Silver Fox Book 1 Excerpt
The little brass key in Dorothy’s hand was like ice against her bones. She closed her palm and opened it again, reciting the words from her father’s will over and over in her mind.
I devise, bequeath, and give my antique store, Richard’s Anecdotes, to my daughter, Dorothy Virginia Shirley Claes, in the hopes she can find roots while surrounded by the lore of the world she loves so dearly.
A bitterly cold January wind beat hard against the side of her face. Finally, she gave in and unlocked the door to Richard’s Anecdotes.
The security alarm beeped wildly, and she hurried to punch in the code the estate attorney had given her. Despite the fact no one had set foot in her father’s little shop for at least a week, it was practically spotless. She wiped a finger across a silver platter, and only the faintest bit of dust could be seen. Richard Van Damme had kept a tight ship and a tidy store. But Dorothy would leave that task to her father’s – now her – assistant for later.
She glanced around the little antique shop once more before setting a cat carrier on the floor at her feet. She opened the door, and a small black cat leapt out. It immediately began winding itself around the woman’s legs, purring loudly. She was careful not to step on the cat’s paws or tail as she picked her way past the neatly organized tables and bureaus to the back of the shop. There, a door leading up to the second-story apartment stood facing her. It was painted a bright, sickly avocado green. She had always hated that color. It would be the first thing to change.
The apartment had been her father’s office and storage area, where antiques were kept until they could be appraised or even repaired. But the estate sale had cleared out almost everything, save for the old mahogany desk and a few odds and ends. The movers would arrive tomorrow with the rest of Dorothy’s things. The woman sighed, still staring at the avocado green door. She reached for the handle. She might as well get any uncomfortable emotions out now. It would be an awful embarrassment to everyone if she started blubbering about her father as her couch was being carried up the stairs.
The cat bounded up the floral carpeted steps ahead of her and disappeared around the corner toward the little sitting area and kitchenette. Dorothy followed and plunked herself at her father’s desk, which sat perched on the wide landing at the top of the stairs. She ran her hands over the worn leather of the chair arms and stared at the last notes he had scribbled before passing in his sleep. There was the typical appraisal information for new pieces he had collected. Against Dorothy’s better judgment, her sister, Mary Pat, had insisted on letting them go in the estate sale. A three-month-old electric bill and a phone number for a Destin Hollanday lay across the keyboard.
Dorothy didn’t touch them. She wasn’t ready to disturb them quite yet. Mary Pat, on the other hand, had dived headfirst into organizing and dealing out their father’s possessions. Dorothy supposed everyone had their own methods for coping. She sat in silence for several long minutes, watching Solomon run back and forth through the apartment. He was far more excited to be here than she was. She opened the top drawer of the desk and found a sticky note wrapped around an antique skeleton key.
“For Dorothy,” it read. “The Silver Fox.”
The cat jumped on the desk with a purring trill and rubbed its head against Dorothy’s hands.
“Not now, Solomon,” she whispered to the cat.
Solomon licked his paw twice before tearing off with another buzz after Lord knew what. Dorothy had adopted the cat while visiting the temples in Taiwan five years ago. She had known then the cat was going to be a handful as a kitten, but his energy hadn’t seemed to lessen. She wasn’t disappointed, however. Solomon had become her constant companion since her husband, Frank, had passed away three years ago. That cat had probably seen more of the world in a single year than most humans would see in a lifetime.
Dorothy had retired as the curator to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts when she’d turned fifty-six. There had been a lovely going-away party, complete with gifts, balloons and a giant cake frosted to look like Monet’s Water Lilies. That had been nine years ago. She and Frank had decided to sell nearly everything they had and travel the world. They’d never stayed in one place for more than a few months before finding somewhere new to fly off to. It had been a dream that Dorothy would never have experienced without her husband’s adventurous spirit.
Five years into their whirlwind travels, Frank was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. They immediately returned to the US for treatment, but it was to no avail. Frank’s passing had been the hardest thing Dorothy had ever had to endure. Death was the greatest mystery of the world, dating back to the beginning of time. It was her only true fear, and she had not been prepared for it when it had come for Frank.
Dorothy found herself pacing through the upstairs apartment, the key and sticky note held tight to her chest. She shook her head and headed for the little kitchenette. She set a kettle to boil some water for tea and flopped into one of the only remaining chairs left in the apartment. She watched as Solomon jumped on the bookcase and sent a cascade of books to the floor.
“Dang it, cat!” she cried. She rose and heard her left knee give a resounding crack. The cold had never been kind to her, especially after she had decided to train and compete in a national jiu-jitsu competition in her forties.
Dorothy bent to pick up a handful of the antique books when she noticed a single tome that had remained upright despite its neighbors’ plummet to the floor. The Silver Fox. Dorothy looked at Solomon, who sat on the chair grooming his tail. She stared at the key still clenched in her hand.
“This is ridiculous,” she whispered to herself. She shoved the key into her pocket and resumed picking up the books.
