2

Monday, November eleventh. “Heavy cloud cover throughout the country, with promise of snow before nightfall. Present temperature in Pickax, twenty-two degrees, with a windchill factor of ten below.” — So said the WPKX meteorologist.

On Monday morning the schools, stores, offices, and restaurants of Pickax were closed until noon — for the funeral. The day was cold, gray, damp, and miserable. Yet, crowds milled about the Old Stone church on Park Circle. Other onlookers huddle din the little circular park — shivering, stamping feet, swinging arms, clapping mittened hands together, anything to keep warm, and that included a furtive swig from a half-pint bottle in desperate cases. They were expecting to see a record broken: the longest funeral procession since 1904.

Police cars blockaded downtown Main Street to facilitate the formation of the procession. Cars bearing purple flags on the fender were lined up four abreast from curb to curb.

Qwilleran, moving through the crowd in the park, watched faces and listened to the low, respectful hum of voices. Small boys who climbed on the fountain for a better view were shooed away by a police officer and admonished if they shrieked or raced through the crowd.

Gathered inside the church were the numerous branches of the Goodwinter clan, as well as city officials, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and the country club set. Outside the church were the readers of the Picayune: businessmen, housewives, farmers, retirees, waitresses, laborers, hunters. They were witnessing an event they would remember all their lives and describe to future generations, just as their grandparents had described the funeral of Ephraim Good winter.

Among them was one man who was obviously foreign to the scene. He wandered through the crowd, glancing alertly in all directions, studying faces. He was wearing a black raincoat, and Qwilleran hoped it had a heavy lining; the cold was bone chilling.

A hunter in orange-and-black camouflage was mumbling to a man who wore a feed cap and had a cheek full of snuff. “Gonna be a long one. Longer than Captain Fugtree’s, looks like.”

The farmer shifted his chew. “Near a hundred, I reckon. The captain had seventy-five, they said in the paper.”

“Lucky they could bury him before snow flies. There’s a big One headed this way, they said on radio.”

“Can’t believe nothin’ they say on radio. That storm from Canada blowed itself out afore it got anywheres near the border.”

“Where’d it happen?” the hunter asked. “The accident, I mean.”

“Old plank bridge. It’s a bugger! We been after the county to get off their duff and widen the danged thing. They say he rammed the stone rail, flipped head over tail, landed on the rocks in the river. Car caught fire. It’s a closed casket, I hear.”

“They should sue somebody.”

“Prob’ly goin’ too fast. Mebbe hit a deer.”

“Or coulda been he was on a Friday night toot,” the hunter said with a sly grin.

“Not him! She’s the one that’s the barfly. With him it was never nothin’ but work work work. Fell asleep at the wheel, betcha. Whole family’s jinxed. Y’know what happened to his old man.”

“Yeah, but he probl’ly deserved it, from what I hear.”

“And then there was his uncle. Somethin’ fishy about that story!”

“And his grandfather. They never got the lowdown on what happened to him. What’ll they do with the paper now?”

“The kid’ll take over,” the farmer said. “Fourth generation. No tellin’ what he’ll take it into his head to do. These young ones go away to school and get some loony ideas.”

Voices hushed as the bell began to toll a single solemn note and the casket was carried from the church, followed by the bereaved family. The heavily veiled widow was accompanied by her elder son. Junior walked with his sister from Montana. On the sidewalk and in the park the townspeople crossed themselves and men removed their headgear. There was a long wait as the mourners moved silently to their cars, directed by young men in black car coats and ambassador hats of black fur. At a signal, men in uniform fell into rank and hoisted brass instruments. Then, with the Pickax Funeral Band playing a doleful march, the long line of cars started to move forward.

Qwilleran pulled down the earflaps of his winter hat, turned up his coat collars, and headed across the park to the place he now called home.

The Klingenschoen residence that Qwilleran had inherited was one of five important buildings on the Park Circle, where Main Street divided and circumvented a little grassy plot with stone benches and a stone foundation. On one side of the circle were the Old Stone Church, the Little Stone Church, and a venerable courthouse. Facing them across the park were the public library and the K mansion, as Pickax natives called it. A massive cube of fieldstone three stories high, the mansion occupied its spacious grounds with the regal assurance that it was the most impressive edifice in town, and the costliest.

