Maury’s Secret


Ancient writing interpretations reveal potential world shaking events

 

by


Larry Martines


         Prologue


A Ghoulish Shock

 

            It was a beautiful evening in early spring on the coast in northern Italy. Laszlo Boldizar had enjoyed the favors of the Riviera’s most beautiful and coveted courtesan. His carnal appetite quieted, he then sought out and indulged contentedly in still another form of emotional and mental stimulation. Finding this at the high stakes tables readily available to those who qualified to play, he satisfied his second major craving. Feeling good about his excellent physical and financial fortunes throughout the night, he then returned to his ultra secure penthouse where entry was discretely accomplished using his exclusive, private elevator.

            Laszlo entered his apartment and disarmed the sophisticated high-tech security system. There was no indication it had been violated. He checked his phone for messages and then gazed admiringly around his sumptuous living quarters. “Ah, Laszlo, you come long way from being poor starving Hungarian peasant.” He reveled in the sated luxury of his life as a well-known playboy. “Joke on high society playmates. They good providers.”

            His high of the evening, amplified by the satisfaction of visually enjoying his elegantly appointed furnishings, gave him re-assurance of the reality of his elevated status in life. However, this gratifying illusion was quickly dispelled by the sight he beheld as he made his way into his sleeping quarters.

            There – hanging from gold chains tied to her wrists and ankles was the spread-eagled, naked body of the beautiful woman who had given him such immense pleasure only hours before. A garland fastened around her head was attached to still another hanging gold chain. It pulled her head back, so she appeared to be looking straight ahead and flying just above him. In eerie juxtaposition, the image of the macabre scene before him replicated itself endlessly in the many mirrors on the walls and ceiling of his elegant bedroom.

             Lights had been arranged to illuminate her face. And there, where her eyes should have been, were perfectly matched, flawless, twenty-five carat diamonds. Their many perfectly sculptured facets glistened like warning beacons. Laszlo recognized the diamonds as part of his most recent theft that he had disposed of in his usual discrete way.

            Beyond stoical – Laszlo calmly appraised the gruesome, carefully staged scene confronting him – his gaze passing slowly over the mesmerizing diamond’s glitter, past her lifeless face, her still sensuous lips, and down her magnificent neckline – stretched to its limit. His eyes focused on an unusual fine gold chain circling her neck and followed it down to an attached odd size envelope hanging just below her magnificent breasts. Taking a step closer to the envelope and recognizing it as hand crafted from rare old parchment, he read his name. It was inscribed there using masterfully accomplished calligraphy, carefully centered to be in fine balance with the dimensions of the envelope. It seemed that the sheer beauty of the missive was designed to perfectly compliment its bearer. Pondering the nuances of this production, Laszlo achieved a new personal high of stoicism as he calmly removed the envelope and said, “Sacre bleu! Mon ami, such extravaganza . . . just to deliver letter!”

            Standing there with his head close to the head of the motionless, floating body and smelling her exquisite fragrance that forced erotic memories to penetrate the moment, he said, “Ah, sweet Angelina, for sure you must be with angels now. I will miss you always.”

            Still standing below her head he continued speaking to the lifeless lady suspended there.          “Now, we read message you brought at much personal inconvenience.”

            Flipping open the envelope with a well practiced flourish, he extracted a single sheet of fine parchment lettered in the same calligraphic hand. Its message read:

Laszlo, as a most sincere admirer of your magnificent work, please consider the diamonds as advance partial payment for your services in connection with a matter to henceforth be revealed in a less bizarre way. Until otherwise directed, it will not be necessary for you to engage in any other clandestine endeavors. Ample funds will be provided to cover your expenses while accomplishing your exclusive new mission.

Assuming you are successful in your efforts on our behalf, additional generous compensation will be forthcoming with no further obligation on your part.

Please proceed immediately to Rome and be prepared to travel to a destination in the USA forthwith. A letter will be waiting for you at AlItalia, first class check-in, addressed to your usual alias. Assuming further, you are in agreement with this arrangement and have no need of the lady, we will see to her proper disposal while you are gone.

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            Interpol knew him only as the Hungarian Horror, or the Magyar Magician, names originally given him by the European media. These, in deference to his amazing abilities for making precious jewels owned by Hungarian nobility and kept in state-of-the-art theft proof locations, simply disappear into thin air. Not even the barest identification or the slightest knowledge of Laszlo Boldizar’s physical characteristics existed in any international police agency files relating to the Magyar Murderer.

             Laszlo easily gave new meaning to the term cat-burglar. His early names, used in the press, had soon given way to that of the Magyar Murderer when on several occasions, Laszlo had expediently eliminated chance witnesses to his otherwise clandestine capers. His insidious imprimatur being a single nine millimeter bullet between the eyes of his victims.

            As his ruthless reputation grew, so did the geographical area of his escapades as he migrated from one wealthy enclave to another in southern Europe. Until recently, he had been plying his craft on the Italian Riviera.

            His mission in a small southern town in America was an unusual venue for someone accustomed to moving in the most exclusive locations, populated by the most glamorous Glitterateri in high society. He had not taken this assignment willingly. Laszlo epitomized the very essence of a cool, calculating, insensitive, and totally ruthless approach to life. However, an even more unscrupulous adversary had convinced him that cooperation was vital to his continued mortal existence. Aside from that unpleasantry, his unknown employer had provided him with a large sum of cash and means for replenishing it as expenses might require.

            He had no idea how, whoever they were who now controlled him, had managed to connect him with the Magyar Murderer’s infamous past deeds, but they had left no doubt they did. That their reach was long, their power immense, and their methods extremely ruthless, had been dramatically demonstrated by the unannounced presence of Angelina in his ultra secure apartment . . .

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            Laszlo, begrudgingly proceeded as directed, expecting this unsolicited assignment to be only a minor inconvenience in his life. He fully anticipated a quick and easy job of finding who had the disk copies and the missing artifacts that he was contracted to reacquire. His nefarious benefactors had provided him with the names of the two most likely recipients. These they had gleaned from their former university relationships with an archaeologist who, while working in Iran, had copied the information and taken the artifacts. The first name on the list was Maury Lupo, and the second, Elliot Nussbaum. By luck of the draw, Laszlo started with Maury.

            Unfortunately for Maury on that fateful Sunday evening, he had been working with an encrypted copy of data, reportedly copied from exotic plates made from an unknown metal when Laszlo and two other men entered his apartment. Laszlo had no idea about what the ancient symbols meant, but he had been well briefed on what they looked like. Recognizing the display on the screen immediately, Laszlo ordered his accomplices to immobilize Maury before he had an opportunity to close the screen full of data.

