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Friday, 14 March 2014

First Chapter Friday: The Mason's Mark: Love & Death in the Tower by M. S. Spencer

An Old Town Romance

M. S. Spencer
Copyright © 2014

Chapter One

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“Now, Claire, are you perfectly clear on your role?”
The petite redhead, intent on brushing the lapels of her smart khaki blazer and adjusting the large button that read Docent, Masonic Memorial jumped a foot. “Er, yes, Mr. Quinn, I think so. I’ve memorized everything in the guidebook.”
“Good. Remember, you are not expected to be an expert on Masons, just on this building. If a visitor asks you a question about the Masons and freemasonry you can’t answer, simply direct them to the gift shop. Harry can help them find appropriate reading material. Don’t worry about all the details.” He paused and allowed himself a tiny smile. “Especially the ones about Masonic rituals.”
“Yes, Mr. Quinn.”
“All right, off you go. The next tour begins at one-thirty. If you run into difficulties, call Nigel, our tiler. He'll be at the front desk. Have you met him?”
Claire recited from memory. “Tiler—he who guards the door to the lodge room while the lodge is in session. Yes, I’ve met him, Mr. Quinn.” Not that she’d liked the young man. He had a furtive way about him—yesterday she’d seen him fold his newspaper just as though he had a Penthouse tucked inside. For that matter, she thought, with that prematurely balding ping-pong ball of a head and the thinly disguised remains of a bout with acne, she doubted he’d have any luck with a non-photo-shopped female.
Claire found her way to the front entrance of the enormous Masonic temple, reciting various facts under her breath. A number of people milled around, alternately fanning themselves and gulping water from liter bottles. Like the eye of the storm, a family of four in Amish dress stood very still in the center of the throng, the slender female with eyes downcast, her two small children hanging on her skirts, the man lanky and grim. His wispy blond beard straggled over the white shirt buttoned up to a wobbly Adam’s apple. He wore a severe black jacket and a wide-brimmed, black hat. Claire wondered if Amish men were required to wear hats indoors. And to be hot. She felt a drop of perspiration dribble down her back and wished for the fortieth time that she didn’t have to stand in front of the revolving doors, soaking in the searing humidity of a Washington August.
Two little boys raced around squealing and touching things they shouldn’t. Claire cast about for their keeper. There. A pony-tailed young woman, much too well-endowed for the purple tube top she wore, paced the floor chattering into a cell phone. Claire checked her watch. Showtime. She moved to the hall leading to the elevators. “Ahem. All those here for the tour, could I have your attention?”
As one unit, the Amish family swung around to face her. When the budding juvenile delinquents ignored her, she raised her voice. “Ahem. Ma’am. Ma’am?” The purple-clad woman looked at Claire but did not stop chattering into her phone. “Are you here for the tour?” When the woman nodded, she pointed at the boys. “Do those belong to you? If you’re planning to use your cell phone your children must be kept on a leash during the tour.”
The woman blinked at Claire. One of the Amish children giggled, prompting a glare from her father. The object of attention snapped the phone closed with an angry click. “Luther Malloy! Frank! Get your buns over here.”
“Yes, Ma.” The boys strolled over, staying just out of reach of their mother’s hand.
Two people came through the revolving door, arguing in loud voices. A tiny woman with short, astonishingly orange hair, grumbled, “But Bob, you promised after the Jefferson Memorial we could take a break. My tootsies are killing me.”
Her companion, a rotund little fellow not much taller than she, said mildly, “This won’t take long, Polly. I thought you’d be interested since your grandfather was the Worshipful Master of his lodge.” He wiped a wet brow with a soggy handkerchief. “At least it’s cool in here. Hotter ‘n Hades out there. Tell you what, we’ll go down to Joe Theisman’s for pizza and a cold beer after the tour.”
“Well…okay, so long as it’s air-conditioned.” Polly took a long swallow from her water bottle. “Wish I’d remembered my pocket fan. And I thought Missouri was bad in August!”
