All Things Mysterious Volume Sixty-Four
The Brown Recluse, the Detectives, and the Cat Ring.
One thing that Ellen Amora, who was secretly that scourge of criminals, The Brown Recluse, had in common with her collaborator/nemesis Costello on the River City police force, was that they both owned or were owned by cats.
So they both perked up over their morning coffee when the city’s newest newspaper, the River City Rocket, offered this headline:
‘Catnapping: The Purr-fect Crime?’
It seemed that River City was in the midst of a heinous crime wave where citizens would ‘lose’ their beloved pets and then, magically, they would reappear in the arms of some stranger who would invariably, humbly, shyly, accept a reward. With both hands. Now, it could be that there was a person or persons in the City beloved by cats, a real cat magnet, who couldn’t help the fact that the furry felines flocked to him. It could be that this person was of good character and returned the kitties to their owners. And if in their relief they insisted that he take a little token of appreciation, well…..
But neither Ellen nor Costello saw it that way. Call them cynical, but they both thought this situation smelled to high heaven. As cat people do, they both shared their concerns with their companions:
Costello: ‘Cinnamon, I don’t like this one bit.’
Amora: ‘Raffles, there’s something fishy about this. What? No, I meant that there is something suspicious. No! I just gave you your supper twenty minutes ago! I am not cooking you fish! Don’t look at me like that!’
And so on.
Next day at the precinct, Costello shared his concerns with his partner, Avery.
‘Ave, I think this guy is running a scam! I bet you he’s taking those cats and then returning them for the reward.’
‘Maybe he is, I wouldn’t put anything past anyone nowadays. But so what?’
‘What do you mean, so what? It’s a crime and I want to bust that bum, that’s so what!’
‘Come on, Costello, we’ve got more important things to do!’
‘More important than corralling criminals?’
‘Aw, you’re just saying that because you have a cat yourself!’
‘Don’t bring Cinnamon into this! This is the worst kind of criminal! The kind that preys on people’s feelings! Even you can understand how much people can get attached to their pets, and to steal them and then extort reward money--it’s just wrong!’
‘All right, all right, don’t get your bowels in an uproar! Wait a minute, what do you mean, ‘even me?’ I’ve got feelings too, you know.’
And so it was that Avery and Costello stood in front of the watch commander with their plan to bust this cat-stealing miscreant.
‘First of all, how do you know this guy is actually stealing the cats? Couldn’t he have just found them?’
‘Well, you saw the paper, Captain. They say that there’s been over two dozen cat-snatchings just in the last six weeks!’
Captain Mars scratched his head. ‘That tells me there’s more than one person in on this. No one man could innocently attract all those cats. No, boys, there’s a conspiracy afoot here. Go find them and bust them!’
‘So the only question is, where do we start?’ Avery honestly didn’t know where to begin on this one. He asked while the detectives were inhaling coffee and doughnuts at the Do-Nuttery on Main Street. A boy who looked about twelve ran up to the window outside and shouted, ‘Bad cops, No doughnuts!’ and ran away laughing. That was the first time Avery and Costello had heard that one...today.
‘Trouble is, most folks are not going to report a lost cat as a crime situation, and when they get them back they’re going to be so relieved that they won’t think of it that way anyway.’
‘That’s true, but what about the thing in the paper? That might get some folks thinking.’
‘Maybe. Tell you what--let’s talk to Bennett at the Rocket. Maybe he can put a notice in so people will be on the lookout.’
‘That’ll just scare the bum away.’
‘Worth a try.’
The men quaffed their java and munched their pastries, stood up, and left. But before they could get to the offices of the paper, they noticed the headline on the current edition of the Rocket in the coin box:
ORDEAL OF A CAT-LOVER
All they could read was the first couple of paragraphs through the box’s window, since neither one wanted to part with a quarter to actually buy one. But that was enough, as a woman who’d lost her kitty was pleading for its return. The owner was offering a reward of fifty dollars. Now THIS is what the detectives had been waiting for! They hastened to the woman’s house, introduced themselves, and were ushered into a living room and given tea and cake before they could catch their breath.
‘Mrs. Moncrieff, how long after you noticed your cat missing did you contact the paper?’
‘Well, let me see. I fed Minerva her supper and then settled in to watch that nice Lawrence Welk. That’s my Sunday night habit, you know. Now, Minerva usually sits with me and we watch together after she finishes her meal, but this time she didn’t. I didn’t think much of it, you know how cats are.’