            “Aha! Pay dirt.” Laszlo said to no one in particular. “Like candy from baby.”

            Motioning to his men to gag Maury and move him over to the couch, Laszlo sat in front of the computer screen. He was computer literate enough so that he could navigate around the word processor program Maury had been using to display the data. Laszlo paged back and forward looking for any translated information. No luck, apparently this was a fresh disk of raw data as provided originally, and no translation had yet been made.

            Frustrated, Laszlo conducted an intensive search of all visible data in Maury’s computer. Having no understanding of hidden files wherein Maury kept all his encrypted data, he looked around for any other disks that might contain what he was looking for. Laszlo carefully read all the disks he found – a slow, time-consuming process – taking several hours.

             Maury became quite agitated and alarmed over the deadly silence surrounding the activities of these strange men. Finally, the neatly attired man completely dressed in black seated at Maury’s work station, turned to look at Maury.

            Speaking in a low ominous voice, he said, “All data . . . or your life.”

            Laszlo, seeing fear register in Maury’s eyes continued in the same menacing tone, “I have men remove gag . . . but don’t do foolish thing . . . or you hurt bad. . . . ”

            Fearfully, Maury nodded his head, and when the gag was released he said, “I don’t have the originals any longer. I sent them to another interested party.”

            “Like, Elliot Nussbaum?”

            Laszlo watched intently as Maury’s eyes betrayed him, and he knew what he wanted to know about where the originals were. “Okay, Mr. Lupo, where copies and work you finish so far? I know you make progress. You have information long time now, yes? I know you smart person, maybe too smart, no! You give all stuff to me . . . we forget everything.”

 

            Becoming visibly upset, Maury began to tremble – his heart beating furiously. Not since he had been a young boy had he experienced such fright and the heart palpitations that had followed. Again, still later in his young life, he had occasion to experience another episode of extreme stress that placed a severe strain on his heart. This, when he learned about the brutal murder of his parents. 

            His current high-stress level suddenly kicked even higher when Laszlo said in his most demanding voice. “Where artifacts?”

            “I, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            “Come now, Mr. Lupo. Don’t be stupid. Just say what you did with metal plates coming with data.”

            Maury felt sick, and he began to despair. He now knew what was being referred to. It became clear that whoever sent the data must have hidden the plates somewhere else. Obviously it was being assumed the plates had been sent with the data.

            “I never received the plates. I only . . . ” 

 

            Maury didn’t get to finish, as Laszlo lashing out, violently backhanded him across the side of his head. Over-reacting, he struck him viciously with such force, Maury’s head snapped hard against the chair’s backrest. The blow nearly knocked him unconscious. A large red welt grew on his face, and he could no longer hear with his right ear.

            Laszlo quietly said, “Don’t lie! Tell where plates are, or I hurt you bad.”

            Beyond hearing, Maury noticeably paled and a deathly look came over him. Falling forward he would have crashed to the floor had Laszlo’s men not been holding his arms. They pulled him back up in his chair and his head fell to one side – his eyes rolling back in their sockets. Only the whites of his eyes could be seen.

            Morte! Madre Dios!” Laszlo realizing immediately that Maury was dead, instantly regretted hitting him so hard. But hoping to find out otherwise, Laszlo grabbed him by his chin and turned his head to peer into his eyes. Laszlo’s intense gaze encountered only the opaque, blood-shot whites of the bottoms of Maury’s lifeless eyeballs.

            Laszlo’s thoughts now turned to the second person on his list, but before getting to him he had work to do with Maury and his computer. In an effort to complicate matters when the body was found, he conspired to make it appear Maury had died from heart failure, after having received a horrible, ghoulish shock.               


 

                                                                  Chapter One

 

A Deadly Display

 

            Normally, at seven-thirty on Monday morning, Maury would be waiting in the parking lot when Danny arrived. However, Danny didn’t see Maury where he usually waited with his nose in a book, sitting on a bench in the shade under the large oak tree. “Gee-wiz I’m already late. Did Maury leave without me? No, his car’s still there.” Danny honked his horn. An old lady wearing a muumuu, and holding a dog on a leash, glared hard in his direction. Hearing the horn the dog started barking. Danny was too pre-occupied to notice as he said aloud, “Could he have over-slept? I’d better go up and see what’s keeping him.” Danny got out of his car and walked up the single flight of stairs to the landing leading to Maury’s apartment.

            He looked back over his shoulder and saw the lady holding her small dog in her arms and petting it. She was still watching him. As usual, he found the door unlocked – a condition Danny believed would be the cause of a lot of grief in his friend’s life.

             Maury never bothered himself with such matters. His concerns lay elsewhere and never extended to locking the door to his modest two-bedroom apartment. His computer was about the only thing in here of any consequence. Even that ha dubious value. It was an obsolete model at least two CPU generations behind though it was barely two years old.

            His home-office window faced toward the early morning sun and was heavily shaded by a tall, flushed-out oak-tree – one of many that lined the walks of the aging condominium complex. Additionally, closed blinds kept the area within dark, except for light variations relating to periodic pattern changes on the computer screen. Various colored status-lights, on neatly arranged arrays of computer equipment, added a surrealistic element to the scene.

            Maury was sitting there, slouched back, facing the display in front of him. Just a semicircle-shaped tuft of his unruly, sandy-brown hair was visible over the headrest on his very comfortable high-back chair. Not an unusual posture for Maury, since he consumed many hours sitting in that position – surfing the Net, when otherwise not trading messages in several chat centers he regularly visited. Often, during the course of his marathon surfing sessions, he nodded off for a time and then snapped back to consciousness, refreshed enough to continue on for several additional hours.

            Looking over the back of the big leather chair, past the familiar crown of sandy-colored hair, Danny saw an incredibly detailed sea-scape displayed on the high-definition nineteen-inch monitor. Gazing in awe at the beauty nature provided, he felt a moment of pleasure as he focused on that beautiful natural panorama. Then, snapping back to reality, he quickly turned his attention to why he had come up to Maury’s apartment.

            “Damn it, Maury! Why are you sitting there watching nature pictures? Do you have any idea what time it is? We’re going to be late for . . .”

            Danny didn’t finish because as he placed his hand on the back of the big leather chair, he pushed it slightly, and Maury’s cold, rigid hand moved the mouse and stopped the screen saver, allowing the underlying display to show.

            “What . . . what . . . Oh my God . . . what’s that?”

            Maury didn’t answer. Danny tore his eyes away from the horror on the screen and turned to see Maury’s ashen face with bulging eyes – staring – not moving – as if they were unable to see anything at all.