Bob grinned. “It’s not the heat, Polly. It’s the humidity.”
“Yeah, yeah.” They caught sight of Claire and walked over. “We have tickets for the tour. Are you our fearless leader?”
“, I am. Why don’t we all gather at the elevators?” The other sightseers floated off toward the gift shop, leaving a gaggle of nine with Claire.
She took a deep breath and brushed an errant auburn curl behind her ear. It felt a little strange towering over all but the Amish man. At five feet two she rarely got a chance to look down on people. “Good afternoon and welcome to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. I am Claire Wilding and I’ll be your guide today.” She launched into her lecture. “Inspired by the lighthouse of ancient Alexandria, the Memorial honors George Washington as the guiding light for America and reflects freemasonry’s tenets of brotherly love, relief, and truth. Built over a period of forty-eight years, the building is three hundred and thirty-three feet high. It has three sections—the ground floor, which houses the Grand Masonic Hall—the main floor—in which we're standing—and the tower. There are nine levels in the tower.”
Bob piped up. “I heard the rooms get smaller and smaller and the elevator rises on an incline to get to the top.”
Ooh goody, my first question. Got this one cold. “That’s correct. The two elevators are sixty-one feet apart on the first floor, but only four-and-a-half feet apart by the time we reach the ninth floor. They ascend at an angle of seven and a half degrees.”
With a solemn face, Bob asked, “So, do we all have to lean backward to keep from falling out?”
Claire gaped at him and for a minute wondered if he were right. Mr. Quinn didn’t say anything about strapping us in. Better sound confident here. “No, of course not.”
Bob shot a triumphant glance at Polly and subsided. Claire continued. “This room is the Memorial Hall. Note the spectacular murals on either side, painted by Allyn Cox. That one depicts George Washington laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol building. If you look closely, you’ll see he’s wearing his Masonic apron and holding a silver trowel. These items are on display in the room to my left.”
Everybody dutifully sent eyes right to the painting, wavered, then swiveled to the opposite side where the gift shop stood. Bob opened his mouth and Claire raised her voice. “We’ll get to that in a minute.” She almost choked on the last word. Her carefully memorized speech couldn’t stand any interruption. If I lose the thread now I’m doomed.
“In the other mural the father of our country is depicted attending Christ Church in Philadelphia. Above the murals are stained glass portraits of such notables as the Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, and Elisha Cullen Dick, George Washington’s sponsor and physician. At the far end, past the eight green granite pillars, stands the magnificent bronze statue of George Washington by Bryant Baker. The doors to the right and left of the statue lead to the Memorial Theatre. A beautiful semicircular auditorium, it is available for public events. To our right and left—” she threw her arms out like a stewardess pointing out the exit doors—“are the North and South lodge rooms, where visiting lodges meet.”
Polly asked, “What do you mean, ‘visiting’? Are these things portable?” She inspected the marble pillars as if looking for hinges.
Claire warmed to her subject. The last two weeks of cramming were paying off. “In freemasonry the word “lodge” actually refers to the members themselves—they meet as a lodge. So Alexandria-Washington Lodge number 22 meets in the South Lodge Room. We usually refer to the entire building as the Masonic Temple or Memorial.”
Little Luther, spellbound by Claire’s lecture, seemed unaware that his brother had tied his shoelaces together. After the inevitable pratfall, trading of punches, and half-hearted scolding from the parent, he asked, “So how old is this temple anyway?”
“Not that old, actually. It opened in 1949 as the third home of the Alexandria lodge. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania warranted the first in 1783. Then in 1788 several prominent men, including Washington’s sponsor, Dr. Dick, petitioned to establish a new lodge through the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and asked George Washington to be its Charter Master. The original building stood on what’s now Market Square.”
“Market Square? Ain’t that where they hold the farmer’s market every Saturday?”