For a man who had chosen to spend his adult life in apartments and hotels, always on the move like a gypsy, the palatial residence was a discomfort, an embarrassment. Eventually Qwilleran would deed it to the city as a museum, but for five years he was doomed to live with the Klingenschoen brand of conspicuous consumption: vast rooms with fourteen-foot ceilings and ornate woodwork; crystal chandeliers by the ton and Oriental rugs by the acre; priceless French and English antiques, and art objects worth millions.

Qwilleran solved his problem by moving into the old servants’ quarters above the garage, while the housekeeper occupied a sumptuous French suite in the main house.

Housekeeper was a misnomer for Iris Cobb. A former antique dealer and appraiser from Down Below, she now functioned as house manager, registrar of the collection, and curator of an architectural masterpiece destined to become a museum. She was also an obsessive cook who liked to putter about the kitchen — a dumpy figure in a faded pink smock. Despite her career credentials the widowed Mrs. Cobb baked endless cookies and pies with which to please the opposite sex, and she was inclined to gaze at men worshipfully through her thick-lensed eyeglasses.

Mrs. Cobb had a hearty oyster stew waiting for Qwilleran when he returned from the funeral. “I looked out the window and saw all the cars,” she said. “The procession must be half a mile long!”

“Longest in Pickax history,” Qwilleran said. “It’s not only the funeral of a man; it may turn out to be the funeral of a century-old newspaper.”

“Did you see the widow? She must be taking it terribly hard.” Mrs. Cobb related emotionally to any woman who lost a husband, having experienced two such tragedies herself.

“Mrs. Goodwinter’s three grown children were with her — also an older woman, probably Junior’s Grandma Gage. She was tiny, but as straight as a brigadier general… Any phone calls while I was out, Mrs. Cobb?”

“No, but a busboy from the Old Stone Mill brought over some pork liver cupcakes. It’s a new idea, and the chef would like your opinion. I put them in the freezer.”

Qwilleran grunted in disgust. “I’ll give that clown an opinion — fast! I wouldn’t touch a pork liver cupcake if he paid me!”

“Oh, they’re not people food, Mr. Q! They’re for the cats. The chef is experimenting with a line of frozen gourmet dinners for pets.”

“Well, take a couple out of the freezer, and the spoiled brats can have them for supper. By the way, have you noticed any books on the floor in the library? Koko is pushing them off the shelf, and I don’t approve of his new hobby.”

“I tidied up this morning and didn’t notice anything.”

“He’s particularly attracted to those small volumes of Shakespeare in pigskin bindings. Yesterday I found Hamlet on the floor.”

Behind Mrs. Cobb’s thick lenses there was a mischievous twinkle. “Do you think he knows I’ve got a baked ham in the fridge?”

“He has devious ways of communicating, Mrs. Cobb, but that would be a new low,” Qwilleran said. “What is today? Monday? I suppose you’re going out tonight. If so, I’ll feed the cats.”

The housekeeper’s face brightened. “Herb Hackpole is taking me out to dinner — somewhere special, he said. I hope it’s the Old Stone Mill. They say the food’s wonderful since the new chef took over.”

Qwilleran huffed into his moustache, a private sign of disapproval. “It’s about time that skinflint took you out to dinner! It seems to me you always go over to his place and cook for him.”

“But I like to!” Mrs. Cobb said, with her eyes shining.

Hackpole was a used-car dealer with a reputation for being obnoxious, but she found him attractive. The man had red devils tattooed on his arms and wore his thinning hair in a crew cut, and he often neglected to shave, but she liked men in the rough. Qwilleran recalled that her late husband had been an uncouth lout and she loved him deeply. Now, since starting to date Hackpole, her round cheerful face had become positively radiant.

“If you want to have someone in for dinner,” Mrs. Cobb said, “you can serve the baked ham, and I’ll make the ginger-pear salad you like, and I’ll put a sweet potato casserole in the oven. All you have to do is take it out when the bell rings.” She was acquainted with Qwilleran’s helplessness in the kitchen.

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” he said. “I might invite Mrs. Duncan.”

“Oh, that would be nice!” The housekeeper’s expression was conspiratorial, as if she sensed a romance. “I’ll set the marquetry table in the library with a Madeira cloth and candles and everything. It will be nice and cozy for two. Mr. O’Dell can lay a fire with those applewood logs. They smell so good!”

“Don’t make it too obviously seductive,” Qwilleran requested. “The lady is rather proper.”

“She’s a lovely person, Mr. Q, and just the right age for you, if you don’t mind me saying so. She has a lot of personality for a librarian.”

