A few months ago we heard from checkerist and champion problem composer Ed Atkinson, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who wrote:
"While doing background research on a new problem I came across some information which might be of interest to you. On page 59 of Boland's Border Classics there is a problem credited to F. C. Hopkinson. According to Boland this problem was originally published under the name "Martin" in 1857.
The charming story 'A Midnight Encounter', which has been reproduced a number of times, is also attributed to 'Martin'. This information strongly suggests that it was F. C. Hopkinson who wrote the story. Has this ever been pointed out?
While doing a google search I came across 'A Midnight Encounter' on a Checker Maven page published in January 2007. That is why I am contacting you."
Yes, Ed, we ourselves also republished 'A Midnight Encounter' some years ago, and, inspired by additional correspondence with you, we wrote a sequel, which we present below.
It was thirty years ago today that Joshua Sturges appeared to me, on a Monday evening in April in the year 1820. Having read of his passing in 1813, I realized I had seen an apparition. It caused me to forsake my trip to England, where I was to study draughts with the masters, and indeed, to give up the game altogether.
Now I am fifty years old, with a wife, four grown boys, and numerous grandchildren. In this, the year 1850, the boys now run my hardware business and I have taken my retirement, all in that same New England town which I nearly left so long ago.
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and my life would have been very different, and likely much less content, had I gone on to England to become a draughts master.
So, tonight, as I have every year for some while on this April date, I thank Mr. Sturges for his intervention.
Of course, it is a story I tell to no one, not even my wife Elsabeth, for she and all others might think me insane. So I keep my silent thanks between myself and the spirit of Mr. Sturges, may he be resting in peace in that world beyond the draughtsboard.
My wife does not mind that sometimes of an evening I visit the public house that now stands on the site of the long-gone inn in which Mr. Sturges appeared to me. I enjoy an hour of visiting with old friends and neighbors and the ale tastes especially good on a warm spring evening. Some of the old boys play at draughts, and often they invite me, but I always decline. I have set my path and I have hewn to it.
At least, until last night.
Nothing seemed at all different. I went down to the familiar establishment at my usual hour, and lingered about as long as I did on most such visits. The usual folk were there and some games of draughts were contested amid such merriment, jesting, and laughter as was to be expected when the ale is good and the company is better.
It must have been approaching midnight when, suddenly conscious of the need to be up for work in the morning, everyone decided it best to return home. Our host, too, was ready to close up and turn in for the night.
I must have been the last to leave, or at least so it seemed, as I buttoned my overcoat and made my way to the door.
Before I could pull upon the handle, however, the door sprang open in front of me. Gusts of wind blew rain through the door and lightning eerily lit the street in front.
Strange; a storm had not been expected, yet this was a tempest of the first order! I turned to remark of it to my host, but he was nowhere to be seen. All the lamps had blown out and the empty interior of the tavern was lit only by flashes of lighting.
A bright flash illuminated a table near to the bar, and there, silhouetted in black, sat one whom I had hoped to never see again.
The lanky figure stood. "It is I," he said, raising a bony finger. "Be not afraid, for I have come to seek your help."
Despite his reassurances, I was paralyzed with fear and could not move or speak. Neither could I understand what was happening. Full thirty years had passed, what was the meaning of this?
The figure seemed to read my mind. "All those years ago I kept you from going astray, from becoming victim of your pride and arrogance. Did I not?"
I tried to nod my head and managed only a motion of an inch.
"And yet, you truly were great at draughts, but that was not to be your path, for had you traveled to England that morning, you would have faced a life of endless poverty, for no draughts-player, not even you, can ever make his way."
I understood the truth of his words. No one earned a living through draughts.
"But yet, I cannot rest, for one thing remains." Lightning flashed again, brightly enough for me to see the pain in those long dead eyes.
"There is one situation, crafted by a great master yet to be born, that even I have not be able to resolve. No, do not ask how I have come into possession of something that does not exist in this world, for the ways of the world to come obey not our rules."
Finally, I found my voice. "You want ... me ... to resolve this situation ... solve this problem," I said in a ragged whisper.
"Yes, so that I may rest at last," Joshua Sturges said. "White captures all of the Black men in ten moves. I cannot see the way of it." And then, at once, he was gone. The lamps were lit and my host stood behind the bar, looking at me in a most strange manner.
"Are you all right, sir?" he asked. "I thought you were leaving but you've been standing, completely motionless by the door for the last several minutes."
"Oh ... I don't ... yes, I'm fine," I said. "Just a momentary lapse of memory."
My host looked at me as if I had suffered something far worse, but I didn't notice, for I was looking at the draughts board at the table in front of the bar.
"Quick, a sheet of paper and a pen!" I cried.
"But sir, it's late, and I wish to close up and seek my bed."
"Never mind your bed!" I shouted. "Paper and pen at once!"
My host, now looking more frightened than tired, complied.
As rapidly as I could, I took down the position on the draughts board.
"Thank you, and good night," I said, folding the paper and leaving the pen on the table. I departed at once, leaving my astonished host still staring with mouth agape.
My wife was of course abed when I arrived home. I lit a lamp in my study and set up the position I had written down. When morning came, she found me asleep in my chair.
I still have not resolved the situation, and I feel that until I do, I shall be condemned to fretful days and restless nights.
How long shall I be able to endure? I can only pray that I find the solution before my mind or my body is gone and I face the same eternal fate as the ghost of Joshua Sturges.
Can you help our story's narrator avoid a fate literally worse than death? Solve the problem and give rest to the souls of the checkerists in our little tale. Click on Read More to verify your solution.[Read More]
Today we at last present the final chapter in our ongoing story. It's a long installment, and if you're just interested in the checker problem you can page down to the bottom. But of course, we hope you'll want to see how the story turns out!
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Samantha asked. Even with the heater going full blast, it was chilly in the rental car. It was well past midnight and Andrew and Samantha were on their way back to Lindyville.
"I have an idea," Andrew replied, "that's all."
"And based on your brilliant, super-secret 'idea' we're driving on cold and lonely country roads at one in the morning, with a car full of burglary tools?"
"They're not burglary tools," Andrew said. "At least, not exactly."
"Well, now I feel better," Samantha said, and then turned silent, wrapping her arms around herself and staring out the passenger window, which by now was so fogged up nothing was visible.
They were approaching Lindyville. "Can you check the GPS for me?" Andrew said. "We need to find the exact location I wrote down."
Samantha grunted. But she did turn on Andrew's special scientific GPS and glanced at the coordinates Andrew had written on a sheet of hotel stationary. Samantha brushed away the remains of a small insect that was stuck to the paper. "Turn left at the dead bug," she said.
"What? Yeah, guess that paper was in the desk drawer for a while, huh?" Andrew attempted a grin. "C'mon, honey, help me track to those coordinates."
"Oh, well," Samantha said as Andrew turned into Lindyville's main street. "Hold on --- I think we're almost there. Let's see, 42 degrees 6 minutes 7 seconds north, and 94 degrees 32 minutes 52 seconds west, yes, coming right up!"
Andrew slowed the car to a stop. "It's right across the street, I think," he said. "The GPS is only accurate to 10 to 50 feet, but this just has to be it."
"There's nothing there but an old bank that looks like it's been out of business forever," Samantha said. Andrew had rolled down his window so they could both see out.
"Perfect," Andrew said. "This makes perfect sense."
"Maybe to you," Samantha said. "You still don't care to explain?"
"Come on, hurry. We've got to get those tools out of the trunk."