“Yes, Mrs. Malloy. The first building burned down in 1871, along with many irreplaceable Washington memorabilia. The lodge took up quarters in the present City Hall, where they stayed until this building was ready for occupation.”
Luther and Frank took advantage of Claire’s momentary pause for breath to topple a large ashcan, spilling sand and cigarette butts all over the marble floor. No one stirred while Claire ran through the docent manual’s chapter on emergencies in her head. Finding nothing, she stepped with what she hoped was dignified composure over the can and motioned toward the gift shop.
“Let us pass through here and enter a replica of the original lodge as it looked in 1802, when General Washington presided as Charter Master. Will you please all follow me?”
Her retinue gingerly skirted the mess. All, that is, except Frank, who plowed right through it, kicking up sand and whistling. Claire led them into a clean, bright room. The wood floor gleamed. Black Windsor chairs lined the walls. Luther ambled over to a glass case. “Hey, Frank, look at this junk!”
His brother came over and peered in. “Sheesh, what’s this? Gardening stuff?”
Claire bit her tongue. The Amish man leaned over them and spoke in a thick German accent. “It says this is the silver trowel Washington used for the groundbreaking of the U. S. Capitol. Next to it is his Masonic apron.”
“Ah, like in the painting.” The others gawked at Mrs. Malloy, who apparently had in fact been listening.
Polly tugged at Claire’s sleeve. “My father never told me anything about his…er…club. Why do Masons wear aprons?”
Frank yelped, “Yeah, are Freemasons girly girls?” His brother gave him a noogie.
Claire hoped her tone contained a suitable dose of disapproval. “Masons wear an apron during rituals to commemorate the origins of freemasonry in the guild of stonemasons.”
“I believe,” the Amish man’s cold blue eyes glinted under his pale brows, “that stonemasons wear an apron to hold the heavy mallets and chisels they use—implements only a very strong man could handle.”
Mrs. Malloy pushed the staring boys to one side and drawled, “I thought the Masons were a men’s club. You know, guys who wear funny hats and throw wild parties. Strippers jumpin’ outa cakes. Other…stuff. That’s why they got no windows in their clubhouses.”
One, two, three. “I’m afraid you’ve been misled by old stereotypes and rather…er…picturesque fancies. Freemasonry is primarily an association dedicated to self-improvement.”
Bob snickered. “You hear that, Polly? No funny stuff here. Just self-improvement.” He guffawed.
Mrs. Malloy continued to fume. Claire heard her mutter angrily, “Strippers. That’s what Dad told me. Humph. Bet she’s covering up.”
Claire hurried on. “Many of its adherent groups—like the Shriners—are well-known for their charitable work.”
“That’s right—the Shriner Hospitals! But wait,” Polly frowned, eyes uncertain. “Or do they run the circus?”
Mrs. Malloy nudged her. “Yeah—I been to one of those. These big fat fellas drive around in teeny little cars. It’s high-larious.” She snapped her gum, grinning reminiscently.
Bob interrupted, “I think the Shriners sponsor both the hospitals and the circus.”
Polly considered the idea, her brow furrowed. “Well, they can’t do both. I mean, those are big projects, and—”
“Ahem. Right now we’re discussing freemasonry in general.” Surprised by her own assertiveness, Claire straightened her shoulders. “We will get to the different sub-groups as we continue the tour.”
“Okay, sure.”
The Missouri couple seemed a little more contrite than necessary. Are they laughing at me? Claire plunged on. “The origins of freemasonry are somewhat obscure, but it’s generally believed to have evolved from the customs of stonemasons who built the great cathedrals in the Middle Ages. Hence their principle symbols are the square and compasses, tools of the masonry trade.”
“Don’t forget the apron,” said Polly’s companion, an undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice. Polly pinched him. “You crack me up, Bob.”
“Let’s move on, shall we?” Claire herded them toward the door. “Now we’re going to take the elevator up the tower. Each of the tower's nine levels is dedicated to a different theme. The top floor opens onto an observation platform and we should have a few moments at the end of the tour to enjoy the glorious vista of Alexandria, the Potomac River, and beyond it, the monuments of Washington. After that we’ll head straight down to the ground floor where the restrooms are located.”