“It’s a new trend,” he said. “Libraries now have fewer books but a lot of audiovisuals… and champagne parties … and personality all over the place.”

After lunch Qwilleran walked around the Park Circle to the public library, which masqueraded as a Greek temple. It had been built by the founder of the Picayune at the turn of the century, and a portrait of Ephraim Goodwinter hung in the lobby, although it was partly obscured by a display of new video materials and there was a slash in the canvas that had been poorly repaired.

The after-school crowd had not yet swarmed into the library with homework assignments, so four friendly young clerks rushed to Qwilleran’s assistance. Young women were always attracted to the man with a luxuriant moustache and mournful eyes. Furthermore, he served on the library’s board of trustees. Furthermore, he was the richest man in town.

He asked the clerks a simple question, and they all dashed away at once in several directions — one to the card catalogue, one to the local-history shelf, and two to the computer. The answer from all sources was negative. He thanked them and headed for the chief librarian’s office on the balcony.

Carrying his lumberjack mackinaw and woodsman’s hat, Qwilleran bounded up the stairs three at a time, thinking pleasant thoughts. Polly Duncan was a charming though enigmatic woman, and she had a speaking voice that he found both soothing and stimulating.

She looked up from her desk and gave him a cordial but businesslike smile. “What a pleasant surprise, Qwill! What urgent mission brings you up here in such a hurry?”

“I came chiefly to hear your mellifluous voice,” he said, turning on a little charm himself. And then he quoted one of his favorite lines from Shakespeare. “Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low — an excellent thing in woman.”

“That’s from King Lear, act five, scene three,” she replied promptly.

“Polly, your memory is incredible!” he said. “/ am amazed and know not what to say.”

“That’s Hernia’s line in act three, scene two, of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… Don’t look so surprised, Qwill. I told you my father was a Shakespeare scholar. We children knew the plays as well as our peers knew the big-league batting averages… Did you go to the funeral this morning?”

“I observed from the park, and it gave me an idea. According to the phalanx of eager assistants downstairs, no one has ever written a history of the Picayune. I’d like to try it. How much is there to work with?”

“Let me think… You could start with the Goodwinters in our genealogical collection.”

“Do you have back copies of the newspaper?”

“Only for the last twenty years. Prior to that, everything was destroyed by mice or burst steam pipes or mismanagement. But I’m sure the Picayune office has a complete file.”

“Is there anyone I could interview? Anyone who would remember back sixty or seventy-five years?”

“You might check with the Old Timers Club. They’re all over eighty. Euphonia Gage is the president.”

“Is that the woman who drives a Mercedes and blows the horn a lot?”

“A succinct description! Senior Goodwinter was her son-in-law, and since she has a reputation for brutal candor, she might supply some choice information.”

“Polly, you’re a gem! By the way, are you free for dinner tonight? Mrs. Cobb is preparing a repast that’s too good for a lonely bachelor. I thought you might consent to share it.”

“Delighted! I must not stay too late, but I hope there will be time for reading aloud after dinner. You have a marvelous voice, Qwill.”

“Thank you.” He preened his moustache with pleasure. “I’ll go home and gargle.”

Turning to leave, he glanced across the balcony to the reading room. “Who’s that man over there — with a pile of books on the table?”

“A historian from Down Below, doing research on early mining operations. He asked if I could recommend any good restaurants, and I suggested Stephanie’s and the Old Stone Mill. Do you have any other ideas?”

“I think I do,” said Qwilleran. He clapped his hat on his head at a wild angle and clomped around the balcony in his yellow duck boots, stopping at the table where the stranger was seated.

In a parody of a friendly north-country native he said, “Howdy! Lady over yonder says yer lookin’ fer a place to chow down. Fer a real good feed y’oughta try Otto’s Tasty Eats. All y’can eat fer fi’ bucks. How long y’gonna be aroun’?”

“Until I finish my work,” the historian said crisply, bending over his book.

“If y’wanna shot-na-beer y’oughta try the Hotel Booze. Good burgers, too.”

“Thank you,” the man said in a tone of dismissal.

“I see y’be readin’ ’bout them ol’ mines. M’grampaw got killed in a cave-in back in 1913. I weren’t born yit. Seen any ol’ mines?”

“No,” the man said, snapping his book shut and pushing his chair back.

“Nearest hereabouts be the Dimsdale. They got a diner there. Good place t’git a plate o’ beans ‘n’ franks.”

