A Crossworder's Gift: Five Short Tales

A Crossworder's Gift: Five Short Tales

by Nero Blanc

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Five Yuletide mysteries for readers to solve along with crossword legend Belle Graham and PI Rosco Polycrates

The husband-and-wife sleuth team is back in five tales of holiday mystery and mayhem. “Holly, Jolly Roger” takes Belle and Rosco to sunny St. Lucia in the Caribbean as they try to decipher the clues to a legendary buried treasure. “The Mystery of Wordsworth House” may remain just that unless Belle and Rosco can turn their stay at a snowy Montreal inn into a chance for a family to solve the riddle of their past . . . with the help of a ghost. There’s no place like Las Vegas for the holidays, but “A Crossworder’s Gift” may never reach its intended recipient if Belle can’t match up the out-of-order clues strewn throughout a high roller’s suite to form a crossword puzzle that will lead to the cash. Guest of honor at a puzzle convention near the Grand Canyon, Belle—with the help of her detective husband, Rosco—must unravel a murdered crossworder’s last puzzle and testament in “The Eraser’s Edge.” When a blizzard strands a five-woman sewing circle, a “Cross Stitch” in time could save—or destroy—reputations and lives if a puzzling truth about a dead heiress is revealed.

This ebook contains five crossword puzzles that can be downloaded as PDFs, with answers in the back of the book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497671775
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 10/14/2014
Series: Crossword Mysteries , #7
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 187
Sales rank: 559,962
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Nero Blanc is the pseudonym of Steve Zettler and Cordelia Frances Biddle, who are husband and wife and serious crossword buffs. Biddle is also the author of the Martha Beale historical mystery series, which is set in Philadelphia, Zettler and Biddle’s hometown. Their website is www.crosswordmysteries.com.

Read an Excerpt

A Crossworder's Gift

Five Short Tales

By Nero Blanc


Copyright © 2003 Cordelia Francis Biddle and Steve Zettler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-7177-5


Holly, Jolly Roger

Annabella Graham couldn't decide who "Jolly Roger Conner" most resembled: Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman, Karl Marx—or Santa Claus. Balanced atop his large and leonine head was a red felt Christmas hat with green holly-leaf trim and a white tassel dangling from the peaked tip. This, added to his expansive girth, snow white hair and beard, voluminous red shorts, and a T-shirt reading X-MAS MARKS THE SPOT—PIRATE'S COVE MARINA AND WATERING HOLE—ST. LUCIA, tipped the scales in favor of Santa. However, the man stood behind a long mahogany and bamboo bar polishing a martini glass, which seriously diminished the warm and fuzzy feel normally associated with the jolly old elf.

Seated at the aforementioned bar and beachside eatery, "Belle"—as her friends called her—and her husband, Rosco Polycrates, had just been served two very colorful tropical drinks by the S. Claus/Whitman/Marx/Hemingway-esque owner of the establishment. That fact, combined with the weather, view, and ambience—an eighty-five-degree afternoon gracing the limpid, azure waters of Marigot Bay, and a sound system jingling Christmas carols, steel-band style, rather than the chilly riffs concerning snow and reindeer that always signified Yuletide in Belle and Rosco's native New England—curtailed the candidacies of Whitman and Marx, as well as Santa Claus.

As far as Belle knew, those men had not been given to winter holidays lolling on a palm-tree-dotted sand spit, snorkeling gear close by, rum drinks in hand, and pleasure craft at the ready—which brought her to Papa Hemingway, and the Key Largo/Old Man and the Sea, vision that kept dancing, like coconut-covered sugar plums, in her head.

"Yep ... Ate 'em up, they did!" Conner now insisted in a dramatic and piratey tone that had a fair amount of Ireland in its subtler shadings. "Just like that!" For emphasis, he snapped his chubby fingers, and an Amazon green parrot, waddling around on a driftwood perch beside the bar, added a loud and bossy, "Bottoms up, maties," as if the statement had been cause for a toast. In fact, many of Pirate's Cove's patrons polished off what was left of their "2-4-1 Happy Hour" drinks upon hearing the bird's pronouncement.

It was becoming clear to Belle that Conner was no slouch when it came to a larger-than-life personality, and that he relished having a captive audience—in this case, a couple from Newcastle, Massachusetts, recently arrived and fair game for tall tales or fish tales or yarns of ancient derringdo.

"What do you mean, 'ate them up'?" Belle asked.

"Just what I said, my honey-haired maiden!" Conner's voice boomed; his broad forearm traced an expansive sweep. "Cannibals, they was. Cannibals, for good or ill. Of course, this was nearly four hundred years ago ... a good hundred years after the good Señor Chris Columbus discovered our little island of Saint Lucia." He leaned across the bar, bringing his nose within a foot of Belle's, then lowered his voice into a rumbling drawl. "The British settlers landed in 1605. Sixty-seven of 'em they was, and only nineteen escaped. The Caribs killed the rest of 'em ... and had 'em for dinner! Yum ... yum ... yum!"