            Maury was dead.

            Danny looked into the face of death for the first time in his limited life’s experience. He just stood there as a sudden wave of fear contorted his face. Synaptic bindings blasted loose from prior peaceful resting places inside his brain. He felt a numbing chill spread over his body, his knees wobbled, and he broke into a cold sweat.

            Recognition of death’s chilling, ominous presence took hold. “Maury’s dead.” His lips formed the words, but no sound came out. Shock replaced recognition as Danny went catatonic. His breath pulled hard. He felt constricted, cold, clammy, as if the frigid hand of death was already on him. An aura of evil reached out from the scene in front of him – as if to ensnare his soul.

            With the image of the dead man indelibly etching itself into his brain, Danny stood there, frozen in place, unable to make the vision go beyond the moribund image of Maury sightlessly staring at the horror on the display in front of him.

            Danny’s eyes rolled back. His head pulled up, shoulders arched forward, arms extended out in front of him, and his fingers stretched outward from hands opened toward the grotesque image on the screen. Scared beyond comprehension, he sensed surrounding evil – mortal fear overwhelmed him. An urge to be somewhere else, anywhere, took control. Fright gave way to flight. Adrenalin kicked in. He spun around, arms wind-milling, slamming into furniture as he bolted for the door.

             He ran and scrambled down the single flight of stairs, stumbled across the grass, over the curb, past his double parked car, screaming incoherently as he went . . .

            Staggering and wandering aimlessly, Danny looked like a reeling drunk, nearly ready to collapse and fall on his face. Weakly flailing his arms, he barely managed to reach the middle of the parking lot, where he gasped out his message.

 

            “Maury . . . Maury . . . Help . . . Help . . . Maury’s dead!”

 

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            Meanwhile in a first-floor apartment across from Maury’s, Jack examined his face after shaving, and satisfied with the effort, he noted he was due for a visit to Bob the barber. Normally meticulous about his personal grooming, he just brushed his hair back. Not quite satisfied, he made a mental note to find the time to get over to Bob’s and have him do a search and rescue mission on his thinning hair. Otherwise, what he saw reflecting back at him was a rugged countenance showing the wear-and-tear of forty-three years, the early ones having to deal with having a famous name and all it implied – and the several tough street brawls that naturally followed.

            The most telling evidence being a remarkable bend in his nose due to a mean drunk who insultingly said, “You’re no fucking Jack Dempsey in my book,” as he smashed a half full bottle of 12 year-old Kentucky bourbon across the bridge of his nose. Not only, to Jack’s way of thinking, had the fool wasted some good Booker’s Bourbon, he had made a major mistake attempting to cold-cock him with what could be construed to be a lethal weapon. Reeling back from the blow, Jack staggered a moment, came up out of a crouch and delivered a wicked left hook that would have made his namesake proud – square into the drunk’s jaw. The drunk, a typical oversized, overly obese, dumb-as-dirt gorilla, was carried to the hospital, where he had to have emergency surgery to rebuild his badly fractured and dislocated jaw. This was not one of Jack’s finer moments. In fact, looking back on it, he recognized it to be a major turning point in his life.

            Jack’s small kitchen table stood against the wall positioned under a window, giving him a view out across the lawn and into the condo complex parking lot that was used by him and other tenants in his and several adjacent buildings. Seated there holding his morning coffee, he was lost in thoughts of the evening before. Samantha, Sam, as he and everyone else in the Sheriff’s office called her, held his inner mind’s attention in an inexplicable way. Sam is something else . . . I can’t believe we’re so compatible . . . great in bed, good mind, tough as nails, great partner on the job . . . hmm . . . and off the job too . . . wonder where this is going . . . never dreamed I’d get this involved with anyone . . . and someone from the office yet . . . bad move . . . well, there’s always a first time . . . better be the last . . . breaking off with Sam won’t be easy . . . hope it doesn’t come to that . . . but that’s what I thought about Claudia . . . yuk, what a bitch she turned out to be . . . took the sheets off the bed and cleaned out the linen closet when she left . . . had to change the locks . . . God knows what else she might have done . . . at least she doesn’t call anymore . . . hmm . . . maybe I was better off – as I was when I did all the one nighters at the Holiday Inn . . . anyway, at least Sam’s not a bitch . . . she’s a class act . . . wouldn’t even spend a night with me in a motel . . . insisted on seeing where I lived . . . hmm . . . maybe it’s time to . . .

            His reverie was interrupted by the staccato sound of a car horn blowing impatiently.

            Looking out the window across the grass and into the parking lot he saw a familiar car double parked there. The horn blowing stopped as he also noted a stern looking senior citizen, in a full glare, staring ominously at the car’s occupant. A small dog tethered to the old lady’s outstretched arm, began barking incessantly. In a comical flurry she hastened to turn her full attention to the new noise maker – undoubtedly not wanting to be on the receiving end of some other irate senior’s glare.

            Unnecessary noise restrictions during the quiet times in the condo complex were strictly enforced by the condo association, and there were those who relished opportunities to issue letters of reprimand to people who allowed their pet dogs to bark excessively. So, obviously flustered about her growing dilemma, she gathered up her precious pet in her flabby arms protruding from her loose-fitting coverup, turned, and shot one last glaring look at the young man. A wasted effort, since he was by then out of his car and had already walked up the stairs to a second floor apartment.  

            Jack recognized the young man as the same person who often stopped by to pick up Maury on his way to work. He assumed they worked together, but otherwise Jack didn’t know much more about his neighbor. His thoughts of the previous evening gave way to a recollection of Maury. While he didn’t know him well at all, he did recognize that Maury seemed to be a brighter than average young man.

            Now there’s a young man with obvious potential. He’s bright, charismatic, and seems to be well informed. I’m glad we met and had some discussions on our nightly walks. He seems to be well educated. I didn’t ask him about it, but it shows. High tech work was the way he put what he does. He didn’t push it when I told him I was with the Sheriff’s Office. Funny how our conversation naturally drifted to books we read. Like me, he reads a lot of tech thrillers. One in particular came up, Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress. Especially since he said he knew a lot about cryptography. Too bad we didn’t get into it more. Oh well, there’s always next time. Yeah, that’s something to look forward to.

            Normally wary about people, Jack inexplicably felt an intrinsic affinity toward this outgoing, obviously well educated young man. He wondered how his life might have been if he had gone down a path similar to Maury’s. His thoughts drifted back to the fight with the drunk and its aftermath.

            Noting the time, he placed his cup in the sink, slipped into his light weight sport jacket, punched a code into the alarm keypad, closed the door behind him and walked to his car parked in his numbered-spot, directly in front of his building.

