The Purr-fect Murder


By Rebecca Willman Gernon



Folks in New Orleans were clamoring to have secrets exposed, and Tulip Mc Kenzie didn't feel the least bit guilty charging them for snooping, but her expertise and discretion came with a price, a heavy one. In spite of her hefty fee, business was brisk, so good in fact she had little time for her hobby, gourmet cooking.

Tulip entered her office, a large room that seemed larger due to her Spartan furnishings: a file cabinet, a desk, and one chair. She placed a paper bag with a grease spot in the middle on her desk and removed a steaming cup of café au lait and a warm biegnet. Powdered sugar flitted onto her desk calendar as she bit into the square doughnut.

"Hurrah! No appointments today," Tulip said. "I'm going to my gourmet cooking class." A shrill telephone ring interrupted her exuberance. "Flowers Detective Agency...yes...oh, no! Don't touch a thing. I'll be there in fifteen minutes." She grabbed her purse and sped off in her trusty blue Falcon uptown, toward a large house in the Garden District.

Three miles away, Elsa Foster, matriarch of Fosters Fancy Feline Food collapsed onto the sofa, bawling like a lost calf. In the foyer, her white Persian, Muffy, the spokescat for Fosters Fancy, lay still and cold in a puddle of blood. Lladro statues, which had graced a table in the once immaculate foyer, were now reduced to porcelain shards on the marble floor. Neither the Baccarat vase, nor the rare fuchsia-colored orchids in it survived the recent slaughter. Fingers of muddy water oozed from overturned potted palms. Their fronds formed a pall over Muffy. In the corner, Mr. Foster's Ping golf clubs stood erect in a leather bag; silent sentinels of the carnage.

"Muffy, how will I ever live without you?" Elsa dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.

"You've still got me, honey bunch." Warren's golf spikes silently clawed through the carpet.

"You could never take Muffy's place."

"I wouldn't want to. I prefer plumbing to scratching around in a litter box."

"That's just like you, making jokes when I'm in the depths of despair. You're glad Muffy's dead, aren't you?" She sniffed.

"I won't miss her, that's for sure." Warren paced in front of the fireplace. "After twelve years, she should have recognized me and not hissed every time I came in the door. A dog would never be that stupid."

"I want to know who killed Muffy." Elsa said. "I've hired Tulip Mc Kenzie to investigate. She has an excellent reputation."

"And the most expensive in town. That phone call will cost you a thousand dollars. From now on don't complain about my spending habits." Warren stomped across the room, seething.

"Admit it; you hated Muffy." Her blue eyes, brimming with tears, glared at her husband.

"You're right, as usual," Warren snarled. "I hated that hairball-belching, fur-shedding, bag of fleas."

Karla, the house maid, outside the iving room door, heard Warren's statement. She nudged Tony, the Foster's temperamental gardener standing beside her, "Do you think he killed Muffy?"

"Maybe." Tony's eyes narrowed, his jaw throbbed with tension as he surveyed the plants in the foyer. My orchids, my beautiful orchids. Two years of propagation ruined by that damn cat. "Warren wasn't the only one who hated Muffy, was he?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Karla whirled to face Tony.

"You've never said a kind word about her.You're always bellyaching the vacuum is clogged with cat hair or you have to shovel out Muffy's litter box."

"Look who's talking?" Karla jabbed her finger in Tony's chest. "Yesterday I saw you chasing Muffy around the yard screaming, 'I'm going to wring your neck, you rotten cat.' I'd never seen a sixty-year-old man run so fast."

"That darn Muffy uprooted fifty begoonias I'd just planted." Tony chuckled. "Today I'm planting something in the garden I'll appreciate more than begonias...Muffy." He reached for her lifeless body.

Karla grabbed his suspenders. "Wait! I'm not letting you bury the evidence and can get away with murder."

"Are you nuts?" Tony twisted away from Karla's grasp. "This isn't a hideous crime. No need to contact 60 Minutes. It's only a dead cat."

