THE DAN BROWN CODE
A thrilling story of amazing thrills and adventure
Written by Spatch, who has been reading over too many shoulders on the T recently
Hank Gideon, 52, handsome historian and tireless researcher of the mysterious, ran his hand through his thinning yet no less lush pepper-brown hair and stared intently at the parchment in his hand. In this pose he looked entirely like Harrison Ford and absolutely nothing like Tom Hanks. Honest. As Gideon struggled to make sense of these cryptic glyphs, the note read:
Hank Gideon"It looks like a note from my former professor and mentor Dr. Greenslade," Gideon said after a moment's thought. "He must be downstairs." Gideon folded the paper and put it back into its envelope. Then he rose from his seat and headed for the door.
University CollegeIt is I, Dr. Greenslade, your former professor and mentor. I am waiting downstairs for you. I have some distressing news of vital importance to you. Please hurry down and see me.Yours,
Dr. Sidney Greenslade
"He probably has some distressing news for me," Gideon said, grasping the doorknob. "It must be of vital importance, or else he wouldn't have written me."
Gideon turned the doorknob. The door opened, revealing a wooden staircase leading down. Gideon stepped through the door onto the landing, taking special care to close the door behind him. Then he grasped the railing and began to descend the stairs.
Hank Gideon placed his left foot firmly down upon the staircase's penultimate step. There his right foot and left were joined once more on the same level. After taking a breath, Gideon then picked up his right foot and, with a moment's hesitation, skipped the last step and instead descended directly down to the landing. The left foot followed shortly thereafter. His risk had paid off. He was now at the bottom of the stairs.
Waiting for him by the newell post, running his hand through his bushy white academic hair, was Gideon's former professor and mentor, Dr. Sidney Greenslade. Gideon waved hello.
"Ah, Gideon," Greenslade rumbled. He had a Scottish brogue that was not unlike that of Sean Connery's. "So good to see you. I wish it were under better circumstances. I have some distressing news of vital importance to discuss with you. Please, come along with me to the sitting room."
Gideon followed his former professor and mentor to the sitting room. There they both sat.
"It must be terribly distressing and vital," Gideon said. "Your letter travelled a distance of over five flights of stairs to reach me."
"And indeed it is," Dr. Greenslade said. He pulled the dust jacket of a book, slightly rumpled but no worse for the wear, from his haversack. Then he handed the jacket to Gideon. "What do you make of this?"
Hank Gideon stared intently at the jacket's cover.
"Hmm. 'New York Times Bestseller'," Gideon said, as he read a blurb on the front. "Why, that means this book was listed on the New York Times' list of best-selling books."
"Yes, yes," Dr. Greenslade smiled. "I knew you, of all people, would be able to identify it."
"Of course, it would be natural to assume that the Times calculates book rank by actual sales records, but this is not the case. Instead, the newspaper compiles its list based on weekly surveys of a selected pool of booksellers."
"Right again," Dr. Greenslade said. "Many people only view a book a success if it makes this list, regardless of its quality."
"This breeds conspiracy theory, of course," Gideon mused. "But I am not one to dwell upon that. This book jacket of yours, does this have to do with the distressing news of vital importance?"
"As a matter of fact it does," Dr. Greenslade answered. "I believe that this mysterious book jacket has something to do with that pet project you've been working on for God-knows-how-long."
"You mean that secret research project that I've been working on in secret?" Gideon asked. "The one that nobody else but me knows about?"
"The very one," Dr. Greenslade said. His gaze turned to a painting on the wall. Hank Gideon took the dust jacket and rolled it up. Then he put it in his pocket.
"So you say," Gideon finally said. "But how do you think it figures?"
"Figures?" Dr. Greenslade exclaimed. "My boy, it's your entire solution! It's the key to that which you seek, and I'm going to explain it all to you right now. You see, that dust jacket is, in actuality, for--"
But he was never able to finish his sentence for at that very moment, a sinister hand reached into the room and turned out all the lights.
Lucy Cartwright, 28, curator of antiquities, ran her hand through her radiantly red hair. Then she put her hair back up into a bun and skewered it with a chopstick. Then she smoothed out the folds of her simple and modest skirt, adjusted her glasses, and tightened the strap on her leather bookbag. Drawing up her hand, she rapped smartly on the thick oak door of which she was standing outside.
