Jack’s boss was Captain Johnson. He and Jack worked NYC Homicide together for many years before Johnson was promoted.
Nicknamed ‘the Gnome’ because he stood just on, some say just under, five feet tall, Captain Johnson was of slight build with a severe Napoleon Complex to overcompensate for his obvious lack of physique.
Despite being vertically challenged however he was once tough and relentless, and like Jack, he was head strong and stubborn. The trouble was, Johnson was promoted, and as if overnight, he became strictly by the book. The swearing ceased, the drinking on duty stopped and all crooks were strictly hands off.
Jack often commented how it was like the Gnome had found religion or something. His boss had become a completely different person. As far as Jack was concerned the new Johnson was only a façade to further his own career, and for that reason, Jack did not trust him.
Jack stared at the copy of the latest letter. He flicked the stubble up the side of his face as he studied the content. He looked for the slightest hint to jump out from the page at him. What are you telling me…?
Jack’s broad shoulders slumped slightly. He dropped the letter onto his desk. He had nothing. His eyes flicked to the desk telephone. The last thing he wanted was to report another possible victim to the Gnome.
Jack exhaled deeply then lifted the receiver and dialled the Gnome’s extension.
The voice on the other end answered after one ring. ‘Chief, Jack. We just received another coded letter…yep…No. Today’s mail…Exactly the same… Yeah, clues and numbers...right, I’ll bring it now.’
Jack replaced the handset. He pushed himself from his chair and stood. He paused to eye the contents of the white board. Why these girls…? Why these letters and risk getting caught…? Why me…?
He scooped up the photocopy of the latest letter from his desk and made his way to the Captain’s office on the 4th floor.
Jack never enjoyed visiting the Gnome’s office, mainly because he usually only did so when called to answer some complaint against him, of which there were many, or to receive a grilling over the way he handled a particular matter - never for anything positive.
The elevator dinged as it jerked to a stop on the 4th floor. After exiting the elevator Jack made his way towards the Gnome’s office. His eyes scanned the empty hall as he walked.
Everything on the 4th floor seemed bigger and brighter up here. The halls were wider. The temperature’s more comfortable and the air even seemed fresher.
The Captain’s office door was open when Jack arrived. Johnson sat at his desk unaware of Jack’s presence until Jack rapped on the door frame. The Gnome looked up from his reading and beckoned Jack to enter.
Jack briefly glanced around as he entered the office. Nothing intimidated Jack, especially not the Gnome, but that still didn’t stop him from feeling uneasy every time he entered this office.
Bathed in an abundance of natural light from a large window, the office was three times the size of Jack’s office. An impressive library of books lined the entire western wall of the office, complete with various legal journals, legislation, case laws and other impressive leather bound books. Jack was certain eighty percent of the books were for show.
The Gnome’s desk, oversized like the office, was positioned in front of the large window where he sat with his back to the limited view available from the 4th floor. His chair was intentionally elevated to a height that enabled him to look down on anyone seated opposite him at the desk. Jack often quipped the Gnome was over compensating for something.
The Captain indicated the chair in front of his desk. ‘Sit,’ he said in his usual curt manner. ‘What do we know?’
Jack approached the desk and handed the Gnome the copy of the letter then slid into the visitor’s seat. ‘Same as the other two…’ Jack began. ‘At this stage, if the other two letters are any indication, we’ve got forty-eight hours.’
‘Prints?’ Johnson grunted, as his eyes passed over the letter.
’Running ‘em.’ Jack crossed his legs and reclined back in the chair.
Johnson continued to scan the contents of the letter and its cryptic contents. ‘What do we know about this perp? What’s his profile?’ Johnson asked.
‘Not a lot. We know he’s educated. If the ciphers are any indication, he’s more than likely highly intelligent. The opening sentence there…’ he flicked a finger at the Gnome, 'is a literary quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Do you know who he is?’ Jack asked. He suspected the Gnome had no idea.
‘No. Who is he?’
’He’s the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. So our guy might be well-read, particularly crime stories. Might even be where he gets his ideas for the murders.’
‘Do we know what relevance this quote has?’
’Not at this stage.’ Jack’s frustration was evident in his tone.
‘Do we know what book the quote is from?’
‘We do,’ Jack said. ‘The Valley of Fear.’
‘Have we looked at the book yet to see if there are any similarities in the book to our murders…?’ The Gnome asked. ‘There may be some clues right there in print.’
‘Not as yet…’ Jack’s response was abrupt and defensive. ‘But we will. We only received the letter ten minutes ago.’
‘What else do we know?’
’He’s arrogant. He signs his letters “CK”. We don’t know what these initials refer to, but we call him the Cryptic Killer…as a reference to the cryptic clues in the letters.
'He kills his victim around forty-eight hours after we receive the letter. All letters are printed on standard lemon yellow writing paper. The letters all have coded messages which we haven’t been able to decipher yet. He kills young white prostitutes. He’s probably male and probably fit and athletic because he snaps their necks.’
The Captain eyes remained fixed on the letter while Jack continued with the update.
‘Both of the previous crime scenes were clean,’ Jack continued. ‘We don’t know if they are the primary crime scenes, or if the victims were transported and dumped there afterwards. No DNA or trace on the bodies, or at the scenes. No witnesses to the murders, or the dumping of the bodies. Toxicology reports were clean so the victims were not drugged. No defensive wounds on the girls, which suggested surprise attacks…Lack of bruising suggested they were not abducted, but went willingly with the perp.’
‘They were hookers,’ Johnson grunted without lifting his eyes from reading the letter. ‘Of course they went willingly.’
