By Patricia Crandall.
Maya Bull raised opera glasses to her wide green eyes. She adjusted the lenses until they focused on the Jarvis property across the street from her “Painted Lady” Victorian house.
“The place is infested with cats. I must find out who’s feeding them before the situation worsens.” She swung the posh glasses across her bosom and flounced across the deck of her gabled house. Inside the Chintz parlor, she picked up an antique gilded phone and dialed the Mayor’s office.
“Maya! How nice to hear your voice, darlin’. What can I do for you?” Mayor Casavetti drawled.
“Cut the bullcrap, Harry. I’ll not attend another Chamber of Commerce banquet or chair another social event until you and the police do something about that sad excuse of a Jarvis property. It’s devaluing my assets. Someone’s breaking in and feeding stray cats.”
“Wait just one minute, Maya. As we speak, I’m setting a plan in motion with the Beautification Committee, and…”
Maya hung up the phone and made a face at a broken manicured nail.
Maya bustled across Perry Winkle Street and pressed through a field of high grass to the Jarvis estate. Her mind wandered to a happier time when she and Glory Jarvis were neighbors and best friends. It was a charming time when the estate lawn and gardens were beautified by lavender and rose bushes and bordered by Azalea and Rhododendrons. There was a carriage house, a white barn with a cupola, several out-buildings and a stately white picket fence. Maya and Glory ran between fences and enjoyed special culinary treats in each other’s kitchens, thanks to their best friend mothers. It saddened her to witness its run-down condition.
“Hel-lo Maya.” Lieutenant Lex Wheeler beamed.
“Hey, Maya – how do you manage to walk through the rutted field in those high heeled shoes?” Sergeant Alan Banks asked.
“The same way you walk in your shoes, Alan – with two feet.”
She considered the 6′ 5″ redheaded Wheeler and short, rotund, bald Banks and managed to hold back a scathing retort. “Now tell me, did you find the intruder?”
Lieutenant Wheeler fidgeted with a protective mask hanging around his neck. He spat on the ground. “Maya, there’s not a sign of anyone inhabiting the Jarvis place except cats. Is it possible a neighborhood kid or an animal lover’s feeding those pussies when no-one is looking?” He waved his big hand toward empty tins of cat food littering the sagging front porch.
Maya’s steely eyes settled on the Lieutenant, a former childhood sweetheart. “Isn’t there anyone else on duty besides the two of you? The mystery should’ve been solved by now. There is a violator coming and going on the premises because I pick up paper litter, bottles, and empty cat tins in the yard every day. At least bottles can be recycled for cash.” She sighed. “And I give the proceeds to Kit House, a haven for abandoned cats.”
“We solve a good percentage of the cases we investigate, Maya. I guarantee you there’s no-one in that house. We’ve searched it from end to end and top to bottom.” Lieutenant Wheeler wrinkled his nose. “It reeks of cat pee. How the intruders are getting in is beyond me. The place is boarded and locked up tight.”
Maya looked beyond the policemen to the front of the Jarvis house. The officers followed her gaze.
“There he is!” She pointed to a shadowy form passing by a window.
As they raced toward the house, the front door opened. The officers stiffened to attention drawing guns, then relaxed their stance.
An old woman dressed in a soiled, baggy house-dress, and rolled-up socks covering swollen feet, lowered a plastic tray of cat food onto the porch. An army of mewing cats swarmed up the steps and pounced on the food.
“Glory Jarvis!” Maya stepped aside as the animals raced past her. “Where have you been? I thought you were dead and buried.”
In a surprisingly vital voice, the miscreant said, “I’m as much flesh and blood as you are, Maya.” She pinched the loose, hanging flesh of her forearm until it reddened and turned white.
“Glory, do you mean to tell me you’ve been living as a recluse in the old homestead all this time?” Maya asked unbelieving.
