Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter Ten : Homework

The paintings were smaller than Jericho expected, somewhat faded, and matte.

“Watercolors,” Zeke commented. “Difficult medium. We have quite a few rejected paintings here; because Lady Frieda worked in watercolor, she frequently had to start from scratch when Crowley changed his mind. Must have been maddening.”

The outside of the building was a large brick cube, with annoyingly symmetrical brickwork and regimented, white-framed windows crowding each other for space and almost begging to have a rock thrown at them. It reminded Jericho of a sanitorium from years gone by, but with too many windows. He imagined that most old institutional buildings shared similar bones. The inside of the building was entirely different. It looked like a cathedral, the walls covered with books and those that were bare covered in large, gorgeous, and no doubt painfully valuable tapestries. The ceiling was gothic, apse and corbel meeting in a gilt arris. The cross-vault was painted in amazing scenes from Christian and pagan myth, while a painted frieze with gilt festoon capped the walls. Enameled coffering and stained-glass lunettes added to the ostentatious d├ęcor. Far above, a translucent window in filigree frame let in the nascent sun. Where the walls were covered in books, they stretched three stories high, flimsy iron decking with scrolled railing protecting the expectant reader from falling to his doom. The decking was surprisingly narrow, with barely enough room to turn around, and the books were set behind ornate grille-work. Apparently they were quite valuable. Jericho briefly considered the probability of liberating the entire room and he wondered what he could expect on the black market. Other than the sunlight filtering in stories above, the room was lit with round, frosted globes that evoked Victorian sensibilities. In other words, it was dark, and the paintings were already of questionable contrast. They would need good light and patience to really capture.

Jericho grunted. This was the kind of tedious fieldwork that made him question his career choices. For each painting he took two photographs with his iPad – one portrait, one studio – uploaded them to the project document, and saved the file. Zeke had a Limo Studio 600 watt light umbrella and a set of Neewer collapsible disk reflectors which they used to make sure every detail was captured by the camera. It took several minutes to set the equipment up, test various reflector colors, and then take the shots. There were several discrete signs posted about the room forbidding photography, but the room was mysteriously empty, which Jericho suspected Zeke was largely responsible for. Jericho vowed not to look at his watch. He thought about the night before, and quickly put it out of his mind, a blush creeping unbidden up his neck. That made him angry, which reminded him of Caytlyn. He motioned for Zeke to try the gold reflector. He thought about lunch and his stomach growled. The picture seemed a little washed out, and he adjusted the angle of the umbrella. A twinge went through his back, and he wondered why every museum display seemed to be at that magic height that makes you stoop just a tiny bit. The kind of stooping that leaves your back in knots after only a few minutes and takes days to recover from. Do not look at your watch!

“Hey Zeke, try turning the umbrella toward me for this one; I want a less diffused look. Yeah, that’s good.”

I’m on my fifth painting. It must be almost lunch time. My back hurts. I wonder if these displays are low because they were set up by a woman? Maybe men were shorter when they built these things. These paintings are kind of shitty; I wonder why Crowley worked with Lady Harris? I will not look at my watch. Crap, that photo isn’t right. At least watercolors don’t reflect. Good god, I’m glad these aren’t oils. I can’t imagine trying to deal with the glare. I wonder if the light will damage the paintings? That’s probably why there’s no photography allowed. Or maybe they’re just assholes. Man I’m hungry. It must be nearly noon. At least when we photograph the cards we can sit down. I need more exercise. I sure got some exercise last night! Shut up you idiot. Maybe you should focus on making some intelligent fucking decisions for a change. Argh!!! That was not supposed to be a pun! Stop laughing! I’m hungry. Maybe we can find a burger for lunch. I should probably watch my diet. Haven’t been to the gym for a while. Gosh my back aches. Maybe I’ll avoid the gym for a while. I will not look at my watch. Of course, if I went to the gym my back probably wouldn’t hurt so much. Then again, maybe it would hurt even more. I can’t believe how long this is taking. It must be past noon already. I can tell by the light coming in through the skylight. I am a pretty hard worker! I hope Zeke appreciates my diligence. Why does he look so happy? Nerd. I’ll bet his back hurts more than mine. I bet he is over there suffering in silence. I’ll bet he is just waiting for me to knock off – he probably is just too proud to admit he is suffering. I’ll bet he is hungrier than I am. Oh, well, I don’t want the poor guy to suffer. Maybe we should break for lunch. I’ll just check my watch real quick –

It was 10:30.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chapter Nine: Otto

Zeke was tapping out four eighth notes followed by a quarter rest on the library table. Jericho rose, slowly, walked over and firmly grasped Zeke’s hand until the knuckles cracked. He returned to his chair, silently. Several minutes passed in silence, then Zeke began his tapping again.

“For Christ’s sake, Zeke!” Jericho snarled.

Finally, Otto Pembroke entered. Otto looked like a man who had attended a southern state university as a linebacker, and then spent the next 40 years in federal law enforcement, which, of course, he had. He was bald, with thick shoulders and a substantial paunch. His grey tweed sport coat was a size too small, and his trousers were short enough to reveal that he had declined to wear socks with his tasseled loafers. Otto had spend his career on cryptology, and now toured the world, talking about codes, cyphers, and structured anarchy, which seemed to be his political affiliation of choice.

