The Deschutes Sasquatch

C. Auguste Dupin didn’t like the idea of spending the day tramping around the woods instead of sleeping in the sun.

Except his human, Poeville librarian Penny Copper, wanted a picnic by the falls with her boyfriend, detective David Clemm. If Dupin wanted sardine crackers, chicken, he needed to go with them.

Not the best way to get lunch. Especially when sasquatch might lurk in the woods.

🔍

In all his years in Poeville, C. Auguste Dupin preferred the warm sunny places to sleep, like the hill beneath the Reed Moore Library, to the dark woods that climbed the hills around the town.

He yowled his protest again to this excursion, which so far amounted to walking up mossy-smelling trails beneath trees that dripped cold water on his fur. What happened to the picnic? What happened to the treats?

Ahead, his human, librarian Penny Copper, touched the arm of detective David Clemm.

“A second, David. Dupin doesn’t sound happy.”

At last, someone was paying attention! Dupin stopped and sat down, taking advantage of the moment to chew away some of the sweet sap that stuck pine needles to his paws.

“I told you he wouldn’t like it,” David said.

For once Dupin agreed with the human. As humans went, David wasn’t entirely disagreeable, and Penny liked him. He did have the unfortunate mannerisms of a raven, looking quickly around him, his long black coat floating around him as he moved. Despite that, he had a rational mind and listened to Penny.

She came closer, crouching on the trail. Her new boots smelled of leather oil and rubber. Not at all like the sleek shoes she usually wore. Today she wore blue jeans over her long legs and a fuzzy flannel shirt, with the sleeves rolled partway up. Again, not at all the sort of thing she usually wore, although somewhat appropriate for day hikes.

Her long fingers scratched through Dupin’s fur around his neck. The purr, entirely unbidden, welled up from his chest.

Dupin pressed against her fingers and reached a paw up to her messenger bag, where she’d hidden away the treats.

She laughed, like a clear mountain stream. “You devil! You just want a snack!”

Of course! As if he was going to climb through the woods without proper nourishment!

She held up a finger. “One now. You can have more when we stop for lunch.”

One? Hardly —

Penny pulled the plastic sandwich bag from the messenger bag she wore over her shoulder. A rich oily scent escaped. Sardine crackers, a gift from Penny’s Auntie Dido. Quite possibly one of the best foods on Earth, and Dupin regularly frequented the restaurants and cafes along Poeville’s main avenue.

She took one of the golden triangles from the bag and held it up, between thumb and forefinger. Thumbs, the key to the advantages humans held.

Dupin meowed. He pawed the air in front of her hand, claws carefully retracted.

“Here you go, then, since you asked nicely.”

Penny put the cracker down in the dirt and pine needles.

Dupin blinked. Was she seriously expecting him to eat from…

It smelled so delicious. Oily fish, mingling with the garlic, and other seasonings. His mouth opened, inhaling, drawing the delicious scent up along the top of his mouth. He crouched, taking in more.

“Is he going to take all day?” David asked.

“He likes to savor them,” Penny said. Her hand ran down the fur on his back.

Dupin ignored it. He closed his eyes. Dirt or not, pine needles or not, he wasn’t leaving the cracker there for the ants and other crawling things.

He bit into it, the light cracker crunching delightfully between his teeth. Perfection. Exquisite. The flavor intensified the odors released, and yet two bites later, the cracker was gone.

A pine needle stuck in his mouth. He pawed it from his face. Then he rose, butting his head against Penny’s knee. He meowed.

“No more, not right now,” she said.

The plastic bag disappeared back into Penny’s messenger bag and she stood. She tapped her thigh. “Come on, Dupin.”

She walked on up the trail to where David waited. Dupin rose and trotted after.

“Don’t you worry that he’ll run off?” David asked.

“No.” Penny laughed. “Dupin won’t leave me.”

He might if there wasn’t the promise of more crackers and more food. The scent of chicken escaped from the basket David carried.

“It isn’t much farther, in any case,” David said. “Another quarter mile or so to the falls.”

A quarter mile? Dupin growled softly and padded after the humans. Maybe he should have stayed home back in town. At least there he could have picked up treats from the cafes, followed by a nap on the benches near the library.

The trail continued, seeming without end, twisting and climbing through the forest. Tall cedars and Douglas firs rose above them, some of immense girth. Ferns clogged the spaces between, spores tickling Dupin’s nose. Passing a clump of blackberry vines, he heard rustling beneath the thorny vines hanging thick with dark berries and paused.

Penny stopped, plucking a thick berry from the bush. She popped it in her mouth. “Oh, these are good. We should pick some for lunch.”

David came back with the basket. He opened the lid and brought out a shiny blue enamelware mug. “Here, we can use these.”

While the humans picked berries and chatted, Dupin turned his attention to necessary cleaning. All sorts of things were sticking in his fur. Dirt, dust and pine needles stuck to him along with stray seeds.

Whatever had rustled beneath the vines was gone. Not that he was of a mind to chase it anyway.

A voice called out, from up the trail. “Help!”

David rose quickly, setting down the mug he had half-filled with berries. “Did you hear that?”

Penny sat down her berries too, dark purple juice staining her lips. “Yes.”

“Help! Help me!”

David turned to Penny. “Stay here.”

Good idea. Dupin crouched, watching the trail, ready to bolt if it became necessary.

Before David had gone more than a few steps up the trail a man came running around the turn up ahead. He was pale, thin and shorter than David, wearing a blue hoody, jeans, and sneakers. His eyes were wide, white with dark pupils. He sort of looked like a panic-stricken dog.

Dupin crouched lower, a growl crawling from his throat.

David held out a hand. “Hey! What’s wrong?”

“God!” Sobbed the man, skidding to a stop. He half turned and pointed up the trail. “You have to help me! It took her!”

Then Penny was moving forward. For a human, she was ordinarily pretty smart, but Dupin didn’t think this was a good idea. Not at all.

The man gestured frantically back up the trail. “Please! Help us! It took her!”

“I’m a police officer.” David held out his hand, the other still close to the gun he carried. “I’ll help, I need to know what happened?”

“Mary, my fiancé, it took her off into the woods! We have to go!”

Penny reached David’s side. “What took Mary?”

“It’s a, a, what do you call it?” The man pressed his hands to his face and groaned. “A sasquatch! That’s it, you know, Bigfoot? It took her!”

Dupin blinked. He’d grown up in the library, following Penny to work every day. He’d spent plenty of time looking at the books as humans read them, sitting on the tables, and backs of the chairs.

Sasquatch, 001.944 by the Dewey decimal system. Although there were plenty of humans that didn’t agree with that classification, Dupin had never any reason to think there was any reality to the stories.

He licked at his paws, dealing with the absolutely impossible task of keeping them clean. What this really meant was that no one was going to be focusing on feeding him. Not until he helped them figure out what had happened.

Dupin rose and trotted forward, catching up to Penny. She was right about that, at least. He wasn’t going to leave her.

“A sasquatch?” David exchanged a look with Penny.

“I know,” the man groaned. He dropped his hands. “You think I’m crazy. I get it. We still have to save her!”

“What’s your name?” Penny asked.

“Albert, Al. Payne.” The man took a step back. “We can’t just stand here!”

“Okay, okay.” David pulled his phone from his pocket. His face darkened in a scowl. “I don’t have a signal. Penny?”

She was already checking her phone. “No, I don’t.”

Dupin breathed in deep. The man’s sneakers were muddy, even though the path was dry. They smelled of marsh muck and algae. He’d been somewhere wet, the Deschutes river wasn’t far through the woods. The sound of it carried through the woods.

“Penny, head back to the car and see if you get a signal there. If not, drive out until you do. Call the station, get us some more help up here. I’ll go with Al and look for Mary.”

Penny shook her head. “Let’s go see where it happened first, otherwise no one will know where to look.”

“Yes,” Al said. “Come on. I’ll show you!”

He spun and started back up the trail at a run. David scowled, but ran after him.

Penny looked down. “Dupin, stay.”

Then she was running too.

Stay? Alone in the woods, where a sasquatch had reportedly attacked a human?

Dupin chased after them.

🔍

The spot wasn’t far ahead, up around a bend, and then down into a wetter area where a tiny trickle of a stream ran through the cut down to the river.

“Mary! Mary!” Al yelled into the woods, cupping his hands around his mouth.

Dupin slowed. David and Penny spread out around Al, looking at the scene. Ferns had been trampled. Mud was oozing into footprints along the stream.

Al dropped his hands. He pointed at the mud. “See! You can see the tracks!”

Dupin followed David and Penny to the edge of the path, where the stream passed through a culvert and then entered a marshy area overgrown with plants. The tracks in the mud were filling slowly with muddy water. The smell was the same as Al’s shoes, full of decay and algae.

Near the path were several smaller tracks, parallel and then joining a larger set of tracks. Much larger, easily twice as large.

Penny had her phone out. Taking pictures. David rose and grabbed Al’s arm. The smaller man jerked away.

“We have to find her!”

“What happened, Al?” David asked, his voice calm. “The more information we have, the better equipped we’ll be to find her.”

“God, I can’t believe this is happening!” Al pressed his hands over his mouth for a second, then dropped them, taking a deep breath. “Fine. We were walking. Just a day hike, you know? Mary said it’d be fun. And it was okay until that thing came out of there!”

Al pointed at the thick bushes choking the wet area off the trail.

“A sasquatch?” Penny asked.

“There was a god-awful stink. I thought there was a skunk around or something and was telling Mary we should go back when it charged out of the bushes. It was huge and hairy, taller than you.” Al looked at David. “It grabbed her and took off back that way. I tried to follow, but the mud, it sucked at my feet. I almost lost my shoes getting back to the trail.”

Dupin crouched at the edge of the path. There was a stink, clinging to the bushes near the edge of the path. He sneezed. It could be a skunk, he’d encountered them a few times when they came into town, looking for food.

Yet a sasquatch? The woods extended back from here, connecting back to larger wilderness areas all the way to the national forests. Dupin sat back and licked his fur. In between licks, he studied the scene.

Something had crushed the ferns around the path. Spores in the air tickled his nose. Branches had been broken on the bushes, and reeds lay crushed into the muck.

“Okay,” David said. “Penny, go back until you can get a call out. Al and I will stay here, and keep an eye out.”

“We have to look for her!”

David touched Al’s arm. “If we go out there and get lost, then we’ve made things three times harder for the teams. We’ll get people out here. We’ll search for her.”

Al moved to the edge of the trail, cupping his mouth again. “Mary!”

Penny moved closer to David. Dupin paused in his cleaning. Going back made sense.

“Be careful,” Penny said. “I’ll come back as soon as I get through.”

She leaned close and pressed her lips briefly to David’s.

Then Penny turned and headed up the trail, tapping her thigh. “Come on, Dupin.”

Back down the trail again? At least they were heading back in the direction of the picnic basket, and away from the Sasquatch, if it existed at all.

Maybe Penny would remember to feed him when they got to the car.