The group dutifully followed Claire and squeezed into the elevator. Giggling in the back followed by a frightened squeal told Claire that Luther and Frank had discovered the joys of teasing girls. The doors opened on the third floor to reveal a large room filled with glass cases.
“This floor, which is the lowest level in the tower, is called the Grotto, and consists of exhibits dedicated to other appendant organizations, most prominently the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm—”
Luther squealed. “Mystic? Prophets? Grotto? Golly, it sounds like something from my Dungeons and Dragons game.”
His brother kicked him. “You big dummy, they’re zombies. Right, Lady?”
Claire toyed with various forms of torture, but settled on a mild reply. “The Grotto is similar to the Shriners—a social and philanthropic group.”
“Are they Freemasons?” It was the tall Amish man who spoke.
“Yes. All of the philanthropic orders like the Shriners and the Grotto are Masons, but not all Masons are Shriners, and so on.”
“I see.” The answer seemed to intrigue him.
When the ten minutes mandated for pretending to peruse the exhibits had passed, Claire announced, “Next we’ll be visiting a museum devoted to George Washington. The Masonic Memorial houses an impressive collection of artifacts, some of which were donated by the Washington family and some rescued from the fire in 1871 that destroyed the first lodge. Please be sure to check out Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick’s pocket watch. He was George Washington’s close friend and presided over his death bed.”
As they filed out on the fourth floor and automatically turned right as all human flocks do, Claire surveyed the room. The black and white parquet floor sparkled. Around three sides ran a balcony, filled with small alcoves and paintings. The light from a porthole window flooded the room. As she headed toward a bust of George Washington, a shadow moved behind a column. She took a step toward it, but Mrs. Malloy’s voice stopped her. “Frank, Luther—you be good, hear? I’m gonna sit down for a bit.”
Claire watched, horror-stricken, as the woman plunked down on the Chippendale chair Washington used as Worshipful Master of the Lodge. The yellow tape meant to prevent access to it lay in tatters on the floor. She had lunged forward, one hand stretched out to grab the transgressor, when the shadow flitted across her vision again. Feeling like a spectator at a ping-pong match, she spun around. There. Shaking a finger at the woman and barking “No!” in her most imperious voice, she rounded a pillar. Sure enough, a man stood there by a small bookcase built into the wall.
During Claire’s training, Mr. Quinn had ground into her the absolute prohibition against unauthorized individuals wandering around in the Tower. Oh God, I hope I don’t have to call for backup. “Sir? Can I help you?”
The man jumped and turned to her, his eyes wide, giving Claire the opportunity to admire two very large orbs tinted a luminous tourmaline green. His mobile face sported a Roman nose of reasonable proportion, a strong chin only slightly marred by a salt-and-pepper stubble, and the high cheekbones of an Aztec chief. His tan was not so deep as to seem artificial. Claire had raised her eyes to behold a head of wavy, chocolate brown hair when he began to speak. His sonorous baritone—a cross between Dean Martin and Elvis Presley—captivated her and she found herself humming That's Amore under her breath.
“No, thank you…er…” he peered at her chest. Her hand went protectively to the bosom that drew most eligible bachelors’ attention until she realized he was trying to read her name badge.
“Um…Claire. Claire Wilding. I’m the docent here.” She indicated her troops, at least two of whom were attempting to wreak irreparable damage on each other with a wooden staff carved in the likeness of John the Baptist. “Who are you?”
He smiled suddenly, revealing brilliant white teeth. His whole face lit up, and Claire swallowed hard. “I’m Gideon Bliss. And in case you’re wondering whether I’m here lawfully the answer is yes.” He stuck out a large hand, calluses prominent on his trigger finger. They reminded Claire of her father’s hands. “David—Mr. Comfrey—gave me permission to visit the museum.” His eyes glinted with little flecks of gold and humor.
