His large frame was silhouetted against the darkness as he slowly stepped his way down the dimly lit stairs that led down into the darkened basement. The sound of creaking timber treads was eerie against the darkness.
The man’s eyes were firmly fixed on the small room at the foot of the stairs. A large slide bolt and padlock secured this room that was once used for storage, but was now a place utilised for far more devious and sinister purposes.
After stepping inside, he clicked on a low wattage desk light hovering over his laptop. For the areas away from the desk, the dull light blended into the darkness. In the fading shadows, the wall in front of him revealed a mixture of the grey and black shades from the collection of newspaper clippings pasted across the wall. Each clipping was a reference to the same subject.
Some of the news reports dated back as far as ten years, with others as recent as January this year. A number of the clippings had a large photograph under a large headline. Some clippings had small photographs. Others had just text articles, but regardless of the format, they all have one thing in common; the subject of news article.
Each news article that lined the wall like a mosaic wallpaper was a report on New York Homicide Detective, Lieutenant Jack Head. Most were extolling his superior policing following the successful arrests and prosecution of violent murderers. Others were media interviews about the status of ongoing cases, but one constant was Jack Head.
The dates on each article suggested he had been collecting them for some time; over many years in fact. But why? Why was he so interested in what Lieutenant Jack Head had done, or how he did it? Why did he collect the articles like a proud parent whose child’s picture had appeared in the local newspaper? Was he recognising his brilliance as a Detective? Or was he a disgruntled previous collar with a revenge wish?
Seated at his desk, camouflaged by the darkness that extended to each corner of the room, his silhouetted body was hunched slightly over his keyboard as he typed. The desktop light hovering over his keyboard cast dancing shadows across the laptop keyboard from his typing hands and reflected a blend of black and brown shadows up his face.
Moments of pausing in contemplation were followed by frantic typing. It was as though his fingers couldn’t type his thoughts quick enough. Longer pauses from typing were used to consult nearby reference material before returning to his typing.
Once he had finished he saved the typed page under the Cryptic file name, “A warning to players”. He smiled to himself, quietly pleased with his guile.
The man reclined back in his chair and extended his arms out horizontally to his side to stretch. He yawned, then opened the top desk drawer and slipped out a pair of latex gloves from a box and promptly snapped them onto his large hands, wiggling his large fingers into the extra snug fit.
With his gloves in place he loaded a single page of lemon yellow paper into his printer then printed the file from on his laptop screen. While the printer did its job, he removed a standard business sized, lemon yellow envelope from a drawer.
Once the page was ejected he slid the printed document from the printer’s tray and held it under the light to examine the print quality before proof reading the contents.
Satisfied with his work, he placed the single page onto the desk and placed the envelope into the printer document feeder to print the recipient’s name and address.
After tri-folding the single page typed letter he slid it carefully into the envelope. A piece of clear Sellotape was attached to the envelope’s rear flap to securely seal it.
He dropped the sealed envelope onto the desk in front of himself. He leaned forward onto his elbows and raised his eyes to the shadowed wall in front of him. His eyes scanned over the mass of dark and light grey shades of dimly illuminated newspaper articles. A devious smile emerged across his face. All he needed was a stamp and it was ready to be posted.
The man dragged off his gloves then removed his cell phone from his jeans pocket. He levered open the back cover and flicked out the small battery. He then gently slid out the SIM card, which he immediately replaced with another SIM he had sitting on his desk. He then reassembled the phone.
After the phone had methodically completed its system reboot he sent a text message.
“Hot date lined up need a sweet ride. When r u next working”
The reply text message was promptly returned. “Cool. Sat Sun Mon Tue.”
“Good. will b in touch,” The man replied then quickly reversed his earlier actions and replaced the original SIM card back into his phone.
All was now in readiness. He now had his date. The desk light was extinguished and the small storage room once again stood in total darkness, secured by the slide bolt and the over sized padlock.
Thursday afternoon in Washington Square Park was warm with an agreeable gentle breeze. The brilliant blue sky blended from cobalt blue to azure and was almost unhindered by the sparse coverage of small fluffy white cumulus clouds.
