Who was Thelma Thackeray?
It was April first, and it sounded like an April Fool's joke.
Had anyone by that name ever lived in Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere?
Yet, there it was, in black and white-in the newsbite column of the Moose County Something:
Return of The Native
Thelma Thackeray, 82, a native of Moose County, has retired after a 55-year career in Hollywood, CA, and is returning to her native soil. "I'm coming home to die," she said cheerfully, "but not right away. First I want to have some fun."
It was followed by less startling items: The sheriff had purchased a stop-stick to aid deputies in high-speed car chases....The Downtown Beautiful committee had decided on hot-pink petunias for the flower boxes on Main Street....The sow that escaped from a truck on Sandpit Road had been discovered in the basement of the Black Creek Elementary School.
Immediately the lead item was being discussed all over town, via the grapevine. In coffeehouses, on street corners, and over backyard fences the news was spread: "A Hollywood star is coming to live in Pickax!"
Jim Qwilleran, columnist for the newspaper, was working at home when his phone started ringing. "Who was Thelma Thackeray?... Was she really a movie star?... Did the press know more than they were telling?"
"It sounds like a hoax," he told them. He remembered the April Fool's prank that his fellow staffers had played on the Lockmaster Ledger a year ago. They phoned a tip that a Triple Crown winner was being retired to a stud farm in Lockmaster under terms of absolute secrecy. Reporters at the Ledger had spent a week trying to confirm it.
Nevertheless, Qwilleran's curiosity was aroused. He phoned Junior Goodwinter, the young managing editor, and said sternly, "What was the source of the Thelma Thackeray newsbite?"
"She phoned our night desk herself-from California. Why do you ask? Do you have a problem with that?"
"I certainly do! The name sounds phony! And her remark about dying and having fun is too glib for a person of her apparent age."
"So what are you telling me, Qwill?"
"I'm telling you it's a practical joke played by those guys in Lockmaster in retaliation for the horse hoax. Have you been getting any reader reaction?"
"Sure have! Our phones have been ringing off the hook! And--hey, Qwill! Maybe there really is a Thelma Thackeray!"
"Want to bet?" Qwilleran grumbled as he hung up.
Qwilleran had a sudden urge for a piece of Lois Inchpot's apple pie, and he walked to the shabby downtown eatery where one could always find comfort food at comfortable prices--and the latest gossip. Lois herself was a buxom, bossy, hardworking woman who had the undying loyalty of her customers. They took up a collection when she needed a new coffeemaker and volunteered their services when the lunchroom walls needed painting.
When Qwilleran arrived, the place was empty, chairs were upended on tables, and Lois was sweeping up before dinner. "Too early for dinner! Too late for coffee!" she bellowed.
"Where's your busboy, Lois?"
Her son, Lenny, usually helped her prepare for dinner.
"Job hunting! He finished two years at MCCC, and he'd really like to go to one of them universities Down Below, but they're too expensive. So he's job hunting."
Qwilleran said, "Tell Lenny to apply to the K Fund for a scholarship. I'll vouch for him." The young man had faced personal tragedy, a frame-up, and betrayal of trust--with pluck and perseverance.
With a sudden change of heart she said, "What kind of pie do you want?"
"Apple," he said, "and give me that broom and I'll finish sweeping while you brew the coffee."
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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