Pioneer blood had made the natives into a race of determined individualists, as a glance at the map would confirm. There were places like Squunk Corners, Little Hope, Sawdust City, Chipmunk, and Ugley Gardens. Qwilleran belonged in this environment. He spelled his name with a QW, lived in a barn with two cats, sported an enormous pepper-and-salt moustache, and rode a recumbent bicycle which required him to pedal with feet elevated.
There were other characteristics in his favor. Being tall and well -built, he had a distinct aura of authority. Being a journalist, he had trained himself to listen. Strangers felt they could confide in him, air their dreams, relate their woes. He always listened sympathetically.
One of Qwilleran's quirks was his desire for privacy. He needed solitude for thinking, writing, and reading, and his converted barn was effectively secluded. Though within the city limits and not far from Main Street, it had acreage. It had once been a strip farm extending from Main Street to Trevelyan Road, which was a half-mile to the east. Paving was unknown in those days.
Now Main Street divided into northbound and southbound traffic lanes, called Park Circle. Around the rim were two churches, the courthouse, a majestic old public library, and the original Klingenschoen mansion, now functioning as a small theatre for stage productions. To the rear of the mansion was a four-stall carriage house with servants' quarters upstairs. From there a rustic wagon trail wound its way through evergreen woods, ending in a barnyard.
The hundred-year-old apple barn rose like an ancient castle-octagonal in design, four stories high, with a fieldstone foundation and siding of weathered shingles. Odd-shaped windows had been cut in the walls, reflecting the angled timbers that framed the interior.
The property to the east had been a thriving orchard until a mysterious blight struck the trees. Now it was reforested, and wild gardens attracted birds and butterflies.
On the last day of August Qwilleran walked down the old orchard lane to pick up his mail and newspaper on Trevelyan Road. On the site where the old farmhouse had burned down there was now a rustic contemporary building housing the Pickax Art Center. County residents attended classes there, viewed exhibitions, and-in some cases-rented studios. As Qwilleran passed it, he counted the cars in the parking lot. It looked as if they were having a good day.
The highway marked the city limits. Beyond it was farmland. He waved to a farmer chugging down the road on a tractor and the driver of a farm truck traveling in the opposite direction. His rural mailbox and a newspaper sleeve were mounted on posts alongside the pavement. There were few letters in the box; his fan mail went to the newspaper office, and official business and junk mail went to the law firm that represented the Klingenschoen Foundation.
A boy carrying a grocery sack was running toward him from the direction of the McBee farm. "Mr. Q! Mr. Q!" he shouted. It was the ten-year-old Culvert McBee. "I brought you something!"
Qwilleran hoped it was not turnips or parsnips from the McBee kitchen garden. "That's very good of you, Culvert."
The chubby boy was breathing hard after running. "I made something for you . . . I took a summer class . . . over there." He jerked his head toward the art center and then handed over the sack.
"What is it?"
Qwilleran was dubious about knickknacks made for him by fond readers, and he peered into the sack with no great expectations. What he saw was a pad of paper stapled on a small board. The top sheet was computer-printed with the well-known saying Thirty Days Hath September.
"It's a calendar," Culvert explained. "Every day you tear off a page and read what it says."
The second page had the date (September 1) and the day (Tuesday) and a brief saying: Let sleeping dogs lie.
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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