After a pause, the door presently opened, revealing the handsomest historian Lucy had ever seen.
"Can I help you?" Hank Gideon asked. He was the handsome historian at the door.
"Yes," Lucy said plainly. "I am here to see Dr. Sidney Greenslade. I was told he was staying at University College, so I have travelled to meet him."
Gideon looked the librarian over. She looked like a young Julianne Moore, or if we cannot get her, Maggie Gyllenhaal. He smiled politely at the woman, but then his smile turned to a sad face.
"I am sorry," Gideon finally said. "Dr. Greenslade is dead. He died several days ago under very suspicious circumstances."
"Oh, no!" Lucy exclaimed. "That is terrible. Whatever do you think happened?"
"I am not sure," Gideon theorized, "But I believe it was murder. I believe Dr. Greenslade knew too much about a secret project."
"You mean the secret research project you've been working on, that nobody else but you knows about?"
"Yes," Gideon sighed, "That one. I am afraid Dr. Greenslade had some information which was vitally important to the project, but he died before he could divulge it to me."
"Then perhaps you were the one he told me about," Lucy said. "Are you Hank Gideon, handsome historian and researcher of the mysterious here at University College?"
"Yes, that's me," Gideon said. "I'm afraid I have forgotten my manners." They shook hands. "And you are...?"
"I'm Lucy Cartwright, Curator of Antiquities at College University. Here are my credentials." She produced her credentials and gave them to Gideon. The credentials read
LUCY CARTWRIGHT, Ph.D"Impressive credentials," Gideon said. "You are much smarter than I, or any person meeting you for the first time, would have expected."
CURATOR OF ANTIQUITIES, COLLEGE UNIVERSITY
RECEIVED HER Ph.D IN BEING REALLY SMART
FROM THE GRADUATE SCHOOL FOR VERY INTELLIGENT PEOPLE
"I have travelled all the way from CU to meet with Dr. Greenslade and discuss what he knew."
Gideon's eyes narrowed.
"What exactly do you know about what Dr. Greenslade knew?"
"Dr. Greenslade gave you a dust jacket for a book, right?" Lucy asked.
"Yes," Gideon answered.
"I knew that," Lucy said.
"I was the one who gave him the dust jacket. I found it in our archives when we were looking for things. He expressed interest in it, and invited me to visit him once he had come here and talked to you. But since he is no longer alive, I guess what I know must now be told to you."
"Well, then, please, come in. I don't think it's safe to talk here. We'll sit in my secluded backyard with fake Roman ruins I constructed by hand and discuss what you know. That way, while we talk, no sinister hand can sneak in and turn off the lights."
"Thank you," Lucy said as they walked through Gideon's tasteful but rustic home.
"You wouldn't happen to speak with any peculiar foreign accent, or use antiquated or eccentric expressions when you need to convey emotion?" Gideon asked.
"Uh, no," Lucy replied.
"Oh, okay. Just checking."
"Wait!" Gideon said suddenly. "The dust jacket! Don't you see?"
"No," said Lucy, not seeing.
"It fits on this unmarked hardcover book I've had all along!" Gideon exclaimed. "Look!" He slipped the high-gloss laminated paper jacket onto the dusty tome. It fit perfectly.
"My gosh..." Lucy gasped. "You don't mean..."
"Yes," Gideon said. "We're off to Paris."
"Welcome to Vienna," the little man said to the two, as he ran his hand over his mostly bald pate. "My name is Mr. Evilman. I will be your guide and escort as you research your secret project."
"Oh, no, we're not on the secret research project that only Hank Gideon and now myself know about," Lucy said demurely. "We are just here to see the scenery."
"Of course you are," Mr. Evilman said, rubbing his hands together much like how Danny DeVito would. "May I take your bags and escort you to your hotel?"
"That would be fine, thank you," said Hank Gideon, who had also travelled along.
"I can also arrange a fine intimate dinner for the two of you, give you access to our wonderful Opera House, and perhaps give you some time to be alone so you can... research? Yes? Your secret project?"
"Excellent!" Lucy said.
