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.
It was a good thing that Mortimer also had classes the next morning, and even better that Mortimer wouldn't skip class no matter what. Otherwise, he probably would have lain in bed all morning with the memory of Sheila's hug. It was just a casual thing, but still, it had set Mortimer on fire and he remained in a dazzled, dreamy state all through the morning. It must be said that even though he did make it to all of his classes, he was somewhat less attentive than usual. One of his professors even remarked on it, saying in so many words that it looked like he was in love or something. It embarrassed Mortimer no end and turned his face beet red.
But classes ended, and just as he did on the previous day, Mortimer rushed to the bus and braved the weirdos with as much patience as he could muster. That was precious little, but it at least could be said that he tried.
He ran up Perry Street as quickly as he could and into his little rented house. It was about 12:30 and sure enough, there was an email from Sheila. He read it eagerly.
"Here are the pictures you wanted of the checkerboards from the second and third murders. I set up a meeting with Special Agent Purdy for four o'clock this afternoon. Just go to the FBI office and ask for him. You'll be directed to the meeting room. I'll join you there. Please don't be late and by all means don't miss the meeting. I think I can get you on the case if you make a good showing."
The checkerboard photos were attached to the email. Mortimer took a quick look. What he saw was about what he expected. Yes, he was definitely on to something.
Mortimer didn't know the neighborhood around the FBI office very well; it was in the Stapleton area, a place he didn't go often, so he left early even by his standards. As it turned out, it was a good thing; traffic was terrible and he made it to the office complex with just five minutes to spare.
Despite Mortimer's interest in solving interesting crimes, going into the FBI office was something that he found more than a little intimidating. He went to the big front desk and looked up at the security officer on duty.
He had a little trouble finding his voice, but managed to say, "Mortimer Holmes, I'm here to see Special Agent Purdy."
The burly guard gave him what can only be called a disdainful look. "Is that right, kid," he said in a deep, gravelly voice. "And just why would a busy man like Special Agent Purdy want to see the likes of you?"
Mortimer watched movies sometimes, so he thought that Federal officers were supposed to be polite, but he wisely refrained from stating this aloud.
"I'm meeting with him about the checker murders." Mortimer tried to say it with some semblance of confidence.
"Oh yeah, kid, now tell me, you've got it all figured out and you're going to tell the Special Agent how to solve the case, am I right?"
"Well, yes, you see I have a theory.."
"Beat it, punk, before I lock you up."
"No, no, I really have a meeting with Special Agent Purdy. Sheila ... I mean, Ms. Larkspur, in the Crime Lab, she set it up for me... she said to come here at four o'clock."
The officer still looked skeptical, but he picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Sheila?" His voice had changed to a tone that he probably thought was sweet. "Did you set up a meeting between Special Agent Purdy and some skinny kid?"
The officer paused. His facial expression changed at once. "Oh, you did, I see, it's all on the level. I thought .... no, no, there's no problem, I'll send him right up ... yes, yes, I won't keep the Special Agent waiting any longer."
The growling voice returned as the officer said to Mortimer. "You're lucky, kid." He pointed a thumb at a bank of elevators in the back of the entry hall. "Third floor, room 310, and be quick about it, Special Agent Purdy's getting impatient waiting for you to show up."
Mortimer didn't need to be told twice. He grabbed the visitor's badge grudgingly proffered by the officer and tore across the floor to the elevator, narrowly missing a collision with a pair of men in suits.
"In a hurry, kid?" one of them said, obviously annoyed.
Mortimer tried to look invisible, though without much success. He stood meekly in the back of the elevator and simply waited until he reached the third floor.
It was a typical government office. The floors and walls were a kind of sterile looking off-white, and the lighting came from harsh and overly bright overhead fluorescent panels.
At least he didn't have any trouble finding room 310.
There was no window in the door to room 310, not even a tiny peephole, so Mortimer had to go in cold. He pushed open the door just a crack and squeezed his way through. A bellowing voice greeted him.
"Whassamatter, door too heavy for you?"
Standing on the right side of the long, narrow room was a stocky man in a rumpled suit.
Mortimer shuddered involuntarily, drawing yet another scornful look from the man, who could only be Special Agent Purdy. Were all male cops like this? Mortimer wondered.
On the left side, toward the back, Sheila sat in one of the plastic chairs that surrounded a big composite table which dominated the room and left little space for walking. Sheila was keeping a studious silence, barely nodding at Mortimer as he came in. She must be intimidated by Purdy as well. But she looked great in her lab coat and her brown hair in its usual ponytail. Mortimer was amazed that he noticed, given the reception he was getting.
"Now, I been waiting long enough, so sit in that chair--- no, that one, the one I pointed to--- and tell me what you got. I'm only talking to you cause of Sheila." He stopped to throw what he thought passed for a smile in her direction. "Her, I trust. You, I don't know nothing about, and from the looks of you I don't think I wanna, either."
