On a frigid Friday afternoon in February, Eleanor Harkness shows up at the door of the “granite palace,” Sherrod Colsne’s New York townhouse. Her unexpected yet incredibly timely appearance not only knocks Colsne’s normally unflappable assistant, Monty Weston, off stride, but takes both of them down a winding path of romance, past and present, and decades-old, bitter hatred. Though only four days actually elapse in the telling, Murder by Bequest is a story spanning over twenty-five years, three continents, and two primary cultures, and surrounding America’s foremost family of wealth, and social and political position. Bertrand Wellman Harkness, IV, director of the Harkness Foundation, and statesman serving three presidents, not quite two weeks before the “blizzard of 2006,” is brutally murdered, and grotesquely, sexually mutilated after the fact.
What follows is another murder, and another attempted, seemingly the inexorable assault of a bête noire. Only Colsne’s genius is able to run the culprit to ground, but not before a final tragedy is enacted. Deep-seated and long-nursed malice, from an emotionally dark woman, and another quite distant quarter, produced the terrible killing spree, bringing almost total dissolution to the Bertrand Wellman Harkness, IV family.
Murder by Bequest is available on Amazon.
An Excerpt from Murder by Bequest: Chapter 10
The doorbell rang. Actually, we didn’t hear the doorbell itself. As I noted earlier in this account, all the rooms in the granite palace are soundproofed, really soundproofed, not the quasi sort one finds in rooms or structures for which the claim is usually made. What we heard was the doorbell sound, transmitted by a spiffy little, specially-made, mike-and-speaker system, installed just for that purpose, very faint and non-intrusive, but nonetheless audible; it transmits exactly what one hears in the entrance hall, only much more softly. Colsne had the set of real chimes specially crafted, and set at a pitch that can be detected in all but the most raucous of exchanges. In the months following, Colsne and I have discussed and argued whether or not there was any preceding noise, flash of light, shadow passing across the window, sign of any kind, that would account for the general reaction. I say that there must have been something that escaped the normal register of our senses. Colsne says that there was categorically no physical phenomenon, audible or visible, in the nanosecond just prior to and, or after the sound of the bell.
I have demanded that, if right, he explain why everyone, the William Harknesses, the Lighteners, I, and even he, froze, following the ding-dong of the doorbell; he cannot, at least to my satisfaction. He says that there are psychic forces, seething and foaming, just under the surface of conscious and sensory reality, that bombard our minds with information and messages of all kinds, but which most of us are incapable of cognitively discerning. He says that, once in a great while, he somehow manages to apprehend a flicker of movement on the edge of that realm, and that that is the true source of his genius; that those brief little moments, when he is granted a glimpse of, or otherwise able to access, “the vapours of Olympus,” give him the motivation to concentrate all of his temporal wits when and where he wishes. He dismisses the incident with a vehement “Phawh!” and a brief, and peculiarly harsh, self-censuring exposition on why he should have caught the sign.
What followed was anything but non-intrusive. Even with ninety-percent noise-reduction windows from Whyst, Inc., I knew what I heard: eight bursts from what sounded all too much like either a 9 mm automatic, or a .223 cal. assault rifle. Either I was in some kind of dimensional warp, or each salvo was distinctly three shots. That meant one of three things: 1) there were two shooters; 2) one gunman had a weapon in each hand; or 3) he was strong enough to hold and shoot a fully loaded 25- or 32-round magazine weapon, which could weigh as much as seven or more pounds, depending on the make and model. These eithers and ors all came in slow-motion. I am not at all proud of my performance during the firestorm, or in the sixty-plus seconds that followed. I have heard enough gunfire, from all kinds of weapons—handguns, rifles, shotguns, and much more—that recognition doesn’t require prolonged thought. However, at least in my memory, East 75th Street, more particularly our block, had never before been used as a shooting gallery.