Solomon looked up from his bath and sat alert, his bright green eyes alight with the mischief and wonder only a cat could understand. He meowed once at her, turned a circle in the chair and sat back down again.
Dorothy set the books back on the shelf. She stared at The Silver Fox book and heard Solomon meow behind her again.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt,” she said, more to herself than the cat, and reached for the book. It was stuck firmly to the shelf. She worried something had spilled and cemented the book in place. She pulled again, and this time it broke free and fell toward her as though on a hinge. A lever popped out from the side of the shelf. The sense of wonder Dorothy felt each time she visited someplace new filled her. Her bones no longer ached from the wretched weather. Her hearing and vision seemed to have sharpened. She pulled the little lever and the bookcase swung toward her.
Solomon immediately jumped from the chair and darted through the narrow passageway. The stairs were steep and the cat disappeared within moments.
“Solomon!” Dorothy called and scrambled for her cell phone. She switched on the flashlight and headed down the stone steps.
The stairs wound in a tight spiral, and the brick looked original to the building – late 18th century. Dorothy had found evidence of other secret passages in Lexington, Massachusetts, so its existence was not a surprise. What was surprising was why her father had never mentioned it before.
The steps twisted farther than the main level. There was no basement to her father’s shop that Dorothy knew of. The steps ended at a short hallway and a large metal door that loomed ominously at the far end. Solomon sat outside the door as though waiting for her. He gave a sort of purring-buzz when he saw her and walked in a circle excitedly.
Dorothy lifted the skeleton key to the lock, her hands trembling. The tumbler rotated with a loud clang that echoed in the tiny space. She scooped Solomon into her arms and pushed the door open.
It was pitch black, save for what Dorothy’s phone flashlight roamed over. Tables and shelves stretched far longer than the little shop above and were filled with objects much older than anything in her father’s store. There were ancient scrolls stored beneath glass and strange pieces of jewelry, trinkets and other oddities that lined the shelves. The skeleton of a giant winged creature hung from the ceiling. It nearly gave Dorothy a heart attack when her light flashed over it.
An antique telephone rang somewhere to her left. Solomon fluffed and leapt from her arms, and Dorothy fumbled with her cell phone. She lifted the receiver from the base and held it up to her ear.
“H-Hello?” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
“Ms. Claes,” said a man’s voice.
“Y-Yes,” said Dorothy.
“Would you be so kind as to turn on the lights? You’ll find a lever beside the door you entered. The lights need some time to warm up before they are fully functional.”
Dorothy shined her cell phone light back toward the door and saw a large lever embedded in the wall. She set the receiver on the table and walked to the lever. Solomon beat her to it. She pulled hard, and immediately lights flickered to life throughout the room. She stared in wonder at the sights that met her eyes.
She ran back to the antique phone. “What is going on?”
“Yes, I understand it is rather much to take in unexpectedly. I would be more than happy to discuss this with you further. I am waiting at your front door. May I come in?”
“How did you know I was down here?” she asked.
“If you will look at the door again, you will see a small sensor at the top of the door frame. Richard had it installed about a year ago when he first discovered his illness.”
“What illness? My father wasn’t ill! The doctors said he passed of age.”
“Ms. Claes, I am afraid there are many things about Richard Van Damme that you do not know. But they are all things he wished to pass on to you. Now, it is very cold out here, madam. I would love nothing more than to discuss this further with you over a cup of tea.”
“Who are you?” Dorothy asked in an awed whisper.
“My name is Destin. Destin Hollanday. I work as a consultant, mostly to the Worchester Museum of Art. You are more than welcome to look up my credentials, but I would beg you to do so after you have let me in out of the cold.”
Dorothy slammed the phone down and bolted up the winding stairs. She was thankful she had maintained a very active lifestyle, even into her elder years. Her knees creaked at the effort, but she was barely out of breath when she reached the top of the stairs. Solomon bounded through the bookcase and Dorothy pushed it shut. She ran back to her father’s desk and pulled a tiny Smith & Wesson she carried with her from her purse. She locked Solomon in the bathroom to keep him out of the way before heading down the apartment stairs.
A gentleman in his late fifties stood outside the front door of the little shop. He wore a woolen trench coat and a black homburg. He smiled and waved when he saw her. Dorothy clutched the pistol even tighter in her pocket. She unlocked the door and Destin Hollanday pushed it open.
“Thank you, dear lady,” he said.
The tea kettle began to whistle upstairs and Destin smiled. “What wonderful timing,” he said, heading for the avocado green door. His hand had barely rested on the knob when he stopped. Dorothy held her gun between his shoulder blades.
“I don’t know what’s going on here, but you’re going to tell me everything right now,” she seethed.
Destin sighed. His hands slowly moved above his head in surrender. Without warning, he spun around faster than Dorothy would have expected of a man his age. He twisted the gun from her grasp and immediately emptied the chamber into his palm before tossing the gun back to her.
“My dear woman, I promise you have no idea what you are dealing with.”