Puzzle of Death

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“People are dropping like flies. Who the hell’s murdering them?” asks Private Detective Jake Wayde. He realizes it’s now kill or be killed. Brilliant, renowned chemist Dr. Frederick Rhineman’s fascination with genetics is surpassed only by his obsession with intricate puzzles and revenge. His most recent work with pathogens and ethnic heredity has resulted in the discovery of a formula that can pinpoint people of a specific nationality—and eliminate them. When Rhineman unexpectedly dies of a massive heart attack, his secretary fulfills his last directive. She mails sixteen letters: four to foreign dignitaries of the world’s most volatile countries and twelve to the people Rhineman most hated. Each letter contains clues and a puzzle piece leading to a secret cache of ten million dollars and the lethal chemical formula. One of the letter recipients is an ex-marine turned private detective, Jack Wayde. As the inevitable killing spree ensues, Wayde’s unwittingly drawn into the deadly competition. The circle of suspects is quickly shrinking: Wayde must prevent the formula from falling into the wrong hands and find out who the other puzzle piece holders are before they find—and kill—him.

Thriller / Mystery
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Start writing here…

Max Manchester, an All-Pro Miami Dolphin linebacker, was in the living room of his elegant Key Biscayne home, watching Sunday Night Football on ESPN when the front door burst open. Max jumped to his feet as three men entered. Two of them were huge, with multicolored tattoos covering their strong arms. They looked like professional wrestlers. The third was a short, balding, gaudily dressed man in his mid-fifties.

“Who the hell are you?” Max shouted.

The two large muscle-bound men rushed at him, and then the three, all big men, engaged in a vicious fight. Lamps and vases smashed onto the reddish-brown tiled floor; chairs and tables overturned; a mirror and several works of art destroyed. Throughout the melee, the short man stood by the open doorway and watched calmly. Max, wild and violent, was holding his own against the two men. After a minute or two, the short man, who was evidently in charge, seemed to realize his goons weren’t going to be able to subdue the strong pro football player.

He pulled a gun and struck Max on the side of the head. Dazed, Max fell to his knees. Through glassy eyes, he looked up at the short man, who struck him again with the gun.

As Max Manchester regained consciousness, he was choking. Slowly he opened his eyes and spat the liquid; he saw that it was blood. The three intruders were looking down at him. He was lying on his back, spread-eagled on his king-size bed with all four limbs tied to the bedposts. He struggled to move his arms and but couldn’t. Then he tried in vain to kick at one of the huge men standing at the foot of the bed.

“What the fuck are you bastards doing? Whatta you want?” He coughed out the words and then spat at the short man standing to the right side of his head.

The target of the bloody spittle stepped out of the way and then hit Max’s hand with his gun. Max winced and groaned.

“Max, you were a badass to my nephew, Dr. Rhineman’s son Jeffrey,” said the short man, grinning at him.

Max stared. “You’re here beating the shit out of me because of that little queer asshole? Christ, that was years ago!”

“No, it’s not about him. We’re here because you received a small piece of red paper that’s part of a puzzle. It was in a letter mailed to you from my late brother, Dr. Frederick Rhineman, who hated you,” said the short man, still grinning.

Max sneered. “He was an asshole too.”

“I agree with you on that.” He chuckled as he pulled out a cigar and lit it. “Okay, enough of this small talk. Where’s the piece of red paper?” he demanded.

Max yelled, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

The short man nodded to the goon standing at the left side of the bed. The man punched Max in the face. Max felt more blood pouring from his nose but said nothing. The goon at the foot of the bed walked out of the room and came back with a butcher’s knife and a broom handle. The tattooed man handed the short guy the knife, then whacked Max across the chest with the broom handle. Max’s body heaved, and he cried out in agony.

“Max, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Benny Rhineman, the late doctor’s twin brother,” said the short man as he took a puff on his cigar.

Max looked up at Benny Rhineman and forced a sour grin. “You got to be shitting me. You’re an ugly runt, compared to Dr. Rhineman.”

The big man next to Benny brought the broom handle down hard across Max’s shins. Max gritted his teeth against the pain.

Benny pulled the cigar out of his mouth and pressed the hot end of it against Max’s ankle. He continued to hold it there as the room filled with the smell of burning flesh.

Max groaned, “You bastard.”

“We can do this all day, Max. Where’s the piece of paper? I know you got a letter from my brother that contained a piece of the puzzle,” said Benny.

Max remained silent.

The man with the broom brought the handle forcefully down between Max’s legs. Max let out a gurgling scream and coughed up the blood running into his open mouth from his bloody nose. Nothing was said for about fifteen seconds as Max lay on the bed moaning and coughing.

Through clenched teeth, Benny said, “Max, you can’t win. The only way for you to come out of this alive is to tell me where you put the piece of red paper.”