Samantha paused a minute. "Andrew, we're not going to do what I think we are --- are we?"
"Yes, dear, we are. We need to break into that bank."
"I just know we'll end up in jail," Samantha said. She was carrying the pickaxe and sledgehammer while Andrew was laden down with the rest of the tools. "I don't know why I'm doing this."
"Don't you want to solve the mystery?"
"Yes, but it isn't worth doing five to ten for breaking and entering."
They moved quickly. Andrew had pulled the car into an alley, out of sight from the main street. The alley lead around to the back of the bank.
"Aren't banks kind of hard to break into?" Samantha asked.
"They are, but this one has been closed for years, and there won't be any alarms or anything. Probably the locks are old and rusty. Or we can just break some glass windows or something."
"You're not very good at this sort of thing, are you?"
"No experience," Andrew simply replied.
They turned the corner out of the alley.
"That's funny," Andrew said.
"Just what about this is funny?" Samantha asked.
"Don't you see? There's a faint light coming from the basement.
Samantha peered toward the bottom of the building. There was a bit of a yellow glow coming through some cracks in the foundation.
"I wonder ... I bet .... look! The back door's open a crack!"
There was a heavy metal fire door at the back of the old bank, and it was open about two or three inches.
"Someone's down there," Andrew observed. "Probably still is. That can't be an electric light; the power to the building would be turned off, if it was even still working at all. We'd better be quiet and cautious."
"Maybe we'd better get out of here instead," Samantha said, but she knew Andrew wouldn't listen.
Andrew needed both hands to pull open the heavy door, and it made an ominously loud creak as it moved.
"Andrew, let's go!" Samantha said. But Andrew was already through the door, motioning for Samantha to follow.
Just inside the door there was an old stairwell leading to the basement. The stairs were wood and looked rotted. Andrew pointed to the steps, as if to say, be careful.
There was just enough light coming from the basement that Andrew decided not to use his flashlight and possibly alert whoever was down there. He took a couple of cautious steps. Samantha followed behind.
Suddenly there was a loud crunch and a yelp as Samantha's foot broke through one of the steps.
"Ssh," Andrew said, rather loudly.
"But I ... " Samantha began.
"Who's there?" came a voice from the bottom of the stairs. A flashlight beam caught Anthony and Samantha in its glare.
"Hold it right there!" the voice commanded. "I have a gun and I won't hesitate to use it!"
Samantha gasped. Neither she nor Andrew could see anything past the brightness of the flashlight, but they froze in place.
"Now come down here slowly. No quick moves."
Samantha and Andrew did as they were told.
"Into that room." There was a room at the bottom of the staircase, illuminated by an electric lantern. "Drop all your tools and step away."
The tools clattered to the floor. Andrew and Samantha backed up to the adjacent wall.
"It's ... you!" Samantha said, as the figure behind the voice stepped into the lantern light. "Miss Victor!"
It was indeed. The librarian, dressed in dirty coveralls, had a .45 automatic in her right hand and it was trained on the hapless couple.
"You!" Miss Victor replied in turn. "The troublemaker that stole my book! I should have known!"
Andrew started to edge forward, but Miss Victor was too alert. The gun turned in his direction. "Another inch and you're dead," she said through clenched teeth. "Maybe you're dead anyway. Both of you."
Andrew glanced toward the far wall. There was another pickaxe and a sledgehammer there, and a wide hole in the concrete floor.
"I was right," he muttered. "You're trying to find the gold bars, aren't you, Miss Victor?"
"How did you know about that?" Miss Victor couldn't hide her astonishment.
"Once I saw the checker book, it wasn't hard," Andrew said, trying to maintain a calm and even tone. He had to keep her talking, although he didn't really have any sort of escape plan.
"You see, I knew about the gold robbery way back when. The gold bars were never found, and they were very heavy. So they had to have been left somewhere. Then there was the murder later on ... and the pieces started to come together."
"Go on," Miss Victor said.
"You already know, of course," Andrew said. "Whoever left the gold probably buried it somewhere, and it had to be near here. He would have come back to get it later. It was surely a gang member who had killed his accomplices. That would explain all the bodies that the posse found. But then I realized another man from the gang might have gotten away, and come looking for the traitor later on.
"But in the meantime, Lindyville sprung up. It grew fast. And this bank was built. Right over where the gold was buried. Then the gang member returned, using the alias Cudworth, seeking the gold. He must have made a note of where he buried it, but it wouldn't be safe to leave such an incriminating note lying around. So he encoded the latitude and longitude into his little checker problem book, and he did it in a clever way. I'm surprised you know Gould's Problem Book, Miss Victor."
"I'm not stupid," Miss Victor said. "I'm a librarian, remember?"
"Yes. So you also realized that the problems in Cudworth's book weren't original. They were taken from Gould's. The problem numbers from Gould's spell out the latitude and longitude of where the gold is buried. Problem 42--- 42 degrees. Problem 6--- 6 minutes. And so on. Right under the bank. A nasty surprise for Cudworth. But before he could come up with a way to get at his loot, a surviving gang member must have found Cudworth and killed him, and then tore up the checker club office trying to find some indication of where Cudworth concealed the gold. The killer never realized that the location was encoded in Cudworth's innocent-looking checker problem book. But you worked it out, didn't you?"
"Yep," Miss Victor said. I worked it out a while ago. It's taken me that long to break through the foundation and dig down, a little every night so I wouldn't be caught. I had to dig around a lot but I finally found the gold bars. I was going to start taking them out tonight. But then you two showed up."
Miss Victor paused and breathed heavily. "Well, you ain't going to stop me. I'm going to kill you both and bury you right where the gold is. Then I'm outta here and off to South America. I'm done with this two-bit town and my two-bit librarian's pay. I'm gonna live it up real good."
"How come your English is so bad?" Samantha asked suddenly. "For a librarian, I mean. You sound like someone who didn't even finish high school. South America? Hah! I'll bet your Spanish is even worse."
"Watch your mouth, girl, or I'll finish you off first!" Miss Victor waved the gun around wildly. She was starting to sweat and looked nervous. Andrew sensed that this was his chance.
Making sure Samantha was shielded behind his body, Andrew charged at Miss Victor.
A shot rang out. There was a scream.
The gun dropped from Miss Victor's hand. A shocked spread across her face as she dropped to the floor.
"No one move!" It was a commanding male voice from the entrance to the room.
A large man in a sheriff's uniform was there, holding his smoking service revolver at the ready.
"I'm Sheriff Corman. Looks like I might have saved you two. But you're under arrest just the same. Unless you'd care to tell me what in blazes is going on here?"
Andrew and Samantha were in the little building that served as the Lindyville Sheriff's Office for the rest of the night, explaining everything over and over again. Finally Sheriff Corman said, "This is way too crazy for it to be a lie. And Miss Victor was holding a gun on you. Lucky I got there when I did."
"How did you know to go there?" Samantha asked. She rubbed her eyes. It had been a long, long day and night.
"One of the good citizens of Lindyville called me. They saw your rental car pull in by the old bank. They thought you were, you know, kind of suspicious. So I checked it out. I found the back door open and smelled trouble. Like I said, lucky for you. I think that old bat would have killed you both. Never did like her much. Always putting on airs just because she ran the library."
"How is she?" Samantha interrupted. "Miss Victor, I mean."
"Oh, she'll live," the Sheriff said. "Long enough to go to jail. I only shot her in the shoulder."
"Er ... what about us?" Anthony asked. He tried to make it sound innocent.
