to get off the cat's tail. Great Caesar's ghost, the little man repeated, get off the cat's tail! And Zeke raised a foot. In the same instant he realized his hearing had been shattered along with his nerves and co-ordination.

The next moment the door was flung open, and Greg Balter stood before him, a portrait of magnificent outrage. Zeke emerged shaken to his toenails. His voice sputtered and died. He pushed the starter again, but the motor only spun a second, coughed, and gave up.

He heard Greg shouting, as if in a tunnel. "You – an FBI agent! Taking advantage of a girl! Corrupting children! I'm going to report you to Washington . I'm going to get you fired. I'm going to have you cashiered out in disgrace. I'll smear it over every newspaper in the country."

Patti was crying. "Greg, Greg, please, Greg." And Ingrid was shouting, "Greg! Listen to me. Greg! Listen to me."

Only Mike, standing in the doorway, was as speechless as Zeke. His eyes had popped three sizes bigger than normal. This couldn't be happening. He wasn't seeing or hearing right. And when his folks got back, oh, brother… .

Greg continued, "But you're not an FBI agent. You're an impersonator. I knew the first time I saw you that you were a phony." He added maliciously, "And that's a prison sen­tence. You'll get twenty years for this."

He turned on Patti, "How could you? How could you?"

"How could you?" she asked.

He hurried down the hallway, pursued by Patti, Ingrid, and Mike. He was saying, "First your cat, and then Blitzy's at death's door because of you, and now this. And that routine you gave me this afternoon, I took it hook, line, and sinker." He mimicked her, " 'Now, Greg, don't get excited. Don't be so suspicious…. Surely you don't think I had a man in my bedroom … I can't understand you, Greg, how you could believe that old busybody.' "

He banged the door so hard the last Mohican almost leaped off the wall. Patti clenched her jaw in anger against the tears. Ingrid said, "You liked him, didn't you, sis?" And Mike came up and squeezed her hand. "I'll have a talk with him next time I mow the grass."

In the background Zeke stood shaking his head, a fighter who had just gotten to his feet after the count of ten. Patti turned on him and flared in anger, "Did you have to step on his tail?"

"Yes," Mike put in, "what kind of an FBI agent are you?"

Zeke said quietly, "I'm sorry, terribly sorry, but I'm sure Mr. Balter will understand when this is all over and I ex plain everything to him. You won't, of course, you just mustn't tell him now, because it you do it would wreck ev­erything. You have to realize that so much depends on you, that the FBI is counting on you to continue to work with us no matter what comes up."

He repeated, "I'm sure Mr. Balter will understand."

"I doubt it," Mike said. "I wouldn't, if I had seen with my own eyes – "

"He will," Ingrid said with conviction, "because he's a liv­ing doll. If I were a couple years older I'd throw myself at him."

"You do now," Mike said.

Zeke withdrew as gracefully as the circumstances would allow. He felt unexplainably guilty, as if what had happened was his fault. Yet, in backtracking, he didn't believe he could have acted otherwise. He had taken every possible pre­caution. His guilt stemmed, he recognized finally, from the fact that he had permitted himself to become emotionally involved with the Randalls. He was hurt deeply because Patti was hurt, and Ingrid, too. He discovered he liked them immensely, more than he realized. It took a crisis to awaken a man to his feelings.

He busied himself with the radio. "All units, stand by. In­formant expected to begin operation at scheduled hour."

D.C., who had been tending his wounded member, quit to stare at him. Zeke stared right back, muttering, "I get into gun battles for you, fight off police dogs, and keep you from getting run over – and what do you do? Scream bloody mur­der the first time some little thing happens."

22

The cuckoo was preparing to strike six when Patti went to the bedroom for a change of clothes. She guessed she should have called or knocked. She was always surprising Zeke. This time he had his shoes off, and began scrounging around for them. "They're here someplace," he said, casting a suspicious glance toward D.C.

"Are you a kicker offer, too?" she asked. It was surprising how much they had in common.

D.C. sat on the chest top and displayed unusual interest in what was transpiring. He had his moods. He might be bored and blasй note 13 one day, and the next, the scholar who was eager to learn all he could about his fellow man. Now his bright, full eyes followed first the one, then the other.

As she went to the clothes closet, she said, "I'm sorry I blew up."

"I don't blame you." He was still searching for his shoes. "I would've, too." He looked up from the floor, sending her a smile that warmed her all over. "I should've kept it from happening but I haven't had much practice hiding in girls' bedrooms. They don't teach practical things like that in the Bureau. Oh, here they are."

He was as elated as if he had trapped a bear. He found them where he had placed them, on an end 'table.

Patti said, "Ingrid talked with Mr. Balter. He promised her he'd keep quiet."

"How'd she manage that?"

Patti left the closet with a red Italian knit. "She wouldn't tell me but I can guess. She probably turned on the tears. If this gets out, she says, it will hurt her so for everyone to know her sister is a tramp, and it doesn't happen very often, and there's hope for her if she marries the right man. I can just hear her telling him what a sweet, dear person he is, and I can see him puffing up like a toad and – darnit, where're those earrings?"

Her fingers rummaged through a little green jewelry case on top of the chest alongside D.C. who dug in a paw to help. "No, thanks," he said, removing the paw. "I remember putting them right here yesterday. They're always running off and hiding."

Zeke put on his coat. 'I’ve got a pair of cuff links I'm going to get out a wanted bulletin on if they don't show up soon."

He turned, toward D.C. and sneezed. "What about him? Is he going out tonight?"