Max pulled at the rope that tied him to the bedposts.

Benny handed the butcher’s knife to the man standing at the head of the bed. “My friend here can cut you free if that’s what you want.” Benny smiled as he pointed to Max’s left arm.

The big man ripped the knife across Max’s arm. Max felt his flesh tearing.

He screamed. “Jesus Christ! What are you doing?”

“He’s cutting your arm off,” Benny answered, laughing. “You want to be free, don’t you?”

“You bastard, you’re insane!”

The broom handle came down hard on Max’s face, hitting his right cheek and eye. Blood squirted into the air. He groaned as he lay bleeding.

“Max, your football career will be over if we finish cutting off your left arm. Tell me where the piece of paper is, and we’ll leave,” said Benny.

Max remained silent.

Benny shook his head and nodded to the man with the knife. The man jabbed the knife deeper into Max’s arm.

Max shrieked. “Okay! Okay, no more!” He looked up at the white fan over his bed. “It’s taped to a fan blade.”

The goon with the broom handle climbed onto the bed, retrieved the piece of the paper, and handed it to Benny.

Benny examined it.

“You coulda saved yourself a lot of pain, Max.”

Then he put the piece of paper in his pocket and shot Max in the forehead.

Dr. Frederick Rhineman, impeccably dressed in a tan Armani suit, with a white herringbone-striped shirt and a paisley Gucci tie, stood in his plush, richly decorated office on the tenth floor of a commercial building in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He was holding some number-ten white business envelopes in his well-manicured, narrow hands. After a few moments he placed the envelopes on top of a large brown manila envelope on his desk.

Dr. Rhineman was zealous about puzzle solving and was known in wider circles as a peerless stickler for detail. He stepped over to a massive oak bookcase set against the wall. Of the four shelves, the top two held volumes of technical books on chemistry and chemical formulas. One of the bottom two was filled with different-sized boxes containing a variety of jigsaw puzzles. The other shelf housed an assortment of crossword books stacked next to packages of colored paper. He removed one of the packages from the shelf. It contained sheets of red eight-by-eleven twenty-pound paper. He carried it over to the walnut desk and removed two sheets. On both sheets, he drew what resembled a claim check. Then he proceeded to cut one of the sheets into jigsaw-like pieces, on each of which he printed a number or a letter of the alphabet. He placed one of the jagged pieces in each of the number-ten white envelopes, along with a letter he’d written earlier. An evil smirk disfigured his clean-shaven face. Then his intercom buzzed.

“Yes, Jean?”

“Dr. Rhineman, your brother is on the telephone. I know you said you didn’t want to talk to him, but this is the third time he’s called, and he insists on talking to you.”

“All right, I’ll talk to him.”

Dr. Rhineman frowned, and then picked up the telephone. “Hello?” He listened for a few seconds. “No! I’m not interested. I’ve told you not to call here.” He continued to listen. “I don’t care, Benny. I don’t want to get mixed up with you or any of your goddamn schemes!” he snapped angrily. His brother kept talking and the doctor could feel himself getting upset. He held the phone away from his ear, his face flushed. He calmed himself, then put the phone back to his ear and spoke firmly. “No, Benny, and don’t ever bother me again.” He slammed the telephone down and sat there fuming and rubbing his chest.

He had just finished putting the small, jagged pieces of red paper into the envelopes when his secretary, Jean, a neatly dressed, gray-haired woman in her late fifties, entered. She looked at him with concern and then crossed to a small table on which there was a silver tray with two glasses, a pitcher of water, and a small brown bottle of pills. She poured a glass of water, removed a pill from the bottle, and walked over to him.

“Dr. Rhineman, you know what your physician told you about getting upset. It’s bad for your heart.” She handed him the pill and the glass of water. “You’d better take this. It’s hard to believe that someone who looks as healthy as you do has a bad heart.”

“Thank you, Jean. I shouldn’t talk to Benny. He really irritates me; he’s always up to some slick deal.” He swallowed the pill and handed the glass back to her, then looked down at the envelopes on his desk. “Here, help me seal these envelopes. I’ve already addressed them.” They sealed the white envelopes and put them into the large manila envelope. “Jean, put this envelope in the safe. If anything happens to me, please remove the letters inside and mail them immediately.” He emphasized the word “immediately.”

She took the manila envelope from him. “Your heart isn’t worse, is it?” she asked, with an anxious look.

He stood up, smiling. “No, no. I’m just fine. I’m not expecting to kick off any time soon. I just want to make sure this matter is taken care of, just in case,” he said, indicating the envelope. “It’s very, very important to me.” The doctor stepped out from behind his desk. “Now I’m going over to the club for lunch. I won’t be back today, as Senator Knowles is in town. He has challenged me to a puzzle contest this afternoon. You know how I like to beat him. He always thinks he can assemble the puzzles faster than me.” He chuckled and started to leave the office, but turned back. “Don’t forget about that.” He pointed at the manila envelope again.

