Authors: Ritter Ames
Whatever cleaning chore bugs you the most, really think about it for a moment. Often it
's not as big as we believe but seems to grow into epic proportions the longer we wait. Time yourself. See how long it really takes if you work on keeping it done every day or two. Small, regular time investments in cleaning and sorting keeps a house feel like it's almost running automatically.
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Ritter is an award-winning author who writes the Body of Art mystery series and the Organized Mystery series, both published by Gemma Halliday Publishing. While in the past Ritter has published nonfiction books and biographies under a different name, she now focuses most of her time and writing energies on globe
-trotting the world via her keyboard to create memorable characters and fascinating fiction novels. In this great new endeavor, her cat muse remains faithfully by her side—only voicing displeasure when the food bowl sits empty due to Ritter focusing more on writing than on kibble.
To learn more about Ritter Ames, visit her online at:
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Bodies of Art Mysteries:
Marked Masters (coming soon!)
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a Bodies of Art Mystery
Clouds shrouded the moon. The Dobermans, Zeus and Apollo, snoozed by the rose bushes after devouring the tasty treat I had offered. Waves crashed in the distance and gave the crisp sea air a taste and smell of salt spray. The estate's showplace lawn ended a hundred yards away at a private beach.
Like my previous visit, I wore head-to-toe black. For this jaunt, however, I hadn't donned the ebony-beaded Vera Wang halter gown and Jimmy Choo stilettos I sported the last time. No, for the current foray, my Lycra garb more closely resembled Catwoman with my blonde hair hidden under a dark hood. Night vision goggles finished off the ensemble. The difference between arriving invited versus an incognito—and illegal—entrance.
As I slipped through the mansion's side door, the left wall security pad flashed. I patted the ring of leather pouches attached to my belt and removed a cute little gizmo I'd picked up in
Zurich that resembled a garage door opener. Only this handy gadget decoded electronic security systems, rendering them harmless. The tiny warning whine never had a chance to turn into a scream; my device made friends and invited us to enter.
I slipped down the rear hall and up the staircase that my research had uncovered in a back issue of
. At the upper landing, infrared lasers protected the area from unwelcome visitors. I opened another pouch, withdrew a small, specially formulated aerosol can, and sprayed in a sweeping pattern. As the particles fell, laser lines were revealed in vivid detail. Seconds later, I'd picked the lock on the turret gallery door.
The last time I stood in that room the master of the house provided a guided tour and made a blatant pass beneath the gaze of a Dutch Master. My ability to deflect the Lothario took grace and diplomacy, plus restraint to curb my strong desire to disable his favorite body part. Still, the event had been worth the effort. A six-month quest was over, and I had found my Holy Grail of paintings.
"My father started this collection," the slimy billionaire had bragged. "He made purchases while stationed in Europe in the mid-1940s. I added to the works and specially constructed this temperature-controlled castle safe-room."
On this return visit—my acquisition finale—I slid into the darkened gallery. The circular space, lit only by the minimal luminosity filtering through a half-dozen narrow arched windows, allowed my shadow to mix with those already in residence. Night vision goggles allowed the glorious set of Rembrandts and French Impressionists to glow alongside the beauty I came to liberate.
It was a vibrant seascape, circa 1821, and a breathtaking scene of energy and clear passion. A little known work by a well-respected artist, which had been cherished by the family of its previous owner before eventually falling into the hands of the billionaire's father. Gazing upon the work, I could almost hear the buoy bell ringing in the distance, but the room's current illumination left the scene too dark to see beyond the receding foamy water. I shivered as if the wind picked up; the painting was that powerful.
I heard a noise. A human-moving noise.
I had to hurry. I slipped a blade from my belt and ran it along the frame's edge.
the canvas was free, I heard the master of the house bark, "What are you doing?"
I spun to find him standing behind me. Holding his gaze, I sheathed my knife and dug into another pouch, then threw a capped vial into the darkness between myself and potential capture. The glass broke, and when the chemicals inside hit the air, a dense smoke obscured all vision. But I had already calculated the distance to the nearest window, moved to it, and affixed a suction cup with a braided nylon line to the wall. The painting protected in one hand, my remaining gloved fist, fitted with brass knuckles, shattered the narrow pane. I slid through the turret's slit-window, taking a few shards of glass along for the ride. Then I rappelled down the rough stone wall to the manicured lawn.
"Zeus! Apollo! Robbery! Attack!" my impotent enemy screamed.
* * *
Next morning, the painting and I slipped into the back of Greg's shop for the new frame constructed per my specifications. A close facsimile to photos, and infinitely better than the garish gold number that restrained the seascape during its turret imprisonment, the burnished brass frame even evoked a nautical theme that conjured the look of a spyglass.
I changed into blue coveralls and left his shop with the newly framed painting wrapped in brown paper. Magnetic signs attached to my van implied a courier service, as did the faked breast pocket insignia on my uniform. The drive to Mrs. Lebowitz's tiny home was quick.
"Yes?" she answered the door. A Holocaust survivor, the only one in her family to make it out of Europe alive, she was a child when the Allies freed her from Auschwitz.
My brown-wrapped package once graced her grandmother's dining room. Before it was stolen by Nazis and purchased with fictionalized provenance by my adversary's father.