🔍

The trip back down the trail went surprisingly quick. Dupin’s hair was on end the whole way, watching the woods around them.

Was it possible that a sasquatch was out there? Did it eat cats? Surely, if it took a whole human it wouldn’t want a cat, but what if there were more than one?

Or he was being a skittish kitten about the whole thing? The far more reasonable explanation was that Albert Payne was responsible for the woman’s disappearance, and was telling the sasquatch story to misdirect them all.

If Penny was concerned about the possibility of a sasquatch, she didn’t show it. Her long stride ate up the ground, stopping only to pick up the picnic basket when she reached it. Fortunately, it remained unmolested by whatever lurked in the woods.

As she walked, she kept checking her phone, searching for the elusive signal that would let her call for help.

When the trail head came into view, Dupin raced forward to Penny’s bright red VW Beetle. Penny reached the car a moment later.

She made an exasperated noise, almost like his own growls. “Still no signal!”

She turned back to face the trail.

Dupin reached up, pawing at the car door. He meowed to get her attention.

Penny looked down at him, her pretty face lined with worry. “I don’t want to leave David up there alone, but I don’t see any other choice. We have to get help.”

Exactly. Dupin pawed at the door again.

“Okay. We’ll head back to town until we get a signal. Then I’ll stop and call.”

Gravel crunched beneath Penny’s boots as she walked around to the driver’s side. The car beeped, and she opened the door. Dupin jumped up into the seat.

“Move over, Dupin,” Penny said.

He jumped into the passenger seat, turning in a circle to face her.

She tilted her seat forward and put the picnic basket, and her messenger bag into the back seat. Then she shoved her seat down and got in, slamming the door.

Dupin inhaled deeply. In the closed confines, away from the woods, the smell of fried chicken was even more enticing. He turned and jumped into the back as Penny started the engine.

The messenger bag was shut, but not strapped. He nosed at the flap.

Penny turned around, her arm reaching across to the passenger seat. She glanced down. “Stay out of the food, Dupin.”

Stay out of the food? It was torture! And why let it go to waste? Not for the first time, he wished that he had the ability to converse with humans. It’d be so much easier.

Denied the food, he did the sensible thing, the only thing to do under the circumstances. He turned in the seat, between the basket and the bag, and settled down. He closed his eyes and inhaled the rich, spicy aromas and drifted off.

🔍

The rumble of the tires on the road slowed and stopped. Awareness returned and Dupin opened his eyes thin slits without moving.

The car had stopped. The sky out the window was mostly clear, broken only by a few fluffy clouds. Penny was on the phone, her voice urgent.

“That’s right. I’m heading back there now. No, I won’t wait. Detective Clemm is alone with that man, who is mostly likely the one responsible for her disappearance.”

A low purr rolled through Dupin’s chest. There was a reason he followed Penny. She displayed the best traits of both humans and cats. The story of a sasquatch wasn’t going to sit well with her either.

Her head nodded. “That’s right. Hurry.”

She hung up and twisted around, looking in the back. Dupin opened his eyes wider, so she’d know he was awake. And not getting into the food, even though his stomach felt as if there was a bottomless pit beneath him.

“I got through,” she said. “We’re going to head back. Hopefully, David is fine.”

The detective could take care of himself, even if he did need their help from time to time to solve a case.

Today looked like one of those days. Dupin yawned wide, showing his teeth. Penny wasn’t even looking, she had the Beetle in gear and was turning it around in the street, heading back to the trail.

Dupin closed his eyes. If he was going to tromp around through the forest again, without food, he was going to need to rest.

🔍

This time Dupin didn’t sleep deeply, only dozing, listening to the sound of the car. He recognized the speed bumps as they turned into the drive for the park. The rattle of gravel, as Penny swung into the parking area.

Although he hadn’t moved a muscle, he was poised and ready the instant Penny opened the door. He darted out, slipping behind her seat, and jumped down onto the gravel drive.

“Dupin! I wanted you to wait in the car this time.”

He looked up at her. Really? Why do you think I jumped out so fast?

He walked away a few steps and looked back. Penny sighed, and lifted her seat, ducking inside for a second before she came out with her messenger bag.

She slung that over her shoulder, then popped the hatchback and shut her door. She went around to the back and came out with the blue and white first aid kit she carried. She opened the messenger bag and stuffed the kit inside.

“Okay, then Dupin. You’re going to have to keep up.”

He turned in a circle, then started for the trail. Behind him, Penny chuckled.

“I’ve never known another cat that likes walks as much as you!”

Walks meant more treats. Even if it did mean following a trail into sasquatch-infested woods. Sooner or later, he’d get Penny to give him more of the sardine crackers she carried. Not to mention the chicken back in the car.

The faster they found the missing woman, the faster he’d get fed.

When they reached the spot in the trail by the stream, there was no sign of either David or Al. The muddy prints were hardly anything more than oval mud puddles now.

“David?” Penny cupped her hands to her mouth. “David! Where are you?”

Dupin sniffed at the ground, picking up traces of Al’s mucky shoes and David’s oiled hiking boots. The scent trail went on up the trail, not into the muck.

He meowed and trotted on up the trail.

“Dupin! Don’t you run off too!”

He heard Penny’s fast steps behind him, and before he could dart aside, her hands slipped beneath his belly and hoisted him into the air. He fought the urge to grab on, and instead, let his body go limp and boneless.

“Dupin!” Penny fought to keep her grip, and pulled him up against her chest. She cradled him close, with her arm beneath his body.

“I’m not having you run off too,” she said.

Penny bent at the waist, studying the ground. “I can’t tell if those tracks are old or new…”

She moved back, looking up and down the trail at the tracks. Dupin lay limp in her arms, waiting. The dry dirt and pine needles didn’t show much of an imprint, but Al’s tracks showed bits of mud.

Penny straightened. “Let’s go up the trail a little way. They may have heard something.”

The trail went up, turned left and dropped down again around a flaking outcrop of stone. A cedar grew on top of it, roots twisting and climbing down the rocks like a nest of snakes. The trail ahead continued generally down slope, heading for the river on the other side of the next ridge.

It was empty. A crow cawed from a treetop nearby and took off flying. Penny looked up too, following the bird. Crows were scavengers, maybe it had seen something from up among the tree tops?

Penny bent and put Dupin down on the ground. “Come on. You can walk, just don’t run off.”

Walk? Why had she assumed he wanted to walk? Being carried was just fine.

She didn’t wait. She started off down the trail at a brisk walk. Dupin blinked, then rose and ran after her. He meowed.

Penny looked back, shaking her head. “You could have stayed in the car. We’ve got to find David.”

He caught up and streaked past her, then slowed and meowed again. Penny neatly side-stepped around him and kept going. Dupin flicked his tail.

This was a bad idea. The farther they went from the crime scene, the less likely they were to be found when the police finally showed up.

That didn’t stop her. She kept going, calling out David’s name now and then. Or maybe just letting the Sasquatch know where they were.

The trail dropped down into a valley until it reached a small wood bridge crossing the stream. Then it turned and rose sharply, switch-backing up the slope to a ridge line, and over that before descending again toward the river.

The roar of the river was louder now and the air smelled wetter. Dupin trotted on after Penny.

“David!” Penny paused listening, then called again. “David!”

A crow cawed again from somewhere among the trees. The river rumbled on. No other voices came out of the woods. It was as if the two men had been swallowed up by the forest.

Dupin’s hair rose. Maybe there was a sasquatch, one that wasn’t opposed to attacking humans. Unlikely, maybe, but their absence put him on alert. He slowed down, ears listening for the slightest sound.

Penny started moving fast again, down the trail, each footfall loud as she charged down the hill.

He raced after her. After all, it wasn’t only the sasquatch he had to worry about. What other predators might be in the woods? He’d seen books on bears, whether or not they’d go after a cat wasn’t clear. Coyotes would, but hopefully, Penny’s yelling would drive off most of the predators.

After a couple switchbacks, Dupin saw the river below, jumping in white rapids down over rocks. It was much more vigorous here than the slow-moving river that passed through town, attracting people to the water in hot weather. Odd creatures.

“David? David!”

Nothing no answer.

Penny slowed her pace and finally stopped. The river continued beneath them, and the trees dripped with water. Dark cedar boughs bent low to the ground and leaned out over the river. The air was cool and damp.

Dupin pressed close to Penny, rubbing against her legs. He meowed, eyeing her messenger bag.

She ignored him, hands on her hips, turning in place as she studied the forest. “Maybe we should go back? Wait for the police?”

He meowed his agreement. She looked down and smiled a small, worried smiled, her forehead creasing.

“I don’t know where they’ve gone. David knew better to run off into the woods with that man. For all we know, he did something to her, and now has David.”

Dupin bumped against her legs again. Her reasoning was sound, although she’d also run off from the crime scene. Going back made sense. Eating more crackers, even more sense.

He turned around her legs and went a few steps back up the trail. Penny lingered, looking down toward the river. Dupin stopped and meowed.

“Just a second, Dupin. I thought I saw something.”

Of course, she did. Dupin meowed again to no effect. Penny was off, heading down the trail to the river.

He ran to catch up, slipping off the trail through the underbrush to cut across the switchback. Wet ferns dragged across his back. It was going to take forever to get clean when they were done.

It didn’t take long before Penny reached the bridge across the river. This wasn’t a rickety wood bridge across a foot-wide stream. The bridge was made of thick metal girders, with a concrete deck and pine needles drifting along the sides. A few weeds grew out of the V shapes where the girders came together.

The whole thing vibrated from the river below. Spray drifted across the bridge, leaving the concrete damp.

Dupin stopped at the edge of the bridge. He didn’t have any interest in going out on it. Penny didn’t hesitate.

She stopped halfway out, clutching the side of the railing. “David!”

This time it wasn’t a call, but a scream that set Dupin’s hair on edge. He growled, still not sure what she was screaming about. She was moving, running his way, back off the bridge.

Dupin scurried out of the way and looked downstream.

A man lay face-down beside the river, his black coat dragging in the water. David. The other man was there, Al, but he was running away downstream, splashing and stumbling along the river.

And there was a third person. A woman, naked and pale lying on the rocks next to David.

Penny was picking her way down the steep slope beneath the bridge, following a rough path that led down to the narrow, rocky beach.

It wasn’t safe. He followed her to the top of the trail and balked. He meowed.

Penny looked up, her eyes wide and wet. She held out a palm toward him. “Stay! Stay there!”

Turning away, she scrambled down the last few feet, splashed through a small pool, and ran to David’s side.

Dupin sat down. He didn’t really want to go down there anyway, that close to the raging river? What if he somehow fell in? Aside from the getting wet, he’d get washed downstream.

Al was gone from view, around the bend in the river. Now, if he fell in, it might not be so bad, since apparently he’d had a hand in whatever happened to the woman and to David.

Dupin licked at his foreleg, cleaning away the dust and pine needles stuck to his fur. Every few licks he looked up to see what Penny was doing.

She reached David. Dupin paused long enough to see David stir and push himself up. So he was alive? That was good, at least for Penny. Dupin went back to cleaning.

