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23

Fleeced

Action! Jacques Harlow cried to his assembled group of actors in the parlor of the Settlers Club.

Daphne was sitting in the corner, out of the way, looking longingly at her fellow thespians who had actually been hired to act. Being a stand-in helped pay the bills, but all you really did was stand around while they set up the lights and the camera. Then when theyre ready, they kick you out and the first team comes in.

It was dispiriting.

She stared at the sheep that had been in Nat and Wendys apartment for so many years. Even though Wendy had been twenty years older, she and Daphne had become good friends. Theyd sit and knit together or take walks around the park or sometimes Wendy would come down to Daphnes apartment for a glass of wine when Nats poker-playing group got rowdy When Wendy became ill, Daphne promised to look after Nat, which she was more than willing to do. But he only wanted to spend time with his poker buddies. And those sheep!

Dont talk to me like that! the lead actress was yelling as she backed toward the fireplace. It makes me really mad! Her leg hit Dolly the sheep, and she lost her balance, landing in a heap on the floor.

Thomas, whod been watching from the doorway, screamed.

Get him out of here! the director cried.

Thomas ran out into the hallway, down the front steps, and out the door. He thought hed have a moment of peace, but cable-television producer Stanley Stock was standing right there, his camera aimed at all the movie trucks. Thomas had turned around to go back inside when he heard Regans voice calling him.

Five minutes later, it somehow came to pass in the way that things sometimes do even though you cant really explain how it happened, that Thomas, Stanley, Regan, and Daphne, who had been given a break, were seated at a back table in the dining room, far away from the movie cameras.

Dont worry, Thomas, Im on your side, Stanley was saying as he buttered his bread. I want to do a lovely piece on your hundredth anniversary here. I want to talk about how the club has in-house butlers, how its a place to meet people thanks to an in-house dating service, how even Hollywood has come calling.

Thank you, Stanley.

Of course, one of your neighbors out there sees it differently.

Who?

Archibald Enders and his wife think youre dragging the good name of Gramercy Park through the mud. Stanley took a big bite of the warm and crusty Italian bread. Theyre waging a campaign to oust you.

Miserable people! Thomas growled.

Thomas has been doing a great job, Daphne said with fervor. No one who lives here wants this club to close. Since Thomas has come in hes worked very hard to improve things around here.

Thank you, Daphne, Thomas said with a slight smile. I know how hard this must be for you. Youve lived here for a long time, and you were friendly with Nat.

I knew his wife better. But Nat was a good man.

Regan felt a sudden restlessness. Stanley, you were here last night at the party, right?

Indeed. And now Im coming back tonight. Lydia s having the whole group back.

So you were taping a lot of what went on last night?

Oh yes.

Do you think I could see those tapes?

When?

This afternoon. Do you have them with you?

No. Theyre down at my studio.

Can I see them after lunch?

Stanley s brain suddenly fixed on the idea that there could be some excitement in the fact that his tapes might hold the key to a crime. Of course.

If I can only find out who Buttercup is, Regan thought


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