Patti rubbed his ears, and he purred and stretched. "How about it, D.C?"

He meowed softly, and Patti translated, "He says sure, why not? Except he's stricken Greg's place from his route after what happened last night."

The radio came alive, and Zeke stepped into the closet and began talking. She watched him covertly. Such a long, tall man with the grace of a cat in his walk and movements. He would be nice to have around, she thought, easygoing when a man should be, and firm when the occasion called for it. He would be gentle and thoughtful with the woman who was his wife, even if she might never know him too well. He would always conceal his thoughts behind those soft, blue eyes, a loner of the desert country. Not that he would ever have reason to hide anything, but only because he had lived like that from childhood, a boy spurring his mustang into the canyons or up on some mesa, and lying under a greasewood bush and talking to himself and dreaming his dreams.

Now Greg, he would want to share his life with his family. He would talk out his thoughts and expect others to do the same. He possessed such a terrific zest for living. He hungered for excitement, and fed on it, whether behind a 250-horsepower motor, or with a beautiful, unbroken woman, or fighting a court case, or storming across the street with a bedraggled begonia. And that temper. A woman could help so much, a wife who understood and was patient, who could reason with him, whose love would be such that he would do anything for her. He had lived too long alone, and in­dulged too often his feelings and whims.

She smiled inwardly. Ever since she first became in­terested in boys, she had projected herself into the future with this one and that one, imagining what it would be like to be his wife. And here she was doing it again, and at her age.

As Zeke put down the microphone, she asked, "Can I get you coffee, anything?"

She discovered she was standing close to him, so close he could have taken her into his arms, and suddenly she wanted that. She could see the same want reflected in his eyes, as no doubt he could in hers. Then the reflection clouded as a thought stole in, reminding him of a reason why he should not. He turned away with seeming effort, and a chill brushed the warmth from her. She broke the brief, telltale silence. "If there's anything you want, let me know," How many times in her life, she wondered, would such prosaic little sentences, spoken in a routine voice, cover up emotions that she must hide, because a woman dared not expose them to a man?

Now if he had been Greg, and seen the want in her eyes, he would have swept her up so fast….

As she left the room, she surprised Ingrid in the hallway, eavesdropping. If there was a scent of romance about, Ingrid would catch it. She was an incorrigible romantic, almost a paradox in an age when novels and movies and television shows emphasized the sordid in the name of realism.

"Ingrid!" she said sharply. "How many times have I told you – "

"I didn't hear anything. Nothing at all."

She continued to Ingrid's bedroom to change clothes. "You heard nothing because there was nothing, but if there had been something, you would have written it down verbatim in that locked-up diary. I don't care what secrets of yours you write down, but I don't want any of mine showing up in court five years from now."

Ingrid flopped on the bed while Patti changed. "Tommy asked me today. He was adorable. I like men who are adorable, don't you, sis? He asked if I was going to the dance, and I said I hoped so, and he asked who was taking me, and I said Eddie had called up but Eddie wasn't my type, and Tommy asked if he was – my type, I mean – and I told him I'd be ready at eight. So if it's all right with you, I'll tell Eddie you said I couldn't go with him. Please, just this one time. I won't ask you again."

"Why won't I let you go with him?"

"Because you don't know Eddie and Tommy's an old friend of yours."

"He is?"

"You met him at the Cal game, remember?"

"Oh, the one with the big ears."

Ingrid thought deeply for a moment. "Maybe you baby-sat with him and he's just like your own boy."

"Now wait a minute, Inky. Do you think Mother would okay this?"

"I was afraid you'd bring that up."

"I'd like to help you. You know that. Only we all have to make our own decisions and live with them. Why don't you tell Eddie you're sorry, you like him a lot and admire him as a student, but you two have different interests, see things differently, and dating just wouldn't work out."

"I've got to grow up, huh?"

"It's rough, I know."

"Okay." She rolled over on her back, stared at the ceiling, breathed heavily, and sighed.

Much later, as Patti was applying nail polish to halt a run in her nylons, Ingrid said quietly, "You know what, sis? He's never broken the girl barrier."

"Who's never done what?"

"Mr. Kelso. He's never broken the girl barrier. You know, it's like the sound barrier. A boy's got to want to break it, be­cause if he doesn't he's dead. There's this boy at school – some of us girls come down the hall and he ducks into a classroom."

"I wouldn't wonder," Patti remarked.

Inky grew confidential. "I wouldn't marry a fellow like that. He'd be the kind who'd gulp down his dinner and get out of the house fast to go bowling. His biological urge is too weak."

"Inky!"

"That's the trouble. You don't face the facts. A boy's no good as a husband if he doesn't have it. And I'm not being shocking. I'm only recognizing facts which you older people never do, and look at all the divorces and broken homes."

Patti said with finality, "I'm not marrying him or your be­loved Greg. So close your mouth, pull in your tongue, and get the body into the kitchen."

"In that order?"

23

By seven o'clock the fact became apparent that Patti had inaccurately translated D.C.'s intentions. He was sound asleep and no prodding could stir him. She talked with him, rubbed his ears, and even pulled the drapes aside so he could see that dusk was moving in. He gave her a scathing glance and rolled over, turning his back on her.

"It's no use," she said in the half-dark room. "He's not going out."

"He's got to," Zeke answered, standing close to her, staring at the cat. His arm brushed hers, and once again she was acutely conscious of the intimacy of the moment. She shrugged the feeling away. Still angry with Greg, she realized she might be experiencing an emotional recoil. And yet Zeke meshed so well with whatever she thought and did. It was as if he always had been a part of her life and this house. He was the most restful man she had ever been around.