"I should lock you both up for breaking and entering," Corman said. "But I won't, if you promise to get out of town and not come back. We don't need outside agitators giving Lindyville a bad name."
Andrew didn't say anything about what the newspapers were going to make out of the story, unless the Sheriff found a way to keep it quiet. "Sure, Sheriff, if it's okay with you, we're out of here."
"Miss Victor already confessed. You won't have to testify or anything. Just as well. Now, skedaddle!"
Andrew and Samantha didn't need to be told twice.
They were at the Des Moines airport, waiting for the commuter flight to take them out of Iowa. "There's only one loose end," Andrew said idly.
"What's that?" Samantha asked. "Do I really want to know?"
"There were seven problems in Cudworth's book, not six. It only took six numbers to give the latitude and longitude of where he buried the gold. What was the seventh number, from the seventh problem?"
"I bet it was the number of gold bars he buried," Samantha said. "He'd want to make sure they were all there. What else would it be?"
Andrew smiled and put his arm around Samantha's shoulders. "Brilliant," he said, "brilliant. Problem 80--- 80 gold bars." He pulled her a little closer. "I really owe you, don't I?" he asked. "Not just for your help, but for putting your life in danger."
"You sure do owe me," Samantha said. "And I plan to collect." Samantha gestured with the ring finger of her left hand.
Andrew, surprisingly, wasn't surprised. "Anything you want, dear," he said. "Anything at all."
And now, here's the final problem in the series. You already know the secret, but please try it out instead of just looking it up. In any case, it's not very difficult.
We'll also leave you with this additional teaser. If the 80 gold bars that Miss Victor was trying to recover had been of standard gold bar size, what would they be worth today?
When you've struck gold, click on Read More to verify your solutions.[Read More]
Samantha was outside the library, waiting for Andrew to arrive. “Come, on, come on, before she realizes ...”
Thirteen long minutes passed before Andrew pulled up to the curb. Samantha tore open the passenger door and scrambled into the car.
"Go! Now! Quick!" she said as she swung the door shut behind her.
"What's going on ..."
"Go! Go! NOW!" Samantha said frantically.
Andrew pulled quickly away from the curb and drove down the street.
"Faster!" Samantha said, turning to look out the back window. "She'll be at the door any second now ... there she is! Turn the car, get it out of sight!"
Andrew made a quick right turn into the nearest side street and continued driving. Samantha let out a breath and turned back around to face forward again.
"Whew! That was close!" she said.
Andrew turned back on to the main street, driving in the direction of the highway back to Lake City. "Would you mind explaining?"
"It's complicated, but I think I found something. And we better leave town right away."
"We're on our way," Andrew said. "It's an hour back to Lake City. Plenty of time to explain, even if it's complicated."
# # #
On the drive back, Samantha told Andrew about Miss Victor's extreme unfriendliness, and about the book of checker problems Samantha had found on a shelf in the library.
"A copy, you say," Andrew said. "Not the original."
"Right, a photocopy."
"Then the original is somewhere else, or missing altogether. Maybe it's archived due to its age. Or maybe ..."
"Never mind. I need to have a look at it when we get back to the hotel. But I can't believe you stole it from the library!"
Samantha smiled and put her hand on Andrew's shoulder. "I'm just full of surprises," she said.
# # #
They were back in their Lake City hotel in the early afternoon. Both of them were hungry, and even though Andrew was itching to have a look at Samantha's "acquisition" she insisted that they eat lunch first.
"Chicken fried steak," Samantha said. "My stomach may never recover from this trip. When we get back to Albuquerque, I think I'm going to make you take me back to the Cattleman's Club."
Andrew groaned. "On a professor's salary?" he asked. "That's kind of a once a year thing."
"All right, then, I'll settle for Sadie's, but it will have to be twice."
Andrew nodded, his mind clearly elsewhere.
They were in their hotel room, and Samantha had just handed him "Cudworth's Checker Problems." Andrew was at the room's little table, minutely examining the photocopy.
"What should I do while you're, um, busy?" Samantha asked. She knew Andrew would probably spend hours with the stolen book.
"Umm ... go shopping or something," Andrew replied absently.
"Sure, since I've already toured the sausage factory, I might as well check out the couture at the Lake City General Store."
"Oh, there must be something," Andrew said.
"Right, well, I'll go find myself a nice hardware store or something. See you later." Samantha grabbed the rental car keys and was out the door.
Andrew didn't pay any attention.
# # #
Two hours passed, Andrew spending all of it looking at the slim book of checker problems. Something was familiar, but he couldn't place it. He went over and over the book, trying to make the connection, without success.
The book contained only seven problems, written out in an old-fashioned style with hand-drawn diagrams.
"These aren't original problems," Andrew muttered. "I know they're not, but ..."
Just then the door opened and Samantha came in, carrying a very large shopping bag.
"You won't believe what I found here," Samantha started to say, when all of a sudden Andrew looked up and shouted, "That's it!"
Samantha, taken aback, dropped her heavy bag. "What on earth do you mean?" she said. "I go to a quilt store and 'that's it'? What are you talking about?"
It finally registered in Andrew's mind that he had shouted his words at Samantha. "Oh, no, not you!" he said. "I mean I've got it!" He smiled, got up, and gave her a hug.
"What are you talking about?" she asked, hugging him back, rather tentatively.
"Well, I think I've got it," Andrew said. "I just have to check a couple of things on the internet. This hotel is supposed to have service, isn't it?"
"Don't you want to see our new quilt?" she asked. "I found ..."
"Yes, sure, honey, sure, right away, just as soon as ... now where did we put the laptop? We brought it with us, right?"
# # #
Samantha had folded, unfolded, and refolded her new quilt at least half a dozen times. Andrew hadn't even looked at it once.
"This internet connection is just too slow," Andrew said, probably for the tenth time. He had the stolen book opennext to the laptop and was scribbling notes on squares of paper from the little notepad he found on the hotel dresser.
About ten minutes later, he shouted, "That's it!"
"You said that before," Samantha said. "What's 'it' now?"
"I was right! I've got it!"
"You've got it? Well, I hope it's not catching. Now, can you please look at our new quilt?"
"Oh, yes, it's very nice, I love it," Andrew said. "But I knew there was something familiar about all this!"
"You've never been interested in quilts," Samantha said. "How could it be familiar?"
"No, the book! Cudworth's book! Don't you get it?"
"No. I don't. Tell me."
But Andrew was still talking. "We have to go back there."
"Lindyville, where else? But it will have to be a night. Tonight. Yes, we'll go tonight. Late. Very late."
"We can't. We have a flight back in the morning. We have to be at the airport by eight."
"Change it. We'll go back Monday. This is too important. Can you take care of it? We'll call in sick or something. We can crack this case if we just go back to Lindyville, I know we can!"
Samantha looked like she would rather crack Andrew's head than the case, but she knew how he was. "I'll take care of it," she said. "Then let's go for dinner. We can give Waffle House one last chance, I suppose."
# # #
All through dinner, Andrew kept a resolute silence about his conclusions, merely saying, "You'll see, you'll see," and then consulting his notes over and over again.
"I wish we had a printer," he said. "We'll have to make do with my sketches." He produced another couple of squares of paper with untidy scrawls all over them."
Andrew paid the check. "Come on, we need to buy a couple of flashlights and a few tools," he said. "There must be a hardware store that's still open."
"Oh, there is," Samantha said, "believe me, I've seen every store in this town."
