The residents of the bucolic Massachusetts hamlet are up in arms. A developer has bought the sprawling Quigley homestead, and his construction crew is causing a ruckus digging up the land. The noise stops abruptly when a female skeleton is found buried in the garden.
Hired to find out who killed Jane Doe—and why—cop-turned-investigator Rosco Polycrates and his wife, crossword editor Belle Graham, discover an insular community that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders. With the local police labeling it a cold case, they have their work cut out for them. Add arson and a double homicide, and the grid is set for a brainteaser that just might stump two of New England’s most dedicated crime busters—if it doesn’t kill them first.
This ebook includes six crossword puzzles that can be downloaded as PDFs, with answers in the back of the book.
Corpus de Crossword is the 5th book in the Crossword Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Corpus de Crossword
A Crossword Mystery
By Nero Blanc
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 Cordelia F. Biddle and Steve Zettler
All rights reserved.
"What if you had something to hide ...? Or maybe you already hid it?" The speaker stood, hunched and frail beside the room's wide window, then lifted a veiny, blue hand to touch glass grown greasy from institutional cooking: glass that now reflected an early autumnal night, a fog-wet roadway, the diamond-bright lights of trucks and cars and minivans roaring past—roaring away. The hand stroked the window's surface, leaving a smeary mark on the cold pane.
The response to these questions drifted across a hospital-style bed, and came from a nurse's aide who huffed and puffed with exertion as she lifted the mattress and tucked in sheets. She was a large and cherub-faced woman, dressed in a lilac cotton smock and matching drawstring pants printed with teddy bears and balloons—a peculiar choice for a home for the elderly, but one intended to bring cheer into declining years. "You mean an object—like a purse or piece of jewelry or some such ...? Or do you mean something hidden from yourself? Like an emotion?" The aide wheezed, stood up straight, and tugged at her print top. She was long accustomed to these verbal guessing games with her patient. "Or like a lie? Something like that, you mean?"
No reply came from the aged body at the window.
"Playing twenty questions tonight, are we?" The aide chortled and punched a bedraggled pillow into shape.
"Can't see anything from up here," was the grumbled retort.
"Sure you can! You look down, you see the highway, the supermarket off at the right—"
"There's no people out there. No people at all."
"You want people, you come downstairs and join the others in the recreation lounge ... game hour ... activities hour ... TV ... mealtimes ... I keep telling you—"
"Just a lot of old folks drooling in their sleep."
"Not when they're eating," was the cheery comeback. "Besides, you're gonna go stir-crazy if you insist on staying up here for the rest of your born days." She grabbed another pillow, turning her back on her charge, and so failed to notice the reaction to this reference to incarceration.
The shoulders grew stiff and hostile; the head with its paltry covering of hair ducked as though anticipating a blow. "I don't like it downstairs. Never have—"
"Tell me something I don't already know." The bed finished, the aide turned to the single dresser, a shabby affair with a top crisscrossed by water rings and deeply etched scars. She sighed, but the sound was indulgent. "Why you keep all them books stacked up here, I'll never understand."
"Don't you touch them."
The aide ignored the familiar directive, instead tidying up a storm while her patient helplessly scowled in protest.
"I don't like my things—"
"Touched, I know ... You'd be happy rolling around on the floor with a bunch of dust bunnies ... Oh, dear, you spilled your juice again, didn't you? Cranberry, too, which is real sticky ..."
A dismissive shrug greeted the complaint.
"And down the wall ..." The aide bent, flicking a damp rag over the gummy spots while two old and weary eyes followed every bustling movement.
"What if ...?"
"You back to hiding things again?"
"... What if you had a horrid secret?"
The aide straightened her bulky body and looked long and hard at her charge. "Horrid? How horrid?"
The patient didn't answer while the nurse's aide kept up her searching gaze. "You mean something you did a while back? Something that makes you feel unhappy now? Or guilty, even?"
A brief nod was the sole reply, and the aide's round face crumpled in empathy.
"Why, everyone on this earth has feelings like that! Honest! Things we wish we hadn't done ... unkind words we shouldn't have said to loved ones ... mean thoughts ... selfish notions ... If I was to pay you a penny for all the times I—"
"I mean something worse ... something evil." The words ceased, but the frightened stare bored holes into the aide's eyes.
"Are you asking to see a priest maybe?"
The denial was far more forceful than the aged voice seemed capable of. "No!"
"Sounds to me as if you're—"
"I'm not ... I'm just ... I was just ... talking."
The aide cocked her head to one side. In the ten years she'd worked at the nursing home, she'd learned that almost all the patients had secret worries and sorrows they'd hidden away. The older the residents grew, the more anxious they became to unburden themselves. Mostly the stories were commonplace tales: long-forgotten sibling rivalries, family arguments needlessly begun and never resolved, estranged children, unforgiving mates. Once in a while, though, the situation was worse.
"There's the priest who comes to—"
"I'm not talking to any priest!"
The wet rag was folded with a noisy slap; a chair was yanked back against the wall. "I'll fill your water pitcher and bring in some more straws ... He's an Episcopal priest ... The religious preference you indicated on your—"
"I don't want any priests in here."
