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 for the most part very difficult.
Mortimer was pretty tired the next morning when his alarm rang and he had to go off to his classes. He couldn't imagine how Sheila felt, up all night for the second night in a row analyzing evidence. And she had to go straight from the FBI office to her own classes. Mortimer couldn't imagine how she managed it.
When Mortimer got home after class, just on an off-chance of catching her, he called Sheila's number, but as he thought might happen, it went straight to voice mail. "Just seeing if you might be able to have a quick dinner before you sleep," he said, being /very/ careful with his choice of words this time. "I'm hoping to finish my analysis this afternoon, and I'll share the results with you if you like. Just give me a call, OK?"
All afternoon he worked on his computer and with a few of the handful of checker books he had on his bookshelf.
Things were starting to really add up. His collection of notes, a growing assemblage of checker diagrams, lists of checker moves, and references to checker books and websites, became pretty substantial.
Finally he went to the American Checker Confederation website and started researching the names of members that lived in Colorado. There were quite a few, but he sorted them out by rating and assumed skill level.
In the end, he thought he had it narrowed down to three suspects.
It had to be an ACC member, and the proof lay before him. No one else would have known enough about checkers, not to the level of detail that the murders all too clearly exhibited.
What Mortimer had no idea about was motive. He would have to dig still deeper. After all, three suspects was too many. He needed to get it down to one, and then he could announce his results. He very badly didn't want to get it wrong.
When he decided to take a break, it was nearly seven o'clock in the evening. He realized that he hadn't heard from Sheila at all. She must have been too tired.
Just then, his phone rang.
"Who's Sheila?" said the obviously male voice on the other end.
"You sound disappointed, old pal," Roger said. "Look, I know it's just Wednesday, but we don't have class tomorrow morning. How about Baker Street for a quick beer?"
"I don't know..."
"Hey, come on. I think there's stuff you need to tell me, you know, about this Sheila chick for instance."
"She's not a chick!" Mortimer, realizing how that might have sounded, continued, "I mean, yes, she's a girl, but..."
"You're going to tell me she's special," Roger cut in.
"Well, she is ..."
"Baker Street. Half an hour. You have a lot of explaining to do." With a chuckle, Roger hung up.
Oh well. No doubt Sheila was sleeping straight through and didn't get his message. Probably wouldn't get it until tomorrow morning. Sure, he'd go to the Baker Street Pub and try to get his friend Roger to quit making fun of him. As if that was going to be possible.
Mortimer talked and talked, trying to explain to Roger what made Sheila different, and realizing that he was just getting himself in deeper and deeper.
Finally, when they were both on their third beer--- never, ever before had either of them had more than two, and they rarely even finished the second one--- Roger said, "You're in love with her, aren't you." He looked Mortimer straight in the eyes, or at least as straight as he was capable of after three beers.
"No I'm not!" Mortimer exclaimed. "I mean, so what if I am!" He hiccuped. "I don't know," he went on. "I think I better go home. Can't drive. Take the bus. Get the car tomorrow."
"It's on me," Roger said, showing a little sympathy. "Guy doesn't fall in love every day, you know." He put some money on the table and the two of them staggered out into the plaza in front of the pub. "Going to walk home," Roger said. "Need the air." He disappeared around a corner without another word, leaving Mortimer to attempt to find his way to the bus stop.
Luckily, years of living a poor student life made Mortimer's bus riding instincts strong. He actually managed not only to find the bus stop but to get on the right bus to take him home.
Somehow he got into his house and lay down fully dressed on his bed. He immediately fell asleep.
But there was a sound in his head. What was that? It was insistent and demanding. He wanted to sleep, didn't anyone know that?
The sound wouldn't go away. It stopped for a moment, then began again, as shrill and unignorable as ever.
Finally, he awoke, and realized that it was his phone. Half dazed, he noted that his bedside clock read just after midnight. He grabbed for his phone. It fell on the floor.
"Go 'way," he told it, but it continued to ring unabated. Mortimer rolled out of bed and hit the floor with a thump.
"Ow!" he exclaimed. He was sitting on the still-ringing phone. He managed to roll to the side a little, dislodging a small pile of paperback books. Finally he got hold of the phone and pressed the green 'answer' button.
"'Lo?" he said, his voice thick and uncertain.
Oh, no. It was Sheila. And he still hadn't sobered up.
"Yeah.. 's me."
He heard a hiss of breath. That couldn't be good.