Zeke crossed to the radio, picked up the microphone, and said, " Operations Center , Operations Center . Informant sound asleep. No indication he will awaken in the immediate future. Suggest you activate Plan A."

Plan A was put into effect thirty minutes later with the ar­rival of Dr. Jason Faulkner, a noted Beverly Hills feline psychiatrist. Although Zeke considered the calling of Dr. Faulkner ridiculous, Supervisor Newton had recommended it in case D.C. failed to make his rounds. The Bureau op­erated on the policy that no possibility should be overlooked in an investigation, no matter how fantastic or slight the chance of its success. When a life or the apprehension of dangerous fugitives were at stake, no avenue could be ig­nored.

Dr. Faulkner was a tall, graying individual with a profes­sor's manner. His clients included many famous movie stars and other wealthy people who attested to his skill in analyz­ing their cats' neuroses and, in a high percentage of cases, eliminating them. He was one of four psychiatrists in Beverly Hills specializing in cats and dogs.

"I seldom have a cat of uncertain ancestry," he told Zeke. "Most of my patients are Siamese, Manx – the better fami­lies."

Zeke glanced up sharply to determine if the doctor were being facetious but he was quite serious. Only Beverly Hills , Zeke– thought, could develop and bring to such a high de­gree of perfection such an unusual head shrinker.

The doctor conducted a cursory examination of D.C., which elicited a warning growl and finally a laying back of the ears. Dr. Faulkner asked numerous questions of Patti and Ingrid regarding D.C.'s habits. "I need to know," he ex­plained, "so that I may reach a proper evaluation and ad­judication of the problem – that is to say, in order to rec­oncile the inner person with the outer person."

Zeke stopped his flow of thought. "I don't care about his inner person. We just want to get the outer one moving."

Pointedly, Dr. Faulkner ignored him. The doctor held a high disdain for persons totally ignorant of the aims and methods of modern psychiatry. "I must know the emotional climate." He looked straight at Zeke. "He may be suffering from an anti-authority attitude buried deep in the subconscious – and ridden with anxieties. Deeply depressed."

D.C. looked up as if to say, Who, me? Why, you old fool. Give me a dog to chase and I'll show you how depressed I am.

Mike said from the doorway, "He's anti-authority all right. Always has been."

Zeke was growing weary of this nonsense. "Don't all cats suffer from that, doctor?"

"Only when they feel the inner resentment of humans."

Mike said, indicating Zeke, "Must be him. We all love him, don't we, you old ham." He shook D.C.'s flabby stomach, and D.C. kicked with all four paws. They were always get­ting personal. How would they like it if he shook their gelati­nous parts?

"I love him, too," Zeke said, rubbing his puffed eyes with his fists. He had to get out of the room, and soon. He was going blind. If the blasted cat would only get his big fat carcass into the outdoors, the allergy would recede.

Zeke admitted that he had been rather demanding. In fact, the things he had required of D.C. might, from a cat's point of view, amount to indignities.

The doctor said a-a-h, as though the meaning of the uni­verse had just been unfolded to him. Finally, he ventured, "My preliminary observation would indicate he is not a psy­chotic masochist."

Mike asked, "Isn't that a dirty word?" In the same instant, Patti said with faint sarcasm, "I'm glad to hear that. Be terrible if we had a what-you-call-it on our hands."

From the beginning she had been hurt that anyone would want to psychoanalyze D.C. since it was obvious he was perfectly normal. She had told Zeke, "He isn't any more neu­rotic than I am, or Ingrid, or Mike."

"That could be," Zeke had commented wryly.

Now Dr. Faulkner said, "He has undergone a change in emotional climate that has caused a deep-seated aberration. He is fearful of the quiet that has fallen suddenly on his world, and seeks escape in sleep."

"You mean I can set off my rocket?" Mike asked.

"If that is normal procedure, yes. I would advise that you restore this household to its customary routine."

Zeke took another look at Dr. Faulkner and hastily revised his estimate of the psychiatrist. He might have a point there.

24

At eight o'clock, Helen Jenkins sat in the bedroom rocker where she had spent most of the day. Dan and Sammy had moved a card table in and were playing poker. They spoke only in weary monosyllables, and Dan, who faced her, swept her every few seconds with his eyes. Behind the men the air conditioner rumbled and groaned uncertainly, and on an end table by the bed a radio emitted a fairly high volume of talk and music.

Shortly after breakfast they had shoved her into the bed­room, first pulling the shades. She realized then that her earlier threat to scream was futile, what with the radio and air conditioner going. And besides, one of them would be upon her almost before the scream was out.

Twice that day Dan had left the room, at noon to bring in cold cuts, and in midafternoon when he had looked up the landlady. Returning, he told Sammy, "We're okay. She asked where we were going, and I told her San Jose . She said she was sorry to see us go, after I paid her the extra month's rent for running out on her. Said we'd been nice, quiet tenants."

Sammy said to her, "You hear that, Jenkins? She's sorry to see you go."

She offered no answer. Her earlier bravado was gone, and a deep despondency had set in. Not that she was quite whipped yet. She still had three hours, perhaps four. She still might think of a way out, although she knew she was deluding herself. She was a condemned woman on Death Row, hoping and praying for a last-minute reprieve, and hear­ing the quiet ticking of time as it ran out on her.

