Jim Qwilleran is living in a shabby motel in a shabby part of the city referred to as “Junk Town.” Why? Because he needs a new apartment and many landlords are prejudiced against prospective tenants with pets. Qwill is far too attached Koko and Yum Yum, his remarkable Siamese feline companions, to even consider parting with them.
As he does research for a series of newspaper articles on the Antique trade in Junk Town Qwill learns of the death of a dealer a few weeks earlier. Qwill isn’t sure that the death was an accident, even though the late man’s friends and colleagues, and the lady in life are convinced. Of course he later learns that the man was murdered.
While attending an auction where the late dealer’s possessions are being sold Qwill meets Iris Cobb. Iris and her husband, C. C. Cobb, own and run an antique store in the old mansion where they live. They also have two spacious, furnished apartments they rent over their store, one of which is vacant. When Qwill suggests that he rent the place Mrs. Cobb is delighted with idea of a writer living in her home, and assures Qwill that she is fond of cats.
Old houses have character and mystique that new homes simply haven’t had time to earn. Mrs. Cobb is even convinced that the old mansion has a ghost, but we later learn that her husband has a perverse sense of humor and enjoys playing tricks on her. Koko and Yum Yum have great fun exploring the old place, and discover a hidden tunnel dating back to the days of the Underground Railroad. The man who originally built the mansion was an abolitionist who not only spoke out against slavery, he also helped escaping slaves to freedom, sometimes hiding them in his own home. Koko and Yum Yum use the hidden tunnel they discover in an old bookcase to explore other areas of the old home, and find clues to help Qwill in his investigation. They also engage in a little petty theft, stealing a toothbrush, paper clips, and anything else that will fit in their little mouths, including some illegal drugs. That last item got Qwill’s moustache bristling.
One of the practices among the antique dealers is called “scrounging.” They go to sites where old, condemned buildings are either decaying and falling apart on their own, or are waiting to be demolished, and take fixtures, paneling, anything that can be used again. Since scrounging is illegal it is usually done at night. When Qwill’s landlord, C. C. Cobb doesn’t come home at his usual time after scrounging, Qwill accompanies Mrs. Cobb to the house where he was supposed to have gone. They find Mr. Cobb’s body inside the old home at the foot of the staircase. Qwill goes scrounging with another dealer, and is nearly killed himself in the dilapidated old building.
The clues provided by Koko and Yum Yum help Qwill find out who was desperate enough to kill two people, and tried, more than once, to make Qwill his third victim.