It was a bright fresh March morning. Matthew felt unusually invigorated this morning and ready to tackle another day delivering mail and solving the occasional difficult crossword.
His daily commute from Jersey meant he woke at 5.30am each day and usually, by this time at work, he looked forward to his 3rd coffee to help keep him awake. But not this morning.
After exiting the elevator at the 6th floor Matt walked with an obvious energy as he routinely made his way along his mail route.
‘Hey Matthew.’ A voice called out as he entered the open plan office.
Matthew glanced in the direction of the voice. It was Dave, an over confident, but genial guy leaning on the partition wall that surrounded his work station. 'Been waiting for you buddy...Done the cops a favor yet and solved the puzzle for them?' He asked while displaying a huge grin.
Matthew frowned as he moved over towards Dave.
‘We all thought you would’ve had the code cracked for the cops by now. You slippin’ a bit buddy?’ Dave teased.
Matt’s mouth inverted and he shook his head. ‘Code…? What code?’ Matt said.
‘Didn’t you see the news last night?’
‘No…?’ Matthew’s interest level increased. ‘I missed it last night. What was it I missed?’
‘Cops got a letter…they presume from a killer. It had a heap of clues on it, supposedly about some murders. Apparently the cops are having trouble deciphering it. We all thought you would have rocked in here this morning with a big grin on your face, bragging how you cracked the code,’ Dave said. ‘Given codes are your thing and all…’
‘Nah…I didn’t see it.’ Matt's shoulders rounded at the opportunity lost.
‘The news report showed a copy of the letter...you could actually read it quite clearly,’ Dave said.
‘What…?’ Matthew snapped back. ’You could actually read what was in the letter?
‘Quite clearly too,’ Dave added.
‘Do you know what it said?’
‘Shit Matty…’ Dave began. ‘There was a whole page of clues and numbers…may as well have been in Italian as far as I am concerned…means nothing to me. But it was only on the screen for a few seconds.’
Matthew 's eye fell to the floor.
Jen Foster called out to Matthew from her workstation behind Dave’s. ‘Here you are Matty…have a look at this,’ Jen said. ‘The CBS website has posted the video of last night’s news report about the letter.’
Matthew raced over to Jen’s workstation, where he was joined by a number of other workers from the office. They huddled around Jen’s computer while the news report was replayed.
Matthew watched with great interest. ‘Do you think I would be able to print a copy of the letter from that video?’
‘I doubt it…’ Jen said. She scrolled down the web page ‘Oh, look here. They actually have a small photograph of the letter. When I click on it, it opens up as a larger image.’ Jen said ‘You could print that Jpeg though.’
Matthew hunched over closer to Jen’s computer screen to see if he could read the text of the letter. ‘Gee, it’s clear isn’t it?’ he said as he read the first line out aloud. 'That first line is a quote by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,’ Matt said.
'How do you know that?' Dave said. ‘And who’s he when he’s at home?’
Matt grinned at Dave. ‘See. I love Crime Stories, particularly Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the author of the Sherlock Holmes series. I’ve got every Sherlock Holmes story he wrote,’ Matthew said.
‘What? And you can remember every quote from every book this guy’s written?’ Dave said in a tone dripping with cynicism.
‘Of course not,’ Matt blurted. 'But I remember that one. It’s a quote from one of his last Sherlock Holmes novels - The Valley of Fear,’ Matthew said. 'Interestingly, that is a story about a letter written in numeric code sent to Holmes and Watson,’ Matthew said with the irony of the situation not escaping him. ‘Can you print the image of the letter out for me Jen?’
‘Of course.’ Jen pointed to her right. ‘You can pick it up from the printer next to the kitchen. You know where it is.’
‘Great. Thanks for that Jen.’ Matt eagerly made his way to the printer.
‘We expect you to have it solved by this afternoon now Matt,’ Dave shouted.
Matthew grinned at Dave. ‘I’ll see what I can do Dave.’
His excitement was verging on palpable at the thought of a real life coded letter - just like in Sherlock Holmes.
Matt hovered over the printer anxiously waiting its delivery of the printed page. He pounced on the page as it slid from the printer. His eyes quickly scanned over the entire document.
It was a typed letter addressed to Lieutenant Jack at Head New York City Homicide.
The first line was the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quote Matt recognized.
Listed below the quote were fifteen clues— one under the other— similar to those found in a cryptic crossword. Below that there were seven rows of continuous and varied numbers. The initials, “CK” was at the bottom left of the page.
Matt’s focus fixed onto the first cryptic clue, which he read out aloud to himself.
“Wimbledon champion, not male”. He smiled. ’ASHE,’ he answered to himself as he recorded his answer beside the clue. That was easy.
Matt then read the next clue to himself, A cipher; nothing; naught. 'ZERO,’ he said, as he scribbled down the answer.
Moving down to the 3rd clue he read to himself, One from Gemini. Matthew thought for a moment. POLLUX.
