"I'm a lot like my father," said Hermux. He glanced up at the photograph over his workbench. It was a smiling picture of Linnix Tantamoq at the national convention of watchmakers. He had just been named Watchmaker of the Year. Hermux drew himself up. "Like my father," he said proudly, "I'm not afraid of complicated problems. And I can solve them under pressure. Perhaps you heard about my involvement in the Perflinger case?"
"No. Why would I?"
"Why, it was in all the papers! Earlier this year. My picture was printed several times. Along with Ms. Perflinger and Tucka Mertslin and Ortolina Perriflot! You can't say you didn't hear something about it. Hiril Mennus? The Beauty Doc Murders? Where have you been?"
"I've been working! In the field! I don't have time to waste reading newspapers! And I couldn't get them if I did!"
"What do you do?" asked Hermux
The old chipmunk jerked back suddenly and narrowed his eyes. His one ear cocked and alert.
"Why do you want to know?" he asked suspiciously.
"Well it sounds like you've got a problem. An interesting one. And I'd like to hear about it. What can I do to help you?"
"You can start by helping me get this off," the old chipmunk grumbled. He pointed to the tattered knapsack on his back.
"Boy this is heavy," said Hermux wrestling it onto the workbench. "What's in it?" He started to unbuckle it.
"Hey!" snapped the old chipmunk. "Keep your hands off! I'll do that!" He pushed Hermux away.
Hermux watched his irritable visitor rummage about in his knapsack. Time had certainly not been kind to the old guy. He looked run down and run over. From his patched jacket to his threadbare pants and his dusty, scuffed boots. His fur was thin and lifeless. His paws were nicked and scarred. And then there was the missing ear. How had that happened? He certainly didn't look like any friend of his father's that Hermux had ever met.
"If you'll have some patience for an old man's cautious nature, I've got something very interesting to show you," said the old chipmunk. "It's a very puzzling object that I acquired recently. It raises several questions about history. Questions that would have interested an intelligent, imaginative watchmaker like your father. Maybe they will interest you."
A noisy clanging in the front of the shop interrupted him.
The A List
Someone was pounding the bell on the counter.
"Looks like you made the list, Mr. Tantamoq!"
It was Lista Blenwipple with the morning mail.
"And not everybody did. I can tell you that for a fact!" she continued with great satisfaction. She appeared in the door of the workshop. "Oh here you are!" she said cheerily. She handed Hermux a handful of mail.
The new issue of Watchmaker's Monthly was right on top and the fall catalogue from Orsik and Arrbale, the department store. On its cover an athletic young field mouse was shown leaping in mid-air from a towering stack of hay. He was wearing a very catchy outfitpumpkin-colored shorts, and a thick grass-green sweater covered with bright yellow exclamation points. There were bills and notices. And there was a letter from Nip Setchley. Hermux started to open it.
"Oh, that's not it silly!" cautioned Lista. "It's not mixed in with the everyday mail. No indeed!" She removed a pale gray envelope from a special inside compartment of her mailbag and held it up before him like some sort of trophy.
"There's those that were chosen. And those that weren't," she went on mysteriously. "I know some people who are in for a big disappointmentpeople who ought to know better than irritate me by putting on fancy airspeople who'll be sorry that their mail was unavoidably detained in transit."
Finally she handed Hermux the envelope. "It looks like you'll be going."
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