Half an hour later, the rental car's trunk was loaded with flashlights, batteries, a crowbar, a pickaxe, a bolt cutter, a hammer, and some large screwdrivers.
"Planning a break-in or something?" the checkout clerk had asked. Andrew had just glared while Samantha stared open-mouthed.
"Let's get an hour or two of sleep," Andrew said. "We'll be on the road by eleven and get to Lindyville by midnight."
"What on earth are we up to?" Samantha asked.
"You'll see, you'll see," Andrew kept repeating, all the way back to the hotel.
The problem is of medium difficulty (or maybe not quite), but the solution is very appealing. See how you do and then click Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Saturday morning dawned sunny and cold. It was the kind of morning made for staying in bed late and snuggling under warm blankets.
But at about 8 AM Andrew was out of bed, nudging Samantha. "Come on, sleepyhead, there's a busy day ahead! I want to get to Lindyville when the library opens at ten!
Andrew figured Lindyville to be about an hour's drive, given the likely snow-packed condition of the two-lane road that lead there from Lake City.
"Look, I know you're tired out from yesterday's excitement ..."
He ducked the pillow that Samantha threw at him, but didn't see the second one coming, and it hit him square in the face.
"Excitement," Samantha muttered, throwing the covers aside and getting out of the bed. "Dusty basement records rooms and a drive through town highlighted by a tour of the Lake City Sausage Factory. Even your old checker magazines would top that."
"Glad to hear you're showing an interest," Andrew said, rubbing his face. "Waffle House for breakfast?"
"Like there's a choice?" Samantha went into the bathroom and closed the door.
They arrived at the Lindyville Library at about 11 o'clock. "Let me handle this," Samantha said. "You haven't done very well with Miss Victor so far, and she doesn't know me."
"Okay," Andrew said. "I want to see if I can find the site of the old checker club, so I'll just pick you up here in about an hour."
Samantha got out of the rental car and waved as Andrew drove off. Then she turned and faced the Library entrance.
The building was a lot larger than she had expected. Lindyville's population was under two hundred but this looked like a decent-sized library and it was in a rather new-looking building on a generously sized lot.
Samantha pulled open the glass door and entered. The interior was divided into three rooms, two of them quite large, all of them lined with bookshelves around the walls and tables and chairs in the middle.
To her left was what was obviously the checkout and reference desk. And Samantha had no trouble at all recognizing Miss Victor, who was favoring her with a cold glare.
"Haven't seen you here before," Miss Victor said. She was exactly what Samantha had expected: a rather large middle-aged woman with florid features and dark hair pulled back into an untidy bun. Her voice was low and rough. Definitely a smoker, as Andrew had pointed out.
"I'm not from around here," Samantha said.
"Don't have to tell me that," Miss Victor said.
"I ... I'm just visiting."
"Don't get many visitors in Lindyville. None of them come to the Library, either."
"Well, let me be the first!" Samantha said, affecting a bright tone.
It didn't work.
"Must be here for a reason," Miss Victor said. "You didn't just sort of end up here."
It's time to take this on, Samantha thought. She walked over to the desk and faced Miss Victor.
"Yes, I'm here for a reason," Samantha said. "I came here with Professor Lopez from the University of New Mexico."
Miss Victor's eyes flicked. "Him," she said. "He doesn't listen very well."
"That's as may be, Miss Victor," Samantha said. "But we're doing research, and I would think that as the town's librarian, you'd want to be helpful. Now, surely you know something about the old Lindyville Checker Club. What can you tell me?"
"Nothing. Can't tell you nothing ... er, anything."
"Surely you've heard of it? Surely you know about the murder?"
"That's an old, old story, long done and gone. What are you, one of them ... er... those ... big city troublemakers, trying to make our town look bad? People don't care for that, you know. Outsiders stirring things up, I mean."
There was an awkward silence. "Well, if you can't help me," Samantha finally said, "do you at least have a reference section? You know, someplace where I can do a little research?"
"Library's full of books," Miss Victor said.
"I meant, you know, the history of Lindyville ..."
"Look around. You're bound to find something. Now if you'll excuse me I have work to do." Miss Victor looked down and started turning the pages of a copy of Vogue.
"I thought your job was ... never mind." Samantha walked off toward the bookshelves.
History is bound to be here somewhere, Samantha thought. I wonder what call number is for local history? No use asking the librarian, that's for sure.
Samantha somehow found herself looking at 790s bookcase. 794.1, books on chess ... 794.2 ... checkers! Maybe there would be something here. Let's see ... Lee's Guide ... Churchill's Compilation ... Checker Magic. The books all looked pretty old and worn, and nothing about a Lindyville Checker Club.
She absently pulled a book from the shelf and leafed through the pages. She replaced it and pulled out another. As she did so, a tattered photocopy fell to the floor. Samantha bent down and picked it up.
It was just a handful of pages stapled together. The title was typewritten. Cudworth's Problem Book, by Bill Cudworth. There was a typewritten note on the cover as well. "Replacement of Lost Original from Lindyville Checker Club".
Had Samantha hit the jackpot? That librarian had to have known about this. Why didn't she say anything? Samantha was starting to get suspicious.
She stole a glance at the checkout desk. Miss Victor was deep in her "work." With a quick motion, Samantha folded the photocopy in half and stuffed it into her purse. Then she replaced the book she had pulled out, and strode nonchalantly toward the exit, keeping her purse on the side of her body away from Miss Victor.
"I'll be leaving now," she said brightly. "Thank you for all your help."
Miss Victor looked up briefly. "Don't like troublemakers," she said to Samantha's back.
About fifteen minutes passed, when, all of a sudden, an expression of horror came over Miss Victor's face. Moving very quickly for someone of her girth, she got out of her chair and sped across the room to the third aisle from the end, reaching the 794.2 section in seconds. She pulled a book from the shelf and flipped through the pages.
"It's gone!" she exclaimed. "How could I forget about the copy!" She ran toward the exit. "That little thief ..."
The bright sunlight struck her eyes as she pushed the door open and looked up and down the road, but Samantha was nowhere to be seen.
See if you can win it, then click on Read More to see the solutions.[Read More]
Marvin J. Mavin had been on the injured list for almost two weeks, sitting out something like ten matches.
It had all started in Boston. Marvin's team, the National Checker League champion Detroit Doublejumpers, was visiting Beantown to play a three-match series against the Boston Bristols. Marvin complained that he had a sore elbow, and the Doublejumper's trainer, Gus "Gassy" Gustafson, recommended that Coach Harry Butterfield sideline Marvin until his elbow healed.
"The boy been practicin' too much," Gassy commented. "Done hurt his elbow liftin' them checkers an' he needs ta' lay off 'em fer a spell."
But there was another version of the story making the rounds. Marvin had been seen in Boston's famous Durbin Park Pub, showing his prowess by drinking straight out of one of the pub's massively heavy stone beer crocks. A photo in the local paper, the Boston Probe, showed Marvin at one of the pub's tables, holding his elbow and wincing with pain.
But tonight, though, the Doublejumpers were in Portland at the Portland Playpen Arena, and Marvin had been given the all-clear. He'd be back at the Doublejumpers first board position, where he'd face ace player D. Rock Noodle of the Portland Pitchers.
D. Rock, a brash but highly talented youngster, stepped up to the board and shook hands with Marvin.
"Hey, take it easy, that's my bad arm," Marvin complained.
D. Rock grinned. "Heard all about that one, Marv," he said. "Too much practice or too many brewskies? What's the real story, old timer?" Noodle held his grin, taunting Marvin.