"Mrs. Lebowitz, I have a very special delivery."
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Eighteen-hours and one chartered jet flight to Italy later, I was still running on adrenalin as I played the part of art world socialite representing the New York based Beacham Foundation. Easy enough, since I'd perfected the role over the last five years, except that nothing was going right tonight.
"A quick and easy pickup," Max, my boss, had told me. "Everything is taken care of. Don't worry."
It was another black-tie affair with nothing more to go on than a name and small photo that Nico had slipped me earlier with a flute of Dom Pérignon. Not a perfect method but par for the course.
Only things had gone from bad to worse quickly. I'd received a bogus text with driving instructions that sent me in the wrong direction, my contact in the photo was nowhere to be found, and I'd noticed one of the attendees seemed a bit too interested in me. I'd dodged him once in the entry, again in the ballroom. And here
was again. Churning through the crowd like a heat-seeking missile. A Rhett Butler wannabe in Armani.
I'd racked my brains trying to figure which camp he fit into, but got
. With so many players in the art game, it was hard to keep everyone straight, both above and below ground. But a new American would have stayed in my memory, especially a tall male one with a deep Southern accent. Was it simple egoism, or did he work for someone plotting against me? My money lay on the latter. Especially after the diverting text.
He blocked my way. "How 'bout we take a late night stroll outside? A lil birdie tol' me the air on this Italian bay is soft as warm satin slidin' over your skin."
Disregarding my first impulse, which would have left him with a broken nose, I kept my breathing and temper at even levels. I needed to find out what his game really was—but not now.
"Why don't you ask that lil ol' birdie to join you?" Did the bogus text come from Mr. Wonderful, here? The man who had paid me too much attention this evening? My palms were damp as I ran them down my black sheath, ostensibly to smooth the material around my hips. It wasn't the best move in the world, but I couldn't risk his grabbing a hand and getting the truth 'handed' to him. I sidestepped.
"I'm afraid that lil birdie has moved on to bigger and better things." One of his strides halved the distance between us. "You know, honey, while gentlemanly manners forbid I refer to a lady by anything other than beautiful, I must say you're looking very pale at this moment, even for a
blond, Miss . . ."
Miss None of Your Business!
But I wasn't fooled. I saw the intelligence behind those teal eyes. He knew I was Laurel Beacham. Hell, he probably knew my middle name was Iris and I'd streaked through the Cornell library freshman year. I didn't know how he knew—just that he did. I also knew anger had replaced any paleness on my face with a bright blush.
"I'm sorry, I don't feel well," I lied, turning before he could stop me. I strode quickly down a hall, relieved when a discreet lavatory door offered refuge.
I took a couple of deep breaths, regaining my composure. Though, as I looked around the lavatory, that composure quickly died.
A mosaic-tile wall separated the toilet from the lavish dressing salon. A pair of wingtips peeked from behind the wall at an awkward angle. I hurried around the wall and stopped short.
There was no mistaking him. Propped on the john was the man from the photo who I was supposed to meet. Half of his handlebar moustache was jaggedly slashed and discarded on the floor, while blood from a gash at his throat spilled down his round belly and onto the cushioned turquoise seat.
Even as nausea hit, my mind ticked over the possibilities. From the look of things, he had been dead only a few minutes. No blood trail, so he'd been killed where he sat.
I frisked him, careful not to touch skin as I explored bulges that could be the seventeenth-century snuffbox I'd been sent to recover, but the search proved fruitless. Something wasn't right. The snuffbox, though a valuable art object, didn't warrant taking the man's life.
Straightening, I went to the sink and washed my hands. Twice. This party was definitely over. I had to find Nico and get both of us out of there.
Black ties and dazzling dresses swirled around the ballroom to kaleidoscopic effect. Still touched by shock, I marveled a moment at what crystal chandeliers did for precious gems and designer signatures. The international cast comprising the guest list had once made this job interesting, but now they just hindered my progress. I prayed Nico hadn't slid off with one of the real hired help for an assignation—his
when his phase of the work was completed. I couldn't face another systematic exploration of Casa Azzuro's gold leaf, fine tapestries and Carrera marble.
Don't act like anything is wrong
. I took a long cleansing breath, and spotted Nico's dark curly head. Sans tray, he sported a tuxedo jacket obviously cached for his own ulterior purposes, chatting up an Yves St Laurent model known to the rags as a poseur. Nico didn't care. He had other uses in mind for her physical talents.
"The lights are very bright in here," I remarked, joining the couple.
Nico's eyes narrowed at what my words signaled. "Now?"
"Yes, they hurt my eyes."
Miss Poseur giggled. "
Essayez de lunettes de soleil
Sunglasses in a ballroom. Yes, she was a bright one. Nico gave a resigned, almost-Gallic shrug, and moved away.
A circulating waiter offered champagne. I grabbed a flute for camouflage.
My arm jerked, hit from behind, and I watched, helpless, as the narrow glass arced in mid-air, then shattered on the marble floor. Icy shards narrowly missed the exposed heel of a delicately shod duchess. A waiter dashed toward us to pick up the sharp pieces. I could not believe this evening.