Excerpt from Death By Design

Prologue

With a hand clad in a sleek, black leather glove, the intruder punched in the code for the security system and silently slipped into the spacious condo located on the Upper West Side in New York City.  Satisfied no one had seen him, or if they had, they would not be able to provide a positive ID, the intruder took his time to peruse the condo, taking care not to disturb anything.

It was crucial no one realize that the intruder was looking for specific items–bits and pieces of precious polished rocks, small baubles that sparkled in the light and were worth a king’s ransom.

In fact, the gems had originally come from an Indian prince, who presented them to his English mistress many years ago when India was still under the British Raj.

Decades later, when old and infirm, the mistress fearing a robbery, cleverly hid her baubles, and died without revealing the secret of their location.

However, the story of the gems didn’t die with the old woman.  Generations since had searched for the treasure without success, but Her Ladyship’s diary made it clear she had hidden her treasure in plain sight among her everyday things, but no one had been able to fathom exactly what that meant.

Knowing that the owner of the condo would be out for some time, the intruder took time to carefully examine antique furniture for hidden drawers, as well as searching for wall safes, dusty trunks, examining pockets of old dresses, backs of paintings, and the insides of bric-a-brac. He even searched for mundane collections such as postage stamps.  The intruder hadn’t watched the classic film Charadewith Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, where a fortune was exchanged for rare stamps, for nothing.

But nothing was all he found––a big fat zero.

The intruder glanced at the clock and knew time was running short.  Frustrated, the thief felt he must have actually laid eyes on the treasure, but simply failed to recognize it.  Hurriedly, he took pictures with his phone until he heard the ancient elevator door whine open on the condo’s floor.

Damn it!  The owner was back early.  Quickly looking around to make sure nothing was out of place, he slipped out the servants’ entrance and hurried down the steps to exit via the service elevator, secure in the knowledge that no one would question his casual attire.

Once outside, the intruder sauntered into Central Park and began jogging, knowing full well people seldom took notice of a person exercising in their neighborhood.

Another clean getaway.

The intruder smiled at his escape.  He would soon have another chance to re-enter the condo and resume his search.

And search he would until he found the treasure.

1

Irvin S. Cobb once said, “To be born in Kentucky is a heritage, to brag about it is a habit, to appreciate it is a virtue.”

That’s great, but who was Irvin S. Cobb?  He was a Kentucky boy who went to New York, and became the highest paid staff reporter in America in the early part of the twentieth century.  He wrote sixty books and three hundred short stories, many of them about Kentucky.  In fact, he came to be known as a Kentucky writer, even though he spent most of his life in New York City.

It seems you have to live somewhere other than Kentucky to write about it.  I wonder if New Yorkers flee New York in order to write about the Big Apple.

That’s where I was now––New York.

I found New York to be nothing more than a collection of villages jumbled together with no particular rhyme or reason.  Still, one does not expect to run into someone she knows back home amidst a collection of villages, which are home to over eight million souls.  The odds are overwhelmingly against it.  Right?  So what happened to me had to be fate?  Right?

I was strolling down 75thStreet on the Upper East Side when I heard someone call my name.

It’s hard to stop and turn around on a sidewalk in New York when a gazillion people are tramping in the opposite direction.  I thought I was imagining things, but then I heard it again.

“Josiah!  JOSIAH REYNOLDS!”

I ducked into a doorway and cautiously peered around a column.  There did indeed appear to be a rotund lady wrapped in a beige cashmere coat with matching leopard printed hat and gloves, hoofing to where I was hiding––I mean waiting.  Okay. I was hiding.

Out of breath, she started to go into the building under whose portico I had taken refuge when she spied me behind the marble edifice.  “Josiah Reynolds.  I thought that was you.  Then I thought, no, it couldn’t be.  June told me you were visiting New York, and that I should call you, and that’s exactly what I was going to do this afternoon, but then poof––there you were, right in front of me.  I never thought my luck could be that good.”  She peered closely at me.  “You are Josiah Reynolds, are you not, the woman who lives next door to

Lady Elsmere?  I was tempted to call you Josie.  Josiah’s such an unusual name for a female.”

“And you are?” I asked. Hey, I wasn’t going to admit who I was. This woman could be a bill collector or a hit man for all I knew.

Don’t jump to conclusions.  I am not paranoid.

“I’m Bunny Witt of the Philadelphia Witts, not to be confused with the Boston Whitts.  They spell their name differently, with a h.”

“Unhuh,” I murmured.  “And why is Bunny Witt of the Philadelphia Witts calling my name on 75thStreet?”

“I’m no longer of the Philadelphia Witts.  I live in New York now, when I’m not in Kentucky for the racing season, or if I’m not in Florida, you know, for the winter.  I can’t abide those frigid winters in New York and Kentucky anymore. I have to have the warmth for my feet, you know.”

“No, I didn’t know,” I muttered, watching Bunny Witt’s hands flutter about her face like an injured bird trying to take flight.

“I was just going to call June and ask for your number when I looked up and there you were.  It’s amazing.  I prayed about this, you know, only last night, but seeing you the next day, I mean, I didn’t think God produced results that fast.”

I interrupted, “Mrs. Witt, I’m very sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not.  I haven’t explained my problem yet, have I?  But I so desperately need your help.”  She clutched my hand that wasn’t holding the cane––the cane with the silver wolf’s head.  “Please say you will help me.  You simply must.”

Finally aware of the befuddled expression I was displaying, she pulled on my arm.  “The Carlyle Hotel is just around the corner.  Let me buy you a drink at Bemelmans Bar and I can explain my predicament.”  She gave my arm a little tug.  “Just give me twenty minutes.  Please.”

“You buying?”

“Assuredly.”

“In that case, you can have twenty-two minutes of my time.”

The anguish in Bunny’s face eased a bit and she smiled.  “I’ve heard that you have a quick tongue.”

“New York brings out the Dorothy Parker in me.  If you thought that was witty, you should see me after three drinks.  I’m more Oscar Levant than Oscar Levant.”

Bunny’s face went blank. “I don’t mean to sound obtuse, but I have no idea of whom you are speaking.  Do the Levants own a horse farm in Lexington?”

I started to whip out a sarcastic barb, but why waste my considerable talent on this harebrained tootsie?  Should I squander time explaining that Oscar Levant was one of the great scathing wits of the twentieth century?  No, I would keep my quips to myself until someone worthy came along.  Right now my leg was hurting, and I needed to sit down. To tell the truth, my dogs were barking, so Bemelmans Bar sounded just fine and dandy, especially if the drinks were free.