            Jack’s casual clothes covered a trim, well-developed-physique. In his dapper, light weight, sport-jacket and loose fitting, nicely creased, cotton slacks, he could easily have been taken for a member of one of the many local clubs where, he might have been heading for a casual round of golf.

            Easing his six-foot-two muscular frame into his car, he then reached out to pull the door closed. Jack caught sight, over his shoulder, of a very distraught looking man lurching off the sidewalk, out into the parking lot. The man was making unintelligible sounds that Jack recognized could only mean serious trouble – and he hadn’t even left for work yet.

            Jack reacted instinctively. He scrambled back out of his car and hurried over to where the babbling, incoherent, young man was about to collapse. A head taller, and fifty pounds heavier than the slightly-built, much younger man, Jack grabbed him by his arms, easily immobilizing him.  

            Still holding the young man, Jack tried to calm him down. Looking down at the ashen face full of fear, he recognized the boyish looking person whom he last saw heading up to Maury’s apartment.

            “Hang on there, slow down, what’re you trying to say?”

            Danny, head leaning to one side, still in a daze, looked up at Jack and began to sputter, “Mau, Mau, Maury . . . it’s . . . he’s . . . d . . . d . . . dead . . . up, up there.”

            Weakly raising his arm, Danny pointed back toward the wide-open door in Maury’s apartment. Wasting no time, Jack sat Danny down on the parking lot curb, and said, “Wait right here!” Then, he bounded up the stairs and through the open door. He entered Maury’s converted living-room office and came face to face with the bizarre scene still showing on the big computer screen.

            “Whoa there! What the fuck is that?”

            Astonished by what he saw, Jack quickly looked at his young neighbor seated in front of the horror on the screen. A sudden feeling of remorse swept over him that transcended his slight familiarity with the dead man sitting there. Acceptable feelings never accompanied the viewing of a dead person, as he often did in the course of his work as a homicide detective, but this was different. However slightly he had known and spoken with this man, who really was too young to be dead, the fact that he knew him when he was alive added a tragic sense to his feelings. Then there was the horror on the computer screen. “What in the world happened here?” Realizing as he said the words, there would be no answer forthcoming from his dead friend and neighbor.

            Being careful not to disturb anything, he dialed his cell phone. On the second ring, he heard the familiar call recognition response. “Yes, Lieutenant Dempsey . . .”

            “Have a crime-scene-unit dispatched immediately to Island Condos. I’ll meet them when they get here . . . yeah right . . . where I live . . . work came to me today.”

            The screen saver kicked back in and displaced the horrible picture on the monitor. He continued to stare at it while the first of many, successive, and beautiful, nature-scenes came into view. Standing alongside Maury’s lifeless body and turning away from the parade of nature scenes gracing the computer screen, Jack looked at him and said, “Maury, I can’t tell you how sad this makes me . . . but I can tell you – just as sure as God is in heaven – if someone did this to you – I’ll find whoever it was – and make sure he gets what he deserves.”

             Jack didn’t know anything about what might have happened here; however, he did know he didn’t want to see this young man dead, and he would move heaven and earth to keep the promise he just made to him. 

             He looked around at what were basically familiar surroundings, of an apartment with a layout nearly identical to his own. Unlike his own living room, this one was set up as a home office. As in his, there were many floor-to-ceiling bookcases full of books, but there the similarity ended. In addition to the computer furniture, a work table placed behind Maury’s high back chair along with three office style chairs, brought a vision of conference type meetings to Jack’s eyes. Additionally, off to one side a small couch completed the seating arrangements. Stepping into the hallway between the living room and the kitchen/dinette area, he noted dishes in the sink – probably from last night’s dinner.

            He moved down the hall, noting it led to two bedrooms identical to the layout of his own apartment. He looked into the two bedrooms and their adjacent baths. One of the rooms appeared to be used for storage; it contained several file cabinets and a large steamer trunk that might have been used for travel. The other, larger of the two rooms, contained a double-bed, some typical bedroom furniture, and a reclining chair next to a strategically located reading lamp. Jack easily envisioned Maury sitting there reading.

            A cursory glance around revealed that the bed, typical of a bachelor pad, while unkempt in appearance appeared not to have been slept in. Several books with protruding book-markers, lay on a night-table between the recliner and the bed. The titles he read on them reinforced the notion that Maury was heavily into cryptography, and interestingly, like himself, also into the writings of ancient philosophers.

            Somehow, getting a posthumous inner view of Maury caused a very unsettling feeling that was unusual for Jack’s casehardened persona. He knew he had to know more about this young man and how he died. His gut instincts told him something bad happened here, and a very disturbing thought ran through his mind. Something, or someone, took a young man away at the prime of his life, and yes, took him out of my life as well.

            Satisfying himself that no other persons, dead or alive, were in the apartment, he back-tracked leaving the apartment as he found it, except he pulled the door almost closed without touching the doorknob.

            Outside the door he stopped and took several deep breaths to settle his nerves. Seeing Maury like that and the horror on the screen produced what for him was an unusual emotional reaction. He hadn’t felt that way since his father died, just a few short years ago. Hesitating where he stood on the second floor balcony, he briefly glanced out toward the parking area. The view from up there was different, more cloistered, than the one he normally could see from his first floor apartment – when he bothered to notice it.

            He looked at a luxurious canopy of stately live-oaks that nearly obscured the view but gave the area an unmistakable aura of serenity. That look and feeling were what had made Jack decide to live in this community, and it obviously appealed to his well-aged neighbors. Somehow, the scene he just observed inside Maury’s apartment seemed grotesquely out of place in this very laid back, quiet, reclusive environment. Even more-so, he felt a sense of melancholy stemming from his personal acquaintance with the dead man – accompanied by an uneasy feeling that Maury didn’t die a natural death.

            Regaining his composure, he returned to the parking lot. There, he found a growing group of curious senior citizens wanting to know what all the ruckus was about. Detective Lieutenant Dempsey stuffed his badge holder that prominently displayed his deputy sheriffs’ shield in the breast pocket of his jacket. His unbuttoned jacket allowed an occasional glimpse of a normally concealed shoulder holster that held a nine-millimeter Glock. It added convincing authenticity to his appearance and sudden transformation. None of his neighbors had any idea he was a cop. A lot of exclaiming and finger pointing toward this unexpected and surprising authority figure in their midst, electrified the group. Jack stepped up on the curb and was able to look down on most of his diminutive, old neighbors. They looked back at him and stunned silence followed, along with a lot of anxious stares from people suddenly thrust into unknown expectations.

