A one-minute mystery
| THE RUNAWAY CAT
Approximately 730 words
"Whoops, just hold on a minute, sir!" said Deputy Sarah Townsend. A small, neatly dressed man was working his way out of the crowd that had assembled, with amazing speed, at the crime scene in front of Kesler's Jewelry. She moved to block his path. "We'd better keep everybody around until the Sheriff finishes his investigation."
"Well, uh, I need to look for my cat, Officer. He's run off"
"He ran off from around here?"
"Oh, yes, just up the block."
"Okay, let me get your name and address and where you work and stuff, and maybe we can let you be on your way." She fished a notebook and pen out of her pocket.
"My name is Jason Barnett. I live at 49 Turin, been there for a few years now. I work at the feed mill. If you know Jeff at the mill, he'll vouch for me."
Sarah eyed the man's navy blazer, grey slacks, and light blue dress shirt open at the collar. "You're dressed a little fancy for the feed mill, Mr. Barnett."
"I work in the office, not the mill proper. I keep the books."
"So, were you here a few minutes ago when the jewelry store got hit?"
"Well, no, not really. I was taking my cat to the vet to have him neutered. I had to park half a block away, and I had just left the car with the cat in my arms when a man came running by and banged into me. I guess he could have come out of the jewelry' store. He darned near knocked me down! I dropped the cat and it ran away, and so did the man, for that matter."
"You got a cat, huh? Cats are nice. I like cats. What kind of cat you got?"
"I don't know-it's just a cat. Domestic short-hair, I guess. His name is, uh, Snooks."
"Yeah, those short-hairs shed like crazy. Anyway, can you describe him? The man, not the cat."
"He was a little taller than you are, and he had on a brown jacket and blue jeans. He had brown hair, a little long."
"You see what kind of shoes this guy had on? Would you know his face again?"
"No, I was fighting for balance and struggling to hold Snooks, and I didn't notice his shoes. I didn't really see his face, either--just his back after he bashed past me in a big rush. I really couldn't identify him in a police line-up or from a mug shot or anything like that. But I hope you catch him."
"Thank you, Mr. Barnett, I expect we will. It was kind bad luck for the robber that the sheriff and two deputies were having coffee at the cafe two doors down from Kesler's Jewelry, right? When old Mr. Kesler came from the back room and saw that empty case, did he ever let out a roar! Got us law-guys and half the town out into the street in seconds." She smiled down at the little bookkeeper.
"For sure. Uh, can I go look for Snooks now?"
"No, Mr. Barnett, no. I think you and I are going to go talk to Sheriff Dennison right now. And then I think we're going to have a look in your pockets. Let's go."
What made the deputy suspicious?
- - - - -
The stolen jewelry turned up in the blazer pockets, and Snooks turned out to be entirely imaginary. The trip to the vet and the runaway cat were nothing but a hastily contrived story to get Barnett away from the scene.
"Barnett must have been just barely out the door when Kesler discovered the theft, and when people started popping out of doorways all along the street, including three cops, he didn't know what to do," Dennison chuckled as they went back for their interrupted coffee. "It seems he wanted the jewelry to cover some financial irregularities at the feed mill. That was a good call, Sarah."
"You know, if the little guy had stayed put and acted like any other onlooker, I wouldn't have noticed him," she explained. "But after I had talked to him, I figured that if Barnett had cuddled a kitty in that navy blazer, it would have been covered in cat hair. The clean jacket was the clue that gave him away."