The other police would arrive soon, and then they’d take over all of this. He switched paws. After this, the picnic was most likely canceled, which meant going home. Then, maybe Penny would remember to feed him and after that he could spend the afternoon sleeping on the window seat.

David got to his feet and stopped Penny from going to the woman. He shook his head. Their voices floated up, indistinct against the roar of the river. At one point Penny pointed downstream, obviously indicating which way the culprit had gone. David started that way, and she grabbed him, holding him back.

A few more words and David looked up the path, his eyes locking on Dupin. Blood ran down from his dark hair. Dupin looked away, focusing on cleaning his paws again, starting to groom his face as well.

🔍

When the other police came stomping up the trail, Dupin slipped beneath the ferns along the river bank and watched from his hiding place.

Penny and David were still down the steep slope, watching the body of the woman. She had to be dead, and David had refused to leave her. Probably concerned that scavengers would get her. A crow cawed from the branches above the river, one of three or four that fluttered from tree to tree above.

The police came in great numbers, wearing uniforms and not, along with rescue personnel in bright vests. Everyone became very excited when David and Penny called out.

Ropes were thrown down, and the two of them helped out of the river gorge. Two emergency medical techs immediately went to work on both, covering them in blankets, checking David’s head wound.

“I’m fine,” Penny said. “I didn’t fall or anything.”

While the EMTs worked, police officers listened to Penny and David’s statements.

“The suspect is Albert Payne, late twenties,” David said, wincing as the EMTs worked on his head. He went on to finish describing Al to the policeman taking notes, and several others listening.

“He ran off downstream,” David concluded a minute later. “We need to find him and bring him in.”

“We’re on that now,” the other policeman said. “We’ve got people out there to intercept him. Did he assault you?”

“I don’t remember,” David repeated. “Like I said, we followed the trail through the woods, until we came back to the trail. When we got to the bridge, we saw the body. The last thing I remember was climbing down the bank. The suspect was behind me, but I might have slipped, I don’t know.”

“Take it easy,” the EMT said. “You’ve at least got a mild concussion. You really should have that looked at in the hospital.”

“I’m fine,” David insisted. “I was first on the scene. I want to finish this.”

It was easy to see why Penny liked the detective. Hearing louder voices, Dupin turned his head to see what was going on.

A group of people from the coroner’s office approached the edge of the drop-off, and the steep path down the bank. Dupin shrank back further under the fern. Unfortunately, the movement caught the eye of the man in front.

He was a big man, with white hair and a face more wrinkled than a Shar Pei. He was wearing a dark blue rain jacket with the word CORONER across the front, hanging open to accommodate his ample belly. He tapped the shoulder of the younger man with him.

“There’s a cat here!”

Penny pushed through the crowd of police and other personnel on the bridge. “He’s with me.”

The man looked at her, grinning. “You brought your cat to a crime scene?”

“We weren’t planning on finding a crime scene,” Penny said. “The plan was a picnic.”

Dupin rose and stretched his legs out, sinking them into the loose ground while he yawned.

“He’s a big one,” the man said. “My late wife used to keep cats.”

“His name is C. Auguste Dupin,” Penny said. “He’s very smart.”

Dupin settled back. Obviously, he wasn’t smart enough to avoid getting dragged into all of this.

“That’s a great name for a cat,” the man said. He offered his hand. “Ethan George, coroner.”

Penny shook the man’s hand, smiling. “Penny Copper, librarian.”

Ethan laughed. “Pleasure to meet you. Maybe you’ll give me luck getting down this bank!”

Dupin closed his eyes as they laughed.

Then Ethan was calling to the officers milling around, to hold ropes and help him get down the bank without breaking his neck. A jovial fellow, but ill-equipped for climbing up and down steep paths strewn with loose rock. As the big man descended, Dupin rose and wandered over near the edge, sitting next to Penny’s legs, to watch.

David came over to stand beside Penny on the other side. “You’re free to go, they’ll ask if you need to update your statements later.”

Penny was looking past the coroner making his laborious descent, to the body beside the river. “That poor girl. What do you think happened?”

“I don’t believe that a sasquatch carried her off, if that’s what you mean?” David said.

“No, but why would he make up such a story?”

“He’s trying to create reasonable doubt. Next, he’ll say that he didn’t actually see what it was, maybe it could have been a bear.”

“I haven’t heard of bears dragging off a grown woman,” Penny said.

“Maybe not, but he’ll play the grieving victim and claim we’re trying to blame him. If he sows enough doubt with the jury, who knows?”

Dupin listened to the conversation with interest. Penny enjoyed watching shows on television that dealt with these sorts of situations. They were much more enjoyable in a warm house, with a belly full of food than sitting out in the dank forest.

Around them, the police and other humans were briskly getting on with the search for the fugitive, while down below the coroner and his assistants dealt with the body. Dupin watched them move around, carefully noting evidence found. All of it would later feed into the case.

Fascinating on television. Less interesting under these conditions. He bumped against Penny’s leg and meowed.

She said, “I think Dupin is telling us he’d rather go home. Poor kitty hasn’t had his lunch.”

She touched David’s arm. “And you took a blow to the head, you probably shouldn’t be out here either.”

He touched her side. “You should go. This isn’t exactly a place for a civilian or a cat. I’m fine. Really. Unless I start having concussions —”

Penny swatted at him the way Dupin batted at his cat toys.

“Hey! No hitting the injured man.”

Penny stopped. Obviously some sort of human courtship ritual. Dupin closed his eyes rather than watch more.

“We can stay,” Penny said. “Right Dupin?”

Of course. Because it was so much fun starving in the wilderness with either a sasquatch or a potential murderer running around loose in the woods.

Down by the river, Ethan directed the others to load the body into a slick black bag.

Hands touched Dupin’s sides. He started and relaxed as he smelled Penny’s familiar clean scent. She scooped him up, tucking him up in one arm. With the other, she reached around into her messenger back and he perked up.

Penny brought her fist out of the bag and her long fingers unfurled, revealing two sardine crackers on her palm! She held her hand flat in front of his head.

“Since you’ve been so well-behaved,” she said.

Dupin inhaled the rich odor and carefully picked one of the crackers up from her palm. It crunched very satisfactorily between his teeth, the rich fishy taste flooding his mouth. Crumbs fell on her palm. He licked them up, his tongue rasping across her salty smooth skin. Bare skin, one of the odder things about humans.

The second cracker disappeared as quickly as the first. When he was done, Penny stroked his head.

“What do we do now?”

David pointed down the slope where the coroners were beginning to hoist the body up from the river. “I want to find out a preliminary cause of death, look at anything else they found. Hopefully, someone will catch up with Al Payne before he gets far.”

“He can’t get too far going down the river, it’s too rugged.”

“He might fall in and drown,” David said.

If no one was going to leave until they caught the man responsible, then it only made sense to help them. Dupin squirmed in Penny’s arms and she responded by setting him gently on the ground.

He shook himself, then sat and started cleaning his paws again, while he considered the facts in the case.

The woman, Mary, was dead, cause yet to be determined even though it looked more and more like murder.

Her fiancé, Al Payne, claimed that a sasquatch had carried her off. When David discovered the body, Mr. Payne had either assaulted the detective, or not. In any case, he had run off when Penny arrived.

Fleeing didn’t necessarily imply guilt. Dupin knew better. Sometimes fleeing was entirely appropriate.

The quickest way to verify Mr. Payne’s story, then, was to determine if there was something, or someone, else out in the woods beside those present. Either other potential witnesses, or assailants. With big feet or not.

Dupin stopped cleaning and stood. The coroner, Ethan George was huffing and puffing, as several police officers and rescue personnel heaved on the ropes to help him up the trail. He reached the top with a red face and sweat dripping down his brow.

David extended his hand, and helped the coroner up the last step.

“Thank you, I don’t want to do that every day!” Ethan squinted up at the bandage on David’s head. “You’re the one that found her? You were down there too?”

“I was,” David said. “Any thoughts about it? Do you know what killed her?”

Ethan grunted. “I think the broken neck may have had something to do with it.”

Dupin looked over at the steep drop.

“A fall?”

Ethan’s shoulders shrugged in slow big rolls. “Hard to say until I get a better look. She’d been in the water and her clothes were gone. She might have drowned and the break came later.”

Ethan’s shuffled his feet closer to the detective. “Is it true, what they’re saying? The man with her claimed Bigfoot did it?”

“We don’t need to spread that right now,” David said.

Ethan waved a hand. “I’m not telling anyone! I just don’t believe it. Bigfoot is a gentle creature. I ever tell you about the one I saw when I was younger?”

David shook his head and patted Ethan’s arm. “No, and first chance I get, I want to hear it. Right now we need to get after this suspect.”

“Of course, of course. Stop by later and maybe I’ll have more about the cause of death for you.”

“Thank you.”

As David turned back to Penny, and the coroner huffed and walked off escorting the body, Dupin slipped away through the remaining personnel. A lot had left, off to search downstream for the suspect.

No one was going upstream. Yet, if the body went into the water upstream and washed up down here, there might be more evidence. And the falls were upstream, that’s where Penny and David had planned on having their picnic.

He walked to the end of the bridge and sat down, looking back through the crowd at Penny. She was still talking to David. Then she looked down, checked the other side and turned. Now she realized Dupin had left her side.

As soon as her eyes met his, Dupin rose and walked on up the path.

If she caught him, she might carry him back to the car, so Dupin moved at a fast trot on up the trail. All of his keen senses alert to the sounds in the woods. The chatter of the people on the bridge fell away. A finch flitted away through the undergrowth. He tensed, then moved on.

No time to chase birds right now.

So far everything had carried him farther from lunch. Sooner or later the police would catch up with Al Payne. Maybe he was guilty, maybe not.

Penny’s footsteps sounded loud on the path behind him. There was another pair too. He glanced back, and as expected, both Penny and David were following at a fast walk.

“Dupin! Come here!”

He almost did. His stride slowed and then he darted up the slope, slipping beneath the damp ferns off the trail, up to the next switchback. It was steeper going straight up, but shorter.

“Dupin!”

At the trail, he looked back again. Penny and David were running now, with difficulty, up the slope, around the switchback. Running uphill was harder on them. He hurried on up the trail.

David said something, the words indistinct. Dupin ignored them and continued up. It made sense that Al Payne and his fiancé would have gone to the falls. Maybe she fell there. Her clothes might be there.

He cut across the next switchback, slipping under and around a cedar tree growing out of the decaying trunk of an older tree. An orange, sour-smelling, salamander slipped away through the decaying bark beneath the trunk.

It didn’t take long to get upstream to the falls. Dupin pushed out of the underbrush onto the last bit of trail. His fur was wet, with pine needles and other debris stuck to it. He was a mess.

And there was something bright green on the edge of the trail, near the bridge.

Dupin kept an eye out for any sasquatch lurking nearby and walked slowly near the bridge. The roar of the water beneath drowned out other noises. There was a flat area off to the side of path, clear of undergrowth, with three picnic tables. A log fence ran along the drop off to the river beneath.

