First place 

"Old Scratch"

Page 4 of 4

"What did you want the money for this time?"

"To escape." Walker sighed. "I'm old. Can't work. I thought I'd leave the two of them together, finally. It's what they wanted." He looked to the house. "It's what they got."

Sorensen appeared, pale and frightened, at the foot of the drive. "Dead woman, dead cat," he said hoarsely. He clutched at the collar of his coveralls as if he was holding them up.

"And what else?" Miller asked.

Sorensen looked down, shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing." With that, he shuffled crablike up the street, not responding to Miller's shouts. His front door slammed like a bullet.

So Miller went to see the house for himself, and was still inside when the police finally came. After surveying the mess, they took Walker away quickly, and nearly arrested Miller for wandering around the crime scene. The blue lights were still flashing around the curve as Miller told his tale.

"Well?" we asked.

Miller said the house was filthy with dust. The scene was pretty much how Walker described it – the cat splattered across, well, everything, and the old woman didn't have a scratch on her. "She died badly, though," Miller said. "Her face was contorted, like she'd seen something terrible." One of the cat's ruined green eyes had landed on her breast, and it stared straight at the hole in the headboard. "The headboard – that was the only off part. The money wasn't there. It wasn't like Walker described it."

"Maybe Walker snatched it," Wilder offered. "Maybe it wasn't ever there to begin with."

"Maybe." Miller frowned, and looked up the street at Sorensen's place. "Maybe not."

The Walkers' house went on the market but remained unsold, the realty sign pathetically positioned between two of the holes. Walker wasn't charged, but didn't return. The neighborhood went on like usual, except that we didn't see the Sorensens anymore. Mrs. Sorensen didn't even answer the door for the UPS man, and word came her husband was out of work. Their fights grew louder; twice, Patterson heard him shout whore. The children swore they heard crying in the late afternoons, soon after Sorensen's truck pulled in the garage.

Miller, always careful in his conclusions, walked over there one evening to take in the scene. It was Thanksgiving when he mentioned that the Sorensens' back yard was full of holes. He'd seen Mrs. Sorensen under the full moon, leaned against a shovel, dirt streaking her forehead like ash. Sorensen stood in their doorway, outlined by the kitchen's glow. Sorensen's face was obscured by shadow, but one thing was clear: There was a smoky gray cat twined around his legs, yowling. Mrs. Sorensen looked up at her husband, love and fear meeting on her face, and Miller, suddenly uncomfortable, hurried home. Whether they had seen him, he couldn't say. But the next morning, he found a disemboweled mouse on his porch.

"Thought Sorensen hated cats," Wilder mused.

"Can't figure some folks," Miller said. Soon, we spoke of other things.

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