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Mick and Carol are hired by Peter Pettanko, a Wall Street billionaire who lives in a mansion on a private estate on the Connecticut coast. Peter Pettanko is married to Titiana Prosperosa, a glamorous fashion model who has gone missing. He wants Titiana found – discretely.

As Mick is leaving the Pettanko estate, he sees the beautiful Titiana arriving in her Porsche, hair waving in the breeze, with a bald Tibetan monk as her passenger. The monk came with Titiana to try to negotiate a deal with Peter. That night, with the monk staying at the mansion, Peter Pettanko mysteriously dies.

The monk and his brother run the Beta Sigma retreat in upstate New York, which Mick and Carol suspect is a front for several other things besides meditation. Mick’s talents are sought in figuring out how Pettanko died, who the monk is, and where Titiana had gone.

This leads to the great world of Western art, where masterpieces are stolen from top museums with help from their curators. The stolen art is sold into a growing Chinese market for the very wealthy. (This is a REAL market today.) We learn that Peter Pettanko’s butler “Jeeves” is a Chinaman who speaks with a British accent. His real name is Ji Gong (who was a Buhddist monk having supernatural powers), and he’s both an excellent chef, and a scholar of Western art.

The various clues that Mick and Carol unearth lead them to Palm Springs, California, where Mick meets a mystery contact, two miles above the sweltering desert on the snow-covered peak of San Jacinto Mountain. There, Mick makes a deal to trade in stolen art – at least until he can learn more.

Back in New York City, Mick and Carol make a deal for a famous painting by Degas, which leads to a brutal assassination at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This helps Mick and Carol tie some of the thefts to one of the victims. This finally leads them to a character who hides in plain view in Times Square dressed as a Viking, posing for photos and collecting money from tourists, and wearing a helmet with two horns.

The horns represent the two ways that the reader could interpret the final murder. To express this concept, the book both begins and ends with the same line: “Life depends a lot on how you look at things.”

Reviews

Book Review 1

Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an exceptionally engrossing murder mystery that outperforms any other novel I've read so far. It was the ideal combination of science and humor, without any dull moments due to the book's well-balanced content. It centers on a scientist named Mick Maux, who was recruited by one of Connecticut's wealthiest men, Peter Pettanko, to investigate the case of his missing wife. Later in the novel, you will unravel that this is not the case, as further mysteries, such as Peter Pettanko's abrupt death, are about to be revealed. Now, all that remains for Mick Maux are the scraps of paper with cryptic writings purporting to convey a vital message. He examined them to decipher clues, which led him to the Museum, where he encountered a woman he never anticipated.  Then, the other clue led Maux to Palm Spring where he met the butler with a British accent named Jeeves and directed him towards the boss. It was all fun and games until he discovered the truth that left me perplexed and surprised. It was incredibly worth it.

 

Book Review 2

I am always on the lookout for some good books that are rare gems. It's like my hobby to collect books that have a plot that is unusual, seemingly a hard-to-find book with incredible content. Didn't fail to purchase this book as it really is awesome, and I cannot just let it sit there without getting enough recognition. I am really in awe of Dr. Philip Emma's creativity and mind-blowing skills for producing a great book like this one—Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It stirs up curiosity in me and makes me wonder a lot. From the start of this book, Mick Maux has always been skeptical if the case that was given to him is really a case to be solved or was it already solved and that makes me think as well like: "Why would Titiana leave suddenly without a trace when her husband owns billions of dollars and hundreds of assets?"

 

Book Review 3

Amazing! The book was quite fun and I can hardly even tell the subsequent events. A lot of questions have been popping out in my mind while trying to be on the lookout or posing as a fake FBI agent to study the clues gathered by Mick Maux—a scientist trusted by Peter Pettanko. Titiano Prosperosa, Pettanko's beautiful wife, has been missing for a while and Mick Maux was behooved to study the case of her sudden disappearance. As I continued reading the book, I found myself pausing for a while in bewilderment. There is something wrong with the details and it's quite not reliable. That's when Maux found a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Titiana Prosperosa in a car with a man looking like a monk. And that same day, Pettanko was reported dead by the news. It's mind-boggling and, for sure, you would be satisfied with the succeeding parts and end of this book.

 

Book Review 4

This can't be real, how can someone write a book like this one! It seems like a movie or a game where you have to act like an agent to solve cases. Mick Maux seems like a CIA on an assignment, attempting to examine several matters, particularly the case of Titiana Prosperosa that has been missing for a while. Pettanko, her husband hired him to solve the case, yet something is not right and Maux sensed that. I share the same thoughts with Maux when he was doubting if his wife is really missing. First of all, Peter has asked Maux not to publicize the case and wants it to remain private. If Peter Pettanko is really sincere and is worried about his wife's condition, he will do everything in his power and announce it in public.  From right there, I smelled something fishy and I knew there was more to this case than the missing wife. You should read it to find out.

