Read The Cat Sitter’s Cradle Online
Authors: Blaize,John Clement
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Deepest thanks go to Marcia Markland, my mother’s longtime editor and friend, without
whom this particular Dixie Hemingway mystery (and quite possibly all of its predecessors)
would not exist. Marcia was the catalyst for true joy in my mother’s life—for that,
and for her invaluable role in the shaping of this book, I am eternally grateful.
I am also deeply indebted to Hellyn Sher for improving my life in every way; to Dana
Beck for inspiring me to dig deeper; to Mike Harder for playing the bad cop; to Detective
Sergeant Chris Iorio of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department for his patience
and insight; to the team of Linda Sher, Stanley Sher, and Jeremy Sher for their advice
on immigration law; to Dr. Anna Owren Fayne for her priceless advice on veterinary
medicine; to India Cooper for her extraordinary copyediting; to associate editor Kat
Brzozowski for providing wise answers to my dumb questions; to Al Zuckerman, my agent
at Writer’s House; to Elizabeth Cuthrell and Steven Tuttleman for their love and support;
to Suzanne Beecher for being an angel on Earth; to my family for loving each other
in good times and bad; to my brother Don, the only idol I’ve ever known; to Dave,
who opened the window that time; and finally, to my mother’s readers, who make it
possible for Dixie to enjoy yet another glorious sunset.
The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.
It was about 6:00
when Rufus and I saw Joyce Metzger on the walking path that runs around the perimeter
of Glebe Park at the north end of Siesta Key. Rufus is a scruffy-faced schnauzer who
firmly believes that he’s in total charge of whatever street he happens to be walking
on, so he let out a little
to announce our presence. Joyce had Henry the VIII on a leash, and they were both
studying with intense curiosity something that was lying on the path. Joyce had squatted
down low to see better, and Henry the VIII, being a tiny miniature dachshund, was
already down low. When Rufus barked again they both looked up, and their faces brightened
I’m Dixie Hemingway, no relation to you-know-who. I’m a cat sitter on Siesta Key,
a semitropical barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, just off Sarasota, Florida. It’s
tiny. The whole place is less than four square miles, and probably at least one of
those square miles is taken up by ponds and lagoons. Most of my clients are cats,
with just a few dogs. Occasionally there’s a hamster or a bird or something with scales,
although I prefer to let other pet sitters take the snakes. Don’t get me wrong, I
admire snakes. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent was the only honest one. But anybody
who knows me knows I can’t stand dropping live, squirming mice into a snake’s open
Until about five years ago, I risked my life every day as a deputy sheriff, but after
what you might call a bump in the road of life, I went a little nuts. Well, a lot
nuts. The sheriff’s department and I came to a mutual agreement: I was too messed
up to wear a sheriff’s badge or carry a gun, and it was probably a good idea for me
to take a break from law enforcement. That’s when I started my own pet-sitting business.
Now that I’m somewhat socially acceptable again, I’m okay around guns, but I prefer
working with animals to humans. Animals don’t let you down, and they’re always there
when you need them.
Joyce said, “Come look at this, Dixie! I’m almost certain it’s a resplendent quetzal!”
I brought Rufus close to my side and pulled up next to Joyce. There on the ground
was a parrotlike bird with bright green wings, a red breast, a banana yellow beak,
and a fluffy chartreuse crest that sat atop its head like a fringed helmet. Its green
tail feathers were easily three times the length of its body and looked like two long
Christmas ribbons, gleaming with a violet iridescence.
I said, “Huh.”
Joyce said, “This may be the first resplendent quetzal ever seen in Florida!”
I said, “Huh?”
Rufus wagged his tail vigorously as if to make up for my ignorance.
Lord knows the Key has practically every bird known to man. They all touch down about
the same time tourist season starts, so our little island’s population increases tenfold
with both feathered and nonfeathered globe-trotters. Pelicans, parakeets, terns, plovers,
spoonbills, egrets, herons—and those are just the ones you see every day. It’s a birder’s
paradise. There are probably at least two hundred species of birds that make their
way through the Key at some time of the year, so we might as well have a few resplendent
” Joyce said. “They’re the national bird of Guatemala, and they’re on the endangered
species list. The ancient Aztecs thought they were gods of light and goodness, and
it was considered a mortal crime to kill them.”
Rufus made a snorting noise, and he and Henry the VIII exchanged a look.
I said, “Joyce, you do realize that bird is dead?”
“I know, but if there’s one, there could be others. It looks like some kind of parrot,
but that long tail and those shiny feathers are a sure giveaway. And see the yellow
beak? No, this is a resplendent quetzal alright.”