Mortimer quickly sat down in the indicated chair. "Did Sheila tell you about my ideas?" he asked quickly.
"Never mind about what Sheila told me or didn't tell me," Purdy snapped. "Let's hear it from you. And quick, cause I got better things to do than hang around here.
Mortimer started to explain his idea that the arrangement of the checker boards must have something to do with the crimes. Purdy did little more than grunt while Mortimer was talking. After a couple of minutes, Purdy's cell phone rang loudly, interrupting Mortimer's recital.
"Purdy. Yeah, I'm in 310 with... really? No kidding... that doesn't sound good. I'm on my way."
He closed the phone and turned to Sheila. "There's been another checkers murder. I gotta run. Give this kid whatever he wants. I worked with worse nuts before, maybe he'll actually come up with something."
"You mean ... I'm on the case?" Mortimer said in an incredulous tone just as Purdy was about to open the door to the hallway.
"Yeah, Sherlock, sure, you're on the case, whatever." With that Purdy hurried through the door. It closed slowly behind him.
"Wow," said Mortimer, sitting with what had to be a goofy grin on his face. He looked over at Sheila, and somewhat to his surprise, she was beaming at him.
"I told Special Agent Purdy you might have something to offer," she said in a calm voice that didn't hide its warmth. "I was right, wasn't I?"
"Uh, yeah," was all Mortimer could say.
"Now, let's go down to the Lab," Sheila said. I'll get you the addresses that you asked for. You're officially on the case, so I can do that."
"Hey, he even called me Sherlock."
Sheila gave him a little of a pitying look--- not very much, but a little. "Yes, well, Mortimer, I wouldn't carry that one too far. Let's just go look at the evidence, shall we?"
Mortimer spent an hour in the Crime Lab with Sheila, taking careful notes.
"Hmm, 914 Double D Road, Fountain, Colorado. 1014 Denny Court, Montrose, Colorado. It's all making sense in its own way, except that last one could have gone two different ways..."
"What are you getting at, Mortimer?"
"Uh... let me study this just a little more first..."
Sheila hesitated a moment before saying, "Look, Mortimer, if there's been another murder evidence will be coming in tonight and I'll have to stay here until it does. It's going to be a long night for me."
"You mean you can't go to dinner?" Mortimer just blurted the words out, amazing himself in the process, not knowing he would have the courage to ask her out again.
"Oh, Mortimer, I can't." Seeing the look on his face, she put a hand on his forearm. He seemed to relax almost at once. "Don't be hurt; I just can't get away when there's something important going on. Hey, I'm off tomorrow, why don't you call me in the afternoon--- not too early, because I'll probably be up all night working--- but maybe, after three? Then we can get together and I can bring you up to date. Will that work, Sherlock?"
Now Mortimer was all smiles. "Sure thing," he said.
"OK, now home with you," Sheila said, releasing his arm and giving him a quick kiss on his cheek.
That evening Mortimer didn't even pay any attention to the rude drivers on I-25. He floated on cloud nine all the way back to Perry Street.
The crime was all over the late news that evening and again on the morning shows. Mortimer soaked up every detail he could, even knowing that he'd get more information from Sheila later on.
A computer executive who lived in Boulder had had his skull cracked open with a heavy object. The usual checkerboard had been found at the scene. Mortimer couldn't figure out the board arrangement from the brief few frames the television news provided, but fortunately there was a legible photo in the morning newspaper. The address of the crime scene wasn't mentioned, but Mortimer did a little checking on the internet maps, and in a few minutes was certain he had deduced the address. A check with phone directories verified this; the address of the murdered man was an exact match with Mortimer's supposition: 1015 Kelso Road.
A little more research, and he was just about certain where the next murder would take place, for his theory also predicted that the killer would strike again.
He couldn't wait to tell Sheila. For the third day in a row, the hours passed slowly as he waited for three o'clock to come. Then he realized that Sheila had never given him her phone number.
His worst fears were realized when, as he expected, she didn't have a listed phone number. Hardly anyone under the age of about fifty had a land line any more, he thought. Everyone just had a cell phone.
Well, he knew how to get her number. The way he could do that was most definitely not on the level, and probably downright illegal. But what she doesn't know won't hurt her, he thought; anyhow, this was police business, wasn't it? He was officially on the case. That ought to give him some license.
He wasn't quite sure if he believed his own argument, but neither would he put too fine a point on it. So he went ahead and did a little creative hacking, being careful as always to use anonymous proxies and other tactics to conceal his identity and location. It only took him a few minutes to come up with Sheila's number, and by then it was three o'clock, or at least close enough not to make much of a difference.
A sleepy voice answered his call. "Hello?" It was defintely her, and picturing her in pajamas just waking up was almost more than Mortimer could handle.
"Oh, Mortimer, you know, I realized that I hadn't given you my phone number .. hey how did .... never mind, I probably don't want to know."
