Belle Graham and her canine bodyguards, Kit and Gabby, are enjoying their daily outing in the local dog park with new friends Karen Tacete, her daughter Lily, and their dog Bear. But Karen’s picture-perfect life shatters when her husband, Dan, fails to return home. He’s barely been declared officially missing when Karen receives a ransom note that includes a dire warning: If she contacts the police or the FBI, Dan dies.
Who would kidnap the popular dentist against whom no one ever had a cross word? That’s what Belle and her husband, PI Rosco Polycrates, need to find out. When the Tacete abduction escalates to murder, Belle and Rosco realize the solution may lie in the baffling nursery rhyme–themed crosswords Belle has been receiving. As they dig into the life of Newcastle’s most charitable DDS, they soon find themselves up to their eyeteeth in danger, racing to fill in the blanks of a plan orchestrated by someone out to make a killing.
This ebook includes six crossword puzzles that can be downloaded as PDFs, with answers in the back of the book.
Another Word for Murder is the 7th book in the Crossword Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
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Another Word for Murder
A Crossword Mystery
By Nero Blanc
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2005 Cordelia F. Biddle and Steve Zettler
All rights reserved.
Lily was one of those children whose beauty and wholehearted delight in the world around them made total strangers stop in their tracks and smile. She was four, almost four and a half, with the kind of curly blonde hair normally associated with baby angels in Italian Renaissance paintings, and a face that glowed with a cherubic sense of fun.
She liked knock-knock jokes, storybooks, and picture books—except those with an over-abundance of green or purple. And she loved to talk. "Why" had once been her favorite word, and she'd been persistent in demanding answers. Now that it was five months past her birthday, the question had been replaced by her own set of improbable and marvelous theories. She was an authority on everything, including the fact that the family dog, a chocolate-brown Labrador retriever named Bear, was a real bear—because of "his big feets."
It was fortunate that Lily; her mother, Karen; Bear; and Lily's "very busy" father, "Doctor Dan" lived in the coastal Massachusetts city of Newcastle. Shaggy wild beasts of the Ursus arctus and americanus varieties had forsaken Newcastle's populous shoreline and its tree-dotted inland suburbs several centuries before. Not that this piece of information would have altered Lily's assessment. Her Bear was permitted to play in the large, cliff-side dog park with the city's other pets or swim at the several public beaches because he was a "gentle bear."
This reasoning led her to wonder about the species of another visitor to the dog park, a brown and black Shepherd mix named Kit who was often called "Kitty"—causing Lily to often suggest that the tallish dog with the four white paws might really be a cat. Belle Graham, who usually brought Kit to the park, was deemed "Cookie" because of the four-year-old's fondness for graham crackers, which she called cookies; however Gabby, the terrier and poodle combination who was Kit's companion was allowed to retain her name.
"'Cause she likes to bark," Lily stated, making it clear she'd heard the word "gabby" before, but not necessarily associated with a shortening of Gabriella. Cookie's husband "Rock"—Rosco to anyone over the age of six—was one of Lily's favorite people and one for whom she harbored just the smallest bit of a crush.
"Where's Rock?" she now demanded. Lily and her mother were standing on a broad, grassy rise overlooking the many-gabled building that had once been the Dew Drop Inn, a summer resort that changed hands every decade or so, but that never saw a lasting rebirth. A wide but dilapidated porch encircled the structure; on this sunny afternoon in late May, it exuded an aura of bittersweet nostalgia as if the rocking chairs that once lined its painted boards were still moving in gentle harmony.
"Rock needs to buy a new car," Belle said. "He's out looking at some right now."
"Finally biting the bullet, is he?" Karen asked with a chuckle. Like her daughter—and like Belle—Karen was also blonde, although her hair was now a tawny hue while Belle's and Lily's were the color of corn silk. Standing together, the threesome looked gilded and happy, just as the warm day spreading about them also seemed graced with prosperity and peace.