            Jack looked over the faces in the crowd gathered there and located an easily recognized, totally bald head, glistening in a shaft of sunlight filtering through the overhanging foliage. He made eye contact with the large round eyes in the hairless dome, perched atop the large, rotund shape of the man he wanted. Jack nodded in his direction and said, “Mr. Jacobson, I need you to do something for me.”

            Jacobson waddled over, trying with each penguin like step, to pull his size forty-plus pants up over an uncompromising belly determined to keep his trousers at half-mast. Neither belt nor suspenders could keep his corpulent mass under control. He was a man who tried very hard to become as wide as he was tall.

            “Yes, Mr. Dempsey, what is it? Oh! You’re a policeman?”

            “Detective Lieutenant Dempsey.” Jack’s firm answer left little doubt about the official nature of his request that, in effect, became an order. Then looking hard into Jacobson’s eyes, which, being the large man he was, were on the same level as Jack’s, he said, “Mr. Jacobson I want you to stand right there in front of those stairs and not let anyone go up them.”

            Jacobson, literal to a fault, immediately responded, “What if someone wants to come down them?”

            “I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that.”

            “Why? Maury didn’t leave for work yet.”

            “He’s not going to work today.”

            “Oh! He’s sick? Is that why you went up there? What’s the matter with him?”

            Realizing very little goes on in Island Condos unobserved, Jack looked at Jacobson, hoping not to have to answer that and said, “I’ll give you an update in a few minutes.” He pointed toward Danny and added, “Right now I have to speak to that young man.”

            Apparently satisfied, Jacobson puffed himself up and looked as if he was ready to discharge another official duty as president of the Island Condos homeowner’s association. Of course, nobody in their right mind would attempt to get by Mr. Jacobson, whose massive body, now blocking the narrow stairs would intimidate most people.

            That done Jack turned his attention back to the young man, sitting in the shade at the edge of the lot. He found Danny sweating profusely, transfixed there, staring blankly at the closed door to Maury’s apartment. Jack read the perplexed looks on the people’s faces. They were obviously having trouble understanding why a strange man was sitting on the curb wringing his hands and was apparently very disturbed about something. Jack sat down on the curb next to Danny ignoring the onlookers who seemed to sense trouble. Their obvious curiosity drew the restive group closer to the scene unfolding before them.

            To most of these aging dinosaurs early morning horn beeping, dog barking, rushing about by yelling neighbors, and a detective giving orders in the parking lot was way beyond the pale. All this unusual activity intruded uneasily on their quiet lives. Life after all, except for the occasional 911 ambulance call, was totally non-eventful inside the quiet, shady grounds of Island Condos.

            Looking at the young man, Jack made him out to be in his very early twenties. He knew looks could be misleading, especially with someone that somehow still retained a very youthful appearance. However, anguish was clearly visible, and it stretched very tight stress lines across the young man’s forehead. Feeling sad himself over the death of his young neighbor, Jack identified with this young man’s obvious grief.

            “I know you’re, er . . . you were good friends with Maury and visited with him fairly often, right?” 

            Danny didn’t answer. Jack recognized the young lad was in a daze, probably still spaced out over what he had witnessed only moments before, so he repeated his question again. Danny still didn’t answer. Jack realized that sitting on a curb in the middle of a parking lot with a bunch of onlookers staring at them, wasn’t going to be productive. He motioned to Jacobson, and pointing toward his building, Jack led Danny over to his ground floor apartment. Once there, Jack directed the young man to sit in his most comfortable easy-chair.

            Jack gave Danny a glass of water and said, “Here, drink this.”

            Danny took the water and slowly sipped at it. After waiting a moment, Jack quietly said, “What’s your name?”

            Danny answered almost inaudibly, “Daniel, er, Danny,”

            “Okay, Danny. My name’s Jack. I live here. I knew Maury as a neighbor. I’m sorry to meet you this way, but I need your help.” Watching Danny closely, Jack hoped to see a glimmer of rational reaction from what he recognized as a traumatically shocked young man. After a few moments he could see Danny’s eyes begin to move in a more controlled way – they looked back at him, beginning to hold his gaze.

            Danny just managed to respond. “Help . . . you?”

            “Yes, Danny, you can help me. We need to go upstairs . . . to Maury’s place . . . so you can tell me if there’s anything different there from what you might remember.”

            His voice rising to a hysterical pitch, he gasped out the words, “No, no . . . I don’t want to go there again!” Then pushing hard, back into the chair, he buried his head in his hands.

            At that moment, an attractive woman with brunette hair, neatly dressed in slacks and blazer with a deputy sheriff’s badge hanging on a pocket flap, came in through the open door to Jack’s place. “Hi, Jack. The Sumo-wrestler you got staked out by the stairs across the way told me where to find you. I think he gives new meaning to being a condo commando. I hope he’s friendly.” Noticing the distressed young man sitting in the chair, she motioned toward him and said, “What’ve we got here?”

            “Good morning, Sam. This is Danny.” Jack waited a moment for Danny to pull himself together a bit and said, “Danny, this is Samantha Jones, my partner.”

            Seeing that Danny was very disturbed, Sam sat in a chair opposite him and leaned toward him in a compassionate, motherly way.

            Again, Danny’s response was nearly inaudible, but Sam’s gentle manner seemed to produce a more settled reaction, and Danny appeared to noticeably relax. Sam had that way about her. She could give succor to the helpless, but the face that hard-ass, aggressive creeps got to see, was another matter.

            Jack then speaking to Danny said, “We’re going up to Maury’s. You can stay here until we get back. I’ll send one of my men in to stay with you. Okay?”

            “Yes . . . thanks . . . ”

            They left Danny sitting in Jack’s most comfortable easy-chair and made their way over toward Maury’s apartment.

            “Well, I really didn’t expect to be back here so soon . . .

            Jack glanced over at Sam, obviously having similar thoughts. “Yes I know what you mean, but stranger things have happened . . .

            Sam nodded but didn’t pursue the subject as she said, “Nice looking kid. Know him long?”

            “No. We just met in the parking lot. We had a mutual friend.”

            “Is that who, we’re going to see?”

            “Yeah, I met him, a while back. Seemed like a bright young man.”

            “Oh . . . that would be the neighbor you ran into occasionally on your evening walks.”

            “Yes . . . that’s the one . . .”

            An unmistakable tone of melancholy in Jack’s voice caused Sam to change the direction of the conversation. “How’s the nice kid fit?”

            “He and Maury, the guy we’re going to see, worked together. Maury won’t be going to work any more.”