"Muffy wasn't any cat; she was famous." Karla put her hands on her hips, flaunting her youthful figure. "Everyone recognized her face."

"No one would now." Tony nudged Muffy's lifeless body with his dirty boot.

"Muffy looks like a blood-soaked cotton ball. I wish I hadn't..."

"Feeling guilty?" Tony asked Karla.

At the end of the hall, the heavy kitchen door slammed shut with a thump, muffling Karla's response. Chef Pierre's rotund body stomped toward them bearing a cup of tea on a silver tray. He balanced the tray on one hand, in spite of wearing thick oven mitts. With his other gloved hand, he adjusted his chef's hat, which had drooped over one eye. He bore down on the pair like a gored bull in search of the matador.

"Pierre's in a foul mood," Karla whispered. "He goes berserk whenever he's preparing a dinner party. This morning, he chased me out of the kitchen with a butcher knife."

"The man is nuts. Stay away from him." Tony's voice was soft, almost fatherly. "His phony French accent doesn't impress me. The closest he's been to France is drinking cheap champagne on New Year's eve."

"Don't zee two of you have anytheeng better to do today than stand around and yak?" Pierre's moustache twitched like a wooly caterpillar.

"Stop!" Karla raised her white-gloved hand like a traffic cop.

"Geet out of my way!" He pushed Karla aside, leaving traces of white powder on her black uniform. "I'm up to my eyebrows een meringue, but moi had to stop everytheeng to brew her Royal Highness zee spot of tea. By zee time I return to my keetchen, zee meringue shells will be cinders. I'll have to start over for zee third time."

"You can't go through the foyer," Karla said as the doorbell chimed.

"Why not?" Pierre snarled.

"Mrs. Foster contacted a private investigator. No one should touch the crime scene until the authorities examine it." Even though only twenty-five, Karla's voice had the tone of a stern parent.

"What are you talking about? Have vous gone mad?" Pierre shoved his hat off his brow again. "The only crime in theez house is moi having to work like zee drudge, while you two stand around an do notheeng."

"Someone killed Muffy." Tony snickered.

"Good reedance." Pierre smiled, revealing teeth stained by thirty years of smoking.

Tony stroked his chin. "You didn't like Muffy, did you?"

"No. She's always pussyfooting around on my counters. No one in theez house needs to worry about irregularity. Everytheeng I cook eez fiber-enriched with cat hair." A shrill blare from a smoke alarm startled the threesome. "Damn cat, eet's all her fault." Pierre flung the tea tray on the floor and dashed to rescue his meringue shells.

"Now I've another mess to clean up," cursed Karla.

The doorbell chimed again.

"Somebody answer the door." Mr. Foster bellowed. "What's the point of paying a maid good money if she doesn't open the door?"

Tony stepped over Muffy and jerked the door open with his leather-gloved hand.

"Good afternoon. I'm Tulip McKenzie" A murdered cat. This could be the purr-fect crime. She stifled a chuckle and extended her hand to the scowling man, which he ignored. "I'm Tulip McKenzie. Mrs. Foster is expecting me. She contacted me about..."

"I don't have time to talk. I've got flowers to arrange." Tony pushed past Tulip and stormed toward the greenhouse. "At least the damn cat won't ruin them this time."

"Excuse me," Tulip said to Karla, "perhaps you can help. Mrs. Foster asked..."

"Sorry." Karla disappeared down the hall into the haze of smoke. "Pierre's meringue shells are on fire. I've got to help him."

"Hello? Anybody here?" Hearing no response, Tulip knelt to inspect Muffy. A pleasant baritone voice interrupted her examination.

"Please excuse the staff for their rude behavior. I'm Warren Foster." He extended his hand, encased in a deer skin golf glove. "I would have come to the door myself, but I was consoling my wife. Come, I'll introduce you." He beckoned Tulip to follow with his left hand, encased in a matching glove.

"Ooooh, my poor, dear pussycat." Elsa rocked on the sofa, holding a framed photo of Muffy.