Clutching his black raincoat, the stranger walked rapidly to the stairway.

Pleased with the man’s exasperation and his own performance, Qwilleran straightened his hat, bundled up in his mackinaw, and went on his way. He knew by the man’s obvious lack of interest that he was not what he claimed to be.

At 5:30 Herb Hackpole arrived to pick up his dinner partner, parking in the side drive and tooting the horn. Mrs. Cobb scurried out the back door as excited as a young girl on her first date.

At 5:45 Qwilleran fed the cats. Pork liver cupcakes, when thawed, became a revolting gray mush, but the Siamese crouched over the plate and devoured the chefs innovation with tails flat on the floor, denoting total satisfaction. At 6:00 Polly Duncan arrived — on foot — having left her small six-year-old maroon car behind the library. If it were seen in the circular driveway of the K mansion, the gossips of Pickax would have a field day. Everyone knew what everyone else drove — make, model, year, and color.

Polly was not as young and slender as the career women he had dated Down Below, but she was an interesting woman with a voice that sometimes made his head spin, and she looked like a comfortable armful, although he had not tested his theory. The librarian maintained a certain reserve, despite her show of friendliness, and she always insisted on going home early.

He greeted her at the front door, a masterpiece of carving and polished brass. “Where’s the snow they promised?” he asked.

“Every day in November WPKX predicts snow as a matter of policy,” she said, “and sooner or later they’re right… This house never fails to overwhelm me!”

She was gazing in wonder at the foyer’s amber leather walls and grand staircase, extravagantly wide and elaborately balustered. The dazzling chandelier was Baccarat crystal. The rugs were Anatolian antiques. “This house doesn’t belong in Pickax; it belongs in Paris. It amazes me that the Klingenschoens owned such treasures and no one knew about it.”

“It was the Klingenschoens’ revenge — for not being accepted socially.” Qwilleran escorted her to the rear of the house. “We’re having dinner in the library, but Mrs. Cobb wants me to show you her mobile herb garden in the solarium.”

The stone-floored room had large glass areas, a forest of ancient rubber plants, and some wicker chairs for summer lounging; the winter addition was a wrought-iron cart with eight clay pots labeled mint, dill, thyme, basil, and the like.

“It can be wheeled around during the day to get the best sunlight,” he explained. “That is-if WPKX allows us to have any.”

Polly nodded approval. “Herbs like sun but not too much heat. Where did Mrs. Cobb find this clever contraption?”

“She designed it, and a friend of hers made it in his welding shop. Perhaps you know Hackpole, the used-car dealer.”

“Yes, his garage has just winterized my car. How do you like your new front-wheel drive, Qwill?”

“I’ll know better when snow flies.” In the library the lamps were lighted, logs were blazing in the fireplace, and the table was laid with a dazzling display of porcelain, crystal, and silver. The four walls of books were accented by marble busts of Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare.

“Did the Klingenschoens read these books?” Polly asked.

“I think they were primarily for show, except for a few racy novels from the 1920s. In the attic I found boxes of paperback mysteries and romances.”

“At least someone was reading. There is still hope for the printed word.” She handed him a book with worn and faded cover. “Here’s something that might interest you — Picturesque Pickax, published by the Boosters Club before World War One. On the page with the bookmark there’s a picture of the Picayune building with employees standing on the sidewalk.”

Qwilleran found the photo of anxious-faced men with , walrus moustaches, high collars, leather aprons, eyeshades, arm garters, and plastered hair parted in the middle. “They look as if they’re facing a firing squad,” he said. “Thanks. This will be useful.”

He poured an aperitif for his guest. Dry sherry was her choice; one glass was her limit. For himself he poured white grape juice.

“Votre sant?!” he toasted, meeting her eyes.

“Sant?!” she replied with a guarded gaze.

She was wearing the somber gray suit, white blouse, and maroon loafers that seemed to be her library uniform, but she had tried to perk it up with a paisley scarf. Fashion was not one of her pursuits, and her severe haircut was not in the latest style, but her voice… ! It was ever soft, gentle, and low, and she knew Shakespeare forward and backward.

After a moment of silence during which Qwilleran wondered what Polly was thinking, he said, “Do you remember that so-called historian in your reading room? He had a pile of books on old mining operations. I doubt that he’s telling the truth.”

“Why do you say that?”

“His relaxed posture. The way he held his book. He didn’t show a researcher’s avid thirst for information, and he wasn’t taking notes. He was reading idly to kill time.”