Marvin, turning red, was on the verge of replying when Referee Jack "Acky" Ackerman blew his whistle, signaling the start of the match.
The players made several moves each and the game started to get complicated. It was now Marvin's turn and he was taking quite a bit of time to work out his move. Finally, he decided on a line of play and made his move.
D. Rock looked at the board, looked at Marvin, and looked again at the board, plainly puzzled.
"Oops," Marvin said. He realized at once that he'd blundered. Noodle was grinning again, and Marvin knew he'd have to think fast.
"Ow!" Marvin yelped. "My elbow!" With a swift theatrical move, Marvin dropped to the floor and rolled, holding his left elbow with his right hand. "My elbow! It's gone out again!" He continued rolling around the floor, groaning and grimacing all the while. A murmur rose from the huge crowd.
Trainer Gustafson and Coach Butterfield rushed out onto the playing floor. Gustafson dropped to one knee, bending over Marvin. He softly whispered, "Marvin .. you be holdin' the wrong elbow."
Marvin quickly switched his grip, covering his motion with another loud yelp, hoping no one would notice.
Referee Ackerman made his way over.
Coach Butterfield took a look at the board and realized at once what was going on. "Marvin must be allowed to take back his last move," the Coach said to Ackerman. "Obviously his elbow spasmed and he dropped his checker on the wrong square."
Referee Ackerman was well known for being impartial and fair. He was also no one's fool. "The move stands, Coach," the referee said in a very quiet voice. "Rule 5-c-1. If I were you, I wouldn't push things."
Coach Butterfield quickly decided it would be best to drop the issue.
"What's your decision, Coach?" Ackerman asked. "You can put in a substitute if you want. Or if your player isn't injured too severely, he can stay in."
The Coach glanced again at the board and realized the position was so bad that a substitute player could never save the game.
"Despite his injuries, Marvin will play on," the Coach declared. The crowd, some of whom had figured things out and some of whom hadn't, reacted with a mix of cheers and boos.
Meanwhile, Trainer Gustafson had rigged up a sling for Marvin's arm. Marvin, playing it for all it was worth, rose painfully from the floor with the help of both Gustafson and Butterfield. Marvin slumped into his chair and stared at the board, awaiting D. Rock's move.
"You oughta be an actor," D. Rock said, "because you sure can't play checkers worth a hoot."
D. Rock made his move and now Marvin faced the following position. Marvin knew that he would have to make every play with precision. There could be no more blunders.
The draw isn't easy to find. If you were substituting for Marvin, could you save the game? Match wits with D. Rock Noodle and when you've come up with your answer, click on Read More for the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
"You're serious," Samantha said. She didn't even try to hide her exasperation. "You're really serious."
Andrew nodded his head. "Well, yes ... that's what I've just been talking about, why wouldn't I mean it?"
"You want to go to Iowa over the Thanksgiving break. Not just Iowa, but that dinky little town you were talking about."
"Well, neither of us have family in Albuquerque. My family's in Houston and yours is in Baltimore ... it's not like we were doing anything else."
"If I'd be willing to go to Iowa, why wouldn't I just keep on going to the east coast? And for that matter, why wouldn't you just go to Houston? What on earth would be do, by ourselves, in Iowa? Have a couple of ears of corn for Thanksgiving dinner? With maybe a little roast pork on the side?"
"I'm sure there's somewhere in Lake City we can get a nice dinner."
"Really. Lake City, Iowa, population ... what ... seventeen? Or eighteen if Billy Bob comes home from Farmer's College?"
"Don't you want to solve the murder?"
Andrew tossed it off as casually as he could, trying to hide his grin. He knew that any mention of a mystery would get Samantha's attention. After all, she read all those Tony Hillerman novels and got into Faye Kellerman, too.
"Murder?" Samantha, in turn, tried not to look interested, but Andrew knew already that he had won. "What murder?" Samantha sounded a little breathless and was a little angry with herself for doing so.
Andrew told her about the murder at the Lindyville Checker Club well over a hundred years ago. Then he told her about the Lindyville librarian's equivocation. By the time he was done, Samantha was on the edge of her chair, bombarding him with questions.
"We need to go to that library," Samantha said. "I need to go to that library. I'll get that woman to level with me."
Andrew was pretty sure that if anyone could, it was Samantha. "I checked," he said, "the Lindyville Library is open the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We can spend Friday in Lake City and go to the newpaper office--- the Clarion. There might be more there than I could find online."
"If we flew out Wednesday night ...." Samantha was already on her cell phone, checking flights. She was silent for about five minutes. "There! I've booked our flights. All we need now is a hotel in Lake City. There's probably no hotel in Lindyville."
Andrew smiled. Samantha could move quickly when she wanted to. "Great," he said. "Pick out any hotel you like and put it on my card."
"Oh, don't worry, I will," Samantha said. "You've already paid for the flights so you might as well pick up the hotel, too."
Andrew didn't dare complain.
# # #
It turned out that Lake City, Iowa, wasn't all that easy to get to. Samantha and Andrew decided to stay in Albuquerque for an early Thanksgiving dinner together and fly out on Thursday afternoon instead of braving the Wednesday before Thanksgiving travel mobs.
So after a quiet noon dinner at Samantha's apartment, they took a taxi to Albuquerque Airport and flew on a commuter airline to Des Moines, Iowa, where they rented a car and made the 100 mile drive to Lake City.
"This is turning out to be quite the expedition," Samantha said. "And you know I don't like those little 16-seat airplanes."
Andrew wisely refrained from pointing out that it was Samantha who made all the travel arrangements.
He turned the car off the road into the parking lot of the Lake City Inn. The headlights of the car illuminated large piles of snow in the corners of the lot as the tires crunched on the rutted layer of ice on the lot's concrete surface. Andrew wondered how cold it was just beyond the warmth of the car's interior.
"Bundle up," he said, "we're here."
It was near midnight. The Lake City Inn brooded darkly in front of them, with just a few dim lights in the windows and a flickering neon sign over the entrance that read, "L k " C ty nn."
"Guess they don't care for vowels much," Andrew quipped as Samantha got out of the car. The wind gusted and she covered her ears with gloved hands. Andrew quickly got their luggage from the trunk and the two of them hurried to the hotel's entryway.
"This is the best you could do?" Samantha asked. Her face was flushed from the cold and she didn't look exactly happy.
"It's a small town," Andrew said. "There's not a lot to choose from."
They finally roused a sleepy-looking clerk, who got them checked in without saying more than about a dozen words. "Room 201, upstairs," he said, jerking a thumb at a nearby staircase before disappearing through a curtain that no doubt led to his recently vacated cot.
Andrew and Samantha looked at each other and simultaneously shrugged their shoulders.
"Welcome to Iowa at $49 a night," Andrew said.
"Plus tax," Samantha added.
# # #
It was clear and cold the next morning. Samantha and Andrew found a Waffle House to get some breakfast, and just after 8 AM, they were at the counter of the Lake City Clarion, asking for access to their archives. "We're interested in edtions prior to 1900," Andrew explained.
"Don't have much call for that," the clerk said. He was a thin, short man with stubbly white whiskers and a cap with a green visor. Samathana could hardly believe her eyes.
"All on that new-fangled microfilm," the man was saying. "Papers got too old and they sent 'em all off to some fancy college with a room full 'o cameras."
"You mean they aren't computerized?" Andrew asked.
"No, they ain't computerized or homogenized or pasteurized or nothin'," the clerk said. "Microfilm, that's what. Downstairs in the basement, second door on the left." He looked over at Samantha. "Watch fer the spiders, missy. Don't let none of 'em get in yer hair."