Claire found herself at a loss for words and not just because he’d invoked the name of the Worshipful Master of the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge. She sank into the depths of his verdant eyes, while the mellifluous voice rolled over her. Just before she nodded off, he stopped speaking. She shook herself. “Oh, I see. Well, I’ll leave you to it.” Sheesh, Claire, are you shooting for the most pitiful female in Washington award?
Bliss hadn’t moved. “You say you’re the docent here? Could you help me find something?”
Claire dropped her eyes and mumbled, “Uh…”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Um…this is my first day. I…I doubt if I can help you.”
He chuckled. “So you didn’t actually mean anything by your first question.”
“My first… Oh, well, you know that was sort of …rhetorical. I mean, no one is supposed to be here. Other than me. And of course them.” She indicated her subjects, who had now begun to congregate by the elevator doors. All except for the two boys, who were nowhere to be seen, and their mother, who continued to sprawl blithely on the President’s priceless antique chair.
Her abrupt answer seemed to annoy Bliss. “I see.” He turned back to the bookcase and pulled a large, dusty leather tome off the shelf. Claire spent a painful second staring at his rigid back and finally tore herself away, visions of emerald eyes filled with admiration at her beauty evaporating.
“We’ll be heading to the fifth floor now.” She raised her voice to a decibel suitable for command. “I need everyone with me in one minute.”
To her astonishment Luther and Frank zipped around her to stand waiting, hands behind backs. Must be in Catholic school. Their mother heaved herself out of the chair, leaving behind an ominous creak, and joined the rest at the elevator.
As they rode up, Claire resumed her lecture. “The next floor is home to the lowest level of the York Rite, the Royal Arch. We’ll see depictions of the building of Solomon’s first temple and of initiation ceremonies into the rite.”
Bob said in a puzzled voice, “Are we still talking about Masons?”
The Amish man echoed his question. “Freemasonry?”
Claire smiled. She was on firmer ground here. “Yes. It’s a bit complicated, isn’t it? In a nutshell, a new Mason must pass through three degrees—Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Once you rise to the level of Master Mason, you may seek initiation into the York Rite, which in turn has three grades—Royal Arch, Royal and Select Masters, and Knights Templar. After that, the Knights Templar also has three orders to which you can aspire—Red Cross, Malta, and the Temple. Every order or degree requires study and presentations on subjects of importance to freemasonry.” She took a breath. “We won’t get into the Scottish Rite just yet.”
Both men gazed at her gravely. “Thank you.”
As Claire expected, the golden angels atop the model of the Ark of the Covenant drew the most attention. The little Amish girl shyly touched a wing. When a curtain closed abruptly over it she snatched her hand away and whimpered. From the other side of the room Polly shouted, “Hey, what are all these coins?”
Claire joined her. “They’re mark pennies. Some lodges strike tokens or pennies with special markings unique to the lodge, which they give to a newly initiated Fellow Craft. He in turn inscribes his own identifying mark on the coin. This case contains marks from the Pennsylvania and Delaware lodges. And these over here were donated by Grand Orient lodges—as the lodges of Europe are called.”
Bob came up and studied the coins, pinned like so many butterflies to the wall. “Are they real? I mean, are they legal currency?”
“No, although they symbolize the pay that stonemasons once received for their work. And a few rare ones can be very valuable.”
The Amish mother laid a gentle hand on her husband’s arm. “Werner, they look like the coins you showed me from the old country, don’t they? Didn’t you say your grandfather called them marks? He must have been a Mason.”
The man pulled his arm away, his face tight. Claire watched them, surprised at the vehemence with which he answered. “You’re mistaken, Jemimah. Those coins are real Deutsche marks. Papa brought them from Hamburg. They were called marks in the nineteenth century, yes, but they are real money. Not like these useless tokens.” He gestured with contempt at the walls of pennies.