 

Book Review 5

Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a book that you should never miss as it is cast with the author's peculiar talent to capture the atmosphere that I look for in a book. I've never been as satisfied as this one and I bet you will feel the same way I did. It's not just a mere narrative of a billionaire businessman, Peter Pettanko, attempting to reunite with his long-lost wife, Titiana Prosperosa. It's blended with some sort of investigation where you can unfold clues as you go all the way. Mick Maux was the person tasked by Peter with resolving the case, and he appears to be astounded by Maux's ability that he trusted him to go to their secret hideout and discover the truth about whether Titiana was truly lost, if Pettanko truly died, and who was that British-accented butler handing him a piece of paper with clues leading him to their hideout.

 

Book Review 6

It was extraordinary and it stirs up curiosity in me, bugging myself with so many questions from the very start until the end. I was genuinely interested as to whether Titiana had died or not, as well as the true cause for her abruptly leaving her husband. There are lots of twists that I didn't anticipate such as the one where Mick Maux went to Palm Springs – like what Pettanko's butler conveyed through the cryptic message. I was so shocked to discover the truth behind Titiana Prosperosa's disappearance, Peter Pettanko's death, and a lot more mysteries. It was quite shocking and I’m sure you would enjoy reading this book, especially when you are the type of person who is fond of murder mystery films. You will get to unfold all the missing pieces of clues as you read through the end. And to tell you the truth, the book was meritorious and word-class.

 

Book Review 7

This book is incredible, and by incredible, I mean it ranks among the best novels I've ever read. The plot twists are so awesome that I could not even guess what will happen next. I've always paused for a moment to attempt to decipher the enigmatic messages and also the reality behind them, but I've never guessed correctly on even one.  I've never heard or read anything quite like this. And if I have, it's not nearly as memorable as this. Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art exposes you to the adventures of Mick Maux, a scientist hired by a really wealthy businessman with a billion-dollar net worth to study the case of his wife's sudden disappearance. His wife is named Titiana Prosperosa, and Peter Pettanko has been trying to find her with the help of Mick. This book makes me an agent, attempting to coexist with Mick and solve cases. I like books like this that would foster my detective skills. 

 

Book Review 8

I was expecting a mediocre book, but I was totally surprised by how fantastic it turned out to be. In the book Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a scientist named Mick Maux (pronounced as Mouse), hired by a billionaire Peter Pettanko, narrates the story of how he, along with his wife Carol, discovered the truth of the mysterious events in the book. The moment Peter Pettanko was welcoming Maux into his house for an investigation, Peter handed him a piece of paper with numbers on it. As he left the mansion, one of Peter's butlers, who spoke with a British accent, also handed him a scrap of paper with a strange message. Those messages prompted him to visit the museum so he could decode the rest of the clues. I don't want to spoil you with what happened or who he met there but you will surely be surprised while you can also unfold other significant hints.

 

Book Review 9

You would never regret purchasing this book for sure, for I, myself, am going to put this in my collections as one of the best novels. I was in awe of Dr. Philip Emma's cleverness and his literary skills. He knows how to integrate mysteries and humor into his novels to keep the readers engaged. One thing I truly enjoy about Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the way it introduces new characters page by page and gradually reveals their true identities. For instance, in the opening chapter, you'll read about a British-accented butler presenting Mick Maux with a scrap of paper bearing a strange message. I learned about him as a professional curator and an expert critic of Western art in the subsequent section. He also has extensive ties to the Chinese markets, which helps Peter Pettanko earn large sums of money.

 

Book Review 10

Certainly, the best of the best among the other books I've read. This book needs to have more recognition and appreciation for I can see how much skills and time the author invested in creating a wonderful masterpiece. Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an experience that I will never forget, particularly the thrilling scenes that leave me in awe and contemplation. Mick Maux and his wife Carol unravel several mysteries to solve cases and get insights into the sudden departure of Titiana Prosperosa. That first case led them to a series of incidents that will keep us guessing, such as the untimely death of Peter Pettanko, the monk, the butler, and the truth behind the artworks in the museum. A lot of things are fabricated to cover all the lies and the truth behind the mysterious cases. I was very invested within the book, especially the time where the first plot twist was made, like when Mick Maux found out who the person he met was in the museum at 2:41. It was awesome, I can guarantee that.

 

Book Review 11

Have you ever tried solving cases before with your friends or watching a mystery movie? If you are fond of that genre, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this book as much as I did.  It's really fun investigating things even if it's only in a movie or a book as it fosters my creative and analytical abilities. In the first part of the book, you will discover Mick Maux, Peter Pettanko, Titiana Prosperosa, Jeeves, and many more characters with roles interconnected to each other. We get to see the point of view of Mick Maux as he unravels the mysteries behind Prosperosa's sudden departure, Peter Pettanko's sudden death, and the realization he made after decoding the clues behind the cryptic messages he received from Pettanko and Jeeves. Additionally, you will learn how Pettanko orchestrated everything to his advantage in order to increase his riches through the sale of original masterpieces into China's multimillion-dollar market.