"That's horrible."

"Aye, that it is, my little miss. And it gets worse. 'Cause in 1638 another party of English came over from Saint Kitts way ... Pretty spot this, they says to themselves, pleasing terrain, mountain mists ... good for growing comestibles: sugar cane, plantains, et cetera, et cetera ... But they met with the very same fate: people stew! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, all ye landlubbers."

"Oh, Roger, stop! You'll be scaring these nice people." The woman speaking had just entered from the tile-covered veranda. Dressed island style in flip-flops and a batik sundress, she was carrying a damp towel, and snorkel and fins in one hand; with the other, she pulled off her dark glasses, extended her hand, and smiled. It was a bright and cheerful expression, full of warmth and welcome. "I'm Elaine. This is my husband, Joe."

Joe also smiled in greeting. He was similarly equipped, and had a picnic cooler he'd just carried from the dinghy tied to the end of the pier. "That's our boat out there—" He pointed farther into the harbor to a white-hulled sailboat newly moored there. "We've been snorkeling in Anse Cochon—"

"Joe and Elaine," interjected Roger with another theatrical and all-inclusive gesture. "They spend so much time in Saint Lucia, they've become honorary Looshans. Ask anyone hereabouts."

Elaine turned her sunny face toward him. "You shouldn't be frightening folks, Roger, with all these nasty stories—"

"The truth's the truth," he retorted in a sulky if not altogether abashed tone. "And what about the three Spanish galleons sunk where yon beach now stands?"

"Rumor, Roger. Only rumor."

"Or the German U-boat that crept into the inner harbor? Or the pirates that patrolled these waters?"

Elaine shook her head. "I'll accept the U-boat and the tales of piracy, but not the galleons, and some of that other nonsense. None of us do." She glanced at the other regulars, then returned her attention to Belle. "Is this your first visit to the island?"

"Yes, we—"

"Stop!" the barkeep barked as he held his hands high in the air. All neighboring conversation ceased. A number of patrons chuckled; Joe and Elaine shook their heads; clearly, everyone except Rosco and Belle had witnessed this exhibition before.

Conner removed his elf hat and reverently placed it in front of him. "The Great Roger Conner-ronnor-bonnor-ella will now use his mystical psychic powers, and read the fair lady's cocktail napkin. The likes of such clairvoyance you have never before witnessed in all your born days!"

He lifted Belle's drink from the napkin and set it aside while the parrot squawked another insistent: "Bottoms up, maties!"

Conner studied the napkin and lowered his voice, giving it an otherworldly lilt as he placed his meaty paw above Belle's head. "With your permission, I will commence with age and weight ... The fair damsel here is a little upward of thirty years old and weighs one hundred and twelve pounds—"

"The age isn't overly specific," Rosco interjected with a chuckle.

"Damsels require a certain flexibility," Conner countered as he moved his hand toward Rosco. "And her first mate would be thirty-eight, methinks ... and weighing in at ..." Conner paused for dramatic effect. "... one hundred and seventy-three pounds."

"Seventy-three?" Rosco groused. "I was one hundred seventy-one last time I checked."

"Silence, please, the Great Roger Conner-ronnor-bonnor-ella is only getting warmed up. I see it all clearly now; you were married last week and sailed into Marigot Bay with the high tide at high noon."

"Not quite," Rosco answered. Conner raised a skeptical eyebrow.

Belle grinned. "We were married last year, and flew in on a 737 from Massachusetts two hours ago."

"No interruptions," Conner objected. "That was to be the Amazing Roger's next deduction."

This brought hearty laughter from the regulars. Conner turned to them:

"So, ladies and gents gathered on this convivial December afternoon, we have some landlubbers amongst us ... renters of one of the pleasant cottages perched upon yon hillside, perchance ... Perchance nigh to the fair Elaine's and the lordly Señor Joe's?" He turned back to Rosco. "Stop, don't answer the question! I see it all plainly on the face of the napkin."

Rosco had nodded, but Conner ignored the reaction as he continued his performance, regarding the cocktail napkin with renewed intensity.

"Hmmm, I note that our male visitor is a member of the illustrious law-enforcement clan ... in short, a policeman." Before Rosco could protest, Conner switched to Belle's napkin and said, "And you, my dear, despite your angelic appearance, are a mathematician?"

This brought a quick laugh from husband and wife; Elaine and Joe and the rest of the patrons joined in, believing that once again Jolly Roger Conner had missed the mark by a mile.