            They arrived at the stairs leading up to Maury’s apartment and confronted the burly Jacobson. “Mr. Jacobson, I’d like you to meet my partner, Detective Sargent Samantha Jones.”

            Jacobson, who had gruffly directed Sam toward Jack’s place when she had asked him where Lieutenant Dempsey was, now quickly produced a big, bald-headed, toothy smile that resembled all the happy faces Sam had ever seen. “Hello, Sargent, nice to meet you. I was a Sargent once, way back before you were born.”

            “Nice to meet you, Mr. Jacobson; I bet you were a great Sargent.”

             With that Jacobson, smiling even more at Sam, moved his massive bulk aside in a surprisingly graceful manner. Jack mused over Jacobson’s sudden change from waddle to grace, but he chalked it up to being his way to impress Sam. Anyway, with the monumental roadblock cleared for the moment, Jack led Sam up the stairs and into Maury’s apartment; he was certain that Jacobson’s eyes were locked on, and tracking, the rhythmic movements of Sam’s very attractive derriere. Why not? I’d never miss that opportunity either, especially where someone with Sam’s posterior view was involved . . .  

            Entering the apartment, Sam said, “This place looks more like an office than a living room.” An obvious reaction to seeing the computer equipment, chairs, conference-table, numerous file cabinets and disk storage containers.

            “Yes, I agree; it looks as if Maury was into some heavy duty work here.”

            Looking over the dead man’s very dead looking face, Sam said, “Well, it doesn’t look like he’s going to need his job. Any idea what did him?”

            “No, but the craziness on the computer screen might lead somewhere.”

            “What . . . that beautiful nature scene – looks like a sunset over the Florida Keys.”

            “No Sam, it’s what’s under that beautiful sunset.”

            “You’re gonna have to do better than that.”

            “Right, let me just gently move that mouse a bit . . . ah there.”

            Jumping back, Sam exclaimed, “Yikes! What the fuck is that?”

            “Well put, Sam. I couldn’t have said it better.” 

 

 

 


 

Chapter Two

A Horrible Clue

 

            They stood there and studied the face in the picture on the computer screen. It took a few minutes for either of them to comment on exactly what they were looking at. It wasn’t so hard to recognize that the face in the picture bore a remarkable resemblance to the corpse seated in front of it, but why it was there, and what it meant, was beyond immediate comprehension. They agreed they were looking at a damn good photographic rendition of Maury’s horror-stricken face. In fact, it was as if the computer somehow captured his death look as he gazed into the monitor in front of him.

            “My God!” Sam said, “this is very, very weird.” She leaned in to examine the picture and face of the dead man more closely. Then commented on the rest of what she was looking at. “Why do you suppose the picture shows his head decapitated and impaled on a stake? And what’s the rest of that around the stake supposed to be?”

            “My guess is it’s the rest of his body, badly disemboweled and torn apart, but I agree it sure is a bad looking mess.”

            “Yes, now I see it clearly. Someone is trying to be very ghoulishly sadistic here. What do you suppose it all means?

            “Maybe nothing, and then again maybe everything.”

            Sam shot a questioning look at Jack, and said, “My that’s pretty deep, even for you. So, I gather from that it could just be some computer game he was playing when a sudden heart attack interceded – or perhaps something maybe even sinister . . .” Her words trailed off as she obviously was trying to grapple with her thoughts.

            Jack on the other hand was a little more deliberate in his interpretation. “Well, Sam, as you’re aware, I didn’t know this young man very well, but somehow, I can’t believe he was playing computer games. What little I do know about him tells me he wasn’t the type, so I think we have to look into this a lot deeper than just chalking it off to an untimely heart attack.”

            Sam didn’t comment, but went back to examining the picture on the screen, and Jack decided to have a better look around than he had when he was there earlier. While Jack was examining the rest of the apartment, Sam looked over the extensive book collection that she, as an avid reader herself, was naturally drawn to. Examining the range of titles, from tecno-thrillers to ancient philosophers, she was immediately struck by the similarities to those she found in Jack’s apartment. The obvious empathy Jack exhibited toward his deceased young neighbor became much clearer.

 

            Meanwhile, Jack examined what was normally a second bedroom, but in Maury’s apartment it was being used as a storage room. Being careful not to disturb any possible fingerprints, he eased one of the file cabinet drawers open. It held an orderly set of files that had obviously been meticulously arranged by subject, and those under each subject were filed in numerical order. Hmm Maury certainly kept very neat and what look to be well-organized files. Reading some of the subject titles, Jack was impressed by their esoteric, if not arcane, nature: Hmm . . . Cryptanalysis, Computer Forensics, Cunieform data, Mesopotamia articles, Kabbalah research, Sumerian History . . . quite an eclectic group of subjects.

            He was about to comment on this, when a sharp knock on the open door interrupted his thought, and he eased the file drawer back into place. Rejoining Sam, they looked to see who had arrived, as Digger O’Dell greeted them.

            “Good morning, it’s always nice to see two of Martin County’s finest working, bright and early. I had a bit of a time convincing that oversized version of Mr. Clean that I should be allowed to come up here. However, I presented my credentials and mentioned I was in the business of examining dead bodies. Then while I eye-balled him, as if he was a potential subject, he let me by.”

            Donald O’Dell, the county Medical Examiner, naturally came by his nickname after the famous friendly undertaker of old time radio comedy days. Jack’s very cool demeanor invariably was stretched each time he did a face to face with the lean angular head, with deep-socketed, intense, black eyes peering out at him from under bushy black eyebrows. For Jack, these encounters never failed to relate Digger’s boney looking physical attributes, to the quintessential image of a gravedigger. Jack knew Digger enjoyed the impression he made, and that Digger always dressed in black to underscore his macabre appearance.

            Looking past them, Digger’s eyes focused on the computer display, and he said, “God Damn! What the fuck is that?”

            “Funny you should ask. “Jack said, “That seems to be the question of the day. Is everyone reading off the same script?”

            “Hmm, these young people manage to get into some weird shit with their computers.” Digger said, as he bent his long, thin, angular, frame over to get a closer look. Rubbing his bony, pasty-white, hands together, he looked like the proverbial cat eyeballing a caged canary. Then, crow like, angling his head back and forth between the computer image and Maury he said, “Hey, he,” pointing to the face on the screen, “looks just like this guy . . . who at least still has his head attached, not that it matters much. From the looks of him he won’t be using it again.”

            “Maybe that was his problem.” Sam said, “He probably didn’t use it when he should have.”

            “That’s pretty profound, old-girl,” Jack said. “Is that just Sam’s philosophy 101, or have you figured out what happened here?”