"Mortimer, have you been drinking or something? You don't sound right, and I need you to listen."
"'M Ok, guess 'm good," Mortimer said.
"Mortimer, you're in a lot of trouble, and frankly I'm not very happy either because you got me into hot water with Special Agent Purdy. I tried to stick up for you--- again--- but this time he's not listening. The best I could do is get him to wait until morning...."
Mortimer was sobering very, very quickly now. "Uh... what's the problem?"
"The problem, Mortimer, is that there's been another murder, and it isn't at the address you gave us. Special Agent Purdy and a lot of other agents and police were at that Glasgow Circle location in Aurora while a murder was going on at Dundee Place in Grand Junction. Purdy is very angry and he's saying you threw him off track so the murderer would have a clear field for tonight's crime."
"That.. that's crazy," Mortimer said. "Why would I ever.. wait..."
"It was 1216 Dundee Place?"
"Yes, how did you know..."
"It's out of order. The killer went out of order to fool us."
"I don't know what you're saying, but just listen. Purdy was going to have you picked up tonight as an accessory, but he knew that would never hold up. So he's going to pick you up personally first thing in the morning. when he gets back to town around four am. You'd need to be somewhere else other than home or you'll end up back at the FBI building, and it won't be for a friendly meeting."
"But... where can I go..."
"Huh? I thought you were angry with me or something.,, and won't you get yourself into trouble?"
"Not exactly angry, just upset."
Mortimer wasn't at all sure he knew the difference, but he wisely didn't pursue the point any further.
"And you're not a fugitive. There's no warrant out for you. So I can do what I want. Oh, maybe Purdy will say I'm obstructing an investigation, but I can just say I was going to bring you in myself and that you were more likely to answer questions from me than from him. He won't like it but there isn't a lot he'll try to do about it either."
"Ok, so ..."
"Did I ever give you my address, or do you already know it."
Mortimer didn't dare lie. Of course he knew her address, and he said so.
"Good, I'll be home by two AM. You be there a few minutes after that. Purdy knows what your car looks like, and even though I don't think he'll look for you here, take a taxi just to be sure. Don't take it from your house; go a couple of blocks away and call one. Try to find a pay phone, there's probably one of them at a Seven Eleven or someplace."
There was a long pause. "And, Mortimer ..."
"You may be coming over to my place but don't get any ideas into your head." She broke the connection before he could say anything in reply.
Mortimer couldn't figure it; if he wasn't a wanted fugitive, why all the cloak and dagger secrecy stuff? But he guessed Sheila knew what she was doing and left it at that.
He decided he had better put a few things together to take with him, like one of those "go bags" he'd seen spies in movies use when they had to flee in a hurry. Usually they had a hundred thousand dollars in them. Mortimer didn't think he had a lot more than twenty or thirty dollars in the house, but he thought he'd best take everything he could.
Cell phone charger, laptop, laptop charger, a toothbrush, a change of underwear, a fresh shirt ... what else? Maybe he'd need that checker book he'd been using as his main reference in this case. He threw it in the little gym bag he was packing. Wasn't a 'go' bag supposed to contain all sorts of weapons? He decided his Swiss Army knife would have to do; that was about the closest thing he owned that approximated a weapon and he wasn't really comfortable with the idea in any case.
He was out the door at just about two. Allowing five minutes to get to the Seven Eleven and another five for a taxi to show up, plus travel time, would get him to Sheila's place by about two-thirty, which allowed a safe margin for her to get home before he arrived.
Mortimer didn't exactly live in the best neighborhood, and going out walking at two AM was something that he never did. But he had no choice. He hustled down the sidewalk as fast as he could, hoping no one would see him.
He did pretty well until he got to the Seven Eleven on First Street. A few teens were hanging out in front, smoking and trying to look tough. Mortimer thought he would be safe enough in front of the store, but then he realized that if there was any trouble, calling the police might not be the right option at this particular moment.
Just his luck that the pay phone was outside the store, not inside. He fumbled with a few coins and dialed the number of Denver's largest taxi company.
"Hey bro, you got some coins for me?" One of the kids had started to approach him.
"Uh, sorry." Come on, pick up the phone, he thought.
"Please send a cab right away to First and Federal."
"Five minutes." The cab dispatcher hung up.
The kids were all laughing. "What kind a name is that bro?" one of them said. "Mor-tee-mur?" They all continued laughing, one of them shoving the other slightly.
"Hey, who you pushin' bro?" one kid said to the other.