The bridge itself was built of big riveted girders and a concrete deck slick with spray from the falls. It was right near the bridge, on the right side of the trail, where the green whatever it was, was hung up on the bushes just past another log fence.

A woman’s dress, Dupin saw when he got closer. Torn, caught on the branches past the fence.

“Dupin!”

He looked back. Penny, breathing hard, was coming up the trail with David behind.

“Why’d you run off?” Penny asked, approaching slowly. She held her hand out, holding a sardine cracker.

That was more like it. He licked his lips and meowed, but didn’t move closer.

Penny came forward several steps, and that’s when David said, “What’s that?”

Finally! Dupin rose and walked to Penny while David went over to the dress.

David didn’t touch it, looking at it, and then calling to the other police on a walkie-talkie he must have borrowed.

Dupin didn’t care about that. He’d found the clue, and he wanted his reward. Penny crouched and held out the cracker.

He sniffed deeply. Delicious. Wonderful! There was a reason that Penny’s Auntie Dido was one of his favorite humans, and it wasn’t her yippy dog Patches.

With her other hand, Penny scratched his head. “Good kitty! Is it her dress, David?”

“Looks like. They’ll send a team up to get photos, and pick it up.” David came back and stood above them.

Dupin ignored the detective as he bit into the cracker.

It was gone too soon, leaving only the lingering taste. He licked his lips and moved away from Penny, studying the area. The dress was there.

“I guess he wanted his picnic by the falls,” David said.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” Penny said.

Dupin ignored them both, listening carefully. It was hard to hear anything over the roar of the falls, but he focused on the bridge and the woods beyond. Something made his whiskers tingle. It wasn’t only the vibration of the falls.

It felt like someone watching him.

His whiskers drew back. He slipped away from Penny and David, and moved quickly to the end of the left side of the bridge and crouched beside the thick steel girder.

The fury of the waterfalls below vibrated up through the concrete into his paws.

“What’s he doing now?” David asked.

Small rocks crunched as the humans came closer.

“I don’t know,” Penny said. “He’s been acting spooky since all this started.”

Who wouldn’t, with a potential sasquatch attack? Dupin watched the forest across the bridge. Something had moved, he was sure of it.

Whatever was over there was watching them.

The sensible thing to do, the smart thing, was to turn and head down the trail. Get all the way back down, to where the cops waited, and then keep going until he got to the car.

Penny reached for him. He felt her hands brush his fur and he slipped forward, out onto the bridge.

“Dupin,” Penny said. “Don’t run off again!”

A branch cracked ahead in the woods. A dark shape moved behind a large stump. Dupin broke into a run. He raced across the bridge onto the trail on the other side.

There was another picnic area, this one on the right side of the trail, but the movement came from the left, up the slope. Dupin slowed, watching intently.

There. A brown furry shape rose and slipped behind another tree. It was big. Sasquatch? Dupin’s ears flicked back. He growled a warning at whatever was up the trail.

“There’s something up there,” David said as both he and Penny came up behind Dupin. “He sees something.”

Dupin growled another warning as the shape moved. Penny gasped.

A creak of leather, a snap, and Dupin looked up to see David holding a gun, pointed at whatever was up the slope.

“Come on out now! Hands in the air where I can see them!”

Would a sasquatch follow orders? This one moved, obviously trying to keep trees between it and David.

Dupin slipped away from the detective, and angled around up the trail. He left the trail and moved beneath the ferns.

“Dupin?” Penny called softly.

Dupin ignored her. Whatever it was, David didn’t have a clear shot, and it was trying to climb higher, using the brush and trees as cover. It was noisier now, crashing through brush.

“Stop right there!” David said.

Bigfoot wasn’t listening.

Running now, Dupin gained ground and got farther up slope from the beast. It’d all be worth it, if they could leave and go home!

He jumped up on a fallen tree trunk above where the sasquatch crawled through the bushes. It hadn’t seen him yet. The fur was dark brown and long. It scrambled ungainly at the slope, trying to climb higher, its head down.

It slipped and fell face first against the slope.

“Damn it!” The sasquatch said.

A sasquatch was unlikely. A sasquatch that swore in English? Very improbable. Dupin waited until it was almost upon him. Metal glinted through the fur along its back. A zipper?

This wasn’t a sasquatch, it was a man in a costume!

Dupin growled and hissed at the man.

“Oh hell!” The man stood, lost his balance and stumbled back, hairy costumed arms waving.

Dupin’s ears laid back and he growled again at the fanged, rubbery face.

“Freeze! Poeville police! Stop right now!” David’s voice carried clearly through the air.

The sasquatch’s shoulders slumped, but he raised his hands in the air.

David had moved up the trail. He was closer now, with a clear shot of the man. Dupin settled back, still watching the man carefully, but it looked like something the detective could handle.

“Take off the mask, slowly.”

The man did as he was told, revealing a disappointingly normal human face. His face was round, with reddish cheeks and blond hair. He tossed he mask to the ground. Tears filled his blue eyes.

“It was an accident, I swear!” He sniffled. “I loved Mary! We were just trying to scare away Al.”

“Slowly turn around,” David said. “What’s your name?”

The man turned to face David, arms still up. Dupin rose and walked along the tree trunk. Penny had come up the slope and stood behind David with her arms tightly crossed.

“John Harper. You have to believe me. It was all an accident! Al, he’s obsessive. He kept going on about how they were going to get married, and wouldn’t listen when Mary said she wasn’t ready to get married. She tried to break it off, and he wouldn’t listen.”

“So you decided to dress up like Bigfoot?” David asked.

John nodded. Dupin sneezed from fern spores and jumped off the tree trunk, picking his way among the bushes to rejoin Penny.

The suspect just kept talking.

“Yes. I mean, it was Mary’s idea. Al believes in that sort of thing. And UFOs, ghosts, whatever. It was a prank.” John moaned. “No one was supposed to get hurt! I was going to carry her off, scaring Al away. She thought the next time he might get the message.”

“So what happened?”

John lowered his arms.

“Hands up!” David snapped.

Penny bent and scooped Dupin up. He settled back in her arms, content for the moment, and watched.

John’s hands shot up. His voice shook and turned blubbery. “After I carried her off, Al ran away screaming. We came up the trail. We were playing around by the falls and she fell, that’s all. She was there, and then she wasn’t! I couldn’t believe it. I ran down the trail, I tried to find a way to get to her, but I could see she was dead already. And then I heard voices. Al’s and others.”

His voice broke for a second. He wiped his nose with a hairy hand. “I freaked out. I ran up here and hid. I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have hurt her for anything. You have to believe me.”

“I’ve got to take you in,” David said. “You’ll have a chance to explain what happened. Okay?”

John’s bottom lip stuck out. He nodded, tears streaming down his face.

Humans made things complex. Dupin purred against Penny’s chest. At least now they could finally go home and eat!

🔍

Evening sunlight streamed through the window onto the window seat at home. Dupin lay stretched out full length, muscles sore from all the running and climbing, but his belly was comfortably full for now.

Penny’s phone rang.

He opened one eye, watching her pick it up. “Yes? Oh, they picked him up too? Did you hear back from the coroner? A fall, so Harper was telling the truth?”

She was quiet for a while.

Dupin closed his eye. Of course the man was telling the truth. The police would run around and confirm their stories, talk to friends and family.

In the end nothing would change the fact that the poor woman was dead. Some people would refuse to accept the facts of the case.

There’d probably even be those that still believed a sasquatch was out in the woods. Dupin stretched out sore legs, too tired to even clean his fur again. Who knew? Maybe there was. He wasn’t planning on any more picnics to find out.

🔍

8,386 words

Author’s Note

This story is the 102nd short story release, written in March 2013. This story takes place after the events of The Murders in the Reed Moore Library and my novel The Task of Auntie Dido.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Endless Worlds of Sorrow, a story set in the Moreau Society Universe.


Creative Commons License
This story by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Murders in the Reed Moore Library

Dupin expects simple things out of his day. A sunny spot beside the fountain to nap. His tuna delivered at precisely the right time by librarian Penny Copper. He didn’t expect someone to stuff bodies in the book returns and disrupt his entire day!

The only thing left to do? Apply his considerable intellect to the task of identifying the killer while guiding Penny to the answer.

1

On top of the hill, right above the green swath of lawn where C. Dupin liked to nap in the sun and watch the humans walk past, sprawled the Reed Moore library. Named, of course, after Reed Moore, the founder of the logging company Moore Wood, who built the long-house library for the town. The library sported massive logs that gleamed golden in the sunshine and a green metal roof. Soaking in the sunshine, the library looked like it enjoyed the warmth as much as a cat. Dupin stretched out a leg and took a long lazy lick off the long white fur on the back of his leg. He rubbed his leg across his face, then repeated the process on the other side.

There. Ready to go inside, just as soon as the librarian, Penny Copper caught up and opened the doors.

As she always did on sunny mornings, Penny had stopped at the fountain to read and eat an apple while Dupin lounged nearby. Sometimes she forgot all about opening the library and Dupin had to rub against her legs to remind her.

Today she remembered on her own and Dupin ran on ahead.

“Slow down!” Penny complained, but laughed.

Dupin sat down. It wasn’t as if he hurried. She walked towards him up the concrete sidewalk, a typical enough human although more slender than most, with short blond fur on her head. The rest of her was so bare that, like many humans, she wore clothing. In this case a dark blue skirt, white shirt and a blazer that matched the skirt. As humans went she looked as neat as a cat, which was saying a great deal. Dupin closed his eyes. He stayed that way until his whiskers picked up the breeze of her passing and the faint scent of apple tickled his nose. Then he opened his eyes and followed along behind.

At the library doors Penny pulled out her brass key ring and stopped. “Would you look at that!”

Dupin curled around her legs and leaned against the back of her calves. It was time to get inside where she kept a can of tuna. Anything else could wait.

Instead Penny actually walked away from him towards the book drop that crouched beside the doors like a big green toad. Books stuck out of the drop’s mouth and a few had fallen to the ground.

Dupin sat down. The end of his tail twitched.

Penny picked up the fallen books and pulled more out of the mouth of the drop. “If the drop is full, why not bring them back when we’re open?”

Dupin closed his eyes. He knew the answer, just as he knew all the answers, but if Penny really wanted to know she’d have to figure it out herself.

Except when he closed his eyes Dupin smelled something almost as interesting as tuna. He opened his mouth slightly and breathed in. Yes, nearby. It smelled almost like a freshly killed field mouse but stronger and greasier. Dupin stood up and followed the scent. It was coming from the book drop where Penny was still pulling out books.

Dupin crouched right beside the metal door in the side. Yes, indeed. Right there, just a small pool of blood had oozed out from inside the drop. Dupin opened his mouth wider and breathed in deep. It made his fur stand on end. This wasn’t a field mouse, gopher or bird. It smelled like a person. All sweat and chemicals with an under-scent of fire and smoke.

