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## October 2004 ##

"Telephone Inspector Stagg!"
Incidents in the life of Inspector Franklin Stagg
 as reported by Detective Sergeant Orrin Brush
& edited 

by EO Costello
Illustration by Kjartan

"The Gambit"

19 November 1934 0925

     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 instincts.

      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

e4           e5
Nf3        Nc6
Bc4        Bc5
c3?        d6
0-0?      Nf6
d4          exd4
exd4      Bb6
h3          h6
Nc3       0-0!
Be3       Re8
d5         Bxe3
dxc6     Bb6
e5         Dxe5
Qb3      Re7
Bxf7+  Rxf7
Nxe5?  Qe8
cxb7     Bxb7
Rae1?   Ba6
Ng6      Qd8
Re7       Nd5
Nxd5    Rxe7
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 Murder Box.

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 afternoon, y'know?

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 through twice.

     "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 through."

    "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."

Inspector Stagg "Gambit" illo by Kjartan

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 son-of-a..."  

     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 old one."

    Stagg looks thoughtful.  "And who was the beneficiary in the new will?"

    "Well, uhm, a charitable foundation, to be funded by the estate."

     "May I see the provisions of this bequest, Mr. Akorn?"

    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 down.

    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, didn't you?"

    "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. Lupin?"

     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 number."

     "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 way.

    "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, 'gain.

    "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 of substitution."

    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, their number."

     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 moves along.

     "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 cryptography."

     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.