It was only mid-afternoon but Lieutenant Jack Head, affectionately known as “Jobs” to his colleagues, had slumped forward onto his desk and drifted off. With his left forearm cradling his head, he was barely visible amongst the towering files and records that occupied any available desk space.
Jack’s right hand still held the single page typed letter on lemon yellow paper he was reading before he nodded off. A letter of similar contents, also on lemon yellow paper, sat on the desk beside his resting head.
Hours of reviewing and revisiting evidence, countless nights lying awake replaying everything over and over in his mind, continually wondering what he had missed, had finally caught up with him and he unknowingly drifted off into a much needed power nap.
The venetian blind on the back of Jack’s office door rattled when the door was aggressively swung open. A distressed voice alerted, ‘Jobs…you’re not going to believe it…you’ve just got another one.’
Jack’s head snapped up from his slumber. His eyes were wide open in a vague stare. ‘Huh…?’ he said, squinting towards the door. His senses were slowly awakening, but were still numbed.
He wiped the drool with the back of his hand as he scanned the office, trying to recall where he was and what he was doing there.
‘We just got another fucking letter Jobs…same as the others – from this…“CK”,’ Doug Spencer said.
Jack’s partner had just delivered the disturbing news Jack didn't want to hear.
Spence slid two clear plastic evidence bags on top of Jack’s cluttered desk. Jack eyes fell to the evidence bags. His stare was vague.
A single page letter on lemon yellow colored paper was visible inside one of the bags. Jack’s bloodshot eyes lifted to Spence. Spence’s usual jovial expression, normally presenting a rosy red hue, was now ashen and etched with genuine concern.
‘I’ve only just opened it now. It arrived with the day’s mail,’ Spence announced.
Jack rolled his eyes as he fell back into his chair, causing it recline back at forty-five degrees. He exhaled long and hard.
Although the events of recent times suggested to him this letter, the 3rd of its type, was probably imminent, it was certainly not something he wanted to receive.
‘You’re fucking kidding me,’ Jack said. His eyes lifted to the ceiling while he processed this latest news. ‘The time between letters is reducing.’ Jack said as he interlocked his fingers behind his head.
‘What is it with this guy and these letters…?’ Spence asked, somewhat rhetorically. ‘I’ll tell you one thing, Jobs…He’s a twisted fuck who’s playing games with people’s lives.’
Jack sat forward and lifted the evidence bag with the letter. ‘OK…’ he scanned the contents. ‘Appears to be same as the others...’ Jack said. ‘Crossword clues and a heap of numbers and shit…’
‘Yep, exactly,’ Spence said.
Jack shook his head as he scanned the letter. Similar to the letters before this one, he had no idea what they meant.
‘We’ll get him Jack…He’ll fuck up, and when he does…we’ll pounce.’
Jack admired his partner’s glass-half-full confidence, but it was not an emotion he readily shared.
‘Yeah, but how many more have to die in the meantime Spence?’
His eyes flicked to the whiteboard standing to his left. The smiling faces of two young white females stared back at him. Their eyes appeared to meet his helpless gaze from the ten by eight inch photographs; enlargements from photos taken during much happier times.
The girls, both prostitutes, were found murdered five weeks apart. Considerable force had been used to snap their necks at the C2–C3 cervical vertebrae. Below each photograph was a graphic crime scene photograph, as well as known details of their murders.
Positioned below all that was a copy of a typed letter on lemon yellow paper, addressed to him and containing some sort of cryptic message, or clues. They were both letters similar to the one he just received.
Jack received the first mysterious cryptic letter eight weeks ago, but he had no clue as to what the letter meant, or why he received it. Forty-eight hours later the body of the first victim, a young female prostitute from the Lower East Side was found under the Williamsburg Bridge.
At this early stage Jack had no reason to link his receipt of the first random letter to this brutal murder. He had no idea it was a warning that someone would die. And he certainly had no idea the letter contained a clue to where the victim’s body would be dumped.
When Jack received a second puzzling cryptic letter addressed to him five weeks after the first, followed forty-eight hours later by the murder of another prostitute, he was able to associate the murders to the mystery letters he received from someone who signed each letter with -“CK”. But he had no idea as to the killer’s motive, or why the killer involved him.
He knew all too well from the last two murders that the time of death for each girl was estimated at around forty-eight hours after he received a letter containing cryptic clues on lemon yellow paper. The clock was ticking.
Jack’s focus returned to the letter and envelope in the evidence bag. ‘Anything on the envelope…?’ Jack said.
‘Haven’t checked, but I doubt it. It is the same as the others. Sealed with Sellotape…So there won’t be any saliva DNA,’ Spence said.