 

Book Review 12

Undoubtedly, the book is really good, rewarding the readers with extraordinary plot twists that will keep them thinking. One part that got me intrigued and astonished is when Mick Maux interpreted the cryptic message on the paper, delivered to him by one of Peter Pettanko's butlers. In the first part, you will read about the disappearance of Titiana Prosperosa, then the death of Pettanko, which were major mysteries for Mick Maux. Little did he know, that piece of paper will provide him with everything he needs to know. The moment he went to Palm Springs, he was expecting to see another man named Vinny LaMotza, which his primary guess was boss of that certain butler. But he was shocked by what he had witnessed, and I was also surprised, making me curious why and how is that even possible. Surely, this book is a steal and it's worth much appreciation.

 

Book Review 13

This is a work of art! Certainly, it really is as it is brimming with mysteries that will keep you engrossed throughout every page and every chapter. Everything transpired in seventeen days, yet it feels much longer due to the numerous occurrences that led to cases after cases and clues after clues. Seemingly, Dr. Philip Emma put so much effort and time to perfect the quality of this book and the story. I am aware that it is a work of fiction and that the events and characters are fictitious, but I was completely invested with the story that I didn't realize it was made up. Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will reveal how Mick Maux solves the cases involving Peter Pettanko, Titiana Prosperosa, and their allies to make such a perfect plan. It started from Pettanko asking Maux to find a clue to his wife's whereabouts, then to Pettanko's sudden death, and Mick Maux's discovery in the Museum and in Palm Springs.

 

Book Review 14

The first time I encountered this book, what captured me was the image of a lady, the Asian man that seems to be a monk, and also the title. Due to the cover, I suspected it was the man who murdered Titiana. However, this book greatly surprised me with the plot twists that I didn't expect at all. It raises so many questions in my mind that I was very eager to go through each page in order to find out what Mick Maux had uncovered. I was extremely taken aback by what I learned, especially the fabricated events that were part of Peter Pettanko's attempt to remain unseen. He was allegedly involved in some illegal activity, such as selling original artworks from the Museum to the multimillion-dollar Chinese market. You will find out the truth behind Titiana Prosperosa's disappearance and Peter Pettanko's death. It was brilliant, and I am still amazed by it to this day.

 

Book Review 15

This book is one of the best and it most certainly exceeded my expectations about what the book contains. Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was told from the point of view of Mick Maux, the scientist hired by Peter Pettanko to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Titiana Prosperosa. All of a sudden, Mick Maux saw a girl who looks like Titiana driving along with a seemingly grown-up man that could be a monk. The moment I learned about that, I was curious why she would leave her husband like that and be with a monk. Later on, as I read through the pages, I discovered that an autopsy report said an exotic herb was traced in the dead body of Pettanko. A herb that's exclusively seen and used by monks in Tibet.  I've been wondering all along if his death had anything to do with Titiana, and the truth was pretty surprising.

Day 1: Titiana Prosperosa Disappears

Life depends a lot on how you look at things.


Take Peter Pettanko , who I was talking to in the formal dining room of his mansion. His wife was gone, and the décor of his dining room was disturbingly eclectic. If she’d left him because of the dining room, I couldn’t blame her. But if he’d killed her, what had he done with her body?


Peter Pettanko was the CEO of a trading company that had made a fortune by swindling their many small investors to manipulate the market for their few large investors. This was done simply by heavily discounting their commissions on small trades to give people a deal - thereby attracting lots of small clients, while whittling their principles down by churning their portfolios to drive the futures for their more elite clients.


Most of the small clients don’t really know the market, and would just assume that they’d been unlucky. They should have gone to a casino instead. There, there are no favorites at any table, and the dealer just deals. There, everyone loses at the same rate, and most of them at least have a good time doing it, while getting free drinks.


I couldn’t imagine Pettanko’s wife simply walking away from this marriage without first taking a sizable commission. While the son of a bitch didn’t deserve most of his wealth, she certainly should have been entitled to a large part of it.
Why would she simply pull a disappearing act? It didn’t make sense. I took a sip of my port, which he had offered to impress me, which it did.


Technically, ports are supposed to be from Portugal, but this one was a Charbay from Mendocino. The surprise - which caused me to do a double-take - was that it was only a 2006. I had to look at the bottle again just to be sure. It was a 2006 Still House Port, which was dark like a ruby port. It tasted more like a much older tawny port, with chocolate, cranberries, black cherries, and a touch of licorice in the finish. At least he didn’t waste all of his money.
Pettanko continued to bloviate, and tell me that he “wanted her found,” and that “money was no object,” etc., etc., etc. On second thought, I started to understand how she could have walked out on him. He was a bore, and a portly one at that. And when I say “portly,” I’m not referring to the Charbay.


It would have been a lovely dining room had it not been startlingly incongruous. While I was fortunate in that the wall across the table from me had an extravagantly framed reproduction of some 17th-century Louis XV rococo porn hanging on it - Fragonard’s “L’escarpolette,” a.k.a. “The Swing,” the entire wall behind me was covered by Jackson Pollock’s “One: Number 31,” painted in 1950. Fortunately, I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting. I didn’t remember it’s precise dimensions, but they were huge: something like eight-feet by sixteen-feet - I’d look it up later.