Jack ignored the interruption. ‘All our inquiries to date have got squat. No-one has seen anything. The hookers don’t know anything – or if they do, they’re not talking. We don’t know how the bodies were transported, but we presume a vehicle must have been used, even though there was no sign of tracks at either of the dumpsites. This guy’s a ghost. He’s too clean. It makes me wonder…’ Jack said, ‘if this guy has a strong knowledge of law enforcement.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Well everything’s too clean. No DNA, no witnesses, no transfer - perfectly clean crime scenes. Someone with knowledge of the type of evidence we look for, and where we find it would know how to avoid leaving anything.’
‘Surely you’re not suggesting our perp’s a cop…?’
Jack shrugged. ‘Not necessarily…But we can’t rule anything out yet.’
‘What about our boys from Intelligence …? They been able to come up with anything on these clues?’
‘Police Intelligence…’ Jack scoffed. ‘Oxy Moron,’ he mumbled under his breath. He slid to the front of his seat and leaned his elbows onto the desk. ‘They’ve been able to answer most of the crossword clues,’ Jack said, ‘but they’re yet to relate them to all the rows of numbers in the letter. They’ve tried various combinations but –’
‘Well…from what I understand, they’ve tried various combinations to correlate the numbers to letters in the alphabet, but there is no consistent system or pattern. They are continuing to work on them.’
‘Right. Where to now?’ The Captain asked.
‘We have to keep trying to break this cipher. We’ve got no choice at this stage.’
‘What about calling in the Feds? Maybe they could help break these codes?’ Johnson said.
‘Not at this time…’ Jack was emphatic. 'This is my case,’ Jack said, sounding more like a spoiled child who did not want to share his toys, rather than a Homicide detective.
Jack was a strong, competitive man and the thought of passing the case over to the Feds would be to him like an admission of failure. He had worked too hard and was too personally involved to just hand the case off and move on to something else.
‘We don’t call them unless we absolutely have to,’ Jack said. Although deep down he knew all too well that if there was a 3rd murder, his decision not to involve the Feds may no longer be his to make.
Johnson removed his reading glasses and gently placed them on the desk in front of himself. He carefully clasped his hands together on the desk. He intentionally paused, probably for effect, before speaking.
‘We go back a long way Jack...’ He said with what was most likely feigned sincerity in his voice. ‘I’m happy to delay as long as I can, but you’re going to have to give me something — and soon, otherwise I won’t have any choice.’ Johnson held up the latest letter. ’If this letter is a prelude to another body — the 3rd in a series — we’re going to have the media screaming “serial killer” and I’m going to have the Mayor all over me like white on rice, wanting to know what we are doing about it.’
‘Understood,’ Jack said. It was hard enough for Jack to accept he had failed to date. He didn’t need the Gnome shoving his failure into his face.
‘What about the media? Anything they could do to help?’
‘I doubt it,’ Jack said. ‘They’ll just create a panic. We’ve got two in the morgue and a possible 3rd threatening. We’re just lucky they haven’t linked these first two together yet.’
‘What about the hookers? How are they reacting to two of their own being killed?’
’They’re not letting on. We’ve been down to most of the red light areas spreading the word. Telling ‘em to keep an eye out for one another and to take care with their Johns. Understandably we weren’t well received. Hopefully someone remembers seeing something or someone unusual.’
‘Keep me posted…That’ll be all.’ Johnson arrogantly waved the back of his hand at Jack.
Jack held his disapproving glower at Johnson as he pushed himself from his seat. In a sweeping motion he collected the letter off the desk and left the office without uttering another word.
He knew at that moment, things were looking hopeless and it was not a feeling he was familiar with.
When the doors sprung open at the ground floor Jack exited the elevator making his way back to his office. His stride was long and determined. He glanced into the small kitchen as he walked by the open doorway. He stopped suddenly after noticing Spence inside making himself a coffee and he back tracked to the kitchen door.
’Got anything for me Spence? Jack asked as he entered the kitchen.
Spence checked over his shoulder. 'Jobs. Hey. Coffee…?
‘Nah I need something much stronger than that.’
‘You and me both Jobs. You and me both.’
Jack watched as Spence continued to make his coffee, adding milk and four tea spoons of sugar to his cup. Spence returned the milk to the fridge and took a sip from his freshly prepared brew. ‘Argh… this is shit,’ he said examining his cup. Why do they call this coffee?’ He asked rhetorically.
A rare half smirk briefly appeared on the side of Jack’s face, then disappeared just as quick. ‘Maybe your question should be…Why do you keep drinking it?’ Jack said.
Spence conceded with a nod.
‘Ya got anything for me?’ Jack repeated.
Spence shook his head. ‘Nothing Jobs…As expected…the letter’s clean, and nada on the video footage. The letter paper is a generic quality that is available in over 2500 outlets across the country.’
Jack’s eyes lowered to the floor in contemplation. He flicked the stubble on his chin.
‘The boys in intelligence are looking at all three letters now, so there is not much more we can do at this stage, Jack,’ Spence said.
Jack leaned against the wall with his hands supporting his butt. ‘The gnome suggested bringing in the media…what do you think?’ Jack said.
‘Not a good idea, Jobs.’ Spence said, then sipped his coffee.
‘But what if someone recognised the type of code used, or the quotes. Or maybe someone knows someone who did this cryptic letter shit for fun?’ Jack Said.
‘Yeah, but what about the panic it could cause. Two dead, a third now threatened...Doesn’t matter that he’s killing hookers…everyone will be worried in case they’re next.’
‘Yeah I know… that’s what I told the Gnome,’ Jack said. ‘I don’t want them involved either…I’m just running out of ideas.’
Both men were a little disheartened as they exited the kitchen on their way back to Jack’s office to consider their next options.