Many people, with less familiarity, often mistake the misfiring of an internal combustion engine for a gunshot. Though there have been several backfires in the neighborhood during my time at the granite palace, I know the difference all too well. Bottom line, even though trained to expect the unexpected, I was not ready. My only consolation was itself clearly a negative, for Colsne too was caught off guard. A full four seconds elapsed while I sat, not like a lump on a log, but more like a field mouse, happily and intently chewing a favorite seed, suddenly hearing the well-known noise of an intruder, and frozen, just long enough for the owl to strike. When my reflexes belatedly kicked in, I fairly catapulted out of my chair and to the hall door. Before I had taken two running strides, I had my own semi-auto S&W .40 out and ready to return fire. How he did it, I have not the slightest—considering the positioning and placement of our desks, he had eight feet more than I to cover—but Colsne was there and had the door open almost a half-second before me, his Colt .44 magnum Anaconda in his right hand. He held the door wide for me, urged me on through, and over my shoulder I heard his voice, the crack of a bullwhip, command our guests.
“No one leave this room. Mr. Lightener, I charge you to see to it.”
I could clearly picture his face, black with stern foreboding, fire in his eyes. As he raced to join me, four more distinct sounds came at us: the faintest of female groans, the sound of a large-block V8 revving, tires madly spinning on snow and ice, and the thud-crunch of metal on metal. In the midst of the hubbub, we were met by Rivers tearing up from the basement—yes, he can still “tear”—also weapon in hand, a SIG P210. Though we had been unable to hear it from the office, the savagery of the assault was immediately visible, as much of the inner door and walls of the vestibule, being glass, were shattered, and lying in every imaginable size shard on the tile floor of the hall. The outer door, along with the window panels on either side, had to also have been fairly severely shot up in order for the inner destruction to have happened. My hearing had been thoroughly wrong in assessing the weapon or weapons used; no 9 mm was capable of what confronted us. It was the work of something on the order of the new .50 Beowulf by Alexander Arms, over 3.5 mm larger than what had been used on Bertrand Wellman IV and his son. If that was what had done it, we were being confronted by a foe with not just incredible marksmanship, but strength as well. The Beowulf was rated at 8.5 lbs. base weight, and though that does not, in and of itself, constitute a great heft, when coupled with all of the other forces involved in shooting a high-powered rifle, it takes muscle to fire it accurately. If it was the same short and slight figure that Colsne had seen at the Chevalier, then we were dealing with a real athlete.
About the Author
John Spencer Yantiss was born in Louisville, KY to parents of Anglo-Scotch-Irish, and Lithuanian descent. A musician and singer, he started piano lessons at age 5, and began writing poems and songs 8 years old. While still in high school he began playing guitar professionally. Over the years he shared the stage with such notable Southern Rock figures as Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley, and an evening of coffee and conversation with “Uncle Miltie,” well into the 1990s, internationally famous comedian and showman, Milton Berle.
His love of writing poems and lyrics continued on over the years, branched out into fiction, beginning with not a few attempts at fantasy, in a style not unlike Tolkien and Lewis. In 1993 he began writing classic detective mysteries, based on the character Sherrod Reynard Colsne, in the transatlantic and cumulative tradition of Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe. Murder by Bequest, his inaugural effort, first appeared in publication in 2012 through and on Amazon.com, as a Kindle e-book, and soon thereafter in paperback via Amazon’s CreateSpace vehicle.
There are several more in what is a growing casebook, with Code Name: Erelim, a nightmare novella threatening intelligence and national security agencies around the globe; The Weerwolf Problem (Dutch spelling) and The Golden Dart , both short stories filled with subtile horror and the grotesque, in Kindle and paperback, the latter two being in a combined volume under the collection name of Macabre2. Coming are Sa Kainitan, based in The Philippines, and The Seiðr Affair, a bone chiller about a doomsday computer weapon. Yantiss has also returned to classic, mythological fantasy, and Rylie Rabet Goes on an Adventure— A Tale of Magic and Thaumaturgy Amongst the Wee Forest Folk is forthcoming in late 2014 or early 2015.