Saturday, August 20, 2005
The waiflike blonde reporterette faced the camera. She began to speak. “Local fisherman Hal Cahill was the first to discover Jordanna Zweig’s mutilated body this morning, shortly after eleven. Zwieig, a 23 year-old hairstylist, was last seen Saturday afternoon as she was leaving her job at the Wild West Salon in the Buckland Mall. Although State Police have not confirmed anything, her killing appears to be the work of the Mall Rat. This would be the seventh killing since February linked to the serial killer. The State Police nicknamed him the Mall Rat because all of his victims were last seen alive at Hartford area malls. So far, very few clues…”
“Nance, can I grab another Molson, please?” Irv Townshend’s voice drowned out the news report from the TV overlooking the Alamo Bar. He was seared next to Roger DeCarlo, the proprietor who was working on his third crossword puzzle of the day. Both men were in their mid-thirties. Roger was a former NFL place kicker. In his former life, Irv was a naval officer in the Gulf War. Although Rog was a self-proclaimed “acrossianado”, he was not above seeking an occasional clue from a friend. Irv, whose brain was a font of useless knowledge, was usually more than happy to oblige.
“Hey Irv,” said Roger, “What was the name of the first sub to cross under the North Pole? It’s eight letters and starts with an ‘n.’”
“Dude, that was the Nautilus.” Irv replied.
“Thanks, much. I knew that I could count on an old salt to solve that clue.”
“Actually, I already did that puzzle this afternoon. There’s something real freaky about it. Are you almost finished with it, Rog?”
“Everything except the lower right hand corner.”
“Cool! Check this out. The puzzle actually makes reference to the latest Mall Rat killing.”
“Get the fuck out, Irv! It does not.”
“It does too.” Irv pulled a yellow highlighter out of his shirt pocket and marked three words. “Look. 55 Across – Severed, 28 Across – Beauticians, 7 Down – Limbs. Severed beauticians limbs. That’s eerie, man!”
“Aw, c’mon. That’s got to be a coincidence, Irv. These crosswords are syndicated from New York or Chicago. Plus, this was printed before the police found this Zweig chick’s body.”
“Actually, the Monday and Wednesday crosswords in the Courant are done by some freelance guy name Matt Dawson. He’s probably local. And the fact that this crossword puzzle was printed before the body was discovered indicates, to me, that this Dawson guy either murdered the girl or knows who did.”
“You watched too many Colombo episodes growing up. If your hare-brained theory is correct, then Dawson probably inserted clues to the other killings in his earlier puzzles.”
Irv stroked his chin, thoughtfully. “I have about a years worth of Courants bagged up over at my condo. We could go through them and see if Mister Dawson has dropped any more clues about the Mall Rat.”
“What do you mean by we, Irv? I have a wife and daughters that I have to go home to.”
“Yeah, but the puzzle addict in you wants to do this. Look man, I’ll make a friendly wager on this. You give me fifty if there’re more clues in the puzzles, I’ll give you fifty if there aren’t.”
“Make it a hundred.”
The Alamo closed down for the night around one. Roger followed Irv to his condo by the industrial park. It was a clear autumn night. The cloudless sky sucked up any remaining heat from the earth. All of the trees on the roadside had been stripped down to their skeletons. T. S. Eliot was full of shit. November is the cruelest month. At least it is in New England.
In one of Irv’s closets, he had bags upon bags of newspapers. The two went through the bags and clipped out all the stories about the Mall Rat. Since the killings started back in February, they had to go through a lot of stories. They taped them into an old notebook, like it was a junior high current events project. Then, they took all the Tuesday and Thursday papers. These contained the solutions to the Monday and Wednesday puzzles. Each guy grabbed about half the solutions and went through them to see if they contained hidden messages.
“Irv, the newsprint fumes must be getting to me. I’m starting to see messages in these puzzles. Check out June 13th. 5 Down – Guillotine, 45 Down – High School, 71
Across – Cheerleader. Two days later they found Sandy Clinch’s headless body over in the Wethersfield Meadows.”
“Yeah, on March 7th I have Barmaids Torso Removed. That was probably Patty Gonzales. All they found was her skull.”
“Man, this is one sick fucker. What’s he trying to do? Build some ideal woman out of these different parts?”
“Not only is he sick, he’s a cocky mofo, too. On October 12th he taunts the police. Six of the entries make these two sentences: ‘Crime Spree Remains Unsolved. Detectives Idiots.’”
By now, the sun was starting to come up. “What do we do now, Irv?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m getting some shut-eye. Let’s gather this shit together after we wake up and take it to the State Police Homicide Unit.”
State Police Major Brian Boyle was in a foul mood. There had been a serial killer on the loose in Greater Hartford for nine months and his unit had made no progress in tracking him down. It had to be a him. The prototypical serial killer was a sociopathic white male in his mid-twenties or early thirties. Meanwhile, he was catching hell from the brass, the press, and the general public. He was pacing in his office on Thursday afternoon, when his AA knocked on his door.
“Major, there’s too gentlemen here to see you. It’s about the Mall Rat.”
“Of course it’s about the Mall Rat!” he bellowed, “Every crackpot in central Connecticut is playing Sam Spade, thinking they’ve solved this case that we pros haven’t been able to crack.”
“Shall I send them in?”
“Sure, go ahead. What do I have to lose?”
Irv and Roger entered the major’s office, gave him the notebook, which contained the newsclippings and puzzles, and explained to him what they discovered. Boyle just sat there, glaring at the two.
“Why don’t you go down the hall and see Detective I Don’t Give A Rat’s Ass and Lieutenant I Could Care Less. Of all the crackpots theories I’ve heard this is the worst. Everyone around here thinks they’re Sherlock Freakin’ Holmes or something. Get the hell out of my office!”
The two amateur sleuths were taken aback by Boyle’s reaction. They left his office and were heading out of the State Police barracks. Irv and Roger were almost at the front door when they saw a young man in a three-piece suit pick up a phone. “Hello, this is Detective Matt Dawson.” He answered. Both Irv and Roger almost fainted.
They were still shaken up as they drove east on I-84. “No wonder Boyle didn’t want to see our evidence.” Roger said. “It implicates one of his very own detectives. That’s kind of like finding out that the Pope is a devil-worshipper.”
“Yeah,” replied Irv, “This Mall Rat case gets weirder and weirder. First, we find out the killer is publishing clues in the paper, then we find out he’s a cop. What do we do now?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m laying low for a while. I think that I’ll disappear down to my brother’s place in D.C. before Boyle decides do make me disappear for good.”Three days later, there was a house fire in South Windsor. The fire consumed ninety percent of the house and
killed the one resident. His name was Matt Dawson. The Fire Marshall found no evidence of foul play.
I'm pleasantly undecided if I like the ending or not.