The detective stubbed out his seventh consecutive Hamlet and reached for the bottle. It was late, very late, and he was getting nowhere.
'Well, Watson? What do you think?'
'I don't even know what I'm doing here' replied William, the English chess grandmaster. 'You've just been staring at a wall for six hours. And is Ron Passant really your name?'
'Yeah, it is.'
There was a long pause. William, formerly a great hope for British chess but now a lawyer, was perfectly used to sitting in silence for forever and a day, but even he was getting impatient.
'There's no easy way to say this' said Ron finally. 'There's a serial killer on the loose - and he's picking off British club chess players that nobody has ever really heard of, one by one. Watson, I need your help.'
'Because there's a pattern to these murders. So far this guy's killed ten players - and he's going to kill again. He has an intricate knowledge of chess, and so I need a chess player to figure this one out.'
'But why me?'
'Oh, I was just looking up grandmasters on Wikipedia and liked the way Spassky described you as being like a drunk with a machine gun. Reminded me of myself.'
'Now, take a look at this.'
Ron passed Watson the chessboard that had been found by the first victim three weeks ago.
'Oh god, it's covered in blood!' Watson exclaimed.
'Well, yes. We think there's some order to his madness. If we can decipher this odd code we might be able to figure out who he's going to kill next, and catch him in the act. Oh, and there was also this note...'
First 128 of 128;
Z v A, 1988.
'So far he's killed, in order: Tom Halford, Mike O'Connell, Neville Twitchell, Ewart Smith, Mark Ozanne, Andy Tipper, Nathan Talbot, Tom Huband, Eddie Ridley and Tom Iveson. There's no way of telling where he'll strike next.'
Watson stared long and hard at the board. 'Ah, but there is. If I know my British club chess like I think I do, there are only two people who could possibly fit the bill. And given our killer's propensity to murder players rated below 200 ECF, I think we can narrow it down to just one. Ron, we're going to Lichfield.'
'Oh god, that's a long way from New York. I really don't know why they put me on this case.'
Who is the serial killer's next intended victim?