Jim Qwilleran’s lifelong friend, Arch Riker, is retiring from journalism. So his best friend, Qwill is pulling himself away from his cherished Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum and flying down to host a retirement party for Riker. Junior Goodwinter of the Pickax Picayune graduated from journalism school with honors, and Qwill thinks that Junior would enjoy the party and could make some excellent professional connections. They’re a bit anxious about the weather because the first big snowstorm hasn’t come yet, and they don’t want to travel during a blizzard.
As the room full of newspaper people is laughing and enjoying themselves Qwill is called away to answer a phone call. He gets to Junior and tells him that hey have to leave right then because there’s a big snowstorm heading toward Pickax. After they get back and Qwill drives past the road he should have taken to drop off Junior he admits that there was no approaching snowstorm. They needed to leave the city because Junior’s father was in a car accident and killed instantly.
The evening of the day after the funeral Qwill has Junior and his girlfriend Jody over for a visit. While they’re discussing the recently widowed Mrs. Goodwinter’s plans to sell the Pickax Picayune and other plans her son hates, Junior’s beeper goes off. He’s a volunteer fire-fighter and somewhere there’s a fire. Jody and Qwill continue to talk, but are interrupted by the housekeeper, Mrs. Cobb, who has noticed flames coming from a nearby building. When Qwill and Jody check it out they discover that the office where the Pickax Picayune has been located for over a hundred years is on fire.
Qwill visits the widow to offer his condolences and is rather surprised. She doesn’t seem at all sad or heart-broken by her husband’s death, and is going full-steam ahead with plans to sell the old farmhouse that had been in her husband’s family for generations, the newspaper, and has even made arrangements to auction off family antiques that she has just inherited from her husband (she’s eager to get rid of the old junk because she has always hated antiques).
She hopes that everything can be straightened out and she can be out of Moose County before the first big snowstorm. Not at all what one would expect from a grieving widow.
The car accident that killed Senior Goodwinter and the fire destroying the Pickax Picayune seem like too much of a coincidence, and Qwill’s suspicions grow.
In a sub-plot, Qwill’s friend, Hixie Rice wants Koko to star in a commercial for a new line of gourmet cat food she wants to launch. The Klingenschoen Mansion is the perfect setting for the elegant commercial Hixie has in mind, and Koko looks supremely elegant in the luxurious surroundings. Unfortunately for Hixie, Koko does NOT aspire to stardom, and will not cooperate.
Qwill was never comfortable with the idea of living in the Klingenschoen Mansion he inherited, even though Koko and Yum Yum seem to fit in with the mansion perfectly, so he moved into a studio apartment he had remodeled and converted the Klingenschoen Mansion into a museum. Most of the people in Moose County were impressed when they finally had a chance to see inside the extravagant Mansion. But an arsonist decides to torch it when he knows no humans are there. Qwill is called to the Mansion and sees it in flames, but is unable to go inside to get his precious cats, Koko and Yum Yum. Fortunately, Koko was prepared.