"If you need anything else, or you find something so incredible you just have to share it with someone, please don't hesitate to contact me," the bald little man said.
"Thank you," Gideon said. "You're a good man, Mr. Evilman."
"Don't mention it," Mr. Evilman said. Then they got into a taxi.
"How did we get into the Austrian Museum of Art before it opened?" Lucy asked.
"Mr. Evilman pulled some strings," Hank Gideon replied. "It was good of him to do so, because I wanted a chance to see this painting before the crowds came in."
The painting the two stood in front of was a large oil painting. In it, a statue of an angel stood in front of an open door, ushering two people inside. One person, the man, was ruggedly handsome with salt-and-pepper hair, and the woman was attractive yet intelligent-looking with red hair. A sign above the statue read "VIENNA OPERA."
"We have had a copy of this painting in the sitting room at University College for as long as I can remember," Gideon explained. "In fact, just before the lights went out and Dr. Greenslade died, he was staring intently at this very painting. I think it may have something to do with our mystery."
"Very curious," Lucy said. "What's the painting called?"
"Angel Showing A Historian And His Attractive Colleague Where To Uncover The Secrets They Strive To Find," Gideon said.
"What an odd name," Lucy mused. "I wonder what it means?" Then the bell rang, and the museum opened.
Hank Gideon said, "This is where the trail leads." He and Lucy Cartwright stood in a dim alcove underneath the stage of the Vienna Opera House. In front of them was a marble statue of an angel, its hand outstretched.
"Look familiar?" Gideon asked Lucy.
"Not really, no," Lucy replied.
"It's the angel statue that was in the painting we saw earlier today," Gideon said. Lucy made surprised noises of recognition.
"It's so creepy," Lucy said. "Look! No matter where you stand in the room, the statue's eyes refuse to follow you."
"Yes," Gideon said, hurriedly consulting his notes. "It's a subtle masterpiece of sculpture and design. In fact, only one of a few handful of sculptors could have achieved this effect. The opera house has no such records, but I do believe the sculptor of this statue was a man by the name of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich."
"Is there a connection to the vast conspiracy we're trying to research in secret?" Lucy asked.
"I do believe so," Gideon said. "But it appears we're at a dead end, unless we can discover the secret of this statue. Look, on the pedestal. There's a strange inscription." The strange inscription read:
DAEH EHT NRUT"What language is that?" Lucy asked quizzically. "It's not Latin, or Austrian, or Medici, or Ubbi-Dubbi."
"I'm not sure, either," Gideon murmured, walking around the statue base. "And frankly, I'm beginning to think that we've pursued a red herring. This whole thing might very well be one big backwards chas-- wait!"
"One big backwards chase... yes, yes, Lucy, that's it! Read the statue inscription backwards!"
"NRUT ETH DAEH?" Lucy said.
"No, no," Gideon said. "Read the letters backwards, too!"
"Oh," Lucy said. Then, "TURN... THE... HEAD."
"Exactly!" Gideon exclaimed, climbing to the top of the pedestal. He grasped the angel's head and turned it clockwise. Nothing happened. He tried turning it counter-clockwise. The angel's head turned with a groan, and then slid into place with a rusty click. Behind the statue, there was a grinding noise. Then a wall behind the statue began to move, sliding behind the other wall to reveal a secret passage leading down.
"I knew I should have tried counter-clockwise first," Gideon mused, as he stepped down from the statue and headed towards the passage.
"Read the letters backwards!" Lucy said. "You're a genius, Hank Gideon. I never would have thought of that."
"No time for accolades," Gideon said. "We must find out what's at the end of this passage."
Gideon thrust his torch into the antechamber. There the glowing light revealed bookcases, which stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Each bookcase contained at least two hundred books. There were books of every shape and size in the bookcases. There were at least sixteen bookcases around the walls of the room.
"There must be at least thirty-two hundred books in here," Gideon said. "That's two hundred times sixteen."
"Oh, yes," Lucy said. "Math." She pulled a book at random from the shelf and flipped through it.
"Anything interesting?" Gideon asked, searching for any other clues in the room.
