Yum Yum was a flirtatious little female who purred, rubbed ankles, and gazed at Qwilleran beseechingly with violet-tinged eyes. She knew how to get what she wanted; she was all cat...Koko was a cat-and-a-half. Besides being long, lithe, and muscular, he had the bluest of blue eyes, brimming with intelligence and something beyond that--an uncanny intuition. There were times when the cat knew the answers before Qwilleran had even thought of the questions. Kao K'o Kung was his real name.
When Qwilleran walked into the barn, Yum Yum was excited about the turkey, but Koko was excited about the answering machine; there was a message waiting.
A woman's voice said, "Qwill, I'm leaving the library early and going to the dinner meeting of the bird club. It's all about chickadees tonight. I'll call you when I get home and we can talk about Thelma Thackeray. A bientot."
She left no name, and none was needed. Polly Duncan was the chief woman in his life. She was his own age and shared his interest in literature, being director of the Pickax public library. It was her musical voice that had first attracted him. Even now, when she talked, he felt a frisson of pleasure that almost overshadowed what she was saying.
Qwilleran thanked Koko for drawing his attention to the message and asked Yum Yum if she had found any treasures in the wastebasket. Talking to cats, he believed, raised their consciousness.
The dark meat of turkey was minced and arranged on two plates under the kitchen table, where they gobbled it up with rapture. Afterward it took them a long time to wash up. The tastier the treat, the longer the ablutions, Qwilleran had observed.
Then he announced loudly, "Gazebo Express now leaving for all points east!" Yum Yum and Koko jumped into a canvas tote bag that had been purchased from the Pickax public library. It was the right size for ten books or two cats who are good friends.
The octagonal gazebo stood in the bird garden, screened on all eight sides. In the evening there were birds and small four-legged creatures to amuse the Siamese, and when darkness fell there were night noises and night smells. Qwilleran stayed with them for a while, then went indoors to do some more work on the "Qwill Pen" column.
From time to time he received phone calls from friends who wanted to talk about the Hollywood celebrity: from Wetherby Goode, the WPKX meteorologist; from Celia Robinson O'Dell, his favorite caterer; from Susan Exbridge, antique dealer; the Lanspeaks, owners of the department store.
At one point he was interrupted by a phone call from Lisa Compton, wife of the school superintendent.
"Lyle and I were wondering if you know what's going into the old opera house?"
"No, I know only what's coming out. Maybe they're going to bring Mark Twain back. He hasn't been here since 1895."
"I know," Lisa said. "And my grandmother was still raving about him sixty years later. She loved his moustache--just like yours, Qwill. His wit and humor brought down the house! Her favorite was the one about cross-breeding man with the cat: It would improve the man but be deleterious to the cat."
"She told me that carriages used to draw up to the entrance of the hall, and women in furs and jewels would step out, assisted by men in opera cloaks and tall hats. Can you imagine that--in Pickax, Qwill?"
"That was over a hundred years ago," Qwilleran said. "Things change."
"So true! Before World War One the economy had collapsed. Pickax was almost a ghost town, and the opera hall was boarded up. In the Twenties it was a movie theatre for a few years. During World War Two the government took it over-all very hush-hush and heavily guarded. They removed the rows of seats and leveled the raked floor, my family told me."
Qwilleran said, "The old building has had a checkered career."
From The Cat Who Brought Down the House by Lilian Jackson Braun, Copyright © 2003 Lilian Jackson Braun, published by The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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