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Undercover Cat Unknown
Mildred Gordon

The zany story of Darn Cat Randall who causes mayhem and anarchy for the FBI and a couple of rascally crooks.

MildredandGordonGordon.THAT DARN CAT

INFORMANT X-14

was the key to the FBI’s last desperate hope of locating and apprehending two bank robbers before the fugitives could dispose of the teller they’d kidnapped as getaway insur­ance. But informant X-14 wasn’t talking. He was just 25 pounds of black, feline fur that sat there and purred.

HOW A CAT WHO WOULDN’T TALK TOOK THE FBI ON A HIGHLY UNORTHODOX CAPER.

“Please. Don’t refer to him as a ‘cat’ It does something to his ego. Now if I put him down in the reports as D. C. Randall, you know the Bureau. Some guy back there on a desk will tear into us, want to know what the idea is of using initials. And if I put him down as Darn Cat Randall, I hate to think of what will happen. They’ll figure I made it up, that I’m being funny. And what about using Randall? Who ever uses a last name with a cat? But you know the Bureau. Full names.”

Newton pulled the phone over. “I think we’d bet­ter talk with Washington .”

The zany story of Darn Cat Randall who causes mayhem and anarchy for the FBI and a couple of rascally crooks.

All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

For Mike Zimring

with our gratitude,

our affection.

Foreword

Because of the highly classified nature of the information presented herein, we sincerely hope that our readers will hold the facts set forth in the strictest confidence, including the true identity of Informant X-14. As for the FBI, we must state that that remarkable organization has not been asked to approve or authorize this account of what took place with X-14.

The Gordons

1

Patti Randall was slipping into a half world of drowsiness when the telephone aroused her. By the time she found the instrument on the floor, where her sixteen-year-old sister, Ingrid, had been using it earlier that evening, it gave one half-ring gasp and died.

Returning the phone to the night stand, she saw by the alarm that it was 12:30 a.m. She switched off the light and stretched to her full five feet seven. All evening she had been jangly note 1 hearing strange noises stirred up outside by a wind busy hustling leaves in the September night. At times she would find herself listening intently, trying to sort out the sounds and identify them. She blamed Mrs. Macdougall next door for her uneasiness. Mrs. Macdougall had taken it on herself to look after “those orphans” while the Randall parents were vacationing in Europe .

“If anything happens in the night,” she had told Patti, “just scream and I’ll hear you.” Patti could believe that. Drop a pin, and old Mrs. Macdougall would hear. She was better than a burglar alarm system. In the same breath Mrs. Mac­dougall had continued, “Terrible things are happening every night. Like that woman whose husband was away, and her and her old mother were murdered in cold blood at 2:23 a.m.”

And if Mrs. Macdougall said it was 2:23 a.m., that it was. She was a stickler when it came to crime facts.

Patti booted Mrs. Macdougall out of mind and tried con­centrating on the moon high over the orange tree, a skinny moon that had been on a diet, which reminded her uncom­fortably that she had gained two pounds the past month. She was pushing size ten as far as she dared and still continue to work as a model. Only today a glinty note 2-eyed old fool, sitting right alongside his wife at a lunch table in Bullock’s pent­house restaurant, had figured her hip measurements down to an inch as she pirouetted before them in a Thai silk sheath.

Perhaps she should wear a girdle, although that would indicate advancing age, and at twenty-three she wasn’t going to admit it

She shook off such an unhappy thought and was slipping into sleep when she heard the noise at the back door. She came bolt upright, then smiled inwardly and settled back down into the enormous pillow, knowing the noise indicated that D.C., their twenty-five-pound black cat, was entering the house through the little opening for milk bottles in the wall of the service porch. He would be grunting like a Japanese wrestler as he squirmed through. Talk about a girdle. He was the one who needed a girdle.

She stiffened again as footsteps came over, a man’s on the front walk, sharp and determined. And though she had anticipated it, the harsh buzz of the doorbell sent a thrust of fear through her. She searched frantically in the closet for a robe, and all the time the man kept his finger pressed on the buzzer until she could have screamed. She ended up grabbing a thin negligee which covered her but failed to conceal the long, slender legs beneath the blue baby doll pajamas.

Passing Mike’s room, she called softly, “Mike,” but her twelve-year-old brother wouldn’t hear, not that one, nor Ingrid. An assailant could empty a revolver into her without awakening those two.

