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.”

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