Saturday, March 8, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker" Part 2

Away up on Fornberg Hill, the master of the house was preparing for his dinner. Always, for one half-hour before commencing the meal, he made it his custom to serenade his dear, departed love. He despondently and passionately drew the bow across the strings of his violin, flanked by two bright lamps that cast their ethereal glow upon the life-size, full-length portrait of his dead wife, Jelilah. As the clock by which Cram Fornberg ordered his life struck half-past-five, the man ceased his music and put his violin back into the velvet-lined case standing upon a table just below the painting. He paused, resting his fingers gently on her perfect, white shoulders, tracing her neck and the shape of her chin with his fingertip. Cram Fornberg sighed.
            “Ah, Jelly!” he moaned, his voice barely piercing the voluminous darkness of the house. “Oh, my darling Jelly!” He gazed into her deep blue eyes, the ones that, though only paint, never ceased to pierce him to the soul. Would that he were Pygmalion, and could give the inanimate life again!
            Cram made his way to the cavernous dining hall. What was the point of having such a massive house, when one lived alone? Cram shook his head; he had not planned on living alone, and this house was his because it was part of the Fornberg estate. Perhaps the prominent British family hoped to establish themselves in America, but as matters stood, every last one of them died out before such a thing could ever happen. Cramwell was the last living Fornberg, and now, with the untimely demise of his lovely wife, he had no hope of continuing the legacy. All that was left was Cram, the multi-million-dollar estate, and the large house with so many locked, unused rooms.
            Cram sat down to a bowl of soup, with a bust of Jelilah set before him on the table. Verily, Jelilah seemed to be the only person of consequence in the house, for after his return Cram spent his time and money amassing memorials to her appearance: paintings, busts, statues, cameos, bas-reliefs, friezes, any art form he could think of in which to represent Jelilah’s likeness, Cramwell set out to have it made, and displayed them throughout the house. He did not feel so lonely that way—yet their presence made him all the more lonely, for what was stone compared to flesh-and-blood?
            Cramwell finished his soup, kissed the bust on the forehead, washed his bowl, and retired to the library, where a large armchair stood in front of the ornate fireplace, where he always built a fire just before five o’clock, so that it would be warm and cozy by six. He laid a vinyl record of the favorite tunes he and Jelilah used to dance to on the turn table, adjusted the needle, and settled into the armchair to read by lamplight one of the stack of cryptology and cipher books he had acquired from the local library.
            There could be little doubt that Cramwell possessed probably every book from the library on the subject of codes, ciphers, and the like, yet he was never harried for late fees, and the most the library staff could do about it was call and inform him if anyone else wanted a book he had. This was because no one wanted to make the long trek up the hill to Cramwell’s house.
            How Cramwell loved those codebooks! Something about the endless array of symbols and substitutions, the air of mystery they lent themselves to—all this appealed to Cramwell. Alone in his massive house, Cramwell sat with the code books on one side and a pile of notebooks on the other—and encrypted everything he could think of. He wrote in the famous Pigpen Cipher, Doyle’s Dancing Men tumbled across the pages of his notebook, he penned his thoughts in perfect Typewriter Cipher, and even the daunting Vignere Cipher was no match for Cramwell’s constant practice. No matter what the code, the key word in Cramwell’s mind was always JELILAH, and it was simple after that to encrypt and decrypt dozens of lines of text. Sometimes, just to amuse himself, Cramwell would pile cipher upon cipher, enjoying the thorough confusion of a perfectly innocuous message this brought about.
            When the record ended, Cramwell put away his books and his notebooks, gave one last caress to the statue of Jelilah standing ever vigilant next to the lamp, kissed the frame of the painting in the front room, and retired to bed.
            Poor Cramwell, with nothing but his statues, paintings, and codes to keep him company! Poor Cramwell Fornberg, so forlorn in that great house! Yet he felt sure that nothing in the world would ever change. The world felt safer, even without Jelilah, as long as he had his predictable, simple, routine to look forward to each day. “Life will go on as it always has,” he constantly reminded himself, “and then I will see Jelilah again.”

