The Cadillac Diaries: Episode 54

Ray and Tommy stood very still as the scratching at the apartment door grew louder. Suddenly the door opened a crack and Pete exploded into the room barking at Ray and feverishly trying to climb his leg. Then he paced back and forth in front of Ray, bumping against him.

When Ray bent down, Pete put his muzzle in Ray’s hand and pawed at him.

“Hey, buddy,” Ray greeted, scratching Pete behind the ears. “Did you miss me?”

“Oh good. You’re awake,” Mavis said, ducking under the yellow crime scene tape as she entered the room.

“You didn’t know I was awake?” Ray asked, standing to his feet.

“Nope,” Mavis answered.

“I figured Tommy told you,” Ray said.

“Nah. First time I’ve heard any of this. Thanks for keeping me in the loop, Tommy,” she said sarcastically.

Ray’s confusion deepened, “Then how did you know to come here?”

“Pete led the way. I was at the bar when suddenly he starts flipping out, barking, clawing at the door. I let him out and followed him here. It’s the weirdest thing. Almost like he knew you were awake.”

“Really?” Ray asked.

“Nope,” Mavis said with her whimsical smile. “Tommy called and told me you’d be here.”

Ray grinned then tilted his head and looked at Tommy.

“Okay. So what are we dealing with here, Tommy?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” Tommy returned.

“Why did Captain Bonkers kill this guy?” Ray asked.

“Supposedly he worked for the Chessboard King,” Tommy answered.

Ray nodded, “Oh yea. I remember hearing about him. Who is he anyway?”

“When these people started dying, I asked around and found out that the Chessboard King is a name given to some mythical crime boss. I know it sounds like a line from a cheesy novel, but turns out there’s some fact to the fiction surrounding this guy. Rumor is he owns eight different businesses. Four legal, four illegal. The legal ones are nothing more than a front for laundering the money of the illegal. Chessboard King has just recently popped up in the wake of this Captain Bonkers. I still don’t have anything on the guy. The only people directly connected to the name Captain Bonkers are the folks who wrote the comic. They’ve moved overseas, but there are some fans here and there. Story goes that one entire family was killed. ”

“What story?” Ray asked.

“It’s as classic as it is tragic. There’s this guy who used to be an enforcer for some crime boss,” Tommy began.

“The Chessboard King?” Ray asked.

“Probably,” Tommy said. “Anyway, this enforcer falls in love with one of the dancers at some after hours gambling den. The guy wants the girl for himself, she loves him, so the enforcer makes a deal with his boss. He promises to always work for him if he lets the girl out of her contract so they can get married, live a semi normal life. The boss agrees and “Bob’s your uncle” the two are married. Not long after, they have a wee one, a son, and he becomes a big fan of this independent comic Captain Bonkers. As time goes by, the wife starts to see things a bit differently and decides she doesn’t like her husband working in a dangerous job. She wants him to quit and find work that is safer so the child will grow up with a father.  So—”

“Tommy?” Ray interrupted.

“Yes?” Tommy asked.

“Can we skip to the end? I’ve only got so many years left before I die.”

Tommy shrugged and said, “Fine. Long story short, the enforcer leaves the business with the boss’s blessing. Only he doesn’t really have the blessing because the boss orders a hit on the enforcer and his family. Kills all three of them as an example. Once in, always in.”

“They’re dead?” Ray asked.

Tommy nodded.

Ray started to say something but held his tongue.

“What?” Tommy asked.

“I almost made a common mistake,” Ray said. Then after a breath, he asked,

“They found the bodies, right? The husband, the wife, the child? All confirmed dead?”

“Yea, Ray. They found them,” Tommy said. “I’m not certain if they got dental matches, but I’ll look into it and confirm. Yea. The guy is dead. Poor bloke even took a few of the boss’ men with him. His wasn’t the only burned body.”

“Burned? What do you mean, Tommy?” Ray asked.

“The boss’ men were sent to kill the family and then burn their bodies. I’m guessing that the boss said to go ahead and burn the bodies of his dead men.”

“So that’s all? We don’t have any other clue as to who this guy is?” Ray asked.

“That’s all I got, Ray,” Tommy answered.

“Great.”

“Oh and he has been leaving behind chess pieces at each murder, if that helps,” Tommy said.