How many times that day she had glanced at the alarm by her bed she would never know. But every few minutes her eyes had been drawn in that direction by a compelling force. Time was something to squander, almost to forget in life ex­cept for the routine of arriving on a job and leaving, going to church, watching a television program. It never bad any deep significance in itself except when one was about to die.

Sammy put down his cards and said, "What're we waiting for? She gives me the willies sitting over there, rocking, rocking, saying nothing, doing nothing."

'Take it easy," Dan answered. "She's not hurting you/'

Sammy shouted at her, "Sit still, you hear me? Cut out that rocking."

She quit. There was no point in antagonizing him and cut­ting short the three hours. Or rather, now, two hours and fifty minutes.

Sammy continued, "I don’t trust you, Jenkins. I'm going to put a gag on you and tie you up. Okay, Dan?"

Dan nodded.

25

The television blared full blast as Ingrid, sprawled on the floor, studied about the scrape Cromwell got into back in 1649. In one corner Mike worked with rapt concentration assembling his Telstar satellite model.

They both swung about as the front door burst open and Patti charged through it, simmering. "I just told Mrs. Macdougall in the kind of language the old hag could understand to train her interceptor ears on somebody else's bedroom."

She turned to Mike, "And don't let me ever hear you call any woman an old hag, not even Mrs. Macdougall. You hear me?"

Stunned, Mike nodded. "What'd I do?" he asked Ingrid. He caught it even when he didn't do anything. "It's like pre­ventive medicine," Ingrid had remarked once. "If you get told off before you do something, it helps you."

Well, that was the way adults thought. Crazy, crazy.

At exactly nine thirty-seven, D.C. entered the living room and sat down. He pretended to wash an ear but was actually taking reconnaissance. The scene, he noted with satisfaction, was back to bedlam. He never could understand it. People made more racket than any other animal. Yet they would yell if a cat raised his voice during love-making, or if he ex­pressed himself during a fight, although no cat created nearly the ruckus that cars and trucks did, or television sets, planes, or squalling babies, or even the garbage disposal.

So naturally the strange quiet in the household these last two days had worried him. People were quiet only when they were sick or dying, or sometimes when they were leaving on a trip. He could always tell when they were going away. He didn't know exactly how, but there was a different rhythm in the household.

He completed drying the ear and treaded lightly toward the front door, which he seldom used, principally because no one was usually about to provide doorman service. Tonight, though, Ingrid anticipated his wish, opened the door on cue, and even switched off the porch light. He stalked warily forth and sat on the top step, scouting the area. Slowly the night air revived him. The bedroom had been intolerably stuffy, partly due to that jerk who sneezed incessantly. He wondered how much longer he would have to put up with him. If the fellow stayed, he would move back in with Ingrid.

A couple of cars passed, and a girl hurrying home, and an old man rocking along on a cane. Satisfied, D.C. set forth, shopping once to sniff at a yellow rose that had burst into bloom only that day. He stepped gently around a snail since they messed up your feet when you squashed them, and skirted a wet spot on the grass where a leaky sprinkler dripped. After that he moved along an old trail he had blazed as a kitten, one that led mostly through two– and three-foot-high timber country.

From Patti's bedroom window Zeke watched the front en­trance, and when D.C. appeared, Zeke notified all units. The temperature stood at sixty-eight degrees, and the likelihood of rain was zero. A fog, however, was expected to roll in around midnight.

Zeke hurried to the front door, which he opened a slit to watch D.C. sitting quietly on the top step. Terribly worried, Ingrid said above the television, "Please, Mr. Kelso, don't let anything happen to him. If there's any shooting…."

Zeke nodded, afraid if he spoke he might alert D.C., who always reacted, and usually unfavorably, to the sound of Zeke's voice, Mike sought to reassure Ingrid. "Don't worry, Inky, old D.C. can get out of any kind of a scrape. There may be bodies all over the street but old D.C. will be up a tree looking down on the slaughter."

"Mike!" Patti said in reprimand. She added softly to Zeke, "Take care of yourself."

"Yeah," Mike said, "flowers cost a lot of money these days. Last time we sent a funeral bouquet, cost us ten dollars, and Dad said – "

"Mike!"

"What'd I do?" Mike looked around in mystification. "What'd I say?"

Zeke motioned good-by and slipped out the door. He whis­pered hoarsely into the transistor microphone, "All units. Informant leaving house heading west toward unit sixteen. Come in sixteen when you sight informant."

Throughout the area every agent tensed, ready to go into action – the men in the radio cars, the sound cone experts, and the scopers. At street intersections in a radius about the Ran­dall home, agents at roadblocks stopped cars entering the neighborhood to ask the drivers to hold their speed to twenty-five miles an hour, and anyone walking a dog was turned back. At a briefing session that afternoon, the SAC had said, "We learned last night that all we need to wreck this operation is one fast car or one dog. We've got to control every circumstance we possibly can."

A sound cone unit reported. "Sixteen in. We've got him okay. He's moving slowly. Now stopping."

A scope unit reported, "Fourteen in. Informant parked under shrub."

Following the movement of the white-tipped tail, Zeke paced slowly down the sidewalk and came to a halt some fifty feet from D.C. who hovered under a rosebush, his eyes bright in the reflection of a street light. Zeke lit a cigarette and glanced about anxiously. He knew from experience that if he stopped too long in one spot someone would notice him and think he was a prowler. There was always somebody looking out of a window – a little boy who had been put to bed for the night, a nice old lady whose eyesight was too weak for reading or television, a weary laborer sipping a can of beer in a dark room.