‘Every man and his dog from the mail sorting center to the postie would have handled the envelope by now,’ Jack said. ’What about the letter…? You said you opened it?’
Spence slid into the visitor’s chair opposite Jack, exhaling as he reclined back. ‘I did. It was on my desk with all the other mail…’ Spence said. ‘When I opened the envelope and saw the lemon yellow paper inside, I gotta tell ya Jack, my heart sank. I used the tweezers to remove it from the envelope and placed it straight into the evidence bag.’
Jack studied the envelope. ‘The envelope postage franking is the same as the others…’ he noted. ‘Dated two days ago. Sent via Central Post Office.’ Jack's eyes lifted to Spence. ‘What time do we get the mail here?’
‘Usually around 3 to 3.30.’
‘OK,’ Jack said. He reclined back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head as he stared at the ceiling. ‘So, today is the 14th...We’ve got less than forty-eight hours to work out what this letter means.’ His focus shifted to his partner. ‘That gives us until sometime in the evening of the 16th to work this shit out, or…’ He gestured to his left. ‘We’ll be adding another photograph to this white board.’ Jack straightened his chair. ‘You got a working copy of the letter for me?’
Spence pointed to the copy on the desk. ‘There with the evidence bags.’
Jack lifted the photocopy of the latest letter from his desk and slipped on his reading glasses. ‘This is bullshit isn’t it?’ Jack said. ‘I can read the date on a nickel from a hundred paces, but I can’t read the print on a letter right under my nose without these things. Fuck old age Spence,’ Jack said.
A wry grin emerged at the side of his younger colleague’s face.
Jack commenced to read the letter.
‘What do you think he’s trying to prove Jobs…I mean, by sending you all these coded letters… before he kills his victim?’
Jack failed to respond. He was too focused on the letter to register Spence’s question. He began to read out aloud the opening line of the letter,
“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.”
He removed his glasses and held them in his hand. ’What the fuck does that mean…?’ Jack said. 'Are we the ‘mediocre’ he refers to…? Or are we supposed to be able recognize and acknowledge him as a genius…?’
‘I don’t know Jobs. But he’s got us standing around with our thumbs up our asses at the moment.’
Jack slipped his glasses back on and jiggled the mouse from his desktop computer to awaken it from its sleep mode.
He sat hunched over his computer keyboard as he tapped the quote from the latest letter into the Google search engine.
Jack drummed his fingers on the desk watching, waiting for the results.
‘OK…’ Jack scanned the search results. ‘So, he’s quoting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to us for some reason.’
‘Great…now we are getting somewhere…’ Spence said in a tone dripping with sarcasm. ‘Who the fuck’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…?’ Spence said. ’And what relevance is he to these murders?’
‘It says here…’ Jack paused to read from the computer screen. ‘Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was a Scottish physician and writer, most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes…’ Jack’s voice rose in an upward inflection as if “Sherlock Holmes” had some relevance. He continued reading. ‘Generally considered a milestone in the field of crime fiction, and for the adventures of Professor Challenger…. Says he died July 1930.’
Jack lifted the copy letter and glanced at it. ‘So our letter writer is quoting literature from murder stories,’ he said. ‘We’re not dealing with an average intelligence here, Spence.’
‘Does it say what book the quote is from…?’
Jack dropped the letter and returned his focus back to his computer screen. ‘Ah…OK, according to this…’ he guided his finger over the screen, ‘it’s from a book titled, “The Valley of Fear”.’
Spence’s eye brows dipped. ‘The Valley of Fear…’ he repeated. ‘Maybe he chose that title because that is what he is trying to turn New York City into,’ Spence said.
Jack shrugged. ‘Who knows?’ Jack gestured to the evidence bags on the desk. ‘Anyway…Clock’s running,’ he said. ’Run these for prints. They’ll be clean, but run ‘em anyway in case he’s fucked up this time. Check on the grade and quality of paper in this letter and compare it to these two letters.’ Jack jabbed his thumb at the white board. ‘Check the CCTV footage from the post office mail boxes from two days ago. Let’s see if we can find this arrogant prick mailing these death letters in the post office security videos.’
‘You realise it was probably mailed from the suburbs and just cleared through Central, Jack.’
‘I’d say that’s exactly what happened, Spence. But until we check it out, we can’t tick it off. OK?’ Jack said.
‘Gotcha.’ Spence retrieved the evidence bags from the cluttered desk and exited the office to attend to his assigned mission.
‘I’ll let the Gnome know about this latest letter,’ Jack said to a departing Spence.