Authors: James Becker
Without a word, two police officers climbed back into their vehicle, reversed it onto the road, and drove away.
Robin stepped over to Mallory, wrapped her arms around him, and squeezed him tight.
“For a moment,” she said, “I thought we weren’t going to get away with it.”
“O ye of little faith,” Mallory replied. “Let’s get out of here.”
Three days later, Mallory walked into Robin’s antiquarian bookshop in Dartmouth and nodded to Betty, who was making coffee behind the counter. He sat down at one of the small round tables Robin had positioned in the shop, and accepted both a cup of coffee and a slice of Betty’s excellent homemade carrot cake.
The bell on the door rang and a few moments later Robin sat down in the seat opposite him.
“Feeding your face already, I see,” she said.
“It’s only one slice,” Mallory said.
“It’s very difficult to have only one slice of any of Betty’s cakes, and I’d like you to remember that. Did you contact that irritating man Wilson?”
Mallory nodded. “I even spoke to him in person. I gave him Toscanelli’s full name, but he said there wasn’t much the police could do unless he came back to Britain.
I told him that Marcel had suggested issuing an international arrest warrant, and he just muttered something about there being better uses for a few sheets of paper. Anyway, at least he knows, so now it’s up to him.”
“Let’s just hope we don’t see those Italians again,” Robin said. “By the way, I’ve had a delivery. While you’re here, you can give me a hand unpacking it. Once you’ve finished your coffee, I mean.”
Ten minutes later, Robin released the two fabric bands securing the lid on a heavy-duty black plastic box, the outside covered in canceled shipping labels, courier information, and details of the sending company. Inside the box, underneath the packing material, were several obviously old books, the musty smell of old leather quite unmistakable.
“You found a couple in English,” Mallory said, picking out two of the books and looking at the titles. “The rest are all in German.”
“I had to take what they had in the shop in Zürich,” she said. “I was lucky that I could talk them into letting me take the box to the post office, because that gave us time to put the other things inside it.”
She lifted off the last few of the old books. Below them, arranged in neat layers, were all the deeds of gift and irrevocable transfers that had composed the most secret and most important part of the Templar Archive. She lifted out the pieces of parchment and vellum almost reverently and placed them on an empty shelf in the bookcase beside her.
“What will you do with them?” Mallory asked.
“Right now I don’t know. They need to be properly studied and analyzed, so I’m thinking maybe I’ll hand over one or two to the British Museum, but I really haven’t decided yet. It was a shame that we had to burn the other documents you took from the larger chests in the cave. But they really were of no particular value compared to these, so I guess it was a good trade-off. And you were lucky finding that late medieval chest in the Zürich antique shop.”
Mallory nodded. “I was gambling on the fact that none of them, not even the Italians, had actually seen the small chest, so as long as I’ve found something that was more or less the same size as they were expecting, I guessed that we could fool them. Which we did. And has the real one arrived yet?”
“Yesterday,” Robin said, pointing at a heavy-duty cardboard box tucked in one corner of the shop.
Mallory picked it up and walked over to where Robin was sitting. Taking a knife from his pocket, he sliced through the fabric tapes holding it together, noting as he did so the prominent label affixed to the top of the box, which described the contents, in German, as “reproduction medieval chest, quantity one,” accompanied by details of the shop where he’d apparently bought the item and labels affixed by the Zürich branch of an international courier company.
He reached inside the box and lifted out the ancient chest, the lid closed and locked and the lethal blades secured by the nails he’d inserted to lock the mechanism.
“It’s still bloody impressive,” he said, “bearing in mind
how old it is. Another genuine medieval antitheft device in perfect working order.”
He checked that all three of his locking nails were in position, then took a double-ended Allen key from his pocket and unlocked the chest. He lifted the lid and looked inside.
“We’d never have got it through customs with all the documents inside it,” Robin said. “Splitting them was the only way it was ever going to work, just in case any customs officer along the route insisted on opening the box and looking inside.”
“True enough. So, what are you going to do with it? You can’t really flog it on eBay, can you?”
“Definitely not. Either it’ll have to go to a proper auction house in London, which might be awkward if they ask any questions about provenance, or it’ll end up as a gift to a decent museum. Or maybe I’ll just keep it around as a kind of unusual souvenir from Switzerland.”
“Personally I think I’d keep it.”
He sounded a little preoccupied, and Robin looked closely at him.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’ve just seen something that’s a bit odd,” he said. “Have you got a ruler?”
“Yes. Measuring stick, that kind of thing.”
“I do know what a ruler is, thank you.”
She walked over to the counter. Betty saw her coming, opened one of the drawers, and gave her a plastic ruler about eighteen inches long.
