"People tell me things. Of course, I have a kind face and I'm a good listener, but the real reason they tell me things is they think I can't repeat their secrets. They couldn't be more wrong."
"People tell me secrets." The corgi looked up at Mrs. Murphy, the tiger cat, reposing on the windowsill at the post office.
"You're delusional. Dogs blab." She nonchalantly flipped the end of her tail.
"You just said people think you can't repeat their secrets but they're wrong. So you blab, too."
"No, I don't. I can tell if I want to, that's all I'm saying."
Tucker sat up, shook her head, and walked closer to the windowsill. "Well, got any secrets?"
"No, it's been a dull stretch." She sighed. "Even Pewter hasn't dug up any dirt."
"I resent that." A little voice piped up from the bottom of a canvas mail cart.
"Wait until Miranda finds out what you've done to her garden. She hasn't a tulip bulb left, Pewter, and all because you thought there was a mole in there last week."
"Her tulips were diseased. I've saved her a great deal of trouble." She paused a moment. "And I was careful enough to pull mulch over the hole. She won't find out for another month or two. Who knows when spring will come?"
"I don't know about spring but here comes Mim the Magnificent." Tucker, on her hind legs, peered out the front window.
Mim Sanburne, the town's leading and richest citizen, closed the door of her Bentley Turbo, stepping gingerly onto the cleared walkway to the post office because ice covered much of central Virginia.
Odd that Mim would own a Bentley for she was a true Virginian, born and bred, plus her family had been in the state since the early 1600s. Driving anything as flashy as a Bentley was beyond the pale. The only thing worse would be to drive a Rolls Royce. And Mim didn't flaunt her wealth. Miranda, who had known Mim all of her life, figured this was a quiet rebellion on her friend's part. As they both cruised into their sixties, not that they were advertising, this was Mim's salvo to youth: Get Out Of My Way.
Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen smiled when Mim pushed open the door. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Harry. Did you have trouble driving in today?"
"Once I rolled down the driveway I was fine. The roads are clear."
"You didn't ask me if I had trouble." Miranda walked up to the counter dividing the post office staff from the public. As she lived immediately behind the post office, with just an alleyway in between, she slipped and slid as she made her way to work on foot.
"You haven't broken anything so I know you're fine." Mim leaned on the counter. "Gray. Gray. Cold. Hateful."
"Four degrees Fahrenheit last night." Miranda, passionate gardener that she was, kept close watch on the weather. "It must have been colder at Dalmally." She mentioned the name of Mim's estate just outside of town. As some of Mim's ancestors fled to America from Scotland they named their farm Dalmally, a remembrance of heather and home.
"Below zero." Mim strolled over to her postbox, took out her key, the brass lock clicking as she turned the key.
Curious, Mrs. Murphy dropped off the windowsill, jumped onto the wooden counter, then nimbly stepped off the counter onto the ledge that ran behind the postboxes, dividing the upper boxes from the larger, lower boxes. She enjoyed peering in the boxes. If a day dragged on she might reach in, shuffle some mail, or even bite the corners.
Today she noticed that Susan Tucker's mailbox had Cracker Jacks stuck on the bottom of it.
Mim's gloved hand, a luscious, soft turquoise suede, reached into her box. Murphy couldn't help herself; she peered down, then took both paws and grabbed Mim's hand, no claws.
Excerpted from Claws and Effect by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown Copyright 2001 by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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