The Checker Murders is a 16,000 word novelette published in seven monthly installments. It is perhaps the most extensive work of checker fiction ever published. We hope you enjoy it, but if you wish you can skip to the end to see this week's checker problem. Be forewarned that the problems in this series are very difficult.
Mortimer thought he really ought to take the bus downtown to Broken Book Cafe, but riding the bus at night wasn't quite his thing. Parking was going to cost him, but it would be better to have his car. What if he and Sheila wanted to go somewhere after they met?
One thing at a time, he told himself. He had located clothing that was relatively clean, only worn once or twice at the most, and was busy assembling a list of questions to ask and points to make. He had to show her that he had insight into the case if he wanted to make that good impression. Yes, dazzle her with my brilliance, that's it, he thought. Charm her with my wit.
Impress her with my ...
Mortimer caught himself in mid-thought, realizing that maybe this wasn't completely about solving the case.
He decided that he had better leave early. There would still be a lot of traffic around six in the evening.
He left at four thirty. He just couldn't wait any longer. That way he'd get a table at Broken Book and be ready when Sheila came in. Anyhow, she didn't know what he looked like, while he'd recognize her from the video clips he'd watched almost incessantly, trying to a better ... well, clue.
Mortimer drove faster than he ever did, sometimes exceeding the speed limit by as much as two or three miles per hour. He even went through a couple of yellow lights--- in fact, one of them was practically red! Ordinarily, he never would have done such crazy things. But he found parking and was at Broken Book by five fifteen. He ordered an orange soda and found a table in the coffee shop.
Broken Book was Denver's largest second-hand bookstore, located downtown on the 16th Avenue Mall. It was staffed by a crew that Mortimer had never cared for. He thought they were obnoxious, rich liberal arts students who thought a lot of themselves because their parents had money. The coffee shop staff in particular always seemed kind of snooty, acting rude when taking his order and looking at him like he was some sort of inferior specimen.
But tonight Mortimer paid no attention. He was on a special mission.
He spent the next little while going over his scanned collection of clippings on his laptop, getting in a few games of checkers along the way. In fact, he was in the middle of tough game on YooHoo when he felt a warm, soft hand on his shoulder.
It was that voice. He looked up, and saw her. She was dressed exactly in the manner that Mortimer had by now memorized from watching the video clips.
"Y..Yes, I'm Mortimer, I mean, uh, M. Sherlock Holmes." Mortimer had found his voice and said the latter with a little pride. "How did you recognize me?"
"Oh, believe me, it wasn't hard," Sheila said, taking the seat opposite him at the table. She unbuttoned her overcoat, revealing a blue blouse beneath, neatly tucked into white slacks. "I did a little research of my own, you know. There was only one Mortimer in the UC grad school directory, and when I found your web page ... well, um ... it was pretty obvious I'd found you."
Mortimer was impressed. "Wow, that's kind of how ..."
"Yes, of course, how you got my email address. Well, Mortimer, maybe you'll turn out to be a nut after all, but you're certainly a bright one. So, as I said on the phone, I'll take this one chance and have dinner with you and talk a little. But at least for now, don't expect any more and don't push your luck, OK?"
Mortimer seemed ever so slightly disappointed but he readily agreed.
"So, I'm starving. I had to work through lunch as usual, and I haven't eaten since I had some yogurt at breakfast."
She certainly looks slim, Mortimer thought. Probably lives on fruit and skim milk.
So Mortimer got a big surprise when she ordered a pastrami on rye with potato chips and cole slaw, and a large soda to go with it. OK, at least it was a diet soda.
Mortimer ordered the same thing and, as he was certain was expected, paid for both orders. They went back to their table and Sheila attacked her food as if she were starving. Mortimer kind of liked that. She certainly didn't seem like a lot of those pretentious girls that he met at the Baker Street Pub.
"OK, Sherlock," she said between large bites of sandwich, "let's hear your theories."
Mortimer gulped down the last of his own sandwich and pushed his plate to the side. He flipped his laptop open.
"Well, I'm not completely sure," he said, flipping through some of his clippings on the laptop screen. "But here, look at this." He enlarged one of the newspaper photos of the checkerboard left at the first murder. It was pretty grainy when blown up but the board and pieces were still clearly shown.
