Early next week, ENIGMA KEY is being released on Amazon. My friend, Tom Defoe, and I had a lot of fun writing this book and I hope you enjoy reading it. I thought I’d put the first chapter here for anyone who would like an early look. Below is the cover, blurb, and first chapter. 🙂
Heir hunter Eddie York is set on a quest by the last wishes of his dead grandfather, a prominent member of the Guardian Group, a secret agency designed to protect the world from dangerous new technologies falling into the wrong hands.
Eddie is tasked to recover the Enigma Key, an object that holds the balance of worldly power. Using information from an old computer game his grandfather had created to hide the key’s location, and working with unlikely allies, Eddie must push himself to new limits if he’s to fulfil his destiny and become a guardian.
With help from skilled computer engineer, Solomon Finch, Eddie must work his way through a challenging string of international clues for the answer to a puzzle that reaches back centuries. If Eddie and his team fail to recover the Enigma Key before their rivals and clandestine global forces, then everything will change…
And here we go!
Eddie York had several ways to describe his grandfather, Brigham: World War Two codebreaker, polymath, a lover of puzzles, video-game pioneer, Twitter user—and recently discovered dead in his workshop.
The frost-crusted tombs in Kensal Green Cemetery matched the old man’s quirkiness with their mash-up of Edwardian style, splendor, and quiet authority.
Tombs featured everything from carved ornate swans with their necks twisted in an embrace, a moss-spattered marble piano cracked down the center, to angels guarding a prone figure in a dinner suit lying on a sumptuous limestone bed with a tumbler glass and novel by his side.
Everywhere Eddie gazed, statues and mausoleums competed for attention, but he was only here to see one. His breath fogged in the crisp morning air, and his boots crunched along a gravel path toward his grandfather’s plot.
The old man never left things to chance. He had meticulously planned his death in the same way he had lived his life. Eddie visiting the commissioned memorial was the penultimate instruction before this afternoon’s reading of his last will and testament. Every detail remained confidential, but nobody expected a basic epitaph. Brigham York and simplicity went together like cyanide and Pepsi.
Eddie slowed when he neared his grandfather’s final resting place. He dug his hands deeper into the pockets of his fake sheepskin coat. He had expected the gravestone to be in the form of an Enigma machine, or perhaps one of the first PCs. A last grand hurrah from a man who had thrived on technology and adventure.
Instead, Eddie faced a sober granite rectangle:
Born 23rd January 1920
Died 5th March 2018
00100000 01000001 01010101 01010010 01001001 01000010 01010101 01010011 00100000 01010100
01000101 01001110 01000101 01001111 00100000 01001100 01010101 01010000 01010101 01001101
The binary inscription drew a smile. Even now, with Eddie as a thirty-year-old professional heir hunter, his grandfather still made him work for an answer—as always.
During Eddie’s youth, his hippy parents had spent a lot of time gallivanting across the world, visiting spiritual gurus in India, getting zonked at music festivals, and working at an Israeli kibbutz. A little selfish, perhaps, but he didn’t care. It meant he had lived with Brigham, and the old man was a player of games. A master strategist. Every challenge had a purpose, for example, learning how to wire a plug before being allowed to watch TV, orienteering around the Cheshire countryside to find different parts of a games console, or having to catch a salmon and cook it if he wanted an Easter egg. Creature comforts needed to be earned through tangible activities.
During one particular summer, Eddie had spent weeks deciphering a message that told him twenty pounds would be deposited into his bank account after he read every page of Carl Sagan’s seminal work, Cosmos. Brigham had set a group of questions around the Universe’s fifteen-billion-year cosmic evolution to ensure that the information had been adequately digested. The old man’s pet hate was anything done halfheartedly, so skimming the pages was not an option.
Through the vast array of challenges during Eddie’s childhood, he had gradually built a wealth of knowledge and a practical skill set compared to other kids his age. His grandfather knew exactly what he was doing. Then again, he always did, as the Nazis found out to their ultimate peril when he’d helped crack their codes with the other breakers at Bletchley Park.
But what are you saying here, you old dog?
