Read Murder on the Prowl Online

Authors: Rita Mae Brown

Murder on the Prowl

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Cast of Characters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Author's Note

Books by Rita Mae Brown

Praise for The Mrs. Murphy Series

Previews of The Mrs. Murphey Series

Copyright Page

To Mr. Wonderful—sometimes
David Wheeler

Cast of Characters

Mary Minor Haristeen (Harry),
the young postmistress of Crozet

Mrs. Murphy,
Harry's gray tiger cat

Tee Tucker,
Harry's Welsh corgi, Mrs. Murphy's friend and confidante

Pharamond Haristeen (Fair),
veterinarian, formerly married to Harry

Mrs. George Hogendobber (Miranda),
a widow who works with Harry in the post office

Market Shiflett,
owner of Shiflett's Market, next to the post office

Pewter,
Market's shamelessly fat gray cat, who now lives with Harry and family

Susan Tucker,
Harry's best friend

Big Marilyn Sanburne (Mim),
Queen of Crozet society

Rick Shaw,
sheriff

Cynthia Cooper,
police officer

Herbert C. Jones,
pastor of Crozet Lutheran Church

Roscoe Fletcher,
headmaster of the exclusive St. Elizabeth's private school

Naomi Fletcher,
principal of the lower school at St. Elizabeth's. She supports her husband's vision 100%

Alexander Brashiers (Sandy),
an English teacher at St. Elizabeth's who believes he should be headmaster

April Shively,
secretary to the headmaster, whom she loves

Maury McKinchie,
a film director who's lost his way, lost his fire, and seems to be losing his wife

Brooks Tucker,
Susan Tucker's daughter. She has transferred to St. Elizabeth's

Karen Jensen,
irreverent, a star of the field hockey team, and lusted after by most of the boys

Jody Miller,
another good field hockey player, seems to be suffering the ill effects of an evaporating romance with Sean Hallahan

Sean Hallahan,
the star of the football team

Roger Davis,
calm, quiet, and watchful, he is overshadowed by Sean

Kendrick Miller,
driven, insular, and hot-tempered, he's built a thriving nursery business as he's lost his family . . . he barely notices them

Irene Miller,
a fading beauty who deals with her husband's absorption in his work and her daughter's mood swings by ignoring them

Father Michael,
priest at the Catholic church, a friend of the Reverend Herbert Jones

Jimbo Anson,
owner of the technologically advanced car wash on Route 29

Coach Renee Hallvard,
a favorite with the St. Elizabeth's students, she coaches the girls' field hockey team

1

Towns, like people, have souls. The little town of Crozet, Virginia, latitude 38°, longitude 78° 60′, had the soul of an Irish tenor.

On this beautiful equinox day, September 21, every soul was lifted, if not every voice—for it was perfect: creamy clouds lazed across a turquoise sky. The Blue Ridge Mountains, startling in their color, hovered protectively at the edge of emerald meadows. The temperature held at 72° F with low humidity.

This Thursday, Mary Minor Haristeen worked unenthusiastically in the post office. As she was the postmistress, she could hardly skip out, however tempted she was. Her tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy, and her corgi, Tee Tucker, blasted in and out of the animal door, the little flap echoing with each arrival or departure. It was the animals' version of teenagers slamming the door, and each whap reminded Harry that while they could escape, she was stuck.

Harry, as she was known, was industrious if a bit undirected. Her cohort at the P.O., Mrs. Miranda Hogendobber, felt that if Harry remarried, this questioning of her life's purpose would evaporate. Being quite a bit older than Harry, Miranda viewed marriage as purpose enough for a woman.

“What are you humming?”

“‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.' Martin Luther wrote it in 1529,” Mrs. H. informed her.

“I should know that.”

“If you'd come to choir practice you would.”

“There is the small matter that I am not a member of your church.” Harry folded an empty canvas mail sack.

“I can fix that in a jiffy.”

“And what would the Reverend Jones do? He baptized me in Crozet Lutheran Church.”

“Piffle.”

Mrs. Murphy barreled through the door, a large cricket in her mouth.

