A homeless man has been found in an alley, clobbered to death. The crime seems pretty cut and dried—vagrants fighting over turf—until the Newcastle Police Department uncovers a connection to a local shelter in danger of being taken over by greedy developers. Is the dead John Doe a victim of some sinister plot? And what became of the scruffy mutt he had recently adopted?
Recruited to find the missing puppy, private investigator Rosco Polycrates has to juggle the search with his upcoming nuptials to Belle Graham. And soon a second murder shatters the serenity of their scenic Massachusetts town. Then Rosco disappears . . . and Belle starts receiving threatening messages concealed in fiendishly clever crossword clues. Will Rosco become the third victim? With time running out, the Queen of Cryptics races to fill in the blanks before her wedding is put on hold—forever.
This ebook includes six crossword puzzles that can be downloaded as PDFs, with answers in the back of the book.
The Crossword Connection is the 3rd book in the Crossword Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Crossword Connection
A Crossword Mystery
By Nero Blanc
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Cordelia F. Biddle and Steve Zettler
All rights reserved.
"See anything yet?" The older man didn't look up from his newspaper; at this point, he wasn't even bothering to peer over his plastic, fourteen-dollar drugstore reading glasses. It was getting late, and he was beginning to think the entire night would pan out to be a complete bust.
"It's too dark. Let me turn on the headlights for a second, will ya? I mean, how're they even gonna know we're here waitin' for 'em otherwise?"
"You turn the lights on, I smash your brains all over the dashboard. I mean that. I don't want them to know we got a car. If they know we got money, we're in trouble.... They'll want to negotiate." He tossed the entertainment section of the Evening Crier onto the Cadillac's rear seat, switched off a pocket-sized flashlight, and threw his pencil and glasses into the glove compartment. "Somebody ought to kill that babe. They'd be doin' all of Newcastle, Mass., a big friggin' favor."
"What are you talkin' about?"
"What do you mean, 'What am I talkin' about'?"
"You didn't tell me we was here to kill some babe. You said we was here to—"
The older man sighed in irritation. "How come you never pay even a little bit of attention? What do you think I've been doin' for the last two hours plus that we been waitin' for these guys?"
The younger man paused. He stared straight ahead into the pitch-black alley, then glanced at his partner's faintly illumined face, and finally turned toward the car's rear seat. "The crosswords." The words were mumbled as if he were fearful of responding to a trick question.
"Keerecto! And who's the crosswords dame at the Crier?"
Instead of replying, the younger man merely gripped the steering wheel tighter.
"What a friggin' dummy!" his partner swore. "Belle Graham, that's who."
"We gotta off her?"
The older man shifted angrily in his seat, his bony knees scraping the glove compartment. "Get a grip, will ya?"
"But you just said—"
"It was an expression, all right? Like 'I'd kill for a piece of that pie....'" Anticipating that the next query would probably be "What kind of pie?" the aggrieved tone continued. "Look, the friggin' puzzle gets harder as the week progresses. Wednesday's tougher than Tuesday's ... like that. By the time Friday, Saturday rolls around, you gotta be a friggin' Einstein. I don't even buy the friggin' paper that late in the week."
"Then how do you know what the Red Sox are doin'?"
The older man's voice almost exploded. "I got a TV, you know."
His partner remained silent for a long moment. In the dim light, his face was contorted with thought. "You want some help? Is that what you're sayin'?"
"Don't make me laugh.... Ya gotta have smarts.... I mean who the hell knows what the capital of Oregon is, huh?"
"Salem," was the quiet answer.
The older man gave the younger one a long, hard stare, then reached a thin arm toward the discarded newspaper. "You sure?"
"We memorized all the capitals in seventh grade.... Mrs. Northrop, the teacher? She made us."
"Well, now, that's exactly what I mean. We got a friggin' Salem right here in Massachusetts. Why's this dame makin' a reference to some state nobody's ever heard of?"
The younger man made a sudden, silencing gesture with his right hand. "What's that?"
"Over there." His fingers pointed through the Cadillac's windshield at a dark figure walking slowly toward them.
Both men slid down until only their eyes and the tops of their heads were visible. "Looks like a bum from how he's dressed," the older partner whispered.
"Yeah, but he's got something under his coat. See? In his right hand? What is that? Do you think it's the package?"
The men watched in silence as their surprise visitor continued to move through the alley. "There was supposed to be two people ... brothers or somethin' ... not bums like that. They got plenty of dough—"
"What if this street guy stole the package from them ... or maybe, he's like their bagman?"
"Wise up! These guys are pros. That's why they like dealin' with pros like you and me. You think they're gonna let some vagrant get the drop on them and boost the package? No way, José."
