The Crossword Connection

BOOK: The Crossword Connection
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF NERO BLANC

“At last puzzle fans have their revenge … super sleuthing and solving for puzzle lovers and mystery fans.” —Charles Preston, puzzle editor,
USA Today

“Addicts of crossword puzzles will relish
The Crossword Murder
.” —
Chicago Sun-Times

“A puzzle lover's delight … A touch of suspense, a pinch of romance, and a whole lot of clever word clues … Blanc has concocted a story sure to appeal to crossword addicts and mystery lovers alike. What's a three-letter word for this book? F-U-N.” —Earlene Fowler on
The Crossword Murder

“Snappy, well-plotted … an homage to Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh … The solid plot never strays from its course and features a surprising yet plausible ending.” —
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
on
Two Down

“Another neat whodunit, along with some clever crosswords … Blanc builds the suspense slowly and surely, challenging the reader with a dandy puzzler.” —
Publishers Weekly
on
The Crossword Connection

“A great investigative team in the tradition of Nick and Nora … Nero Blanc is a master.” —BookBrowser

The Crossword Connection

A Crossword Mystery

Nero Blanc

For Natalee Rosenstein with much affection & appreciation

“A dead man cannot bite.”

—Gnaeus Pompeius

CHAPTER 1

“See anything yet?” The older man didn't look up from his newspaper; at this point, he wasn't even bothering to peer over his plastic, fourteen-dollar drugstore reading glasses. It was getting late, and he was beginning to think the entire night would pan out to be a complete bust.

“It's too dark. Let me turn on the headlights for a second, will ya? I mean, how're they even gonna know we're here waitin' for 'em otherwise?”

“You turn the lights on, I smash your brains all over the dashboard. I mean that. I don't want them to know we got a car. If they know we got money, we're in trouble.… They'll want to negotiate.” He tossed the entertainment section of the
Evening Crier
onto the Cadillac's rear seat, switched off a pocket-sized flashlight, and threw his pencil and glasses into the glove compartment. “Somebody ought to kill that babe. They'd be doin' all of Newcastle, Mass., a big friggin' favor.”

“What are you talkin' about?”

“What do you mean, ‘What am I talkin' about'?”

“You didn't tell me we was here to kill some babe. You said we was here to—”

The older man sighed in irritation. “How come you never pay even a little bit of attention? What do you think I've been doin' for the last two hours plus that we been waitin' for these guys?”

The younger man paused. He stared straight ahead into the pitch-black alley, then glanced at his partner's faintly illumined face, and finally turned toward the car's rear seat. “The crosswords.” The words were mumbled as if he were fearful of responding to a trick question.

“Keerecto! And who's the crosswords dame at the
Crier
?”

Instead of replying, the younger man merely gripped the steering wheel tighter.

“What a friggin' dummy!” his partner swore. “Belle Graham, that's who.”

“We gotta off her?”

The older man shifted angrily in his seat, his bony knees scraping the glove compartment. “Get a grip, will ya?”

“But you just said—”

“It was an expression, all right? Like ‘I'd kill for a piece of that pie.…'” Anticipating that the next query would probably be “What kind of pie?” the aggrieved tone continued. “Look, the friggin' puzzle gets harder as the week progresses. Wednesday's tougher than Tuesday's … like that. By the time Friday, Saturday rolls around, you gotta be a friggin' Einstein. I don't even buy the friggin' paper that late in the week.”

“Then how do you know what the Red Sox are doin'?”

The older man's voice almost exploded. “I got a TV, you know.”

His partner remained silent for a long moment. In the dim light, his face was contorted with thought. “You want some help? Is that what you're sayin'?”

“Don't make me laugh.… Ya gotta have smarts.… I mean who the hell knows what the capital of Oregon is, huh?”

“Salem,” was the quiet answer.

The older man gave the younger one a long, hard stare, then reached a thin arm toward the discarded newspaper. “You sure?”

“We memorized all the capitals in seventh grade.… Mrs. Northrop, the teacher? She made us.”

“Well, now, that's
exactly
what I mean. We got a friggin' Salem right here in Massachusetts. Why's this dame makin' a reference to some state nobody's ever heard of?”

The younger man made a sudden, silencing gesture with his right hand. “What's that?”

“What?”

“Over there.” His fingers pointed through the Cadillac's windshield at a dark figure walking slowly toward them.

Both men slid down until only their eyes and the tops of their heads were visible. “Looks like a bum from how he's dressed,” the older partner whispered.

“Yeah, but he's got something under his coat. See? In his right hand? What is that? Do you think it's the package?”

The men watched in silence as their surprise visitor continued to move through the alley. “There was supposed to be two people … brothers or somethin' … not bums like that. They got plenty of dough—”

“What if this street guy stole the package from them … or maybe, he's like their bagman?”

“Wise up! These guys are pros. That's why they like dealin' with pros like you and me. You think they're gonna let some
vagrant
get the drop on them and boost the package? No way, José.”

“All's I'm sayin' is, maybe we should find out what the guy's got under his coat. That's all I'm sayin', okay?”

“Bottle of Sneaky Pete, probably. What time ya got?”

