The Newton Cipher – Snippet 10

Trader Vics

Trader Vics


Trina waited nervously as Ulrik Stander removed his coat and set it on the bar of Trader Vic’s. His eyes looked past her, as if he were thinking about his next question. They were blue — the light, clear kind, like glacier ice. It was hard to look away.

“What happened the night you found Edelstein?” Ulrik said, producing a pen and notebook from his coat just as Jim brought their drinks and set them down.

Trina’s piña colada was a tropical riot — a stone mug, filled to the brim with coconut froth, on which floated three different kinds of fruit and a bright pink flower. She took a sip.


Then she told Ulrik about the night she found Edelstein. He made careful notes, nodding as she went and asking for the occasional clarification. When she was finished, Trina took a long sip through her straw, and munched on a chunk of pineapple while he review her story.

“You said he was nearly drowned?”

“It seemed like it. When I propped him up, he vomited water all over the floor.”

“Interesting. And you saw no one?”

“Only the footprints in the snow. How did you find out about this so quickly, anyway?”

“Because I was already working on the Ambrosiana break in and Edelstein’s office was the target, Interpol’s database linked me to the statement you gave to the South Bend police department about his assault. I called the University, and your department gave me the name of your hotel. I hope you don’t mind that I tracked you down. You know, you raised a few eyebrows leaving America so quickly.”

“Why? Do the police think I had something to do with Edelstein’s attack? I thought I convinced them — “

Ulrik put his hand up to stop her. “You did, Miss Piper. If they had real concerns they would have stopped you from leaving in the first place, taken your passport. You’re not a suspect, merely a person of interest. But … because I spoke to the same officers you did, I was asked to check in on you while you are here. Professional courtesy, between Interpol and Indiana’s finest.”

Trina took a long sip from the straw. “I didn’t hurt Alasdair. He’s been my biggest supporter and friend these past few years. I love him like family.”

“I’m sure you do. So let’s assume you are in no way involved — “

“I’m not!”

“Okay, right. So help me help you, by trying to figure out why he was attacked — and by whom.”

“Fine. Then tell me what happened in Milan.”

“As you know, the Ambrosiana Library is one of Europe’s oldest. They have an amazing collection of ancient texts: books, scrolls, letters, and all manner of manuscripts dating back to antiquity — basically a repository of Western thought. But — and this is something few people know — the library also contains an unrivaled collection of artifacts, or rather it did, and will again. Not your run-of-the-mill rusted swords and old coins and cracked pottery. It’s what was originally called theurgical artifacts. You’re familiar with the term?”

“Theurgy,” Trina said, without missing a beat. “A more archaic term for the occult. For sorcery, necromancy, alchemy. In a word, magic.”

“Exactly. And that sort of thing certainly attracts the crazies, as you can imagine.”

“Believe me, I know. Magic had a resurgence in the late medieval and Renaissance periods as European scholars rediscovered the Hermetic texts from ancient Greece and the near east. There was practically an occult revival from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries.”

“And much of the material record of that revival is held in the Ambrosiana. Which leads me to the break in, if you can even call it that. The Ambrosiana has a superb security system, but whoever got in that night got past it like it wasn’t even on. They made it to Edelstein’s office, bypassing countless priceless manuscripts and artifacts. In fact, nothing appears to have gone missing. Edelstein’s office was ransacked, but that’s it. As if they were looking for something of his. Or him.”

Trina mulled this over. “Back in South Bend, he told me he was retiring. That he would not be going back to Milan. Or anywhere else, for that matter.”

Ulrik nodded. “Maybe whoever hit the Ambrosiana didn’t realize Edelstein had already left?”

“So you think they came after him in Indiana?”

“No other houses on his street were targeted,” Ulrik said. “No additional reports of break-ins anywhere else in his neighborhood.”

“So,” Trina said, poking her straw around the bottom of her drink, “The Ambrosiana in Italy gets broken into on Wednesday, hours after Edelstein left for America, and only his office is targeted. Then on Thursday, in the States, Edelstein is attacked in his own home. That’s got to be more than coincidence. And now that I think about it, I really don’t know much about what Edelstein did at the Ambrosiana. I assumed he just used their documents for research, the typical scholar-in-residence type of thing. And what did you mean when you said the Ambrosiana did have an unrivaled collection of artifacts, and will again?”

Ulrik gave her an appraising stare. She held his gaze, even as she slurped the last of her drink. He hadn’t touched his tonic water, but now he turned away, took a sip, and lowered his voice.

“I’m surprised he never told you.”

“Told me what?”

“The real nature of his work at the Ambrosiana. I’ve only recently learned of it myself. As part of Interpol’s Art and Artifacts unit, I help recover stolen cultural works. The biggest art heist in history was done in the open, by the Nazis, when they looted or otherwise compelled their European enemies to surrender their paintings, statues, and other cultural artifacts, whether from wealthy Jewish families or the museums of cities they conquered. The Ambrosiana’s collection of occult books and artifacts were given to the Third Reich by Benito Mussolini himself — a sort of present to the Führer upon joining the Axis in 1940.”