            “Try psychology, my ancient associate. From what I see, among other things, he received a very disturbing message before becoming a candidate for rigor mortis. But, pathology is Digger’s domain.”

            “Hmm . . . you’re beginning to sound almost clinical Sam. Are you angling for my job?

            “No, Digger, I’m just guessing. I’m as much in the dark about what might have happened here as Jack is.”

            Digger obviously enjoyed the barbed repartee passing between his favorite team of detectives.

            Another knock on the door and Flash Gordon, a deputy sheriff crime-scene forensic specialist, came in and said. “Hey Godzilla down there is better than crime-scene tape” Then peering over Digger’s shoulder said, “What the fuck is that?”

            Jack said to no one in particular, “I think I know how to begin my report.”

            Flash said, “Hey Digger, how come you got here before us?”

            “Oh, I was passing by on my way over to the Sheriffs’ Office on another matter when I heard the call and decided, I might as well look in now and save myself a trip later.”

            “Well,” Jack said, “It’s good you’re both here. This appears to me to be more than just a natural death. This guy looks very young, maybe mid thirties, sitting there in front of a very scary picture where he’s the main feature . . . very weird. Better give him the works when you get him Digger. And, Flash, we better treat this like a bonafide crime-scene, so do your usual best. So far, nothings been disturbed except for a little push on Mickey Mouse there.” Jack pointed to the wireless mouse positioned next to Maury’s cold dead hand, “I want a good picture of the deceased’s face just as we see it now. When you got it, and you’re ready to move the body, get some additional shots of Maury before we send him off with Digger.”

            From long experience, Jack knew that, aside from his reputation as a bonafide character who was not above practical jokes, Flash took his crime-scene gigs seriously. Using some of the latest forensic photography equipment, he recorded excellent detail that later often revealed more than was recognized at the original crime location.

            Another crime-scene deputy arrived, Jack looked at Sam and said, “Bet I can guess what he’s gonna say.”

            Sure enough, Tony the Tank looked at the computer screen and said, “What the fuck? Is that for real?”

            “Close enough,” Jack said, “Tony, that was at least a little more original, but that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question, at the moment.” 

            At Jack’s direction, everyone treated Maury’s death as a potential homicide, and, until directed to do otherwise that’s exactly how he planned to proceed.

            While the crime unit did its thing, Jack and Sam rejoined Danny, who hadn’t moved out of Jack’s easy chair.

            “Damn, he must like my chair.” Jack said.

            “What did you say?”

            “Oh . . . er nothing really, I said, looks like he’s still there.”

            “Yeah, right, I like your chair too.”

            Jack blushed a bit since the chair had a lot of significance between them. Sam liked to sit naked in it when she felt particularly naughty. A vision of her au natural, relaxed and enticing, stalked his consciousness, and he had to remember that in spite of where they were, they were on the job.

            “Er . . . perhaps we ought to take Danny along with us to headquarters.”

            “No, let’s talk to him here first. It might be more productive.”

            After a trying moment or two, Jack adjusted to the idea that somehow his little sex playpen had morphed into Martin County Sheriffs’ Office East, and he resumed his best on the job posture.

-----------------------------

 

            “Danny,” Jack said, “we’re going to ask you a few questions, and we’d really appreciate any help you can give us.”

            Danny had quieted down to a point where he seemed able to cope, and said, “I think I should tell someone at work . . . I won’t be there today.”

            “Right Danny, give me the number, and Sam will take care of it for you. Just now it’s important you help us as much as possible.”

            “Oh, thank you, here’s the number . . . Mary Kelly should be the one who answers. She’s really nice.”

            “While Sam takes care of that, how about a cup of coffee. I’m going to brew some.”

            “Thanks, I . . . I’d like that.”

 

            Sam returned from the parking lot and said, “I got through to Astrodyne. It’s a new software start-up company.”

            Jack thought a moment and said, “Yes, I remember . . . it created quite a splash when it came to town. The Chamber of Commerce had advertised it as the first of many such hi-tech operations.”

            “Yes . . . that’s the one.”

            “Anyway, Sam, you’re just in time for some fresh brew. There, Danny, I hope you can drink it black. Best I can do, is give you some sugar to go with it.”

            “That, that’s okay . . . a little sugar’s all I need.”

            Sam took hers black, just the way Jack handed it to her. She took a sip of it and said. “Everything’s under control at work, Danny. They said to come back whenever you feel ready. They think you’re very special.”

            “Oh . . . thanks. I ... I don’t know how I would’ve told them . . . about . . . Mau . . . Maury. They really depended on him. He was doing a lot of special work. Corporate secret kinda stuff.”

            Danny drank a little of his coffee and appeared to be settling down, so Jack sat down in a nearby chair and pursued the matter.

            “How secret, Danny?”

            Danny looked a little nervous as he thought about the question. He hesitated but finally said, “Well . . . Maury . . . he . . . he wasn’t supposed to talk about it to anyone . . . I mean anyone not working directly on the project with him.”

            “Did he discuss it with you?”

            “Oh, no. Maury was very careful. About all he ever said was, it was way out stuff, and he was only supposed to know a small part of what was being done.”

            Jack contemplated his coffee, over steepled-fingers, then picked up the cup, took a deliberately slow drink from it, and said, “How about you Danny, what do you do there?”

            “Oh, me . . . I’m just a programmer.”

            “And what do you do as a programmer?”

            “Oh, I write code that makes programs run.”

            “That’s impressive. Is that how you would describe Maury’s work?”

            “No, no . . . Maury was much more than that. He could do programming all right, but that wasn’t what he did primarily. He was an analyst.”

            “Can you tell us what that is, or what kind of work he had been doing at Astrodyne?”

            “Well, I don’t exactly know what he was working on, but I know he worked as an analyst on, on . . . whatever it was.”

            “And . . .?”

            “And . . .?” Danny said, as he appeared confused by the obvious need for further clarification, but he seemed to slowly understand what was expected.

            “You want to know what an analyst does?”

            “Yes, as long as it doesn’t become too technical.”

             “Oh yes,” he said, as he appeared to be concentrating on how to best answer Jack’s request, “an analyst writes program specifications . . . from project requirements. He sort of translates what an engineer wants to see happen into the kind of instructional language a programmer needs to follow to make it happen . . . the way the engineer wanted.”

            “That’s clear, I think . . . sounds like an important go-between type responsibility.”

            “Yes, a go-between, that’s good, I never thought of it that way, but, exactly, yes that’s what the job is.”

            Jack turned in his chair and looked through a window. He saw the crime unit moving the body into a van, and said, “Now, do you think you can come upstairs with us and have a look at Maury’s equipment.”