"All's I'm sayin' is, maybe we should find out what the guy's got under his coat. That's all I'm sayin', okay?"
"Bottle of Sneaky Pete, probably. What time ya got?"
The younger man glanced at his watch. "Two-thirty-three."
"What's the creep doing now?"
"He turned down Adams Alley. You want we should both get out and follow him?"
The older man hesitated. "I don't know, let me think here. Where's that alley go? Is it a dead end?"
"Nah, it goes through to Seventh Street."
The men sat quietly for another few minutes while the older partner worked out a plan. Eventually, he reached into the glove compartment, removed a .22 caliber automatic pistol, and placed it on his lap. "Okay, here's what we do. You follow the old guy ... find out what he's carrying. If it's the package, grab it. I'll stay here with the car in case we gotta get the hell outta here."
"You want me to go down that alley alone?"
"There's no one down there but that vagrant. Waddya afraid of?"
"Nothin'. I just don't want the guy to make me."
"If he makes you ... you do him. What's one dead street guy? Nobody's gonna miss him; that's for sure."
This rationale seemed to make sense to both partners. The younger man slid from behind the Cadillac's steering wheel and trotted across Eighth Street to the entrance of Adams Alley. He looked back once before disappearing in the darkness. In the car, his partner checked to see that his automatic pistol had a round in the chamber. Then he removed the safety and placed the gun on the dashboard.
Time seemed to pass slowly, but in reality it was only thirty seconds before a set of headlights, deep within Adams Alley, sprang to sudden life. The younger man was caught in the light as the sound of screeching tires pierced the air. When the car bore down on him, he turned and fled toward the Cadillac, where his waiting partner had made a dive for the floor.
In another thirty seconds, the mysterious vehicle had spun past the Cadillac and disappeared. "Did you see that?" the younger man demanded as his friend reappeared. "The creep tried to run me over! Missed me by a damn inch ... if that."
The older man tucked the pistol into his belt and stepped from the car. He looked around to see if the fracas had attracted any attention, but the scene was as dark and quiet as before. "How many guys in the car?"
"The damn headlights near blinded me.... Two, I think ... Hell, I don't know—"
"Ford, Chevy ... Couldn't tell."
"Well, what color was it?"
"I didn't see. Tan maybe. The headlights were high up, though ... like them SUVs. But—"
"Those two brothers we been waitin' for, probably ... They're just the type to drive one of them things.... Come on." He pulled the pistol from his belt and walked toward Adams Alley.
"Where're ya goin'?"
"I'm gonna see what the hell that street creep had on him. I'm tired of playin' games here."CHAPTER 2
"What a mess."
Lieutenant Al Lever lit a cigarette and waited for the match to cool. When it had, he placed the warm card-board-and-sulfur-ash stick into his jacket pocket. The last thing he wanted was to litter one of his own crime scenes. He glanced again at the bloodied and lifeless form at his feet and shook his head. "Any ID?"
Lever directed the question to Patrolman Wallace, the uniformed police officer who'd discovered the body.
"Nothing turned up, Lieutenant. But from the looks of him, I'd have to guess he's from Father Tom's Saint Augustine Mission down near Congress and Water Streets. Definitely a hand-me-down suit. The moths had a field day with it."
"None. Guess he could have been robbed, but he doesn't look like the kind of guy who was rolling in cash. I'd say he hadn't shaved in a good two weeks."
"Did you ask around? Anybody see anything?"
Out of reflex, Wallace glanced at his watch. He gave Lever a slight shrug. "It's five A.M., lieutenant.... There's not a soul awake for three square blocks, and no telling when the last person entered this alley ... besides our victim, here. No one walks here after nightfall. I only patrol once a night myself, and I'll bet I haven't passed a single pedestrian in the last three years." His eyes moved to the dead man. "And once this bit of good news hits the Evening Crier, I'd say Adams Alley's going to be off limits for the citizens of Newcastle for another three years."
"Any sign of Jones?" Lever asked, referring to the department's forensics expert.
"Yes, sir. Mr. Jones got here almost an hour ago. Finished up his preliminary and scooted off for a cup of coffee. Said he'd be right back."
Lever took a long pull from his cigarette and coughed spasmodically as he blew the smoke from his lungs. His growing paunch rolled with the movement, and his starched yellow shirt reflected a pallid green in the predawn light. In the coastal Massachusetts city, early May mornings were cool.
Jones approached with three covered blue and white coffee containers. Steam, like whale spouts, puffed from the slits in the plastic lids. "Figured you'd be here by now," he said as he handed a coffee cup to Lever and another to Wallace, who produced a small salute of thanks. Lever nodded and coughed.