"But your admission card says—"
"I won't see him!"
"Okay, okay. You needn't bite my head off."
"And I don't want anyone else coming into my room ..."
The aide's expansive chest released a weary sigh. "I'll be bringing your supper in about half an hour. You want I should put one of your books beside the bed before I go?"
"No one else—"
"I said, I heard you."CHAPTER 2
"'The way of transgressors is hard.' Proverbs 13:15." The voice of the man making this pronouncement was stony, a no-nonsense tone that brooked no equivocation—or argument. As he spoke he thumped calloused fingers on the long Formica table while his aging yet wiry physique and bristly white hair quivered with outrage and indignation. "'If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.' Proverbs again ... Well? I'm still waiting for an answer. Are we going to make them cease this reprehensible activity?"
It was Curtis Plano who answered. Unlike the first speaker, his fingers were not visible on the tabletop. The reason being that Plano had lost his left hand in the early days of the Vietnam War, where he'd served as a medic. And although his prosthetic hook had long been accepted by his peers, he wielded it with discretion; the rest of the time it remained out of sight: in a jacket pocket, under a table; in church, the hymnal or prayer book rested upon it. "Wars are better off forgotten," Curtis liked to repeat, with a been-there-done-that shrug. "The past is the past, and nothing's going to change it." Now his speech was equally pragmatic. "I agree with Warden Stark, something needs to be done—"
"Something needs to be done, and right quick, Curtis," was the fiery retort. "The damage is already—"
"Potential damage, John; it's only potential," Milton Hoffmeyer interjected. Like Stark, he was in his early seventies, but where John was a dictatorial bantam rooster, Milt was yielding and placid, a bear-shaped man with a tranquil and shambling air. "Because like it or not ... and I admit, I don't like this situation any better than you ... I cannot, at this point, say that they're—"
John Stark snorted. "So you're advising we just let them get away with murder up there—?"
"No. That's not what I'm saying. And murder isn't a word I'd—"
"It's the term I'm using! Unlike you and all the other nervous Nellies who live around here ... closing your eyes to every problem that comes down the pike. But then, you always have—even when you were a kid." Stark rocked rapidly back in his folding chair while Hoffmeyer's tall body bent forward, precipitating another stalemate among the two top-ranking vestry members of Trinity Episcopal Church in the hamlet of Taneysville, Massachusetts.
Senior Warden Stark and Junior Warden Hoffmeyer, lifelong neighbors and polar opposites. Month after month, year after year, decade upon decade: allies one moment, adversaries the next. Before his retirement, John had spent a life out of doors, first as a house painter, then as a self-employed general contractor. He held little truck with those whose trade consisted of "punching cash register keys." This dictum naturally included Milt, who still worked "six days a week, sunup to sunset" at Hoffmeyer's General Store, an emporium established by his father during the late 1930s; and little had altered since that bygone era.
"I take 'nervous Nellies' amiss, John. I have to tell you that."
"Well, I take it amiss that you're waffling on this issue."
"I'm not waffling. I'm merely suggesting that your approach is extreme—"
Curtis Plano stepped into the breach. "It's more than 'potential damage,' Milt. Like John says: Every time those damn—" He checked his speech, scowling with the habitual frown that raced across his square, sixty-year-old face every time he—or a neighbor—stepped beyond what he considered the "bounds of decency." Now the owner and proprietor of the village pharmacy, Plano felt it his duty to maintain a conscientious and ethical attitude in all dealings—whether at the shop or at home. "Sorry, Father," he muttered to the priest at the table's far end. "But you know what I think about those machines. And working all hours on Sunday, too! It's simply not right. We're a law-abiding community. A good community. We've worked hard all our lives, and we've earned the right to have our share of peace and quiet."
As if awaiting their cue, the machines in question, the relentless earthmoving apparatus that the vestry was now discussing, increased their thunderous rumblings; and the meeting room in the church's undercroft vibrated with the din. Cooling coffee danced in the mugs; the steam radiator in the room's far corner hiccoughed and hissed while the waning late October light that filtered down through the basement windows jumped and shivered as though it had also been affected by the noise.
"You're forgiven," said Father Matthew with a quick and grateful smile. He was a young man, just out of seminary and so eager and helpful as to seem hopelessly naive. He preferred to be called plain "Matt"—had tried from his first day at Trinity to be on a relaxed, first-name basis—but the vestry members, all older, all fastidious about church "niceties," insisted on time-trusted honorifics. "Father" he was, or "Father Matthew"; and on the rarest occasions "Father Matt."
John Stark cleared his throat and prepared to speak again. "My fellow members of the vestry," he began, using the magisterial mode he employed for reading Scripture lessons on Sunday mornings. "It's our building I'm worried about ... Now, we all know that backhoe shakes the living daylights out of the hillside every time it bites up another scoop of dirt; and I'm telling you right now, I think it's damaging Trinity's foundation. We can hardly afford minor repairs. What are we going to do with major ones? We'd have to shut down. And I mean that. We'd have to find another space in which to worship."
A murmur of dismay buzzed around the table.
