Mind Games by D.I. Jolly
Frank wandered over and frowned down at a desk full of small squares of paper.
“What good is a detective who can’t even solve a simple Sudoku?”
Jamie rolled his eyes but didn’t lookup.
“Someone has been sending me these things every day for a little over a week now. They’re homemade and unsolvable. Each one is missing a number. I’ve laid them out in sequence to try work out if there is a pattern or reason here.”
Franks’ frown deepened.
“Any idea who’s sending them to you?”
Jamie glanced up, cocked an eyebrow and shook his head which made Frank grunt.
“Well, that’s worrying.”
In each puzzle, one block was left blank and each time it was a different missing number. After staring at them in order for a while they arranged them in terms of the position and noted down the code. Frank stared at it, sighed and read it out.
“951236748, that mean anything to you?”
Jamie thought for a second, then said.
“Me? no… but maybe for you.”
He got up and fast walking to the file cabinet, rifled through a few folders and pulled out a solved case which he handed to Frank. Inside he found an image he didn’t like looking at and a mugshot of a woman holding a sign which read.
Ms J. Crawford
Prisoner I.D. 951236748
Frank sucked on his teeth feeling a slightly sick feeling wash over him.
Ms Jennifer Crawford had been the station’s receptionist when Frank first started working there and had taken a liking to him. To Franks deep misfortune he’d taken a liking to her too and the two quickly began dating. Not long after that Frank started to realise there was something a bit off about her. She had what he considered to be a wild streak, which was something that he’d just never had. He’d been a serious kid and grown into an even more serious man. He didn’t think much of it at the time but decided it was best to call the whole thing off early before it went too far. Which, with a bit of time and perspective any sane person would have agreed was the right move. Unfortunately for them, Ms Crawford was anything but sane.
She started out acting strange around him, which made sense, but even that was always a bit off, more like a grumpy girlfriend giving the silent treatment than someone who’d been dumped. Things escalated quickly when Frank met his next girlfriend Barbara.
If anyone had been paying attention, they would have seen the shift in Ms Crawford the day Frank brought his new girl to the officers Christmas dinner party. But few people did, and before anyone could do anything about its Barbara went missing on her way home from a supermarket and Ms Crawford stopped showing up for work. Pieces of Barbara started arriving on Franks desk and although she was alive when they found her, she was never the same. Ms Crawford got life in prison and Barbara got life in a wheelchair, and trauma centre, as well as both physical and mental therapy.
Frank closed the file and looked at Jamie.
“What do you think this means?”
“Someone’s clearly trying to tell one of us something, but fuck knows what it is.”
Frank walked Jamie back into his office and closed the door before speaking again.
“Can you do me a favour? Can you go see her alone? I don’t want you to let her know that I know. It might not have anything to do with her and we might be being played but, I don’t want to rattle that cage any more than needs to. You understand?”
Jamie nodded, sighed and headed out.
Prison life had not been kind to Ms Crawford. The attractive young girl that Frank had gone on a few dates with was now all but unrecognisable in the hard-faced woman that sat on the other side of the glass.
“What do you want?”
Jamie frowned and it put a harshness into his voice.
“I wanna know how good you are at Sudoku?”
Her reaction was a curious blend of confused, annoyed and honest, which made Jamie feel like he was being led around the houses and he didn’t like that.
“Did you come all the way here just to taunt me, tough guy? I know your boss you know? And this is not proper police protocol. I can have your badge taken away if you’re not careful.”
Jamie started at her thoughtfully for a moment.
“You got any friends in here that have been let out recently? Anyone special to you?”
Her face turned into a dangerous neutral mask and her eyes seemed to go grey.
“Mister, people in here neither make friend nor get out. If you’re going to continue to ask me these sorts of questions I’m going to go back to my cell.”