Don’t get me wrong; I like both pieces of art, but they shouldn’t be in the same room. And “One: Number 31” shouldn’t be in the dining room at all. While the crystal chandelier had classical French Empire styling and was congruous with the Fragonard, it would have looked upsetting to me had the background been Pollock’s work.


While the Fragonard was a decorous, albeit risqué, three-foot by two-foot painting, Pollock’s work covered the entire wall, which was what made it wrong for the dining room. The dining room wasn’t big enough to let you actually “absorb” the painting: it’s huge size made it look more like gross wallpaper - it made you miss the entire point of the painting. And the very same dinner would taste completely different depending on what side of the table you were sitting on: Pollock vs. Fragonard.


If you didn’t like the food, all you needed to do was to switch seats. Fortunately, the Charbay port would work just fine on either side of the table.


I looked again at Fragonard’s “The Swing” as Peter Pettanko continued with his windbaggery. The painting shows an older cuckold - nearly obscured in the background - pushing his lovely young wife high up on a swing. She’s careful to kick her right leg very high up in the air so that her lacy dress opens, flying upwards, and the shoe from her foot sails out into the air, and also so that her much younger lover, a guy about her age, lying in the shrubs in the foreground and looking up, gets a great beaver shot.


The exposure is angled so that we don’t get the beaver shot, but it’s clear that he surely does, since he’s extending one arm holding his cap, pointing it directly toward her crotch to patently suggest his erect phallus. On the right is a statue of Cupid, with his finger to his lips to suggest the secretive nature of their screwing around, while two cherubs below the swing stare with admonition at the humans playing their dirty little games. This brought an obvious question to my mind.


“Is it possible that she was having an affair?” I asked.


He looked stunned, like he had never considered that as a possibility. After all, he was a scintillating conversationalist, so why would she even consider another man? In all fairness to him, he was also loaded. And he sure served a mean port.

 
“L’escarpolette” (a.k.a. “The Swing”) - Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1767)

Peter Pettanko was in his early fifties according to the press, but he didn’t look a day over sixty-five. He was overweight, which in and of itself isn’t unusual, but his wardrobe was tailored to fit his pre-overweight stature. He seemed to hang out of his clothes wherever they were cordoned off, most noticeably at his belt-line. To put it kindly, he was “embonpoint.”


He sported a bald spot, and the rest of his hair was thinning. On the other hand, who wants fat hair?


He needed a shave, and when he spoke his jowls wattled, which were hard for me not to stare at. I’m sure that his pinguid jowls wattling incentivized staring from many, including his wife, and it was easy to appreciate how he might have mistaken that for interest in whatever it was he was saying: “Yah-da, yah-da, yah-da.” Or something like that.
“Having an affair?” he considered. “With whom?” he asked, being careful to use the objective form of “who” so as to feign education in addition to his studied bombast; the latter of which he had plenty, the former, not.


“I don’t know,” I said. “Personally, I don’t know you, or her, or any of your friends.”


Of course, I’d recognize her anywhere, since she had been a big-name fashion model, and was hard to miss. Her name, prior to marrying Pettanko, was Titiana Prosperosa . The tabloids frequently called her “Tits Prosperosa,” or sometimes just “Tits” (presumably to avoid redundancy).


Although I hadn’t seen her pictures in about five years, when she’d married Pettanko and stopped modeling, I was sure that she was still quite beautiful. She had been about twenty-five then, and would be about thirty now. I was sure that most men would notice her in any crowd.


She and Pettanko together would appear incongruous at any social event; kind of like the titillating and rococo “The Swing” being in the same room as the enormously abstract “One: Number 31.” I wondered on which side of the table each of them would sit, and again considered how the view of each painting would change the very taste of a dinner.
I took another sip of my Charbay, and looked at “The Swing” again, this time imagining Titiana Pettanko, nee Titiana Prosperosa, a.k.a. “Tits” - as being the woman in the frilly dress, high in the air with her right leg immodestly aloft. I think Fragonard used the wrong model.


While Titiana had brought lots of her own money into the marriage, it wasn’t quite in the same league as Pettanko’s money, and I couldn’t imagine her simply running off with a younger man without taking Peter Pettanko to the cleaners on the way. Running off with an even richer man? Yes. But then it would have been in the news. And in either case, it would be hard for Titiana to maintain a low profile, unless she’d become a Muslim and was now wearing a burka.


But that was hard to imagine. I looked at Fragonard’s “The Swing” again, and tried to imagine what the painting would look like if the woman had been wearing a burka. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine it: it just didn’t work - not even if it was a pink burka.


While I’m not actually in the detective business, I do take the occasional case when it’s sufficiently interesting, and the remuneration is understood to be generous. Based on this potential client, I had no doubt about the latter, and had come to his house to discuss the former.


When I say that I’m not actually in the detective business, I’m not actually in any business except for the business of being philanthropic. I did well for myself as a scientist, and I retired young. I’d spent most of my early adulthood in the Midwest, in California, and in Boston studying my butt off, and enjoying the heck out of it. I’d always enjoyed reading, and solving complex mathematical systems. I was a professor for a while back in California, and then down in Austin, where I came into some money and retired while still young.