Mallory took it and placed it vertically against the outside of the chest.
“Seventeen and a half inches, near enough,” he said.
Then he put the ruler inside the chest and measured the internal depth.
“Fifteen inches,” he announced. “But the wood on the sides of the chest is only about an inch thick. So why is the base about two and a half inches thick?”
“Good question. Does it feel like it’s solid wood?”
Mallory picked up the chest again and hefted it in his hands.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think so. It’s not heavy enough. There must be a hidden compartment that we never spotted earlier.”
“The circumstances weren’t ideal, if you remember. So stop messing around and get it open.”
There were no obvious catches or ways to release a secret door, and in the end Mallory realized there wasn’t anything like that built into it: it was just a false bottom. He used a thin knife blade to slide down the inside of the chest, eased the tip between the side and the wood on the bottom, and levered it up. The panel that emerged was about half an inch thick, quite heavy, made of old wood, and so precisely cut that it was invisible to a visual inspection.
“What’s in there?” Robin demanded, leaning over to peer inside. “No, wait,” she added. “Use gloves. It might be fragile.”
She stepped behind the counter again and returned with a pack of thin latex gloves. She handed a pair to
Mallory, who pulled them on and then reached down into the chest. He lifted out a folded sheet of vellum, brown with age, but apparently unmarked and still supple.
Robin and Betty cleared away the plates and cups from the table they’d used and spread a cloth over it. Mallory placed the vellum on it and slowly and with infinite care unfolded it.
The inner surfaces of the vellum were much lighter in color, presumably because they’d been protected both by being internally folded and placed in a closed space.
The letters on the inner surface were solid black and clearly legible, and both Robin and Mallory bent over the vellum eagerly, trying to read the text.
“Do you need me to transcribe it?” Betty asked.
Mallory looked at her in surprise.
“I’ve told Betty what we’ve been up to,” Robin said in explanation. “Or most of it, anyway.”
“So, do you?” Betty asked again. “Want me to transcribe it?”
Robin stared at the handwritten text on the vellum, her gloved finger tracing the course of the top line.
“It looks like Latin,” she said, “but I can’t read it, so I’m pretty sure it’s another piece of encrypted text. Honestly this is like one of those nests of bloody Russian dolls. What do they call them?
or something like that. Every time you get to a point where you think you’ve reached the last one, you find that it opens as well to reveal yet another doll inside it.”
She shook her head in irritation, but Mallory could tell she was excited about what they’d just found.
“I suppose we could run Atbash on it,” he suggested. “See if that makes any sense of it.”
“Yes. I won’t be able to sleep until we’ve found out what this is all about,” she said, “so yes, please, Betty. Start on a clean sheet of paper, please. I’ll call out the letters to you one at a time. If the letter isn’t clear, I’ll give you whatever the possible alternatives are, and you should write those in a vertical line below my first guess at the letter. I’ll tell you when I see a break in the text, and you should start a new line each time I do that. Okay?”
“I’m ready when you are,” Betty said, picking up a pencil and checking the point.
Mallory looked at Robin, at the fierce concentration on her face as she stared down at the lines of text on the vellum, and smiled as she read out the first letter of the text.
“Here we go again,” he said.
Mention has been made in this novel and in the first book of this trilogy—
The Lost Treasure of the Templars—
of various surveillance systems, and the truth of the matter is that Big Brother really is watching you, using a myriad of devices and systems.
Echelon is by far the oldest global surveillance system, and that was started back in the 1960s by the Americans during the Cold War, but today it’s operated by what are known as the Five Eyes: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The system can monitor and intercept all telephone calls, faxes, and e-mails sent by landline, broadband, or satellite that originate or terminate in or are routed through any of the five member nations, as well as other friendly territories like Germany and the Netherlands. In practice, that means Echelon sees just about everything, because most of the
Internet servers are based in America and Western Europe. It’s about as near to a global surveillance network as it’s possible to get, and “Echelon” is just one of several names for the system, and that’s the name which is most commonly used by the American National Security Agency, who kind of run it. But Lockheed calls it “P415,” and a couple of the software programs that run on it are called Silkworth and Sire.
Carnivore is different. That was run by the FBI and started in the late 1990s, but was a lot more specific, intended to be aimed at an individual target, one particular suspect or group. It was later called DCS1000, and was replaced in about 2005 by more sophisticated commercial programs like NarusInsight, but although the software and the name are now different, the system is still out there and still listening.