Hurrying too fast, she struck the corner of the dining table. Now she’d have a big, black blotch there, and if she had to model swim suits she’d look as if she had been in a barroom brawl.

Turning on the porch light, she eased the door open three inches, which was all the safety chain would permit. Greg Balter stood there, the neighbor from across the street. He was a couple of years older than she, a brilliant attorney whom everyone said would go far. He was tall, and all male, and had that kind of innocent face loved by women from the Popsicle to the bifocal age. All except her. She considered him anything but innocent.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said, anticipating trouble, which he invariably brought, usually over his dachshund, Blitzy, which was one of the two pets he adored. The other was a white Thunderbird.

“I tried calling you.” His tone was quasi-conciliatory. She motioned him in and waited. Long ago she had learned the subtle power of silence in an argument. It invariably got the other side off on the wrong foot.

He withdrew the smile. “Your cat

” he began again, reassembling his forces. Their gaze met and locked in hand-to-hand combat.

“What about him?” she demanded tightly.

“Up to now I’ve been pretty patient. He’s dug up my flowers, and left his fingerprints all over my car, and gotten into fights in my back yard – “

“You come over to discuss this at 1 a.m.?”

“And now he’s stolen a mallard duck from my service porch.”

“He did what?”

He continued, “I saw him leaving with it. He was half dragging it across the yard.” His glance slipped to her legs, then he snapped it back as if determined not to be swayed by anything female.

“Now, wait just a minute, Greg. After all – “

He interrupted. “I spent all day in a duck blind in a beating rain. I could’ve caught pneumonia – and I got one duck. Just one duck. And your cotton-pickin’ old cat comes snoop­ing around. I thought I heard something on the back porch, and sure enough, when I went out, the screen door banged shut, and the duck was gone.”

She was so furious she could scarcely talk. “And I suppose he reached up, unlatched the screen, opened the door, and walked in?”

“He opened the door and walked in all right. That cat could walk into Fort Knox . Don’t ask me how he does it.”

It was a moment before she could find words. “Well, that does it. That absolutely does do it. Of all the preposterous, unfair, monstrous accusations – “

She stopped in mid-air as D.C. padded in to learn who was calling. He walked very proudly, head high in the air, bearing the duck in his mouth.

For a second she was stunned, then she reached down in a quick, sweeping motion to seize the duck. But she was not swift enough. D.C. fastened a death hold on the bird. They wrestled, and then Patti gave a hard wrench and tore it out of his mouth, shredding the duck somewhat in the process. Holding it by one foot, she swung it over to Greg whose face was smeared with triumph.

“Just serves you right,” she snapped. “What do you expect a cat to do if you go around leaving your game where he can get it? He’s a hunter, like you.”

“He’s a thief,” Greg said, staring down in hatred at D.C. “A plain thief. And if I catch him on my property once more, he’s going to get a pants full of buckshot. Nine times, if I have to.”

She trembled so she could scarcely speak. “Greg Balter, if you dare – “

He turned abruptly and walked away. As she slammed the door, she muttered to herself, “Darn, darn.”

D.C. muttered low in response. His full name was Darn Cat, a name given him by her father who was always stum­bling over him in the dark. It was not a name, however, bandied about when their mother was within hearing.

“No, not you,” she said, dropping to the floor by him. She started to fondle him, but he stalked away. She wasn’t the only angry one. It was getting so that every time he brought a good catch into the house, someone took it away from him. He didn’t even get a taste. That was the trouble with people. They wanted it all for themselves. And she needn’t try to make up. People always did that. They wanted instant forgiveness after wronging him.

Just then the light picked up something shiny in the fur about his neck. She grabbed him by a hind leg, and he strug­gled. It was a wonder he had any kidneys left, he thought, the way they manhandled him.

In amazement, she removed a woman’s wrist watch, which was fastened around his neck like a collar. Mystified, she examined it. Some child would probably be missing a treasure tomorrow, she thought sleepily.

She grinned. “You sure hit the jack pot tonight, didn’t you, D.C.?”

2

Patti was sipping coffee in the kitchen the next morning when Inky dragged in sleepy-eyed in her pink cotton pajamas, carrying her clothes with her.

“Point me to the coffee, please,” she said.

Patti poured her a cup, steaming hot. “Where were you at 1 a.m. last night when I was set upon and needed your help?”

