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Three Blind Criminals (an excerpt)
There was something odd about the fact that just two hours after the arrival of the threat letters, Conrad decided to take her article away. Charlotte was determined to find the letters, but just wasn't sure how. She excused herself to the bathroom but instead quickly rushed to the nearest phone and dialed up Jenny, whose only idea was to wait it out until Conrad left. When Charlotte came back she found that Conrad had also left. Charlotte seized her chance and grabbed the threat letters and put them into her purse. She quickly re-arranged the articles on his desk to cover the vacant spot on it. Charlotte was contemplating waiting for Conrad's return or running for her life but knew that running away (while tempting as it sounded) was illogical and would cause immediate suspicion. Charlotte had to sit in agony and fear while waiting for Conrad's return. She searched for a way to look nonchalant when Conrad came back but she always found a way to make it look suspicious. When Conrad came in, Charlotte was frantically thinking of a new way to act casual, which, apparently looked casual to Conrad. Even after glancing at the desk, Conrad was seemingly oblivious to the fact that half the documents on his desk had disappeared and mentioned nothing of the sort. It was either a careless mistake or a tactical move.
It was dark out when she waited for the trolley to take her home. She saw a dark figure across the street. Was it someone following her? Her mind was racing. Her heart was beating. She forced herself to stay calm. The commute home seemed to be the longest it had ever been. At every corner, a new enemy entered the trolly, all staring at her purse, or so she imagined.
She darted from the trolley to her front door. She put her hands in her purse in search of her keys. Where were the papers? Had somebody lifted them from her bag?Then she remembered, she had placed them into the central, zippered compartment. Her hands were shaking but she managed to push the key into the lock, swing open the door and slam it behind her.
Suddenly a furry face darted toward her, Brooke's cat Louise. She was meowing with alarm, as a confused and agitated look played across her face. What now? She looked at the answering machine. Eight messages, all from the same number. The incessant ringing must have spooked Louise.
Charlotte grabbed the letters and ran upstairs to the safe-haven of her room. She locked the door and pulled down the shades. After glancing at the letters Charlotte came to the conclusion that there must be a secret message in them. Unfortunately, Charlotte had never been any good at riddles. She called Brookstones hoping to catch Robert. When he picked up the line, she sighed with relief.
“Robert thank God you're there. I need your help” she said.
“Waahhhttt???” said Robert
Was his hearing impairment acting up or was someone tapping her phone? She lifted the window shade to see if anyone had followed her home. She heard a scratching at the window, but it was just a tree branch moving in the wind.
She told Robert everything. He told her to stay calm as he searched for his old books on decoding and deciphering. Magazine clippings were a cliché and Robert had interpreted much more advanced letters back in his day. Robert realized that in one message, out of all the ten letters, there were only two colors which is unusual for a magazine threat. Robert grouped all the letters of the same color background and placed them into rows. He re-arranged the rows in different directions until the letters spelled out a message.
SHE IS ON TO US! Charlotte knew exactly what this meant.
“Can I borrow some of those books, I think I'm gonna try the rest of the letters myself.”
Robert said he would have someone bring the books over first thing in the morning, warning her that the complexity of the codes in the books might not be the right thing for these amateur letters. His attempt at bragging didn't impress Charlotte.
Charlotte got to work right away. The difficulty of the letters increased as Charlotte continued.
After fully decoding all the letters, she still had one puzzle question left: who was this from? It probably wouldn't be from the murderer himself, but definitely somebody who works for him, and they've got to be high up, or else they wouldn't have been trusted with such an important task, right? After looking for clues, Charlotte noticed another letter that had gotten lost in her frenzy. Inside it was a children's book. It had a book mark to a page with simply a picture of the 3 blind mice, with a larger one in the middle and two smaller ones by his sides.
Next to one of the smaller mice was written the letters: US EA E O RM MYD
Charlotte wrote down the letters on a new sheet of paper and cut them up and re-arranged them until the message read: MY DEAR MOUSE
What was that supposed to mean? Charlotte's thoughts were completely interrupted by an offensive, impatient series of knocks on her door, causing her heart to skip a beat.
Who could it be? She tip-toed downstairs.
She inched her way along the wall until she reached the front door. She peeped through the peep hole and a wild, disheveled, rugged Conrad stood at her door. What she'd always wanted but right now, he was the last person she wanted to see.
She stuffed the letters in the back of her pants. “It's the letters...they're gone,” he said, the moment he stepped into the house. Conrad knew she took them! How did he know?!? Caught. Red Handed. Was he he taunting her? Did he even know?
A knot the size of a grapefruit was tying itself in her stomach as she imagined her shaky hands producing beads upon beads of sweat. Images of Conrad ripping the letters from her hands and beating her with them, or worse swept through her imagination, compounding the fear. The fear was put on hold when Charlotte suddenly spied a pair of glasses sitting upon Conrad's face. Conrad noticed her stare, “I'm blind as a bat.” After a quick good night charlotte closed the door and rushed upstairs for she knew, it was no time to relax.
Had Conrad been deceiving her this whole time? No, he couldn't have been. After all, he was the one who gave her the case. He wanted her to solve it. Did he even? He'd been keeping her late almost every day, forcing her to compromise sleep so that she could work on the case.
Over the next couple days, the growing tension with Conrad seemed to be taunting Charlotte. Did he notice it too? Her nervous hands must have been a dead give away but Conrad had enough on his mind, dealing with a crime and all.
One day, around lunch time, all the editors were called into a meeting of “vital importance” although the topic was quite insignificant. Charlotte excused herself to the bathroom. The bathroom excuse was becoming a habit. Charlotte quickly rushed to her boss' office, for he did not attend the meeting. He was not there. He had to be somewhere in the building, she thought, so she continued her search. She checked the elevator. She checked the photography department. She checked the mailroom.
She tore the place apart, from top to bottom. Finally, she wound up in the printing press in the sub-basement. A thick, violent smell of greasy ink penetrated her sense of smell. The loud clanking and rhythmic pounding of metal rollers took care of her sense of hearing, making the search significantly harder. She carefully stepped around the boxes and files sprawled across the floor. The pressmen weren't the neatest men. She peered around the large printing presses, with its enormous sheets of paper speeding through them. There, on the other side of the press, in the corner, she spied Conrad! She took a few careful steps forward, trying to get a better view. What was he doing?
She inched closer again. Would he see her? Why was he here?
She saw a black, spiraling cord suspended in the air near him. He was talking on a telephone!
But to whom?
And why was he down here, in this noisy room, which was clearly not the ideal place for a conversation. It wasn't an ideal place for a conversation because it was loud and noisy and messy. Plus, it is usually empty except for the occasion visit from the pressmen checking on the machines.
Clearly, whatever conversation he was having had to be very secretive.
“I will put the money in the bag and leave it for you inside locker 239 at Westridge High School. The combination is 12-34-75.”
Charlotte was taking notes.
“You can pick it up between twelve and one and be at the train station at three o'clock sharp. From there, I've got a guy who will help you to Indiana.” Conrad's voice started lowering.
She inched closer. Her foot tripped on a box. A big loud clanking crash echoed through the room.
Conrad's head whipped around in her direction. He looked right at her.
She panicked. Should she run? She couldn't because of the mess in the room.
Instead, she decided, she would pretend she was trying to find him to ask him an important question. But the notes she was holding was blatantly there. New plan: run.