Pawing Through the Past

A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

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"You'll never get old."

Each member of the class of 1980 has received the letter. Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen, who is on the organizing committee for Crozet High's twentieth reunion, decides to take it as a compliment. Others think it's a joke.

But Mrs. Murphy senses trouble. And the sly tiger cat is soon proven right ... when the class womanizer turns up dead with a bullet between his eyes. Then another note followed by another murder makes it clear that someone has waited twenty years to take revenge.

While Harry tries to piece together the puzzle, it's up to Mrs. Murphy and her animal pals to sniff out the truth. And there isn't much time. Mrs. Murphy is the first to realize that Harry has been chosen Most Likely to Die, and if she doesn't hurry, Crozet High's twentieth reunion could be Harry's last.


"As feline collaborators go, you couldn't ask for better than Sneaky Pie Brown."
-- The New York Times Book Review

"Mrs. Murphy is a cat who detects her way into our hearts."
-- San Francisco Chronicle Book Review


The huge ceiling fan lazily swirled overhead, vainly attempting to move the soggy August air. Mary Minor Haristeen, Harry to her friends -- and everyone was a friend -- scribbled ideas on a yellow legal pad. Seated around the kitchen table, high-school yearbooks open, were Susan Tucker, her best friend, Mrs. Miranda Hogendobber, her coworker and good friend, and Chris Sharpton, an attractive woman new to the area.

"We could have had this meeting at the post office," Susan remarked as she wiped the sweat from her forehead.

"Government property," Miranda said.

"Right, government property paid for with my taxes," Susan laughed.

Harry, the postmistress in tiny Crozet, Virginia, said, "Okay, it is air-conditioned but think how many hours Miranda and I spend in that place. I have no desire to hang out there in my free time."

"You've got air-conditioning at your house." Miranda stared at Susan.

"I know but the kids are having a pool party and-- "

"You left the house with a party in progress? There won't be a drop of liquor left," Harry interrupted.

"My kids know when to stop."

"Congratulations," Harry taunted her. "That doesn't mean anyone else's kids know when to stop. I hope you locked the bar."

"Ned is there." Susan returned to the opened yearbook, the conversation clearly over. Her husband could handle any crisis.

"You could have said that in the first place." Harry opened her yearbook to the same page.

"Why? It's more fun to listen to you tell me what to do."

"Oh." Harry sheepishly bent over the yearbook photo of one of her senior superlatives, Most Likely to Succeed. "I can't believe I looked like that."

"You look exactly the same. Exactly." Miranda pulled Harry's yearbook to her.

"Don't compliment her, it will go to her head." Susan turned to Chris. "Are you sorry you volunteered to help us?"

"No, but I don't see as I'm doing much good." The newcomer smiled, her hand on her own high-school yearbook.

"All right. Down to business." Harry straightened her shoulders. "I'm in charge of special categories for our twentieth high-school reunion. BoomBoom Craycroft, our fearless leader" -- Harry said this with a tinge of sarcasm about the head of the reunion -- "is going to reshoot photographs of our senior superlatives with us as we are today. My job is to come up with other things to do with people who weren't senior superlatives.

"That's only fair. I mean, there are only twelve senior superlatives, one male, one female. That's twenty people out of one hundred and thirty-two, give or take a few, since some of us were voted more than one superlative." Harry paused for a breath. "How many were in your class, Miranda?"

"Fifty-six. Forty-two are still alive, although some of us might be on respirators. My task for my reunion is easier." Miranda giggled, her hand resting on the worn cover of her 1950 yearbook.

"You all were so lucky to go to small high schools. Mine was a consolidated. Huge," Chris remarked, and indeed her yearbook bore witness to the fact, being three times fatter than that of Harry and Susan or Mrs. Hogendobber.

Susan agreed. "I guess we were lucky but we didn't know it at the time."

"Does anyone?" Harry tapped her yellow wooden pencil against the back of her left wrist.

"Probably not. Not when you're young. What fun we had." Miranda, a widow, nodded her head, jammed with happy memories.

"Okay, here's what I've got. Ready?" They nodded in assent so Harry began reading, "These are categories to try and include others: Most Distance Traveled. Most Children. Most Wives-- "

"You're not going to do that." Miranda chuckled.

"Why not? That one is followed by Most Husbands. Too bad we can't have one for Most Affairs." Harry lifted her eyebrows.

"Malicious," Susan said dryly.

"Rhymes with delicious." Harry's eyes brightened. "Okay, what else have I got here? Most Changed. Obviously that has to be in some good way. Can't pick out someone who has porked on an extra hundred pounds. And -- uh -- I couldn't think of anything else."

"Harry, you're usually so imaginative." Miranda seemed surprised.

"She's not at all imaginative but she is ruthlessly logical. I'll give her that."

Harry ignored Susan's assessment of her, speaking to Chris, "When you're new to a place it takes a long time to ferret out people's relationships to one another. Suffice it to say that Susan, my best friend since birth, feels compelled to point out my shortcomings."

"Harry, being logical isn't a shortcoming. It's a virtue," Susan protested. "But we are light on categories here."

Chris opened her dark green yearbook to a club photo. "My twentieth reunion was last year. One of the things we did was go through the club photos to see if we could find anyone who became a professional at something they were known for in high school. You know, like did anyone in Latin club become a Latin teacher. It's kind of hokey but you do get desperate after a time."

Harry pulled the book toward her, the youthful faces of the Pep Club staring back at her. "Which one are you?"

Chris pointed to a tall girl in the back row. "I wasn't blonde then."

"I can see that." Harry read the names below the photo, finding Chris Sharpton. She slid the book back to the owner.

"What we also did which took a bit of quick thinking on the spot was, we had cards made up with classmates' names written on them in italics. They were pretty. Anyway, if the individual hadn't fit into some earlier category we did things like Tom Cruise Double -- anything to make them feel special."

"That's clever," Miranda complimented her.

"The other thing we did was make calls. As you know people disperse after high school. Each of us on the committee called everyone we were still in contact with from our class. We asked who they were in contact with and what they knew about the people. This way we gathered information for things like Most Community Service. After a time it's a stretch but it's important that everyone be included in some way. At the last minute we even wrote a card up, Still The Same."

"Chris, these are good ideas." Harry was grateful. "You're wonderful to come help us. I mean, this isn't even your reunion."

"I'm not as generous as you think," Chris laughed. "Susan bet me she'd beat me by three strokes on the Keswick golf course. The bet was I'd help you all if I lost."

"What would you have gotten if you'd won?"

"Two English boxwoods planted by my front walkway."

Since moving to Crozet four months ago, Chris had thrown herself into decorating and landscaping her house in the Deep Valley subdivision, a magnet for under-forty newcomers to Albemarle County.

An outgoing person, Chris had made friends with her neighbors but most especially Marcy Wiggins and Bitsy Valenzuela, two women married to men that were classmates of Harry's.

"Good bet," Harry whistled.

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