Friday, February 17, 2012

Cat’s-Paw by Bill Pronzini

Theme for the Week: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Name of the story: Cat’s-Paw
Author: Bill Pronzini
Source: Scenarios, Spadework – both collections of ‘Nameless Detective’ short stories
Story Number: 48
The unlikely place for murder in this story happens to be a Lion’s cage in a Zoo in the middle of a cold and foggy night – which is meticulously explained with all the eerie sounds and the various labyrinths of the animal enclosures. There has been a rash of thefts of a few esoteric and endangered species from the San Francisco zoological gardens including a crested screamer, a purple gallinule, a black crake, Harris hawks and Chiricahua rattlesnakes. All that the zoo could do was to hire one more extra night guard named Kirby in addition to the two that they had: Sam & Hammond. A member of the commission who is an animal lover hires Nameless to act as an extra guard during the night and identify the person responsible for the thefts.
On the fourth night of his vigil, Kirby is found dead inside one of the cages in the Lion’s House in peculiar circumstances: the small access door is locked, the sliding panel at the rear of the cage that let the big cats in and out at feeding time is also locked, both Nameless and Sam were together when the shot was heard and they both arrive at the scene through the only entrance possible(locked from outside) in less than 30 seconds and yet they don’t see anyone who could have murdered Kirby and escaped! The locked cage is quickly explained as they find a key next to the dead man – anybody could have locked the cage and thrown the key in through the bars but they don’t find an explanation as to how the murderer could have escaped in such a short span of time!
All the clues are fairly presented to the reader, the same clues which Nameless ponders upon and arrives at the only possible solution – which solves both the murder and the theft of the rare animals.

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