"Yes, the checkerboard from the first killing," Sheila said. "We did all the usual stuff, checked for prints, DNA, you know. Didn't turn up anything. The board and set was probably from a toy store or a department store. They're sold all over the Denver area and on the internet, so that didn't give us much either."
"Oh, yeah, sure, I mean I know you do all that stuff, but that's not what I was getting at."
Sheila waited for him to continue.
"Well it's ... look, I play a lot of checkers, and I think the way the board is arranged might mean something. That's where you can help me."
"That's where I can help you," Sheila repeated. "I see." She sounded a little skeptical. "I thought you were going to help me."
"Well, um, I am. But I need to see the checker boards from the other two murders."
"They're in an evidence locker, you can't..."
"No, I don't mean actually see them in person, just what they looked like at the murder site. You know, how they were set up and all."
"You think how they were set up has something to do with the case?"
"I'll bet they were all different."
"Yes, they were, as I recall," Sheila said. "But that's consistent with random placement. We think the checkerboard and checkers are symbolic of something. The psychologists don't know what, not yet, but they're working on it."
"No, no, that just can't be right," Mortimer insisted. "Please, can I just see photos? I'm sure you have them, and for the second two murders the newspapers didn't show the checkerboards."
"And the street addresses. I need the street addresses. They would just about prove the point I'm making."
It wasn't at all clear to Sheila just what point Mortimer was making, and she said as much. "And besides," she went on, "we only released the street name the first time. After that we just gave the general neighborhood so we could keep the nuts away. Nuts like ..."
"Like me?" There was a bit of a hurt tone in Mortimer's voice.
"Oh, Mortimer, I'm sorry," Sheila said. She reached across the table and grasped Mortimer's hand. Mortimer instantly became oblivious to anything but her touch.
"I know that wasn't very nice of me. It's just that everything you're saying seems so ... odd. But you're definitely bright and I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. You're looking at an angle we haven't considered, and I believe you when you say you're a checker expert. I know we don't have one on staff, so I'll see if I can get you on as a consultant."
Mortimer beamed, not even realizing that she had finally let go of his hand. "You mean ... a consulting detective ... like ... like Sherlock Holmes?"
She smiled, amused by his boyish excitement. "Well, Mortimer, there are probably some agents in the Denver office who wouldn't be so anxious to give you that title. But just between us, you can be a consulting detective."
Mortimer didn't think bouncing up and down in his seat would make such a good impression, so he refrained, even though that's what he wanted to do at the moment.
"Meanwhile, I'll email you those checkerboard photos. I don't think that should be a problem. I'll do that when I get to work tomorrow afternoon. I've got class in the morning or I'd do it sooner. But the addresses ... I'll have to get an OK on that. I'll ask about it when I tell the Special Agent handling of the case that I think it would be helpful to bring you on."
She stood up and started buttoning her overcoat.
Mortimer stood as well, hastily attempting to gather up his laptop and all his gear. "Uh ... can I ... do you need a ride home or anything?"
She heard the hopefulness in his voice, but responded, "No, Mortimer, let's take things slowly. I'm delighted to have met you, and we're going to meet again very soon, but I think we'll leave things as they are for the moment. I'll be quite fine taking the rail home.
"Where's home?" Mortimer asked. "I'm sure I could..."
"No you don't," Sheila said. "No home address, not yet at least. Just be patient. I'll be contacting you tomorrow afternoon as soon as I get things set up with Special Agent Purdy."
She turned to go, then stopped for a moment as if making a decision. She stepped over to Mortimer and gave him a quick hug. "Thanks for dinner," she said. "Talk to you tomorrow." Then, before Mortimer could recover his composure, she was out the door and off into the Denver night.
You may recognize the position above and know the solution; if you don't, you may find it challenging. Give it a try--- Mortimer surely would have--- and then click on Read More to see the solution.
Run-up to the diagram:
A---All other moves seem to be probable losses.
B---30-23 also draws.
C---The KingsRow opening book ends here.
Source: Richard Pask, The Golden Dozen, and the KingsRow computer engine with Ed Gilbert's opening book and 10-piece edngame database.