            The rain drizzled over Precinct, Connecticut. Karthey curled cozily under the covers of her small bed and watched it trickle down her bedroom window. She listened to the sound of the news her father listened to every night, which her mother called “the Mavis Lullaby.” She closed her eyes and drifted off to blissful slumber.

Cramwell Fornberg awoke at the stroke of eight, put on his deep-blue dressing gown, and slowly made his way to the front door to collect his paper. He had directed the construction of a chute that led from the mailbox at the gate below right to his doorstep. That way, the paperboy (or person; he never knew who delivered the mail, for all he knew it could be a woman) and Cramwell never had to meet, and Cramwell could acquire his mail in close proximity to his home. Both were invisible to each other.
            Cramwell liked being invisible. He liked it that others could be invisible to him, too. Everywhere he went, no one talked to him (except the cashiers, to tell him how much he owed, even though buying the same things every day meant he knew exactly how much he was spending), no one approached him, and no one so much as looked in his direction. Cramwell was invisible, and he liked it.
            Cramwell picked up his paper and commenced his cozy routine. He brought the day’s paper to the kitchen, where he read the articles aloud to Jelilah’s marble visage over a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and buttered toast. Then he made his way to the sun-room at the back of the house, where he joined a stone statue of a seated Jelilah and read another chapter of her favorite novel. At nine-thirty, he got dressed, grabbed his hat, his cane, and his grocery basket, and made his way down the hill into Precinct.
            Cramwell took care to pull his hat low over his eyes, and keep his head bent toward the ground, knowing that the mere sight of the basket and cane was enough to let people know that Cramwell Fornberg was making his daily public appearance.
            Cramwell entered the cafĂ©, ordered his coffee, and sat in the booth near the window. He almost relaxed in his seat, but something clicked in his mind. He got the same sort of sensation as he did around six o’clock, decoding time; now, of all places, he sensed a code nearby; but where? Cramwell did not move his head as he scanned the vicinity. Tucked inconspicuously in the rack of white paper napkins was a particular napkin with writing on it, a series of forward and backward 3’s and curves.

            Cramwell found himself intrigued, and he did not understand it; he was never intrigued over coffee. Absently, he filled in straight lines among the curves to form letters. A down-stroke at the beginning, a horizontal line connecting the sides of the fourth symbol, another down-stroke for the next symbol: BEWAPE? BEWADE? It made no sense…


            Cramwell jumped and spilled coffee in the saucer as a chill raced down his spine. He saw traces of more ink inside the napkin. He glanced toward the front of his booth to make sure no one was there as he opened it.


            The letters spun in Cramwell’s vision. What sort of cipher was it? It couldn’t be a direct cipher, as the letters were evenly divided in groups of six (with the exception of the second and fourth words, both of which had only five), and what did the numbers mean at the end? Cramwell had the feeling that the thing he was supposed to BEWARE was contained in the message, but who could have left such a thing, and why? Was his routine, the one thing that he thought would protect him if he dutifully maintained it, in danger of becoming the source of his imminent demise? Or did someone else use this booth besides Cramwell? Was the message intended for them?
            Cramwell tucked the napkin in his pocket and stood. He suddenly felt the urge to go to the library. It was nearly time, anyhow. He caught sight of a red silk tie out of the corner of his eye and shuddered as he left. Red was his least favorite color.

            Clarissa cleaned the table after Cramwell Fornberg left. She brought the cup back to the kitchen.
            “Something’s not right,” she told her colleague, Darla.
            “What do you mean?” Darla asked.
            “There’s coffee in his saucer, and he left a swallow in his cup,” Clarissa showed these things to the other woman.
            Darla looked solemnly at Clarissa, “Something is bothering Cramwell Fornberg. I wonder what it could be?”