Zeke resumed walking when a young couple approached, and then turned back to retrace his steps. He never took his eyes from" the white tail that was so still, indicating that D.C. was at peace with the world. At the briefing session, the SAC had said, "According to the best information we have, a cat moves its tail when it is disturbed or angered. Hence, watch the informant's tail carefully, and if there is excessive gesticulation, attempt to determine the cause, such as a dog, and remove the cause quickly so the informant will feel free to continue on his round of calls."

The tail moved and unexpectedly became a streak, weav­ing in and out of the shrubbery. Alarmed, Zeke spoke rapidly into the mike, "Informant continuing due west at accelerated speed. Unit seventeen, attempt a fix."

He hurried, half running, continuing to follow the flick of white, and then suddenly he stopped to reconnoiter, strain­ing to see far ahead into the darkness that was deeper at the shrubbery line. He listened intently for a bell sound, but there was none. "All units, all units. Have lost informant. Come in if you get him."

His heartbeat quickened. He had never lost a subject on a surveillance. He was proud of his record, and so were his Bureau superiors who had written him several letters of commendation. And now, if this big, fat lummox ruined it…

"Fourteen in. We've got him on scope. Continuing due west at fast clip."

"Eleven in. Just picked him up on sound. Moving rapidly."

And then, a few minutes later, seventeen reported in.

Seventeen was a radio car, parked in the darkness of a huge tree, manned by two agents who spotted D.C. moving sur­reptitiously up to a front door. "Informant scratching at front door of eight two six Randolph . Door opening. We sight woman in robe, brunette, possibly in thirties. Informant entering, door closing. Will hold surveillance from here. Sug­gest twelve take over rear door. That's all. Out."

Over every radio came instructions from Operations Cen­ter : "All units stand by for informant to leave. Residents of eight two six already checked out. All okay. Units fourteen and sixteen move to next position. Z will join seventeen in front-door surveillance."

Zeke approached car seventeen and leaned against the driver's door. The strain was beginning to tell. "Well, so far, so good."

The agent behind the wheel nodded. "Never saw anything like it in my nineteen years with the Bureau."

The other agent said, "When I tell my wife – well, she never believes me anyway. Thinks I'm out tailing something looks like Jayne Mansfield every night." He shook his head sadly, "Keep telling her, wish I were."

In the police car a mile away, Officer Tracy shook his head. 'There's that same informant – under the shrubbery."

"Drunk again."

"But scratching on a door. Scratching, Al. What've they got, a monster?"

26

Inside 826 Randolph a woman of about thirty and her husband the same age, both high school teachers, welcomed D.C. He was an old, mysterious friend who dropped in fre­quently. Sometimes he would spend a couple hours with them, curling up in a chair and sleeping. Other times he came by merely for a perfunctory social visit, and once having satisfied the amenities, and licked up a handout, would indicate he had an extremely busy schedule and leave.

As an old friend, he was accustomed to making himself at home, and, after greeting them with a few soft meows, would make straight for the gleaming, huge white box in the kitchen from whence came all the good things of this world.

The woman, Anne Gilbert, who thought D.C. was about the sweetest thing on four paws, was putting down a small serving of salmon when the telephone rang. Her husband, Jimmy, a high school math instructor, took the call. She heard his voice raised to an exclamation mark, and, being curious, stepped into the living room.

He put his hand over the receiver. "The FBI."

"What do they want?"

"I don't know." He said into the phone, "A cat? … Yes, a cat came in here a couple minutes ago…. Well, he's licking up some fish right now…. Wait a minute, is this some kind of a joke? … Well, how do I know you're the FBI? You call up and ask about a cat…. Yeah, yeah, I guess so. Hold on a minute, please."

He covered the speaker again and said to Anne, "They know the cat came in, and they offer as proof they're the FBI the fact they know he has a white tail which they say they painted."

"The FBI – painted a cat's tail?"

"Well, his tail is white tonight. You remarked about it yourself when he came in."

"But the FBI, catching a cat and painting his tail. Why?"

He said into the phone, "What did you paint his tail for? … Yes, yes, I understand. Just a minute, please."

He shook his head with disbelief as he turned to Anne. 'They say this concerns an important case and they can't tell us anything now but they would appreciate it greatly if we would co-operate with them, and when the case is over they'll send an agent by to thank us and explain everything."

"What do they want?"

"That we put him out the front door as soon as he has eaten."

"It's some youngster. Somebody in one of our classes and this is going to be all over school tomorrow."

He nodded, and said into the telephone, "I don't know who you are but you should enroll in dramatics if you haven't al ready. You're too good an actor to be wasting all that talent. And we both think it's a great gag, and we'll go along with it. Good night."

Nine minutes later, at ten-seventeen, the front door of 826 Randolph opened, and D.C. cautiously pushed his head out on the end of a stretched-out neck, and took a radar bear­ing. Though he had come this way a thousand times, and never been ambushed, he behaved like an old trapper deep in Indian country.

Parking himself under a bush, he proceeded to wash his face with loving care. He liked fish but not the after-taste. His tail swished a few times. He was a little put out be­cause the woman, who always slobbered over him, had picked him up bodily, when he had done nothing whatso­ever, and ejected him. He couldn't tolerate females who rubbed their faces against him, which she always did. He liked sentiment as much as the next cat but too much was nauseating.

His facial finished, he strolled two houses down the street, hugging the shadows, and turned into an alley, one of the few in Sherman Oaks.