"No," Lucy began, but then she flipped through another book. "Hang on." She pulled another book from the shelf. She flipped through it quickly. Then she pulled another book. And another. And another. "Hank, these books are all identical."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean, more or less identical. They've all got different covers, and the names may differ slightly from volume to volume, but essentially, Hank, they're all the same book!"
"Incredible!" Gideon retrieved a few books from the cases to see for himself. "I've heard of this phenomenon before, but only as apocryphal myth. Many innocent writers throughout the ages were condemned as hacks, but the evidence was always circumstantial or, worse, based on subjective critical opinion. But to see concrete evidence of it here, hidden all along, right under our noses... Lucy, this discovery could change the entire known literary world!"
But Lucy could not speak. She had turned to a page in the book where she saw something so shocking, so terrifying, so horrible, that all she could do was turn the page and immediately read the next chapter!
Investigative reporter Sophia Mandelbrot ran a hand through her lustrous black hair and dialled a number on her cellphone.
"They've left the hotel again," she said to her editor, Jake Stansfield, once he picked up the phone and had said hello.
"Again?" Jake said, though he was on the other end of the phone and miles away. "It's only been twenty minutes."
"I know," Sophia said,. "I think they're on to me."
"Maybe they just went in for a quick nap. Or to change for the evening. Or to call home. I don't know, Sophia, there's a hundred reasons why they didn't stay in their room longer."
"They're trying to give me the slip," Sophia insisted. "They're hot on the trail of something important, something mysterious. But they keep trying to lose me! Every time they walk outside, they stare at me!"
"Maybe that's because you look like Catherine Zeta-Jones," Jake said. "But whatever. Don't you dare get lost by them. I'm counting on you to get to the bottom of this, whatever it is."
"You can count on me," Sophia said. "This is going to be my Pulitzer for sure. Or whatever Pulitzers they have here in Austria." Then she hung up the phone, and began to follow the two again. The two in this case refers to Hank Gideon and Lucy Cartwright.
"They've taken her!" Gideon exclaimed to Mr. Evilman.
"Taken your girlfriend?"
"My colleague," Gideon corrected him. "They've taken my colleague." It was the twenty-seventh time Gideon had had to correct the little man. He had been keeping count.
"Who's they, Mr. Gideon?"
"Well, Mr. Evilman, I'm not sure. All I know is that while we were investigating an antechamber we had found underneath the Opera House, a sinister hand reached into the room and turned out the lights. It took me ten chapters to get the lights back on, only to find that Lucy had vanished, along with several interesting books we had found."
"And it took you another six chapters to get back to me?" Mr. Evilman said. "My god, man, she could be anywhere in Europe by now!"
"We've got to do something," Gideon said, trying to think of something. "We've got to think of something."
"Yes," Mr. Evilman said. "Perhaps I could help you better if you sat down with me right now and told me everything you know and everything that you've discovered up to this point."
"Good idea," Gideon said. "I can trust you, right?"
"Well, then. It all started when my former professor and mentor, Dr. Greenslade, showed up at my university with a dust jacket..."
Hank Gideon ran wildly through the burning Barnes & Noble, heading in the direction of Lucy's cries. He dashed through the Periodicals, then by Fiction A-H, swinging around Self-Help and Computer Repair, then finally through the infernal remains of European Political Science. He had found the stairwell which Lucy, still in captive with her captor, had been dragged up. Steeling himself, Gideon ran up the stairs.
Gideon emerged through a hatch eleven stories above the city of Akron. There, in the stone belltower, choked by the smoke of burning beams and crumbling rock, lay Lucy, at the feet of Mr. Evilman. He had been a traitor all along.
"You!" Gideon shouted, pointing at the bald man. "I knew it!"
"Yes, yes," Mr. Evilman cackled. "I'm the bad guy. A real shocking twist, isn't it?"
"It came as a complete surprise to me," Lucy cried, struggling to free herself from her bonds.
"Don't exert yourself," Mr. Evilman sneered at his captive. "Oxygen is at a premium up here."
"Let her go, Evilman," Gideon said defiantly.
"Or I'll tell the whole world the secret that you've lied, cheated, misdirected, deceived, and killed to protect," Gideon said.
"How are you going to do that," Mr. Evilman said with a grin, "When the evidence is up there?" He pointed to the top of the belltower. Gideon followed his point with a gaze. There, lashed tightly to the largest bell known as Old Ringy, was the evidence. Also lashed to the bell were many sticks of dynamite.
