Two weeks earlier….
Resplendent in elegant golden tones, the magnificent Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel was the host venue for the inaugural Cryptic Crossword Puzzle Tournament presentation dinner. It was the culmination of three days of fierce competition of the minds.
The capacity crowd had gathered for the last opportunity to mix and dine with fellow contestants, friends and acquaintances ahead of the crowning of the 2012 Cryptic Crossword Puzzle Champion. Flames from the candles positioned on each of the oval tables occupying the 1500 guests flickered throughout the darkened room.
The emcee introduced the President of the American Cryptic Crossword Association to the stage. The President was a tall, lean man with snow-white hair and glasses. He strolled on to the stage with a pronounced stoop, wearing a dark dinner-suit jacket that appeared two sizes too big.
Following his short speech, the President lifted the winner’s envelope. ‘Let’s get down to the reason why we are all here…’ he said.
All eyes in the room were on the President as he carefully peeled open the envelope.
'The winner of the inaugural Cryptic Crossword Puzzle Tournament for 2012 is…,’ the President paused, obviously to purposely build the tension as he read the envelope. To many in the room it was a pause he held for way too long.
Seated in the crowd anxiously awaiting the announcement of the tournament winner was Matthew Curry, a quiet, unassuming twenty-six year old who only entered the competition after succumbing to the continual insistence and encouragement from the colleagues in his office building.
Matt worked in the mail room of a New York City Midtown office building where he was responsible for the delivery and collection of the daily mail for hundreds of offices spread across the building’s sixty floors.
He was well known and respected and was considered amongst many in the building as a crossword guru. Anyone who got stuck on a difficult clue invariably asked Matt.
Matthew’s passion was cryptic crosswords, which usually took him between two to five minutes to complete. He was also an avid reader of crime novels, and was a natural at breaking ciphers; the more challenging the better.
He proudly boasted that he hadn’t found a puzzle he couldn’t solve, or a code he couldn’t break, with the exception of Kryptos, the 12 foot-high sculpture located at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It was considered to be one of the most famous unsolved codes in the world. He says that remained a work in progress.
The President raised his voice in excitement as he announced of the tournament winner, ’…Matthew Curry with a total score of 13,875 points.’
The crowd erupted into thunderous applause at the announcement of the winner. The room lighting illuminated to uncover a sea of heads all over the room turning and twisting as they scoured the ballroom in an attempt to see who the winner was, and where he was located.
Matt’s mouth fell open. He slumped back into his seat, staring straight ahead. He was momentarily stunned by the announcement. His office building colleagues, who had formed a table at the dinner in support of his quest, leapt to their feet cheering, fist pumping, applauding and high fiving each another. Congratulatory hugs and cheek kisses were received from his female colleagues, while the male colleagues were back slapping Matthew and offering him ‘Bro’ hugs.
Two weeks had passed since Matthew won the title of National Cryptic Crossword Champion. He was still coming to terms with his increased popularity from his colleagues around the various offices.
Those in the building who previously hardly knew him, now knew his name. He was inundated with praise, congratulatory handshakes as well as offers for lunch or coffees following his achievement.
Humble as ever, he continued on his daily mundane task of delivering the mail. With degrees in Economics and Business, he one day aspiresd to work his way into Finance or Stock Broking, maybe even Wall Street. But for now, he was happy to be employed in a job where he was able to foster relationships with workers and prospective employers in these fields.
Matt’s mailroom was located within the bowels of his Midtown office building ground floor. As far as Matthew was concerned it was an uninspiring office in which to work. Devoid of windows offering any natural light, the bland color of its dreary walls failed to motivate him. He looked forward to collecting his sorted mail and getting out into the real world, mingling and associating with the office workers during his daily rounds.
It was the end of a long day sorting, delivering and collecting the hundreds of envelopes and packages throughout the building. Matthew clocked off and made his way towards the building exit, about to seamlessly meld into the thousands of homeward bound commuters.
As he strolled across the building’s massive tiled foyer Matthew heard a welcoming voice from his left.
‘Matty…’ the voice beckoned.
Matthew turned and noticed Stan, the building’s middle-aged, affable Security Guard standing behind his security Station. He rested his forearms on the high wall at the front, smiling towards Matthew. His brilliant white teeth were displayed in a huge enthusiastic grin.
‘You in a hurry son…?’ There was obvious anticipation in his voice.
‘No, I’ve always got time for you Stan. What’s up?’ Matthew moved towards Stan.
Stan held up a folded over newspaper. ‘This is what’s up’, he said.
Matthew nodded knowingly. He grinned as he approached the Security Station. ‘What’s the clue you’re stuck on?’