Eddie fished out his smartphone, navigated to a binary to text converter, and input the binary code. He paused for a moment, aware that this probably signified Brigham’s closing challenge. Nervous anticipation rose inside him as he thumbed the translate button:
ARIBUS TENEO LUPUM
A quick Google search initially added to the confusion. The phrase meant ‘holding a wolf by the ears.’ Digging a little deeper into cyberspace revealed the line was first used by the Roman playwright Terence and was once a popular proverb in Ancient Rome. It described an unsustainable situation where doing something or nothing to resolve it carried an equal risk.
Without context, the phrase didn’t spark anything in Eddie’s mind. The only unsustainable thing he knew relating to his grandfather was his heart, which had finally given out while he was tinkering with his latest project. Even with failing eyesight and curved posture, Brigham had worked until he drew his final breath.
A few people at the funeral said he had died doing what he loved, and it was what he would have wanted. Staying alive was probably what he really wanted, but regardless, his life deserved celebrating rather than mourning.
Eddie crouched by the gravestone, closed his eyes for a moment, and remembered back to their happiest times together. He’d loved working with Brigham in his vegetable patch, both wearing vests with their trousers held up by braces. Even today, he wore a pair to hold up his jeans. Wearing a belt wasn’t in the York family’s DNA.
His fingers brushed over the carved binary message, breaking his reverie. Eddie told himself again, everything his grandfather did had a purpose. He retrieved a letter from his inside pocket and read it once more.
It had arrived through the letterbox of Eddie’s Manchester apartment four days ago. It was from Skunke & Weesul, Brigham’s London-based solicitor. Curiously, their address was a pub close to the bustling delights of Oxford Street. The firm had been established in 1881, had no website, and a web search didn’t reveal any further details. He guessed they had private rooms on the second floor of the building—and clients who valued privacy.
The typewritten words gave him three simple instructions:
- Check in to the Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street. A room has been booked for the 1st of April.
On first reading this, Eddie had called the number on the letterhead to check it wasn’t setting him up for a cruel joke, considering the date. A woman named Sally confirmed the authenticity of the contents and that they had been communicated exactly as his grandfather had instructed in the event of his death.
- Visit plot no. 886 in Kensal Green Cemetery on the morning of the 2nd, 8 a.m. sharp, and be the first person to see the memorial. You’ll know what to do.
Eddie knew the precise location. Six days previously, his grandfather’s coffin had been lowered into a freshly dug grave. He had tossed down a bouquet made from multicolored wires and LED lights before the dirt was shoveled back. They still did things the old-school way in Kensal Green Cemetery. He appreciated that, rather than having a small digger looming in the background, ready to give the funeral a crude mechanical postscript.
- Meet with Sally Weesul at midday, in the firm’s office, for the reading of Brigham York’s last will and testament.
Sally had to be a relative of Albert Weesul, who’d worked alongside Brigham during the war. Albert had visited his house several times a year for as long as Eddie could remember. The two old men had always chatted over a game of chess while they shared a bottle of scotch. The booze had often won.
Albert had lost his lengthy battle with cancer over a decade ago, but Brigham, being the man he was, likely stayed with the solicitor firm through loyalty to his longtime friend. Eddie was curious to see if Sally shared any traits of her larger-than-life relative, like his booming laugh and twinkling eyes. More importantly, he hoped the third and final instruction would shed more light on what his grandfather meant by ‘holding a wolf by the ears.’
The unsustainable situation.
Eddie rose, gave the gravestone a final glance, and then headed back through the clutter of mausoleums, intent on solving his grandfather’s final challenge.
The Argyll Arms was a classic gem from the Victorian era. Lanterns hung over black frames of both entrances; watery spring sunshine dazzled the wide front window. Its name stretched across the length of the building in a gleaming gold font. It sat sandwiched between a modern clothes shop and the red-tiled Piccadilly Circus tube station as an enduring beacon of a bygone time.
People hanging about, smoking on the pavement, provided a modern twist. Their puffing created an odorous cloud for Eddie to negotiate before reaching the welcome warmth of the bar.
None of the windows on the four floors above the pub had signage, though it came as no surprise given the solicitors didn’t advertise themselves anywhere else. The building’s only access was through the pub’s front doors, so the office had to lay somewhere inside. Eddie held his breath and quickly entered.
