|The Adventure of the Talking Polecat|
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I don’t normally go to garage sales nowadays. There’s usually not much to interest me – VHS tapes, old appliances, lots of baby clothes, and not very many books. But some time ago I was walking through a residential neighborhood on the way to somewhere else when I was passing by a moving sale. I would have kept walking, but a pile of books caught my eye and I stopped to examine it. There was nothing much of interest – several cookie-cutter romance novels and the type of bestseller suitable for whiling away time while you’re getting some sun at the beach. And a pile of what looked like old loose-leaf notebooks. I was intrigued enough to begin looking through them.
There were about a dozen notebooks, each full of stories or essays written in longhand on both sides of the paper. The author’s handwriting was small and somewhat crabbed, and I have to admit that his penmanship was mediocre. The paper was yellow with age and the ink had faded with time, but I could still read the words fairly well if I worked at it.
I didn’t spend too long reading these notebooks anyway, not after I made out the author’s name on the first page of the first one.
I thought at first that it had to be a hoax. Perhaps some imaginative student had tried to work up a pastiche for a homework assignment. But to do so many of them? I checked, and all of the stories were supposedly by the same author. And the paper looked properly old. If this were a hoax, someone had gone to a lot of trouble.
I threaded my way through old furniture and hyperactive kids to the person with the cashbox. She was in the middle of a conversation with a friend about someone else kicking out her deadbeat boyfriend, so she was a bit distracted when I said, “I’ll take these, please.” The notebooks had been priced at 50¢ each, but she looked them over and said, “$5 for all of them.” I handed over a fiver and headed straight home.
Once I got home, I made some cocoa and sat down to read. I was excited, of course; if these notebooks were genuine, I had found a treasure trove. It didn’t take long before I realized, though, that I hadn’t known the half of it. I had to get in touch with the Skippys.
I’m good friends with Murphy, Max, Sammy, Clarissa and the rest of the furry crowd. I like those guys a lot, and I’ve always gotten a kick out of touring the Skippy Compound – they don’t let just any human wander around. And not just any human gets the Compound’s very special private telephone number, either. I picked up my phone and dialed.
The phone was answered after two rings and I heard a high-pitched voice. “Skippy here. Hey, Paul! What’s up?”
“Hi, Skippy. I came across something at a local yard sale. Calling it unusual is putting it mildly.” I described what I had. “I think you guys ought to look at it.”
The Skippys know me well enough to realize that I won’t joke with them on something like this. Skippy replied, “I’ll get hold of our Forensics department and our historians. We’ll get a team together and be there right away.”
Within the hour, they showed up in a couple of their tiny vans, and soon the notebooks were spread out on the floor and several ferrets were poring over them with portable microscopes and magnifying glasses, snapping photos and tapping notes in their SkipPDAs®. Some of them were chittering away and others were intensely silent. The Skippys were at least as excited as I was.
Shortly, Skippy came over to me with one of the notebooks and said, “Paul, we’ll have to take these back to the Compound for a detailed analysis, and I don’t want to jump to conclusions until we do. But for now… it looks like these are genuine.”
All I could say was “Oh, my.”
And as best as the Skippys can figure, the notebooks are genuine.
Nobody – neither the Skippys nor I – has any idea how these notebooks ended up here in Kansas after all these decades, much less in a yard sale. We tried to track down the people who were selling them, but the sale was over and the house was empty when we found it. The owner of the property had been renting it and he wasn’t too inclined to help a group of talking ferrets. In any case he didn’t have much information about the former tenants.
The Skippys have given me transcripts of the notebooks. It’s anyone’s guess what impact these stories will have among scholars. But at least one of the narratives in the notebooks has caused a lot of excitement in the ferret community.
When you read it, you will see why.