Most of the buildings surrounding the popular park belonged to New York University. It was a very handy and popular place for students to meet and relax before, or after classes.
Light numbers of visitors to the park gathered around the large centrally located Washington’s fountain, while others were posing for photos in front of the towering Washington’s arch at the gateway to Fifth Avenue. Others simply passed through as a short cut to their destination.
Lawn areas bathed in sunshine were occupied by University students sitting in groups, or just taking the time out on their own to relax or read. Shaded park benches around the perimeter of the square were filled by people choosing to sit and rest, or just soak in the ambiance. Other university students challenged their minds against one another in the park’s outdoor Chess playing area.
For Emma Fisher the lure of the lush sun-soaked lawns of Washington Square Park was a pleasant alternative to the stuffy University library to read over her course notes. She was casually dressed in her light grey baggy sweat pants and a sloppy fitting purple colored NYU hoodie. Her shoulder length strawberry blonde hair was tucked up under a baseball cap.
Her choice of clothing did nothing for her natural beauty and masked her femininity and her fit athletic figure.
She sat crossed legged on the lawn facing the direction of the fountain, with the sun on her back. Her elbows rested on her knees and her head was lowered as she focused on the reading material on the lawn in front of her.
Emma was a vibrant and attractive twenty-two year old senior studying her final year of law at NYU. Originally from Philadelphia where she grew up living with her mother, she moved to New York after high school to study a Law degree.
After two years living in campus accommodation she decided it was time to move into her own apartment to maintain her privacy.
She saved enough money for a deposit and rent down-payment through her regular part time job.
Weeks of fruitless searching for an apartment did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm and eventually, her persistence paid off. She was fortunate enough to find the perfect apartment at reasonable rent on the 12th floor at Peter Cooper Village in Stuyvesant Town, East Village.
Her modern one bedroom apartment, complete with Ebony finished timber floors and large windows, overlooked what she referred to as her million dollar views of the East River across to Northern Brooklyn.
At night the mesmerizing view across the river to Brooklyn was a tranquil sea of sparkling street and building lights that gently flickered against the darkened night sky.
Her apartment boasted a sizable kitchen, complete with all appliances, separate dining room and a large living room. Her huge master bedroom came complete with en-suited bathroom and walk in closet. She felt it was perfect and only a thirty minute walk, or twenty minutes by bus to NYU.
Emma lifted her eyes from her books and scanned the park as she took a refreshing drink from her water bottle. She noticed the breeze had cooled and the number of people in the park had noticeably reduced. The shadows from the park’s trees hand lengthened and now stretched towards the central fountain. The best part of the afternoon had passed and was giving way to the approaching evening.
Emma checked her watch. She raised a single eyebrow in surprise that 2½ hours had passed by since she first sat down on the lawn. She closed her books and packed them into her backpack. She removed her iPad, booted it up and navigated to her Facebook Page where she read through her many news feeds and inbox messages.
She then posted a new status to her loyal following to advise them she would be working tonight from 10pm and would love to catch up with anyone who happened to be in the area.
Emma then packed up her back pack and hitched a single strap over one shoulder. After a quick check of where she sat, she made her way across the park towards the bus stop on Fifth Avenue to fight for a seat with the evening peak commuters as she made her way home.
Jack and Spence spent the afternoon in Jack’s office going over the Cryptic Killer case. They reviewed what evidence they had, what evidence was needed and they mapped out what avenues of inquiries remained.
Both men agreed that the Waldorf Astoria Valet Supervisor, Brenton Wylie is still an important piece of this cryptic puzzle.
Jack updated Spence on how earlier in the week he tried to contact Wylie on his mobile on three occasions, but all calls went to Wylie’s voice mail. He left messages on each occasion however Wylie failed to return his calls. He suspected that Wylie was intentionally ignoring his calls, which only caused him to dislike Wylie all the more.
Not to be denied, on Wednesday morning Jack drove out to Wylie’s home address in Brooklyn for a cold-call visit. His knocks at Wylie’s apartment door went unanswered, suggesting nobody was home, but his instincts suspected Wylie was refusing to open the door.
