See, there's only two a' us, detectives-like,
on th' Spontoon Islands Constabulary. There's me, Detective
Sergeant Orrin Brush, an' then, there's my boss, Detective Inspector
Franklin J. Stagg. So it kinda goes with th' territory that ya
gotta cover things if one goes down. Now, I figgered I'd be the
only one in today, since Stagg had gone a chunk a' Saturday inta the
lil' hours of Sunday playin' poker 'gainst Col. Jabez Cougar. I
mean, I'd watched, but that ain't th' same as playin'. An' I got
the wife to keep the kits quiet yest'day, so at least I'm
bushy-tailed. So I gets ta the office, an' I gotta say, I does a
double-take when I sees Stagg at his desk.
I mean, he looks tired. Well, more tired
than he usually does. Deer kinda have that weary expression
anyways, y'know? But here he is. He's fiddlin' with a
Murder Box. That's a sorta tool box for detectives, it's got all
these powders 'n envelopes 'n useful stuff like that. He looks
up, an' he nods ta me.
"The week is starting off quickly,
Sergeant. One of the uniformed constables telephoned in this
morning. Apparently, there's been a death on Convent Road over on
Casino Island. Suspicious, so we've been called in, and so has
Dr. Meffit. So, no need to hang up your jacket..."
Convent Road, that's a pretty classy
neighbourhood. Used ta' be a convent there, back when the Brits
were here. Th' convent ain't there no more, but they kept somea
the walls 'round the property, an' divvied it up. Buncha nice
homes, gardens, an' all. Real private-like.
I ask Stagg fer a bita G-2 as we're waitin'
for the water taxi. "Stiff gotta name?"
Stagg checked his notes. He writes real
tiny. Gets a lot on a lil' card. "August von Fuchs."
"Hunh. Someone'll get a medal."
"Mr. von Fuchs wasn't popular, I take?"
"Ain't too many really knew him, 'round
here. Moved here 'bout '31 or so. He used ta be some big
wheel on Wall Street. Real sharp trader. Too sharp, ya ask
some. Could reel off weeksa stats off'n the top of his
head. Rumour was, he skipped the U.S. a few jumps 'heada buncha
lawyers who wanted ta ask him some questions. S'posed ta have
greased a few paws here 'n there, an' hardly no one bothered him here
on the Islands. Certainly no one official-like."
"You say 'hardly,' Sergeant. Implying...?"
"Well, 'round about Christmas or so last year, he
wuz havin' a drink at the Marleybone when some guy, an off-Islander,
takes out a .45, yells at him, somethin' about bein' a thief, and takes
a few pot-shots at him. Lucky the guy was a bad shot, just busted
a few bottles an' the big mirror backa the bar. Kinda went ta
ground after that. Last I heard, they wuz fortifyin' the
place. Dunno how."
19 November 1934 1040
Well, we gets ta No. 11, Convent Road.
Bit gloomy. Thick doors on the front, bars on th' windows.
Ain't no one took care a' the gardens, they're overgrown. Paint
peelin' on th' outside walls. Kinda looked like an' upscale
version of our office, leastways on th' outside.
Uniform on duty answered th' door, sent us
upstairs ta a big study-room. You know, usual, book-lined,
rolltop-desk, table, that sorta thing. Only thing kinda outa
place is a big, heavy steel door in one wall. It's open 'bout
half-way, an' I can hear a few voices in it.
Well, one of 'em is Dr. Meffit's.
High-society doc, who doubles in brass as our M.E. He's okay at
it, but it sure is kinda funny to see him dissectin' a stiff wearin' an
apron over his striped pants. Th' other guy looks like some sorta
lawyer-type, since he's got a briefcase, which he's holdin' onta real
tight. Doesn't look like he wants ta move a muscle. Good
Meffit sees us, an' gets up real
graceful-like, shoots his cuffs, fixes his tie, an' fixes his pince-nez
'fore he starts talkin'.
"Suffocation, gentlemen. Mr. von
Fuchs seems to have been locked in the vault, and died when the oxygen
ran out. As you can see, there is no blood about, nor any mark
readily visible on him. There's a significant bruise on the chin,
on his left, near the point, but I'd have to examine back at the morgue
to find anything more subtle. Send the body around when you're
finished with it, please."