            As Cramwell walked down the block to the library, the napkin seemed to burn a hole in his pocket. He rearranged the letters in his head, forwards, backwards, he tried sorting them in alphabetical order and listing all the words he could think of using only those letters: ASPIRE, NIGHT, WISE, TOGETHER, HANDSOME, DESPAIR, DESPERATE, ALONE, NIGHTINGALE, WOE, SMILE, WHISPER, SMELL, WEIGHT, DEATH, GHOST—Cramwell tried to think of something else. What did the numbers mean?
            At last he reached the sanctuary of the library. Surely the books would keep him safe from the haunting words printed on the napkin in his jacket! Cramwell traveled to the Nonfiction section and scanned the shelves for new cryptology and codebooks. A series of numbers on the dirty white sticker adorning every spine caught his eye: 640.829, 640.831, 640.835. Numbers! Just like the napkin! Cramwell hurriedly dug it out and reviewed the numbers on the napkin: 804.065. He dove for the nearest computer console and searched that number in the library catalog. The book to which the number belonged was in the Children’s section, and its title was Hide and Seek With Dick and Jane. What was so special about this book? Would it contain clues to help him solve the message?

            Cramwell found the book and, somewhat self-consciously, began reading.

            “Look! Look! See Dick. See Jane. Jane Will Hide. Dick Will Wait. Look At The Clock! Time To Find Jane! Where Is Jane? Look! A Note For Dick! What Does The Note Say? Jane Is Gone. Where Is Jane? Dick Cannot See Jane. Where Is Jane?”

            Cramwell felt an eerie sensation in his mind as he read words meant expressly for him. He was Dick; what was all this spooky nonsense about “finding Jane”? Moreover, the last few pages of the book were missing! The ones in which Dick finds Jane!
Cramwell distinctly saw the tear marks near the spine of the book where the pages had once been. Who could have done it but the same person who left the note—the “Note For Dick.” What did the note say? How would he figure it out now? Cramwell had no choice but to check out Hide and Seek With Dick and Jane, however uncharacteristic it appeared.
            He moved to the diner to pick up his lunch. The owner, Mrs. Preston, was one of the few who insisted on speaking to Cramwell as if he would speak back.
            “Well, Mr. Fornberg!” She cried as he walked in, popping his usual sandwich, apple, chips, and cookie in a bag for him. “Looks like we’re going to have a nice day, aren’t we now?”
            Cramwell briefly turned his eyes up to Mrs. Preston’s soft, matronly face, but then looked down again, grabbed his bag and walked out.
            “Where is Jane? Where is Jane?” The question hammered in his head. He pulled out the book as he entered the park. A businessman in a black suit and a bright red silk tie brushed in front of him impatiently. Cramwell ignored it, scanning the book intently for some sort of key, or clue as to the answer to the code, the important message that perhaps mentioned who or what this “Jane” might refer to that he had to find.
            “Look At The Clock!” The caption read. Cramwell looked up at the large clock on the far side of the square: the minute hand pointed just beyond 12 o’clock exactly. What was that supposed to mean?
            Cramwell pulled out the napkin with the letters again. “SMOEIL OENWL DSPERT IAPAA EGTOIH IHTNGT.” Perhaps, Cramwell reasoned, the cipher was one that he could solve by aligning the words differently. He tried writing them all in a single column on his lunch bag.


            Nothing came of reading the columns of letters, as “SODIEI,” “MESAGH,” etc. Cramwell angrily finished his lunch and—for the first time—rather than return to the library, he picked up his groceries and went straight home.
            Once there, Cramwell brought the bag, the napkin, and the book into the library. He selected three or four of the most comprehensive and likeliest cipher books and scanned through them. Meanwhile, he tried aligning the letters—not just the words—a bit further apart, transferring the message to the notebook instead of the bag.

               S      M     O       E          I       L
            O        E       N      W       L

            Cramwell stopped suddenly as his eyes automatically read the series of letters as the words, “SOMEONE WILL.” That was it! The Picket Fence Cipher! Cramwell hastily translated the rest of the message according to the cipher.


<<<<Previous                      Next>>>>>