"Yup," Belle chortled. "He and Al Lever are starting their 'fact-finding mission.' I wasn't invited; I guess they thought I'd pick the first vehicle the salesman trotted out."
"Men and their precious machines." Karen shook her head while Belle laughed again.
"What's that weird relationship all about anyway?"
"True love?" Karen's blue eyes sparkled with mirth.
Belle smiled in return. "You may be right. Although Rosco knows absolutely zip about cars, when those goons destroyed his Jeep last November, he acted as if they'd attacked a member of the family.
"And it's taken six months for him to get up the courage to hunt for a permanent replacement. Now, I don't want to get overly clinical, but—"
"You're suggesting he should have passed his period of mourning?" Belle's laughter grew.
"The way my Dan runs through cars, he doesn't have time for grief. If it's hot off the assembly line, he's got to get it in our driveway. And I mean, pronto." Karen raised her hands in anticipation of her friend's next comment. "I know, I know.... Consumerism run rampant, the throw-away society, materialism at its worst, etcetera, etcetera. But Dan had such a hard-knock life as a kid that I just can't bring myself to criticize his spendthrift ways now. Besides, he insists he's actually saving money by leasing a couple of them.... Not that I believe him."
"You can only drive one at a time." But Belle stopped there; she liked Karen too much to point out the obvious: that she and her husband were fortunate to be able to indulge in such expensive habits. Instead, Belle offered a cheerful follow-up. "It's clear I'm going to have to construct a crossword for the legions of automotive buffs out there. How about 'Driven to Distraction' for a title?"
"I don't like cross words," piped in Lily. She was scowling fiercely, almost defiantly.
"But Cookie makes crossword puzzles for the newspaper, sweetheart," her mother soothed. "You know that because your daddy—"
"I don't like cross words!" Lily insisted while Karen gently tried to correct her daughter's mistake.
"Being cross and using cross words isn't the same as doing Cookie's puzzles, sweetheart."
But Lily's brain had already flown off in another direction. "Guess why Bear likes to swim?" she demanded of Belle.
"Why?" was the amused response.
"Because bears eat fish. Mommy and I saw them on TV. They catch them with their feets." Then she pelted away from the two adults, calling "Bear! Bear! Bear!" at the top of her lungs.
Karen laughed as she watched her daughter and the dogs flying over the emerald-green grass, a whirl of furry legs, pink, little-girl knees, and two very turquoise and glitter-strewn shoes. "Imagine being accosted with that decibel level inside. Sometimes Dan claps his hands over his ears, but it only makes Lily yell all the more. Personally, I think he does it to egg her on. Then he threatens to go outside to the driveway and sit in his latest ride with the windows rolled up and the sound system blaring. One time I came home from the supermarket and found them both ensconced in the Explorer. They were fast asleep: Lily sprawled across the rear seat, Dan behind the wheel. I didn't have the heart to wake them, but I did turn the music down lest the neighbors report us to cops."
"Maybe you should sell your house and move into a mobile home."
"If Lamborghini decided to make such a vehicle, I'm sure Dan would consider it."CHAPTER 2
"It's been hit," Al Lever said as he straightened from the crouched position he'd assumed beside the right front fender of a three-year-old red Ford Mustang. He groaned slightly as he rose, then leaned against the car. "Man, my knees just aren't what they used to be." After that, he coughed twice and lit a cigarette.
Lever was Newcastle's chief homicide detective, a balding guy with a large paunch who relished playing the role of the gruff, hard-nosed police inspector—a demeanor that was all smoke and mirrors. He also had a solid knowledge of automobiles and how they worked, which was why on this particular Tuesday afternoon he'd taken some of his precious "liberty" time to accompany his former partner, Rosco Poly-crates, on his mission to purchase a vehicle that would replace his ruined Jeep. Greek American male or not, Rosco lacked a major masculine trait: he knew very little about cars and what it was that kept them moving forward. This lack of expertise in automotive matters was a source of perplexed embarrassment to his brothers-in-law, and even to his sisters, although they consoled themselves that at least he could talk intelligently and ardently about the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots—in Greek, no less. You couldn't be a resident of Massachusetts and not be a Sox or Pats fan no matter what language you spoke, or how many.
