HOMER PRICE lives two miles out of Centerburg, where Route 56 meets 56A, but most of his friends and relatives live in town. They include Aunt Aggy and Uncle Ulysses, the Sheriff and the boys, Miss Terwilliger, Miss Naomi Enders, great-great-great granddaughter of Ezekiel Enders who founded Centerburg and who owned the precious formula for making Cough Syrup and Elixir of Life Compound. While Centerburg is not exactly nosey, precious little happens that the good citizens do not know.
In six preposterous tales, Robert McCloskey takes a good look at the face of mid-western America with humorous and affectionate eyes. No matter how old or young the reader, the strange skulduggery of the Sensational Scent, the extravagant affair of the Doughnuts, the breathtaking suspense of “Mystery Yarn”, the doleful defeat of The Super-Duper, the puzzling problem of Michael Murphy’s musical Mousetrap, and the Great Pageant of One Hundred and Fifty Years of Centerburg Progress Week, will reduce him to helpless laughter.
Homer Price has the world well under control.
BY ROBERT McCLOSKEY
THE CASE OF
THE SENSATIONAL SCENT
THE CASE OF THE
ABOUT two miles outside of Centerburg where route 56 meets route 56A there lives a boy named Homer. Homer’s father owns a tourist camp. Homer’s mother cooks fried chicken and hamburgers in the lunch room and takes care of the tourist cabins while his father takes care of the filling station. Homer does odd jobs about the place. Sometimes he washes windshields of cars to help his father, and sometimes he sweeps out cabins or takes care of the lunch room to help his mother.
When Homer isn’t going to school, or doing odd jobs, or playing with other boys, he works on his hobby which is building radios. He has a workshop in one corner of his room where he works in the evenings.
Before going to bed at night he usually goes down to the kitchen to have a glass of milk and cookies because working on radios makes him hungry. Tabby, the family cat, usually comes around for something to eat too.
One night Homer came down and opened the ice box door, and poured a saucer of milk for Tabby and a glass of milk for himself. He put the bottle back and looked to see if there was anything interesting on the other shelves. He heard footsteps and felt something soft brush his leg so he reached down to pet Tabby. When he looked down the animal drinking the milk certainly wasn’t a cat! It was a skunk! Homer was startled just a little but he didn’t make any sudden motions, because he remembered what he had read about skunks. They can make a very strong smell that people and other animals don’t like. But the smell is only for protection, and if you don’t frighten them, or hurt them, they are very friendly.
While the skunk finished drinking the saucer of milk, Homer decided to keep it for a pet because he had read somewhere that skunks become excellent pets if you treat them kindly. He decided to name the skunk Aroma. Then he poured out some more milk for Aroma, and had some more himself. Aroma finished the second saucer of milk, licked his mouth, and calmly started to walk away. Homer followed and found that Aroma’s home was under the house right beneath his window.
During the next few days Homer did a lot of thinking about what would be the best way to tame Aroma. He didn’t know what his mother would think of a pet skunk around the house but he said to himself Aroma has been living under the house all this time and nobody knew about it, so I guess it will be all right for it to keep on being a secret.
He took a saucer of milk out to Aroma every evening when nobody was looking and in a few weeks Aroma was just as tame as a puppy.
Homer thought it would be nice if he could bring Aroma up to his room because it would be good to have company while he worked building radios. So he got an old basket and tied a rope to the handle to make an elevator. He let the basket down from his window and trained Aroma to climb in when he gave a low whistle. Then he would pull the rope and up came the basket and up came Aroma to pay a social call. Aroma spent most of his visit sleeping, while Homer worked on a new radio. Aroma’s favorite place to sleep was in Homer’s suitcase.
One evening Homer said, “There, that’s the last wire soldered and my new radio is finished. I’ll put the new tubes in it then we can try it out!” Aroma opened one eye and didn’t look interested, even when the radio worked perfectly and an announcer’s voice said, “N. W. Blott of Centerburg won the grand prize of two thousand dollars for writing the best slogan about ‘Dreggs After Shaving Lotion.’”
“Why I know him, and he’s from my town!” said Homer.
Aroma still looked uninterested while the announcer said that next week they would broadcast the Dreggs program from Centerburg and that Mr. Dreggs himself would give Mr. N. W. Blott the two thousand dollars cash and one dozen bottles of Dreggs Lotion for thinking up the best advertising slogan. “Just think, Aroma, a real radio broadcast from Centerburg! I’ll have to see that!”
The day of the broadcast arrived and Homer rode to Centerburg on his bicycle to watch. He was there early and he got a good place right next to the man who worked the controls so he could see everything that happened.