"For pity sakes, Elsa, knock off the water works. It was only a cat." Warren grabbed the picture, and placed it face down on the coffee table.

"You call that comforting? Muffy can't be replaced." Elsa sat the photo upright, and wiped a smudge from the glass. Without makeup, she looked much older than her forty-two years.

"Thank goodness. Now that Muffy's dead, I can claim my rightful place in our bed without getting bitten."

Tulip cleared her throat. Warren's face changed from pale to crimson. He made a hasty introduction, and then stood behind the sofa.

"I'm sorry about your loss, Mrs. Foster." Tulip sat in a wingback chair facing Elsa. "Muffy will be sorely missed by all cat lovers."

"Who'd want to murder my little Muffy?"

"Who wouldn't?" Warren muttered.

"I don't know, but I plan to find out." Tulip spoke with authority. "All murderers leave clues."

"Like what?" Warren paced behind the sofa.

"Footprints. A fragment of clothing. Sometimes the murder weapon. I'll examine the evidence and then interview the suspects."

Warren halted, and stared at Tulip. "Do you have someone in mind?"

"Not yet."

"I hope you didn't take my remarks about Muffy seriously." Warren returned to pacing. "She was...uh...all right for a cat, but I prefer dogs. Cats demand service, but a dog serves his master."

"Quit babbling, Warren. You sound guilty," Elsa said. "Tulip, how can I help you?"

"Round up everyone in the house so I can talk to them."

"That's easy. There's only Karla, Tony, Pierre, Warren, and me here."

"First, I need to investigate the crime scene, alone." Tulip stood. "When you've gathered everyone together, come to the foyer, okay?"

"Fine." Elsa escorted Tulip into the hall. The piercing beep of the smoke detector was unable to muffle her sobs. "My poor Muffy."

"Pierre, shut off that damn fool smoke alarm!" Warren's golf cleats clicked down the marble hallway toward the kitchen.

"Warren, wait." Elsa scurried after him. "Don't upset Pierre. God knows what he'll put in the soup tonight if you yell at him."

"Don't worry. There's not enough meat on Muffy to make a decent broth."

"Warren!"

Alone at last, Tulip knelt to inspect Muffy. "Hmmm," she purred after examining the cat's paws. Tulip devoted little time to the broken statues, overturned plants, and squashed orchids, determining they were collateral damage, instead, she focused on the golf clubs.

All the irons but one, were unused or recently cleaned. The seven iron held bits of grass. She pulled the cover from the three wood. The titanium head gleamed. She removed the cover from the five wood; spotless, also.

"Where's the driver?" A quick search revealed the missing club wedged in the corner behind the golf bag. White powder covered the grip, so Tulip grabbed the club by its shaft to withdraw it. Long white hair, similar to Muffy's, and blood, still moist, clung to the head. "Looks like I've found the murder weapon."

She smelled the white powder on the leather grip: odorless. She laid the golf club on the floor, careful not to dislodge the powder, and hurried to the kitchen.

Pierre was on a six-foot ladder, waving a dishtowel at the offensive smoke alarm ten feet above his head. Karla was busy scraping the charred remains of meringue shells from still smoking baking sheets. Without being noticed, Tulip searched the pantry, found a small bowl, filled it with vinegar, and returned to the foyer.

She brushed the white powder off the golf grip into the vinegar, and after placing the bowl on the hall table, stirred the powder until it dissolved. She tossed her lucky 1952 penny into the solution and surveyed the elaborate foyer. After I collect my fee today, I'll have enough money to take cooking classes until I'm ninety-six. "Ah ha." Tulip stared into the bowl of vinegar.

"Did you discover the murderer?" Elsa asked as she entered the foyer with Warren and her reluctant staff.

"Not yet, but I have the murder weapon." Tulip placed the bloody golf club by Muffy and turned to face a bizarre line up of suspects. "I feel like I've arrived at high tea improperly dressed."

"What do you mean?" asked Elsa.