Oh, no. They're high and now there's going to be a fight. One of them will shoot the other and the cops will come and I'll be a witness ... Mortimer's mind was racing and he practically started to shake with fear.
Luckily the taxi pulled up in just three minutes, and the kids were too busy arguing with each other to pay him any more attention. Mortimer quickly got in the cab and gave Sheila's address. He realized that the driver, if he should be asked later, would easily remember this pickup and the destination, and would probably be able to describe Mortimer. Nothing to be done about it, though.
He was at Sheila's apartment building just about when he expected. He paid the taxi driver and rang the bell at the entry. The door buzzed, letting him in. Good. She was home.
He went up the front stairs to the second floor. The apartment building was old but relatively clean and well maintained. This wasn't the greatest neighborhood, either.
The door to Sheila's apartment was open and she was standing in it. "Inside, quick, before anyone notices," she whispered. She looked like she had just gotten home from work, still dressed in her practical clothes.
"I see you brought a few things," she said, nodding at his gym bag. "Good." She motioned him to a sofa, then sat down in a chair opposite him. Mortimer noticed that she didn't sit beside him. Despite all that was going on, he felt a little disappointed.
"So how did you know the address of tonight's murder? And why did you give everyone a different address? Do you know how that makes things look?" She shot the questions at him, rapid-fire.
"Like I said on the phone ... it's out of order. He's doing the last murders out of order."
"What do you mean?"
"The 11-16 murder should have been next, but he did the 12-16 murder instead. What was the murder method? Something to do with a skunk or a minotaur?"
"The victim suffered a fatal blow to the head with a heavy statue of some kind of mythical beast."
"Yes, yes, a minotaur. The Minotaur variation of the 12-16 Dundee opening. 1216 Dundee Place."
"Mortimer, this is so weird. But somehow I believe you." She paused. "Purdy believed you last night, too, I know he did, but he won't easily buy this stuff about the murders being 'out of order.' He'll think you tried to pull one over on him and he'll come up with all sorts of reasons to back up that idea."
"But for sure the next murder will be at Glasgow Circle. It's the only one of the seven openings left. They can go back there this coming evening."
"They won't listen to you. With one false alarm already, I'm sorry, Mortimer, you don't have any credibility with anyone any longer. Except me. I think."
Mortimer looked as dejected as could be. He actually felt as if he wanted to cry, but he held it back. It wasn't the thing to do in front of Sheila.
All of a sudden Sheila was next to him, her arms around him. Mortimer felt a few tears break loose despite everything.
"You're such a sweet guy," she said, "even if you're as nerdy as they come. I know you're really smart and you're just trying to help. But in the world of law enforcement, well, let's just say that your personality clashes a little."
Mortimer realized his arms were around Sheila too. "Purdy, he likes to be such a tough guy," he said. "It's just not my style."
"Not mine either," Sheila said, and then kissed him full on the lips.
They disengaged after a few minutes. Mortimer was again in a dazzled state. It was just too much at once. "I thought you told me not to get any ideas," he said.
"I did," Sheila replied. "But that doesn't mean that I can't get a few."
Possibly this is a familiar position to the experienced three-move ballot player; can you solve it? For the less experienced checkerist, it's one worth learning, so don't pass it by. When you've worked it out, or gotten as far as you can, click on Read More to see the run-up, the solution, and full analysis.
The following is based on M. Tinsley - A. Long, 1947 Practice Game, courtesy of Jim Loy. New analysis is from the KingsRow engine with 10-piece endgame database.
12-16 21-17 9-14 24-19---A 14x21 19x12 11-15---B 22-17---C 5-9 28-24 8-11 24-20---D 4-8---E 25-22 9-13 23-18---F 21-25 30x21 10-14 18x9---G
15-18 22x15 13x22 26x17 6x22 15-10 7x14 27-24 11-15 20-16 2-7 32-28 15-18 24-20 18-23 28-24 8-11 24-19 1-6 Black Wins---H.
A---The Minotaur, a challenging continuation.
B---The computer likes 11-16 here.
C---The computer thinks 28-24 preserves a small White advantage.
D---Out of book; 17-13 is orthodox. Black may now have an edge.
E---9-13 is the computer move.
F---17-14 is usually given to draw here, but the computer thinks this move, sometimes thought to lose, also draws with correct play.
G---Loses. 17-10 would have drawn. What problems seem to arise when presented with a choice of jumps! Black to play and win; see diagram.
H---White is out of safe moves.