“Like the art thefts the Third Reich perpetrated on the art galleries of Europe.”

“Exactly,” Ulrik said. It was all sent back to Germany and Austria. Some of it was recovered, much more still remains lost.  — and Edelstein and other scholars have been working tirelessly for decades to help recover them.  I’m their Interpol liaison.”

Trina was stunned. “I never knew anything about this.”

“Few do. There are those out there who think magic is real, and stop at nothing, and pay any price, to have Ambrosiana artifacts. Hitler was just one in a long succession of powerful rulers intoxicated by the lure of magic that goes back thousands of years. But there were others: Napoleon, Peter the Great, the list goes on. I’ve heard the Ambrosiana doesn’t keep many of its rare artifacts anymore, but rather in secret storage.”

“Makes sense,” Trina said. “From what you’re saying, it’s too rich a target.”

“Exactly. The Ambrosiana was founded as a safe haven for magic — if you believe in that stuff.” Ulrik shrugged, implying he was one who did not. “And for centuries, there have always been those who have considered the Ambrosiana artifacts worth stealing. Even worth killing for.”

“So you think someone wanted to kill Alasdair?”

“Maybe,” Ulrik said, downing his tonic water in one long swallow. “I just don’t know why.”

Eyes in the Darkness


Ulrik offered Trina a ride back to her hotel in his car, but she declined. It was less than a mile to her hotel along the eastern edge of Hyde Park. From Trader Vic’s she could see that the way was well lit, with Victorian-looking lampposts all along the way.

“You sure?” Ulrik said.

“I could use the fresh air. Unless you think it’s unsafe? No Tube Terror up here?”

Ulrik’s is square jaw flexed as he smiled, and it was rather pleasant to look at. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Whoever those crazies are, they’ll be caught.”


“They, him, her. Who knows? London has a long history of hosting murderers and terrorists, from Jack the Ripper and the political anarchists of the nineteenth century, to the IRA and religious radicals of all stripes. That’s why Londoners say to keep calm …”

And carry on. I know.”

“Stay in well-lit areas, and don’t walk alone. I’ll be in touch if I have more questions. Thank you for your time, Miss Piper.”

She watched him walk away. It was kind of hard not to. When he was gone, she suddenly realized she was starving, and a little tipsy. A potent piña colada on an empty stomach was a bad idea.

A shop down the next block sold sandwiches, and she grabbed one, plus some soup, to eat back in her room.

The eastern edge of Hyde Park was well lit, but the night was cold. She zipped the collar of her jacket up to her chin as she walked, her footsteps a dull slap on the sidewalk. To her left, the park — London’s largest — was dark, its interior inscrutable behind a line of bare-limbed trees, standing bough to bough like a line of skeletal sentries. There were other people walking, too, both ahead and behind her. The overlapping pools of light from the lampposts made a narrow corridor through the night, and the occasional passing car provided temporary illumination.

Her mind drifted back to the Newton papers, and the puzzle of the strange symbols. She’d gone over every language in use in the seventeenth century: Latin and Greek and all the vernaculars. Even those known from contact with the near east and Asia: Sanskrit, Chinese … everything. And none of them matched.

A noise to her left, like a cracking branch, startled her. She stopped and peered into the darkness.

Squirrel, she thought, and moved on.

She’d even looked over characters from vocabularies that weren’t technically languages, like alchemical symbols, which Newton was known to have been familiar with. A few of the symbols in Manuscript A were almost certainly alchemical; she recognized them from her masters thesis research. They were easy to picture, with their unique lines and curves:

? Mercury, also known to alchemists as Quicksilver

? Sulfur

? Fire

? Water

At least that’s what they looked like. The symbols were handwritten, and there was an extra line here and there, but unlike modern typography, there was little consistency back then, not only in lettering but also in the spelling of words. Besides that, alchemy was a secretive art, and its practitioners would often conceal the meanings of their writings behind arcane metaphors so only other alchemists would recognize their meaning.

Trina had once transcribed an alchemical recipe whose ingredients were “dragons blood” and “the philosophik mercury,” that instructed the reader to “burn the green lion” until it became the “white eagle,” and then to enflame the “black dragon.” Historians have since deciphered many of these metaphors — the white eagle was understood to be steam, and dragon’s blood was mercury sulfide.

But different alchemists used different symbolism, and the only thing every scholar agreed upon was that alchemy was a hot mess of centuries-old mystic secrecy. Maybe, as Alfie Gill had quipped, the Newton papers she was looking at were indeed just a made up language, a code that had no meaning beyond itself. After all, a made up language was perfect for ciphers.

And maybe she was being too generous, and it was something else Alfie had proposed: gibberish, pure and simple.

