"Are you guys all set for the Big One?" he asked. "It won't be long before snow flies!"
There was no answer, but he could read their minds. They sensed that he had cats of his own. They knew he had been there before, even feeding them when she was away. But was he to be trusted? What was that large brush on his face?
When Qwilleran returned for dinner at six-thirty, Brutus rubbed against his ankles; Catta squealed and hopped about. They knew he had a treat in his pocket.
Polly's harried voice came from the kitchen. "Qwill, I'm running a little late. Would you be good enough to feed the cats? Open a can of the Special Diet for him and the salmon in cream gravy for her.... And you might put a CD on the stereo. Not Mozart."
"What's for dinner?"
"Minestrone and lasagne."
"How about mandolin music?"
Polly had put a butterfly table and two ladderback chairs in one of the large windows, setting it with Regency silver and Wedgwood.
After adding a plentiful garnish of Parmesan to the soup, Qwilleran asked, "What's the latest news in the stacks?" He knew that the library was the unofficial hub of the Pickax grapevine.
"Everyone's concerned about the brush fires," she said. "The Big B mine was owned by Maggie Sprenkle's great-grandmother, you know, and if anything happened to the shafthouse, she'd have a heart attack!"
Qwilleran smoothed his moustache. "Has there ever been a threat to a shafthouse in the past?"
"Not that I know, and I've lived here since college."
"It's ironic that last night's incident should coincide with the dedication of the plaques." Ten bronze plaques, donated anonymously, had been installed at the historic minesites.
"That's exactly what Maggie said. She was the donor, you know, although she doesn't want it known. You won't mention it, will you?"
"Of course not." He had already heard the rumor from three other sources.
When the lasagne was served, conversation turned to the art center's new managerBarb Ogilvie, the art-knitter.
"A very good choice," Polly said. "She's well-organized and has a pleasant personality. She's going to teach a class, and she'll be able to do her own knitting on the job, which will make up for the modest salary they pay. At the craft fair I bought several pairs of her goofy socks for Christmas gifts."
"Not for me, I hope," Qwilleran said. "By the way, my compliments on the lasagne. It's one of the best I've ever tasted."
"Thank you. It's from the deli," she said smugly, countering his brash remark about the socks. "Beverly Forfar was never right for the manager's job, although I liked her as a person. I wonder where she is now."
"She found work in a large university town, I happen to know," Qwilleran said. "She won't have to worry about chickens crossing the road, or tractors dumping mud on the pavement."
"She had a strange haircut, didn't she?"
"Yes, but good legs."
"Help yourself to the sauce, Qwill. Mildred made it. The recipe came from the chef at the Mackintosh Inn."
"The local Clan of Mackintosh presented the inn with an antique Scottish curling stonedid you know? It's in a glass case in the lobby," he said. "Is Nightingale still staying at the inn?"
"No, the moving van finally arrived from Boston, with his furniture and books. How could it have taken them so long?"
"They got lost," Qwilleran guessed. "They couldn't find Pickax on the map. They had a triple load and delivered here by way of Miami and St. Louis."
They had met Kirt Nightingale at a welcoming party in the Village and were impressed by his expertise, although they found him ordinary in appearance and without much personality. He intended to publish his own catalogue and do mail-order business from his condo.
From The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, by Lilian Jackson Braun, Lillian Jackson Braun. © January 29, 2001 , Lilian Jackson Braun, Lillian Jackson Braun used by permission.
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