Stan smiled as he raised the newspaper in front of his eyes and read. ”It turns into a different story.” I have no letters for you though.’
Matthew grinned. ’Try, Spiral Staircase, Stan,’ he said. ‘I think you’ll find it will fit.’
Stan’s eyes dropped to the crossword. A huge grin filled his face. ‘You amazing son,’ he grinned. ‘You didn’t even have to think. It was just there,’ he said. ‘What…ah, what about one more?’ he asked. ‘You got time?’
‘Sure Stan. What you got?’ Matthew smiled.
Smiling his beaming white teeth at Matt he again raised his newspaper in front of his eyes and read, ‘The Godfather — major piece of art or utter tedium? No letters for this one either son.’
Matthew nodded. ’That’s a little bit harder Stan. Try…Donkey Work,’ he said with a proud grin.
Stan spelled out the words in the spaces provided. His eyes flicked back to Matthew before his face illuminated with a grin. ’Thank you very much. I would never have got those two and I hate not finishing my crosswords.’
Matthew smiled as he turned to walk toward the revolving doors leading to the street. ‘Anytime…You have a great night Stan,’ he said.
‘You too Matty,’ Stan said. 'See you tomorrow. I’ll probably have some more for you by then,’ Stan shouted. His pearly white teeth beamed through his huge smile.
Matthew waved back over his shoulder to Stan. ‘I look forward to it.’
Still grinning as he made his way from the building, Matthew paused looking left and right searching for an opening into the bustling torrent of high paced pedestrians moving in all directions. They weren’t that difficult.
Almost twenty-nine hours had passed since Jack received the third cryptic letter. Much to his ever growing frustrations, he was no closer to finding the killer, or understanding the contents of the letters, or why he received them.
Jack surveyed the overflowing boxes and files littering his desk and office floor space. He cupped his forehead then rubbed his temples in a feeble attempt to relieve the pounding headache and pressure built up behind his eyes.
He glanced at his watch. It was 7.30pm. He considered it was probably time to call it quits for the day and head to Rosie’s Bar. Maybe a Wild Turkey or two will numb this throbbing in my head.
Jack’s thoughts were quickly broken by distressed calls from outside his office.
‘Jobs… Quick… Get out here…now.’ There was considerable urgency in Spence’s voice as he summoned Jack to the bull pen located immediately outside his office.
The Homicide squad’s Bull Pen was an open plan rectangular office. Eight desks, all arranged into four work stations evenly spaced down each side of the room, complete with a bulky, old-school computer monitor on each, occupied most of the floor space within the room.
Jack responded to the desperate calls to find out what all the urgency was about. ‘Where’s the fire…?’
The team of Detectives huddled together around the television set located on the wall outside Jack’s office.
Spence gestured to the television. ‘They’re running the last letter on the news.’
‘What?’ The prominent furrows in Jack’s brow collapsed down onto his eyebrows. His questioning eyes lifted to the TV screen.
‘The last letter…’ Spence said. ’They’ve just run a news item on it and they even showed a close up of it… You could read every word,’ Spence said, barely containing his raging anger. ‘They said we haven’t been able to crack the code. How the fuck do they know that?’ Spence blurted.
Jack threw his arms into the air. ‘FUCK,’ he exploded. He dragged his hand over his short cropped hair.. ‘How the fuck did they hear about the letter?’
‘The newsreader identified the letter was sent to you at Homicide yesterday. They announced how it contained information about a possible murder,’ Spence said. ‘The worst part is, they said the letter could possibly be linked to two other recent murders.’
Jack's eyes fell to the floor. He allowed several beats to pass. He shook his head. ‘Useless –…What news channel was it?’
’CBS. It was a 7.30pm cross to a news break,’ Spence said.
Jack glared at Spence. ‘My office – now.’ He jabbed his thumb towards his office door.
When Spence entered the office Jack slammed the door behind him. The venetian blind rattled and shook. Jack jabbed a finger towards the Bull Pen. ‘Someone from this crew must have sent a copy to the news,’ Jack said. ‘And I wanna know who it was…’
‘Come on Jack…I very much doubt it,’ Spence began. ‘Think about it...Who would do that and why would they? Who would risk their job for something as stupid as that?’ Spence said.
Jack rubbed the stubble on his chin. ‘Get me the evidence log.’
While Spence left to retrieve the evidence register as ordered, Jack stood at his office window. He glared past the infuriated reflection staring back at him, out to his team of Detectives outside, wondering if one of them sold him out to the news media.
