It was a September to remember! In Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere, plans were rife and hopes were high.
First, the historic hotel in Pickax City, the county seat, was finally restored after the bombing of the previous year, and it would reopen with a new name, a new chef, and a gala reception.
Then, a famous American (who may or may not have slept there in 1895) was about to be honored with the city's first annual Mark Twain Festival.
Next, a distinguished personage from Chicago had reserved the presidential suite and would arrive on Labor Day, setting female hearts aflutter.
To top it off, the tri-county Scottish Gathering and Highland Games would be held at the fairgrounds: bagpipes skirling, strong men in kilts tossing the caber, and pretty young women dancing the Highland Fling on the balls of their feet.
The one unexpected happening was the homicide on the Pickax police blotter, but that was a long story, starting twenty-odd years before.
As September approached, the good folk of Pickax (population 3,000) were quoting Mark Twain about the weather, suggesting ribald names for the hotel, and gossiping endlessly about a man named Delacamp; few would ever meet him, but all had something to say about him.
Jim Qwilleran, columnist for the Moose County Something, felt an air of anticipation when he made his rounds of downtown Pickax. When he went to the bank to cash a check, the young woman who counted out his fifties said, "Isn't it exciting? Mr. Delacamp is coming again, and he always comes into the bank. I hope he comes to my window, but the manager usually handles his transactions. Anyway, it's all so thrilling!"
"If you say so," Qwilleran said. After a long career as a newspaperman he was seldom excited and certainly never thrilled.
At the florist shop where he went to order a flowering plant for a sick friend, the wide-eyed assistant said breathlessly, "Did you hear? Mr. Delacamp is coming! He always has to have fresh flowers in his hotel room, and he sends roses to his customers."
"Good!" said Qwilleran. "Anything that helps the local economy has my approval."
While picking up a New York Times at the drugstore he heard a woman customer saying she had received an engraved invitation to Mr. Delacamp's afternoon tea, and she wondered what kind of perfume to wear. The pharmacist's wife said, "They say he likes French perfumes. We don't carry anything like that. Try the department store. They can special-order."
Qwilleran crossed the street to the department store, his newshound instincts scenting a good story with human interest and a touch of humor. Lanspeak's was a large fourth-generation store with new-fashioned merchandise but old-fashioned ideas about customer service. He found the two owners in their cramped office on the main floor.
"Hi, Qwill! Come on in!" said Larry Lanspeak.
"Have a cup of coffee," said his wife, Carol.
Qwilleran took a chair. "No coffee, thanks, but please tell me something. Explain the Delacamp mystique." He knew the couple were official hosts for the man's visit. "Why all the excitement?"
Larry looked at his wife, and she made a helpless gesture. "What can I say? He's an older man, but he's handsome-elegant-gallant! He sends women roses!"
"And kisses their hands," said Larry with raised eyebrows.
"He pays lavish compliments!"
"And kisses hands," Larry repeated derisively.
"Everything is very formal. Women have to wear hats to his Tuesday afternoon tea, and we've sold out of millinery. We sell the basic felt that women wear to church, but our daughter said we should gussy them up with feathers and flowers and huge ribbon bows. So we did! Diane is a sober, dedicated M.D., but she has a mad streak."
The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, by Lilian Jackson Braun, Lillian Jackson Braun. © January 10, 2000 , Lilian Jackson Braun, Lillian Jackson Braun used by permission.
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