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Chapter no 74 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

Grayson turned the lock. There was an audible click. A release. He kept his grip on the faux USB and pulled. The entire panel came off the box, revealing a compartment underneath. With steady hands, Grayson turned the panel over. He wasn’t surprised to see a collection of glass vials affixed to the underside. Break the box, break the vials. Break the vials, mix the liquids. Mix the liquids, destroy the contents of the box. Specifically…

Grayson turned his attention to the compartment he’d revealed. There were two and only two things inside: a Montblanc pen and a leather-bound journal.

“He kept records.” To Grayson, that was obvious.

“Records of what?” Nash zeroed in on the key question—the only one that mattered right now.

If there was record of Sheffield Grayson’s last acts before he “disappeared,” if this journal could tie the man to Avery or the Hawthorne family… it had to be destroyed.

There was a comfort in certainty.

“Can I see the pen?” Xander asked. Grayson handed it to him, and the youngest Hawthorne brother immediately began his inspection, dismantling the pen.

Some parts of a riddle hold meaning, Grayson could hear the old man saying, and others are nothing but distraction. In a Hawthorne game, the pen would have been the clue, not the journal. But Sheffield Grayson was not Tobias Hawthorne, and this wasn’t a game. There were no clues, just the extreme steps a paranoid dead man had taken to secure his secrets.

Grayson opened the leather journal. This is what my father’s handwriting looked like. That thought had no place in his mind, so Grayson shoved it to the side and focused not on the writing but on what had been written.

Numbers.

Grayson flipped through the pages—nothing but numbers, and the only ones with recognizable meanings appeared at the beginning of the various entries: dates.

Sheffield Grayson had dated his journal entries. Grayson pictured him doing it. He saw his father sitting on the edge of that cheap twin bed in Colin’s room and putting pen to the page. Grayson imagined “Shep” dating a journal entry, and then beginning to write.

Grayson turned all the way to the last entry, just a few pages from the end of the book. Still nothing but numbers. Seemingly endless strings of them.

“A code.” Grayson reached the obvious conclusion.

Xander edged in beside him to get a peek at the pages. “Substitution cipher?”

“Most likely,” Grayson confirmed.

“Monoalphabetic, polyalphabetic, or polygraphic?” Xander rattled off. Nash leaned back against the wall. “That, little brother, is the question.”

 

 

None of the simple ciphers worked. Grayson had tried all twenty-six of them. First as 1, as 2, as 3 on to as 26. Then as 2, as 3, and so on, looping back to 1. No matter what base Grayson used, the journal’s translation was gibberish.

Evening turned to late night. Gigi texted when the FBI left. Grayson didn’t text back. His eyes bleary, he refused to back down from the task at hand.

You didn’t use a basic cipher. Grayson didn’t want to be mentally addressing his father, but to solve a puzzle, sometimes you had to think about its maker.

“Let me take a stab,” Xander said, wriggling between Grayson and the

journal. “I’ll try to spot common two- and three-item combinations and go from there.”

Grayson didn’t object. Instead, he stopped fighting the mental image that wanted to come: Sheffield Grayson sitting on that twin bed, a pen in his right hand, the journal on a nearby nightstand. Or on the bed? On his lap? The image in Grayson’s mind wavered, changed, and then Grayson asked himself a simple question: Where was his cheat sheet?

Unless his father had memorized the code—whatever it was—he would have needed a reference as he was writing.

Grayson closed his eyes, picturing the entire scene: the man, the pen, the journal, a reference of some kind… The box. Grayson’s eyes flew open. He knelt, running his hand over the now-empty compartment. And then he felt a seam.

And another. Another.

The workmanship was flawless. None of the seams were visible. But they were there, in the shape of a square roughly the size of Grayson’s palm. That was the thing about puzzle boxes. You never really knew when the box’s last secret has been uncovered.

Grayson reached for the double-sided tool—there was no saying a puzzle couldn’t use the same trick twice. He ran the magnet end along the inside of the compartment, directly over the square he’d felt.

It caught.

Grayson pulled, and the square popped out. Turning it over in his hands, he saw two wooden disks, concentric, with a metal brad through the middle.

“A cipher wheel,” Grayson he told his brothers.

Nash and Xander were on him in an instant. This wasn’t the Hawthorne brothers’ first time encountering a cipher wheel—or even their twentieth— so all three of them knew what to look for. The larger of the two wheels had letters carved around the edge, through Z, plus a handful of common digraphs—ShChThWhCkKn. The inner wheel contained numbers, 1 through 32, but not in order, which explained, along with the inclusion of digraphs, why Grayson’s initial rudimentary attempts hadn’t broken the code.

“All we need to know now,” Xander said buoyantly, “is where to set the inner wheel.”

Going through the options manually was a possibility, but the part of Grayson that had grown up racing to complete those Saturday morning games wouldn’t let him.

Sheffield Grayson had a system. A routine. He retrieved the safe-deposit key and faux USB from his office, then retrieved his fake ID. He went to the bank. He withdrew money and left the slips in the safe-deposit box. He went to his sister’s house.

Grayson skirted thinking about what, besides the slips, had been in that box. Instead, he asked a simple question out loud. “Why save the slips?”

The answer came to him like a lightning strike. He went back to the pile. On each slip, there was a date. The same dates in the journal? That would be easily enough to verify. What he was more interested in right now was the withdrawal amounts.

Two hundred seventeen dollars. Five hundred six dollars. Three hundred twenty-one dollars.

But according to Sheffield Grayson’s sister, he’d only given her even amounts.

“He set the wheel to a different position for each entry.” Grayson didn’t phrase that as a possibility or a question. “And kept the slips as a record to help him decode his own writing.”

17. 6. 21. Most likely, those were the numbers set to the A. All he had to do was match the dates on the slip to the date on the journal entries, turn the wheel to the appropriate spot, and…

Grayson put the pen that Xander had dismantled back together and retrieved his own leather notebook. Ignoring how similar it looked to his father’s, he turned to the first entry that Sheffield Grayson had written and began to decode.

At first, all he got was nonsense. Again. But this time, Grayson didn’t stop. He kept going, and eventually, the numbers on the page turned to words. Fifty thousand dollars to shell five, Cayman Islands, via shell two, Switzerland…

Eventually, the code settled back into gibberish. Noise. On the next page, Grayson found the same thing: meaningful content embedded in noise. The real message was in a different location on this page.

How was that determined? Grayson didn’t need to know the answer to that question. He had no actual need to understand exactly how his father’s

mind had worked. But on some level, he wanted to, so when he noticed two subtle tears at the top of the current page, when he turned to the next and saw two more tiny tears in the paper—in a different position—he brought his finger to lightly touch them.

Not tears, Grayson thought, his gaze darting to the hotel desk, where the white index card he’d removed from Sheffield Grayson’s office still sat. Notches.

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