Rosco broke other stereotypes, as well. His eight years as a detective with the Newcastle P.D. had taught him that he was too much of a free spirit for the bureaucracy of organized law enforcement. He didn't like filling out paperwork. He didn't like jouncing around in the city's unmarked cars. He hated carrying a gun, and he refused to wear socks except with running shoes. He'd left the NPD six years ago, opened his own private detective agency immediately thereafter, and never looked back—except for the bonds of friendship he continued to maintain with Lever and Abe Jones, who was the NPD's forensics honcho.
"What do you mean, it's been hit?" Rosco demanded. Unlike Al, he was trim and fit, and a devoted jogger, while Al's idea of exercise was walking up a flight of stairs—or maybe half a flight of stairs. "This is a great car. Look at it. I rented one just like it in Los Angeles when Belle and I went out there last winter."
"You rented a three-year-old Mustang?"
"Well ... no ... I guess not. It only had 700 miles on it; maybe it was new.... I mean, I don't know.... It looked just like this one. It was red."
"No one rents out three-year-old cars, Poly—Crates," Lever said as the cigarette smoke left his lungs, "especially in LA." His butchering of Rosco's last name had been a running gag between them for almost fifteen years and was predictably countered by Rosco's admonishing him over his sizable girth and ever-present smoker's cough.
Al pointed at the side of the car. "Look at that fender and door panel. See the ripples in the paint? She's been hit. And you have no idea how bad the damage might have been. Maybe the frame's been bent. And there's no way I'm crawling underneath to see if it's been straightened out properly, so let's move on."
Rosco laughed. "You wouldn't fit underneath, Al."
"Yeah, these Mustangs ride pretty low."
Lever coughed again. "What? You think I've got the time to be trotting off to the gym three of four times a week like Abe does? Or playing handball with those kids on Congress Street? Or running around the park all day long like you, Mr. Slim-and-Trim? Wait'll you hit forty, my friend; watch how you fill out."
"Well, since I have less than two years to go, I guess I'd better start hitting those doughnuts and Camel Filters in earnest. That is, if I want to catch up to you."
"Ho ho ...," was Lever's sole response. Then he walked over to a Lexus SUV. "Here. This is what you need. This has some style."
"I'm not buying a white car, Al. Besides, I had a Jeep. I don't think I want another one. Actually, I don't think Belle could stand another Jeep. She'd chop my noggin off."
Lever shook his head slowly from side to side, thinking, How could this guy be so dense? "It's a Lexus, Poly—Crates, not a Jeep."
"It's a four-by-four; it has fat tires and it sits two feet off the ground. As far as I'm concerned, it's a Jeep."
Lever ignored the comment. Instead, he circled the Lexus twice, then stopped to study the large yellow sticker affixed to the driver's-side window. "The price is right. Only a year old, low mileage. Body's clean, no sign of any road-salt body-rot; the interior's sharp. Leather seats."
"I'm not buying a white Jeep, so forget it."
"I'm tellin' ya, Poly—Crates. This ain't no Jeep."
"Look, Al, I know it's not a genuine Jeep, but in my book, it's a wannabe; it's a clone. And it's white. I don't want a white car."
Lever sighed. "Okay, but you'd better be sticking with four-wheel drive if you want to make it through next winter without a serious fender-bender."
Rosco glanced up at the sparse and feathery clouds floating against the warm and bright blue sky. It was almost impossible to imagine icy roads and hazardous driving conditions. "Speaking of traffic accidents, what's the story on that hit-and-run on the west side nine months ago?"
"You mean when the Snyder boy was killed?"
"No go." Lever released a frustrated and unhappy breath. "We're guessing the creep who did it was from out of town. None of the local body shops worked on anything matching that kind of probable front-end damage. At least, if they did, they're not talking about it."
Rosco nodded again. "The Snyders have hired a lawyer."