A crash behind them diverted Claire’s attention to the broken remains of a sign requesting that visitors keep their children under control and a suitably chastened Frank.
And so it went through the floors. Claire dutifully recited her lessons at each stop, accompanied by more and more disruptions from the holy terrors and less and less enthusiasm from the tiring adults. When they finished viewing the eighth floor Claire pressed the button to call the elevator. “Now we’re going to the top level and the smallest room in the Memorial, where you’ll see an exhibit of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon—”
“You mean there are trees up there?” Frank sniggered.
“No, the Cedars is another charitable organization. Like the Grotto or the Shriners—”
“Oh, yeah, the zombies.”
Luther shoved his brother. “They ain’t! They’re dragons!” Frank bit his arm and while Luther hopped around yowling, asked with a radiant smile, “So, are they zombie trees?”
Claire gave up. “Yes.” The boys fought each other to the front.
Everyone stuffed themselves onto the elevator. Claire knew she only imagined it got smaller as they went up, but the space seemed much closer. And smellier. She noted aromas of sweat, bubble gum, cheap drugstore perfume, and something else—a nice clean scent. It seemed to come from the Amish family. Of course—they probably bathe once in a while. Not like Frank and Luther…or their mother.
“From the top floor we can walk out onto an observation deck where you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of northern Virginia and the District. You’ll be able to see clearly how Alexandria was laid out by its founders, as well as important buildings like the Pentagon. Many helicopters traverse these skies, ferrying dignitaries from there to the Capitol or the White House.” Claire put a finger out to press the button marked 9 but missed it when the little cell began to shake. As the others grabbed the handrails, she searched frantically for the emergency button. Before she could hit it, the vibration stopped.
Several people gabbled at once. “What the hell was that?”
“Felt like an earthquake!”
“Oh my God!”
“Is this tower earthquake proof?”
The Amish woman burst out, her voice cracking with fright. “Did anyone hear that sound?” Her husband rounded on her, then paused when he saw her face.
“What sound, Jemimah?”
“I…I heard a scream.”
Claire opened the doors. “Did it come from this floor?” She peeped out, hoping no one would notice her hands trembling.
“No.” The woman touched her husband’s arm. “Werner, it came from above us.”
The man nodded and pressed the button. “Let’s go see.”
Silence fell as the elevator grumbled to life and rose. It opened on a small, elegant room paneled in burnished wood. White steps guarded by tiny golden lions led to a replica of King Solomon’s throne. All seemed quiet.
“It must have been your imagination, Jemimah.”
The woman said nothing but when Werner turned away she raised her eyebrows at Claire as if to say, I don’t think so.
Claire considered Jemimah. Slim, about five feet tall, her pale skin was free of makeup and her dress obviously homemade, possibly from a discarded checkered tablecloth. Her eyes, however, held a tawny, feline glow. “Mrs.?”
“Thank you. Mrs. Kurtz, remember that we’re over three hundred feet high. Most likely you heard a seagull’s cry. We have many here. They come up the Potomac.” Satisfied with the explanation, even if Jemimah wasn’t, she continued, “This room is sponsored by the Tall Cedars of Lebanon, another social and charitable group affiliated with the Masons. This exhibit is a reconstruction of how Solomon’s throne room may have appeared.” Claire waited for comment but no one seemed particularly enthralled any more. “Are you ready to go out to the observation platform?”
The atmosphere brightened considerably and Claire stepped out onto a narrow walkway that circled the tower. The heat of a Washington August gave her a good thwack across the forehead and she backed up a step, eliciting a colorful oath from Polly. The boys immediately began to climb the scaffolding. For once their mother recognized the need for action and, in a lightning quick gesture, took hold of the seats of both trousers and pulled them back.
Bob and Polly moved to the balustrade. Properly awestruck, they pointed out the various sparkling white monuments in the distance to each other in high, excited voices. Jemimah kept her back sealed to the wall and her eyes closed, grasping her children’s hands tightly. Meanwhile Werner walked around to the other side. Claire stood at the door waiting. The wind picked up and blew the damp curls off her fa
ce with a loud whooshing sound.