"You know what they say about those cancer sticks, don't you, Al?"
Between a few more coughs, Lever said, "No, Abe, what do they say about cancer sticks? Thanks for the Java, by the way."
"No problemo. They say they give you cancer; that's what they say."
"Thank you so much, Dr. Jones, for that invaluable piece of information. However, I don't need a man with a degree in forensic pathology to remind me. It says so right on the damn pack. It has for years."
"Then someone should teach you how to read, Al."
"You're a riot, Abe. Handsome and witty. The Newcastle Police Department is truly blessed."
Jones chortled. "The right kind of exercise, Al. That's all you need for a physique like mine."
The three men sucked at their coffee cups. In the cool, dim light, Jones's teeth shone like bright, white neon. Lever was right; Absalom "Abe" Jones was far and away the best-looking man in the police department, as many women in Newcastle could attest. A solid six feet, and bearing a strong resemblance to a youthful Harry Belafonte, Abe took enormous pleasure in baiting his boss. He mocked an exaggerated yawn. "Man, I'll tell ya, I got no sleep at all last night."
"I don't want to hear about it, Abe."
"Some women just don't know when to stop, if you know what I mean. Ever been with a lady like that, Al?"
Lever coughed again. "Spare us, please. For your information, I didn't get any sleep last night either." His coughing jag increased. "Damn allergies. They kept me up all night."
"Springtime, Al. The birds and the bees and pollen all over the place."
The lieutenant chuckled. Then he brought his gaze back to the body in the alley. His face went sour. "I don't like this situation, Abe."
"You're not supposed to like it. A man's dead. Why would you like it?"
"I mean, look at this poor schmo. What'd he have going for him? And to end up like this? A wasted life, if you ask me."
"We don't know that. To begin with, we don't have positive identification. He could've been a doctor or a judge at one point. It wouldn't be the first time an educated person hit the skids.... Things get out of control, and it can be a long spiral down."
Lever sighed, walked the thirty feet to where Adams Alley met Seventh Street, stubbed out his cigarette on a wall, and carefully put the remainder in his pocket. He watched as an early morning crosstown bus pushed east. He then ambled back to the dead man. "So, Abe, what did you turn up with your preliminary?"
"The crime appears to be pretty cut and dried." Jones pointed to a plastic bag containing a rectangular piece of granite. "You see this cobblestone? There are clear traces of blood and matted hair. I'm assuming that this is your murder weapon. Someone slammed it into the victim's skull ... once, only ... from my initial examination. I'll dust the weapon and that liquor bottle over there for prints, pick up those stray cigar butts, and pull DNA samples. But that's about it. Nothing else appears out of the ordinary.... Nothing that doesn't belong to a back alley. Well, there are some tire marks up closer to Eighth Street." He pointed casually. "I'll check them out, but I'm not optimistic they're connected."
Lever sighed but didn't speak. He kept his hands in his pockets.
"Hey ... Al ... It happens all the time, all across America. These homeless guys get liquored up, fight over a bottle, and one of them ends up clobbering the other. Sooner or later, the person who did this will walk into your office and spill his guts so that he can get a dry place to sleep and three squares for the rest of his life."
"Yeah, but if your scenario's correct, where are the signs of a struggle? I'm looking, but I don't see any. There's the guy's bed, a comfy nest of newspapers. He props up his head with the comics section and drifts off into dreamland. People arguing over a bottle don't die peacefully in bed. We don't even have a little broken glass here."
"Being hit in the head with a fifteen-pound lump of stone isn't exactly a peaceful death, Al. Besides, motive's your department, not mine. Maybe our victim stole the pint of booze, and the former owner came after him. Found the bottle empty—which it is—and nailed the thief in his sleep. Tempers often run short among these marginal types, especially when they're hording something important."
Lever thought. He turned his attention to Wallace. "Nothing remotely valuable on the body?"
"Not in immediate evidence, sir. Maybe the ME will turn up something interesting during the autopsy."
Lever took another swig of his coffee. "Something's really wrong here."
Abe Jones gave him a comradely grin. "You need a day off, Al. That's all."
"The guy went to sleep on Peanuts, for Pete's sake. You know, Charlie Brown, Snoopy ..."
"Speaking of Snoopy, Wallace found dog food in the victim's pockets."
Wallace answered, "That's right, sir. Three small cans; the kind with snap-off lids. A fourth empty can containing a plastic fork sat beside the body."
Lever let out another weary sigh.