That made him pause and, in his mind he watched a brick wall go up around the woman. Even if she did know something, which he wasn’t sure she did, he wasn’t getting anything more out of her. He signalled for the guard and left. Instead of heading back to the station, Jamie decided to drive around for a bit and try to order his thoughts. Maybe it had nothing to do with her, or maybe everything. Maybe she was just that good at playing dumb. He checked the clock and took a turn towards The Officer’s Bar. Some problems need to be squeezed while some need to be sidled up to, offered a drink, a cigar and a good time. Frank met him there not long later and the two of them spent a few hours speaking about anything but the problem at hand. The Next morning Jamie arrived at work with a hangover and a new Sudoku to solve.
While Jamie was with Ms Crawford, Frank had tried to trace the postage but it had a machine printed address on a standard envelope with a plain old stamp, nothing interested or remarkable about any of it.
It didn’t take long for Jamie to realise it was just a repeat of one he already solved and just as he suspected it was the missing 9.
“Looks like it’s starting again, I mean, I don’t specifically remember which came first but I feel like it was this one.”
Frank frowned, scoffed and went back to his office leaving Jamie to ponder the problem himself. That afternoon Frank made a phone call to the hospital Barbara was living in to see how she was doing and was told that she was the same as always. Which was both a relief and a point of great pain. He called Jamie into his office and allowing the frustration to get the better of him snapped.
“So which dame did you piss off recently?”
Jamie raised his eyebrows in reply and got a throat clear by way of apology. The room fell silent for a minute while they let the comment settle and eventually, Jamie said in a low voice.
“We both know that’s not what’s going on here.”
Frank levelled his stare and sighed.
“Well someone’s playing us, or at least one of us. How did you manage to recognise those numbers so quickly anyway?”
Jamie shook his head as if dismissing any potential connection.
“I was the arresting officer, processed her paperwork. The case was a little famous around the station by the time she was caught and I’m a good detective.”
Frank let out another frustrated sigh and slumped back in his chair.
“I hate being the punk in these situations. Maybe it’s nothing, some stupid prank someone is playing on us.”
Jamie eyed him.
“You’re saying let it go.”
“For now, it’s clear we don’t have enough information to work with. We’ve now spent almost two days not doing something… else…”
Frank chewed on his lip for a moment before he said,
“What other cases are you working on?”
Jamie could see what Frank was saying and ran through a mental list of cases until he hit on a winner. He burst from the office and started going through the files on his desk. Frank appeared a moment later saying.
“What is it?”
“The Alexis trial is tomorrow. I have the original witness statements.’
He looked up angrily.
‘Or… I did.”
Frank’s eyes grew wide for a moment then very narrow. He grabbed the nearest phone, dialled a number and the whole building slammed shut. They quickly made their way to Surveillance and started checking the footage to see who all had come by Jamie’s desk in the last two days. Frank jabbed a finger at the screen.
“There, who’s that?”
Jamie ran through his memory and shrugged. Frank turned back to the operator, follow them. They switched from camera to camera until they saw the figure leave the building and get into a taxi that was waiting across the street from the station. Frank glared with narrowed eyes.
“What happened to you being a good detective huh?”
Jamie wanted to send a few choice words back but what he could say to Frank privately and what he could say publicly were not the same things. The operator ignoring the tension announced that he got a match on the taxi’s licence and within an hour 6 cars and 18 policemen, including Frank, Jamie and a 6 man swat team arrived at a small dingy flat on the poorer side of town. Inside they found a rusted lawn table, the missing file, two chairs and one body. They started at the body of Carlos Alexis who was quietly leaking brain onto the cheap carpet and after a deep breath, Frank swore so loud the swat team decided it was safer outside. Jamie shook his head and waited. Frank meanwhile punched a wall then turned to face him.
“I don’t believe this! We are still being played! Get the techs in here now, and tell them they can’t leave until it looks like Tony Montana sneezed in here!”
He stormed out the door intent on hitting The Officer’s Lounge hard and try drinking away his rage. Jamie made the call and headed back to the station where he spent the rest of the night.
When Frank came in the next morning, he somehow managed to look worse than Jamie felt, and when the next Sudoku arrived he decided to call it a night.