"Sure, you could make a dash for it," Mr. Evilman said. "But your precious girlfriend--"
"COLLEAGUE!" Gideon and Lucy yelled simultaneously.
"Okay, yes, yes. You could make a dash for it, but in the time it takes for you to retrieve the evidence, your precious colleague will have succumbed to the smoke and fire and burning things. On the other hand, I'll allow you to save her, but in the time it takes for you to free her and rush her to safety, Old Ringy will collapse in flames and plummet eleven stories, taking the evidence with it in a cataclysmic explosion. Then nobody would know."
"My god," Gideon said.
"What's it going to be?" Mr. Evilman said, evilly. "The girl... or the evidence?"
"It sure is a tough decision I have to make," Gideon said.
"Don't worry about me!" Lucy cried. "Save the evidence, and save yourself!"
Mr. Evilman then interrupted.
"Or, of course," he said, interrupting them dramatically. "There's a third possibility: You could save this kitten instead!"
"Nooo!" Lucy cried.
"You monster!" Gideon seethed.
"Mew?" said the kitten.
"Time's running out, Hank Gideon!" Mr. Evilman called. "You're going to have to choose!"
"You're right," Gideon said. "I'm going to have to choose. And now I'm going to choose."
And he chose.
"Hank Gideon, I don't know how you did it," Lucy said gratefully. "But you did it. We escaped, and Mr. Evilman is dead."
"Mew," said the kitten, safe in Lucy's arms.
"I'm going to name it Sidney," Lucy said. "After your former professor and mentor, Dr. Sidney Greenslade." The kitten licked a paw and ran it over its fuzzy head.
"I'm sure he would have liked that," Gideon said. "And I'm sure he would have been proud that I even saved the evidence." He waved, in his hand, the evidence of the entire thing.
"Do you really think it'd be safe to reveal this to the public?" Lucy said. "I mean, they're so placid and happy with what they know -- or rather, what they think they know."
"I know," said Gideon. "I've been thinking about that, too. Perhaps it's best if the secret stayed safe. With a new family of protectors."
"There goes my Pulitzer," moaned Sophia. Then she burned her notes and ran away.
"That sounds good to me," Lucy said. "Wait... new family of protectors?"
"Yes," Gideon stammered. "You see, when I corrected Mr. Evilman for the last time there, I was lying to buy time."
"Oh, Hank!" Lucy swooned. "And when I said it too, I was lying too. I was just going along with your plan."
"So then, you'll be my--"
"--girlfriend? Oh, gosh, you bet!" And they kissed. For a very long time.
"Hank Gideon," Lucy said, as she came up for air. "I said I don't know how you did it and I still don't. Not only were you the sole person to gather all the pieces, solve all the puzzles, decipher all the clues and explain it all to me as patiently as you could, but you also defeated the bad guy and saved the world."
"Aw, I couldn't have done it without you," Gideon said. "Come on, let's kiss again."
The second kiss lasted a very long time too.
"One other thing," Lucy eventually said. "Do you think people are really going to think this really happened?"
"Well," Gideon said. "I've given that some thought, too. If a story is presented as a historical thriller with extensive background research and real names and places put in for corroboration and flavor, naturally some folks are going to assume it's true."
"And if it really is true?" Lucy hinted.
"Well, of course, that all depends on the actual factual truth," Gideon said. "Which, of course, is that--"
And then a sinister hand reached into the room and turned out all the lights.
The characters of Hank Gideon and Lucy Cartwright are, of course, composites of actual historians and antiquities curators I had the pleasure of talking to during the research of this novel. Dr. Sidney Greenslade and Mr. Evilman are, of course, entirely fictitious, though the characters of Anne Boleyn, Madame Curie and the kitten really did exist in history. Much thanks to the College University at Campus Archives for their amazing collection of antique buggy whips and timepieces, to Xavier Reynoldo for his fine music and proofreading skills, to Oprah for featuring me -- or rather, the body of my work -- on her show, and to my wife and Angela, Vince and Tress, our identical triplets. Also, thank you for reading! Your flight's nearly over.