Before Ray could answer, the apartment door opened and a police detective stepped into the room.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

Outside the window, a buzzing neon sign flickered, casting red and blue light across a warped moldy desk covered with a thick layer of dust. On top the desk, rested an old television and a chess set with some of the pieces still in position from the last game. The rolling rumble of thunder followed lightning strokes as rain pelted the roof, nature’s frantic tap dance. A lone figure walked into the room and for a moment stood over the chess set. He let out a long breath, a sigh of grief and suffering at its deepest, then removed his coat, folding it carefully and draping it across the table. Slipping off his top hat, he positioned it delicately on the coat. After removing a few clips, he pulled the clown mask from his face, the mask that had become his identity, and set it on the coat before settling into an old chair, its leather cracked and splitting. Reaching for a television remote next to the chessboard, he turned on the television and paused. His glance seemed to look far away then he reverently bowed his head as he remembered. A push of the play button and the VHS tape inside began to whir as the television screen flickered from blue to black.

Suddenly the screen came to life. A young boy was smiling, his face close to the screen, while in the background, a tall beautiful woman worked in the kitchen. From time to time she paused in her work to smile at something the boy said. She looked at the television and mouthed the words “I love you. The boy reached forward for the recording camera and adjusted it a bit. Then he smiled again and said,

“Hey, Dad. Mom says you’re working late, so I’m using my camera and recording my next move.”

“Thank you, Dad, for the camera,” the woman prompted.

The small boy nodded and rolled his eyes.

“Thanks again, Dad.”

Reaching for the camera, the boy turned it down to face a chessboard with a game in progress.

The man in the leather chair glanced over at the chessboard on the desk then back to the television screen.

“It’s your move, Dad. I moved my Knight to. . . ,” the boy trailed off, “. . .g5 it’s your move now. I think I’ve got you this time.”

You could hear the delight in the child’s sweet voice.

The boy turned the camera back up to his face and said,

You’re going down, old man!”

“Go wash up for supper, baby, and don’t call your father old man,” the mother instructed, wiping her hands off as she walked over to the boy.

“But my camera,” the child protested.

“I’ll get it,” the mother assured him then slapped her boy on the butt as he ran off.

“Mom!” he protested.

“Can’t help myself. It’s just so cute,” she said with a grin before turning back to the camera.

“He really misses you, honey. I hope things went well at work. Did Ms.— “

She stopped herself.

“Did your boss give you any hassle about quitting? When you get home, wake me up and let me know.”

After that, the tape ran out and the screen went black as the man reached out and turned off the set. His eyes wandered over to the chessboard, and with a trembling hand, he slowly reached out for one of the pieces. But he quickly retracted his hand and balled it into a fist. Turning to a consol to the left of the desk, he slammed his fist down on a large button marked lights.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

When Chief Myron Hooper woke up, he squinted in the glare of bright lights.

“Who are you? What am I doing here?” he called out in an insistent tone.

When no answer came, Hooper raised his hand to shield his eyes from the light and saw that patches of black mold were scattered across the ceiling with wide brown circles where water had worked its way through the tiles. He could hear water dripping nearby, probably from a leaky pipe given the look of the place. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he reached out and pushed himself up to a sitting position. The paint was bubbling on the walls, and the room was filled with a musty smell. Rubbing the back of his head to ease the shooting pain, he felt a lump.

“Remember,” he told himself. “How did I get here?”

Like waking up and finding yourself in the middle of a nightmare, the truth of his situation began to come back to him. He had been kidnapped by a serial killer dressed in a clown mask who called himself Captain Bonkers. Dizzy from the blow, Hooper slowly stood and saw that five other people were in the room with him. He recognized most of them. Lowlifes, a respected reporter, and even a couple of doctors. Suddenly he bent over, sick to his stomach. Everyone in the room had one thing in common—they worked for the same man. The man Captain Bonkers called the Chessboard King.

“Myron?” a voice called out. It was David, a reporter for one of the town’s papers. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for the same reason you are,” Hooper said, straightening up. “We work for the same guy, and if we’re not careful, we’re going to die in this room.”

David’s face went pale, but Hooper didn’t have time to soften the blow. Everyone in that room was a target.

As each person in the room stood, a projector clicked to life. On a large white sheet hung at the far end of the room, a video played. The text on the screen made Hooper cringe.

“Dear Pawns of the Chessboard King, you have been brought here because your master enjoys playing games with the lives of innocents. I am going to use you to play a game of my own. There are six of you here, but only one will be allowed to leave. This room is one of many rooms, and each room will not open until one of you dies. I will not make that decision. You will. I will allow you to fight for yourselves. The last one to escape this building may leave.”

The projector held the image for a moment before shutting off.

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