CHAPTER 1

 

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

A glimpse of awareness. Did you dream that noise?

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

Your heavy eyes finally blink open.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

You feel for your phone.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

You try to focus onto the screen. Seven missed calls from a private number. You instantly thought it had to be your wife. It was not uncommon for her to call on a secure line. She was currently away on a classified assignment.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

“Yeah?”

“Listen to me!” She was panicked. “I don’t have long. I’ve been set up. I’m burned. They’re coming for you.”

“What? Who?” 

“You need to get out! Now!”

I think for a moment before blurting out “Plan B?”

As if she was ready for the question, she immediately replied “YES! Get Out!”

She either hung up or the phone call was dropped. I jumped out of bed, got dressed from the clothes on the floor and sprung down the stairs. I didn’t even look out the windows. I ran to the back door, grabbed the crowbar, threw open the door and darted across the back yard. I hopped the fence and was immediately surrounded by woods. I knew the way. We have practiced it.

I let my training take over to guide me through the woods. While I hopped, jumped, and weaved between the trees I began running the plan through my head. First, I noted the time that she called and then turned off the phone. I would turn on the phone again in four hours, and every four hours thereafter. I would wait two minutes for a call and then turn it off again.

Our “Plan B” was always under development. I played along simply because I thought it was fun and exciting. She explained that keeping all of our essential items, such as passports, money and documents off site was best for a faster escape. “Unlocking and grabbing items from a home safe will just slow you down,” I remember her saying. Even though we took it seriously, she was always smiling and joking during our mock escapes. We would end up at the shed, walk inside and stand over the floorboards that hid the safe.

I began to notice some key terrain features up ahead. I was getting close. The shed was well hidden. You could walk up to it from any direction and still not see it until you were feet away. I had this pit in my stomach ever since I entered into the woods. Even though we practiced finding the shed, we never actually ripped up the floorboards and opened the safe. She had designed it all and always told me that she did not want to damage the floorboards during practice. I remember asking her multiple times about the code and she said I would know it once I removed the floorboards. “The answer will be right in front of you,” she would say time and time again. I would ask, “But what stops anyone else from opening the safe if the answer is right there?” She would just smile at me and say “They would need to find it first. You worry too much.”

I made one last turn and walked around the cluster of trees. There it was. I opened the door and walked in. It was a small place. Only about eight feet square. I took my crowbar and began removing the floor. I had to remove most of the floorboards to give me space to get down in front of it. The safe was draped with a piece of burlap. I removed it and was looking at the keypad. I looked all around for the number. I grabbed the piece of burlap and inspected both sides. No number. I looked all around the safe too. Nothing. I tried to lift the safe to see if there was something under it, but it wasn’t budging. I stood up and looked around. The room was empty. I felt uneasy. Maybe she put too much faith in my abilities.

I went back and kneeled in front of the safe. I pressed a few digits until the safe beeped that the answer was wrong. Then I noticed it. There were numbers engraved on the crowbar! The engraving was 18-21-19-08-13-15-18-05. I typed in the first six digits but once I pressed the seventh the safe began to beep. I needed a six digit number.

She loves puzzles, riddles, and challenges. She is fascinated by geography, history, and art. She would buy me presents and then hide them. She would provide me with clues to find them. She had fun testing my mental abilities.

I just stared at the numbers. The one thing I have learned over the years with her is that the solutions were straightforward. Don’t overthink this. It is not an easy answer, but it is not impossible.

Think. Think. Think.

Then it came to me.

Yes. I think I got it.

It is a multiple step puzzle. These numbers are not the answer, but once converted maybe they will! A word. I got a word, but how does that help? Some how. Some way. I need a six digit number.