"But we've got a good, strong structure here, John," Hoffmeyer countered. "It's stood in this spot a long while ... almost as long as Taneysville has been a community. Besides, unless we hire ourselves a lawyer, I don't see how we can—"
"Money, money ... that's all it is with you, Milt ... Well, believe it or not, that's what I'm talking about. Trinity may be strong enough to withstand Massachusetts winters. And it may be strong enough to cope with the occasional 'big blow' that moves up or down the coast, but I guarantee this place can't take all that infernal shaking and shimmying every time one of those monsters starts tearing up the landscape. What we've got here is stone and wood construction and, as you pointed out, old construction. We're not talking steel beams and reinforced concrete. So, if you're trying to tell us that—"
"No one's questioning your expertise when it comes to foundation work, John," Curtis Plano interjected.
"More coffee anyone?" This was Sylvia Meigs speaking up at last. She was the town's librarian, a normally loquacious librarian as well as the newest member of the vestry. Fifty-seven, plumper than she wished, Sylvia was also the vestry's youngest member—as well as the only woman present at this emergency meeting. An awareness of her gender, age, and role had conspired to keep her cheery demeanor in abeyance, but such constraints couldn't last for long. "I made enough, and it's still hot. And there are some doughnut holes left from Social Hour ... I fried them up myself so I can promise you they're tasty. That is, if you didn't sample them already ... Which most of you did ..." She stood and smoothed her skirt over amply padded hips. "Well? I'm awaiting your orders, gentlemen."
Sylvia's sunny offer failed to alleviate the standoff between the senior and junior wardens; and she repeated her question, adding a chirpy: "How about you, Father? Care for a refill?"
Matt didn't want more coffee; his stomach was jumpy enough—just as it was every Sunday since he'd come to Taneysville. He wasn't comfortable with preaching yet, let alone with the nail-biting anxiety of producing sermons that sounded both relevant and innovative. But following every service was Social Hour, and close on its heels on this particular Sunday, an emergency meeting of the vestry. "Thank you, Sylvia. That would be nice."
"And a couple of doughnut holes, too, Father?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"He won't be so free and easy in twenty years' time, will he, Curtis?" Sylvia laughed.
Curtis smiled; Matt smiled; Sylvia continued to chuckle; but John Stark and Milton Hoffmeyer remained unmoved by the levity surrounding them.
At length, another member of the vestry weighed in. It was Gus Waterwick, the church treasurer. Gus was approaching Stark's and Hoffmeyer's age, and his hair—or what few strands remained—was a pale and watery gray. Gus stood for Gustavus; Waterwick was anyone's guess. When his grandfather had arrived from Poland to work in the paper mills of New England he'd been too young to argue with immigration officials who couldn't understand his native tongue. "Waterwick" had been the name hand-printed on his entry card; Waterwick the new-minted American became. Gus inclined his nearly bald head. When he spoke his words wrapped themselves around the remnants of an accent that still turned "w" into "v." "What are you proposing we do, John?"
"Simple enough; get them to stop."
"And how do we do that? The man bought the entire property fair and square. Fifteen acres ..." Gus paused, his demeanor that of a presiding judge rather than the former owner of Taneysville's filling station and auto repair. "... He has the right to build an addition—"
"You're correct," interrupted Curtis. "However, to my way of thinking—and John's—that addition is—"
Gus shook his head. "We can't just march up there and shout, 'Stop it right there!' Why, we'd be laughed right off the property. Taneysville should have considered new zoning years ago. Now it's—"
"Which brings us back to the issue of hiring ourselves a good lawyer—" interjected Hoffmeyer, but Stark paid no heed.
"Addition?" he demanded. "What about the proposed horse barn, the guest house, the Olympic-sized swimming pool? They're probably planning some kind of fancy beach cabana, too—"
"There aren't no beaches in our little sector of the state, John," Sylvia soothed.
"You know what I mean," Stark grumbled. "And didn't you say you were getting us coffee?"
"Testy, testy ... It won't do your heart any good to talk on so, John."
"Mrs. S tells him the very same thing," offered Father Matt with a peaceable grin.
The senior warden glowered him into silence.
"John, let me repeat my question," protested Gus in his old-world accent. "How do you propose to halt this construction? From what I hear, the owner's got more money than G—than is good for any man. Something to do with making magnets, I've heard, although how that would—"
Stark interrupted. "He doesn't need to build on the hill above our—"
"Yes, but that's where the old Quigley place is," was Hoffmeyer's reasoned response. "The house and the—"
"Well, why did he buy Quigley's property in the first place? Why start there if all he wanted to do was gut the original home and 'remodel' it into a make-believe castle? Five thousand square feet! That's what the addition's going to be. Five thousand square feet! Do you know how much bigger that is than the old house?"
"That's the way it is nowadays, John," Hoffmeyer said as he bowed his large and shaggy head. "People want bigger, better ... These farmhouses that you and me grew up in, that we've lived in all our lives ... They're—what's the word ...? They're stylish all of a sudden. Summer homes, winter homes, weekend homes ... Folks like our new neighbor—"
Excerpted from Corpus de Crossword by Nero Blanc. Copyright © 2003 Cordelia F. Biddle and Steve Zettler. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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