Why I moved back here to Connecticut, I’m not sure. It certainly isn’t because I like paying lots of taxes. Connecticut has one of the wealthiest populations in the country as well as one of the poorest. Outside of the Washington, DC area, it has the most millionaires per capita. It also has a huge poverty class. Much of the wealth came from Wall Street, since it’s a short and easy commute from an Eastern coastal city like Stamford into Manhattan, and taxes in Connecticut used to be extremely low, which made the commute for Wall-Streeters very worthwhile.


Pettanko was one of these. His mansion was on the Long Island Sound, and his neighborhood was sufficiently insular so as to be secure from the hoi polloi - even secure from people like me. 


I had needed to pass through security to get to his mansion, and my car had been subject to suspicious stares from neighbors on horseback when I was on my way in.


And when I say “neighbors on horseback,” these were not merely people on horseback, like you might see out west. No. They held riding crops in their gloved hands, wore riding helmets, and were attired in canary riding breeches and dark hunter coats topped with white chokers. They eyed my car suspiciously; probably assumed that I was a repairman or something like that - coming in to “fix the telly,” or perhaps to unclog a toilet.


“Who were her friends?” I asked. “And what did she like to do?”


“Most of her friends were people she knew when she worked in the fashion industry,” he said, “although she did become a patron to several of the art museums in the city, and was taking some art classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think she also took a couple of classes at the Museum of Modern Art.”


That explained it. She was fine with their dining room until she took some art classes. Then, once she understood what she’d been looking at these last few years, she’d had it. I couldn’t blame her.


“Did she socialize with any of the fashion people or the art people?” I asked.


“Yes, of course,” he said. “They’d have the occasional benefit dinner, and would hold members-parties for some of the openings. But I would usually go with her, and I never noticed anything unusual.”


“Well I can’t see how she could have simply disappeared,” I said. “Did she pack any clothes or take one of the cars?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll have to ask the maids and our security guards. She had her own wardrobe rooms, and I’ve no idea what was in them. And we’ve quite a number of cars in the garage. I might not notice if any of them were missing, depending on what she took.”


“What about her phone and her computer?” I asked.


“She left her computer and doesn’t respond to email. She also doesn’t answer her phone,” he said. “And not answering her phone is not at all like her.”


“Unless she was changing her identity entirely, I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t answer her phone or respond to email,” I said. “Knowing nothing else, I’d say that this doesn’t look good.”


“Do you think she might have been kidnapped?” he asked.


“Not if no one has asked for ransom,” I answered. “Has anyone?”


“Not yet,” he replied. “At least I don’t think so.”


“Then I’m not sure what to tell you,” I responded. “At least I don’t think so,” I added, to mimic him, which I’m sure he didn’t realize.


“And frankly, I’m not sure what I’d do to discover her whereabouts,” I added. “She didn’t take her computer, she doesn’t answer her phone, and she might or might not have packed some clothes and taken a car. How do you even know that she’s missing? And what do you mean by ‘I don’t think so’?” I asked.


“Well she’s not home, and she hasn’t contacted me,” he said. “But someone left a piece of paper with lots of numbers on it. That’s what I meant by ‘I don’t think so.’”


“Perhaps we should put out an All-Points-Bulletin (APB) on her,” I suggested. “It’s possible that she was in the city and was a random mugging victim, although I’m sure that the police would know who she was because her face is very well known. Or maybe she hit her head, and is wandering around somewhere, not sure who she is.”


“No, I can’t do that,” Pettanko said.


“Why not?” I asked.


“The entire reason that I’ve asked you to come here is in the hopes that you can resolve this quietly,” he explained. “We are both high-profile people, and the last thing I need is to have this publicized by putting out an APB on her. I want her found quietly.”


“Can you tell me anything else about her? Have you noticed anything strange among her personal effects?” I asked.
“As I said, I did find a large and strange piece of paper with lots of numbers on it sitting on her desk in one of her dressing rooms,” he said.


“What was strange about it?” I asked.


“Well in the first place, numbers and her don’t mix. I can’t imagine her writing out lots of numbers. It’s not how she thinks,” he said pensively, and didn’t continue.


“And in the second place?” I asked.


“In the second place, the numbers were unnecessarily big; written with a really thick magic marker,” he responded.
“With a really thick magic marker?” I asked. “Why is that strange? Didn’t she ever use a magic marker to write things before?”


“Absolutely not,” Pettanko replied. “She always used a fine-tipped pen. Her writing was dainty. She’d never use a big magic marker to write with – unless it was to label a cardboard box, or something like that. But she’d never write lots of numbers on paper, let alone write them with a big magic marker.”


“You’ll need to give me that piece of paper - or at least let me take a picture of it so that I can study the numbers. It might be nothing, or it might be an encoding of something that will provide some clues.”


Peter Pettanko took a large sheet of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and put it on the table. As he’d said, it had numbers on it all written with a thick magic marker. It did look odd: there were lots of numbers, and they completely filled the page in several streams. I looked at it closely, and saw that not all of the characters were numbers; there were a few capital letters in the streams too. And they were all drawn very neatly. The streams of numbers looked completely random. There was no apparent pattern to it - each of the characters seemed to be written with equal frequency.