He backed away from the drop and a growl rumbled through his throat.

“Dupin? What’s wrong, silly cat?”

Penny bent down to stroke him, tucking the books she had gathered into one arm, but Dupin flattened his ears and didn’t look away from the blood. Finally she looked at the metal door and saw the blood herself. Her hand went to her mouth.

“Oh!”

She stood up and hurried towards the doors, the keys jangled on the brass key ring and her shoes made sharp knocking noises against the flagstones.

Dupin followed right on her heels.

Penny unlocked the door and, as soon as it opened a few inches, Dupin darted inside. He immediately felt safer surrounded by the rich smell of the library. He padded quickly across the lobby to the polished cedar service desk, crouched, and sprang right up on top. He turned in a circle surveying the library as Penny followed him inside.

With the hanging lights out shadows draped the library. To Dupin’s left was the children’s end of the library with the short shelves and a large open area at the center where Penny told stories. On his right the taller adult shelving, comfortable chairs and, under the wing, the computer lab. At a cursory glance all looked as it should but Dupin still had the scent of the blood in his nose and it kept his fur up. He needed his tuna, and some water, and a good cleaning before he would feel completely calm.

It didn’t look like Penny was getting his tuna. She put the books down on the counter next to a computer and picked up the phone instead.

Dupin padded across the counter, hopped over one computer keyboard, and batted at the coiled black phone cord. Penny shook her head and pulled the cord away from him!

That wasn’t right. It was too late to do anything about the man — from the smell it had to be a man — in the book drop. But she could still get Dupin his tuna!

“Police?” Penny pressed a hand to her chest. “This is Ms. Copper, at the library? There’s blood in my book drop.”

Dupin sat down, tail twitching.

“Right. Blood, on the ground from inside. Like something was bleeding.” Penny shook her head. “No, I haven’t opened it. I was taking out books that were stuck in the slot and Dupin noticed the blood. Yes, my cat. I came inside and called you.”

As if they could do anything about the man either, it was too late! Dupin stared at Penny. Tuna? Remember that?

“Yes, thank you. I won’t touch it.” Penny put down the phone and looked at Dupin. “What could it be? Do you think someone poured blood into the drop? Why would they do that?”

Dupin meowed and stood up. Time to worry about the tuna, and no, the blood hadn’t been poured into the drop. Beneath the blood he had smelled the salty, sour smell of a man and a whiff of decay. Someone put a dead man in the book drop as if he was an overdue book. It was too late to do anything about him. The police could handle getting him out. Dupin turned in a circle and looked back at Penny. Tuna!

Penny reached out and scratched his head with one hand. Dupin forced down the purr. Not scratches! Tuna!

“We should look around,” Penny announced. “Make sure nothing else looks out of place.”

No, not a good idea. Penny walked away from the counter into the back work area, which took her closer to the tuna. Okay, maybe a good idea. Dupin jumped down to the floor and walked quickly after her. He caught up, walked through her legs and headed towards the door to the staff room.

Dupin walked around the workstations at the center of the work area, past the rows of Coroplast boxes full of books along the back wall, into the staff room. Home away from home. Not much of a room with an old green couch marked with his claws, and a wobbly table and two scratched dark wood chairs. Dupin went to the cupboard where Penny kept the tuna and rubbed against the door. He arched his back and looked back at her.

Penny put her hands on the door frame and leaned into the room. Then she pulled back and walked away, her footsteps muffled by the short carpet.

He couldn’t believe it. She left. Without getting the tuna. Dupin stood still in shock. She actually walked away without getting his tuna out. Looking around the library could wait, he couldn’t!

Humans! If they didn’t have thumbs they’d be no use at all!

Dupin ran after Penny.

He caught up when she flicked on the light in her office. He rubbed against her legs and twitched his tail to catch her attention. Instead she ignored him, looking around the office as if the glass-topped computer desk, or the pictures of Mt. Rainier from her climbs, held some secret. Everything looked as neat as ever, but more importantly, it smelled fine. Dupin circled her legs again.

She sighed and walked away from the office, out of the work area altogether. Dupin was trying to decide what to do about it when Penny screamed! He crouched down and flattened his ears.

Why had she screamed? She was standing just out of the work area, behind the circulation desk. She had her hands pressed to her face now. Dupin rose slightly and opened his mouth. He breathed deep and picked up a faint sticky scent of decay, but mingled with it a floral smell. That wasn’t the smell of the man in the book drop.

Dupin padded up beside Penny. There, in the wood book drop beneath the counter he saw dark red curls, the top of some woman’s head. Another dead person in a book drop? What was going on? He smelled salt and looked up to see tears falling from Penny’s eyes. She sniffed and wiped her hand against her eyes. She took a deep breath and turned and headed back towards her office, nearly stepping on Dupin. Not that he’d be so slow as to let that happen.

He heard Penny in her office picking up the phone again. More calls to the police. Dupin walked closer to the drop and breathed deep. He didn’t smell any blood. The woman didn’t die the same way as the man in the outside book drop. Dead people in book drops, that wasn’t right. His fur rose up and he growled deep in his throat. Not right at all. Who hid their kills in a book drop? There had to be better places. Whoever did this put the bodies there for a reason. They wanted the bodies found. Why?

Penny sounded upset, almost yelling into the phone. Dupin walked closer to the drop but he couldn’t see inside. Just the dark red curls sticking up out of the drop. In the office he heard Penny put down the phone. He went over to the drop and rose up, putting his front paws against the wood. He opened his mouth and breathed in deep.

Death smells, he knew those from killing mice and birds. Stronger from the much larger human. It made him sneeze.

“Dupin!”

He tried to turn but he had been so focused that Penny was right behind him. She grabbed him before he could twist away and lifted him up into the air. Human thumbs! He didn’t fight. He just went limp. She marched across the work area, turned right and then held him just with one hand. She opened the metal door in the back corner and set him outside on the concrete ramp!

Dupin shook himself and started to turn and dart back inside but at that moment Penny pulled the door closed. Dupin stared at the gray metal in shock.

She put him out! Without his tuna?!

Dupin reached out one paw and drew his claws along the metal. He waited a second, then did it again. Nothing. Twice more and no response. Annoyed Dupin sat down in front of the door and used both paws, alternating. Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch!

Penny didn’t come!

Dupin gave out a frustrated yowl and swiped at the door again. She actually put him out without his tuna because of dead bodies? Clearly she didn’t have her priorities in order. Which meant she was going to need his help to put things right. Dupin gave the door a final swipe.

First things, first. How was he going to get back inside?

2

Sirens screeched through the morning air. Dupin flattened his ears and looked towards the road. Police. He bounded off the concrete path into the dark space beneath the rhododendron bushes. Dried leaves crunched beneath his feet. He padded quickly away from the back door, slipping from one bush to the next. He caught a whiff of squirrel but didn’t stop. Out on the street the police sirens rang out again and again.

Dupin reached the corner of the building and broke into a trot as the police cars pulled into the parking lot. Uniformed bodies poured out of the cars. Vans pulled behind the cars and more people got out. So many people! He picked up the pace and made it to the front doors before any of the police or other humans even got close to the building. Dupin crouched beneath the bench along the left side of the walkway, near the black metal bike racks. It smelled of burnt tobacco beneath the bench and one stale bag of chips.

The library’s front door swung open. Penny’s shoes shuffled on the concrete as she edged away from the book drop. Dupin darted out from his place of concealment, like the shadow of a bird he flew across the concrete for the narrow open gap.

“Dupin!”

He sensed rather than saw her reach for him but she was far too slow. By then he’d already entered the library. He headed at first towards the counter area but that’s where the other body was in the other book drop. He swerved and headed instead towards the heavy padded chairs and one of his favorite spots beneath. Enclosed on three sides, but with an opening beneath the back, he liked watching people come and go in the library.

Safe in the shadows beneath the chair Dupin, surrounded by his own scent markings, settled down and watched Penny at the door with the police. Another scent distracted him. Dupin sniffed around and found an envelope beneath the chair that smelled of mint. He rubbed his face against it, one side, then the other. Out by the lobby the police crowded around Penny but she didn’t cringe or back away from them. She stood right up to the man who was in charge.

That man wore a long black coat that reminded Dupin of ravens. He tried to get some raven chicks once. Actually went so far as to climb the tree after the nest but the parents saw him and chased him away. Even after he was on the ground they kept coming after him with their harsh cries and nasty beaks. Dupin narrowed his eyes, wondering if that man was like the ravens.

Penny led the police into the library right towards Dupin’s hiding place. He shrank back a bit further into the shadows. Penny’s hand waved at the counter.

“The other one is over there, in the bin.”

The man in the black coat stood close to Penny. Dupin could smell a fishy sort of smell about the man from where he was hiding. It made him feel a little better about the man, but reminded him that he still hadn’t got his tuna. Even so he stayed concealed.

“Ms. Copper, you said the door was locked when you entered the library?”

“I thought so. I didn’t check before I put the key in and turned it to open the door. I always do it that way, the door stays locked until you flip the little switch on the door.”

“So it was possible that it wasn’t locked?”

“I guess so, although I always double-check the locks when I leave.”

Dupin eased forward a bit. That man was writing something in a notebook. Abruptly he looked down past his pad and fixed blue eyes on Dupin.

Dupin froze in place, staring back at the man.

The man pointed a pencil at Dupin. “That your cat?”

“Yes, detective Clemm. I can’t understand why anyone would do this? Kill someone and put them here?”

The detective blinked first. Dupin yawned widely just so the detective got a good look at his fangs.

“Call me David, Ms. Copper. It’s too early to speculate. When did you last close up?”

“Saturday. Four p.m., our usual time.”

“And were you the last to leave?”

“No. Henry was with me. And Dupin, of course. We don’t like to have people leave alone, even if it isn’t dark. Just to be safe. We walked out together. I pulled on the doors to make sure that they were locked. I know I did.”

“Okay, and this Henry can confirm that? A last name?”

“Yes. Duvall.”

“Who has access to the building?”

“It’s a city-owned building, it was donated when the library was built. You’d know better than me who has access over there. All of my staff have keys. The city hires cleaning staff, so they must have keys too because they get in and clean the library after hours.”

Dupin eased out of the space beneath the chair. He walked over to Penny and rubbed against her legs. He let a low purr rumble through his chest.

Penny’s legs stayed anchored as if she had grown out of the floor.

“Do you have any enemies? Anyone with something against you? Or the library?”

Penny? Hardly. Dupin observed lots of humans and he knew better than most that everyone loved Penny. He’d even go so far as forgiving her for forgetting his tuna. Eventually. Bored, Dupin wandered away from Penny towards the circulation desk.

Teams of people had gathered around the desk while the detective talked to Penny. They had pulled the book return bin out from the desk. Dupin padded closer, edging around the end of the desk. He sat down beside one of the tall pillars where he could watch and still keep an eye on Penny. Just in case she decided to get his tuna.

