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8

Fleeced

Daphne Doody had lived in an apartment on the ground floor of the Settlers Club for nearly twenty years, but in all that time she had never seen anything that could compare to the excitement of the last twenty-four hours.

First the news about the generous donation that was to be made by Nat Pemrod and Ben Carney had spread through the club like wildfire. Then the sight of Nats body being carried out just hours later. And the news of Bens demise and the missing diamonds. It was all too crazy.

Daphne had passed through the dining room yesterday when Nat and Ben were dining with Thomas Pilsner. They had looked like they were having such a good time that Daphne hoped theyd ask her to join them. But they hadnt. You win some and you lose some, she had thought at the time, trying not to be angry that they ignored her. It was obviously a boys lunch. And what turned out to be Nat and Bens last lunch.

Daphne had bought her apartment when she was forty and making lots of money doing voice-overs for commercials and cartoons. Through the years, she had also appeared in many off-Broadway productions, playing comic roles. Although she worked more than most actors, she still had plenty of free time to devote to sticking her nose into the affairs of the other residents and members of the Settlers Club. She had been married once, in her twenties, to a man she had done a scene with in acting class. Unfortunately she had fallen in love with the character he played. It didnt take long to figure out he was no Rhett Butler.

Now Daphne was sixty and as energetic as ever. She had always wished to remarry, but to her disappointment it hadnt happened. She had no family to speak of, so she always said that her friends were her family, frequently inviting people into her apartment for parties and get-togethers. She even had people over to listen to her play the piano. The piano-playing parties had become the hardest draw, ever since she made the mistake of putting out a tip jar, thereby offending several of her guests. But that was done in a moment of high anxiety, when she had just lost a commercial and was afraid shed never work again.

Still a redhead, thanks to monthly trips to a local salon, Daphne was an attractive woman with a Greenwich Village look about her. She favored berets and scarves and long skirts and lace-up boots. Daphnes bohemian, artsy sensibilities had drawn her to the Settlers Club in the first place. After all, the club had been founded by a gentleman who had abhorred the stuffiness of other clubs in the city. He had wanted people with a sense of adventure, people who appreciated the arts. He also believed that women should be accepted as members in their own right. What better place to meet interesting people? Daphne had thought twenty years ago.

As Daphne sat in her apartment reading her favorite newspaper, the New York World, which featured a story about an old man who was retiring from his job as a doorman at the Plaza after more than fifty years of service, she sighed. Hes seen a lot, she thought. And so have I, living on the ground floor of this joint.

She put the paper down. Time to get dressed. After all, today I am a working actress.

Daphne had managed to get a job as stand-in for one of the actresses in the film shooting at the Settlers Club that day. Its true it wasnt like having a real part, but at least shed meet people in the business. And she needed to meet new people. Members of the club were dropping like flies.

She heard Thomass voice outside in the hallway. She ran to the peephole and stole a look. He was walking by with a young woman who looked so familiar. Who was she?

Wait a minute! Daphne whispered. I just saw her picture in the paper. Thats Regan Reilly, and shes a private detective. Thomas must have called her in!

Are you sure you dont mind staying in Nats apartment? Thomas was asking.

Stay in his apartment! Daphne let the peephole snap shut. I dont have time now, she thought. But Ill go up there later with a tray of my cookies, and Ill offer to be of service in any way I can. Ill tell her about those meat-market parties held across the hall from Nats that dont welcome women of a certain age!

There is a season, turn, turn, turn, she trilled as she ran to her bedroom to get ready.


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