Qwilleran heads for a cabin owned by a longtime family friend, "Aunt Fanny." But from the moment he arrives, things turn strange. Eerie footsteps cross the roof at midnight, Local townsfolk become oddly secretive. And then, while fishing, Qwilleran hooks on to a murder mystery.
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January 02, 2003
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Excerpt from The Cat Who Played Brahms by Lilian Jackson Braun
For Jim Qwilleran, veteran journalist, it was one of the most appalling moments of his career. Years before, as a war correspondent, he had been strafed on the beaches; as a crime reporter he had been a target of the Mob. Now he was writing restaurant reviews for a midwestern newspaper, the Daily Fluxion, and he was not prepared for the shocking situation at the Press Club.
The day had started well enough. He had eaten a good breakfast at his boarding house: a wedge of honeydew melon, an omelette fines herbes with saut ' ed chicken livers, cheese popovers, and three cups of coffee. He planned to lunch with his old friend Arch Riker at the Press Club, their favorite haunt.
At twelve noon Qwilleran bounded up the steps of the grimy limestone fortress that had once been the county jail but now dispensed food and drink to the working press. As he approached the ancient nail-studded portal, he sensed that something was wrong. He smelled fresh varnish! His sharp ear detected that the massive door no longer creaked on its hinges! He stepped into the lobby and gasped. The murky, smoky ambience that he loved so well was now all freshness and sparkle.
Qwilleran was aware that the Press Club had been closed for two weeks for something called annual housekeeping, but no one had hinted at this metamorphosis. It had happened while he had been out of town on assignment.
His luxuriant pepper-and-salt moustache was rampant with rage, and he pounded it into submission with his fist. Instead of the old paneled walls, black with numberless coats of cheap varnish, the lobby was wallpapered with something resembling his grandmother's tablecloths. Instead of the scarred plank floor rippled with a century of wear, there was wall-to-wall carpet over thick rug padding. Instead of fluorescent tubes glaring on the domed ceiling, there was a chandelier of polished brass. Even the familiar mustiness was missing, replaced by a chemical smell of newness.
Gulping down his shock and dismay, the newsman dashed into the bar, where he always lunched in a far dark corner. There he found more of the same: creamy walls, soft lighting, hanging baskets of plastic plants, and mirrors. Mirrors! Qwilleran shuddered.
Arch Riker, his editor at the Daily Fluxion, was sitting at the usual table with his usual glass of Scotch, but the scarred wooden table had been sanded and varnished, and there were white paper placemats with scalloped edges. The waitress was there promptly with Qwilleran's usual glass of tomato juice, but she was not wearing her usual skimpy white uniform with frilly handkerchief in the breast pocket. All the waitresses were now dressed as French maids in chic black outfits with white aprons and ruffled caps.
"Arch! What happened " Qwilleran demanded. "I don't believe what I'm seeing!" He lowered his substantial bulk into a chair and groaned.
"Well, the club has lots of women members now," Riker explained calmly, "and they got themselves appointed to the housekeeping committee so they could clean the place up. It's called reversible renovation. Next year's housekeeping committee can rip out the wallpaper and carpet and go back to the original filth and decrepitude...."