In his second novel, Cats Kill, Nick Fuse delivers a raucous, rollicking, ribald mystery, a comic tour de force in a lighter vein than A Hard Time to Come. While motoring up the New York Thruway en route to Montreal, detective Collin Collins, with his wife Colleen and their cat Fang, drive into a fog bank and end up stuck for the night in the small town of Hoosis Falls, where Collin is accused of murder. The story is loosely — very loosely — based on Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man series, except Collin and Colleen (the Nick and Nora characters) seem to have been dropped, along with Fang, (remember Asta?) into an alternate universe. Wang’s Wayside Waterhole, the drinking joint through which the protagonists meander, is the hangout for a number of ancient and decrepit, but very vocal, male citizens of Hoosis Falls, who take a perverse interest in the fate of Collin and a prurient interest in his wife. Meanwhile, Collin and the faithful Fang embark on a night of sleuthing that takes them, by means of various tunnels, false fronts and trap doors, from one end of town to the other. After several hours of mayhem, the story ends, as it must, with all mysteries resolved, and Collin, Colleen and Fang back on the road to Montreal.
Excerpts from CATS KILL
All excerpts copyright©1998 by Nick Fuse
"Where are we?" she asked for the tenth time in as many miles.
And for the tenth time in as many miles he replied, "Humph."
Collin and Colleen Collins advanced uncertainly through the night and fog toward Montreal and clearer skies, seated comfortably in the luxury of a rented luxury car complete with fifteen different controls to adjust the interior environment and none to affect the exterior, which closed in around them like a fist full of black cloud.
"Why can’t you just admit we’re lost?" Colleen pleaded. "If you would just say, ‘We’re lost, darling,’ then at least we would know where we are."
"Detectives don’t get lost, my dear, only muddled. It’s a muddled night for a drive. I’ll give you that."
"We don’t even know what road we’re on," Colleen pointed out.
"Ah, well. All roads lead to Rome, eh darling? At least we’re moving forward. Isn’t this better than sitting in that stuffy airport bar back in Newark, socked in for who knows how long?"
"We’re supposed to be en route to Paris, not Rome, remember? And what is the good of moving forward when you can’t see two feet in front of you? Why do you suppose we haven’t seen another car for miles?"
"You certainly have to be thankful for that," Collin said. "Imagine running into someone else in this fog. And we have this road all to ourselves. We’re making excellent time."
"Getting nowhere fast, you mean. We must have gotten off the main road somehow. I think we should pull over and get our bearings."
"Humph," Collin said again. "Hello, what’s this?"
The rented luxury car came to a sudden stop, giving the seat-belted couple a good shake and sending their perplexed pet pussy, Fang (who had heretofore been sleeping contentedly on top of the back seat), sailing headlong into Colleen’s flight bag that lay open between them.
"Did you see that?" Collin asked breathlessly.
"I just finished telling you, I can’t see a thing! But I do think you could have pulled over with a little more tact. Poor Fangy is all doubled up in my duffel."
"Bigfoot!" Collin said.
"Really, darling, there is no need to get insulting. And my feet are not big. I’m a perfect size seven."
"Bigfoot," Collin said again, "or the hairiest naked man I’ve ever seen in my life. He just ran out in front of the car! Didn’t you see him?"
"Just how many drinks did you have at the airport?" Colleen asked suspiciously.
"You mean you didn’t see him? Where are your famous powers of observation when we need them? I nearly ran the thing over! Maybe I did run him over!"
"Get a hold on yourself, dear," Colleen said firmly. "Why don’t you step out and get some air? Fang looks like he needs to go walkies, and I’d prefer he didn’t do it in my duffel. I think I’d better take over the driving from here on in, if you don’t - "
But Collin was already out of the car, with Fang waddling after him into the gloom. Colleen sighed to herself and stepped out into the fog, wondering if they could possibly get to Maxim’s in time for their lunch appointment. Her famous husband was most famous for turning a simple road trip into a complicated and time-consuming adventure. A feeling of foreboding crept into her bones as she crossed in front of the headlights, followed shortly by a feeling of falling, and then by a feeling of pain as she sat on the pavement looking up into the surprised faces of Collin and Fang.
"Sorry to trip you up, dear," Collin said. "You can’t be too careful in this fog. Look, Fang’s found something," Collin said, holding up a golden medallion on a broken chain in the headlight’s beam. One side of the medallion depicted a blazing sun, while the reverse resembled a human backside. A forked leg hung from the bottom.
"What do you make of it, dear? Looks like our Bigfoot goes in for erotic folk jewelry, don’t you think? From the weight of it, I’d make it solid gold. Wonder what it means?"
"It means that I’m definitely driving," Colleen told him. "Now, would you be so kind as to help me up?"