"Everyone's wearing gloves, except me. I wonder who has something to hide?" Tulip walked the lineup then stopped in front of Warren. "How was your golf game?"

"I didn't go to the club today. I was practicing my chip shots on the lawn."

"That explains all the holes gouged in the turf." Tony muttered.

"I thought golfers only wore one glove." Tulip said.

"Normally they do, but I'm ambidextrous." Warren did a mock golf swing.

"Your gloves are skintight," Tulip said. "Do you use powder to slip them on?"

"No, never. Golf gloves must fit like a second skin to ensure a firm grip on the club."

Elsa scowled at Warren. "Last week you insisted on spending a small fortune on Ping Clubs. You told me several of your clubs slipped out of your grasp and sank in a water hazard. If you always wear those gloves, how did your perfectly good clubs fly off your hand?"

"Damn tenth hole. Par three to an island green the size of a postage stamp. More clubs in that pond than fish." Warren tugged off his gloves. "If I ever meet the sadistic beast who designed that hole, I'm going..."

"Warren, how did you hurt your hands?" Tulip inspected scab-covered wounds.

"Muffy did it. The little demon bit me."

"She bit you?" Tony exclaimed. "I thought I was her favorite snack. Whenever I didn't have on my leather garden gloves, she ripped me to shreds."

"Why are you wearing gloves now, Tony?" Tulip asked.

"I was working with my orchids. I'm trying to propagate a new variety."

"Are these beautiful orchids the result of your efforts?" Tulip pointed to the crushed orchids on the marble floor.

"They were." Tony's voice was filled with sorrow, like that of a forlorn lover.

"Do you dust your orchids with insecticide?" Tulip asked.

"You don't know much about gardening, do you?" Tony folded his arms, tucking his hands into his arm pits. "Oil spray is used to eradicate most insects that infect orchids, but I refuse to have any toxic substances near my plants. I inspect my plants daily, and clean the leaves with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol."

"Why are you hiding your hands?" Karla hissed.

"I'm not." Tony removed his gloves and thrust scarred hands, with no fresh wounds, toward Tulip.

"Thanks," Tulip said. "And now, Karla. Why are you wearing gloves?"

"She doesn't want her lily-white hands to touch Muffy's poo-poo in the litter box," Tony sniped.

"For your information, I cleaned her litter box hours ago." Karla punctuated her angry words by poking herself in the chest with each I spoken. "Before that, I took a bale of cat hair out the vacuum, which I asked you to do yesterday. I do everything for that cat. You've never lifted a finger to help me."

"I'm paid to maintain the gardens, not to clean up after a cat." Tony said. "That's your job, or was."

"That wasn't my only job. I've got to keep this entire ho..."

"You two can discuss your job duties after I leave, that's no concern of mine." Tulip's impatience was obvious. "Karla, what were you doing just now that you need to wear gloves?"

"I was polishing the silver service. Gloves prevent fingerprints."

"What do you use? A powder or cream polish?"

"Neither. Ever-Brite polishing wool." Karla jerked off her gloves and displayed well-manicured hands. "Am I still a suspect?"

"Are you guilty?" Tony asked.

Tulip moved to Elsa, the next in line. "The last time I read Vogue bomber jackets and acid washed jeans were all the rage. I'm no fashion expert, but I've never seen opera gloves worn with a muumuu. Who's your designer?"

"My doctor." Elsa removed her opera gloves. "I suffer from the heartbreak of psoriasis. After applying medicated ointment, I'm to wear gloves."

"If you have psoriasis, I'm zee king of France." Pierre tossed his head in disgust; his chef's hat fell to the floor. He knelt to retrieve it, which put his face less than six inches from Muffy. "Everyone knows vous are eelergic to cats. Eet's hereditary. Aaaah-aaah-choo. Ahhhh-choo."

"I am not. Daddy was allergic to cats, but I inherited Mummy's genes. She adored cats." Elsa clasped her hands over her heart.

"Pierre, what are you baking?" Tulip asked.

"Nothing. I shut off zee oven. You can't make deecent meringue with all theez commotion."

