Anatomy of a Crossword

BOOK: Anatomy of a Crossword
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF NERO BLANC

“At last puzzle fans have their revenge … super sleuthing and solving for puzzle lovers and mystery fans.” —Charles Preston, puzzle editor,
USA Today

“Addicts of crossword puzzles will relish
The Crossword Murder
.” —
Chicago Sun-Times

“A puzzle lover's delight … A touch of suspense, a pinch of romance, and a whole lot of clever word clues … Blanc has concocted a story sure to appeal to crossword addicts and mystery lovers alike. What's a three-letter word for this book? F-U-N.” —Earlene Fowler on
The Crossword Murder

“Snappy, well-plotted … an homage to Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh … The solid plot never strays from its course and features a surprising yet plausible ending.” —
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
on
Two Down

“Another neat whodunit, along with some clever crosswords … Blanc builds the suspense slowly and surely, challenging the reader with a dandy puzzler.” —
Publishers Weekly
on
The Crossword Connection

“A great investigative team in the tradition of Nick and Nora … Nero Blanc is a master.” —Book Browser

Anatomy of a Crossword

A Crossword Mystery

Nero Blanc

For Flo Allen

Who has forever outshone the brightest stars.

Greetings from Nero

Anatomy of a Crossword
gave us the wonderful opportunity to revisit Los Angeles and the entertainment industry. Prior to becoming Nero Blanc, we were actors; in fact we met in an acting class, and it wasn't long before we were involved romantically as well as artistically. When our careers segued into writing rather than performing, our theatrical training proved invaluable; and we continue to “improvise” our scenes and act out the various parts when searching for inspiration.

Allowing Belle and Rosco to experience the excitement of Hollywood was irresistable—especially its balmy climate when their hometown of Newcastle, Massachusetts is locked in an icy New England winter. And for you long-time film and stage buffs, there's a special treat in store at the novel's end. We urge you not to peek.

We dearly love hearing from fans, so please write us at
www.CrosswordMysteries.com
where you'll find original puzzles and info on other Blanc books. We promise a speedy response.

Happy sleuthing!

Nero (aka Steve and Cordelia)

CHAPTER 1

To use the old Hollywood vernacular: Back in April, Chick Darlessen “couldn't get arrested.” Of the six pilot scripts he'd submitted to various television studios the previous fall, each and every one had been “shot down” by some twenty-eight year old “suit,” a person literally half Chick's age, with comments that had ranged from insensitive to downright abusive.

“… Chick, baby, honey, nobody's doing Westerns anymore. Who knows from horses these days? Horses-smorshes. They shoot them, don't they? Har. Har … We're thinking fresh, here, innovative. You want animals, they gotta be
cute
animals … Small animals … A talking weasel. Now
that
might be something
new
… And remember, it's the gal-pal market we're selling to. Maybe a
mother
weasel … A nag, yes, but no horses. Please.”

“… Darlessen, sweetheart, extraterrestrials in the Nevada desert? Been there, done that. Everyone has. Give us something that'll grab the viewers and won't let go. I'm talking figuratively, of course …”

“… The concept? Too pricey, Darlessen. It's also a big fat downer. You want a mature audience, you don't peddle death. No one likes a hero who croaks. No one needs a history lesson … Who's this Patrick Henry guy, anyway? ‘Give me liberty, or give me death.' Who talks like that? Nobody. Think interactive, Chick. We're selling corn flakes here. Oat squares. Fiber for a healthy diet. Give us something we can put in a box and you're gold, baby …!”

And so the litany had gone, all winter long and well into spring. Every studio “pitch” meeting Chick Darlessen's agent had arranged ended with a brush-off more callous than the last, sending the screenwriter further and further into the depths of depression, and deeper and deeper into debt. He needed work so desperately, and was so broke, he'd taken a part-time job with a phone-sales bank—a job at which he was spectacularly ill-equipped. While he watched his fellow “marketing consultants” sweet-talk their way into endless sales and commissions, Chick only heard the angry click of receivers dropping back into their cradles. Often he didn't even get a chance to name the product, and by the Fourth of July he was three months late on his rent.

But then, on August 19, something just short of miraculous had happened—his uncle, Bartann Welner, unexpectedly dropped dead. Chick was Uncle Bart's sole surviving heir; and although Bart had just turned ninety, they'd been close, living only a few block from one another for the past twenty years and taking lengthy walks into the Hollywood Hills on an almost daily basis. Until his sudden demise, Uncle Bart had been as healthy as an ox. In fact, the joke between uncle and nephew was that the old man might well outlive the younger.

Initially, the thought of financial gain from Bartann Welner's estate seemed slim. Uncle Bart had been no more affluent than Chick, living on Social Security and a modest Screen Actors Guild pension he received from doing film stunt work in the 1940s and 1950s. The funeral costs alone could have put Chick in the poorhouse, but two weeks prior to his untimely death, Bart had been the Grand-Slam Winner of one million dollars on the TV program
Down & Across
, a crossword puzzle-themed evening game show.

Uncle Bart had been a crossword “junkie” for as long as Chick could remember. He was born on the same day the first puzzle appeared in a newspaper: December 21, 1913, and could complete the Sunday
Times
puzzle in less then fifteen minutes—in ink. Bart was born to be the Grand-Slam Winner, and as Gerry Orso, the host of
Down & Across
, had said at the show's close, “Let's hear it, folks—despite his age, Bart Welner has kicked butt here tonight!”