Inky came awake. “What?”

“Greg was over. D.C. broke into his house and stole a duck.”

At mention of his name, D.C. appeared and, without so much as a hello, jumped up on a low kitchen stool, leaped to the drainboard, and from there to the top of the refrigerator. He laboriously set about washing an ear. He would moisten one side of his paw and brush the wet fur energetically. The process would take time but then he had no further plans for the day other than to sleep and fortify himself for the night’s rounds.

Inky wriggled into a slip. “I bet he was furious.”

“He threatened to murder D.C. if he caught him on his property again.”

Inky grinned. “He wouldn’t do that. He’s nice. I like him lots.”

“You like his Thunderbird. I saw you night before last. Traitor.”

How could you cope with a man who took the neighborhood youngsters in his car with him when he went to the market or post office? Not that he really cared anything about them, she thought. It was just that he was hungry for companionship. Since his mother’s death, he had lived alone in the old family home, cooking for himself, washing dishes, making his own bed, puttering around the yard, and looking after that horrible misanthrope dachshund of his.

Patti yelled for Mike to hurry up, that he’d be late, and started the eggs and bacon. Inky set the table, keeping up a running chatter. “I was so mad I could’ve blown the whole guidance department apart. Those people haven’t got any brains in their head. As soon as I mentioned I wanted a certain home room teacher, the guy froze up and wouldn’t even listen. I tell you, sis, it may have been one of God’s days, like you’re always saying, but it was one of His worst.”

“Mike!” Patti shouted again, this time above Ricky Nelson, who had invaded the kitchen in volume sufficient for the Hollywood Bowl. Patti turned the sound down.

Ingrid failed to notice. “I’m going in today and tell Mr. Hopkins he’s simply, absolutely got to give me another home room teacher, and if He doesn’t I’m going to try tears. I’m going to cry my heart out.”

Patti was amused. “You’re learning, honey. You’re learning fast.”

Mike came scuffing in then, looking two years older than the twelve he was. His crew cut was well waxed. “Don’t let anybody drop a match on you today,” Patti said, handing him his plate.

“Very funny.” He ate as if food were going out of style. “Do you think Mom and Dad have forgotten us?” he asked. ”They haven’t written in two days.” He said it accusingly. He himself had managed one letter to his parents in a month.

Ingrid said, “I don’t know how they could leave three such lovely children behind.” She shot a glance at Mike. “Well, two anyway.”

Mike ignored her. He had a problem to discuss with Patti. He was a box boy after school at Ralph’s grocery. “I was stacking the cans up in a pyramid, and this little monster, I didn’t see him, and he pulled a can out at the bottom, and got conked, and yells I tried to kill him. I almost got fired. Mr. Mayhew said he’d let me off with a warning, that I had to be more careful

.”

He added, “I don’t know what to do about the children. If you frown at them, their mothers scream at you. Man, when I was a kid, I couldn’t do anything – but this younger generation

.”

Patti remembered the watch then, and got it from a chest drawer. “Look at the loot D.C. bagged last night. I figure some youngster put it around D.C.‘s neck, and his mother’s probably going mad this morning trying to find it.”

Ingrid examined it curiously, picked up her schoolbooks, and was halfway out the back door when Mike said, “Hey, you know what?”

He was excited. “You remember that holdup about a week ago, that bank in Van Nuys two guys knocked over for a couple hundred grand – and they grabbed a bank teller – an old lady, about forty – and nobody’s seen any of them since. You remember, don’t you, Pat?”

She looked blank. “Well – “

“She was wearing a watch like this one. I remember, the paper described everything she had on, and there was a pic­ture with this watch on her wrist.”

He continued breathlessly. “She put it on him, don’t you see? She’s being held prisoner right around here, and D.C. got into the house, and she put it around his neck to get help.”

“Wait a minute,” Patti said, “an’ back up.”

“You’ve got to call the police, Pat. You’ve got to. You know how old D.C.” – he ran a hand roughly over the cat – “wan­ders around and visits people and mooches from them.” He turned to D.C. “You love people, don’t you, you old hound?”

D.C. licked him appreciatively. He was very fond of this boy he had reared through the difficult pre-teen period, when a youngster lacked the maturity to recognize that a cat’s tail was a definite member of his body.

Ingrid said, “Sure, he loves the human race. He doesn’t’ know any better.”