Jack made some inquiries with Wylie’s neighbors who confirmed Wylie lived at the apartment alone. As far as they knew he was home. He had certainly not gone away anywhere for his days off. One neighbor said she passed Wylie in the hallway about fifteen minutes earlier when he was returning to his apartment.
’I thought, fuck him,’ Jack blurted, with his contempt for Wylie peaking. ‘For ignoring me…I’ll just drag him away from his work on Saturday night.’
‘Sounds fair to me,’ Spence said.
Both men had spent several hours concentrating as they reviewed the case file. Spence lounged back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. He looked across the desk at Jack.
’I could go a real coffee right now,’ Spence suggested.
‘Good call,’ Jack said. He reached into his shirt pocket and removed a folded $20 bill. Like a casino dealer distributing a playing card, Jack flicked the folded bill across the desk to Spence. ‘My treat,’ he said as the twenty came to rest in front of Spence.
Spence beamed an agreeing smile, followed by a nod back to Jack as he scooped up the note from the desk and began to make his way to their favorite coffee shop.
Spence would only have been gone two minutes when Jack heard Spence’s distressed voice call out from the Bull Pen. ‘Jobs…You better get out here….now.’ His tone was direct.
Jack emerged from his office. He frowned his confusion when he noticed Spence seated at his desk.
‘What happened to the coffees?’ he asked.
Jack’s smiling expression instantly wiped. His eyes locked onto the lemon yellow envelope in Spence’s latex gloved hand.
Jack stopped in his tracks, as if shot. His shoulders slumped. His face now mirrored the same expression of trepidation as Spence.
‘Lemon yellow paper…’ he said knowingly.
Spence nodded slowly. He tilted the envelope towards Jack to show the letter inside.
Jack rolled his eyes, followed by a shake of his head. 'What’s that…two weeks…? He asked.
‘Yep…fifteen days to be exact,’ Spence said. ‘The time between letters is getting shorter.’
Jack watched Spence carefully remove the letter from the envelope, then carefully open the tri-folded letter. Spence left the letter sitting on his desk. The fold caused each end of the letter to rise upwards like butterfly wings.
Jack retrieved two clear evidence bags from the supply cupboard and handed them the Spence.
Once the envelope and letter were safely sealed in the clear evidence bags, Jack accepted the letter from Spence.
His questioning eyes scanned over the contents.
Letter number four had arrived. It was identical to the previous three letters. There was a literary quote, a number of Cryptic Clues and rows of numbers.
Jack remembered what Matthew Curry told him previously, so he looked closer at the cryptic clues. Just like the previous letter, this one also had some small dots and a hyphen inconspicuously positioned in the clues. If the killer was consistent, these would be the clues that revealed the coordinates for a library or similar location for books.
Further examination detected dots and a hyphen in the string of numbers. That would be the coordinates of where the body would be dumped.
Jack handed the evidence bag to Spence. ‘Get a copy of the letter and then enter the originals into evidence,’ Jack said. ‘Then get the originals down to prints to get them analysed, ASAP,’ Jack barked. ‘My office when you’re done Spence.’
Once Spence had left, Jack addressed the entire team, all of whom had witnessed what had just occurred. ‘Listen up…’ Jack began. ‘Effective immediately…all your cases are on hold,’ he said. ‘This case is now our number one priority…You will all be required to help on this one…I will update everyone shortly with your tasks,’ he said, then returned to his office.
Spence returned to Jack’s office about fifteen minutes later having completed his list of assigned tasks. He flopped down into the visitor’s chair opposite Jack and slid the copy of the 4th letter onto the desk. Jack didn’t notice the letter. His focus was fixed on the whiteboard.
‘The murders have gone from five weeks, to three weeks to now two weeks,’ he said while staring at the whiteboard. ‘The time between killings is reducing considerably.’ The concern lines from a fortnight ago returned to Jack’s face.
‘But we’ve got Matthew Curry,’ Spence said.
Jack scanned his desk. ‘Where’s the copy?’ he asked. He saw the letter on the desk before Spence could respond. Jack lifted the letter and read the opening quote.