An' with that, he bows, an' strolls
off. Just as if he wuz askin' fer a suit to be delivered. I
mean, I'm sure he sees dead bodies all th' time, but jeez.
Anyhow, the lawyer, nervous lookin' squirrel, is lookin' scared at me
'n Stagg, back 'n forth, so Stagg sorta gently takes him by th' elbow,
and leads him outta the vault, an' sits him in a chair.
"Um, er, ah. How do you,
gentlemen. I assume you're the police?" We flash our
buzzers. Fact he's right don't calm him down none.
"Ah. I see. I'm Mr. Akorn, Mr. von Fuchs'...well, the
late Mr. von Fuchs', solicitor. Look, I found the body this
morning, but I swear, I have nothing to do with this, nothing, I..."
Stagg puts a paw on his shoulder, an'
gives it a squeeze. Squirrel swallas a few times, an' then gives
us th' dope. Seems von Fuchs had been workin' on a new
will. Got finalized Friday night, spozed ta be signed this
mornin'. Lawyer comes by for the signin', von Fuchs ain't
here. Lawyer kinda concerned. Staff, both of 'em, sez they
ain't seen him since Friday night, while he wuz meetin' with
Akorn. Lawyer gets it inta his head to secure the new will in the
vault, an' opens it up. And he finds out where von Fuchs has been
spendin' his weekend.
"You have the vault combination, then?"
Lawyer nods, an' gulps. "Yes, that's why
my pawprints are on the vault dials. I'm his lawyer, after
all. But I swear I didn't have anything to do with this! I
mean, this is horrible. The staff, they saw me open the vault..."
Stagg thinks fer a minute. "I would
suggest that the best thing for you to do is to go home, have a good
drink, and then go to bed. When we want to speak to you, we'll
let you know. But we will keep things as quiet as we can."
Lawyer gulps, nods, an' looks to scram,
fast. I wanted ta know somethin', though. "Hey, y'know what
he kept in there?" I points to the vault.
"Hmmm? Oh, well, I've only seen the
contents once, last week, when we were working on an asset list.
I'll have my office send it over. Mostly bearer bonds, some
gold coins, and a few packets of diamonds."
Great. That's gonna be easy ta
trace. Squirrel takes the chance when me 'n Stagg look at each
other, ta bolt. Guess he wanted that drink.
Stagg had me shoot off a few packs a' film,
while he went 'round an' took prints from the vault door, the pair a'
letter-number dials on the front, sorta like a postbox, an' somea the
drawers in the vault. Full drawers, though; we found the bonds,
the coins an' the diamonds, an' it wouldn't have been no trouble to
snitch some. Stagg finishes up wit' the dustin', an' looks at the
body. Pretty much as Meffit sez, no real sign a' gettin' stuck or
shot. Pawprints on the stiff sorta, on first glance, match the
pawprints found all over th' vault. It's only when Stagg shifts
the body a bit, that both of us notices a sheet a' paper, an' a lil'
silver pencil holder 'neath the body.
Queer sorta stuff written on it. It
ain't exactly square on the paper, since he musta been writin' in the
dark. Back of a sheet a' paper. Kinda ironic, a page from
what looks like a draft will. Anyhoo, this is what's on it:
"I am in the Giuoco Piano
Brutus white Caesar black
Nf6#? Le roi mort"
Now this, I don't know from nothin'. For
one thing, I didn't see no piano comin' in, an' fer another, this
looked like a whole buncha random scrawl. Stagg looks at the
document fer a while, an' then calls down ta the uniform. Has him
take charge a sendin' the stiff to Meffit's office, while he sits down
at th' rolltop desk.
"Sergeant? Humour me for a moment, but is
there a chess board in here?"
I look 'round. "Yeah, over by the fireplace,
right next ta a funny lookin' clock. Two clocks, both stopped."
"That's a clock for timed chess, Sergeant. You
know, with a time limit. Is it a nice one?"
"Brass 'n mahogany, sir. Got Russian
letterin' on it."
"Hmmm. Expensive. Anything
relating to chess on the bookshelves?"
I takes a look. "Bound copies of some
chess magazines, tournament stuff, yeah. Few small silver bowls,
too. Trophies from tournaments. 'bout ten years old."