Patti sat quietly. “Now let’s not get carried away. Chances are a million to one

“The paper said to call the FBI if anybody had any news.” Mike, undaunted, was already looking up the number. “Here it is. Hubbard 3-3551. Be sure to tell them D.C. brought the watch home. He might get a congressional medal or some­thing.”

D.C. couldn’t have cared less. He was above such things. He started work on the other ear. Cleanliness. That was what was important.

3

Zeke Kelso took the call. He was tall and lanky, and had a soft, pleasant, wind-swept Nevada drawl.

“You say your cat brought the watch home?”

“Someone had fastened it around his neck.”

“Like a collar?”

“Yes, Mr. Kelso. And D.C. had – “

“What do you call him?”

“D.C.” She hesitated a second. “It stands for Darn Cat. You see, father – “

“Would you spell that, please?”

“It’s just what you think it is. D-a-r-n.”

“D-a-r-n.” Unconsciously he raised his voice. “Darn Cat?”

A stenographer taking dictation at the next desk glanced up, and he dropped to a whisper. The Bureau would disap­prove of the use of such a word before the stenos.

He asked, “Are you in a bar somewhere, Miss Randall?”

He heard her shout to someone. “Mike, for heaven’s sake, turn that radio off.” She returned to him. “No, I’m not in a bar. I’m at home – and his name is Darn Cat – and I can’t help it – and you insisted on knowing – and – “

“Is someone with you, Miss Randall?”

“Yes, my brother, Mike. He’s twelve – and my sister, In-grid, she’s sixteen. Our parents are in Europe . My father, George Randall, works for Lockheed

.”

He scribbled the names as fast as she spoke them, listing them on a yellow, legal-size scratch pad. “Miss Randall, would you please open the watch and see if there’s anything scratched inside the back cover?”

As he waited, he drummed his fingers quietly on the desk. He needed another cup of coffee badly. He thought he was becoming an addict. He had been up since five, and at the office since six, drafting a lengthy report on a case involving unlawful flight to avoid prosecution for murder. Recently, the work load had been heavy. Seventy-two hours last week.

What was taking her so long?

She came back on the line. “I can’t get the back off.”

“Try a paring knife.”

“I’m afraid I’ll ruin the watch.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

After another minute, she said, “Looks like a Y followed by some numbers. They’re so small I can’t make them out.”

He came alive. There was no question this was the vic­tim’s watch. They had learned at the outset of the investiga­tion from Helen Jenkins’ father that she had had her watch repaired in June 1960, at the House of Neuwirth, 6081 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood , and at that time the repairman had scratched in the identifying Y mark.

As of last night, then, Miss Jenkins had been alive. For seven days they had searched with growing desperation for trace of her and her two captors. Zeke himself had concluded she was dead. The pattern in most of these cases was the same: the hold-up men either freed or killed the hostage within a few hours. Seldom did they want to be burdened with one in flight.

He asked quickly, “Where had he been? I mean, where does your cat usually go – or do you know?”

She laughed softly. “I can see you don’t know much about cats, Mr. Kelso. He goes everyplace. He likes people. Thinks he’s one of us. And he likes to visit. He waits until dark when the mockingbirds can’t see him, because they give him a bad time, and then goes scratching around on doors. If the people are nice to him, he goes back. I think he’s got a regular route worked out.”

Zeke toyed with a pencil. From the way she talked, not only does the cat think he is “one of us,” but she thinks so, too. The long-hoped-for break binged not only on a dame who sounded zany but a cat equally zany. He detested cats; they were barbarians – the entire breed – devouring birds, fighting to the death with all vocal stops pulled out, howling like a bunch of banshees as they made love, purring one min­ute around you, clawing and spitting the next, and then deliv­ering that final insult, the turn of the rear on you with the tail held high.

He caught his thoughts in mid-air. He must be careful not to betray how he felt. The Bureau would tolerate no prejudice. The Bureau believed firmly in the brotherhood of man. The Bureau wanted the objective approach.

He continued with his questions. “Do you know when your cat came in, Miss Randall?”

“Twelve-thirty exactly. I’d had a phone call.”

“Might I ask who called you?”

“Well, I didn’t get to the phone in time. It was under the bed – I mean, it’d quit ringing, but the party came over to the house shortly afterwards. One of the neighbors from across the street.”

“What’s her name?”