Keeping a distance of a hundred feet, Zeke followed him. "Informant proceeding to South Street . Suggest all units shift one block over but maintain same pattern."

As Zeke slipped silently along, hugging the shadows him­self, he listened to reports from the units. D.C. passed off one scope and onto another. A sound cone unit turned him over to another. And radio cars rolled along streets parallel to the alley.

At the alley's end, D.C. crossed the street and passed a couple locked in embrace in a car. They remained unaware of Zeke walking by them.

D.C. took a footpath that bisected a vacant yard. He walked boldly under a lighted window, through which could be heard a man and woman quarreling. He reached another alley, flanked with the ugly rear ends of decrepit apartment houses. The cry of a baby unhappy with his new world floated from a nearby window.

He proceeded more cautiously now, as if remembering an unfortunate experience suffered in this area. He flattened down to a belly crawl under a child's wrecked wagon, and listened intently to the night's sounds. At the same time his sharp eyes surveyed the layout ahead foot by foot. This was the kind of reconnaissance that would insure a cat a ripe old age.

Next he stole along a fence and up to a back door, and scratched hard. If he remembered correctly – and he always did – this place should be good for a handout of liver. When no one answered he emitted a low, beseeching, pitiful meow, which, translated, said he was dying of hunger.

Zeke said into the transistor mike, "Informant at back kitchen door of apartment building due south of Minton Street, east of Anderson . Will seventeen ascertain exact ad­dress and stand by near front of building for further instruc­tions?"

"Seventeen proceeding as instructed."

The determined scratching and persistent meowing pro­duced results. The door opened a few inches, and eyes pivoted about to determine whether D.C. had brought a friend. The door swung back, revealing a young man. He said, "Why, hello, kid, where you been? Come on in." D.C. entered quickly, and the door closed just as quickly behind him.

Zeke said, "Informant entered apartment. Request ten take over stakeout at back entrance."

He moved fast through the night, gaining the sidewalk, and once on it, ran to Anderson , turned right, and entered the building by the front entrance. He slipped down a long, narrow, dark corridor that led to rabbit-hutch apartments to determine the number of the one D.C. had entered. Return­ing to the foyer, he tapped softly on the manager's door, and then a little louder. The time, he noted, was ten forty-two. His fingers worked nervously as he waited.

The door opened an inch to permit a battered, wrinkled character in her mid-sixties to stare at him out of eyes half-asleep. Zeke identified himself, showed his credentials, and, as she opened the door wider to study them, pushed his way in.

When the letters FBI dawned on her, she awoke as if slugged by a shot of whiskey, which was what she poured as Zeke asked about the people in apartment number ten. She offered him a drink in a water glass that had a nicked rim. When he refused, she dropped the weight from her feet into a historic armchair that was beginning to lose its stained innards. "Nice folks," she said. "A married couple and her brother. Never gave me no trouble. But I keep it that way here. I tell 'em I don't care what they do but do it quiet."

She finished off the whiskey. "They're leavin' tomorrow. The brother got a job up at San Jose , and I'm glad because I've been worryin' 'bout 'em since the men couldn't find no work and the woman's been ailirt'."

"What does she look like?"

"Never set eyes on her. Wouldn't know her from Whistler's mother if I was to see her. Husband said she'd taken to her bed, but now you ask me 'bout 'em, can't recol­lect seein' a doctor around, and I don't miss much. But some people's odd. Don't like to call a doc. Had a brother once, just wanted to curl up like a dyin' worm…."

27

As Zeke knocked softly on the door to number ten, his right hand slipped by way of reassurance to the holster at his side under the unbuttoned coat. He had removed his tie, loosened his collar, and mussed his hair. He should have left off his coat, too, but he needed it to conceal the holster.

He stood at an awkward angle, so that he could see the door if it opened, and also the long, dark, tunnel-like cor­ridor he had come down. His eyes moved from point to point, checking the doors along the hallway. Each was a po­tential danger area. The fugitives inside number ten might have staked a guard along the route Zeke had traveled, ready to ambush him.

Zeke himself had posted a fellow agent at the far end of the corridor, out of sight. Other agents had taken up posi­tions on either side of the back kitchen door, and also under the windows to the bedroom.

Zeke repeated the knock, taking care that it produced the right volume, loud enough to be heard and yet not so loud it would seem that someone, perhaps an officer, was demand­ing entrance. He felt confident that one of the men would answer. Not to answer would create suspicion. But they would need a minute or two of preparation to check their weapons and for the second criminal to herd the woman, if she were still alive, into a back room and hold her at gun point. Zeke feared what the woman might do. By now she had been a prisoner nine days, and if she heard a voice at the door that promised help she might scream out, either in a desperation gamble or perhaps involuntarily, hys­terically.

He listened intently, hearing the muted grumbling of an air conditioner and the playing of a radio. Now the radio was turned up a little louder, and he felt a surge of relief. That could mean the woman was alive and they were using the radio to blot out any possible outcry. The number was Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance," a frenetic piece that always set his nerves on edge.

Once again he knocked, this time hesitantly, like a man who hopes someone will answer but at the same time dislikes bothering a neighbor at this late hour. The carpeted floor on the other side replied softly as footsteps took their accus­tomed place preparatory to the opening of the door. He sensed a body there, listening, too, breathing ever so quietly, a mind wondering about this late caller, running swiftly over the possibilities of who it might be, a mind tense and fearful, as would be normal with a fugitive holed up for so long.

