“What you have here is a pillowcase with a large reddish-black discoloration in the center.”

“I bought it at a yard sale. I fell in love with the lacy border.”

“Well, that particular lace is a Cambery design, made in a French city near Lyon, and this is really quite a find. The laundry mark you see here is from the Wu Chee Hand Laundry on Chicago’s West Side. Wu Chee was operated, oddly enough, by a German, Hans Splichter, who immigrated from the Bavarian town of Andechs where monks have been brewing beer for more than a thousand years.”

“I never would have guessed.”

“Chinese laundries were all the rage in Chicago around 1922, so Splichter gave his business a Chinese name. He operated only until the stock market crash, which dates your piece to the middle or late 1920s, a violent period in the Windy City, as you can imagine.”

“Al Capone, right?”

“Precisely, so it’s likely that your pillowcase could well be evidence in a gangland hit or ‘rubout’ as it’s called.”

“Oh, my.”

“The splatter pattern is consistent with a sharp blow to the head of the victim. When I examined it under an electron microscope, I determined that the murder weapon was almost definitely a mattock.”

“I think I’ve heard of that.”

“It’s a bit like a hoe, used to break up soil or clear roots. Put in a nice vegetable garden.”

“I grow tomatoes, but I never have any luck. Some kind of wilt.”

“That might be fusarium, a kind of fungus that affects olanaceous crop plants. Awful stuff. Could I ask what you paid for this item?”

“Ten cents.”

“I think if properly cleaned and if you had that tiny tear in the corner repaired it would easily fetch, oh, a dollar or even two at your own yard sale. On eBay, perhaps more.”

“Really? I declare!”

Blood-stained pillowcase: $1.00 – 2.00

- - -

“Now, you say you do have the original container, that’s important. The fact that the envelope is addressed to you establishes clear provenance.”

“I was very careful to save it.”

“Excellent. What you have here is a classic ransom note. You can see that each letter has been clipped from a magazine—Playboy, the typeface suggests—and pasted onto this sheet of rather ordinary notepaper. Taken together, they form a message. Would you care to read it for us?”

“WE HAVE DOUG. PREPARE $1 MILLION.” That’s crossed out and it’s got, “$5,000. SMALL BILLS. AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS”. Then at the bottom, “NO COPS.

“Intriguing. Do you know someone named Doug?”

“My son. Forty-two, he’s never held a steady job. His excuse, he’s writing his dissertation. I tell him, a PhD in early English literature and a nickel will get you a ride on the subway. Though I guess it’s more now.”

“$2.25, actually. But what you say is fascinating because I’ve subjected this note to ultraviolet ion-decay scanning and I’ve detected an outline of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight impressed into the paper.”

“When Doug started talking about the medieval symbolism of Arthurian romances at Thanksgiving, Uncle Morton went into his Robert Goulet imitation just to shut him up. You know, ‘If ever I would leave you . . .’”

“‘Oh no! Not in springtime, summer, winter or fall!’ Well, you know what? That outline increases the note’s evidentiary value significantly. Combined with the fingerprints we were able to lift and the original container, this is a very valuable item. It could be used to trace the kidnapper.”

“Trace? I know Doug sent it himself. They teach a lot of things in the big universities, but common sense is not one of ‘em. Is it worth big bucks?”

“I’m very glad to say that the market for fake ransom notes is just booming at the moment. I could easily see it going for as much as $900 at auction, perhaps more.”

“No! I can’t believe it.”

“Of course, I’m sure the sentimental value is much higher, a reminder of your son’s formative years.”

“Yeah, right.”

Fake ransom note: $900

- - -

“This is an excellent specimen of a human corpse.”

“A corpse? You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“No, it appears to be male, about forty-five years of age, in good shape, perhaps a few pounds on the heavy side—notice the ‘love handles’ as we call them—remarkably fresh. Could I ask where you got it?”

“I found it in my living room. I was vacuuming—I bought one of those expensive models that the man said traps mold spores-–and there on the carpet is this object.”

“No idea how it got there?”

“I think I should talk to my attorney before I say for sure.”

“Naturally. Well, it was a very lucky find indeed. A very interesting ‘case,’ as we call it. The cause of death here is not readily apparent. By the look of him, he should be walking around whistling ‘O Mio Babbino Caro.’”

“Or maybe belittling somebody for the thousandth time because they made a simple arithmetic mistake in their checkbook.”

“Yes, whatever. But if you’ll look closely here, by the corner of the mouth, you’ll see a residue of white powder. Spectrographic analysis has determined it to be deadly poison.”

“Which means what?”

“This person has been murdered, there’s no doubt about it.”

“Murdered? Goodness gracious. How much could one get for that?”

“Ah, there’s the question. What do you think?”

“I really have no idea.”

“My best estimate, if the perpetrator were unable to strike a deal with prosecutors, is that this crime could bring as much as twenty to life.”

“Incredible. That much?”

“Absolutely. So you had better handle this very, very carefully. Cold storage would be the way to go.”

“Yes, I’ll see to it that it’s properly stowed away. I’m just amazed. Thank you.”

“Thanks for bringing it to CSI: Roadshow.”

Human corpse: 20 years to life