“Then who is he? Why should he disguise his identity?”

“I think he’s an investigator. Narcotics — FBI — something like that.”

Polly looked skeptical. “In Pickax?”

“I’m sure there are several skeletons in local closets, Polly, and most of the locals know all about them. You have some world-class gossips here.”

“I wouldn’t call them gossips,” she said defensively. “In small towns people share information. It’s a way of caring.”

Qwilleran raised a cynical eyebrow. “Well, the mysterious stranger had better complete his mission before snow flies, or he’ll be cluttering up your reading room until spring thaw… Another question. What will happen to the Picayune now that Senior’s gone? Any guesses?”

“It will probably die a quiet death-an idea that has outlived its time.”

“How well have you known Junior’s parents?”

“Only casually. Senior was a workaholic — an agreeable man, but not at all social. Gritty likes the country club life — golf, cards, dinner dances. I wanted her to serve on my board of trustees, but it was too dull for her taste.”

“Gritty? Is that Mrs. Goodwinter’s name?”

“Gertrude, actually, but there’s a certain clique here that clings to their adolescent nicknames: Muffy, Buffy, Bunky, Dodo. I must admit that Mrs. Goodwinter has an abundance of grit, for good or ill. She’s like her mother. Euphonia Gage is a spunky woman.”

A distant buzzer sounded, and Qwilleran lighted the candles, dropped a Faur? cassette in the player, and served dinner.

“You obviously know everyone in Pickax,” he remarked.

“For a newcomer I don’t do badly. I’ve been here only … twenty-five years.”

“I had a hunch you were from the East. New England?”

She nodded. “While I was in college I married a native of Pickax, and we came here to manage his family’s bookstore. Unfortunately it closed soon after that — when my husband was killed — but I didn’t want to go back east.”

“He must have been very young.”

“Very young. He was a volunteer fire fighter. I remember one dry windy day in August. Our bookstore was a block I from the fire hall, and when the siren sounded, my husband dashed from the store, Traffic stopped dead, and men came running from all directions — running hard, pounding the pavement, pumping their arms. The mechanic from the gas station, one of the young pastors, a bartender, the hardware man — all running as if their lives depended on it. Then cars and trucks with revolving lights pulled up and parked any- where, and the drivers jumped out and ran to the fire hall. By that time the big doors were open, and the tanker and pumper were moving out, with men clinging to the trucks and putting on their gear.”

“You describe it vividly, Polly.”

Tears came to her eyes, “It was a barn fire, and he was killed by a falling timber.”

There was a long silence.

“That’s a sad story,” Qwilleran said.

“The fire fighters were so conscientious. When the siren; sounded, they dropped everything and ran. In the middle of the night they’d wake from a sound sleep, pull on some clothes, and run. Yet they were criticized: arrived too late… not enough men… didn’t pump enough water… equipment broke down.” She sighed. “They tried so hard. They still do. They’re all volunteers, you know.”

“Junior Goodwinter is a volunteer,” Qwilleran said, “and his beeper is always sounding off in the middle of something …What did you do after that windy day in August?”

“I went to work at the library and found contentment here.”

“Pickax has a human scale that is p what shall I say? — comforting. Tranquilizing. But why are we all obsessed with the weather reports?”

“We’re close to the elements,” Polly said. “The weather affects everything: farming, lumbering, commercial fishing, outdoor sports. And we all drive long distances over country roads. There are no taxis we can call on a bad day.”

Mrs. Cobb had left the coffee maker plugged in and pots of chocolate mousse in the refrigerator, and the meal ended pleasantly.

“Where are the cats?” Polly asked.

“Shut up in the kitchen. Koko has been pulling books off the shelf. He thinks he’s a librarian. Yum Yum, on the other hand, is just a cat who chases her tail and steals paper clips and hides things under the rug. Every time my foot comes down on a bump in the rug, I wince. Is it my wristwatch? Or a mouse? Or my reading glasses? Or a crumpled envelope from the wastebasket?”

“What titles has Koko recommended?”

“He’s on a Shakespeare kick,” Qwilleran said. “It may have something to do with the pigskin bindings. Just before you arrived, he pushed A Midsummer Night’s Dream off the shelf.”

“That’s a coincidence,” Polly said. “I’m named after one of the characters. ” She paused and waited for him to guess.

“Hippolyta?”