"Bottoms up, maties!" the parrot screamed, then flapped onto the bar and began striding toward them with a cocky and aggressive swag.

Rosco eyed the determined bird with some apprehension. "He doesn't bite, does he?"

"Who? Jimmy Bungs?" Conner rubbed his beard and considered his answer as the parrot approached. "That's a good question. He does have his favorites, and he can be a nasty cuss when he puts his mind to it ... A Jimmy Bungs for ye landsmen and lubbers is slang for a member of the ship's crew, and our Jim can be just as perverse and particular as any sailor worth his salt."

The bird stopped in front of Rosco and ripped the corner from the napkin under his beer. Opting to keep a safe distance, Rosco slid his bar stool back while the parrot went into his now familiar patter: "Bottoms up, maties."

Conner swatted at the parrot with a bar towel and said, "Put a lid on it, Jimmy. We're conducting business here."

"Cheerio, dumbbell," was the bird's swift reply. Then he waddled a little farther down the bar, hopped onto Belle's shoulder, and began to nibble affectionately at her earlobe.

"Ahhh, now you're lookin' like the Pirate Queen of Saint Loosha," Conner cackled. "I gather by your reaction to my psychic powers of observation I was in error with my cop and math geek analysis?"

"Believe it or not," Rosco said, "I was once in the police force ... Once. Now I'm a private investigator. Belle, my wife, is the crossword puzzle editor at the Evening Crier. It's a newspaper in Massachusetts."

Conner stiffened slightly but, after a second, rejoined with a boisterous: "Well, well, well! I think you'll find there are more than a few crossword fiends, addicts, and inveterate word game veterans gathered around these turquoise depths ... Yes-in-dee-dee ..." He looked around the room, pointing as he spoke. "Aussies: Gerda and Mike Menzies off the catamaran Roo Two; Brits: Carlotta and Noel; that's their ketch In Sou Sea Ant with the black hull; Brian Joseffson—aka 'the Brain'—of theLeopard Sun ... and you've already met Elaine and Joe ..." Conner turned back to Belle. "In defense of my initial reading of the napkins, you must admit that your vocation deals in numbers and symmetry—i.e., you're a numbers person." Conner smiled broadly, and again raised his voice. "So, the Great Roger Conner-ronnor-bonnor-ella is vindicated! Once again he stupefies the nonbelievers!"

"Cheerio, dumbbell," Jimmy Bungs announced again, then followed it with a series of squawks that duplicated mocking laughter.

Conner frowned. "Creatures like our Mr. Bungs are either drawn to menfolk." He directed the comment to Rosco rather than Belle. "Or they're drawn to womenfolk; but I've never met an Amazon Green who liked 'em both. As you can see, Jimmy is most definitely a ladies man."

"Well, he is kind of cute," Belle said, peering at the bird out of the corner of her eye, then tilting her head playfully, forcing the parrot to chase after her dangling earring with short, gentle pecks from his beak. "And a bit of a flirt."

"He appears to have a limited vocabulary," Rosco added in an unsuccessful attempt to outdo the bird.

Conner laughed. "You're right about that, my friend. For an old-timer, Jimmy hasn't picked up more than those two phrases ... besides a small selection of sailors' prayers, if you know what I mean. He can be downright raunchy when he starts in on his favorite oaths, though he seems to keep that chatter under wraps when in the company of the fairer sex."

"How old is he?" Belle asked as she fed Jimmy the orange slice from her drink.

"No telling, really, but definitely over fifty. I inherited our Mr. Bungs from an erstwhile fishing compatriot. A hunter after sunken treasure who called this harbor his true abode ..."

It was Carlotta and Noel who continued the story, tag teaming as they supplied the facts. "A tough go, it was, when the old man died ... Digger Bonnet was his name. Came from Antigua, originally, by way of Martinique, but he was a Marigot fixture long before we first arrived ... And he gave up the ghost right here where we're sitting ... Fell face first onto the bar ..." They looked to Conner, who continued the story:

"And Jimmy there just squawked, gave Digger a nasty look, and strolled to the other end of the bar, where he began eating peanuts out of a dish ... He's been with me ever since."

"Does that happen often around here?" Rosco asked. "People dropping dead at beachside bars?"

"I've owned the place for over thirty years," Conner said. "And I heard plenty of stories from the previous owners. But in answer: Nope, that's the only time it's happened to me."

"It's an occurrence you wouldn't easily forget."

"Truer words ..."

"And Bonnet was a real treasure hunter?" Belle asked.