The check for the million dollars had yet to arrive, but Stan McKenet, the producer of
Down & Across
, had informed Chick that it was “in the works”, and “not to worry. As soon as that show airs, the check is in the mail.”

And Chick wasn't worried. The payment would appear; an estate lawyer would perform his magical legal mumbo jumbo, and Chick would would have the lucre in his hands. But the real pot of gold, as far as Chick was concerned, wasn't the promised inheritance; instead, it lay inside a manila envelope he had found while clearing out his uncle's refrigerator. At first he'd assumed the envelope had been placed there to prevent something from leaking into a half-eaten bowl of moldy peanuts. But there were no apparent stains on the paper, and when Chick turned it over, he was intrigued by what Uncle Bart had handwritten on the outside:
ANATOMY OF A CROSSWORD
. Inside the envelope, Chick had discovered a neatly typed treatment for a TV movie of the week, and accompanying crossword puzzle, and a handful of articles clipped from newspapers published in Massachusetts and Vermont.

Chick never had any use for crosswords. He'd once tried to tackle one in the back of
TV Guide
but found he'd had no flare for word games. He was only able to wrangle two answers after studying the thing for forty-five solid minutes—and if he hadn't been a Larry Hagman fan, he wouldn't have solved the
Genie
clue. His mind just didn't move in a lateral direction. It had always been full steam ahead. But, after perusing Uncle Bart's treatment, Chick realized he'd hit the jackpot.

Less than a minute later, he was on the phone, punching in the numbers to his agent, Lee Rennegor. Given the screenwriter's current deplorable status, however, he was asked to “hold” for a considerable period of time before the great Rennegor himself got on the line. And even then, Chick wasn't permitted to speak.

“No more animals, Darlessen … No more monsters. No more messages. No more dead people—”

“Lee, this is good. This is the money concept. I'm talking possible series here. No, make that a
definite
.”

There was an audible sigh on the other end of the line. “You've never heard the term, ‘six strikes and you're out'? It's over. I can't get you in another door. The Chick Darlessen keys have been thrown away.”

Chick's lie number one:
“Lee, I've come up with a fabulous story concept. Movie of the week—or pilot … you call it. Get me into FOX, ABC, CBS, I don't care. A cable network? Showtime? That's all I'm asking, and I'll sell this baby in twenty minutes. Ten … Five, even.”

“It's over, Chick.”

“Lee, Lee, Lee, what are you saying?”

“I'm saying it's over.”

“I don't believe I heard you say that.”

“If you were listening closely, you would've heard me say it three times.”

“Lee, I can wrap this up in one word:
Crossword … Puzzle
.”

Lee groaned; no one said writers could count. Counting was the agent's job. “This doesn't have anything to do with your dearly departed uncle, does it?”

Lie number two:
“Nothing. Nothing at all. I came up with this completely on my own.” Chick silently nudged Bart's handiwork under the couch with his foot, somehow suspecting that Lee might be able to spot the envelope through the phone line. “This is hot, Lee. Just what the studios have been asking for. Interactive, smart, a cast you can identify with, people you can
feel
for … sexy, even … It's the whole nine yards.”

“Okay …” Another sigh. “Let's have it.”

Lie number three:
“I've been doing some research. I spent all day yesterday at the library, and I pulled up some very interesting articles from a number of newspapers in the Boston vicinity.”

“What library? There's a library in L.A.?”

“Doesn't matter. The point is, the concept is based on a true story. A true crime.”

“I'm all ears, Chick.” Lee almost sounded as if he meant it.

“Okay, last winter in Vermont … That's in New England. Snow, pretty scenery, and dynamite product placement for the automotive industry … Four-wheel-drive heaven, if you get my drift … Anyway, four couples get themselves snowed in at a country inn … They're stuck. The phone lines are out. Plows can't get through for an entire weekend, and guess what? This really happened. You're gonna love this—”

“I've got another call. Hold on.”

While Lee attended to a more important client, Chick retrieved Uncle Bart's work, then studied the answers to the crossword. “Ahh, Uncle Bart. What the heck is this?” He shook his head. “You can't do this—”

“Can't do what?” Lee was back on the line.

“Nothing. Nothing. Just talking to myself.”

“So what happened in Vermont?”

“One of the eight snowbound people turned up dead in the middle of the night.”

“We're back to dead again?”

“This is solid stuff, Lee,” Chick pleaded.

“Okay, okay, I'll bite, murder or accident?”

“Murder, of course. The straight skinny, too. I've got newspaper clippings to prove it—”

“You stole newspapers from the library?”

Lie number four:
“Ahh, no. They're photocopies.”

On the other end of the line, Chick could hear Lee light a cigarette—a good sign. He was interested. “So, where's this crossword fit in?”

“It seems one of the guests at the inn was a puzzle editor from a Massachusetts newspaper; a babe by the name of Annabella Graham. She was there with her husband, who just happens to be a private eye. His name is Rosco—is that great or what? Who names their kid Rosco? Anyway, the rest of the couples were foodies—you know, amateur chefs … They worked together as well as socialized together. Taking a yearly trip to the inn was a tradition, but—and here's the kicker—one of the original couples was a no-show. Instead, the wife sent a special dessert recipe, a sort of ‘sorry, we're missing the fun,' and hid it in a crossword puzzle—”

BOOK: Anatomy of a Crossword
8.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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