I scratched my left ankle with the toe of my right Ked. I admire and respect birders,
but I’m not sure I understand their excitement when they spot something that for very
good reasons probably does not want to be spotted. If I were a bird, I don’t think
I’d be very happy with hordes of giddy bird-watchers turning up and pointing their
binoculars at me and scribbling in their little notebooks. Not to mention hunters
with pellet guns and kids with slingshots. I’d much rather flit around behind a canopy
of leaves and branches and hope nobody ever noticed me.
Joyce had pulled off a white bandanna tied around her neck and laid it on the ground
beside the bird.
“What the heck are you doing?”
She gestured toward her house. “I’m going to put it in my freezer.”
“Yep. Then I’m going to call the ornithologists at the University of Tampa. They can
analyze its stomach contents and tell whether it’s been held captive or if it flew
here. Maybe it got blown off course in a hurricane or something.”
She rolled the bird into her bandanna and put it in her shoulder bag. Rufus pulled
on his leash and pointed his nose at the brush beside the trail; he had probably had
enough talk about dead birds.
I said, “Well, you know what they say, a bird in the freezer is worth two in the—”
Rufus and Henry the VIII both turned their heads toward the brush beside the trail.
There was a short bleating sound, and for a moment I wondered if a baby goat had somehow
wandered into the bushes. The sound came again, and Rufus bounded toward it. I was
right behind him, but this time I knew: It was not a goat.
I circled the end of a line of bushy bougainvillea and jerked Rufus to a stop. A dark-haired
woman lay on the ground looking up at us with terror in her eyes. She clutched a newborn
baby to her chest. The baby’s skin was bright pink and glistening, its jet black hair
wet with blood clinging to its skull. A long umbilical cord trailed from the baby
into a dark red pile of blood-soaked leaves.
I said, “Joyce, come here right now.”
The baby let out another cry, and the woman pulled it close. Her arms were as thin
as a child’s.
Joyce ran to look, then silently tilted her head back and closed her eyes.
While I rummaged through my backpack for my cell phone, Joyce took Rufus and Henry
the VIII over to a stand of saplings nearby and tied them up. They sat side by side
without a whimper, as if they knew something very important had happened in the human
As soon as I pulled my phone out of my pack, the young woman on the ground started
to cry. Her voice was a high desolate keening, her mouth slewed so she looked like
a person on drugs, as if she hadn’t had a decent meal or a restful hour’s sleep in
a long, long time. Through the tangle of hair falling in front of her face, I could
see that she was much younger than I’d realized at first. A teenager.
I dialed 911 as I knelt beside her and put a gentling hand on her shoulder. “It’s
okay, honey, you’re gonna be okay.”
The 911 operator answered, “911, what is your emergency?”
“A young woman has just given birth in the woods. We need an ambulance.”
“Is the baby breathing?” the operator asked, as if she had this conversation every
“Is the mother hemorrhaging?”
“I don’t think so.”
“How long has it been since she gave birth?”
I looked at the girl. “How long has it been since you had the baby?”
She flailed her head from side to side. “Please no, miss,” she moaned. “Please no,
I cringed. “Do you speak English?”
She hesitated. “A little.”
The operator said, “What is your location, please?”
Joyce knelt down at the girl’s side. “Sweetheart, do you have papers?”
The girl hesitated, then shook her head no. Even non-English-speaking immigrants understand
the word “papers.”
I clicked off the phone and looked more closely at the young woman. Her dark eyes
stared back at me like a trapped animal’s. Joyce knelt down beside the girl with her
sweatshirt ready to swaddle the baby. Our eyes met.
Joyce said, “Don’t tell me.”
“We have to do this ourselves. Either that or let them take her to the ER, where she’ll
probably be arrested.” The girl looked from me to Joyce. “Look at her. She’s terrified.”
Recently, in what had become a very famous incident, a local hospital had admitted
a young man for emergency treatment, only to find out that he was an illegal alien.
The man was treated, but instead of releasing him, the hospital contacted immigration
and the man was deported back to his own country. He had a family here, and a job,
but none of that mattered. His life was destroyed, and his family was left to fend
For a second, Joyce looked as devastated as I felt. Then every fiber of her body seemed
to firm up, and I remembered that in her former life Joyce had been a marine.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s do this.”
Her tone was so authoritative that I was happy to let her take charge. She stood up
and brushed off her shorts decisively. For a split second, my mind wandered off, probably
to avoid what was about to happen.
I should really keep a former marine with me at all times,
I thought to myself.
They’re quite handy.