"Then there's no need for you to wear your oven mitts now, is there?"

Pierre scowled, but relinquished the mitts to Tulip. A dusting of white powder covered several nasty scratches, and a puncture wound that oozed blood.

"Good heavens." gasped Karla. "What happened?"

"Compliments of Muffy. She deedn't like being removed from my counters. That damn cat walked right through my meringue shells. Knocked zee baking supplies all over. She was always strutting around in my kitchen like she owned zee place. I'm glad she's dead." Everyone stared, speechless. "Don't look at moi like that. You've all pushed zee pesky cat out of your way and gotten scratched. I was jeest her last victim."

"And her murderer," Tulip announced.

"What!"

"Huh?"

"Pierre?"

"How could you...you fiend?"

"Zee scratch proves nothing. We've all been scratched by that cat."

"Muffy was in the kitchen shortly before she was murdered," Tulip said. "She still has meringue on her paws."

"So? That proves what I said. She walked on zee meringue shells. That doesn't make moi a murderer. Anyone could've keeled her after I shooed her out of zee kitchen."

"Cats are finicky, always cleaning themselves." Tulip pointed to meringue paw prints on the entry table. "Muffy had no time to clean herself. You chased her from the kitchen into the foyer and killed her with that golf club."

Pierre snorted with disgust. "You're all crazy. I work in zee nut house. You can't prove any of theez."

"Last week, we made meringue in my cooking class." Tulip stood by the hall table. "We whipped dozens of egg whites. To stabilize them, cream of tartar is added, right Pierre?"

"Oui. So what?" Pierre wrinkled his brow, making him look older than his forty-five years.

Tulip shook Pierre's oven mitt; white powder drifted into the bowl like snow flurries. "I saw the overturned container of cream of tartar in the kitchen. When you swatted Muffy off the counter, it stuck to your sweaty hand and was deposited on the golf club grip. I washed some of the powder off the grip with vinegar and dropped an old penny in the bowl. Few things clean pennies better than that solution." Tulip retrieved her good luck penny, rubbed it briskly on her skirt and a shiny copper color replaced the oxidation on the old coin.

"Pierre," screamed Elsa, "Get out of my house. I never want to see you again."

"Your house?" Pierre shouted. "It ees as much mine as eet is yours. I'm contesting the will. Before you were born, your precious daddy had a fling with Fifi LaRue zee upstairs maid. I'm the result of that union."

"Fifi was your mother?" Karla gasped. "She was mine too. That makes you my brother."

"Half brother, actually," Tony sneered. "Fifi was my first wife. That French tramp spread herself around like weeds in the lawn. After she got pregnant with Pierre, we divorced. I never saw her again. I thought she went back to France."

"Your wife," exclaimed Warren. "She was my half-sister. What does that make me, your step-half nephew?"

"I don't think so."

"Are you my dad?"

"No."

"You can't be my brother. You're nothing like me."

"Thank God."

"Where's Fifi now?"

"Who cares?"

"I do."

"Do I have other brothers and sisters?"

"Who knows."

Tulip checked her watch. "I'll mail you my bill." She dashed to her car and sped toward the tranquility of the culinary school, leaving the squabbling Fosters to sort out their genealogy.


Rebecca Willman Gernon's writing credentials are varied. She has won awards for her humorous manuscripts, food articles, and plays. She's been published in Delectable, a New Orleans food magazine, Byline Magazine, Lutheran Digest, and Together. Her short stories may be read in: All My Good Habits I learned from Grandma (Thomas Nelson, 2007), The Best Mom in the World (Howard Book, 2008), Love is a Verb (Bethany House, 2009), and Expecting Miracles (Guidepost 2010.) Her plays have won awards in Virginia, Louisiana, and Missouri. Currently, Gallaudet University Press is editing a joint memoir written with her daughter about growing up deaf in a hearing family. You may contact her at writer-rrg@cox.net.


Copyright © 2011 Rebecca Willman Gernon. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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