He quickly scanned his eyes over the remaining clues. They don’t appear that difficult, he thought. There must be more to this letter, otherwise why couldn’t the cops solve it.
Matthew suddenly remembered he still had his mail run to complete. He folded the copy of the letter, placed it in his pocket and continued with his rounds, all the while though his mind was on the letter in his pocket.
The suspense was too much for him to contain. At various intervals during his rounds Matthew took out the letter for some more cryptic fixes and read a couple of more clues as he walked.
’Clue four,’ he said. 'Fibbed half-heartedly, with lies perhaps generating this response.’ Matt shrugged at how easy these clues were. ‘DISBELIEF,’ he muttered to himself
‘Clue five,’ he read as he walked. ’Way said to be problematic for lame dog…’ Matt thought for a moment. He nodded. STYLE he thought, grinning confidently. Maybe I can help the cops.
Unfortunately for Matt the continued attention he gave to the letter affected the efficacy of his mail delivery. Not only were his rounds taking longer than normal, they were a distraction to what he really wanted to do - sit and read the letter in its entirety.
Matthew inadvertently missed mail drop offs and in some instances, forgot to collect mail that was ready to go out because his concentration was solely on the letter; everything else ran on auto pilot.
Matt eventually realized the letter was causing him to lose time. Like a chocoholic with a fresh box of chocolates he reassured himself, one more and I’ll put it away.
He pulled out the letter and unfolded it with increasing anticipation. He quickly read the next clue. “Some ideas associated with Quantum.” THEORY. He scoffed as he wrote his answer beside the 6th clue.
One more, he thought. Last one he justified as he read the 7th clue to himself as he walked. “Tailpiece - recollect Custos, so sadly missed.”
Matt repeated the clue to himself. ‘SCUT,’ he said. He recorded the answer then folded up the letter and placed it back into his pocket. His sense of accomplishment increased within his own mind. Seven down, eight to go he confidently thought to himself.
Jack alighted from his vehicle and stood on the curb outside the CBS Broadcast Center on the northern edge of Hell’s Kitchen. His eyes ran up the outside of the towering building. He glanced at his watch. It was 9.25am. ‘Let’s do this,’ Jack said.
Both men made their way to the building foyer.
The pleasantly smiling receptionist greeted them as they approached. ‘Good morning. Can I help you Gentlemen?’ She said.
Jack removed his police badge and held it up to the receptionist. ‘I’m Lieutenant Jack Head from Homicide…and this is Detective Sergeant Doug Spencer. We are here to see a Mr. Murdoch.’
‘Do you have an appointment?’ she typed some details into her computer.
‘9.30,’ Jack replied.
‘Just one moment please.’ The receptionist dialed a number and spoke into her headset. ‘Yes, I have Mr. Murdoch’s 9.30 here…OK thank you.’ After hanging up the phone she gestured towards a waiting area. ‘Kindly take a seat over there please, gentlemen,’ she said. ‘Mr. Murdoch will see you shortly,’ she smiled.
Jack glanced at his watch then moved towards the sofas as instructed.
After a short wait they watched a lean built, suited male approach from the vicinity of the lift lobby. Spence lifted his chin towards the approaching male. ‘Ya reckon this pompous looking prick is him?’ he whispered to Jack.
Jack wasn’t sure. He monitored the approaching male.
The man made his way directly towards them. His long strides and upright posture oozed self-confidence. ‘Detective Head…?’ The man’s eyes flicked back and forth between Jack and Spence.
‘Lieutenant...’ Jack offered his hand. ‘Lieutenant Jack Head, and this is Detective Sergeant Doug Spencer.’
The CBS gentleman responded with a firm, vice like single handshake. ‘Pleased to meet you both. Mr Murdoch has asked me to escort you to his office for your meeting. Kindly follow me please gentlemen.’ The man turned and made his way towards the lift lobby.
Once inside the elevator the escort swiped a security card across a proximity reader before selecting the number eight on the panel of elevator floor buttons. The lift activated upwards.
Standing forward of Jack and Spence their escort turned and looked over his shoulder at Spence. He smiled briefly at Spence before turning back towards the door. Spence slowly looked to Jack and raised a single eyebrow. Jack returned a rare smile.
Murdoch greeted the Detectives as they entered the oversized corner office. He directed both men towards the luxurious crimson red leather lounge suites located adjacent to large ceiling to floor picture windows overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
Jack and Spence briefly took in the magnificent view of the Hudson River before moving to sit in the soft leather lounge chairs.
’Gentlemen…can I offer you a beverage…coffee…Juice…Soda…water? He paused in anticipation of their response.
Murdoch was a short man who reminded Jack of the actor Danny DeVito, both in height and appearance.
‘Water will be great thanks,’ Jack said.
Murdoch looked to Spence.
‘Water for me too thanks,’ Spence added.
Both men watched Murdoch stroll over to his desk intercom and order two waters and a coffee before returning to the Detectives. He clapped his hands together as he approached. ’Now…What can I do for you gentlemen today?’ He asked. ’I assume you are here because of the news report we ran last night on that letter.’