"Come on, Andrew," Samantha said, pulling on his arm.
# # #
They spent several hours in the musty, crowded basement room. Samantha kept brushing at her hair. "Power of suggestion," Andrew said. Samantha was not amused.
"I'm getting hungry," Samantha said. "Can we stop for lunch?"
"After that scrapple omelet at the Waffle House?" Andrew asked. "You mean you're ready for a burger and fries?"
"That's not even funny."
They had found the articles that Andrew had previously seen on-line. But the on-line records stopped at about 1895. Andrew had wanted to look back further, but going through microfilm was tedious work. He was at about mid-1890. "Just a little longer, okay?" he said. Samantha groaned.
Andrew suddenly sat upright in his old wooden office chair.
"What is it? Did Auntie Mae get a blister at the annual quilting bee and have to get her head amputated?"
"Look at this ..."
STAGECOACH ROBBED; GUARDS KILLED; ROBBERS FOUND DEAD
Several May Have Escaped On Lake City Train
Yesterday a stagecoach carrying a secret shipment of gold was robbed just outside of Iowa City. All of the guards were murdered and all the gold is missing. A posse pursuing the evil-doers found several of them shot dead about 20 miles west CK of Lake City. The Federal Marshall thinks that one or more of the robbers killed the others so they could keep all the gold for themselves. The Marshall thinks they may have fled on a train passing through Lake City. But the Marshall wondered how they could have gotten so much gold onto the train without being seen.
"That's interesting," Samantha said after reading the story, "but what's it got to do with Lindyville?"
"Lindyville is 20 miles west of Lake City!" Andrew said. "The robbers killed each other, or whatever happened, right in Lindyville! Or actually, where Lindyville is now, because it mostly hadn't been built at the time of the robbery and murders."
"Okay ... "
"And all that gold ... the Marshall was right, it would have been pretty hard to get it all on a train unseen. Gold bars are really heavy, and there were a lot of them."
"So what are you thinking?"
"I'm not exactly sure," Andrew said. He quickly scribbled a few notes in a notepad. "But I think there's a lot more to this, and I think the answers are in Lindyville. Let's go there first thing in the morning. We can take the afternoon to explore Lake City. After lunch, of course."
"Explore Lake City? Sure, why not, it beats watching the snow melt, though not by a whole lot. Let's go, I can hardly wait."
TO BE CONTINUED
We follow this installment with a checker problem that is not as easy as it looks.
White is down a piece. How can he pull off a draw? It's not so easy. Think it over, then click on Read More to see the very pleasing solution.[Read More]
Andrew and Samantha had a nice dinner at The Rancher's Club and went to a late movie afterwards. They ended up back at Andrew's apartment, where to his own great surprise, Andrew forgot all about his new checker magazine collection.
Until morning, at least.
Samantha made them a nice breakfast of huevos rancheros with extra refritos on the side. It was already about noon and the two of them decided to just stay in for the afternoon. Samantha settled down on the living room sofa with a Tony Hillerman novel, and Andrew finally had a chance to look through his newly-acquired issues of American Checker Player magazine.
"Well, isn't that interesting," Andrew said. He was in his recliner, leafing through the magazines. "A checker club in Lindyville, Iowa, of all places."
Samantha was deep into her novel, and all she said was, "Uhmm."
"I'll bet Lindyville was just a little farm or railroad town back in 1898, but they started up a checker club. Wonder how they kept it going?"
Samantha finally looked up. "What's so unusual? Weren't there a lot of checker clubs?" She tried as hard as she could to look interested but didn't quite manage it.
"Yes, but you'd think a place like Lindyville just couldn't have been big enough to support a checker club. Just amazing."
Samantha looked anything but amazed, but she was used to Andrew's peculiarities. It was all fine with her; he was a really nice guy and he treated her well, and even if he did cancel a date once in a while, he always made up for it.
The two of them continued to read. After about fifteen more minutes, Andrew said, "I'm going to call."
"Call? Are you thinking about pizza too?"
Andrew looked confused. "Oh ... you mean for dinner. No, I mean call Lindyville. Tomorrow. There's bound to be a historian or a librarian that can tell me more about this."
"Oh. Silly me. And here I was thinking about, you know, dinner," Samantha said, sounding ever so slightly annoyed.
"Pizza, you said? Sure. Why don't you call them? I want to make a few notes while we're waiting, and maybe look up a few things on the Internet."
Samantha sighed and picked up her cell phone.
Andrew had a couple of classes to teach on Monday morning, but as soon as they were over, he hurried back to his office and got on the Internet to do research about Lindyville.
There wasn't a lot to be found; there was a brief history of Calhoun County, Iowa, and the barest of demographic information about Lindyville. The town had been just about at its peak with something over 500 residents at the time the Checker Club was founded, but with the coming of the Great Depression 30 years later, there had been a steady decline. Today, the population stood at 150, and new folks weren't moving in.
So Andrew was surprised to find that indeed there was an active library in the town, with a full-time librarian. He picked up the phone and called the number shown on his computer screen.
"Lindyville Public Library, Miss Victor speaking."
The voice was hoarse. Andrew's mind conjured up a vision of an overweight, 50-ish smoker, or an ex-smoker for sure.
"Good morning, Miss Victor," Andrew said, trying to make his tone as pleasant as possible. "This is Professor Andrew Lopez, in the Mathematics Department of the University of New Mexico. I'm hoping you can help me this morning."
"Oh. Well, maybe you're a Professor and all, but I can only help you if you tell me what you want."
Rather brusque, Andrew thought. But he persisted. "I'm interested in the history of Lindyville, particularly, the Lindyville Checker Club."
There was a long pause. It was hardly what Andrew expected. Finally, after 30 seconds or so, Andrew said, "Uh ... Miss Victor, are you there?"
"There's no checker club in Lindyville." The reply was flat and toneless.
"Oh, but there was," Andrew said. "I read in an old edition of the American Checker Player magazine that there was a club that started up in 1898 ..."
"That's as may be," Miss Victor interrupted, "but there isn't one now. Sorry."
"Well, can you tell me something about the history ..."
Andrew again didn't get to finish his sentence. "Can't help you. Bye." There was a click on the line as Miss Victor disconnected.
"Strange," Andrew mused. "It's almost as if she just plain didn't want to talk about it. Now why would that be?"
Andrew wasn't one to give up easily. He had another class to teach, but as soon as that one was done he decided to skip lunch and do more research. But first, he thought, he had better call Samantha. She'd be on her lunch break at the office of the charity where she worked, and she'd be expecting him to call.
"Hey, you'll never guess what happened this morning," he began as soon as she answered.
"Let me guess," Samantha said, "You've found another new checker magazine and you can't wait to show it to me because you just know how much that sort of thing thrills a girl."
"Even better!" Andrew said, completely missing the sarcasm. "I called the Lindyville library and you'll never guess what I found out!"
Samantha sighed. "Okay, tell me. I'm sure it's great."
"That's just it! I didn't find out anything!"
"And that's news?"
"Yes, of course it is!"
"Andrew, maybe I should just get back to work ..."
"No ... no ... the librarian said she didn't know anything and said she couldn't help me!"
"Oh. Gee. How about that."
"Don't you see? That never happens! When was the last time you asked a librarian a question and they told you they couldn't --- wouldn't--- help find the answer?"
