The Cat Who Could Read Backwards
pictures, and on Friday the unimportant gallery that handled his work sold all their dusty canvases of beef cattle and woolly lambs and urged the old man to resume painting. Readers wrote to the editor commending Qwilleran's handling of the story. And Uncle Waldo's grandson, the truck driver, went to the offices of the Daily Fluxion with a gift for Qwilleran - ten pounds of home, made sausage that the retired butcher had made in his basement.
Friday evening Qwilleran himself was accorded some attention at the Press Club as he distributed links of knackwurst. He met Arch Riker and Odd Bunsen at the bar and ordered his usual tomato juice.
Arch said, "You must be quite a connoisseur of that stuff."
Qwilleran ran the glass under his nose and considered the bouquet thoughtfully. "An unpretentious vintage," he said. "Nothing memorable, but it has a naive charm. Unfortunately the bouquet is masked by the smoke from Mr. Bunsen's cigar. I would guess the tomatoes came from - " (he took a sip and rolled it on his tongue) - "from Northern Illinois. Obviously a tomato patch near an irrigation ditch, getting the morning sun from the east and the afternoon sun from the west." He took another swallow. "My palate tells me the tomatoes were picked early in the day - on a Tuesday or Wednesday - by a farmhand wearing a Band-Aid. The Mercurochrome comes through in the aftertaste."
"You're in a good mood," said Arch.
"Yep," said Qwilleran. "I'm moving out of the plastic palace. I'm going to rent an apartment from Mountclemens."
Arch set his glass down with a thud of astonishment, and Odd Bunsen choked on cigar smoke.
"A furnished apartment on the first floor. Very comfortable. And the rent is only $50 a month."
"Fifty! What's the catch?" said Odd.
"No catch. He just doesn't want the house standing empty when he's out of town."
"There's gotta be a catch," Odd insisted. "Old Monty's too tightfisted to give anything away. Sure he doesn't expect you to be a cat-sitter when he's out of town?"
"Quit being a cynical press photographer," said Qwilleran. "Don't you know it's an outdated stereotype?"
Arch said, "Odd's right. When our messenger goes to pick up the tapes, Mountclemens sends him on all kinds of personal errands and never gives the kid a tip. Is it true he's got a houseful of valuable art?"
Qwilleran took a slow swallow of tomato juice. "He's got a lot of junk lying around, but who knows if it's worth anything?" He refrained from mentioning the Van Gogh. "The big attraction is the cat. He's got a Chinese name - something like Koko. Mountclemens says cats like to hear a repetition of syllables when they're being ad, dressed, and their ears are particularly receptive to palatal and velar sounds."
"Somebody's nuts," said Odd.
"This cat is a Siamese, and he's got a voice like an ambulance siren. Know anything about the Siamese? It's a breed of supercat - very intelligent. This one can read."
"He reads the newspaper headlines, but they have to be fresh off the press."
"What does this supercat think of my photographs?" Odd said.
"It's questionable whether cats can recognize pictorial images, according to Mountclemens, but he thinks a cat can sense the content of a picture. Koko prefers modem art to old masters. My theory is that the fresher paint gets through to his sense of smell. Same way with fresh ink on a newspaper."
"What's the house like?" Arch asked.
"Old. Declining neighborhood. But Mountclemens cherishes his place like a holy relic. They're tearing down buildings all around him, but he says he won't give up his house. It's quite a place. Chandeliers, elaborate woodwork, high ceilings - all carved plaster."
"Dust-catchers," said Odd.
"Mountclemens lives upstairs, and the downstairs is made into two apartments. I'm taking the front one. The rear is

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