‘Yes, I know,’ agreed Costello fervently. ‘Go on, please.’
‘Well, when the show ended and it was time for bed, I remembered that I hadn’t seen Minerva for hours, so I called her and called her and even looked outside. She was just gone. I was beside myself, I called the neighbors and looked around the neighborhood, and I remembered the article in the paper about stolen cats, and I thought perhaps they could help me find Minerva.’
‘So it was perhaps two to three hours?’
‘Yes, that sounds right. And then not twenty minutes ago, I got the call!’
‘Someone called you and said they had your cat?’
‘Yes, and I was so relieved!’
‘And did they say exactly when they’d bring it back?’ asked Avery.
‘Young man, Minerva is a ‘she,’ not an ‘it,’ and I’ll thank you to remember that!’
Chastened, Avery hung his head and said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ pretending not to notice the smirk on Costello’s pan. Mercifully, his cat-loving partner took over the questions.
‘DID he say when he’d be back, Mrs. Moncrieff?’
‘Why, yes, he said he would bring back Minerva this morning.’
‘And you planned on giving him a reward?’
‘Oh, yes, just like it said in that article, I took fifty dollars out of the budget and plan to give it to him.’
‘Do you mind if we wait for him?’
‘Not at all. Do you have a furry friend too?’
The detectives looked at each other, and Costello answered.
‘Yes I do, ma’am, but we believe this man, and possibly others, are stealing these cats in order to get the reward money.’
‘My land! You don’t say!’
‘That’s why we want to wait and see this man. Also, we’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention money. Let’s let him ask for it, it will help our case.’
‘My stars! Just like on the television!’
Just then, the doorbell rang, causing them all to jump. ‘All right now, Mrs. Moncrieff,’ whispered Avery. ‘Just act naturally and let him guide the conversation. We’ll be right in the next room.’ And so they ducked into the kitchen and peered out the cracked door.
A tall, lanky man stood in the doorway holding a fat black cat.
‘Minerva!’ cried Mrs. Moncrieff. ‘Oh, thank you so much for bringing her back! Where ever did you find her?’
‘She was hiding under a shrub in my back yard, ma’am. I live over on Connington. I saw the thing in the paper and--well, here I am.’
‘Well, isn’t it a lucky thing you saw her! Thank you again!’
When the man didn’t move, Avery and Costello gave each other a knowing glance.
‘Was there something else, young man?’
‘Would you like some tea?’
‘No, thank you, ma’am but--’
‘Was there something about a reward?’
‘Oh! Where are my manners? Let me get my purse.’ And she strode into the kitchen, where she whispered to Costello, ‘What should I do?’
Costello whispered back, ‘Give him the money. If he pockets it, we’ll take it from there.’
So Mrs. Moncrieff gave the man the fifty, and when he shifted Minerva in his arms to take the bill, the detectives jumped out from behind the kitchen door and shouted, ‘Hold it!’
His face a paroxysm of fury, the man hurled Minerva the cat at the law, and fled on foot. He shouted, ‘You can’t stop us!’ as he dashed down the drive. Suddenly, a figure materialized from out of nowhere. It was the Brown Recluse! She dropped into a crouch to topple the fleeing man, but he anticipated the move and swerved around her, just as a souped-up hot rod came boiling around the corner, scooped up the would-be reward thief and took off down the street.
This all happened so quickly, Costello and Avery and the Brown Recluse seemed frozen in position. Soon it dawned upon them that they had been had.
‘Well, that went well,’ said Avery.
‘I should say that it didn’t go well at all!’ returned the Brown Recluse.
‘Cop talk. Dark humor and all that,’ replied Costello.
‘Did you hear how he said, ‘You can’t stop us?’ said Avery. ‘So now we know that there’s more than one in this ring, and it sure looks like we were right--they’re scamming people for rewards.’
‘Now we put our heads together and come up with a plan where we can nab one of them and put the fear into him and maybe he’ll come clean. Right now that’s our best bet.’
‘Gentlemen, I have a plan.’
What does the Brown Recluse have in mind? Is there really a cat-stealing ring in River City? Will the detectives want to work with a super-hero? And what of Minerva? What of Minerva?
Meanwhile, check out some of these cat-based mysteries:
The Spotted Band is an all-feline rock and roll band made up of jungle cats. When they're not purring a tune, they are battling arch-nemesis Pontius Puma, among other menaces.
A contestant goes missing from a snooty cat show, leading to all sorts of Friedman-style mayhem.
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