Samantha felt a little curiosity growing, despite everything. "Well, you're right, that is sort of odd, isn't it? Librarians usually go out of their way to be helpful."
"See! You do get it! I'm so glad! So I've got to go, I need to learn more about this. Love you. Bye!"
As Andrew hung up, Samantha sighed again. "Oh, Andrew!" she said aloud. "I love you too, but sometimes I wonder why."
It took a lot of looking around, but eventually Andrew came across the online archives of the Lake City Clarion. Lake City was Lindyville's nearest sizable community, and the Clarion was a weekly newspaper that had been published for almost as long as Lake City had existed. Perhaps if he looked back far enough, he could find out something about the Lindyville Checker Club. Surely the Clarion would cover Lindyville news.
After some little while, Andrew came upon a very brief article that mentioned the founding of the Checker Club by one William Cudworth. Well, at least there's a name, Andrew thought. Cudworth hadn't been mentioned in American Checker Player.
That gave Andrew more to go on. He searched backward in time by name, finding only a brief mention on a business page about William Cudworth taking over ownership of old Tom Forsch's hardware supply store. But searching forward in time, by both Cudworth's name and for any mention of the checker club, Andrew hit the jackpot. He whistled softly. "Well, I'll be," was all he said.
MURDER AT LINDYVILLE GRAIN AND FEED STORE!
Last night murder came to Lindyville, as William Cudworth, founder of the Lindyville Checker Club, was stabbed to death in an upstairs office of Lindyville Grain and Feed. Sheriff Conway of Lindyville told our local reporter ...
The story went on to describe the condition of the body in lurid detail and speculated wildly on the cause and perpetrator of the murder.
There were a few followup stories, the last one being about a month later, mentioning that Johnny Uggerud, owner of Lindyville Grain and Feed, had closed down the Checker Club, saying it had brought him bad luck and had been bad for business.
Andrew kept searching, but there was nothing more to be found.
At around four in the afternoon, he picked up his phone and again called the Lindyville Public Library. Miss Victor answered right away.
"Miss Victor, this is Professor Andrew Lopez again ..."
"I told you I couldn't help you, and I'm getting ready to close, so if you don't mind ..."
"Miss Victor, what do you know about the murder in the Lindyville Grain and Feed Shop in 1900?" Andrew got the words out all in a rush, knowing that Miss Victor was on the verge of hanging up.
He heard what sounded almost like a gasp. "How did you ...." There was a pause. "Nothing. Never heard of it. I don't know anything about Cudworth's murder, and like I said, I'm closing, so goodbye." The line went silent.
"Really," Andrew said to himself. "You don't know anything about the murder, but you know who was murdered. Miss Victor, what's your game?"
I've got to discuss this with Samantha, he thought. She'll really be interested now.
The problem that goes with this episode is at the beginner level.
The problem isn't at all murderous; when you've solved it, stab the Read More button to check your solution.[Read More]
For the beginning of the story, go back and read Part One.
The Lindyville Checker Club was only open on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons, so he thought he would be safe.
It was 11 PM, Thursday evening, on a cold winter's night, the wind sweeping across the Iowa plains with little to stop it. Hardly any one would be out. But William made sure he was in an interior room, with just one weak candle casting a dim, yellowish light. Just to be sure, though, he had pulled all the curtains tightly shut in the outer room.
The Checker Club had space on the upper story of the grain and feed store, a few old wooden tables and worn chairs scattered about a large room lined with sacks and boxes of farm supplies. Old Johnny Uggerud, the owner, was a checker player and let the Club use the space for free during the winter season, when he didn't need so much inventory. During his busy season, the Club had to close because Johnny needed all the space, but no one wanted to play checkers in the summer anyways.
William was the one who had organized the Club, a couple of years back, in 1898. There were about a dozen members, give or take; Lindyville was just a little town of about 500 people, but William took pride in having been able to start a club and keep it going. It had even gotten a mention in the American Checker Player magazine.
William shivered. Johnny turned off the iron stove downstairs promptly at five, when he closed up his shop, and there was no stove upstairs, so it got very cold very quickly. But William didn't plan on being here long.
Everyone knew that William was putting together a book of checker problems. But what he had to do tonight had to be done quickly and alone, without anyone knowing, unless it came to the worst. He had a plan for that, and tonight's secret labors were part of it.
William had come to town maybe five years ago, straight from the East. He never said a whole lot about what he had done in back there, but it must have made him some money, because one day he just got off the train and took a room in the hotel.
He spent about a month scouting around the town, talking to just a few people, and not answering any questions, not even from Sheriff Conway. The Sheriff wondered about William but didn't have any reason to do much more than that. It wasn't often that someone of independent means came to Lindyville with nothing particular in mind.
But at some point William must have chosen to put down stakes, because when Tim Forsch decided to retire and sell out his general store, William bought him out; he gave Tim his asking price without the slightest amount of bargaining. Tim thought it was kind of odd but took the money without asking any questions, and moved away to Iowa City to stay with his daughter and her family.
After that William started to get a little more friendly with the townsfolk, who had now become his customers. It turned out he shared an interest in checkers with some of the others, and so the Lindyville Checker Club came to be.
It was something like two weeks ago that William got the letter. He'd never forget a word of it.
"I know who you are and I know why you're there. You've got something that's mine and I'm coming to take it, and I'm going to take care of you, too."
The letter was postmarked Denver and was unsigned. It didn't have to be. William knew who it was from.
He wrapped himself tightly in his overcoat and sat at the desk in the little room, his manuscript and an old map in front of him. He'd have to finish tonight. He was running on borrowed time and he knew it.
At about 3 AM, he was done. He put the map in a trash can and lit a match, touching the flame to the edges of the map. It caught fire at once, crumbling quickly into brown and gray ash. William used the end of an umbrella to separate the ashes and put out the last sparks.
It was then that he heard a noise in the outer room. It sounded like a creaking floorboard. He had an ominous premonition about what that meant. He tugged on the bottom drawer of his desk, the drawer where he kept his loaded Smith & Wesson.
But the door to the room burst open and before he could reach his gun, and something hit him in the back of the head. He fell to the floor, still conscious, but reeling, blackness and light mixing together, spinning giddily. He looked up and saw a figure standing over him.
"You," he said. "How did you find me?"
The figure replied. "Took a while. But you owe me, and I owe you."
A knife descended, penetrating William's chest. The first thrust was fatal, and the killer knew it. He didn't even bother removing the knife.
# # #
Johnny found the body the next afternoon. He didn't go upstairs all that often; when he needed something brought down he sent his young assistant, Chris, who, being one to do as little as he could get away with, made the trip up and down as fast as possible. In any case, the door to the little office was closed and Chris had no reason to go in there.
But around three in the afternoon Johnny needed to look up an old order for a customer who wanted a duplicate. When Johnny opened the office door, he was so shocked that he nearly doubled the body count, coming within a hair's width of having a heart attack.
When he finally recovered enough to talk, he called for Chris, who took his time responding. Johnny sent him out to get Sheriff Conway and Doc Wilson, but from the looks of things the only one that the Doc was going to be able to help was Johnny.
Chris, for once, took something seriously. The Sheriff was out of town but was expected back in a couple of hours. The Doc came right away; he made Johnny lie down in the back room on the first floor, pronounced William dead, told everyone not to touch anything until the Sheriff arrived, and then took off to the tavern for a much-needed drink.
