"Takes after her mother," Larry said.
"The results are really wild! Sorry you can't write it up, Qwill, but everything is private, invitational, and exclusive. No publicity!"
"Okay. I'll forget it. No story," Qwilleran acquiesced. "But he sounds like an interesting character . . . You two go back to work."
Larry accompanied him out of the office and toward the front door, down the main aisle between cases of men's shirts and ties and women's scarves and earrings. "Old Campo is harmless, although a trifle phony," he said. "Still, his visits every four or five years are good for a certain element in our community-and good public relations for the store. It's Carol's project, actually. I stay out of it."
The facts were that Delacamp was a dealer who bought and sold estate jewelry, making periodic visits to remote areas with a history of affluence. In such communities the descendants of old moneyed families might be willing to part with an heirloom necklace of rubies and emeralds, or a diamond tiara, in order to finance a new car or a college education or an extravagant cruise. Artisans in Delacamp's Chicago firm could break up such outdated items and re-mount them in rings, pendants, earrings, and so forth for sale to a new generation as an investment or status symbol.
Moose County fitted the picture, and Delacamp apparently had found his visits worthwhile. It had been the richest county in the state in the nineteenth century, when natural resources were being exploited and there was no income tax to pay. The old mining tycoons and lumber barons had built themselves mansions with large vaults in the basement. They had sent their offspring to eastern colleges and had taken their wives to Paris, where they bought them jewels that would appreciate in value. When the mines closed in the early twentieth century, the economy collapsed and most families fled to the big cities. Others elected to stay and live quietly on their private means, going into business or the professions-or even bootlegging during Prohibition.
All of this convinced Qwilleran that Old Campo had a good thing going, and he enjoyed listening to gossip in the coffee shops. Blue-collar and white-collar opinions were freely expressed:
"He'll be puttin' on the dog and gettin' the old gals all het up."
"They say he drinks nothin' but tea, but ten to one he puts a little somethin' in it."
"Yeah, I was night porter at the hotel a few years ago, and he used to send out for rum. He was a big tipper, I'll say that for him."
"I know a guy-his wife drew ten thousand from their joint account and bought a diamond pin."
"I'm glad my wife's not on his list. Women go to that tea party of his and they're pushovers!"
"He always brings a female assistant, and she always happens to be young and sexy. She's supposed to be his cousin or niece or something, but you never notice any family resemblance, if you know what I mean."
Gossip was the mainstay of Moose County culture, although it was called "caring and sharing." Men had their coffee shops; women had their afternoon circles.
Qwilleran listened to it and nodded and chuckled. He himself had been the subject of gossip. He was a bachelor who lived simply, and yet he was the richest man in the northeast central United States. Through a twist of fate he had fallen heir to the vast Klingenschoen fortune based in Moose County. Previously he had managed on a reporter's salary without any particular interest in wealth; in financial matters, moreover, he felt like a simpleton. He handled the situation by establishing the Klingenschoen Foundation with a mandate to give the money away judiciously to benefit the community.
Needless to say, "Mr. Q" had become an icon in the north country, not only because of his generosity. He wrote a twice-weekly column, "Straight from the Qwill Pen," that was the most popular feature in the newspaper. He had a genial disposition and a sense of humor, even though his brooding eyes gave him a look of melancholy. And he was his own man.
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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