They were all so busy about the dead people, it was like someone had stirred up a nest of yellow jackets. Another cluster of people buzzed around the book drop outside. They had that one open too and had pulled the bin partway out before it got stuck on books that had piled on top of the body.

“We’ll have more questions later,” the detective said.

“Can I go back to my office?” Penny asked. “I should call our staff and tell them we won’t be opening today.”

The detective shook his head. “Please stay here, until my people have a chance to look everything over.” Blue eyes found Dupin sitting beside the pillar. “If you could keep the cat out of our way, that’d be good too.”

Out of the way? Dupin closed his eyes just to show the man how important he was.

He heard Penny’s footsteps approaching and looked up. Penny got close and Dupin let out a small meow. He arched his back, expecting a scratch but instead she scooped him up. She brought him close to her chest and wrapped her arms around him. For a second Dupin tensed, then he relaxed and breathed in her apple scent. No tuna. Yet.

Penny carried him away before he could see anything interesting, including the dead body. She took him back to the stuffed chairs and sat in the one he had hid beneath. She absently stroked his back. Dupin flexed his claws and stretched out first his left leg, then his right. He put his head down and closed his eyes. If he couldn’t eat, he might as well sleep.

As he drifted off to sleep he heard Penny talking on her cell phone. He didn’t like her being sad so he purred loudly as he drifted off.

3

Dupin found himself rudely woken when Penny stood up and put him down on the floor. He shook himself and took a couple stiff steps away before he stopped to clean the nap from his fur.

“Thank you, detective.” Penny rubbed her arms. “Did you find anything? Who are those people?”

David reached out and put a hand on Penny’s arm. “I thought you might be able to help us with that. You get a lot of people in here, do you feel up to taking a look? See if you recognize them? They don’t have any identification on them.”

Dupin paused in his cleaning and looked at Penny. If she could lay her ears back or have her fur stand up, he thought she would do so. She took a deep breath and nodded.

“Yes. Of course, if it will help.”

David stepped close. “I’ll be right there with you. There’s something else?”

“Yes?”

“The books in the outside drop, can you tell who checked those out?”

Penny shivered. “Yes, but I’d need a subpoena to release those records. They’re confidential under state law. Why do you want to know who checked out the books?”

“A lot of the books we removed had fallen on the body. Others were beneath the body. Anyone returning books might have seen something suspicious or someone hanging around.”

“Makes sense, I’ll just need you to get a subpoena.”

David grinned. “Of course.”

“And I’ll need the books.”

He shook his head. “We’ve taken the books to examine for evidence. I can get you the barcode numbers.”

“That’d be fine.”

This all was about as interesting to Dupin as getting his nails trimmed. He stretched out his legs and took a long stretch with a satisfying yawn.

“If you’re ready?” David asked, gesturing towards the lobby where the two bodies waited on gurneys.

Penny crossed her arms but nodded. Figuring the most likely possibility of tuna lay in sticking close to Penny, Dupin followed along after Penny and David into the lobby. There lay the dead man and woman in black body bags upon the gurney, with all of the assorted smells of death.

David unzipped the first bag. “Do you recognize him?”

Dupin looked over at Penny. She nodded. “That’s Bill Wilson. He teaches over at the high school. Who would want to kill him?”

“That’s what we need to find out.” David zipped up the dead man’s bag and then moved around to the other one. He unzipped it. “Her?”

Penny didn’t move from the spot where she stood. She stared for several seconds then took a deep shuddering breath. “Camille. Camille L’Espanye. She works here at the library.” Penny brought her hand to her mouth and sniffed. “Camille? Why?”

Dupin stood up and looked at the body bag with more interest. He breathed deep and, yes, Penny was correct. The woman was Camille. She gave him extra cat treats when Penny wasn’t looking. And now she was dead too? His fur stood up.

“She had keys to the building.” David said. “Maybe she came back for something and interrupted whatever was happening with Mr. Wilson. Or maybe they were together? Do you know if they were dating?”

Penny shook her head. “Camille’s ten years younger than him. She’s just out of college. I don’t think she was seeing anyone seriously.”

David made notes in his book. “We’ll check on it anyway. Thank you Ms. Copper. If I have more questions I’ll let you know.”

The detective zipped up the bag and motioned to the people waiting outside. Two men in blue suits came and took away the gurneys. Dupin meowed softly.

Camille dead. That disturbed him. Bad enough he hadn’t gotten his tuna and Penny was upset, but killing Camilla? Dupin’s eyes narrowed. He wasn’t going to wait around for David to try and figure it out. The man seemed well-meaning enough, but he was hampered by being human. His only advantage was the fact of his thumbs but that didn’t matter.

Dupin looked up at Penny quietly crying. He had his own human, with her own set of thumbs. She wasn’t a cat, but for a human she seemed quiet bright. Between the two of them he felt confident in their ability to find the responsible party.

And then maybe she’d remember to get him his tuna!

4

Dupin watched the gurneys being wheeled down the sidewalk to the waiting ambulances before he turned his attention back to Penny, standing beside him with tears running down her cheeks.

No tuna. Penny upset. Camille and that teacher, Bill Wilson, dead. Someone had to pay for their crimes and Dupin didn’t trust David to figure out what happened. No, it’d be better for all concerned if Dupin and Penny identified the criminal.

First, he needed Penny to get curious.

He knew his human. She loved finding answers. He watched her each day in the library answering questions for the people that came in and out. While her intellect might not match his own — that would no doubt be impossible for a human — she still showed almost cat-like insight. And she had thumbs, the one human attribute that saved the entire species.

David came back inside. “You’ll be staying here?”

Penny nodded. “Is that okay? Are you done with—?”

“Yes. We’re done. I’m releasing the scene. I can send in a couple officers to help clean up, if you like?”

Dupin meowed and bumped against her legs. He didn’t want any more humans tromping all over.

Penny shook her head. “We’ll be okay. I’ll take care of it. I’ve got to clean things up. We won’t be opening today.”

David nodded. “Okay then. I’ll get that subpoena for the checkout records and stop by later?”

“Okay. I’ll need the barcode list, too.”

“I’ll have it for you.” David turned and left.

Penny looked down at Dupin. “It’s just you and me now.”

Just the way he liked it. Dupin rubbed against her legs. Penny stepped around him. “Let’s go clean up, then.”

Dupin ran between Penny’s legs into the library. The library smelled of latex gloves and fingerprint powders. He sneezed and stalked closer to the circulation counter. When he got there he padded across the top towards an area covered in fingerprint dust.

“Dupin!” Penny rushed up to the counter and put a hand out in his path. “Don’t walk in that! That’s all we need, are cat prints tracked all over.”

As if he wanted to track that stuff all over and get it in his fur? Dupin sat down and licked one paw to prove his point. Penny put her hands on her hips and sniffled. “It’s just so —”

A bright reflection beneath the keyboard caught Dupin’s eye. Ignoring the powder he walked through it to the keyboard and fished beneath with his claws.

“Dupin! You’re getting dirty!”

He ignored her and tried to get his claws into whatever it was beneath the keyboard. Not for the first time he considered the intangible mystery of why cats didn’t have thumbs. His claw hooked onto a metal ring and he dragged out a small brass key hooked to a red plastic tab by the ring on his claw. He shook his paw and the key clattered in the fingerprint dust. Dupin slammed a paw down on the rattling key.

“What’s that?” Penny asked. She reached out and Dupin drew back his paw.

She picked it up neatly, pinching the small ring between a finger and her thumb. “What’s the book drop key doing here?”

Confident in her ability to answer that for herself, Dupin jumped down from the counter and sniffed around the book bin that had held Camille. The police had gone over the wood bin but they didn’t have the benefit of a cat’s nose. The bin still smelled of death. It needed cleaning.

Penny lifted the key up in front of her face. “It looks like a fingerprint, in the dust on the plastic tab.” She lowered it to the counter and set it down. “We’ll have to show that to David when he comes back.”

Maybe so, but it didn’t answer any questions right now. Dupin left the bin and sat down to clean the fingerprint powder off his paws. It tasted like ashes and made him sneeze.

“Oh, you poor kitty,” Penny said. “Stop licking it! Let me get a rag and we’ll get this all cleaned up.”

Dupin didn’t bother stopping. Penny left the counter area and headed back into the staff room. Dupin realized that this put Penny near the tuna and took off running after her. Unfortunately he realized too late and she surprised him in the doorway holding wet paper towels. Dupin tried slipping around her but Penny caught him. She grabbed his feet and rubbed them with the wet towels. It was almost as bad as being licked by a dog! She finally released him and he headed under the nearby desk where he sat cleaning his drenched paws.

While he cleaned himself Penny busied herself cleaning the counter area, except for the spot where she left the key. She used a spray on the book drop, the sort that made his eyes water, so he stayed back beneath the desk and just watched. Penny noticed the scratch along the side of the bin.

“What happened —?” She sniffled. “Oh.”

Dupin rose and strolled out from under the desk as Penny finished cleaning the bin and pushed it back beneath the counter. She looked at Dupin.

“Why would anyone kill Camille?”

Dupin meowed.

Penny smiled. “Okay. You’re right. I should be trying to find out something to help David with his case. Like why Camille might have been here. Or why anyone would kill Bill Wilson. I always thought he seemed nice enough. He thought he was more charming than he was, but a lot of men are like that.”

Dupin jumped up on the desk and sniffed at the papers there. A red file folder sitting on the desk smelled like Camille. He pushed it with his paw towards the edge of the desk.

“Dupin!” Penny ran over and caught the folder before it fell. “You’re acting so strange. Do you miss her too?”

At least he missed the extra treats. People came and went in his life, always had until Penny.

Penny flipped through the folder. “These are Camille’s! How did you know?”

Didn’t they smell like Camille? It should be obvious, but Penny suffered from the same poor sense of smell as most humans. Dupin arched his back for a scratch but Penny didn’t notice.

“The deadline for these financial aid forms is today.” Penny looked at Dupin. “This could be very helpful. If she left these forms here, it could explain why she came back to the library last night.”

Penny carried folder towards the front desk. Dupin jumped off the desk and followed her to the counter. She put the folder down next to the key. Dupin jumped up on the counter. From the counter it was much easier to look at Penny’s face.

He meowed and arched his back again. Penny reached out and stroked his fur. “Good kitty.”

Dupin purred happily against her hand. He still wanted his tuna, but scratches were progress. Except then Penny stopped. She tapped her fingers on the counter.

“So Camille comes back to the library to get the folder she forgot. I still don’t see how that ties in with Bill Wilson. I can’t imagine they were involved.”

Dupin sat down and waited.

Penny crossed her arms and stared at the book drop key for several seconds. Then she glanced over at the cleansers she had used on the wood book drop bin.

“I should check the outside drop, make sure it’s been cleaned up before anyone puts more books in it.” Penny pulled open a drawer on the back of the counter and rummaged in a plastic basket with a good dozen keys, each attached to a bright plastic tag. Dupin yawned. Penny took out another key, a duplicate of the one sitting in that small patch of fingerprint dust.

Penny tossed it in the air and caught it. “Let’s do that.”