“It wasn’t a her.” She paused and, in doing so, knew she had aroused suspicion. “It was a young attorney. Greg Balter. B-a-1-t-e-r.”

“Why did he come over?”

She hesitated again, then came out with. it. “D.C. had broken into his house and stolen a duck.”

“He’d stolen what?”

“A duck. A mallard duck.”

“Oh.” He thought about that for a moment “You say he’d broken in – are we still talking about your cat, Miss Randall?”

“Yes, Mr. Kelso, he’s very clever. He’ll take a paw and if the door is barely ajar he’ll open it. Sometimes on a screen door he can jiggle the latch loose.”

“What attitude did Mr. Balter take about this? Was he – that is, upset?”

“That puts it mildly. Mr. Balter can get awfully mad awfully fast.”

“I’ll need a description of the cat. We always get one on – “

He had started to say “informants.” A description of a cat? That struck him as asinine. But he did have a card to file in an index, a report to write eventually, and the Bureau in­sisted on details.

He wrote on a separate sheet: Informant. Name: Darn Cat Randall. He frowned, crossed out the Randall, then rein­stated it. Address: 1820 Greenbriar, Sherman Oaks, Califor­nia . Description:

“How old is he?”

“Let me see. We got him when Mike was seven. That makes him five.”

“Weight?’

“Twenty-five pounds.”

Zeke put down his pencil. “Miss Randall, I have been labor­ing under the impression this is a house cat.’

“He is. Plain all-American cat.”

“And he weighs twenty-five pounds?”

“He does have a weight problem. We have to watch his diet.”

Zeke swallowed and turned back to the form. “Height?”

“Really, Mr. Kelso

.”

“Sorry – you’ll have to forgive me. We don’t get many cats – I should say we don’t get any.” He read from a list. “Educa­tion, hobbies, relatives – I guess they don’t apply.”

He reached a conclusion. “Could I see you soon as pos­sible? I’d like to get the watch.” He added cautiously and without conviction, “You could be most helpful to us – you and D.C.”

They agreed to meet at Bullock’s in Westwood, at 10 a.m., outside the store, on the second-level parking lot. She said, “If we meet inside, one of the girls will ask who you are, and I don’t want to try to make up a story, because I always get caught.”

As he headed for the supervisor’s office, he hummed softly. Passing the steno pool, he was conscious of a dozen eyes fol­lowing him. He was fair game, one of the few single men in the office.

The supervisor on the criminal desk, Robert Z. Newton, looked even more harried than usual. His desk was stacked with reports from the agents, which he would read, initial, and forward to Washington if the leads and facts had been properly developed and set forth, or return to the respective agents with cryptic notes if they had been careless.

On spotting Zeke, Newton brightened. “I see you beat me in this morning. You after my job?” He got up to stretch. He was getting a little heavy about the girth, but determinedly kept his belt at the same notch.

Zeke said, “We’ve got a break finally in the Jenkins case.”

Newton stopped quite still. For seven days agents had worked the case without developing a good lead. They still knew little more than the bare facts: that at 10:05 a.m. two men, somewhere between twenty and thirty years of age, wearing Halloween masks, had escaped with $202,400 in cash from the Van Nuys Federal bank, forcing Helen Jenkins, forty-one, to accompany them at gun point. As happened frequently, the eye witness accounts varied widely regarding the height of the men, their build, their clothes, and the weapons they carried. Only on the escape car was there gen­eral agreement, and, as usual, it had been stolen and was found deserted three hours later in a Studio City parking lot. The victim’s father, Thomas Z. Jenkins, sixty-six, who was bedridden, provided the lead about the watch.

Zeke said, “But it’s the darndest note 3 setup you ever heard. I don’t know

.” He changed tack. “Here, I’d better give it to you the way it came in. I just took a call from one Miss Patti Randall, 1820 Greenbriar Street , Sherman Oaks.”

He referred to his notes. “She said that at 12:30 a.m. her black cat, named D.C., an abbreviation for Darn Cat, returned home with one mallard duck stolen from the home of Greg Balter, attorney, 1817 Greenbriar, and a yellow gold watch fastened around his neck like a collar. At my request she opened the watch and the scratch mark on the back cover definitely establishes it as the one Miss Jenkins was wearing at the time of her abduction.” ...


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Undercover Cat Unknown
Mildred Gordon