Exit the Milkman (Peter Shandy, Book 10)

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Second, he knew more secret handshakes and esoteric passwords than any other dedicated lodge brother in Balaclava County. Maybe more than all the members of all the lodges in all the states put together. Maybe even in the entire galaxy, if those provocative theories which quantum physicists and authors of science fiction stories had been propounding for quite a while should happen to be true.

As why should they not? Peter found such erudite speculations mildly interesting to muse upon, particularly when he happened to be wandering alone at eventide through the college's extensive turnip fields, as he sometimes did for no special reason.

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It would never have occurred to Jim Feldster, he thought, that either quantum theory or turnips might be worth investigating. And why should they? Professor Feldster knew more than anybody else about dairy management. He'd taken the trouble to learn a vast deal about mystic rites and earned the right to clank all he wanted to at appropriate times and places.

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Those ought to be enough for any reasonable professor to think about. Jim did stop long enough to watch Jane wash her paws, paying scrupulous attention to each pussywillow toe. Cleanliness being among the most fundamental of Fundamentals of Dairy Management, he honored her with a ritual pat between the ears, then clanked resolutely onward toward his secret rendezvous.

Exit the Milkman (Peter Shandy Series #10)

Had Jane been a tomcat, Peter thought, Jim might by now have taught the intelligent creature a few secret pawshakes. Here in Balaclava County, however, fraternal organizations were still bucking the national trend toward androgyny, doing their utmost to keep their arcane doings fraternal in the strict sense of the word. So far, the ladies of Balaclava County had shown no great inclination to storm the barricades. Helen Shandy's opinion was that they couldn't be bothered because they had better things to do.

She was probably right; Helen was a librarian and librarians always knew. Anyway, whatever the reason, Brother James Feldster would have been the last of his fellows to proffer the handshake of personhood to any female intrepid enough to expect one. It was not that professor Feldster had any antipathy to females in general.

Some of his best students were of the womanly persuasion and he'd never met a cow he didn't like. His stubborn defense of the male lodge brother's last stronghold was based solely on a primal instinct toward self-preservation. Any man, even any woman, who'd ever spent five minutes in the company of Mirelle Feldster didn't need to be told why her husband joined so many lodges and never missed a meeting.

Normally Jim would have been on his way to Charlie Ross's garage. He and Peter both parked their cars at Charlie's. Parking was all but impossible around the Crescent where the Shandys, the Feldsters, and a few other faculty families lived in houses that were owned by the college and rented out to the elect.

Exit the Milkman

Tonight, however, was Mirelle Feldster's bridge night. This meant that she would be using the Feldster car herself. Jim must be expecting to be picked up along the way by some lodge brother. Peter didn't really give a hoot what either of the Feldsters would be doing tonight, but anybody who lived around the Crescent couldn't help knowing every last thing that went on there, willed he or nilled he. Or she. And what the Crescent knew, every last soul in Balaclava Junction would get to know because Mirelle Feldster would make sure in one way or another that they did; but not before she'd got the information twisted up, down, and sideways, blown out of context, and repainted in the murkiest colors possible.

Peter and Helen Shandy were among Mirelle's special targets though they lived circumspectly enough, never fought, didn't even raise their voices over a difference of opinion, gave no wild parties, kept their lawn mowed, and refrained from cutting down the magnificent blue spruce trees that had sheltered the small red brick house long before its present tenants had been born.

Mirelle had been loudly and chronically opposed to the Shandys' touching so much as a twig until at last it dawned upon her that neither of them would ever have dreamed of assaulting their cherished spruces. Thereupon she'd executed a smart right-about-face and started bemoaning the Shandys' perversity in leaving those great, messy, dangerous old trees just where they spoiled the Feldsters' view.

Had the trees been taken away, their ever critical neighbor's only view would have been of the Shandys' bedroom windows, across which Peter and Helen were always careful to draw their curtains at bedtime.

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Mirelle had a habit of ducking in under the spruces with her binoculars at the ready and a glib tale of bat-watching on her lips in case they happened to catch her snooping. The woman's chief problem seemed to be that she could find so little about the Shandys to revile, though she was always ready to do what she could with what she might find. Lately she'd taken it as a personal affront that Helen Marsh Shandy was getting so much cheap notoriety out of a stupid book she'd written about the Buggins family who, Helen claimed, had founded not only the college but all Balaclava County.

As, in fact, they had; but that didn't cut any ice with Mirelle. Not to mention the pack of lies she'd dreamed up about an old souse called Praxiteles Lumpkin and his so-called weather vanes. Worst of all was the brazen way Helen Marsh had managed to snare herself a husband practically the same day she'd set foot on campus. And look what she'd got for her trouble. Everybody knew Peter Shandy was crazy as a coot, and always had been. And thus it went.

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What Mirelle might come out with at any time of day or night depended on the often faulty connection between her fevered brain and her forked tongue. What generally resulted was either a tempest in a teapot or else just a fly in the flue. More often than not, neither Peter nor Helen was aware of their neighbor's one-sided vendetta. If they did happen to notice, they generally found the situation mildly amusing. Jim wasn't a bad old scout, though. Peter and he sometimes shared a table in the faculty dining room.

Helen and Peter wouldn't have minded having Jim over to the house for a cup of coffee now and then, but that would have meant having to ask Mirelle too; chance meetings on neutral ground were less of a risk. Tonight, Peter wished his neighbor a happy lodging and accepted Jane Austen's suggestion that he and she take a little stroll around the Crescent. Strolling with Jane usually meant her human escort's waiting as patiently as could reasonably be expected while she manicured her claws on a convenient tree trunk or chased after a squirrel almost her own size, just to remind it which small, furry gray quadruped was running the show in this neighborhood.

All things considered, Jane could be rated as no pushover but an amiable malkin, willing enough to accept any small courtesy such as a gentle pat or a compliment on her fine stand of whiskers, but ready to retire to her favorite perch in the crook of Peter's elbow if a neighbor tried to pick her up. As they passed the Porble house, Phil Porble, the college librarian and Helen's nominal boss, remarked that Peter and Jane reminded him of Samuel Johnson and Old Hodge going out to buy oysters. Peter replied that oysters must have been a damned sight cheaper then than they were now.

Jane's thoughts, as cats' meditations generally do, remained her own. There was more than a hint of fall in the air tonight. Here in Balaclava County, the leaves were already beginning to turn. Students were moving their effects into the dormitories; tomorrow morning they'd be lining up to register for classes. App Download Follow Us.


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Exit the Milkman by Charlotte MacLeod | LibraryThing

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