Spence was quick. He returned and handed the evidence register to Jack. ‘The last entry in the log was the one I wrote when I logged the letter into evidence yesterday,’ Spence said. ’There are no other entries since, removing it from evidence. And as you know Jobs, no-one can access the property without signing that register…Not even to view it,’ Spence said. ‘The only copy was the one I made for you Jack, and nobody had access to the original letter before it was logged into evidence.’
Jack scanned the entries in the evidence register while Spence reinstated the credibility of his fellow Detectives.
‘OK. Then how did the media get a copy of the letter?’
‘Who knows Jobs? Could the killer have sent it to them?’ Spence said. ‘I think he’d be arrogant enough.’
Jack slammed the register shut between his hands. ‘They’ve crossed a line by running it on the news.’ Jack spoke through gritted teeth.
Jack’s mobile phone rang. He rolled his eyes. ‘Bet that’s the Gnome.’ Jack removed his mobile phone and glanced at the display screen. He nodded to Spence as he answered the call.
’Yeah Chief…Yeah I did, just saw it…I-… Uh Huh… I have no idea… None of our-… I know, but it wasn’t one of my guys…definitely not…. Coz I just checked the evidence log…none of them have had access to it, that’s how…Maybe our perp sent it to them. I’m aware how serious it is…I’ll handle it…I SAID…I’LL HANDLE IT, OK…I’ll call ‘em and arrange it now alright…right.’
Jack disconnected the call and dropped the phone onto his desk. ’Fucking ass ‘ole!’ he blurted.
While Jack was on the phone to the Gnome, Spence had already looked up the telephone number for CBS and began to dial. ‘I’m ringing CBS now Jobs,’ he said. ‘Do you want to talk to them?’
Jack flicked his hand at Spence. ’Tell ‘em we want to speak to their Executive Producer,’ Jack said.
After a brief conversation Spence cupped his hand over the telephone mouth piece, ‘He’s not available until 9.30am tomorrow morning…Do you want to make an appointment?’
Jack nodded once.
Spence returned the handset to its cradle after his call. ‘Done. We see him tomorrow at 9.30am,’ Spence said. ‘You know what she said Jobs…?’ He asked rhetorically. ’We were expecting your call…Do you believe that shit?' Spence shook his head. ‘They were expecting our call. They knew they would piss us off and they still ran it.’
Jack also shook his head. ‘Who we seein’?’
Spence checked the note pad by the phone. ‘Ahh…Murdoch…Duncan Murdoch…9.30am at his office.’
‘Is he the Executive Producer?’
‘Yep. Top dog apparently.’
‘How could they be so stupid...?’ Jack mumbled to himself.
‘It’s all about ratings to them Jobs….and being the first to break the news,’ Spence said.
‘That shit shouldn’t be out there Spence. Not yet. It’s too early. People will panic.’
Spence silently regarded his boss before offering a more appealing suggestion. ‘Rosie’s…?’ Spence said. ‘I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we can do too much more tonight.’
A half grin emerged out the right side of Jack’s face. ‘Why not.’
Rosie’s Bar was conveniently located about one block from their police station and was ideal for post shift debriefings. The bar’s owner, Rosie was a single, attractive ‘forty-something’ year old woman with an effervescent, quick witted and confident personality, ideal for coping with intoxicated males in the bar environment.
Shoulder length, blonde hair framed the natural beauty of Rosie’s face and her low-waisted skintight jeans intentionally showed off her fit figure and shapely butt. Her trademark low cut singlet tops displayed generous bulging cleavage as it tightly defined her ample breasts, which she proudly boasted were all natural.
The male patrons enjoyed some eye candy when they visited her bar and she was happy to provide it for them – she said it was good for business.
Loud music and muffled patron chatter, followed closely by the unmistakeable smell of stale beer greeted Jack and Spence as they entered the crowded bar. Jack made eye contact with Rosie through the low hanging cigarette smoke. He smiled and gave a welcoming nod towards her. Rosie broke away from a customer and moved along the bar, closer to the door. ‘Gentlemen, welcome,’ she shouted over the background music and boisterous patrons.
Jack scanned the bar room. It was quite full this evening, mainly patronized by twenty to thirty year olds.
Rosie gestured to her left. ‘I’ve saved your usual spot down the end boys,’ Rosie said.
After inheriting the bar from her retiring father, Rosie worked hard to modernize the tired décor. She transformed it into a modish lounge and bar, suited to the expectations of her demographic of mostly ‘Gen-Y’ patrons.
Contemporary music videos thumped from two fifty-five inch wall-mounted televisions.
Horse-shoe shaped booths were positioned down one side of the room, below a mirror lined wall that strategically presented the illusion of a much wider room. Elevated leaning tables were located at intervals throughout the center of the room to accommodate patrons more interested in standing and socializing.