He was considering tapping once more when the door eased open a couple of inches, and two sharp, suspicious eyes peered out. The head was a young man's, blunt in de­sign and faintly back-lighted. Behind him was a small living room with a tired, old Midwestern landscape on the far wall above a shabby divan. A closed door by the divan led probably to the kitchen, and another one at the left, to a bedroom. All of this he noted in a glance.

Quickly, before the nervous door could close, he said, "Say, mister, sorry to trouble you, but have you seen a black cat around – about so high – with a collar on? A boy out back said he saw a cat enter an apartment along in here."

For an interminably long moment the fellow stared at him. My coat, Zeke thought, my coat's out of place. No one looking for a cat at this hour of the night would be wearing a coat. A sweater perhaps, or a thin, old jacket, or a sport shirt.

The fellow opened the door a little wider, and said slowly, still studying Zeke, "Yeah, he's in here. Friendly little cuss, isn't he?"

Zeke took a step inside a room lighted by a weak bulb in an old-fashioned table lamp. The place reeked with stale cigarette smoke. He slouched deliberately in an attempt to give the impression he had nothing on his mind but to re­trieve the cat.

"Thank heaven," he said, with what he hoped was proper relief. "My wife's been about to go out of her head. He's been missing since last night, and sometimes I think she loves him more'n she does me."

The fellow called in the direction of the bedroom where the "Sabre Dance" was reaching a frenzied climax. "Hey, Sammy, bring the cat out." He turned back to Zeke. "You live around here?"

"Down the street a couple of blocks."

"What's the address?"

"4820 Anderson . If you want a reward – "

"He's been here before. Two or three nights ago. But he didn't have on a collar or a white tail then."

"A white tail?"

"Yeah, looks like he'd dropped it in some paint. Only it isn't paint. Can't make out what it is. You didn't know about it, huh?"

His sharp, penetrating eyes never left Zeke. And Zeke knew that the slightest hesitation would trap him. "He was all black last time we saw him."

"What d'ya call him?"

"D.C. Stands for Darn Cat."

"I don't think that's funny, to put a tag like that on a lit­tle guy. Sammy, what's holding you?"

Sammy came through the bedroom door so swiftly that Zeke caught only a glimpse of a draped window. Sammy was carrying D.C. awkwardly, the way he had picked him up, with D.C.'s hind legs pawing air. Seeing Zeke , D.C. stopped pawing and looked up in amazement, as if to say, "How'd you get here?"

"D.C." Zeke said. "How're you, old man?"

"Nice little fellow," Sammy said, handing him over. Zeke put a hand under the rear legs to support them. Instantly, D.C. struggled to free himself of Zeke, who instinctively tightened his grip, whereupon D.C. lay back his ears and hissed. He did not like jerks squeezing him. He had squash-able innards the same as anyone. And besides, no man had a right under God to use force on another without just cause, and there was no cause, just or otherwise, for this stupid moron to compress him. He would show him. He hissed again. He didn't understand the psychology of it, but a well-enunciated hiss terrified people and dogs. And he had a hiss he had worked on, and was proud of. He gave it a little something others didn't.

Suspicion stole over Sammy. "He doesn't seem to care much for you."

Zeke loosened his hold and attempted to rub D.C.'s back, the way he had seen Ingrid do. "Hi, old fellow," he said be­tween sneezes, his vision becoming rapidly blurred. "Wait till Patti sees you." And as far as he was concerned, Patti could have him till hell froze over.

D.C. cocked a fishy eye at him, and then lurched back when Zeke sneezed violently.

Dan said, "You sure, mister, this is your cat?"

"He's my wife's. To tell you the truth, we just tolerate each other. I'm allergic to cat fur. He makes me sneeze. I make him hiss."

Dan began moving toward Zeke's blind side, and Zeke knew he had only seconds left. In one swift, well-planned movement, thought out long before he knocked, Zeke tossed D.C. over his head and back of him, as if D.C. were a foot­ball. There was a swish as D.C. flew through space, and a horrendous outcry that shook the skeleton of everybody in the building right down to the last spinal digit. As D.C. landed, coming down on all fours, his low undercarriage mashed against the floor and a whoosh of air added a contrapuntal touch to the high C notes.

The two criminals stood stunned, shocked more by the sound effects than the actual development. Zeke held a gun, which had transferred itself as if by magic from the holster to his right hand. He said quietly, "Just get your hands up – fasten them around your neck."

They hesitated, like a fighter on the ropes. Zeke continued, "The first one goes for a gun gets it." He sneezed then and his Colt bobbed threateningly. Quickly , they followed his orders, their faces wrapped in an expression of utter dis­belief.

"When you get to Leavenworth ," Zeke said, "you can tell them you're the first guys ever railroaded to prison by a cat."

28

The next day the newspapers played the story big. Bored and blase about it all, D.C. stared out from the first page of every edition. The headline writers had enjoyed themselves immensely. FBI UNDERCOVER CAT ROUNDS UP KILLERS. DARN CAT GETS HIS MAN. FBI SOLVES "IMPOSSIBLE CASE" WITH CAT STOOLIE.

Under one picture a caption writer even quoted D.C. "It was nothing. It was only what any patriotic American would have done."

Mike showed D.C. his photograph, spreading the news­paper out on the kitchen floor. D.C. took a glance and it was obvious. Mike reported later, that he thought the pic­tures unflattering. He tried to dig a hole in the vinyl to bury them. It was not publicity that counted but what a man had in the refrigerator.