It was clearly an encoding. I looked at the digits and saw that about a third of them were letters, and the rest were numbers. The letters were all in the set A-through-F as far as I could see, which made me think that it was a hexadecimal (base 16) encoding.


While I was hoping that it was simply an ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) representation of some text, the fact that the characters seemed completely random made me unsure. If it were text, you’d expect to see some encodings much more frequently than others (e.g., the encoding of the letter “e” would appear much more frequently than the encoding of the letter “z”). It didn’t look that way, but I couldn’t be sure.


My hunch was that it was just standard ASCII code, but I’d need to study it. I’d be surprised if it were difficult to decipher, but I’d have to try it before I knew. I took a picture of the paper with my phone, and I gave it back to him.
“Can I see where you found this?” I asked.


“Certainly,” he said, getting out of his chair, so I got out of mine too.


Now that I was standing, I was able to turn and get a full view of Jackson Pollock’s “One: Number 31.” 


Ironically, if the code for the painting were in ASCII, the hexadecimal code “31” represents the printed character “1,” so we’d call the painting “One: Number 1.” Pollock should have thought of this, and done it in ASCII. How could you beat that for the name of a painting?


On the wall, “One: Number 31” (One: Number 1) was breathtaking in its absence of the essential dimensionality of Pollock’s work. It was flat, glossy, and purely two dimensional. It was applied to the wall like wallpaper. While this would have been great for a Lichtenstein, it displayed a shocking disregard for the essential dimensionality that Pollock brought to his work. If this had been an awful joke, it would have been very funny. But I’m sure that Pettanko wasn’t joking.


This purely two-dimensional “One: Number 31” sort of reminded me of some religious friends of ours who don’t follow art, that proudly showed me a “paint by numbers” rendition of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” that they had done. Discretizing the colors in a da Vinci into “color regions” was similarly unsettling.

 
“One: Number 31” - Jackson Pollock (1950)

 

 

 

Further, were I picking a Pollock that I’d intended to “flatten” the way it had been done here, “One: Number 31” would have been my last choice. The background is beige, and the rendition is entirely in black and white, with a very occasional brown spot. The point of the painting is hardly color; it’s about texture. Flattened, it looks like gloomy wallpaper. True, when you are 30 or 40 feet away from it, its immensity is striking, and its third dimension isn’t readily discernible. But when you’re 6 feet away - as in a dining room - because of its size you’re unable to see its entirety, and its texture is what it’s all about. This had none. In fact, it had a glossy finish to make it easy to clean with a sponge. It quite missed the point.


Pettanko wattled his corpulence out of the dining room, and I followed. We went through a sitting room, into the main entryway, and then he flatulated his way up the left staircase to the upper landing, so I took the right staircase, and I met him at the top.


Then we went through a small library full of untouched volumes with leather covers, into the master bedroom, and then out one of several doorways into a hallway containing four doors. He explained that these four rooms were all Titiana’s dressing rooms. She kept different kinds of clothing in each of the rooms. The second room on the right contained a sink, some mirrors, and two makeup tables, as well as many racks of fashionable clothes.
“It was on this makeup table,” Pettanko said, gesturing at one of them.


“How was it that you happened to notice it?” I asked. “Do you usually come in here?”


“No,” Pettanko reassured me, “I almost never come down this hallway, but I was looking for any clue as to her whereabouts, so I looked in all of her dressing rooms. This paper struck me as very odd - not at all Titiana’s style. She wouldn’t have written cryptic things using numbers, and she certainly wouldn’t have written them with a magic marker. Someone else wrote this.”


“Then how did it get here?” I asked.


“What do you mean?” Pettanko asked.


“The fact that it was on her dressing table means that either she put it here,” I said, “or it means that whoever put it here knows the layout of your house, and knew that her dressing tables were in this room - off a hallway that you get to by going through a library and then through the master bedroom. Who would know that?”


“Any of the maids would know that,” he said, “but I don’t see how anyone else would.”


“But if it were one of the maids, why would she put it in one of Titiana’s dressing rooms?” I asked. “I could understand someone putting it in here - in a dressing room - if the message was to Titiana. But if the message was to you, why put it in this dressing room? And if it was to Titiana, why would they encode it in such a way that Titiana would be unlikely to know how to unscramble it?”


Pettanko looked puzzled, and agreed that neither of these scenarios made sense. I was wondering whether Peter Pettanko had planted this mysterious coded message, and had then concocted this story. But if he had, why would he bring in a private detective like me? As I’ve explained, I’m a scientist and professor who was able to retire comfortably while still young. I spend most of my time doing philanthropic things, and inventing new kinds of appliances and applications to improve how we live. But I will take cases for people who are comfortable paying my fees, and I’m interested in cases that have unusual circumstances.


So far, in the case of Pettanko, I’m not sure that there was anything to investigate. According to him, his wife had simply disappeared, and he found a mysterious piece of paper in one of her dressing rooms with numbers written on it with a magic marker. And according to him, there were no marital problems, she had no boyfriend that he knew of, and she’d given him no indication that she was about to disappear. She simply vanished. And it’s hard for someone with the good looks and easy recognizability of Titiana Prosperosa to simply vanish.