Jericho noticed a small black speck on the side of his polished head. It was too black to be a mole, and Jericho also quickly ruled out the possibility of a GPS tag or alien implant, although if those things existed they almost surely would target Otto. Maybe it was an insect – but it was so still, it was probably just rubbish. The uninhibited part of Jericho’s brain briefly contemplated just picking it off Otto’s head and having a closer look, despite the fact that Otto could probably rip Jericho’s arms off, and probably did things like that for morning exercise.

“Hello, gentlemen.” Otto approached Jericho, puffing slightly. “Jericho Slade.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Hello Otto, thanks for coming. So you got the background information I sent you?”

“I did. Interesting stuff. So let’s start with the obvious.”
Otto heaved into a plastic chair and pulled a smartphone from his jacket pocket.
“Who are you?” He asked Zeke bluntly.

“I’m professor Ezekiel Garrott, I work at the Institute.”

Otto grunted. “So you’re the gatekeeper. Got it. So look, I ran the journal through a few programs, but there doesn’t seem to be a cypher. Do you know anything about cryptology?”

Jericho shook his head. “Not much.”

“Well, here’s the thing.” Otto ran a few fingers the size of sausages across his perspiring scalp. “A cypher is a letter by letter cryptograph. It might be something like a modern PKE or the good old “a = b” cypher; obviously your guy didn’t have access to computers and such, so if he used a cypher it would probably be something like a transposition cypher. In other words, every fourth letter or some such. You saavy?”

Jericho and Zeke both nodded, although Zeke was having some difficulty unraveling Otto’s south-western accent and slang.

“A code, however, is more complex. A code replaces a word or words with a different word or phrase. For example, if I talk about my aunt in Munich, I might actually be referring to a contact or agent in California. If I mention the color purple, I might be alerting you of a certain situation. So codes can get really thorny.”

Zeke shifted in his seat. Otto ignored him.

“The thing is, we want to look for common threads. It’s called noise cancelling. Somewhere in all the noise is an actual signal. Now we have really complex math for noise cancelling with binary – hell, computer hacking is an art form. In fact, the subrogation of civilian intellectual property for statist engineering is one of the driving forces behind hacking, as well as the intellectual foundation for structured anarchy as a viable – even preferable – political system.”

Jericho cleared his throat; occasionally Otto had to be reeled back in. Zeke rolled his eyes; Otto ignored him.

“Of course, the bourgeois ignore these self-evident truths because of the security that statism affords. In fact, Jonah Levy sees statism as the economic and social barometer of a population group’s self-initiative.” Otto trailed off, staring into space for a moment.

“But anyway, these old fashioned codes can be a lot tougher. The program didn’t detect any codes in the journal either.”

“Great.” Jericho frowned. “So we’re shit out of luck.”

“Not necessarily. Your guy seems to be hinting pretty strongly that he had some kind of secret and hid it away. I’m just not sure he coded anything into the journal. We are probably looking at a multi-source encryption.”

Jericho raised an eyebrow.

“A multisource is an encryption that creates signal by combining noise from multiple sources. A classic example would be a symphony or something. You have noise from the clarinet, and noise from the French horn, and noise from the choir – but when you combine the noise, you get Bach’s Messiah.”

“That was Handle, not Bach.” Zeke interrupted. Otto ignored him.

“In our case, think of it less like a code, and more like clues. Compare the journal to other artifacts from your guy, and look for similar or dissimilar noise. These might work together as clues.”

Jericho knitted his brows. “Well, we have the Book of Thoth, which is actually a book, but also a tarot deck.”

“Great!” Said Otto quickly, almost cutting Jericho off. “So that is another source for reference. You’ll want to see the kinds of meanings he assigns to cards for starters, this could be a really good clue, especially if the journal talks about the cards. Look for similarities and differences between the sources, and also look for meanings that might hint at finding a secret or something.” Otto hefted himself to his feet.

“We also have the original paintings by Frieda Harris.” Zeke added. Otto ignored him.

“So, do your homework, and if you come up with anything, don’t hesitate to call me.” Otto was already at the door.

“Is he always such an asshole?” Zeke asked Jericho.
“Pretty much.” Jericho tapped his iPad a few times to bring up a file. “Ok, based on that incredibly illuminating conversation-” Jericho paused to make sure Zeke got his sarcasm, which had the effect of somewhat reducing its effectiveness. “Let’s cross reference the notebook, the book of Thoth and tarot deck, and the paintings.”

“Perfect. I’ve got you a reader’s card, so you can view the paintings. Let me put together a project document that collates all the information for each card.”

“That sounds good.” Jericho bundled his notes and iPad into a messenger bag. “Let’s look at the paintings first, then the cards. That will give us visual. Then we will compare the notes in the journal with the text of Thoth. That will give us intellectual. Maybe at that point we’ll have enough information to formulate our next move.”