Mortimer could just about hear her smiling as she said it.
"Listen, it was a long night," she continued, "and I'm just waking up. But I can be at Broken Book by five if you want to meet me there again."
Mortimer would have rather gone somewhere else, but he wasn't about to argue.
"Sure," he said, "Broken Book it is, and when we get there I'll tell you where the next murder is going to take place. See you soon!"
Mortimer hung up before Sheila could ask any questions. He grinned. He'd sure gotten her attention now!
He drove his car again, more than willing to splurge on parking in return for the chance to keep his options open for later in the evening. Maybe he could talk her into going for a real dinner instead of just another sandwich.
To his surprise, Sheila was already there when he arrived, even though he was fifteen minutes early. And she didn't look very happy.
He sat across from her at the table she had taken up at the back of Broken Book. "Hi.., I didn't expect to see you so soon.."
"Mortimer." The single word cut him off at once. "You don't tell someone in law enforcement that you know the site of a potential murder and then hang up."
"No, listen. This is serious. If I didn't like you I would have had a Special Agent bring you in for questioning. I know you don't know any better, and I know you were trying to make an impression, but don't ever do something like that again."
Mortimer sat in stunned silence. He thought he had been so clever. Women were just too hard to understand. But even he knew that an apology was in order. He offered one in a bit of a choking voice.
"Oh, Mortimer," Sheila said. "Don't take it so hard. I was just trying to keep you from getting into trouble. You're such a sweet guy in your own oblivious way... I think that's what I really like about you. There's no pretense. You really don't know any better sometimes."
She took his hand and didn't let it go. "Tell you what," she said. "Let's go someplace nicer than this. You have your car, right? Let's go to Plateau de Boeuf. I'm really hungry after last night and it's my treat. Let's have a nice splurge tonight, and you can tell me all about where you think the murderer might strike next."
"I really do know. In fact you don't need to give me the address of the scene of the last murder." Mortimer proceeded to recite the address he had researched, 1015 Kelso Road.
Sheila's eyes opened wide. "That's right!" she exclaimed. "How in the world... oh, wait a minute ... the victim's name was in the media, I bet, and you just checked some directories ..."
Mortimer looked unhappy, but he noticed Sheila was still holding his hand. "Sheila, the guy's name was Tony Garcia. There are a million Tony Garcias in the Denver area."
"You're right," she whispered, squeezing his hand even tighter, her expression changing to one of clear admiration. "You've earned the dinner I just promised. Let's go!"
While hardly easy, this problem may be slightly less difficult than the others in this series. Match wits with M. Sherlock Holmes and try to solve it, then click on Read More for the solution, notes, and full game.
17-22 10-14---A 1-6 9-13 6-2 14-17--B 22-18 23-26 31x22 17x26 2-7---D 16-20---E 32-28 26-31---F 18-23 13-17 7-10 17-22 10-15 22-25 15-18 25-30 18-22 White Wins.
A---23-26 22-25 26-30 1-5 30-21 5-7 White Wins.
B---23-26 31-27 26-30---C 22-26 30-23 27-9 White Wins.
C--26-31 32-82 31-24 28-12 White Wins.
D---2-6 only draws.
E---16-19 18-23 White Wins.
F---26-30 18-22 and Black must lose a piece.
Problem courtesy of Jim Loy.
Full game, with notes by Jim Loy:
10-15 22-17 15-19 24-15 11-18 23-14 9-18 26-23 6-9 23-14 9-18 30-26 5-9 17-14 9-13 26-23 1-5 28-24 8-11 24-19 11-16 25-22 18-25 29-22 16-20 22-18 13-17 14-9 5-14 18-9 17-22 9-5 22-25 5-1 25-30 1-5 30-25 23-18 25-22 18-14 22-17? (other moves draw) 14-10 (32-28 draws, Nesbitt-Ottey, 1970 National) 7-14 5-9 17-13 9-18 13-9 21-17 4-8 17-14 9-6 18-22 3-7 (2-7 also loses?) 22-26? (27-23 may win?) 8-11 26-22 6-10 22-17 10-6 17-13 6-1 14-9 20-24? (1-6 14-9 6-1 13-17 7-10 17-22 2-6 32-28 10-15 draw) 27-20 11-16 20-11 7-23 13-17 1-6 9-5 6-10 5-1 2-6 17-13 12-16 13-17 6-9 [diagram] 1-5? (17-22! 23-26 22-25 26-30 1-5 WW) 9-13 17-22 (17-21 seems to draw) 23-26 31-27 26-30 5-9 16-19 9-5 10-7 5-1 7-11? (7-10 draws) 1-6 11-16 6-10 16-11. Here C. M. Taylor-J. M. Wheeler (in Al Flower's Checkers Players' Delight 1976) was adjudicated a draw. But Churchill pointed out 32-28 11-15 10-7 WW.