Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese sleuths, Koko and Yum Yum, investigate the disappearance of a wealthy railroad buff--and alleged multimillion-dollar embezzler--a case that becomes complicated by red herrings, a tragic train wreck, and murder at a railroad tavern.
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December 16, 2002
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Excerpt from The Cat Who Blew the Whistle by Lilian Jackson Braun
The engineer clanged the bell. The whistle blew two shrill blasts, and the old steam locomotive -- the celebrated Engine No. 9 -- huff-puff-puffed away from the station platform, pulling passenger cars. She was a black giant with six huge driving wheels propelled by the relentless thrust of piston rods. The engineer leaned from his cab with his left hand on the throttle and his eyes upon the rails; the fireman shoveled coal into the firebox; black cinders spewed from the funnel-shaped smokestack. It was a scene from the past.
Yet, this was a Sunday afternoon in the high-tech present. Thirty-six prominent residents of Moose County had converged on the railway station in Sawdust City to pay $500 a ticket for a ride behind old No. 9. It was the first run of the historic engine since being salvaged and overhauled, and the ticket purchase included a champagne dinner in a restored dining car plus a generous tax-deductible donation to the scholarship fund of the new community college.
When the brass bell clanged, a stern-faced conductor with a bellowing voice paced the platform, announcing, "Train leaving for Kennebeck, Pickax, Little Hope, Black Creek Junction, Lockmaster, and all points south! All abo-o-oard!" A yellow stepbox was put down, and well-dressed passengers climbed aboard the dining car, where tables were set with white cloths and sparkling crystal. White-coated waiters were filling glasses with ice water from silver-plated pitchers.
Among the passengers being seated were the mayors from surrounding towns and other civic functionaries who found it in their hearts, or politics, to pay $500 a plate. Also aboard were the publisher of the county newspaper, the publication's leading columnist, the owner of the department store in Pickax, a mysterious heiress recently arrived from Chicago, and the head of the Pickax Public Library.
The flagman signaled all clear, and No. 9 started to roll, the cars following with a gentle lurch. As the clickety-clack of the drive wheels on the rails accelerated, someone shouted, "She's rolling!" The passengers applauded, and the mayor of Sawdust City rose to propose a toast to No. 9. Glasses of ice water were raised. (The champagne would come later.)