PRISM is an official code name for a data-mining and collection program called US-984XN that began in 2007 and ran in the States with the legal backing of the American Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It was designed to tap in to data from the principal network companies, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple, as well as social networking sites including Facebook and YouTube. There was a leak in mid-2013 by a man named Edward Snowden, who was a contractor for the NSA, and then the protests started, because American citizens were being illegally spied upon by their own government, and because of the information he made public, they knew it. He also leaked that GCHQ at Cheltenham in Britain was a part of the system, and that meant that the same thing was
happening in the U.K. The reality is that we were and we still are—all of us—being watched.
PROMIS was by far the most shameful. That program—its full name was the Prosecutor’s Management Information System, hence PROMIS—was developed in the mid-1970s for the United States Department of Justice by a small American company called Inslaw. It was a very effective piece of software, designed to track individuals and identify links between them and other people, and the American government basically stole it.
They refused to pay for the enhanced version of the software, did their very best to drive Inslaw into bankruptcy so that the company couldn’t take legal action against the government, and then even sold versions of the software on the black market. There were several legal actions, and almost every finding supported Inslaw’s contention that the software had been stolen, but despite this the company received no compensation. The government actually replaced judges who agreed with the findings with other judges who did not, or who had been told not to support the conclusions.
One attorney general was implicated in the theft, and another one simply ignored all the recommendations of the House Judiciary Committee and reneged on every relevant agreement he had made with that committee. To say it was a corrupt administration barely even hints at the lengths the American government went to in order to avoid paying for the software program that they’d ordered, and then stolen and were using.
The final kick in the teeth for Inslaw was when the
U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that all versions of the PROMIS program were in the public domain, so the government could do what they liked with them. The female judge presumably had no idea what the word
actually meant, or, far more likely, she’d been told exactly what her finding should be before the hearing even started.
But the final irony is that some of the copies of the program that various American officials sold on the black market for their own personal gain almost certainly ended up in the hands of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, so the software that the American government had stolen was actually used against America by terrorists, the very people whom the program had been designed to identify and locate. Now, is that ironic or what?
In short, modern electronic surveillance systems are all-pervasive. The CIA and NSA and all other three-letter agencies in America and Britain—they’re often referred to collectively as “Alphabet Soup”—extract an enormous amount of data from Internet traffic. Of course, what they claim to be doing is watching out for terrorists communicating with one another by e-mail as they plan some new atrocity, and there’s a thing called the Echelon Dictionary, which allows any intelligence service to choose words and phrases that they believe to be important, and that that particular surveillance software will look out for. Some of the obvious words include
, and so on.
The problem, fairly obviously, is that today’s terrorists
are certainly not stupid. Fanatical and misguided, definitely, but stupid, no. Absolutely the last thing any terrorist is going to put in an e-mail is something like: “We plan to position the bomb at the United Nations building next Saturday evening at eleven o’clock.” They’re far more likely to say: “We will be at the farm with the donkey on Saturday evening at eleven.”
Of course, some of the code words used by terrorists are quite well-known. Al-Qaeda, for example, uses the word
to refer to a planned attack or other atrocity, but the trick is to identify an al-Qaeda “wedding” from within all the tens of millions of real marriage ceremonies that might be referred to on the Internet at any one time, an almost impossible task.
And even when a potential terrorist is known about, and his communications are being monitored, clues can still get overlooked. Back in 1999 the American government started a program called “Able Danger,” which was intended to source intelligence about potential terrorists and possible targets of international terrorism. According to one of the senior officers involved in the program, Able Danger identified a man named Mohammed Atta as a possible suspect. He, of course, later steered American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. There was a lot of controversy about the quality—and even the existence—of this information, and the officer who had revealed it had his security clearance revoked and was essentially sacked, probably just to shut him up.
But whatever the truth of that, it’s certain that in the
summer of 2001 Mohammed Atta was in contact with a terrorist cell in Germany, disguising his e-mail correspondence as messages to a fictitious girlfriend named Jenny. In one of them he used a rather curious phrase: “two sticks, a dash, and a cake with a stick down,” which obviously meant nothing to anyone who saw it. But if you draw something like that on paper, what you end up with is the number eleven and the number nine, and that was essential information for Atta’s masters in al-Qaeda, because it told them the date the attack on America would be launched. That would have enabled them to work the financial markets and make a real killing when the planes slammed into the World Trade Center, because they knew absolutely that the American stock market would tumble.
It’s never been proved, though it’s widely believed, that al-Qaeda bought a whole load of put options, well out of the money, on the market index and on the two airlines whose planes were hijacked. If that did happen, the al-Qaeda traders would have purchased the options through a whole flock of proxies, so tracing the ultimate investor would be almost impossible. But it would have made sense if they’d done that, because it really wouldn’t be a gamble. Once those planes hit the Twin Towers, the only direction American stocks, and especially airline stocks, were heading was down.
