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Fiction. Copyright 1996, Jim Loy
This story originally appeared in the Montana Chess News.
Detective Smith (of our local police department) visited my apartment, the other day. He wanted to talk about chess. It seems that he was investigating a murder. A man was shot and killed, apparently while playing chess. And the detective wanted some insight into the game. So, naturally, he came to me.
He showed me some photographs of the crime scene. A man was lying on the floor, surrounded by blood and chess pieces. Near the man's feet was a chair. And in front of the chair was a low wooden table with a chess board inlaid upon it. Only the White King remained on the board, upright, on the far side of the board from where the dead man had probably sat.
Detective Smith asked me if there was any significance in a lone King on the board. I answered, "Not really, except that when one King remains standing, the person who had that King is the winner of the game. The loser, in this case, would seem to be the dead man."
He handed me a small piece of paper, "What do you make of this?"
"It's a score sheet. Chess players write down the moves of the game, as they play. This game began with a disgusting opening called the Blackmar Diemer Gambit. At the top of the sheet, the names of the players have been torn off. The game was not completed." I asked, "May I make a copy of the score sheet?"
He said, "Keep it. It's a photocopy."
He showed me photos of a chess clock, from all sides. The left button was all the way down. That side still had 22 minutes left, assuming the clock was set to expire at 6:00. I explained this to him, and added that the other side would have remained ticking.
The time on the right side was 11:47. Detective Smith said that when the clock was found, the right side was indeed still ticking.
I said that I would guess that the last move of the game was made about 6 hours and 9 minutes before the photograph was taken. I explained that that guess was based on the assumption that the two players had played at about the same speed. I added that if the player on the right were about to run out of time, then the move would have been 5 hours and 47 minutes before the photo. I could further guess that these players were playing a thirty minute game, and the game began 6 hours and 35 minutes before the photo was taken.
I added that the murderer could have reset the time to fool the police. Smith said that he had thought of that.
Detective Smith told me that the chess pieces on the floor had all been wiped clean of finger prints, and then thrown on the floor after the murder. He explained his reasoning: The wiping of the fingerprints had not smudged the blood that was on many of the pieces.
From the photos, we were able to account for all 32 pieces. There were no missing pieces.
Detective Smith asked me to accompany him as he interviewed a few potential suspects. When Smith knocked on the door of one suspect, a voice shouted from inside, "Go away, you little twerp, or I'll sick my dog on you." Neither of us was little. And neither of us satisfied my personal definition of the word "twerp." And "Twerp" had been shouted in the singular. So, I assumed that we were being mistaken for some small twerpish person.
The detective knocked again. When the door opened enough for a man's face to peer out at us, Smith showed his badge and said, "Police. Please restrain your dog. May we come in?"
The man let us in. He chuckled, "I don't have a dog. The threat's stronger than the execution, you know."
The man admitted to knowing "the deceased." But, he said, he hadn't seen him in months. He described the dead man as "a real jerk, who may have even deserved what he got." He added, "But I didn't kill him." The detective asked him if he often played chess with the deceased. The man replied that he didn't know how to play chess.
Afterwards, I informed Smith that the man was probably lying, when he said that he didn't know how to play chess. A person who knows that "the threat is stronger than the execution," is likely to be a chess player.
So, this man was my personal choice for chief suspect. But, falsely claiming to not be a chess player is not a crime, at least not in this State.
That night, at home, I played out the moves that were written on the score sheet. The game was fairly short. White won a Knight, fairly early on. He later won a couple of pawns, and seemed to have a won game, when something strange happened. Black put him in check. And White stupidly interposed his Queen, losing it. That was the last move. Black never captured the Queen. The game seemed so reasonable up to that stupid Queen move. White had several good ways to get out of check. Did he have some reason to want to end the game immediately?
I puzzled over that final position.
Then I had an insight. I got up, and made a phone call.
Shortly, I found myself knocking at a door. This time the man didn't mistake me for a twerp. My suspect opened the door. As he let me in, I said, "I was wondering why you lied to the police detective about having never played chess."
He said, "I didn't lie. What makes you think I lied?"
I explained about the threat being stronger than the execution.
He said, "I must have heard somebody say that once. I don't play chess."
I said, "You said that he may have deserved what he got."
He said, sadly, "I guess that was pretty harsh. I suppose he didn't deserve to die."
"I suppose you said that he deserved what he got, because he didn't say 'check.'"
"Yeah." Then he realized what he'd admitted to. He squinted at me, "How'd you know he didn't say 'check?'"
"The score sheet. Why else would you interpose your Queen? He put you in check. But he didn't say 'check.'" You didn't know you were in check. So you moved your Queen. Then he made you interpose your Queen, because of 'touch move.'"
He had been moving over to his desk. Now, he reached into the top drawer and pulled out a pistol. The door to his apartment opened, and Detective Smith shouted, "Freeze!" The murderer pointed the gun at Detective Smith. And Smith shot him. He later recovered.
I dropped heavily into a chair. I later recovered, too (my breath, that is).
I told Detective Smith, "That's just the way it works on Murder She Wrote."
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