Movement to her left startled her, just outside the light of the nearest lamppost. When she turned she saw nothing, only the dark silhouettes of trees and the black park beyond. She waited, tense, until footsteps on the sidewalk behind her made her jump.

Young women were staggering her way, a shrieking and laughing mob that formed and reformed around a girl wearing a crazy paper hat and a gaudy pink boa. Collectively they were a female amoeba, oozing past Hyde Park on a protoplasm of booze.

“Hen paaarty!” one of them squealed as they slid into Trina’s current pool of light. A bachelorette party, out for a night on London. The squealer thrust a bottle toward Trina. “Hey! Want a drink?”

Trina smiled and shook her head politely, and the amoeba squirmed on by. Looking over into the deep shadows of the park, Trina remembered Ulrik’s advice. She hurried to catch the hen party, not too close, but close enough to join them quickly if she had to.

Back on the move, her mind returned to the Newton papers.

Made up languages were not unheard of in the history of cryptography. But most early European cryptographers, like the sixteenth-century German cryptographer Johannes Trithemius, used the standard alphabet, A to Z, and simply jumbled the letters in creative ways to create their codes. Even Queen Elizabeth I of England employed spymasters like Francis Walsingham, and occultists, like John Dee, who were skilled in the art of codes and ciphers —

Trina stopped.

That’s it! Or, rather, that’s him! John Dee … the man who famously believed he had discovered the language of angels. He and another colleague claimed to have communed with angles in their native tongue. Dee transcribed their alphabet; Trina had seen it once, but didn’t pay it much attention.

Of course … that would have been a century before Newton. Isaac was a student of the occult, surely he would have known of Dee’s work.

The hen party had moved ahead, leaving Trina alone, lost in her thoughts. Now and then cars passed in a blur of light and noise. It was only when a hedge rustled nearby that her mind snapped back to the present.

She jumped, nerves firing, and jogged ahead, hand still gripping the plastic bag that carried her dinner.

“Hyde Park is freaking me out,” she muttered, as she caught up to the hen party. They were all approaching a large intersection at one corner of the park. She saw the sign for the Marble Arch Tube station, where she started out that morning. That meant her B&B was just around the corner.

Leaving the hens, she turned at the Marble Arch itself — a structure that looked like a miniature version of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe — and hurried along Bayswater road until she saw the lights shining from the windows of the Parkview Arch. With a sigh of relief, she pulled out the key Alice had given her and opened the door.

Up in her room Trina sat on her bed and wolfed down her food. Opening her laptop, she pulled up a browser and searched.

john dee language of angels

A moment later, there it was: “Enochian is the name given to the occult language found in the papers of the English astronomer, astrologer, and philosopher John Dee (1527–1609). Along with the mystic Edward Kelley, Dee claimed that Enochian was the language used by angels, as well as Adam in the Garden of Eden when God told him to name all things ….”

“Enochian,” she repeated. After Enoch, the last person to speak the angelic language: Enoch, son of Cain, and grandson of Adam and Eve. She scrolled down to the section titled “Alphabet,” and looked over the list of Enochian characters.

“No way!” Trina said, reaching for her backpack. Flipping through the pages of her notebook, she found the four lines of symbols she’d copied from Manuscript B.

They matched the symbols on her laptop’s screen. Exactly.

Trina scanned the list. Most Enochian symbols had an English letter counterpart. Manuscript B had four lines of Enochian symbols …

Hmmm, okay. Could be a straightforward transcription.

She copied the corresponding letter of the alphabet beneath each of the Enochian symbols she’d recorded in her notebook. After a few minutes she had four lines of text:





Either this was indeed gibberish, or … no. She’d been a document examiner for years. Even when she didn’t understand the words on a page, she could at least recognize when they were words. Trina recognized these four lines for what they were: a cipher — a secret communication. The lines were words. Hidden words. All she needed was the key.

Damn. I’ve gone from one puzzle to the next.

The key could be a keyword, or a special decoder, or … well, anything, really. Cryptography was a sophisticated art, even in the seventeenth century. At least she had news to share with Alfie Gill in the morning.

She sighed and fell back on her bed. Like a wave, exhaustion washed over her. She’d been going non-stop for days, and her body still didn’t know what time it was.

Shower. Bed. Sleep. Things will be clearer in the morning.

For a moment, Gavin crossed her mind. She would love to share this little victory with someone. Or Edelstein, if she were still in South Bend. Trina wondered how he was doing, and made a mental note to check in with Sammy in the morning.

The shower was hot, and her pajamas soft. Just before she turned in she went to the window to close the curtains. Beyond the lamp-lit trees standing just across the street, Hyde Park was a slab of darkness set down in the middle of glowing London.

She saw movement. At the base of one of the trees, a figure. It was staring up at her, eyes glinting in the lamplight. She caught her breath, blinked, and looked again.

There was no one there.

I do need sleep, she thought. Now I’m seeing things.