Civilization was not far off in the form of another ladder leading up into darkness. Collin decided to douse the torch to afford them the advantage of surprise, should they need it. He attempted first to blow it out, but this proved ineffectual. He then attempted to smother the thing on the wet floor but made a bad job of it, sending sparks and smoke flying and setting fire to a crate and nearly torching Fang in the process. When finally all the fires were out, the smoky darkness made navigation difficult. Collin finally managed to grab Fang with one hand and the ladder with the other, and in a few moments he found his head banging sharply against something solid. He pushed through it and stepped into what appeared to be a thunderstorm.
When the fog cleared, Collin found himself standing behind the bar at Wang’s Wayside Waterhole, the center of attention before a gathering of slack-jawed octogenarians. A sprinkler was gently watering him from above, but he was not of a mind to mind.
The company stared in silence as he pulled a shaker from under the bar and filled it with ice, and continued staring as he began pulling bottles from the shelf.
"Anyone care to join me in a dry martini?" he asked the dumbfounded crowd. "It’s been a long, damp night, and I, for one, could use a little refreshment."
The Octogenarian Society came to life.
"I’ll be jiggered!"
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"
"Will you look at that!"
"Don’t look at it, I tell ya!"
"What the hell is that?"
"Can’t be real!"
"The place is infested! There’s a giant water rat on the bar!"
Fang, who had just jumped up on the bar to search for the remains of his tuna on pumpernickel, took umbrage at this last remark.
"It’s the Death Angel!" Elmo cried out, clutching a bony hand to his heart. "Don’t drink with him, boys, whatever you do!"
"Death Angel? Where?" Collin asked, and turned around. What he saw in the mirror behind the bottles nearly caused him to drop the shaker. Beneath a smoldering head of hair, his face was black and hairless, the eyes without lash or brow to shield the glowing red orbs. Not a bad disguise, Collin decided.
"Nah, it’s just that young city slicker fella dressed up like the Death Angel."
"Why would he want to dress up like that and scare a bunch of old folks for?"
"Can’t never tell with the criminal mind. Maybe he’s getting ready for another murder!"
Collin, still mesmerized by his reflection, muttered, "Hmm? What?"
"If you ask me, I say the lad’s a loony. No wonder he kilt old Billy Bob."
"Insanity in the family."
"Watch him, now. Might explode any minute."
"Where’s all that smoke coming from?"
"No telling what he might do next."
Collin steadied his hand and poured himself a quadruple from the shaker, liberally watered by the sprinkler. He decided to refrain from further comment until sufficiently revived. Fang, unable to find his sandwich, was making a meal of the cocktail goldfish swimming in a bowl on the bar. The old men had regained the upper hand and began to play it out.
"Why’d Goats let you out of jail, sonny?" one old duffer asked.
"Let him out? You’re getting senile, Mort! Looks like he blowed himself out. A jailbreaker if ever I saw one. Tried to disguise himself by burning off his eyebrows and putting on the blackface."
"Maybe he’s the ghost of one of them runaway slaves I told you about," Elmo said.
"Ghost? Slaves?" Collin asked, his tongue and mind revived.
"Don’t listen to him," another man warned. "He ain’t been right since the war."
"The war!" the chorus chanted, raising their glasses.
"I suppose you boys saw some action in World War Two," Collin said by way of taking the focus off himself.
"World War Two? We’re talking about the Civil War!"
"The Blue and the Gray!"
"Grant and Lee!"
"Brother against Brother!"
"Free the slaves!" Elmo shouted. "Hide ‘em all in the tunnel!"
"Tunnel?" Collin asked.
The crowd grew silent.
"Did you say hide them all in the tunnel?"
"He don’t know what he’s saying," the ringleader said. "Cockamamie story about the Underground Railroad running through this town. Just a lot of hooey, if you ask me. Every once in a while some city fella comes up here snooping, but they never find what they’re looking for. If there ever were any tunnels round here, they would of filled in years ago."
"Like Elmo’s brain," snapped a member of the younger set to the general merriment of all.
"That would explain it," Collin told them. "So you say this town was a stop on the Underground Railroad, presumably on the way to Canada and Freedom. But it doesn’t explain the K-rations."
"In the tunnels."
"The tunnels from the Underground Railroad," Collin explained patiently.
"Ain’t no tunnels. Ain’t no railroad. Ain’t been no K-rations since World War Two," Jenkins stated firmly.
"But what about - "
"It’s just a Fairy story, young fella. You youngsters are always mixing up fantasy with reality. I guess you’ll learn to tell the difference, when you grow up."
"It ain’t likely."
"He’s a loony, I’m telling you."
"Say, sonny. Where do you think your wife is right about now?" Jenkins asked.
"My wife?" Collin asked, confused by this sudden change of topic.
"That pretty little thing you blew into town with."
"Colleen, you mean?"
"Don’t it strike you as odd that Wang’s not here?"
"Wang?" Collin asked. "Oh yes, the bartender."
"Bartender and proprietor."
"Masher and Cad."
"Horny little bastard," one old man drooled over his gums.
"I don’t know him that well," Collin confessed.
"Your wife does," the toothless man said gleefully.
"Getting to know him real well over to the hotel room about now," another offered.