Stagg thinks fer a bit, an' folds away the bit
of paper in an envelope, an' puts it an' the pawprint stuff in the
19 November 1934 1230
The late lamented sure had a hell of a knack
fer pickin' his staff. His driver is a guy named Mayne.
Massive Percheron who looks like he could chew anyone of us up an' spit
us out, sure as lookin' at us. Manservant is a shifty-eyed
wolf, name a' Lupin. When the two ain't givin' nasty looks ta us,
they're givin' nasty looks at t'other. Ain't a whole lotta trust
in this house.
The usual. No, we ain't seen th' boss
since Friday, when the lawyer wuz talkin' ta him, 'till the lawyer
found him, too. No, we wuz home. No, we ain't seen each
other. No, we ain't able ta prove it. No, we ain't seen
nobody about. Yeah, we hated von Fuchs' guts, since he was a
cheap so-an-so. Yeah, th' other guy'd do it fer a farthin,' an'
wouldn't think twice about it, an' I'd pay fer his coffin. Yeah,
th' boss had enemies. Get the Manhattan phone book, an' pick
one. Better yet, put the cuffs on that lawyer. Look at
*his* books. Real helpful, that pair. Get their prints,
ain't helpful, neither.
Me 'n Stagg search th' house with a few
uniforms. We give ol' Mayne 'n Lupin's places the
twice-over. Nothin' there, nothin' in the car. Nothin' on
the grounds. This ain't turnin' out ta be an overly good
19 November 1934 1805
Get back to HQ, kinda tired from all that
searchin'. Well, at least Meffit was helpful. Sorta.
Fuchs ain't been shot, ain't been stabbed. No marks on the body,
'ceptin' that bruise on his chin, which wouldn'ta killed him.
Mighta made him dizzy, though. When there ain't no more air, he
goes ta that great chess club in th' sky.
Stagg thinks fer a bit, an' steps out ta the
break room. He comes back with a chess board and a buncha
pieces. Sets it up, an' starts playin' the game. Runs it
"Well, this is certainly a real game.
You can play each of these moves. I don't know why he would
question those five moves, though. Or think that one move of
Caesar was so brilliant."
"So, he ain't been knocked that dizzy?"
"No, this is a deliberate bit of work. He
would have thought this out."
"Hell of a thing ta do. Why not just write th'
name of the guy who done it?"
Stagg stops and thinks. "A valid point,
Sergeant. Why, indeed?"
"Guy knew the combo to the vault, coulda checked up
on him, ya know, ta see if he wuz done?"
"Well, he wouldn't have done that, Sergeant.
Suppose it would have let more air in? But you have a
point. Making the name obvious would have run a risk, depending
on who, exactly, discovered the body. It certainly makes one
suppose that this was a code."
"So each of them letters an' numbers could
stand fer another letter or number? I remember readin' a treasure
story like that, oncet."
"Ah, yes. 'The Gold Bug.' I read
that as a fawn. Wonderful story. It would be very hard to
compose a cryptogram like that off the cuff, though. Thinking it
through and all." Stagg peers at the paper, close-like.
"Also, I'm not sure there's enough variety in the letters and numbers
to suggest such a possiblity."
"How many moves are there?"
Stagg counts 'em up. "Twenty-two.
Enough, maybe, for a simple cipher. I'll have to think it
"By the way, sir, I thunk up two questions when we
wuz comin' back. Akorn said there was a new will. Wunner
what he changed? An' the two staff guys, they wuz sayin' the
lawyer was kinda funny. Spoze he was upta something? Or
owed a little?"
Stagg drums his fingers on the desk a few times, an'
then nods. "We should set up a meeting among Messrs. Akorn, Mayne
and Lupin some time tomorrow. At Convent Road. I think I'm
going to borrow your questions. And actually, ask a few questions
of myself. Is the library still open? I think I need to get
a book or two on chess to brush up, tonight."
20 November 1934 1100
So I makes a few calls, first thing in th' mornin',
an get Akorn, Mayne an' Lupin all together, right in the room next ta
th' vault. Bang on eleven, there's a clump-clump-clump up th'
stairs, an' Stagg comes in, leanin' on his walkin' stick. He sets
hisself down. I notice he's gotta book in his paw, with a slip a'
paper markin' one page. He does one kinda odd thing,
though. He winds up that funny chess clock, an' presses a button.