Mr. Dreggs made a speech about the wonderful thing Mr. N. W. Blott had contributed to the future of American shaving with his winning slogan: “The after shave lotion with the distinctive invigorating smell that keeps you on your toes.” Then he gave N. W. the two thousand and one dozen bottles of lotion in a suitcase just like the one that Homer had at home. After N. W. made a short speech the program was over. Just then four men said, “Put ’em up,” and then one of them said to N. W., “If you please,” and grabbed the suitcase with all of the money and lotion inside it. Everyone was surprised, Mr. Dreggs was surprised, N. W. Blott was surprised, the announcer was surprised, the radio control man was surprised, and everybody was frightened too. The robbers were gone before anybody knew what happened. They jumped into a car and were out of sight down route 56A before the sheriff shouted, “Wait till I send out an alarm, men, then we’ll chase them. No robio raiders, I mean radio robbers can do that in this town and get away again!” The sheriff sent out an alarm to the State Police and then some of the men took their shotguns and went off down 56A in the sheriff’s car.
Homer waited around until the sheriff and the men came back and the sheriff said, “They got clean away. There’s not hide or hair of ’em the whole length of 56 or 56A.”
While they were eating dinner that evening, Homer told the family about what had happened in town. After helping with the dishes he went up to his room, and after he had pulled Aroma up in the basket, he listened to the news report of the robbery on his new radio. “The police are baffled,” the news commentator said, “Mr. N. W. Blott is offering half of the prize money and six bottles of the lotion to anyone who helps him get his prize back.”
“Aroma, if we could just catch those robbers we would have enough money to build lots of radios and even a television receiver!” said Homer.
He decided that he had better go to bed instead of trying to think of a way to catch robbers, because he was going to get up very early the next morning and go fishing.
He woke up before it was light, slipped on his pants and ate a bowl of cereal. Then he found his fishing pole, gave a low whistle for Aroma (the whistle wasn’t necessary because Aroma was waiting in the basket). Homer put the basket on his bike and they rode off down 56A.
They turned into the woods where the bridge crossed the brook. And Homer parked the bike and started to walk along the brook with Aroma following right along.
They fished all morning but didn’t catch anything because the fish just weren’t biting. They tried all of the best places in the brook and when they were ready to go home they decided to go straight through the woods instead of following the brook because the woods path was much shorter.
The path through the woods was an old wood road that was not used any more. It had not been used for years and almost everybody had forgotten that it was ever built. Before they had gone very far Homer thought he heard voices, then he smelled bacon cooking. He thought it was strange because nobody ever came up on this mountain to camp, so he decided to sneak up and investigate.
When Homer and Aroma looked around a large rock they saw four men! “THE ROBBERS!” whispered Homer, and indeed they were the robbers. There was the suitcase with the two thousand dollars and the one dozen bottles of after shaving lotion lying open on the ground. The robbers had evidently just gotten up because they were cooking breakfast over an open fire and their faces were covered with soapy lather for they were shaving.
Homer was so interested in what the robbers were doing, that he forgot to keep an eye on Aroma. The next thing he knew, Aroma had left the hiding place and was walking straight toward the suitcase! He climbed inside and curled up on the packages of money and went right to sleep. The robbers were busy shaving and having a difficult time of it too, because they had only one little mirror and they were all stooped over trying to look in it.
“I can hardly wait to finish shaving and try some of that fragrant after shaving lotion,” said the first robber.
Then the second robber (who had a cramp in his back from stooping over and from sleeping in the woods) straightened up and turned around. He noticed Aroma and said, “Look at that thing in our money!” The other robbers turned around and looked surprised.
“That, my dear friend, is not a thing. It is a Musteline Mammal (Genus Mephitis) commonly known as a skunk!” said the third robber who had evidently gone to college and studied zoology.
“Well I don’t care if it’s a thing or a mammal or a skunk, he can’t sleep on our money. I’ll cook that mammal’s goose!” Then he picked up a big gun and pointed it at Aroma.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said the third robber with the college education. “It might attract the sheriff, and besides it isn’t the accepted thing to do to Musteline Mammals.”
So the robbers put a piece of bacon on the end of a stick and tried to coax Aroma out of the suitcase, but Aroma just sniffed at the bacon, yawned, and went back to sleep.
Now the fourth robber picked up a rock and said, “This will scare it away!” The rock went sailing through the air and landed with an alarming crash! It missed Aroma, but it broke a half dozen bottles of Mr. Dreggs’ lotion. The air was filled with “that distinctive invigorating smell that keeps you on your toes,” but mostly, the air was filled with Aroma!
Everybody ran, because the smell was so strong it made you want to close your eyes.
Homer waited by the old oak tree for Aroma to catch up, but not for Aroma to catch up all the way.