She tucked the spray bottle and a roll of paper towels beneath her arm before heading towards the outside doors. Dupin followed. Before they got to the lobby Penny stopped. Dupin came up from behind and rubbed against her leg and then stopped too. Several people were standing outside the main doors. Penny took a breath and then started walking again.

Dupin trotted along after. Penny went out to the main doors and pushed them open a crack. There were four humans standing outside. A man smelling of sawdust with red cheeks and dark hair stepped forward.

“We saw the police. What was going on?”

The other humans, a red-haired woman, and an older couple came closer. Dupin sat down just behind Penny where he could see everyone. He breathed in deeply. The woman smelled of fire and smoke. It reminded him of the body that had been in the bin, but much stronger. The older couple had smelled almost the same as each other, a dry, powdery, minty sort of old smell like dried leaves.

Penny took a deep breath. “Two people were killed. The library won’t be opening today, I’m sorry.”

“Killed?” The old woman gasped and looked up at her husband. He put an arm around her. “That’s awful!”

The red-haired woman stepped closer. Dupin watched her warily.

“Look, I’ve just got to pick up something for my class. It’ll only take a second,” the woman said.

Penny shook her head. “We’re not opening today.”

The woman moved her hand in a circle as she said, “Look, this is terrible, really. But you know life does go on. Everyone else still has places to go, things to do, and I don’t mean to be a bitch but Camille said my book was supposed to be in last week and it didn’t come in which meant I lost the whole weekend. Then I get this email saying it’s there and I just need to pick it up. You don’t even have to do anything, I’ll grab it and check it out.”

Penny shook her head. “I can’t let you in right now. If —”

“Look, how hard is it —”

“You just tell me your name I’ll get the book.”

The red-haired woman stared at Penny for a second then shook her head. “Look, just forget it. I don’t have time for this.”

The woman turned and left. Her heels made rapid clicks against the sidewalk as she walked quickly away. Dupin watched her go.

Then the man standing beside Penny shook his head. “Guess she didn’t need it that much after all.” He held out his hand. “Rod Allan.”

“I guess not.” Penny shook his hand and let go quickly. “Folks, I’m sorry, but we won’t be open today. If you’ll excuse me, I need to clean the drop.”

“Can I help?” Rod asked.

The old couple started to move away but the old man pulled free from his wife’s arm. Both Penny and the man looked up as the older man approached. He had pale blue eyes and very pale saggy skin.

“Lo! Death has reared himself a throne,” he said. “In a strange city lying alone —”

His wife tugged on his arm. “Come on Sullivan.” She looked at Penny. “He likes quoting. That’s about all he can remember these days, are poems and lines from plays.”

“It’s fine.” Penny looked at Rod. “I can take care of this myself. Please, I’d prefer to be alone.”

Dupin watched the old couple move off, the woman tugging on the man’s arm. Rod moved away a couple steps and rubbed his rough jaw. Dupin waited to see what he intended to say when a police car rolled up in front of the library. Rod ducked his head, stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked away down the sidewalk.

David got out of the police car. He walked past Rod and headed straight towards Penny. Dupin got up and strolled over to Penny. He rubbed against her legs.

“Hello,” Penny said, when David reached them.

“Hello again, yourself.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a few sheets of paper. “I’ve got the subpoena and the barcode list. Are you ready to help me out now?”

Penny took the paper and looked it over. “This looks fine. You just need to know who had these checked out?”

“And any contact information you have. We’ll need to question them.”

Penny nodded. “In this case I don’t see that we have any choice, if it’ll help catch the killer.”

“It might.” David opened the library door. “Shall we?”

“I was going to clean the drop.”

“I’m sure my people cleaned it after they were done.”

“I don’t know about that,” Penny shook her head. “They left a mess inside.”

Dupin meowed.

“See? Dupin agrees.”

David chuckled. “Okay. If Dupin agrees, I stand corrected.”

Penny held up a finger. “It’ll only take a minute and I’ll feel better. Then I’ve got something to show you inside.”

“Okay.”

Penny unlocked the book drop, twisted the handle and pulled open the metal door. Dupin peered around into the drop. It still smelled of the dead man, Bill Wilson. Penny reached inside and pulled the bin out. Dupin moved aside, and once the drop was out of the way he went to the opening and looked into the drop. A dark flat shape lay against the side of the drop.

Dupin strolled inside. He went to the thing he had seen and sniffed. It turned out to be a leather wallet that smelled like the dead man. From outside he caught a whiff of the cleansers Penny sprayed on the drop.

He pawed at the wallet. It fell open. There were pictures inside. Dupin took a long look. Penny needed to see this. He meowed and crouched as the drop magnified and echoed the sound.

5

Dupin turned his head smoothly and looked at the bright opening of the book drop. Two human faces looked in at him. Penny on the right, smiling and on the left the blue-eyed gaze of David. Dupin crouched down and kept his paw on the wallet.

“What is that?” David asked.

“It looks like a wallet. Just a sec.” Penny crouched and walked into the drop bent over. Dupin backed off the wallet when she reached for it. “Good kitty.”

Penny picked up the wallet and waddled back out. For once she lacked her usual cat-like grace. Dupin wouldn’t hold it against her. He followed her out of the drop. Penny straightened and flipped the wallet open.

“It’s Bill Wilson’s.”

David fished in his pocket and pulled out a bag. “I’ll need to take that.”

“Wait a sec,” Penny said.

Dupin couldn’t see anything. Very frustrating. He looked around and then jumped up on top of the book drop. He walked to the edge and could finally see what Penny was looking at.

Pictures, in the wallet, of the dead man and a young woman with long blond hair. Lots of it, like a Persian cat he’d known once. Penny flipped to the next picture and it was a picture of the red-haired woman smelling of fire and smoke that had been here just a few minutes ago. Penny held the wallet out to David

“Look at this. She was here earlier, but who is the girl in this picture? Their daughter?”

David made a whistling sound. “If that’s his wife, what was she doing here? Did she say anything about her husband?”

Penny shook her head. “She just wanted to pick up a book.”

“You didn’t tell her?” David asked.

“No, I didn’t know who she was. Haven’t you already contacted the families?”

“Not her. We haven’t been able to get a hold of her.” David flipped back to the first photo. “But that girl isn’t their daughter. They don’t have a daughter. We already checked with the school.”

“Oh.”

David dropped the wallet into the baggy. “This might just be the clue we needed. Thanks!”

Penny shook her head. She reached out and scratched under Dupin’s chin. He closed his eyes with pleasure. “It was Dupin that found the wallet.”

David coughed. “Yes, I guess so. We’ve got some barcodes to look at?”

First Penny wanted to clean out the book drop bin before she put it back inside. Dupin stretched out on the warm metal drop and snoozed while she worked. When she finished he jumped down and inside first, as soon as she opened the door. Dupin stopped and looked back but the humans were moving so slowly. Penny laughed at something David had said.

Dupin recognized the signs of human courtship. Penny had, on occasion, dated various men. None of whom were good enough for her, a fact that she had quickly realized when Dupin had made his displeasure known.

Penny walked quickly across the library. So quickly that Dupin barely avoided being trod upon, escaping at the last moment by springing up onto the circulation counter once more. David followed at a more leisurely pace. Penny turned around, facing him with her hands resting on the counter behind her.

“I’ve got it!” Penny announced.

Dupin walked up behind her and rose up, rubbing the side of his face against her shoulder.

“What have you got?” David asked.

“I know who committed these crimes.” Penny’s voice turned colder. “I know who killed Camille.”

David tapped the list on his hand. “How could you possibly have figured it out?”

Penny shrugged. Dupin rubbed against her other shoulder. Then he sat down and stared at David.

“Well, if the red-head was Mr. Wilson’s wife and the girl in the other picture wasn’t, she must have killed them both. Jealous rage, over the affair.”

David shook his head. “That might be the case, but we don’t have any evidence of that.”

“Maybe we do?” Penny turned and gestured at the key sitting in its island of fingerprint dust and Camille’s binder. “I thought you might want to look at these. Dupin found key beneath one of the keyboards. It’s to the book drop outside.”

“Okay, we shouldn’t have missed that, but go on.”

“We also found Camille’s folder with her financial aid forms that needed to be filed today. I think she came back to get the forms. While she was here she decided to empty the book drop and got in the middle of Mrs. Wilson killing Mr. Wilson! Mrs. Wilson came back today because she realized that she had left this key and was afraid it would lead back to her.”

“We haven’t established that Mrs. Wilson was here, and why wouldn’t she have waited until her husband left the library? Why kill him and Camille?”

Penny frowned. “I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t think it through. Maybe she assumed that Camille was also sleeping with her husband.”

“I’m not ready to discount anything.”

Dupin rubbed against Penny’s arm. It was a good idea, but David had a point. Thumbs and the ability to speak, that’d make all of this much easier. So would tuna. He walked to the edge of the counter and meowed.

Penny shook her head. “Not now, Dupin.”

David lifted the paper. “Let’s take this one step at a time. Could you get me the list of people I need?”

“Do you want to wait while I pull it up?”

David shook his head. “No, thanks. It may not pan out, but I do need to talk to Mrs. Wilson before she finds out about her husband from someone else. Just email me the list, my card is there.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I’ll take the key and have it tested. And the folder.” David pulled a couple more bags from his pockets. He bagged the key in a small baggy and then the folders in a larger one. “If you find anything else just leave it where you find it and give the department a call. Believe it or not, we’ll figure this out.”

Dupin crouched and stared at David, his tail flicking back and forth. David noticed and edged back. “Thank you, Ms. Copper.”

As David left, Dupin got up and rubbed Penny’s arm again. She turned around and scratched his neck, then ran her hand down his back through his long fur. Almost as good as tuna, but he couldn’t quite forget the empty knot in his belly.

“I’m going to figure this out,” Penny said. “For Camille.”

Penny went into her office. Dupin followed and crawled into his bed beneath her desk. While she typed on the computer he busied himself cleaning his fur again.

It took longer than Dupin thought was possible. Twice he woke from short naps when the drone of the keyboard keys ceased, but each time Penny started typing again. On the third time she pushed her chair back from the desk. Dupin lifted his head and yawned.

Penny peeked beneath the desk at him. “I’ve finished the list. It’s very interesting.”

Of course. Dupin stretched out his legs and did a deep back bend.

“David identified the books that were underneath Mr. Wilson, and those on top of him. They kept track of the layers of books so we have an idea of when books were put in, in what order. There’s not a lot of names on the list.”

Dupin stretched his back legs out. She must have a point with all of this.

“That guy from earlier? Rod Allan? He turned in books that were beneath Bill Wilson. There was also a book checked out to Mr. Wilson. And that older couple, they came by yesterday too. I recognized the names when I saw it. Sullivan and Madeline Winters, they returned books that were right on top of the body.”

Dupin walked out from under the desk. Interesting. And all of them showed up the next morning? Maybe because one of them wanted to return for their kill? Did humans eat things they killed? They must, because they had things like tuna. Dupin’s stomach rumbled. He really needed to eat something.