Glory laughed half-crazed, “I may be the ‘black sheep’ of the Jarvis family, but I’ve outlived the lot. I’ve come back to claim what’s rightfully mine – the Jarvis house and my fortune. No one in town’s any wiser.” She grinned, exposing gaps between her teeth. “I’ve been living with my cats right under your noses.”
The officers looked at each other in stupefaction. Lieutenant Wheeler stepped forward. “Miss Jarvis, Sergeant Banks and I have searched your place many times. How did you manage to escape our notice?”
The slatternly, wild-haired woman shuffled forward and said in an irritating, high voice. “Tch tch. Neither of you gentlemen opened the hatch door beneath the rug in the kitchen floor. If you had, you would’ve seen stairs going down to the root cellar. I hid in the potato bin under burlap bags when you paraded through.”
“How did you get food for yourself and the cats?” Sergeant Banks folded his arms across his chest.
Glory tucked her mouth tightly at the corners as though savoring a hidden amusement. “God willing, when my feet aren’t badly swollen, I go out at night and walk three quarters of a mile to the People’s Market on Route 11.” She looked suspiciously from side to side and spoke in a slow, conspiratorial voice, “I feared that with all my money, I was marked down to be kidnapped or killed by my investors in New York City. That’s why I returned to Winnipee. I go out only at night and hide in doorways to cover my tracks from those fortune hunters. Not many people living in Winnipee shop late at night. Besides, the young clerks aren’t interested in the comings and goings of a bag lady.”
With a great deal of difficulty and obvious stiffness, Glory lowered herself down on an uneven step of the porch. Cats vied for space on her ample lap and her chest heaved with a racking cough.
“I’m tired of hiding.” She looked forlornly at Maya. “You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to ask you to come over and have a cuppa’ tea.”
Maya pulled the officers to one side. She said, “If I’d any inkling Glory was the intruder, I’d have gone about this in a different manner.”
Lieutenant Wheeler scratched his head. “We must act on this, Maya. The authorities and trustees in New York City must be notified immediately. They’ve been looking for Glory since she disappeared from her Manhattan apartment a year ago. We, too, feared the worst.”
“I know you must move on this Lex …Alan.” She nodded from one to the other. “In the nineteen fifties the Jarvis house was a showplace when T. J. Jarvis ran the lumber yard, employing eighty-five percent of Winnipee. Now Glory’s the last one – she has no family.”
She shielded her eyes from the direct glare of the sun. “It’s obvious she’ll need to live in an assisted living residence. She may fight it, but I feel Social Services will not allow Glory to live alone. When that’s settled, I’ll speak to the mayor about converting the estate into a cultural center. The Jarvises would prefer that option to having the old mansion torn down.”
“If you take responsibility, Maya, I hope you realize what you’re in for,” Lieutenant Wheeler, still smitten by her perfect dimples and long-lashed green eyes, persisted.
“I’m aware of the consequences.”
The policemen turned to leave.
“Lex, Alan – aren’t you forgetting something?” Maya asked in a voice that was saccharine sweet and melodic.
Lieutenant Wheeler made a dismissive gesture with a shrug of his shoulders. “What else could there be, Maya?”
The officers moaned. There would be the Humane Society to contend with. Not to mention the Animal Lover Activists and Kit House. Sergeant Banks put his hand on his gun.
Glory wagged a finger. “Keep that weapon in your holster, young man.”
Lieutenant Wheeler grimaced. “Start filling out forms, Sergeant. I’ll count cats.”
PATRICIA CRANDALL has published numerous articles and short stories in various magazines and newspapers. She has five books in print, Melrose, Then And Now, a historical volume, I Passed This Way, a poetry collection, The Dog Men, a thriller, and Tales of an Upstate New York Bottle Miner, non-fiction, and Pat’s Collectibles, a collection of short stories. She lives with her husband, Art, and a cat, Betti, at Babcock Lake in the Grafton Mountains near Petersburgh, New York. Visit her at authorpcrandall.blogspot.com