The younger man glanced at his watch. “Two-thirty-three.”

“What's the creep doing now?”

“He turned down Adams Alley. You want we should both get out and follow him?”

The older man hesitated. “I don't know, let me think here. Where's that alley go? Is it a dead end?”

“Nah, it goes through to Seventh Street.”

The men sat quietly for another few minutes while the older partner worked out a plan. Eventually, he reached into the glove compartment, removed a .22 caliber automatic pistol, and placed it on his lap. “Okay, here's what we do. You follow the old guy … find out what he's carrying. If it's the package, grab it. I'll stay here with the car in case we gotta get the hell outta here.”

“You want me to go down that alley alone?”

“There's no one down there but that
vagrant.
Waddya afraid of?”

“Nothin'. I just don't want the guy to make me.”

“If he makes you … you do him. What's one dead street guy? Nobody's gonna miss him; that's for sure.”

This rationale seemed to make sense to both partners. The younger man slid from behind the Cadillac's steering wheel and trotted across Eighth Street to the entrance of Adams Alley. He looked back once before disappearing in the darkness. In the car, his partner checked to see that his automatic pistol had a round in the chamber. Then he removed the safety and placed the gun on the dashboard.

Time seemed to pass slowly, but in reality it was only thirty seconds before a set of headlights, deep within Adams Alley, sprang to sudden life. The younger man was caught in the light as the sound of screeching tires pierced the air. When the car bore down on him, he turned and fled toward the Cadillac, where his waiting partner had made a dive for the floor.

In another thirty seconds, the mysterious vehicle had spun past the Cadillac and disappeared. “Did you see that?” the younger man demanded as his friend reappeared. “The creep tried to run me over! Missed me by a damn inch … if that.”

The older man tucked the pistol into his belt and stepped from the car. He looked around to see if the fracas had attracted any attention, but the scene was as dark and quiet as before. “How many guys in the car?”

“The damn headlights near blinded me.… Two, I think … Hell, I don't know—”

“What make?”

“Ford, Chevy … Couldn't tell.”

“Well, what color was it?”

“I didn't see. Tan maybe. The headlights were high up, though … like them SUVs. But—”

“Those two brothers we been waitin' for, probably … They're just the type to drive one of them things.… Come on.” He pulled the pistol from his belt and walked toward Adams Alley.

“Where're ya goin'?”

“I'm gonna see what the hell that street creep had on him. I'm tired of playin' games here.”

CHAPTER 2

“What a mess.”

Lieutenant Al Lever lit a cigarette and waited for the match to cool. When it had, he placed the warm card-board-and-sulfur-ash stick into his jacket pocket. The last thing he wanted was to litter one of his own crime scenes. He glanced again at the bloodied and lifeless form at his feet and shook his head. “Any ID?”

Lever directed the question to Patrolman Wallace, the uniformed police officer who'd discovered the body.

“Nothing turned up, Lieutenant. But from the looks of him, I'd have to guess he's from Father Tom's Saint Augustine Mission down near Congress and Water Streets. Definitely a hand-me-down suit. The moths had a field day with it.”

“Money?”

“None. Guess he could have been robbed, but he doesn't look like the kind of guy who was rolling in cash. I'd say he hadn't shaved in a good two weeks.”

“Did you ask around? Anybody see anything?”

Out of reflex, Wallace glanced at his watch. He gave Lever a slight shrug. “It's five
A.M.,
lieutenant.… There's not a soul awake for three square blocks, and no telling when the last person entered this alley … besides our victim, here. No one walks here after nightfall. I only patrol once a night myself, and I'll bet I haven't passed a single pedestrian in the last three years.” His eyes moved to the dead man. “And once this bit of good news hits the
Evening Crier,
I'd say Adams Alley's going to be off limits for the citizens of Newcastle for another three years.”

“Any sign of Jones?” Lever asked, referring to the department's forensics expert.

“Yes, sir. Mr. Jones got here almost an hour ago. Finished up his preliminary and scooted off for a cup of coffee. Said he'd be right back.”

Lever took a long pull from his cigarette and coughed spasmodically as he blew the smoke from his lungs. His growing paunch rolled with the movement, and his starched yellow shirt reflected a pallid green in the predawn light. In the coastal Massachusetts city, early May mornings were cool.

Jones approached with three covered blue and white coffee containers. Steam, like whale spouts, puffed from the slits in the plastic lids. “Figured you'd be here by now,” he said as he handed a coffee cup to Lever and another to Wallace, who produced a small salute of thanks. Lever nodded and coughed.

“You know what they say about those cancer sticks, don't you, Al?”

Between a few more coughs, Lever said, “No, Abe, what do they say about cancer sticks? Thanks for the Java, by the way.”


No problemo.
They say they give you cancer; that's what they say.”

“Thank you
so
much,
Dr.
Jones, for that invaluable piece of information. However, I don't need a man with a degree in forensic pathology to remind me. It says so right on the damn pack. It has for years.”

“Then someone should teach you how to read, Al.”

“You're a riot, Abe. Handsome
and
witty. The Newcastle Police Department is truly blessed.”

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