“I’m going to call David, tell him I’ve emailed the list. He needs to know who came by today.” Penny picked up her cell phone and dialed quickly. She leaned back in the chair.

Dupin jumped up onto her lap so that he could hear the conversation better.

“David.”

“It’s Penny Copper. I just emailed the list you wanted.”

“Great, thanks.”

“You need to know, the man whose books were right beneath the body, Rod Allan, he came by earlier today. He was here when Bill Wilson’s wife was here.”

“Really?” Dupin heard the excitement in David voice even with the phone pressed up against Penny’s head.

“And there was an older couple today, the Winters. They had returned books that were on top of the body.”

“They’re regulars?”

“Yes. I recognized them. I didn’t place their names until I saw the list, but yeah, they’re in most days.”

“Good work. You said the other guy was Rod Allan?”

“Yes? Does that mean something? He offered to help clean the drop.”

“Really? Well, that’s interesting. We just found out that the picture in Wilson’s wallet, of him and the girl? That’s Lenore Allan. She’s a student in Wilson’s class.”

Penny ran a hand along Dupin’s back. “So he might have gone after Mr. Wilson because of his daughter. That sounds like a motive to me.”

“And with his books right beneath the body he might as well have signed a confession. I love it when cases solve themselves!”

Dupin felt water drip on his ear. He flicked it and looked up at Penny. Water flowed from her eyes. As much as he didn’t care for the water, he knew her well enough to know what she was thinking. It was Camille. If this man killed Bill Wilson, then he must have killed Camille just because she saw something. If she hadn’t gone back for her folder she would have been fine.

“Thank you, Ms. Copper. We’ll —”

“Penny, please.”

“Okay. Penny. Thank you. I think I need to go have a chat with this Allan fellow.”

“Alright, bye.” Penny hung up the cell phone and put it down on the arm of the couch. Dupin batted at it. Penny snatched it away and stuffed it in her pocket. “Stop that, you’re always redialing people.”

Penny pulled a tissue from the green Kleenex box on her desk and dried her tears. She tossed it into the plastic wastebasket beside the desk.

Penny stroked Dupin’s back. “Looks like we’ve solved the crime. Thanks to you. You found the folder, and the wallet. Plus that key! And all without your tuna.”

Dupin jumped down to the floor and turned in a circle. He meowed. Penny laughed and stood up. “Okay, okay! I’m sorry. It hasn’t been a typical day.”

6

Dupin was in the middle of his after-eating cleaning when the library phone rang. Penny picked up the extension on the end table beside the couch.

“Reed Moore Library, Penny. How may I help you?” Dupin noticed the change in her expression and paused in his cleaning. He couldn’t quite make out the voice on the other end.

“So he didn’t do it?” Penny asked after a moment. “But what about the picture?”

Dupin got up and padded over to the couch. He jumped up beside Penny and bumped her arm holding the phone.

Dupin heard David’s voice. “— pretty upset about it, but his alibi checked out. He was giving a business presentation at the time the murders happened. You don’t have any way to determine when he dropped the books in the drop, do you?”

“No. His books were just beneath the body.”

“Could he have hired someone to do it?”

“Maybe, we’ll check into it, but either he’s an excellent actor or he was surprised about that picture.”

“What about the wife?” Penny asked.

“She checked out too. Fell apart when we told her, was also shocked about the photo. She’s been taking evening classes and we’ve confirmed she was in class that night.” David was quiet for a minute. “At this point we don’t have much. We got a fingerprint off the key you found but I’m waiting for search results. Forensics are starting to come in but it’s starting to look like there might have been more than one assailant. Sorry I don’t have more.”

“That’s okay. Thanks for letting me know.” Penny hung up the phone. She stroked Dupin. “I guess we didn’t solve it after all.”

Penny picked Dupin up in her arms and stood. She kept stroking his back so he didn’t mind. “He said there might have been two people. That makes sense. Camille and Mr. Wilson died differently. The key might turn up a match, but what if it didn’t?”

He’d already gotten his tuna. As far as he was concerned David was welcome to figure out what really happened. He lay slack in Penny’s arms as she walked out of the staff room. She carried him back to the counter and put him down on top. She pressed her hands together. “Okay, Dupin, let’s work through this. Camille comes back to the library to pick up her folder. She decides – because she was like that – to go ahead and empty the book drop while she was here. She goes out to empty the drop and Bill Wilson is still out there. One person stabs him while the other goes after Camille. She tries to get away or call for help by coming in the library. The killer outside shoves the dying Mr. Wilson into the book bin and then pushes it into the book drop, closes and locks the drop. Their partner strangles poor Camille inside and lets the other in, who tosses the key on the counter where it slides beneath the keyboard. They put Camille in the drop in here and then leave.”

It made sense but Dupin’s eye noticed something beneath one of the padded chairs. He jumped down from the counter and walked over to the chair. He crouched down and inhaled. The minty-smelling letter still lay where he left it. Dupin reached in and scratched at it. He managed to pull the envelope partway out.

Penny stooped down and picked it up. Dupin rubbed against her legs. Penny’s breath caught. She stood very still for several seconds then looked down at Dupin. “Do you know what this is?”

He had a pretty good idea.

“I recognized the Winters, they come in all the time.” Penny blew out her breath. “And she’s always checking out those serial killer books, from the 364s. This letter is addressed to them. They must have dropped it! What if they’re serial killers, working together? They could have dropped the letter when they —”

Penny slid the letter into her pocket and started walking towards the door. “Come on, Dupin. We’re going to go talk to them!”

Dupin didn’t move. Somehow the idea of talking to a pair of potential killers didn’t have much appeal. Plus he’d just eaten all of that tuna and it sat like a lump in his belly. A nap was the order of the moment. A long nap to allow the tuna time to digest.

“Dupin?” Penny stopped in the doorway. “Here, kitty. Come on. There’s nothing to worry about. We’ll just be helping David out, see what they say when I ask if they saw anything. Maybe they’ll let something slip.”

Dupin yawned.

Penny marched towards him. He thought of dashing away, but he hated running on a full stomach. Penny scooped him up and held him close. She pressed her face to his back and he smelled the apples in her hair.

“I need you with me,” she said. “Come on.”

7

Dupin rolled on his back in the seat beside Penny and tried to bat at the phone again. She moved it away.

“We’re almost there now,” Penny said.

David was on the phone. “Wait for me. My people can look at the letter. We found hair on the inside drop and I have people checking the fingerprints on the books against the book drop key. We’ll get them.”

Penny didn’t answer as she turned the steering wheel and slowed. Dupin rolled over and stood up. “I’m on the street now. I need to know why they did it.”

“Damn it! Wait! I’ll be there soon and I’ll handle it.”

The car slowed. “Too late.”

“Don’t hang up,” David said. “At least stay on the line.”

Penny slipped the phone in her pocket without saying anything.

The house sat back from the road with fir trees and bird feeders along the fence line. Penny stopped the car. Small brown birds flitted around the tree branches. Dupin perked up his ears. The house itself looked like a lot of human dwellings, yellow and white, mostly uninteresting. The old couple was out front in the yard, the woman pruning rose bushes with a pair of snips and her husband digging in another flower bed with a trowel, when Penny lifted Dupin out of the front seat and carried him up the cracked concrete walk.

“Sully?” The old woman called. “Look who it is?”

The old man looked back and squinted so much that only one pale blue eye stayed open. Against his side Dupin felt Penny’s heart thumping away like a mouse caught beneath his paws. She was scared but she marched straight up the drive towards them. She stopped across the chain-link fence from the woman.

“Mrs. Winters?”

“Call me Maddy, dear. Don’t mind my Sully, he’s grumpy as usual.” The old woman looked at Dupin and smiled broadly. “You’d better keep a good grip on that cat. Wouldn’t want him to go after a bird or something and get squashed by a car!”

Penny’s arms tightened. “No. I’m helping the police with the murders at the library, and I thought maybe you could tell me something?”

“Murders.” Maddy pressed her hands together and her smile widened to show bright teeth. Dupin didn’t like the way she looked at him. “Why would you think we know anything about those poor people?”

“Books you returned were on the body.” Dupin felt Penny take a deep breath. “The police took a fingerprint from the books and matched it to the one on the book drop key. They’ve also found your hair in the inside book drop where you stuffed Camille.”

Dupin blinked. That wasn’t exactly what David had said. He tensed. If the old woman tried anything she’d find out how sharp his claws were.

Penny pulled out the letter. “And if that’s not enough, you dropped this when you murdered Camille!”

Maddy stared at Penny for several seconds then chuckled. “Sully? You’d better come here. We’ve got a bit of a problem.”

Penny took a step back. “Why? Why did you do it?”

At the other flower bed Sully rose and came towards them with his dirt-covered trowel. Maddy snipped her pruning snips closed. “Opportunity. We walked to the library to return books and there was that man talking to that young girl. No one was around.” She opened the snips and snapped them shut again. “As far as motive, well dear, it was our anniversary and we always try to do something special.”

Sully had nearly reached the gate. Penny backed away towards the car. Dupin’s fur stood up and he growled deep in his throat. Maddy laughed.

“Run, if you like, but if you’re here the police haven’t linked any of that evidence to us. Not yet, at least. We’ll disappear and find you another time, dear.”

Sully leered at Penny. “By a route obscure and lonely, haunted by ill angels only.”

Penny shoved the letter back in her pocket and pulled out the cell phone. Dupin heard the sirens coming towards them. Penny said, “Detective? Did you hear all that?”

“Yes, Ms. Copper.” Dupin heard David’s voice coming from two directions and turned to see the detective step around the trees along the front into the driveway. He had a gun in his hand. “Mr. and Mrs. Winters, put the tools down and come out here with your hands up.”

Penny slipped her phone in her pocket and moved back over to her car as David walked up and several squad cars pulled up in front of the drive.

“I’m glad you called, but you should have waited. We’ll confirm the evidence, but with her confession that’ll be icing.”

Penny shook her head. “I didn’t call. Dupin stepped on the phone in the car. He redialed the last number.”

“Huh, his timing couldn’t be better if he did it on purpose.” David held out his hand. “And I’ll need that letter as well as a statement on finding it.”

“Dupin found it. I think he figured it all out before any of us.”

Officers came up and took the couple into custody. Dupin purred against Penny’s chest. Of course he figured it out first, and why would David think he hadn’t made the call on purpose? Nevermore would this couple kill.

 

<<<<>>>>

10,233 words

Author’s Note

This story is the 15th weekly short story release and the first break from the Planetary Bodies series of science fiction stories. I wanted to post something different this week and decided to go with the first mystery featuring my feline detective, C. Dupin (based, of course, or Edgar Allan Poe’s famous detective). I wrote the story while managing a library and we were doing a community ‘big read’ of Poe’s works. Later on I published it under my “Ryan M. Welch” pen name. A novel followed, The Task of Auntie Didothat will get reissued as well one day.

I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links at the top of the page or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is a romance story, Boldy, Sort Of.