Pandemonium reigned that morning. Knocking on the door of the Randall home were reporters asking for exclusive in­terviews, two Life photographers requesting a layout, news-reel cameramen from three television stations, an advertising agency executive wanting D.C. to endorse Little Tiger cat food, and a press agent who said he could get D.C. an in­vitation to sit on the President's lap at the White House. Once Patti overhead Inky indignantly telling someone over the phone, "He's not 'that cat.' His name's D.C. How'd you like it if I called you 'that man'?"

Early on the scene was Mrs. Macdougall who prattled in­cessantly. "When the neighbors started talking, I said shame on 'em. I said to Mr. Macdougall, I said, if that nice Patti Randall's got a man in her bedroom, she's got a reason."

Slowly Zeke made his way through the melee to the front door where he thanked Patti. "You've put up with an awful lot."

"I hope we'll see you again," she said.

Ingrid spoke up. "I'll cook you dinner any night you say. I'm good at steaks."

He smiled. "I bet there isn't anything you're not good at."

Mike asked, "Don't you want to say good-by to D.C.?"

"You tell him good-by for me," Zeke answered, suppressing a sneeze. He added, "You know something, Mike? Why don't you fasten him to a rocket? I'd like to see him be the first cat in orbit."

When Zeke was gone, Ingrid flounced down on the floor and rolled over on her back. "Why is if, sis, every man I love is too old for me – Mr. Kelso, Greg … ?"

At mention of Greg's name, D.C. marched into the room bearing a fish in his mouth. "Oh, no," Patti screamed, and grabbed him, and tore the fish away from him.

Just then the doorbell sounded, and Greg stood there. He spoke very calmly. "I don't like to mention this, Miss Ran­dall, but your cat paid me a social call and on his way out – absent-mindedly, I'm sure – picked up the most beautiful bluegill note 14 you ever laid your orbs on. I stood all day in a drenching rain …"

Patti simply stared. Mike asked, "You sick or some­thing?" Ingrid exclaimed, "What an image, Greg. I knew you could do it." She looked at Patti. "Isn't he just wonderful?"

"Thank you," Greg said, handing her a new five-dollar bill. "By the way, you'd better get yourself a new cricket. I just heard over the radio, it's only seventy-eight."

Patti plopped the fish into Greg's hand. "He's a klepto­maniac, and we might as well face it. But can't we keep it just between the two of us since he is a hero to a hundred million people?"

He nodded. "You know, I was thinking, well, maybe he could be rehabilitated – with the right man."

She smiled. "That's the sweetest proposal I ever had … only …" She simply didn't feel up to remaking a man. Not this one anyway. He could be fun, and exciting, but let's face it, she told herself, he was an emotional staircase, and that little man inside would be pounding up and down for evermore. And she had no intention of spending the rest of her life listening to his frantic footsteps.

Ingrid sighed deeply and returned the five dollars. "You can't win 'em all," she said.

He brushed it off with a laugh. He would give Patti twenty-four hours to think it over. Fish in hand, he left, passing Zeke coming back up the walk. Zeke rolled a little, as if he had just climbed out of the saddle, and he had aboyish dare-me spread across his features.

His voice spoke to Ingrid, his eyes to Patti."about that steak – would tonight be too soon?" He had that kind of pe­culiar look which foreshadowed coming events, and as Patti correctly interpreted those coming events, everything inside her quickened. She flounced her hair, and laughed, and took him closely by the arm, and walked him down the sidewalk out of earshot of Ingrid and absently into earshot of Mrs. Macdougall. But the world had taken on anew sheen, even mrs. macdougall.

"Let's go somewhere," he said.

She nodded. "Somewhere. I've been wanting to go there for a long time."

He smiled down at her in that easy way of his, and it was as if he had been a part of her always, and always would be.

As for D.C., he couldn't have cared less at this moment about coming events. He was skirting along the shrubbery, tailing Greg. He always went where the action was.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

The Gordons, a husband-wife team, began their writ­ing careers on newspapers and magazines. Gordon Gordon was a roving correspondent for the Hearst newspapers, editor of the Tucson ( Arizona ) Daily Citizen, and publicity writer at 20th Century-Fox. Mildred, a native of Kansas , wrote for United Press and was editor of Arizona magazine. Both are gradu­ates of the University of Arizona .

Gordon worked for several years with the FBI Bureau in Washington, D. C. and Chicago. During World War II, while Gordon was involved in counter­espionage cases, Mildred decided to show her husband that women are just as good detectives as men – by writing a suspense novel. In 1950 they began their literary collaboration. Since then they have produced twelve suspense novels, many of which have been con­verted into motion pictures. The Gordons are avid travelers; they use only first-hand information about their locales in their books. Their home is in Encino , California .



Note1

издавать резкие звуки, звенеть

Note2

вспыхивать, ярко блестеть

Note3

предел возможного

Note4

hoked-up: They usually hoke up the play to give the crowd what it wants — Они специально включают в свои пьесы примитивные шутки, чтобы угодить публике

Note5

holster – кобура

Note6

[serum prothrombin conversion accelerator

Note7

естественно (сленг)

Note8

1) уборная; 2) сокр. от without charge – без оплаты

Note9

Мощный полуспортивный двухместный автомобиль компании "Форд мотор" (Ford Motor Company), выпускавшийся в 1955-57.

Note10

to sic – подстрекать, науськивать

Note11

tommy rot – абсурд, вздор, чепуха

Note12

affable – приветливый; вежливый, любезный

Note13

пресыщенный, утративший вкус к жизни, уставший

Note14

название рыбы




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