This also highlights the near impossibility of using electronic surveillance to discover terrorist plots, because unless you know what code words the particular terrorist group is using, or the terrorists are monumentally and terminally stupid, there’s almost no chance of gleaning
any useful intelligence through this kind of monitoring. In fact, the Americans have admitted this in various confidential reports. Mostly it’s a complete waste of time, effort, and resources.
Undeciphered Letter Code
Mention has also been made of various cipher systems, and particularly Atbash, the simplest possible single substitution code. But some early ciphers have so far refused to yield to decryption. One of the most interesting codes that has never been solved is the line of initials on the eighteenth-century Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire in Great Britain. The inscription is underneath a carving that is a mirror image of a painting by Nicolas Poussin, the
Shepherds of Arcadia
, a painting that is itself full of symbolism and unanswered questions. The inscription has two letters placed slightly below the line,
on the left and
on the right, and between them is inscribed “O U O S V A V V.” There have been a lot of interesting theories about that, but the truth is that nobody has ever come up with a convincing explanation of what the letters mean.
The Dominicans and Roberto Calvi
In Britain the Dominicans were known as the Black Friars, as in the bridge over the Thames. That was the bridge
under which the body of a man named Roberto Calvi was found hanging in 1982. He was known as “God’s Banker” because he headed the Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed spectacularly in June of that year owing something like one billion American dollars, most of which had been transferred to it from the Vatican Bank, which ultimately meant that the money came out of the Vatican’s resources.
It could almost be said that Roberto Calvi had stolen the money from the pope, and if you take a somewhat jaundiced view of what happened, the result was virtually a kind of joke. Calvi had stolen the pope’s money and offended the Vatican, and even if his murder wasn’t actually engineered by members of the Dominican Order the “Black Friars,” and nobody knows for sure whether it was or not, it’s probable that the site chosen to kill him, underneath Blackfriars Bridge, was meant as a definite warning to others. It showed metaphorically that the pope’s torturers and enforcers were still around and still able to take whatever action was needed to protect the pontiff.
At first his death was ruled to be a suicide, until it became quite obvious to everyone that it was simply impossible. The construction of Blackfriars Bridge means that a man of his age and physical condition simply could not have climbed up to the spot where his body was found, tied a noose around his neck, and jumped off. In short, he didn’t jump. He was definitely pushed, and it had to involve more than one other person.
It seems clear that his killers chose that location deliberately, to send a definite and unmistakable message to somebody. Otherwise why would they decide to kill a
man in such a public place, in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, with all the risks that that would entail? If they just wanted to murder him in revenge for the collapse of the bank, they could just have driven him out into the countryside somewhere, shot him or knifed him or something, and then dumped the body. The event only makes sense if it was intended as a reminder that nobody gets away with messing with the Vatican, even today.
Without any doubt, the Gothic Cathedral of Chartres, located in the town of the same name about fifty miles southwest of Paris, is one of the biggest and most impressive structures of any sort on earth. Roughly four hundred and twenty-five feet long, a hundred and fifty feet wide, and crowned by a tower that rises over three hundred and seventy feet, it contains over a hundred and seventy windows that basically tell the story of the Bible in stained glass. Almost as famous as the cathedral itself is the pavement labyrinth located on the west side of the nave.
Unlike a maze, which is deliberately intended to be confusing, the labyrinth has a single entrance, which is also its exit, and was probably designed to be a meditative tool, allowing worshippers to walk the path while praying or reflecting on their religious beliefs. The labyrinth is forty-two feet in diameter and contains eleven lunations or circular paths divided into four quadrants, and the total
distance from the entrance to the center and back again, following those paths, is about one-third of a mile.
The present cathedral is at least the fifth, possibly the eighth, religious building erected on this site, each being destroyed in succession by fire or war or some other calamity. The existing cathedral dates from the first half of the thirteenth century, at a time when the Knights Templar were at the height of their power, and was one of about eighty cathedrals built in France during this period. It cannot now be definitely established, for obvious reasons, but it is at least possible that the construction of this great building was financed wholly or in part by the Templars.
The cathedral broke new ground in a number of different ways, including using flying buttresses to support the massive weight of the walls, which in turn allowed larger windows to be fitted, and there is some evidence to suggest that the architect was familiar with what is known as the golden ratio. This is a mathematical relationship (approximately 1:1.618) that can be found in nature, in mathematical constructs such as the Fibonacci number, and in geometric shapes such as the pentagram. It can also be applied to architecture, and can be found in both the Parthenon in Greece and in Chartres Cathedral. It produces visually satisfactory and pleasing proportions.