When Mrs. Cobb heard unearthly noises in the antique-filled farmhouse, she called Jim Qwilleran for help. But he was too late. It looked as if his kindly ex-housekeeper had been frightened to death--but by whom Or what Now Qwilleran's moved into the historic farmhouse with his two cat companions--and Koko the Siamese is spooked. Is it a figment of feline imagination--or the clue to a murder in Moose County And does Qwilleran have a ghost of a chance of solving this haunting mystery
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December 26, 2002
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Excerpt from The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts by Lilian Jackson Braun
Jim Qwilleran is a very rich man -- the richest individual in Moose County, to be exact. Moose County, as everyone knows, claims to be 400 miles north of everywhere, a remote rockbound outpost comfortably distant from the crime, traffic, and pollution of densely populated urban areas to the south. The natives have a chauvinistic scorn for what they call Down Below.
Before Qwilleran inherited his enormous wealth he had been a journalist Down Below, covering the crime beat on major newspapers for twenty-five years. His name (spelled with the unconventional Qw) and his photograph (distinguished by a luxuriant moustache) were known to millions. Then, at the uneasy age of fifty, he became heir to the Klingenschoen fortune and retired to Moose County.
Currently he lives quite simply in Pickax City, the county seat (population: 3,000), sharing a modest bachelor apartment with two Siamese cats, writing a column for the local newspaper, driving an energy-efficient car, dating a librarian, and ignoring the fact that he owns half of Moose County and a substantial chunk of New Jersey. The tall husky man with a prominent moustache is frequently seen riding a bicycle in Pickax, dining in restaurants, and going into the secondhand bookstore. He reads much, and although his mournful eyes and drooping moustache give his countenance an aspect of sadness, he has found contentment.
Not surprisingly Qwilleran has retained his interest in crime, possessing a natural curiosity and a journalist's cynicism that can scent misdoing like a cat sniffing a mouse. Recently he was haunted by private suspicions following an incident that others accepted as a whim of fate. The initial circumstances are best related in his own words. He recorded the following on tape shortly after his midnight ride to North Middle Hummock:
I knew the telephone was about to ring. I knew it a full ten seconds before it interrupted the first act of Otello. It was a Sunday night in early October, and I was in my pajamas, taking it easy, listening to an opera cassette that Polly Duncan had brought me from England. The Siamese also were taking it easy, although not necessarily listening. Koko was on the coffee table, sitting tall and swaying slightly, with a glazed expression in his slanted blue eyes. Opera puts him in a trance. Yum Yum was curled up on my lap with her paws covering her ears -- a feline commentary on Verdi, no doubt. I'm not a great opera-lover myself, but Polly is trying to convert me, and I admit that Verdi's Otello is powerful stuff.
Suddenly, during the tense buildup to the drunken brawl scene, Yum Yum's body stiffened and her toes contracted. At the same instant Koko's eyes opened wide and his ears pointed toward the telephone. Ten seconds later... it rang.
I consulted my watch. In Pickax not many persons venture to call after midnight.
"Yes " I answered brusquely, expecting to hear a befuddled voice asking for Nadine or Doreen or Chlorine against an obbligato of late-night bar hubbub. Or the caller might say abruptly, "Whoozis " In that case I would say grandly, "Whom are you calling, sir " And he would hang up immediately without even an expletive. Of all the four-letter words I know, the speediest turn-off in such circumstances is whom.
It was no barfly on the line, however. It sounded like Iris Cobb, although her voice -- usually so cheerful -- had a distinct tremor that worried me. "Sorry to call so late, Mr. Q, but I'm... terribly upset."