‘You assumed Correct,’ Jack said. He slid his butt closer to the front of the chair. He leaned his elbows on his knees.
'We received the letter at CBS via the US postal service. A separate explanatory letter accompanied the cryptic letter we received.'
‘Can I see the letter?’ Jack asked.
Murdoch returned to his desk and lifted the letter.
Jack slowly shook his head. He removed a single latex glove from his jacket inner pocket and used it to take hold of the letter from Murdoch. ‘How many people have handled this letter?’ Jack asked.
Murdoch held Jack’s glare. His mouth fell open. ‘Um…too many to count I would say Detective,’ Murdoch said.
Jack commenced to read the separate letter received at CBS. It outlined that the Homicide squad had already received two letters and because they were too stupid to decipher the letters, two people have died.
The letter stated:-
“I have sent a third letter to the homicide police and if they fail to decipher this one, a third person will die. The world needs to know how incompetent these police are. They are supposed to be protecting us. The attached letter is the same as the one I sent to the cops on the 14th of this month.”
Jack handed the glove and letter to Spence for him to read. ‘Certainly appears like the perp wrote this second letter,’ Jack said.
A quiet knock at the door briefly interrupted the conversation. All men looked to the office door as Murdoch’s young attractive Executive Assistant entered carrying the requested beverages on a tray. After placing them on the coffee table in front of the men she smiled before leaving.
‘Thank you Melissa,’ Murdoch said. ‘Now…Where were we?’
’Where’s the envelope? Jack said.
‘Ah…yes.’ Murdoch thought briefly. ‘That would have been discarded.’
Jack again shook his head. He didn’t try to mask his obvious disappointment.
‘Look,’ Murdoch began. ‘There were a lot of derogatory comments in the letter about your Division that we considered were inappropriate to report, so we didn’t include those,’ Murdoch explained. ‘But news is news and the public have a right to know and it is our job to tell it straight.’
‘Did you consider speaking with us first?’ Jack blurted.
‘We did, but it was my decision not to.’
‘Because we considered it would be of no benefit to us…you would only try and stop us running the story.’
‘You got that right.’
‘News is our game, Detective, and this is news.’ He gestured to the letter in Spence’s hand. ‘We have not broken any laws gentlemen,’ Murdoch said.
‘No, I’m not suggesting you have,’ Jack said. ’But what about the public? What about the panic your report will cause?’
‘Public awareness is a good thing. People should be aware if there is a serial killer out there.’
’Is there a serial killer out there…? Do you know that for a fact…? Those are your words, not mine. What if the letter was a hoax and we never actually received this letter? Did you think about verifying it with us first – to see if we did in fact receive the letter before you told the world?’
‘Isn’t that question redundant Detective? You did actually receive the letter, didn’t you?’ Murdoch was becoming less amiable. ‘Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.’
‘I don’t think that is the point here?’ Jack said.
‘I think it is.’
Jack shook his head. ‘You are too narrow focused on getting your ratings. The issue is not whether we did, or did not receive the letter…obviously, we did. The issue is not to cause a panic in the community while we try and investigate this case further.’
’According to that letter…’ Murdoch flicked a finger at Spence. ‘This is the third one of its kind and you haven’t been able to solve the previous two. The news has to be reported at some time Detective. We certainly can’t wait in the hope that you will do your job and catch this offender...one day…’
Jack rolled his eyes. That stung. 'What about prints on the letter you received? Our copy was clean, but what if the perp wasn’t as careful with your letter because you aren’t the police…?’
Murdoch’s expression tightened. ‘We didn’t think of that,’ Murdoch said. ‘But in all fairness, our job is to break the news and the more serious the circumstances, the more impact the story has.’
‘Yeah, and ours is to investigate crime and we need every piece of evidence we can get to help us. You could have contaminated a piece of vital evidence by not bringing it to our attention,’ Jack said.
’That is of course if there were prints on the letters.’
’We will never know now, will we?' Jack’s tone was acid.
‘No we will not,’ Murdoch said, equally as curt in his response.
Jack realized this was going nowhere so he opted to wind up the meeting. He was satisfied that there was no longer any usable evidence in relation to the letters received at CBS. Jack stood and nodded to Spence.
‘We have always had a great working relationship with the news media,’ Jack said. 'There is an unwritten quid pro quo arrangement where we mutually help one another out...’
'That is correct.’ Murdoch also rose to his feet. ‘And we appreciate that relationship Detective. We are able to help each other at various times and I would like to think that hasn’t changed.’
Jack extended his right hand to Murdoch. ‘I’m not so sure your news report hasn’t changed the trust associated with this arrangement. Thank you for your time, Sir.’
‘I don’t think it has Detective,’ Murdoch shook Jack’s hand, followed by Spence’s.
Both men were escorted from the building to the street. Once outside the building Jack only uttered two words to Spence as they walked to their vehicle. ‘Fucking unbelievable.’
Spence smiled in agreement as they walked.