Jones touched his shoulder. "A homeless guy on a binge, Al. What else can you say? He was reduced to eating dog food.... They say cat food tastes like tuna. Dog food ... I don't know. I hope I never have to find out."
Patrolman Wallace interrupted them. "Carlyle's here with the morgue wagon, Lieutenant. Looks like he wants to back it down the alley."
Lever glanced at Jones for approval.
"Sure, tell him it's okay," Abe said. "But ask him to stay back fifteen feet until I finish processing."
Lever watched in silence as Newcastle's dark gray morgue wagon eased down the alley. The steady beep-beep of the reverse warning signal pierced the cool morning air, bouncing off the empty industrial buildings, the fire escapes, and grungy, broken windows. Eventually, the van came to a halt, and the noise subsided. Carlyle, the medical examiner, stepped from the passenger's side, slipping on latex surgical gloves as he did.
"What have we got?"
Lever spoke. "Dead John Doe, no ID. See what you can piece together. I'll need a time of death. Not that it'll do much good...." His words trailed off.
"Uh-oh." Carlyle looked at Jones. "Do we have a depressed lieutenant on our hands?"
"He just doesn't like to see Charlie Brown bloodied up. Reminds him of his own mortality."
Carlyle gave Jones a thin smile as he bent down to examine the body. "I'd say this guy's been dead for two or three hours. Maybe longer, judging from the dried blood. But then again, newspaper can often soak up blood more rapidly than cloth. I won't be able to supply an exact time until I perform an autopsy. He didn't suffer, if that makes you feel better, Al. This was quick, and definitely premeditated. Someone didn't like this guy. If he was a mobster, we'd be calling it a hit."
Lever and Jones watched as Carlyle finished the prelim. He made notations on a form attached to a stainless steel clipboard; when he'd finished, his driver appeared with a black plastic body bag. He and Carlyle placed the victim in it, zipped it up, then positioned the bag on a stretcher, which they wheeled into the morgue van. Carlyle closed the van's doors and turned to Lever.
"I'll try to get the information by noon, Al. This alley gives me the chills.... Always has."
"It's just an alleyway."
Excerpted from The Crossword Connection by Nero Blanc. Copyright © 1999 Cordelia F. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
P.I. Rosco Polycrates is marrying crossword editor Belle Graham. Before their marriage, a homeless man is found dead with a crossword puzzle under him. He was hit in the head with a stone and has dog food in his pocket. The police think he had turned to eating dog food. Rosco knows him and that he had a puppy. Sara, a matriarch in the community, asks Rosco to begin looking for the puppy. Then a homeless woman is found dead also with a crossword puzzle under her. They try to find the connection between the two. Rosco goes missing. Belle starts receiving anonymous crossword puzzles with clues. Lieutenant Al Lever, Rosco's former partner, tries to keep Belle safe and find Rosco. But, Belle keeps alluding him as she is trying to follow the clues and find Rosco herself. She is constantly reminded to not include the police. There are many twists before you get to the end. This is a very enjoyable series. I enjoy trying to complete the crosswords even though I am not very good at them. There are always clues in them. I like when Belle tries to complete the crosswords and gives some of the crossword answers in the book. The characters are very believable and well developed. Rosco is believable as a P.I. He used to be a detective so he has connections in the police department. I like the character Carlyle who is the medical examiner. He and Rosco do not get along but he likes Belle. Recently we vacationed in New England so I like books set in New England. I feel the plot is very well developed and the setting is very realistic. I highly recommend this book and the whole series.
In Newcastle, the Massachusetts Evening Crier crossword editor Belle Graham and private investigator Roscoe Polycrates are getting married at sea quite soon. However, the final steps to matrimony have problems as the reception area is not quite ready and someone murders a homeless person, apparently leaving a crossword puzzle behind with the corpse. Belle wonders if the murder is tied into the effort to close a successful shelter located on choice realty. When a second person dies also with a crossword puzzle nearby, Roscoe thinks solving the puzzle clues will lead to resolving the two homicides. Belle thinks Roscoe suffers from premarital jitters. However, when Roscoe seemingly vanishes, Belle looks at the puzzles to ascertain whether the answers to the murders and her missing fiancé lie within them. The third Crossword mystery retains the uniqueness of its two predecessors (see TWO DOWN and THE CROSSWORD MURDERS). The story line is fresh with the puzzles serving as an intricate part of the amateur sleuth inquiry. Roscoe and Belle seem more like neighbors and the secondary cast such as Roscoe¿s police pal Lever adds depth. Though the crossword puzzles left at the crime scene seems a bit stretched, fans will ignore that, solve the puzzles, and ultimately the case in an enjoyable interactive who-done-it. Harriet Klausner