Decorative mirrors covered both walls, and the ceiling’s nicotine-stained plaster designs contained the type of craftsmanship that embarrassed modern functional styles. The place positively dripped with history. Eddie headed straight for the bar and squeezed between two customers.
A young barwoman moved toward him. She rested her hands on two of the beer pumps. “What can I get you?”
“How do I find Skunke & Weesul?”
“How do I find Skunke & Weesul, the solicitors?” Eddie repeated in a raised voice to make himself audible over the buzz of chatter. He reached inside his coat and fished out the letter. “The address says it’s here.”
“Okay, okay. One moment.” She turned, picked up the receiver of a Bakelite phone, and dialed a single zero. Somewhere near the back of the pub, another old phone rang. After a short conversation, she hung up and faced Eddie. “Are you Mr. York?”
“The one and only.”
“Got any ID?”
Eddie thumbed his driver’s license out of his wallet and held it forward.
Then the ridiculousness of the situation hit him. He leaned over the bar, and keeping his voice low, he asked, “Am I seeing a solicitor or checking in for a flight to Glasgow?”
“I’ll take you to Frank.”
The barwoman flipped up the service entrance and headed deeper into the pub, toward the location of the other phone. Eddie followed in a mild state of confusion to a gloomy stall in the back corner.
A stocky, gray-haired man, looking in his seventies with faded navy tattoos on his forearms, gestured a stiff palm to the opposite bench. Despite his age, he looked capable of winning a fight against most men half his age, and his bent nose and intense glare provided potential evidence of his experience.
Eddie slid onto the opposite bench. A phone and a half-full pint glass lay on the table between them, but he was in comfortable punching distance of this aging human tank. He didn’t expect any violence, as his grandfather had led him here, but under most other circumstances, this was not a situation he would choose.
Thankfully, a broad grin stretched across the man’s face. “I knew you were Brigham’s boy as soon as I saw you. I’m Frank.”
“I’m Eddie. His grandson. How did you know him?”
“He’s been coming here for decades. Sorry for your loss. He was a great man.”
“Do you work for Skunke & Weesul?”
Frank let out a throaty laugh, revealing a set of crooked teeth. “It ain’t pronounced skunk and weasel. It’s skunk-ay and wee-sule. We have a working relationship. I’ve owned the pub since the eighties. If you want to see the solicitor, you have to come through me.”
“It’s all a bit convoluted, isn’t it?”
“On the face of it. You’ll understand once you go down and see Sally.”
Eddie glanced at his watch. “I’m due in two minutes. Where’s her office?”
“I’ll show you. Come with me; we shouldn’t keep her waiting.”
Frank groaned to a standing position, his knee joints cracking. He led Eddie through a door marked Private, and they descended a stone staircase into a musty cellar, snaking between beer barrels toward an electronic pad on the wall. Events were turning stranger by the minute, but Eddie put his faith in his grandfather. It was all he could do, as nothing else made sense.
“Where exactly are we going?”
“In the words of Brigham, have patience, dear boy.”
“In the words of me, why are we in the cellar?”
Frank ignored the question and punched a code into the electronic pad.
The bricks in front of them shuddered. Dust dropped from the ceiling. A vertical fracture line tore down the wall, and dull mechanical clanks echoed from somewhere behind it.
Eddie’s heart rate spiked, and he took a step back.
The center of the wall parted, revealing an entrance to an art deco lift. Frank gestured Eddie inside with a sweeping hand. “This is your way to Skunke & Weesul. All the best, and sorry again for your loss.”
“Here?” Eddie asked, frowning at the dimly lit wooden lift car. “It can’t go up, or it’ll burst through the bar, so I’m going down?”
Eddie stepped inside and glanced around the oak-paneled walls. A brass plate featured just two buttons: descend and ascend. “Their office is in the London Underground system?”
“Nope. You’re going somewhere centuries older than that.”
Frank leaned in and hit the descend button. “Make sure you come back one day. We’ll share a pint and talk about your grandfather.”
“Why not have one on my way back? I doubt I’ll be long.”
“You won’t be leaving through the pub.”
The door slid shut before Eddie had a chance to reply.
A second later, the lift jolted, then plunged deep below London’s surface.