“Correct! My father named all of us after characters in the plays. My brothers are Marc Antony and Brutus, and my poor sister Ophelia has had to endure bawdy remarks ever since the fifth grade… Why don’t you let the cats out? I’d like to see Koko in action.”

When they were released, Yum Yum walked daintily into the library, placing one paw in front of the other and looking for a vacant lap, but Koko flaunted his independence by delaying his entrance. It was not until Qwilleran and his guest heard a thlunk that they realized Koko was in the room. On the floor lay the thin volume of King Henry VIII.

Qwilleran said, “You have to admit he knows what he’s doing. There’s a gripping scene for a woman in the play — where the queen confronts the two cardinals.”

“It’s tremendous!” Polly said. “Katherine claims to be a poor weak woman but she blasts the two learned men. ‘Ye have angels’ faces, but heaven knows your hearts!’ Do you ever wonder about the true identity of Shakespeare, Qwill?”

“I’ve read that the plays may have been written by Jonson or Oxford.”

“I think Shakespeare was a woman. There are so many strong female roles and wonderful speeches for women.”

“And there are strong male roles and wonderful speeches for men,” he replied.

“Yes, but I contend that a woman can write strong male roles more successfully than a man can write good women’s roles.”

“Hmmm,” said Qwilleran politely.

Koko was now sitting tall on the desk, obviously waiting for something, and Qwilleran obliged by reading the prologue of the play. Then Polly gave a stirring reading of the queen’s confrontation scene.

“Yow!” said Koko.

“Now I must go,” she said, “before my landlord starts to worry.”

“Your landlord?”

“Mr. MacGregor is a nice old widower,” she explained. “I rent a cottage on his farm, and he thinks women shouldn’t go out alone at night. He sits up waiting for me to drive in.”

“Have you ever tried your Shakespeare theory on your landlord?” Qwilleran asked.

After Polly had said a gracious thank-you and a brisk good-night, Qwilleran questioned her excuse for leaving early. At least Koko had not ordered her out of the house, as he had done other female visitors in the past. That was a good sign.

Qwilleran was removing the dinner dishes and tidying the kitchen when Mrs. Cobb returned from her date, flushed and happy.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that, Mr. Q,” she said.

“No trouble at all. Thank you for a superb meal. How was your evening?”

“We went to the Old Stone Mill. The food is much better now. I had a gorgeous stuffed trout with wine sauce. Herb ordered steak Diane, but he didn’t like the sauce.”

That guy, Qwilleran thought, would prefer ketchup. To Mrs. Cobb he said, “Mrs. Duncan was telling me about the volunteer fire department. Isn’t Hackpole a fireman?”

“Yes, and he’s had some thrilling experiences — carrying children from a burning building, reviving people with CPR, herding cows from a burning barn!”

Interesting if true, Qwilleran thought. “Bring him in for a nightcap next time you go out,” he suggested. “I’d like to know how a small-town fire department operates.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Q! He’ll be pleased. He thinks you don’t like him, because you took him to court once.”

“Nothing personal. I simply objected to being attacked by a dog that should be chained according to law. If you like him, Mrs. Cobb, I’m sure he’s a good man.”

As Qwilleran was locking up for the night, the telephone rang. It was Junior Goodwinter’s voice, crackling with excitement. “She’s coming! She’s flying up here tomorrow!”

“Who’s coming?”

“The photojournalist I met at the Press Club. She says the Fluxion is running the column tomorrow, and it’ll be allover the country this week. She wants to submit a picture story to a news magazine while it’s hot.”

“Did you tell her… about your father?”

“She says that will only make it topical. I have to pick her up at the airport tomorrow morning. We’re going to get some Old Timers who used to work at the Pic to pose in the shots. Do you realize what this could do? It’ll put Pickax on the map! And it could put the Picayune back in business if we start getting subscriptions from all over.”

Stranger things have happened, Qwilleran thought. “Call me tomorrow night after the shoot. Let me know how it goes. And good luck!”

As he replaced the telephone receiver he heard a soft sound, thlunk, as another book landed on the Bokhara rug. Koko was sitting on the Shakespeare shelf, looking proud of himself.

Qwilleran picked up the book and smoothed the crumpled pages. It was Hamlet again, and a line in the first scene caught his eye: “ ‘Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed.”

Addressing the cat he said, “You may think you’re smart, but this has got to stop! These books are printed on fine India paper. They can’t stand this kind of treatment.”

“Ik ik ik,” said Koko, following his remark with a yawn.

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