Call me Pru, Pru Marlowe. But, please, don’t call me crazy. Yes, maybe you did see me talking to my cat just now. That’s Wallis, the dignified tabby on the windowsill. And, yes, it was more than just the usual “what does li’l pussums want for lunch?” You’ve got to understand: I didn’t see you walk in, and I needed a consult. It only made sense to confer with one of the more intelligent mammals in my life.
No, I’m not what you’d call an “animal communicator.” I don’t take money from gullible strangers to find out what’s ailing Spot, and I’m not going to tell you how Floppy is doing over the rainbow bridge. My skill is something different – a sensitivity, if you will. I don’t talk to animals, per se, because most animals don’t talk, not like we do. But they do interact with each other and even, if we know how to listen, with us. Only it involves more of their senses – scent and instinct as well as hearing and sight.
Some of this I know because I’m an animal behaviorist – you know, an animal “trainer” – and that alone would put me ahead of the game. There’s a lot that mere humans can learn just by observation and common sense. Like, for instance, that a cat wagging its tail means a much different thing than when a dog does it. But in addition to my behavioral training, what I have is a special skill: I can “hear” what an animal is thinking. How he or she is responding to the world. Sometimes, even, what that animal wants me to know. It’s not a gift. At times, I think it will drive me as crazy as some folks think I am. But it can be useful.
It can also be maddening. Take this parrot, for instance. I was called in to retrain him – his name is Randolph, he’s an African gray – after his old lady died. (She really was an old lady, name of Polly, and by all accounts, she was a handful.) You see, Randolph curses a blue streak, and nobody wants to adopt a foul-mouthed bird. But when I’m around, Randy seems to be saying some other things. Seems to be repeating the old lady’s last words, and making sounds that could indicate she was murdered. But he’s just a parrot. Right?
Only, I have studied animal behavior, so I know some things. For instance, the latest research on parrots says that they don’t just mimic the sounds around them. They can form simple sentences, understand the meaning behind some words. And, unlike some other animals, they are really visual: what they see is important to them. (It has to do with being a jungle animal, and one that is usually preyed upon, rather than a hunter.)
So I’ve got to ask myself: does Randolph understand what he’s saying to me? Does he know that he’s making me suspicious about old Polly’s death? Is he trying to tell me something? Even if he is simply repeating what he’s heard, what am I to make of it? Was someone ripping off the old lady? Was her death really an unfortunate accident?
And, really, what can I do about it anyway? I’m just the behaviorist. I’m not a cop. Who would I bring in to question a bird, anyway, even a mature parrot like Randolph? Nobody. Not without seeming as loony as, well, as you probably thought I was when you walked in. That’s why I needed a consult. That’s why I came home and started talking to Wallis.
“Wallis,” I said. “What am I going to do about this parrot?”
“Um, parrot,” she said. No you couldn’t hear it. But I could. “Tastes like chicken.”
As you can see, I’ve got a problem here.
You can read more about Pru and Wallis in Parrots Prove Deadly, the third in the Pru Marlowe pet noir series from Poisoned Pen Press. The first book in the series is Dogs Don’t Lie.
Meet the author
A reformed journalist, who has written for everyone from The New York Times to Cat Fancy, Clea Simon authored three nonfiction books before turning to to a life of crime (fiction). Her first mystery series, featuring the rock critic Theda Krakow, began with Mew is for Murder and continued for four books, through Probable Claws (Poisoned Pen Press). She then found herself communing with a ghost cat, Mr. Grey, via her graduate student heroine Dulcie Schwartz for the Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries, the most recent of which is True Grey (Severn House). The Pru Marlowe pet noirs, with their bad-girl protagonist Pru Marlowe, and her even badder tabby Wallis, launched in 2011 with Dogs Don’t Lie and continues this spring with Parrots Prove Deadly (Poisoned Pen Press). A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers Association, Clea lives in Massachusetts with her cat Musetta and their husband. She is working on new Prus and Dulcies, and can be reached at www.cleasimon.com and on Twitter.