# # #
It was around six in the evening. Sheriff Conway went straight to Johnny's shop when he heard the news. The Sheriff made Johnny come back to the shop, even though it was past five. Doc had to come back, too, and the undertaker was told to come in a couple of hours. Johnny complained about not wanting to be in his shop after hours, conveniently ignoring the fact that there was a dead body in the upstairs office. The only one that didn't seem to mind was Chris, who was naively expecting to get paid overtime.
"Tell me again, Johnny," the Sheriff said. He had already taken a look at the crime scene and hadn't found anything useful. Now, they were all sitting around downstairs waiting for the undertaker to arrive.
"I told you already, Sheriff," Johnny said. "I opened the door and there he was."
"William had a key to the shop?"
"Sure he did," Johnny said. "He'd open up for the Checker Club and lock up when they were done."
"But the club didn't meet last night,"
"No, like I said, that's Wednesdays and last night was Thursday."
"Yet, obviously William was here. Do you have any idea why?"
"How would I know? Maybe he was doing some paperwork for the club or fooling with the book of his, you know, the one he's writing with all them checker problems in it."
"Well, whoever stabbed William tore the place apart, obviously looking for something. There's such a mess I can't figure nothing out," the Sheriff said. "You don't suppose you could look around and figure out if anything's missing?"
Johnny was upset enough about having to clean up. He wasn't going to take inventory, too. "Doubt it, Sheriff," Johnny said. "There's years worth of stuff up there. I'd never figure it out and besides, I don't hardly know nothing about William's checker club stuff. Don't hardly know nothing about William, either. Nobody really does."
The Sheriff's suspicions about William hadn't gone away over the years, but he never had anything definite to go on. Neither did he have anything to go on to try to solve the murder. The weapon was an ordinary hunting knife. Dozens of people in town probably had one just like it. There were no witness and no one had seen anything.
Later on the town drunk told the Sheriff about seeing a man on a horse ride into town and then ride back out a couple of hours later, but old Willie wasn't the most reliable witness and his descriptions were too vague to be of any use.
The case went cold, and it was to stay that way for more than a hundred years. By the time Sheriff Conway retired and moved to Lake City, even he had forgotten most of the details.
Old Johnny did try to straighten out the upstairs office, but it was such a mess he just threw everything into some wooden boxes and piled them in a corner. Years later, Johnny's heirs would move them into a warehouse, where they would lay untouched by anything but mice for many years to come.
TO BE CONTINUED.
# # #
This month's problem is a classic position, and rather easy.
When you've solved it, gallop on over to Read More to check your solution.[Read More]
Today, at long last, we begin another seven-part serialized story, The Lindyville Checker Club. We'll give a little more background into the story at its conclusion, but for now we'd just like to begin telling the tale.
A checker problem will be found at the end of each installment. The problems in this series are generally easy.
We hope you enjoy our latest contribution to the literature of checker fiction.
# # #
The law was in pursuit, and they couldn't be more than a couple of hours behind. The posse would be at least twenty strong and they would have easy access to fresh horses. For Carl and his three companions, time would soon run out.
"We're going to have to split up," Carl told them. "If we stay together, they'll get all of us. If we go our separate ways, we'll have better chances."
The other men shifted in their saddles and grumbled. But they knew Carl was right. Their horses were tired and they couldn't push them any harder.
They thought it was going to be easy. After weeks of observation, they worked out when the gold deliveries to the Iowa City bank were made. Ambushing the wagon outside of town would be simple; in order to disguise the shipments, the wagons were only lightly guarded.
Everything went according to plan right up until the last minute, when the Federal Marshall decided to ride out and escort the wagon into town. Maybe someone tipped him off or something made him suspicious. But he showed up just as Carl's gang were taking the sacks of gold off the wagon.
The Marshall saw the dead bodies of the wagon driver and the single guard riding with him, and knew better than to take on the gang alone. Realizing that the gold would slow down the gang and tire their horses, the Marshall went back to town and assembled a posse, figuring to catch up with the gang before too long.
"The gold's too heavy for the horses," Carl said. "We gotta unload it and bury it. It's slowing us up too much. When this all blows over, we can come back to get it."
"That means we gotta trust each other," one of the men said. "I don't like it."
"I don't like it neither," Carl said.
"So what's the idea then?" another asked.
"I'll show you," Carl said, grinning. Before the others could react, he had his Colt out of his holster and shot two of them through the head.
The third man, Grigg, was just fast enough. Rather than drawing his gun and trying to shoot it out, he wheeled his horse and took off. Carl fired a couple of shots but Grigg was already too far away.
There was no time to chase him down. Grigg would have to be dealt with in the future. But for now, there was work to do.
Carl dismounted and took the sacks of gold from the dead men's horses. He put them on his own horse, mounted, and took off.
Carl rode a few more miles. He still figured he had an hour's lead. Then he took his horse off the trail and rode off into the brush. It didn't take him long to stop and bury the gold, making a careful note on his map so he could find it later. Much later, from the looks of it.
He got back on the trail and rode on. Luck was with him; he reached Lake City ahead of the posse. He abandoned his horse and walked into town. He got even luckier when he got to the train station and found that a train going back East was due to leave in just ten minutes. He bought a ticket with one of the gold coins he had secreted in his boots and got on board.
As the train was pulling out, he saw a group of riders coming down the main street. It was the posse. He smiled and chuckled to himself. A change of train or two and they'd never find him. He'd be home free. All he had to do was lay low for a year or two in New York, and then make his way back out west. No one would find the gold where he'd buried it, and it would be waiting for him when the time came.
Grigg might be a problem, but Grigg would never find the gold, and would never find him, either.
Things were going to work out really well. Carl would just have to be a little patient.
# # #
Andrew Lopez, professor of mathematics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, couldn't wait to be done with his last lecture of the day. Bernalillo Books, his favorite antiquarian bookstore, had left him a message saying that they had just gotten an 1898 edition of American Checker Player, and they'd hold it for him for 24 hours.
It was quite a find, and Professor Lopez didn't want to pass it up. All he wanted to do was wrap up this Abstract Algebra seminar and race down Central Avenue to the bookstore.
He thought about asking the students if they'd like to quit early, but the fact was that anyone dedicated enough to enroll in Abstract Algebra was there for the duration.
Half an hour to go. He felt like he was about to burst at the seams, but somehow, he held on. Who wanted to bother with finite Abelian groups when a copy of American Checker Player hung in the balance?
Apparently, his students did.
The bell finally rang, ending the class period. A couple of students started toward the front of the room, obviously with time-consuming questions on their minds, but Professor Lopez waved them off as he quickly gathered up his papers and briefcase. "Come during office hours!" he said, making a beeline for the exit.
He made record time through the parking lot, pulled out of the driveway, turned onto Central Avenue, and drove off at a speed that astonished even him.
Luckily, he wasn't ticketed, and he got to the bookstore just before their 5 PM closing time.
It was all worth it. A few minutes later, he was on his way back to his car, carrying nothing less than a full set of the 1898 issues of American Checker Player.
A pleasant evening was definitely ahead, and he smiled in anticipation.
But then he remembered: He had promised to take his girlfriend, Samantha, to dinner. He had cancelled a couple of times already, and the second time, it was clear that she was losing patience.
If he cancelled again so he could stay home and read his checker magazines, he knew he might not get another chance.
Samantha was nice, and he truly cared for her. It was just that he hated having to choose between his girlfriend and checkers.
TO BE CONTINUED.
# # #
Yes, the problems in the series are definitely related to the story, but we won't spoil things for you at this early stage.
Click on Read More to see the solution, and be sure to stay tuned for future chapters in our story.[Read More]