            Danny squirmed in the big comfortable easy chair, and said, “Do . . . do I have to?”

            “It would help us a lot. Maury isn’t there now. My men took him away so we can determine how he died.”

            Danny took a deep breath, looked at Sam and Jack’s friendly faces, and said, “Okay.”


Chapter Three

             A Hidden Message

 

            Jack, Sam, and Danny arrived in Maury’s apartment as Flash was explaining to Digger how Maury’s death picture had made it onto the screen.

            “You see that small video camera on top of the monitor, it’s used to send pictures over the Internet, and someone on the other end must have done the art work.”

            Jack identified with Digger, as he watched a look of amazement register on the normally taciturn medical examiner’s face. It was almost as if Digger was reading his mind as he heard Digger say, “You mean someone in some other place could take somebody’s picture, rearrange it, and send it back to the somebody whose picture it was?”

            “Yes that’s what I’m saying, but the somebody has to have his video camera on and be hooked up to the Internet.”

            Jack interrupted and said, “I didn’t know you were into this hi-tech stuff, Flash!”

            “When you’re raising a couple of teenagers these days, it just goes with the territory.”

            “Right. Anyway, I’d like you to meet Danny. He’s a computer programmer who worked with Maury. He can give us some good insight into the how, what, and why of what you were explaining to Digger.”

            “Hi, Danny, I’m sure sorry about Maury.”

            Danny just bit his lip and didn’t try to say anything. He appeared to be borderline under control. His face ashen, beads of sweat formed visibly on his forehead. He stood there, zombie like, barely able to confront the ghastly apparition on the display.

 

            Watching him closely, Sam saw the emotion welling up and quickly turned the conversation back to technical matters. “So, Danny, is that the way this video stuff works?”

            Danny looked at Sam, who gave him a reassuring smile. Sam’s motherly kindness seemed to give him confidence. Sam was an attractive woman with a pleasant way about her. The tough as nails persona lurking beneath that beautiful facade hadn’t revealed itself. At times like this, Sam made good use of her basic good-person nature. Her other side having been acquired while learning to survive in the criminal-justice jungle, dominated, on both sides of the line, mainly by chauvinistic males of the species.

            The reassuring attention given by Sam appeared to stabilize Danny, and pointing toward Flash, he said, “Yes . . . yes it all happens pretty much like he described it.”

            Sam coaxed him, “Could you give us a little more insight into how?”

            Speaking directly to Sam and not looking at anything else, Danny said, “It . . . it’s all made possible because the picture information is digitized; we call it digital data.”

 

            Noting that Sam had Danny’s confidence, Jack and the others stood back and remained silent allowing Sam to lead the way as she continued the dialog.

 

             “Well we’ve certainly heard enough about the advantages of digital this and digital that, Compact Discs, Digital Television, Digital Video, Digital Music, Digital Photography, and only God knows what digital else.”

            “That’s right, everything’s becoming digital. I think the Internet has a lot to do with it.”

            “Now, Danny,” Sam pressed on, “without getting too technical, can you explain how to go about using a video camera like this one to send video over the Internet?”

            “I’ll try, but I’m no expert on computer hardware, I’m more of a user . . . sort of take all the bells and whistles as given, and just link them together with ones and zeroes, so to speak.”

            “That certainly puts you way ahead of us. We’re lucky to just be able to point the mouse in the right direction and maybe get a computer to do something sensible. You know, Danny, the magic you guys do behind the scenes that lets the rest of us use these things, is truly amazing. You really have performed miracles with those ones and zeroes.”

            “It’s nice of you to say that. A lot of people don’t especially like us all that much . . . they call us nerds . . . or worse.”

            “Well Danny, rest assured your present company looks at you as a very smart person with a lot to offer. And we certainly appreciate your help.” 

            Sam gave Danny another of her big reassuring smiles and he visibly perked up, and still looking directly at her he said, “There’s two kinds, video data, and picture data. Video involves motion, like a movie. A picture is a single frame, like a snapshot. However, there’s a big difference in the bandwidth and time requirements to transmit the corresponding data. I hope that’s not too technical?”

            “No, not at all, I think you made that very clear. So then, we can assume this arrangement is a picture-transmitting one.”

            “Yes, as configured it will transmit a single picture and refresh itself periodically. A program is used to set it all up. I think this was set up to retransmit every sixty seconds.”

            “Can we determine what the setting is?”

            “Yes, but it has to be done by operating the computer.”

            Again, looking directly into Danny’s eyes, Sam said as reassuringly as possible, “Oh, do you think you can save the picture that’s on the display first, and . . . maybe print it out also?” 

            Jack was amazed by how Sam was able to keep Danny calm enough for him to actually sit in Maury’s chair and begin to operate the computer. Sam stood directly alongside of him and kept her hand gently on his shoulder. Everyone watched as Danny nervously reached out and used the mouse to send a command to the computer. Tentatively, he right-clicked on the image and made the appropriate menu selection to download the picture to the A-drive. And when that was done he hit the print command, and the color inkjet printer did its thing as it slowly printed out Maury’s death scene.

            Jack retrieved it from the printer and said, “That’s fine, Danny. I’ll keep this for the official record.”

            Jack saw the look of relief come over Danny’s face, obviously relieved that he didn’t have to pass judgement on the quality of the printout.

            He didn’t have long to dwell on that possibility as Sam squeezed his shoulder affectionately and gently interrupted his thoughts as she said, “Danny, can you determine where that picture was sent from?”

            “Uh . . . What?”

            Sam, again locked her gaze on Danny’s eyes, where it was plain to see the fear welling up there, but, as he returned her look, he calmed down enough to turn back toward the computer and weakly said. “Ah . . . Hmm . . . let me see . . . it probably came in as an email attachment. Yes, if I minimize the program used to run the picture, we’ll probably be able to see the email message it’s attached to.”

            The words in the underlying message stood out clearly since it was formatted using large, bold, ghoulish looking, blood-red type.

Your Work Here Is Finished

And So Are You

            Danny bolted out of the big leather chair. Starting to stammer, he lurched away from the computer toward the door. Jack grabbed him and smothered him in his arms. Danny trembled uncontrollably, staring wide eyed, unable to regain control of himself.

            Sam retrieved some tissues from her handbag and mopped his sweating brow as Jack guided Danny out onto the terrace, hoping the still cool, fresh morning air would help. They sat him down, and Jack told Sam to stay with him while he returned inside where Flash and Digger were discussing how the picture came in the email.

            “Flash, do you know enough about this to print out that email?”