Close in pursuit was Pewter, the fat gray cat who worked days next door at the grocery store: nights she traveled home with Harry. Market Shiflett, the grocer, declared Pewter had never caught a mouse and never would, so she might as well go play with her friends.

In Pewter's defense, she was built round; her skull was round, her ears, small and delicate, were round. Her tail was a bit short. She thought of herself as stout. Her gray paunch swung when she walked. She swore this was the result of her having “the operation,” not because she was fat. In truth it was both. The cat lived to eat.

Mrs. Murphy, a handsome tiger, stayed fit being a ferocious mouser.

The two cats were followed by the dog, Tee Tucker.

Mrs. Murphy bounded onto the counter, the cricket wriggling in her mouth.

“That cat has brought in a winged irritant. She lives to kill,” Miranda harrumphed.

“A cricket doesn't have wings.”

Miranda moved closer to the brown shiny prey clamped in the cat's jaws. “It certainly is a major cricket—it ought to have wings. Why, I believe this cricket is as big as a praying mantis.” She cupped her chin in her hand, giving her a wise appearance.

Harry strolled over to inspect just as Mrs. Murphy dispatched the insect with a swift bite through the innards, then laid the remains on the counter.

The dog asked,
“You're not going to eat that cricket, are you?”

“No, they taste awful.”

“I'll eat it,”
Pewter volunteered.
“Well, someone has to keep up appearances! After all, we are predators.”

“Pewter, that's disgusting.” Harry grimaced as the rotund animal gobbled down the cricket.

“Maybe they're like nachos.” Miranda Hogendobber heard the loud crunch.

“I'll never eat a nacho again.” Harry glared at her coworker and friend.

“It's the crunchiness. I bet you any money,” Miranda teased.

“It is.”
Pewter licked her lips in answer to the older woman. She was glad cats didn't wear lipstick like Mrs. Hogendobber. Imagine getting lipstick on a cricket or mouse. Spoil the taste.

“Hey, girls.” The Reverend Herbert Jones strolled through the front door. He called all women girls, and they had long since given up hope of sensitizing him. Ninety-two-year-old Catherine I. Earnhart was called a girl. She rather liked it.

“Hey, Rev.” Harry smiled at him. “You're late today.”

He fished in his pocket for his key and inserted it in his brass mailbox, pulling out a fistful of mail, most of it useless advertisements.

“If I'm late, it's because I lent my car to Roscoe Fletcher. He was supposed to bring it back to me by one o'clock, and here it is three. I finally decided to walk.”

“His car break down?” Miranda opened the backdoor for a little breeze and sunshine.

“That new car of his is the biggest lemon.”

Harry glanced up from counting out second-day air packets to see Roscoe pulling into the post office parking lot out front. “Speak of the devil.”

Herb turned around. “Is that my car?”

“Looks different with the mud washed off, doesn't it?” Harry laughed.

“Oh, I know I should clean it up, and I ought to fix my truck, too, but I don't have the time. Not enough hours in the day.”

“Amen,” Miranda said.

“Why, Miranda, how nice of you to join the service.” His eyes twinkled.

“Herb, I'm sorry,” Roscoe said before he closed the door behind him. “Mim Sanburne stopped me in the hall, and I thought I'd never get away. You know how the Queen of Crozet talks.”

“Indeed,” they said.

“Why do they call Mim the Queen of Crozet?”
Mrs. Murphy licked her front paw.
“Queen of the Universe is more like it.”

“No, just the Solar System,”
Tucker barked.

“Doesn't have the same ring to it,”
Mrs. Murphy replied.

“Humans think they are the center of everything. Bunch of dumb Doras.”
Pewter burped.

The unpleasant prospect of cricket parts being regurgitated on the counter made Mrs. Murphy take a step back.

“How do you like your car?” Roscoe pointed to the Subaru station wagon, newly washed and waxed.

“Looks brand-new. Thank you.”

“You were good to lend me wheels. Gary at the dealership will bring my car to the house. If you'll drop me home, I'll be fine.”

“Where's Naomi today?” Miranda inquired about his wife.

“In Staunton. She took the third grade to see the Pioneer Museum.” He chuckled. “Better her than me. Those lower-school kids drive me bananas.”