Low-wattage spot lights positioned over the polished solid mahogany bar complimented the ambience of the softly lit room, while still providing sufficient light for the bar girls to work.
Typical of a cop, Jack had heightened self-awareness. He never sat with his back to a door, especially not in a bar. He wanted to see who was coming and going, and who was approaching. For that reason Rosie reserved a spot down the end of the bar, in a corner where the bar turned at right angles back to the bar’s rear wall. It was a small area of bar of about five feet.
Rosie approached Jack and Spence after they slid onto their bar stools. With a welcoming smile she collected a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon - Jack’s poison, from the rear shelf and walked towards the boys. Without breaking stride she collected two glasses in the palm of her hand as she walked.
Rosie placed the two empty glasses onto the bar and smiled her best come fuck me eyes at Jack. ‘I was hoping you’d come in tonight.’ She poured a generous shot of bourbon into each glass.
‘Yeah...why’s that?’ Jack grinned as he lifted his glass.
Rosie placed the bottle on the bar then leaned onto her elbows and supported her chin on the back of her hands. She smiled at Jack. ‘Just that I haven’t seen you for a while…and let’s face it, some of the riff-raff we get in here… they’re not worth a second look. We need someone in here to make the place more…handsome and…you two boys walked in.’ She smiled as she stood back upright. ‘Excuse me boys...’ she said, then returned to the mid-bar area to help serve awaiting patrons.
Jack watched Rosie as she moved away. She had an incredibly seductive ass-wiggling gait that he couldn’t take his eyes off. As she walked Rosie glanced back over her shoulder to Jack, probably to check if he was watching – which of course, he was. So too was Spence.
‘She is one hot broad, Jobs,’ Spence said then took a sip.
Without responding Jack took a sip from his drink. His eyes remained firmly fixed on Rosie’s butt as she walked away from him.
‘What are we missing Spence?’ Jack asked.
‘What…with Rosie?’ Spence said while still checking out Rosie’s form.
Jack’s face distorted. ’What…? No ya dick. This fuckin’ letter,’ Jack said. ‘What do we know?’
‘Oh… right.’ Spence continued to watch Rosie. With a wry grin he said, ‘Wouldn’t you rather talk about Rosie?’ Jack wasn’t amused, not when it came to these letters. Spence must’ve picked up on the vibe. His grin wiped and he snapped back into business mode. ’OK…Both victims were white female – late 20’s….Both were prostitutes…Both died from broken necks – snapped like a twig…’
Jack sat nodding as he listened to Spence summarizing the known facts.
Spence continued. ’Ah… No DNA or trace evidence on either of the two victims…
Nothing at the murder scenes…
No witnesses at the dump sites…
No evidence of sexual assault.
No defensive wounds on the victims
A letter containing cryptic clues and cyphers was received about forty-eight hours before each girl was killed…Each cryptic letter was sent through the post addressed to Homicide…you were personally named as recipient in each letter…
We cross checked your old case files for offenders who may have a vendetta against you – woo long list…’ Spence was being flippant but Jack didn’t acknowledge. ‘But nothing to indicate any probable suspects…We haven’t been able to crack the code on the letters to understand their significance.’
Jack slowly shook his head. The last point was particularly raw.
‘Ah…’ Spence continued. ’It appears a vehicle may have been used – at least to dump the bodies, but possibly to pick the hookers up from the street – you know, gutter crawling…
We got nuthin’ on any vehicle involved though…
We suspect the killer may be male because of the force required to snap a neck, and because he is picking up ‘straight’ hookers…
Nobody saw, or could ID the John each of these girls went with before they died…
The letter paper is a standard quality sold everywhere in the country…
No prints or DNA on any of the letters…Ah…what else…?’ Spence paused briefly to gather his thoughts. ’We received a 3rd letter yesterday and we probably have less than twenty-four hours left to work it out.’
Jack flicked the stubble on side of his face. His eyes fell to the mahogany bar as he listened to Spence and contemplated the challenge ahead of him.
‘…And…’ Spence continued, ‘the last letter’s all over the news.’
‘And what’s worse…’ Jack said, ’it’s looking more like the perp sent ‘em the letter.’
‘Oh yeah, and we are meeting with the guy from CBS in the morning. What’s his name?’ Spence lifted his eyes towards the roof. ‘Murdoch…Duncan Murdoch. Probably some pompous ass.’
Jack continued his stare of contemplation. Spence’s last comment however triggered a rare, albeit brief grin on Jack’s face before he quickly emptied the contents of his glass in one gulp.