“I’m not sure what to tell you,” I said. “I’ll study the photo that I took of the sheet of paper with the numbers on it, and I’ll see whether I can figure out what it says. That will give me a better idea whether there are other clues worth pursuing. Until I do that, I’m not even sure that there’s a case here. If you’ll show me out, I’ll be in touch.”


“OK, I’ll walk you out,” he said.


He turned and we exited the way we came in: up the hallway, through the bedroom, through the library and down the left staircase to the main entryway, he in the lead, with me following as I fanned the air violently with both hands so as to diffuse the feculence that seemed to waft about him.


In the foyer, we shook hands saying our goodbyes, and a butler opened the front door for me. I had left my car right out front when I’d come earlier, and the butler walked me to it and opened the driver’s door for me.


“Excuse me sir, I think you dropped this,” the butler said with a British accent as I was stepping into the car. The British accent caught me by surprise as he had Chinese features. Why would he bother to fake an accent? I wondered whether Pettanko realized that the butler wasn’t actually British. The butler held out a tightly folded up piece of paper for me to take, and he kept a poker face.


While I hadn’t dropped anything like that, I met his importunate stare, put on a poker face of my own, said “Thank you very much,” took his folded piece of paper, put it into one of the inner pockets of my jacket.


The butler then said something odd, again with the British accent: “It may take some persistence to make sense of something like this.” He was careful to accentuate the word “persistence.”


“Persistence?” I thought. What’s he talking about? “Thank you again,” I said.


“It will take persistence,” he said again.


Confused, I started my car, and drove down the very long drive of the Pettanko estate to where it connected to the main road.


I waited to turn onto the main road, since there was a sports car that was moving very fast that was coming up the road. It turned into the drive where I was sitting – at the entry to the Pettanko estate – barely missing me, and it sped up the drive. I did a double-take.


The car was a red Jaguar convertible with its top down. Its stereo was blaring loud music, and the driver was a beautiful woman wearing a red top and a yellow scarf. Even from my car, as she sped by I noticed her beautiful hair blowing in the breeze, and I couldn’t help but to notice her buxom shape.


If I’d any money to bet, I would have sworn that the driver was Titiana Prosperosa Pettanko, although I’d never met her in person.


She had a strange-looking passenger with her. He was a small man with a shaved head who was wearing orange robes: obviously, an Asian monk of some sort, and obviously, not “a boyfriend.”


So, I crossed this case off in my mind, assuming that Peter Pettanko’s long-lost love had returned, and that he wouldn’t be needing my services. I took a left out of the estate, and headed North to meet Carol, my wife, for a drink. I thought that she’d find this story interesting.


______________________________________

Carol and I met at Max 40, an elegant, albeit casual restaurant on Route 6, up North in Danbury. Route 6 runs parallel to Interstate 84, and the locals tend to use it instead of the interstate when the interstate backs up, which makes Route 6 back up.


Max 40 is only a mile from the New York state border, right off Exit 2. Connecticut had set up a weigh station at Exit 2 a long time ago, mandating that trucks entering Connecticut exit the highway there to get weighed. This caused most of the trucks coming up from New York City and headed to Boston to get off the highway before Exit 2 so as to avoid it, and to drive through all of the little residential streets of the neighboring towns that weren’t made to accommodate trucks. After lots of complaints, common sense prevailed, and they closed the weigh station. Route 6 had been one of those routes.


Max 40 is within a cluster of restaurants on Route 6, which is a two-lane road. It’s a large rectangular place with an all-wooden interior, and numerous candelabra hanging from a very high all-wooden ceiling. Half of it is a large bar where people meet to talk and to try not to pick each other up. The drink prices are New York City prices, so only those with some real money are likely to be drunk enough to go home with anyone. And as has become the style, there are actual all-glass garage doors that comprise part of the front wall, which can be opened on comfortable days to let in the weather and the flies.


After kissing “hello,” Carol and I ordered two of the new exotic martinis that are now offered. A martini used to be primarily straight gin, with a small splash of vermouth put into it - not enough to be able to taste the vermouth, but just enough to allow you to argue that you weren’t drinking straight gin. It could be served on-the-rocks in a whiskey glass, or straight-up in a martini glass. But today, a martini is a mixture of things – usually not gin, and generally low in alcohol content – and it’s called a martini only because it’s served in a martini glass, which has a triangular bowl at the end of its long thin stem. The purpose of the martini glass is to make it hard for a waiter to carry it on a tray without spilling some of it.


And several of the waiters wear zoomorphic “man buns” which gives them the appearance of ersatz sophists. That look is great for reminding people to act their ages even after having a few, and even better for reminding them to cut it short (both their hair and the drinking) before having a few. When I had first heard someone talking about “man buns,” I’d assumed that they were talking about a gay porn magazine; I didn’t realize that it was a new hairstyle.
I got some kind of a pink concoction that contained apple-flavored vodka mixed with a cherry liqueur to make it pink, with a splash of ginger beer to make it less toxic and to give it a little “fizz.”