“There are two classes of people in this world, those who sin, and those who are sinned against; if a man must belong to either, he had better belong to the first than to the second.”
Jack looked across at Spence. Both men shared a glance that confirmed neither understood the significance of the quote. Jack accessed the Google search engine and typed in the latest quote. He rubbed his hands together while he waited for the results.
‘OK.’ Jack squinted while he read from the computer screen. 'According to this…the quote is by Samuel Butler.’ Jack looked across at Spence. His mouth inverted and he shook his head. ‘Do you know who that is?’
Spence shook his head. ‘No idea…’
Jack’s focus returned to the screen. ‘Ah… it says here he was an English novelist…Another quote from an English writer,’ Jack said. He continued reading. ‘He was born in 1835 and died in 1902.’
‘Does it say there what book the quote is from, Jobs?’
Jack read from the screen. ’OK… it says here the quote is from the novel, “The Way of All Flesh,” he said. ‘So it looks like we know the novel, next we need to get these cryptic clues answered so we can decipher the message.’
‘Do you want to use Curry again, or the intelligence boys, given we know how to decipher the letter now?’ Spence said.
Jack’s eyes flicked to Spence as he sat back from his computer screen. He rubbed a thoughtful hand across his mouth. ‘Who is most suitable…or qualified…?’ Jack said, thinking out loud. ‘The intelligence boys are law enforcement…Matthew Curry is just a clever kid…but still a civilian...’ He said.
‘But Matt knows exactly how to crack this cipher. He’s already done it three times,’ Spence said.
Jack nodded. ‘I agree. I think we’ll break protocol and use Matty…’ Jack said. ‘Time is of the essence and he’ll be able to knock this over quickly. We just have to be sure he will maintain the confidentiality of what he reads.’
Spence smiled and nodded at Jack’s choice. ‘I agree.’
Jack’s mind started to tick over. Spence obviously noticed his boss was deep in contemplation. ‘What’s on your mind Jobs?’
Jack flicked the stubble up the side of his face. ‘If this letter is consistent with the others we have received…’ Jack paused. His focus shifted to the whiteboard. ’We have forty-eight hours to stop him, ’Jack said.
Spence shrugged. ‘Nothing new there Jobs.’
Jack’s frowning focus shifted to Spence. ‘Forty-eight hours from today would be what day…?’
‘Saturday…’ Spence said. He shook his head. ‘Where you going with this?’
‘When is that fat prick’s first shift back from rest days…?’ Jack asked knowingly.
Spence’s eyebrows arched. ‘Saturday night…’ Spence said.
Jack nodded slowly. ‘I don’t think it is a coincidence Spence. The more I think about it, the more I am certain that Wylie is somehow involved. We just have to find to what extent.’
Jack checked his watch and noted that the business day was nearing an end. This meant office workers across the city would be bursting from their buildings, racing impatiently towards their nightly commute home. And that included Mathew.
'Get his work number from his statement and catch him before he goes home. I want him here tonight,’ Jack ordered.
‘I’m on it.’ Spence jumped from his chair and exited the office.
About ten minutes later Spence leaned in through Jack’s office door to inform him Matthew was on his way.
‘What did you tell him?’ Jack asked.
‘Not much…Just asked him to come down to the police station before he goes home, and stressed it was important…He seemed happy with that.’
Jack nodded and Spence was gone.
Jack dialed the Gnome’s extension. He was not as concerned about contacting him this time. Jack felt confident that he was already ahead of the killer and with a bit of luck, they might be able to prevent this 4th murder.
The phone answered after two rings. Jack informed the Gnome that the 4th letter had just arrived. He updated the Captain on what his plans were and how he intended to try and prevent this next murder, including short term, bringing in Matthew Curry to have the letter cracked tonight.
The Captain offered some initial resistance on his decision to use a civilian in a murder investigation, but after a compelling argument from Jack as to why Matthew was more qualified, the Captain conceded that he probably was the best suited person for the job.
Jack reassured the Gnome that they knew a lot more and were in a much stronger position than when they received the 3rd letter two weeks ago. It was now up to Matthew Curry to crack this latest cipher - and quickly.