A minute later Kurtz stuck his head around the corner. “Miss Wilding? Could you come here please? Alone?” He made the odd request sound perfectly natural. When Claire joined him, he stopped by a pylon and pointed a long finger at something on the ground. Claire craned her neck around his thin back to see what it was. And screamed.
Kurtz pressed a hand over her mouth. “Be quiet, you fool!”
Claire struggled, finally wrenching the hand away. She couldn’t take her eyes off the thing on the ground. Dead. It’s…he’s dead. She opened her mouth to scream again but paused when she saw Kurtz’s face. It was distorted with fury, and terror twisted her lungs into a double helix. He killed that man. He’s going to kill me.
When she took a step back, he pinioned her arms. “Stop,” he hissed. “Wait.” Something in his voice made her obey. He whispered, “The killer might still be here. We don’t want to alarm him. Or the women.” Claire nodded feebly. He pointed behind her. “You go that way. I’ll go around the other way. Check above you.”
She did as she was told. Nobody seemed to be hanging from the rafters or clinging to the flame-shaped finial. A helicopter whirred a short distance away. She paid it no mind—helicopters were a common sight this close to the Pentagon. As she came around the south side Frank and Luther attempted to pass her. She spread her arms wide. “Sorry boys. The other side is closed for maintenance.”
They met up with the group by the door. Werner shooed them all in and pressed the ground floor button. The elevator stopped only once on the sixth floor. A little man with the expression of a cornered rabbit got on. He didn’t make eye contact with anyone and no one seemed in the mood to chat. He departed at the main level and the rest went on to the ground floor. Werner sent his brood off to the bathroom and turned to Claire. “Jemimah forgot her hat in one of the exhibits. I’m going back up to get it. You had better call the police.”
Polly and Bob were heading toward the stairs to the main entrance when Claire called. “You two—please don’t go just yet.”
They looked at each other. Bob snapped, “Why shouldn’t we? We already paid for the tour.”
“I know, but we have a…slight problem. Would you mind…er…sticking around for a minute?”
Bob shrugged and they sauntered back. Luther tugged at Claire’s sleeve. “Did that man say ‘police’?”
Kurtz shot Claire a look through his near-white lashes that said, Don’t waste any more time, and got on the elevator. Claire led the rest to the main level and left them in the portico while she walked over as casually as possible to the reception desk. “Nigel, could you please ring up nine-one-one? Thanks.”
Nigel, a chubby young man wearing a mustard-colored blazer that didn’t suit him, sat reading a copy of the Washington Examiner. He looked up. “What did you say?”
Claire’s heart bumped hard against her ribs. “I said, call the police. Now.”
He eyed her a moment, then began to dial. Claire turned to the knot of anxious faces. “I’m afraid I have to ask you all to stay.”
“Why?” Bob sounded unhappy. Polly shifted her weight from foot to foot, a grimace of pain pasted on her round face.
Just then Kurtz materialized and put a hand on her elbow. “Because we have found a dead body in the tower and we have to wait for the police. Any questions?”

His craggy face, immobile as a rock wall, brooked no dissent. It worked well. No one said a word. In the silence Claire heard the faint wailing of a siren.


  1. Thanks for having me LL&L! Hope everyone enjoys the first chapter and long for the rest of the story. M. S.

  2. You are very welcome, thanks for sharing with us!

  3. Thanks for posting this, M.S. Of course, it's still early in the story ... but that wailing siren means something sinister has happened that your heroine will get caught up in. How did I guess?

    You must have called upon your considerable background in the library of congress et al. to conceive this story line. Brilliant!

  4. Thank you Erin! Early in the story, yes, but meeting the man of her dreams and finding a corpse has to count for something, no? As to research, I had to do a lot on freemasonry, but it was fascinating.