“That's why she's principal of the lower school, and you're headmaster. We call you ‘the Big Cheese.'” Harry smiled.

“No, it's because I'm a good fund-raiser. Anyone want to cough up some cash?” He laughed, showing broad, straight teeth, darkened by smoking. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Tootsie Rolls, then offered them around.

“You're not getting blood from this stone. Besides, I graduated from Crozet High.” Harry waved off the candy.

“Me, too, a bit earlier than she did,” Miranda said coyly.

“I graduated in 1945,” Herb said boldly.

“I can't get arrested with you guys, can I? You don't even want my Tootsie Rolls.” Roscoe smiled. He had a jovial face as well as manner. “Tell you what, if you win the lottery, give St. Elizabeth's a little bit. Education is important.”

“For what?”
Pewter stared at him.
“You-all don't do a damn thing except fuss at each other.”

“Some humans farm,”
Tucker responded.

Pewter glared down at the pretty corgi.
“So?”

“It's productive,”
Mrs. Murphy added.

“It's only productive so they can feed each other. Doesn't have anything to do with us.”

“They can fish,”
Tucker said.

“Big deal.”

“It's a big deal when you want your tuna.”
Murphy laughed.

“They're a worthless species.”

“Pewter, that cricket made you out of sorts. Gives you gas. You don't see me eating those things,”
Mrs. Murphy said.

“You know, my car does look new, really.” Herb again cast his blue eyes over the station wagon.

“Went to the car wash on Twenty-ninth and Greenbrier Drive,” Roscoe told him. “I love that car wash.”

“You love a car wash?” Miranda was incredulous.

“You've got to go there. I'll take you.” He held out his meaty arms in an expansive gesture. “You drive up—Karen Jensen and some of our other kids work there, and they guide your left tire onto the track. The kids work late afternoons and weekends—good kids. Anyway, you have a smorgasbord of choices. I chose what they call ‘the works.' So they beep you in, car in neutral, radio off, and you lurch into the fray. First, a yellow neon light flashes, a wall of water hits you, and then a blue neon light tells you your undercarriage is being cleaned, then there's a white light and a pink light and a green light—why it's almost like a Broadway show. And”—he pointed outside—“there's the result. A hit.”

“Roscoe, if the car wash excites you that much, your life needs a pickup.” Herb laughed good-naturedly.

“You go to the car wash and see for yourself.”

The two men left, Herb slipping into the driver's seat as Harry and Miranda gazed out the window.

“You been to that car wash?”

“No, I feel like I should wear my Sunday pearls and rush right out.” Miranda folded her arms across her ample chest.

“I'm not going through any car wash. I hate it,”
Tucker grumbled.

“You hear thunder and you hide under the bed.”

The dog snapped at Murphy,
“I do not, that's a fib.”

“Slobber, too.”
Since Murphy was on the counter, she could be as hateful as she pleased; the dog couldn't reach her.

“You peed in the truck,”
Tucker fired back.

Mrs. Murphy's pupils widened.
“I was sick.”

“Were not.”

“Was, too.”

“You were on your way to the vet and you were scared!”

“I was on my way to the vet because I was sick.”
The tiger vehemently defended herself.

“Going for your annual shots,”
Tucker sang in three-quarter time.

“Liar.”

“Chicken.”

“That was two years ago.”

“Truck smelled for months.”
Tucker rubbed it in.

Mrs. Murphy, using her hind foot, with one savage kick pushed a stack of mail on the dog's head.
“Creep.”

“Hey!” Harry hollered. “Settle down.”

“Vamoose!”
Mrs. Murphy shot off the counter, soaring over the corgi, who was mired in a mudslide of mail, as she zoomed out the opened backdoor.

Tucker hurried after her, shedding envelopes as she ran.

Pewter relaxed on the counter, declining to run.

Harry walked to the backdoor to watch her pets chase one another through Miranda's yard, narrowly missing her mums, a riot of color. “I wish I could play like that just once.”

“They are beguiling.” Miranda watched, too, then noticed the sparkling light. “The equinox, it's such a special time, you know. Light and darkness are in perfect balance.”

What she didn't say was that after today, darkness would slowly win out.

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