“I won’t. Good luck.”

Jean followed him out of his office and into hers, where she called the doorman downstairs to have the doctor’s car brought to the front door.

When he exited the office building, Dr. Rhineman got into his waiting silver Mercedes-Benz S600 and drove a couple of miles to a pawnshop. He parked in front of the shop, got a package from the trunk of his car, and took it in. From there, he drove to his favorite bookstore. There he was greeted by the short, corpulent, round-faced Mrs. Churley.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Rhineman.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Churley. Have you received any new puzzles lately?”

“Received some new ones yesterday,” she answered, smiling.

“Good, good.” He followed her over to a counter heaped with boxed puzzles.

“This table has some of the more difficult ones, Doctor. I think you would enjoy them.”

Dr. Rhineman looked over the selection of boxes.

“Wonderful! Please help me pick out two of the smaller but more difficult puzzles. The senator is driving up from Miami and has challenged me to another contest this afternoon, so I want two tough puzzles.” He grinned. “Senator Knowles is my stiffest competition.”

“You men are like two boys when it comes to your puzzle contests.”

“Yes, that’s true. But we take it all very seriously. It is a test of skill and ingenuity. I hate to lose to the senator.”

“And he to you, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Churley, laughing.

“Yes, I’m sure he does.”

Mrs. Churley held up a particularly colorful box. “This one is difficult,” she paused and selected another box, “I believe this to be its equal.”

“Very good, Mrs. Churley, I trust your choices. So far, you’ve never failed me.”

“I swear I’ve never seen anyone enjoy puzzles like you do, Dr. Rhineman.” She took the two boxes over to the cash register.

He followed her. “Solving puzzles keeps the brain exercised. My work in science has always been a puzzle. In fact, is not life itself a puzzle?”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” she agreed. “With the tax it will be $29.68.”

Dr. Rhineman paid her and received his change.

“Thank you, Doctor, and good luck.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Churley, and thank you for your selections.”

He left the store and a few minutes later, he brought the Mercedes to a halt in a parking lot, which was next to an old redbrick two-story building. As he walked up the steps and entered the Century Club, he was greeted by a tall, thin man in a pinstriped suit.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Rhineman.”

“Good afternoon, Ronald. Has Senator Knowles arrived?”

“Yes, sir, he’s waiting for you in the game room. Will you gentlemen be having lunch?”

“Yes, most likely Ronald but something very light.”

“Very good, sir.”

As Rhineman’s trim six-foot two-inch frame entered the game room, two other men were just leaving. The men nodded to him. “Afternoon, Doctor.”

Dr. Rhineman nodded back. “Good afternoon, William, Jerome.”

He continued through the large oak-paneled room. A number of men were seated about the room reading, talking, and drinking. Some of them acknowledged him with a smile or a nod of the head. His ice-blue eyes caught sight of the tall, slightly stoop-shouldered and balding red-haired senator on the far side of the room. He strode over to him.

As the fit, blond-haired doctor marched toward him, the senator smiled. “Ah, the perfect poster soldier for the Nazi’s superman,” he murmured.

“Good afternoon, Senator. It’s good to see you.”

They shook hands.

“Always good to see you, doctor, I see you have the puzzles.”

“Mrs. Churley told me that she’d just received them yesterday. I have her guarantee that they are most difficult,” he added, smiling.

“I’m sure they are, Frederick. You wouldn’t have accepted anything less.”

The two men laughed quietly as Dr. Rhineman took the boxes from the paper bag and set them on the two game tables that the senator had pushed together. They then proceeded to remove the cellophane from the boxes.

“I believe it’s your turn to have the first choice,” said Dr. Rhineman.

“Yes, it is.” The senator picked up the boxes and looked at them, then held one up. “I’ll try this one,” he said and handed the other box to the doctor.

The two men wished one another other good luck. They dumped the puzzle pieces from the boxes out onto their respective tables, sat down, and immediately began to assemble them. A group of men began to gather around the two fervent players. There was some laughter, as well as words of encouragement. A waiter placed a pitcher of ice water and two glasses on a table next to the two combatants. Another waiter brought drinks to the onlookers. The air was clouded with cigar smoke.

Dr. Rhineman and the senator worked feverishly on the puzzles, their faces intense as they concentrated on the challenge before them. The action was fast-paced and the excitement built as they proceeded. Suddenly, Rhineman started gasping for air. He struggled to open his shirt collar. He stood up, grabbing at his chest. He stumbled. His chair fell backward. Then he swayed for a moment before crashing onto his table, knocking the puzzle pieces, the pitcher of water, and the glasses onto the red-and-black plaid carpeted floor.

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