This time it was Gerda who answered. "He certainly talked an impressive game, didn't he, Mike? Absolutely insisted the tale of sunken galleons was true, and that he'd found a cache of Spanish doubloons—"

Roger interrupted. "How else to explain how the man put food on the table? He never worked a day in his life, unless you call scuba diving work." He grinned although Belle could see the jovial expression was forced. Discussing his friend's death was obviously not easy. "You know, you and Digger shared something in common—besides Jimmy's questionable affection ... Bonnet was a real crossword junkie, he was. A man who liked riddles, double entendres, puns, spoonerisms, anagrams ..."

"That he did," Brian agreed.

"So, Mr. Bonnet died a wealthy man?" Rosco mused after a moment.

"Like they say," Conner said, "ya can't take it with you."

"Was the cause of death natural?" Rosco asked, unable to suppress his inquisitive nature—even on vacation. "Or was someone after the loot?"

"Foul play? Is that what you're inferring?" Conner asked. "Digger was nearly ninety when he passed away. The only foul play is spelled F-O-W-L, and Jimmy has a market on that."

"So, that must make Jimmy the richest personality on Saint Lucia," Belle said.

Conner shook his head. "There wasn't money enough in Digger's pockets to pay for the rum in front of him when he keeled over. And to this day, there hasn't been a trace of anything else of value. Not a savings account. Not a bank box. Nothing."

Gerda and Mike Menzies joined in. "Some of us think old Bonnet grew odd toward the end and scuttled his purported bounty by dumping it outside the bay ... Others are convinced he buried it on the island somewhere—"

"And then there's the third camp," added Elaine with a laugh, "who don't believe there was as much as one red cent to begin with."

"And which camp are you in, Roger?" Rosco asked.

Conner shrugged. "I have to admit, old Digger talked a good game. Once in a blue moon, he'd turn up when I was locking up the doors here, and give me a quick glimpse of something he'd insist was a piece of eight—Spanish gold—or a stone he'd swear up and down was an uncut emerald taken from the mines of Brazil ... But he'd make me promise to keep my mouth shut for fear the government would be askin' for too big of a slice of his briny pie ... I'd say Digger must have had a nest egg somewhere. But then again ..." Conner shrugged. "I'll tell you this, if there is such a thing as hidden treasure, there's only one person who knows where it might be, and he's not talkin' to nobody."

"Who's that?"

"He's sitting right there on your sweetie's shoulder."

"The bird?" Rosco said incredulously.

Jimmy Bungs flapped irate wings, stretched his neck, and snapped at Rosco, who jumped back just before the powerful beak came in contact with his ear.

Conner laughed. "Oh, and another thing, he doesn't like to be called 'the bird.'"

"So I gathered."

By the time the sun had begun to set, Belle and Rosco had returned to their rented bungalow, situated halfway up the verdant hillside, overlooking the sailboats and pleasure yachts that dotted Marigot Bay. The trade winds had cooled the evening to a comfortable seventy-five degrees, and lights were twinkling on in the houses and cottages on the opposite slope. The couple stood arm in arm on the veranda beholding the tranquil scene.

"I wish we had sailed into this harbor, as Roger had imagined," Belle murmured, "rather then arriving by plane."

"That's a long trip from Massachusetts. I'd be greener than Jimmy Bungs right now."

"You know what I mean, Rosco. Wouldn't it be romantic to drift in by sea—under canvas at sunset. Watching the famous 'green flash' in all its glory."


Excerpted from A Crossworder's Gift by Nero Blanc. Copyright © 2003 Cordelia Francis Biddle and Steve Zettler. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Crossworder's Gift 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
When Digger Bonnet died on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, the secret of his treasure stash died with him. Bell and Rosco spend a week down there. The puzzle constructor and the private detective, with a little help from a parrot, try to decipher the clues to Digger¿s treasure puzzle. ¿Holly, Jolly Roger¿ is a humorous brainteaser.

In ¿The Mystery of Wordworth House¿, a ghost tries to right an old wrong using Rosco and Belle to translate his message to his two granddaughters. This is a cute ghost story.

When a gambler dies, he leaves a goodly amount of his estate to an animal sheter. To find the valuables, Belle Graham is asked to create and solve a crossword puzzle that should lead to the money. ¿A CROSSWORDER¿S GIFT¿ is a delightful holiday mystery.

A puzzle constructor¿s convention is taking place at the hotel near the Grand Canyon with Belle as the guest of honor. When one of the conventioneers is found dead, Rosco and his wife start sleuthing. ¿The Eraser¿s Edge¿ is one mystery that is almost impossible to solve.

In ¿Cross Stitch¿ a sewing circle gets stranded during a blizzard and the five women bond with each other. After completing a crossword, the truth about a late heiress surfaces, but to find out what it is, the reader must decipher the crossword puzzle.

Nero Blanc¿s holiday anthology makes the perfect gift for mystery and puzzle lovers.

Harriet Klausner