"First, I think, a few questions, before we
reach the main purpose of this meeting. Mr. Akorn, what changes
were in the new will, the one you say you were bringing?"
Lupin jumps in, though. "I'll tell you
what the changes were. I was getting cut out of the will because
of Mayne, here, stabbing me in the back during those drives."
Mayne turns on th' wolf. "You
I spoze Mayne's kinda right, as a technical
matter, but I figger it's 'bout this time I needs ta get out my .38
Police Special, an' show th' boys that I got somethin' fer them if they
don't play nice. They pipes down, an Akorn, who don't look so
good, starts in...
"Well. Uhm. Actually, both Mr. Mayne and
Mr. Lupin were not given legacies in the new will, as opposed to the
Stagg looks thoughtful. "And who was the
beneficiary in the new will?"
"Well, uhm, a charitable foundation, to be funded by
"May I see the provisions of this bequest, Mr.
Akorn don't look like he's overly eager to hand it
over, but he does, an' Stagg flips through a few pages, scannin' the
text. After a few minutes, he looks up.
"So it is. Quite a substantial
endowment, I notice. It will generate a good deal of income?"
Akorn, he gulps a bit, an' looks at
Mayne an' Lupin, who give him th' eye. "I also notice, Mr.
Akorn, that you are to be the sole trustee for this foundation.
Quite a nice little..."
Stagg don't get ta finish this, as *both*
Mayne an' Lupin get outta their chairs, an' look like they wanna rip
Akorn inta lil' bits right then an' there, cops or no cops. I had
to break out th' .38, again, an' give 'em another look, 'fore they sat
Stagg don't take no notice of all the ruckus.
"Another thing on my mind. Something, perhaps, a little less
incendiary. Who, here, plays chess?"
Akorn looks real pale an' nervous, an' he raises a
shakin' paw. Mayne points ta Lupin. "He does, the apple
polisher. Did me out of what's mine over a few games of chess,
"So did you, you lying..."
"Thank you, that will do. So, let's
review. We have two staffers who were hostile to their boss, and
it seems to be common knowledge that they were to be losing an expected
legacy. We also have the deceased's lawyer, who would profit
greatly from the death. Additionally, the lawyer is, it seems,
the last person to see the deceased alive, if we are to believe the
stories of the staffers, who cannot independently vouch for their
whereabouts during the weekend in question. And it's pretty clear
all that would be required to commit the crime would be an ability to
hit the deceased hard enough to knock him out, and to open the vault."
Mayne sneers at Akorn. "Which our pal
here had, didn't you?"
Akorn's sweatin' up a storm. "Look, I
swear to God, Mr. von Fuchs was alive when I left on Friday..."
Stagg taps his stick on th' floor.
"That's as maybe, Mr. Akorn, but let's stick to the case at paw.
The other thing to note is that all three of you play chess, correct?"
All three nods. Quiet, fer once.
Stagg turns to Lupin. "What is a Giuoco Piano, Mr. Mayne?"
Mayne looks kinda startled at this, an'
shrinks back in his chair a bit. After a minute or so, he pipes
up, quiet like. "It's an opening gambit in chess."
Stagg pulls out his book. "One of the basic
opening moves in chess, is it not?" Mayne nods. Now he's
startin' to sweat. Stagg reads the book. "I won't
bore you with the details, suffice it to say that it's a chess strategy
that's been known for over 200 years. In fact, one of the
standard moves taught to beginners. How does one play it, Mr.
Now it's Lupin's turn ta sweat.
"It's a pawn-knight-bishop combination opening..."
"Yes, thank you. That's the word I was
looking for." Lupin turns sorta pale, an' licks his lips
nervous-like as Stagg turns ta me.
"Sergeant, go over to the vault and tell me
what the combination dials look like."
Pretty simple. "Like one of 'em
post-office jobs. One dial's gotta letter, one dial's gotta
"Close the vault door and spin the dials,
Sergeant." No sooner said, than done. I test th' handle,
an' the vault is locked.
"Dial the following combination,
Sergeant. E4, E5, F3."
I does. No joy, still locked.
"E4, F3, C4."
Still nothin'. Lupin, Mayne 'n Acorn are
lookin' a little more relaxed, and kinda hopeful that Stagg's lost his
"E5, C6, C5"
Door swings open, silent, easy an' slow, when I
turns the handle an' pull.
