N Is For Noose Page 96

I sat down at the desk again and shook my head. I cleared my mind of emotion, thinking back through the work I'd done earlier in the week. I didn't remember a key, but if I'd seen one I knew I would never have discarded it. If I hadn't found the key yet, there was still the chance that I'd uncover it somewhere. So. The point was to keep searching, as calmly and thoroughly as possible. Again, I went through each drawer, looking carefully at the contents. I checked each item in Tom's file folders, looked in envelopes, opened boxes of paper clips and staples, peered at pens, rulers, labels, tape. Maybe the key was a saying or a phrase that would make everything else clear. At the back of my mind, I kept returning to the notion that the numbers were a code of some kind. I'd never heard any mention of Tom's having worked in Intelligence so if I was right, the code was probably something simple and easily accessible.

On or in his desk.

I found a piece of paper and wrote out the alphabet in sequence, attaching the numbers 1 through 26 underneath. If the numbers 8, 12, 1, 11 and 26 were simple letter substitutions, then the name or initials would be HLAKZ. Which meant what? Nothing on the face of it. Something-Los AngelesSomething-Something? Didn't suggest anything to me. I tried the same sequence backward, letting A correspond with the number 26, B correspond with 25, and so forth until I reached the number 1, which I assumed represented Z. If this were the case, then the numbers 8, 12, 1, 11, 26 would spell out SOZPA. Another puzzlement. What the hell was this? A name? My frustration level mounted at a pace with my confusion.

8, 12, 1, 11, 26. Months of the year? August, December, January, November? Then what did the 26 denote? And why out of order? Was I supposed to add? Subtract? Sound out the words phonetically like a vanity license plate? I repeated them aloud. ’’Eight. Twelve. One. Eleven. Twenty-six.’’ This meant nothing. If the numbers represented letters and this was a word, then all I knew for sure was that the five letters were different... with no repetitions. Someone's name? I thought about Nota Lake and how many people I'd met here who had five-letter first names. Brant, Macon, Hatch, Wayne. James Tennyson. Rafer. I looked at the exclamation point and the question mark.!? Which said what? Consternation? Dismay?

I realized I was famished... a manifestation of my anxiety no doubt. Waiting for Barrett in the cafe parking lot, I'd skipped lunch altogether and this was the price I paid. It was now four-fifteen. I went back to the kitchen in search of sustenance. I was so hungry and so befuddled, my brain cells felt like they'd quit holding hands. I looked in Selma's refrigerator, greeted by plastic-wrapped leftovers from last night's dinner. Not memorable to begin with and certainly not worth reheating. I checked the bread drawer. No crackers. I checked the cupboards. No peanut butter. What kind of household did she run? I glanced at her note and in the absence of wholesome foodstuffs, I allowed myself to lift a corner of the plastic wrap and help myself to several brownies. The texture was off-a bit dry for my taste-but the icing was nice and gooey, only a faint. chemical taste suggesting she'd used a boxed mix. Anyone who'd eat Miracle Whip would eat that shit, I thought. This was not Selma's best effort by a long stretch, but I figured my days consuming her cooking were just about over. I drank some milk from the carton, figuring to save a glass.

Thus fortified, I was prepared to tackle the problem. I went back to Tom's swivel chair and swiveled. What if 8, 12, 1, 11, and 26 were page numbers, referring to the notes themselves? I tried that approach, but the contents of the pages seemed in no way related, sharing no visible common elements and no designated page numbers. The afternoon was stretching toward evening and I was getting nowhere. I went back to the original premise. Selma had hired me to find out why Tom was distressed. I slouched down on my spine and leaned my head on the back of the chair. Why was Tom brooding, Kinsey asked herself? I rocked, allowing myself to ruminate at my leisure. If someone he knew had violated his privacy, reading his notes and using the information to get to Alfie Toth to kill him, that would certainly do the trick. But why would Hatch's involvement... or James's or Wayne's... have generated a moment's uneasiness or hesitation. Tom played by the rules. I'd been told over and over, he was strictly a law-and-order type. If he'd suspected any one of them, he'd have acted at once. Wouldn't he? Why would he not? It wouldn't have meant anything to him if Wayne had violated the sanctity of his field notes. My gaze dropped to the blotter. I pushed a stack of files aside. Down in the right hand corner, Tom had drawn a grid, penning in the days of the month of February, the year unspecified. The First fell on a Sunday, the. Twenty-eighth on a Saturday. The last two Saturdays of the month-the Twenty-first and the Twenty-eighth-were crossed out. Was the year 1908? 1912, 1901, 1911 or 1926? 1 got up and went to the bookshelf, where I took down a copy of his almanac. I thumbed to the index and found the page numbers for a perpetual calendar. In a table to the left the years between 1800 and 2063 were listed in order. Beside each year was a number corresponding to a numbered template, representing all the variations in the way the months could be laid out. Calendar number one was a year in which January 1 fell on a Sunday;February 1 fell on a Wednesday;and each month thereafter was depicted. Calendar number two represented any and all years in which January 1 fell on a Monday;February 1 fell on Thursday;and so forth. If you wanted to know the day of the month for a particular date-say, March 5, 1966-you simply checked the master list for the year 1966, beside which appeared the number seven. Moving to Calendar number seven, you could see that March 5 fell on a Saturday.

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