Lever dropped his cigarette to the ground and crushed it out with his shoe. "And let me guess; the lawyer has hired one Rosco Polycrates, owner and sole employee of the infamous Polycrates Detective Agency?"
"Elaine Vogel's the attorney. She called me this morning. I've worked with her before. This is pro bono on her part. The family just wants some answers so they can achieve a measure of closure. You can't blame them. A kid dies, I'd want answers, too. I haven't said yea or nay at this point. I thought I'd talk to you first."
"No white Jeep, huh?"
Rosco shook his head, and Lever slid his hands into his pockets and ambled toward a green Subaru sedan. Rosco walked by his side. The lieutenant took a deep breath and said, "No one wants to nab the crumb-bum who killed the Snyder kid more than I do, Poly—Crates. So, sure, look into it. I'll give you all I've got. But to be honest, there's nothing there. Unless a mystery witness miraculously drops from the sky, the case is as cold as Lake Nippenicket in January."
Rosco didn't respond for a moment. "I hear what you're saying, Al ... and I don't want to give the family false hope, but maybe they just need a little something more.... Anyway, who knows? It could be that this Porto Ristorante thing I've been working on for Northeast Mutual might supply some overlap info. There has to be an auto-body shop out there somewhere that doubles as a chop-shop. Maybe they fix fenders on the hush-hush. I find it, and who knows? You hit a kid with a car, well, there's got to be evidence that something happened to the vehicle...." Rosco left the rest of the sentence unfinished.
"Porto Ristorante." Lever chuckled as he lit another cigarette. "I hate to say it, but the boys in robbery are still laughing over the dopes who got ripped off at Porto. The prevalent attitude down at that end of the station house seems to be a unanimous 'It serves them right.'"
"The insurance companies aren't doing a lot of laughing."
Porto Ristorante was one of Newcastle's newer and more expensive eating establishments. It featured high-end northern Italian cuisine, a formidable wine list, a chef of celebrity status, and a voluptuous Tuscan-red and Venetian-gold interior that commanded a sweeping view of the Newcastle harbor. The problem was that restaurant didn't have valet parking, although that hadn't prevented some clever thieves from offering that particular service one Friday evening in March; the Ides to be precise. Clearly the criminals had had a sense of humor.
As Porto's customers had arrived, bogus valet parking attendants outfitted in Porto-red jackets had supplied fake claim tickets to the drivers. Each ticket had a number on one side and a portrait of Julius Caesar along with the name Marcus Brutus Valet Service printed on the reverse. Any vehicle worth over fifty thousand dollars was never seen again. They'd vanished along with the keys and electronic garage door openers to twenty-two of Newcastle's pricier residences. A number of locksmiths had done very well with emergency house calls that evening.
Lever grunted with what sounded like another chuckle. "So what was the final tally on that job?"
"Seven Mercedes, twelve BMWs, two Porsches, and a Bentley."
"Yeah, well, you can forget about any chop-shops, bucko. The boys and girls in robbery say wheels like those go straight out of the country. The crooks probably drove them right onto a boat at pier six and were in Argentina before the owners finished their limoncellos and cappuccinos."
Rosco shrugged. "Maybe. But I've checked around; there seems to be a strong market for BMW and Mercedes parts, especially down in Connecticut."
The pair came to a stop in front of the green sedan. Rosco nodded in recognition. "My mom has a Subaru," he said.
Lever placed his foot on the bumper and lit another cigarette. "They're good cars.... All-wheel drive. Great in snow and ice. Good gas mileage. You can't go wrong with a Subaru."
"My mom has one."
"What? Just because your mother drives a Subaru, that means you can't?"
"What does your mother drive?"
"That's not the point. We're not talking about my mother, we're trying to get you a decent set of wheels."
"What's she drive?"
"A Cadillac, okay?"
"And what do you drive?"
Excerpted from Another Word for Murder by Nero Blanc. Copyright © 2005 Cordelia F. Biddle and Steve Zettler. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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