"You may be interested to know, gentlemen, that the
term Giuoco Piano means slow
or mild game. Rather like that door opening, just now."
Th' boys look at each other. Back ta nervous,
"The solution was suggested to me by the game that
the late Mr. von Fuchs wrote down as he was dying. What struck me
just now was that these are the first three moves by Caesar, who was,
of course, murdered by Brutus. Rather appropriate that it would
be the dead man's moves that would open the vault. He truly did
end up in the Giuoco Piano. Also approriate, when you figure that
Brutus defeats Caesar in this game. But I had another notion in
mind, regarding Caesar."
Stagg uses his stick, an' sorta lurches to his
feet. He then begins pacin' the library floor.
"What we have here is clearly some sort of
code. Mr. von Fuchs, perhaps, thought there was a risk that when
his body was discovered, the person finding the body might realize an
openly written message and destroy it. Is that not so, Mr. Akorn?"
Akorn lets out a gasp, an' can't really do nuthin'
else. Stagg takes that as a yes.
"One of the oldest ciphers known is a simple
substitution cipher, in which one letter or symbol will stand for
another symbol. Mr. von Fuchs' game had 22 moves, which
immediately suggested to Sergeant Brush, here, that there was some sort
Stagg takes a blank sheet a' paper from the rolltop
desk, and writes a few things. "The late Mr. von Fuchs apparently
had a keen memory, so it's hardly a surprise he was both good at chess,
and could recall a game from memory, as he seems to have done
here. As you can see, Mr. von Fuchs marked five moves by "Brutus"
with a question mark. As "Brutus" won the game, it seems hardly
likely that these moves are being truly questioned. Therefore,
there is a significance to these particular moves. Or, rather,
He holds up a sheeta paper.
4-5-16-18-22. "Or, translated out, D-E-P-R-V."
The boys look at each other. They're
confused. Hell, *I'm* confused. But Stagg ain't. He
"There is, of course, another type of
substitution cipher. It's made by simply 'shifting' each and
every letter of the alphabet a certain number of letters over, and then
writing the message in that "new" alphabet equivalent. You may be
interested to know, gentlemen, that this is sometimes referred to as a
"Caesar Alphabet." When I was, many years ago, trained as an
intelligence officer, my instructor mentioned this to my class in
Stagg continues pacin'. "So, if we
look at Caesar's moves, we see that one move is highlighted. An
otherwise unremarkable castle. On the ninth move. This
suggests that somehow, the plaintext letters have been shifted over
nine places. And there are only two ways this can be shifted,
gentlemen. And one of those methods produces the numbers
13-1-25-14-5, which will translate out as..."
I does some quick calculatin' in my mind, while
Stagg in writing some letters on a new sheet a' paper. I get the
.38 out one last time, an' keep an eye on one guy in particular.
Mayne looks like someone smacked him one hard in th'
gut, which makes it kinda easy fer me ta put the cuffs on him.
Lupin an' Akorn don't look smug, they look kinda shocked, too, an'
sorta goggle at Stagg. He just walks over, an' presses the button
on the chess clock, again.
"I believe that's checkmate."
20 November 1934 1955
Mayne sang like a canary once we got him back
to HQ. Didn't seem none too sorry, though. He had a hell of
time tellin' us how he smacked Fuchs one on the kisser when Fuchs told
him 'bout the new will. Fuchs almost ducked outta the way, but
not quite, an' he went down likea sacka salt. Mayne drug him over
ta the vault, an' opened it up, figgerin' that was th' only way he
could kill Fuchs an' make it look sorta like an accident, like he
locked hisself in. Was kinda a temptation to snitch somea the
loot, but then, it wouldn't have seemed like no accident. Seemed
real happy to tell us 'bout Fuchs comin' to just as he wuz shuttin' the
vault door, and shuttin' out the yell.
After Mayne got drug away to th' jail, I wrote
up the report. Stagg looked it over, an' signed it up, and put it
in an envelope to send upstairs to th' Chief.
"There was one further irony I didn't mention,
Sergeant, which puts rather an interesting punctuation mark on the
whole matter. Here, let me set up the game, and tell me what
piece put Caesar in checkmate."
I looks, an' gives a start. It wuz a knight,
th' horse, that put th' king in checkmate. Stagg sorta
slownods his head, an' gently tips th' white king over.