The world of modern art is a mystery to many. But for Jim Qwilleran, it turns into a mystery of another sort when his assignment to the art beat for The Daily Fluxion leads down the path to murder.
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December 19, 2002
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Excerpt from The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
Jim Qwilleran, whose name had confounded typesetters and proofreaders for two decades, arrived fifteen minutes early for his appointment with the managing editor of the Daily Fluxion.
In the reception room he picked up a copy of the early edition and studied the front page. He read the weather prediction (unseasonably warm) and the circulation figures (427,463) and the publisher's slogan snobbishly printed in Latin (Fiat Flux).
He read the lead story on a murder trial and the secondary lead on the gubernatorial race, in which he found two typographical errors. He noticed that the art museum had failed to get its million-dollar grant, but he skipped the details. He bypassed another feature about a kitten trapped in a drainpipe, but he read everything else: Cop Nabs Hood in Gun Tiff. Probe Stripper Feud in Loop. Stocks Soar as Tax Talk Irks Dems.
Qwilleran could hear familiar noises beyond a glass-paneled door -- typewriters clattering, teletypes jigging, telephones screaming. At the sound his ample pepper-and-salt moustache bristled, and he smoothed it with his knuckles. Aching for a sight of the bustle and clutter that constituted the City Room before a deadline, he walked to the door for a squint through the glass.
The sounds were authentic, but the scene -- he discovered -- was all wrong. The Venetian blinds were straight. The desks were tidy and unscarred. Crumpled copy paper and slashed newspapers that should have been on the floor were collected in wire wastebaskets. As he contemplated the scene with dismay, an alien sound reached his ears -- one that did not harmonize with the background music of any city rooms he had known. Then he noticed a copyboy feeding yellow pencils into a small moaning contraption. Qwilleran stared at the thing. An electric pencil sharpener! He had never thought it would come to this. It reminded him how long he had been out of touch.