While it tasted very good, I would have been embarrassed to have been seen sitting there with a pink drink like this when I was younger, unless I’d been trying to provoke a fight, or unless I’d been trying to make the girls think that although it sounded like I was hitting on them, I wasn’t serious. Carol got something with peaches in it, and froth on top. It looked yummy - like dessert.


One of the advantages of living near the New York border is that New York is accessible to you, but you’re not actually “from New York.” I’ve often found that when traveling, when strangers ask - in an attempt to start a friendly conversation - “Where are you from?”, if you say “I’m from New York,” they’ll immediately remember that they had urgently needed to talk to someone else on the other side of the room.


Apparently, saying “I’m from New York” sets off bad associations in many people that are not from the Northeast.
Although you’d not actually said to them: “I’m from fuckin’ New York. And who the hell do you think you are, asking me some nosey bullshit like that? Why don’t you mind your own god-damned business?”; all you’d actually said to them was “I’m from New York.” Nonetheless, sometimes peoples’ past associations cause them to conflate the two.
I’ve found that instead, if I simply say “I’m from Connecticut,” people from other places remain friendly. They don’t know where Connecticut is, and couldn’t find it on a map, but they’ve heard of it. There are no associations that you’ll upset in them when you say “I’m from Connecticut.”


I used to say “I’m from New York” only because I knew that “Connecticut” wouldn’t mean anything to lots of people, but then I figured out that this wasn’t a good idea.


I’ve even learned that you can even say “I’m from fuckin’ Connecticut. And who the hell are you ...” without setting off the same associations that you’d trigger with mention of New York.


It was early Spring, the weather was mild, and the restaurant Max 40 had their garage doors open. Carol and I were sitting at a table in front of one of them, and enjoying the Spring air, which I found particularly refreshing after being subject to the feculence of Mr. Pettanko.


Carol had never heard of Peter Pettanko, but of course knew who Titiana Prosperosa was. Carol remembered when Titiana had married, but didn’t remember who it was that she’d married.


“You mean that you actually got to meet Titiana Prosperosa?” Carol asked, enviously.


“No, not at all,” I said. “But I think it was her that passed me in her car when I was leaving Pettanko’s estate.”
“But you said that she’d been missing,” Carol reminded me.


“Peter Pettanko hadn’t seen her in about a week, and thought that maybe she took off on him,” I explained. “After meeting Peter Pettanko, I couldn’t say that I’d blame her if she had, although I also couldn’t imagine her simply leaving him quietly.”


“Why not?” Carol asked.


“I don’t know how much money Peter Pettanko is worth,” I said, “but it’s certainly billions. Wives of billionaires don’t simply leave quietly. Besides, I’ve no idea how their marriage was working out. For all I know, maybe she’s totally happy with him.”


“But you’ve said that he looks a lot older than her, is overweight, and smells bad,” Carol reminded me.


“Yes, well there’s always something when it comes to spouses,” I explained. “You and I are the only spouses with no complaints. While Peter Pettanko isn’t much when it comes to decorum, he’s loaded, and Titiana has complete freedom. After all, she has four dressing rooms. What woman wouldn’t call that ‘success’? For all I know, maybe Peter Pettanko can be a real charmer when he wants to be.”


I also told her about the mansion and how impressive it seemed. And about the paintings in the dining room. While I think that she got the gist of that particular horror, you really need to see it to fully appreciate it.


I explained that Peter Pettanko had made his fortune by swindling lots of little people to manipulate the market to make money for a small number of big people.


“Actually, I could imagine someone trying to off  Pettanko,” I said, “but not Titiana. While Peter Pettanko has screwed lots of people out of lots of money, Titiana has never done anything sleazy like that; she’s just a beautiful woman with an impressive modeling career.”


“Maybe some women don’t like how much some men stare at her,” Carol said.


“Why would they care?” I asked. “As long as she doesn’t mess with anyone’s husband, I don’t see what the problem is. And she’s out of most husband’s leagues. I think that if most women thought that Titiana would mess with their husbands, they’d have too inflated opinion of their husbands. That’s for those of us that aren’t billionaires.”


“You don’t understand how women think,” she said.


“I don’t even understand half of what most women say,” I admitted. “Although I’ll confess that at one point in my life, I felt like I was a man trapped in a woman’s body.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Carol asked. “How could you be a man trapped in a woman’s body?”


“Well that was before I was born,” I explained. “But that got resolved on my 0th birthday.”


I told her about the paper with the numbers written in magic marker on it that Pettanko claimed to have found in one of Titiana’s dressing rooms, and showed her the picture that I took.


“To me,” I said, “it just looks like an ASCII representation of text. I might translate it later, but at this point, with Titiana Prosperosa back home with her husband, it’s purely academic. It’s certainly not on the top of my list.”


I forgot to mention anything about the piece of paper that the butler had given me. In fact, since it now seemed moot, I’d forgotten about that piece of paper entirely.

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Chapter 1 Murder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
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