The Treasure Cipher

“I do love a good cipher. So too, does my special sleuth, Holly. In this case, she has what should be a simple turned a little more devious. You’ll notice she turns on her illiest mannerism too – do you think it’s a cute trait?”

Holly would love your help to solve the Steam Train mystery on Amazon now.

I wrote this story for the following prompt. Image credit: George Plunkett and EDP
Ragtag Daily Prompt — Notebook
Your Daily Word — Cadre
Word of the Day Challenge — Bountiful
Fandango’s One-Word Challenge – Solid
Pensitivity’s Three Things Challenge — Turmoil– Worrisome – Forgetful
Francis the Frenchie’s Daily Phrase Challenge — Wait here

The Treasure Cipher

A rusty orange leaf detached itself from the seven-hundred-year-old pedunculate oak tree. It caught the autumnal sunshine as it fluttered towards the ground. The smallest breeze flicked it over the shoulder of a young lady. There it settled upon her open notebook.

Holly smiled as she flicked the leaf away. Taking a breath of the fresh, cool air, she allowed her icy blue gaze to fall upon the City Hall clock tower. The bronze hands told her she still had forty-five minutes of her lunch break left.

As the head waitress of the mother Carrie’s Workhouse Restaurant, Holly loved to come and sit in the park between services. The time gave her a chance to relax and prepare for the turmoil that was the always busy evening service.

Smoothing her silky black ponytail over her shoulder, she returned her gaze to her notebook. The rich brown, leather-bound book with special to her. She felt it gave a connection to her grandfather DCI Derek Ward. The police detective always used a similar notebook when solving cases.

Today Holly was trying to solve a worrisome mystery of her own. She began to read her transcript in the hope of deciphering a solution.

Thanks to her grandfather, Holly loved to break codes. She was determined to decipher this one before returning to work. She gazed upon the symbols and groaned.

“WE WANT AN END TO DIRTY FUELS — WHEN DO WE WANT IT?” Someone yelled over a megaphone.

“NOW! NOW! NOW!” replied a cadre of protesters marching along the road outside the park. Their chanting grew louder and louder as they approach the city center roundabout.

Holly watched them waving their banners and flags as they surrounded the concrete circle of grass and flower beds. Within moments they had shut down all five roads they used a roundabout to navigate about the city.

A gentleman with beady eyes and a smart blue suit sat close to the bandstand seemed to be enjoying the ruckus’

Holly sighed and tried to refocus on her notebook.

“Don’t you just love a good protest? It ruins a thousand people’s day and achieved precisely nothing,” remarked a just on husky voice.

Holly felt a warm feeling embrace her as she smiled at the newcomer, “Hey, Sam. Holly wasn’t expecting to see you today, but she’s glad you’re here.”

Samuel Reed was Broadland City under twenty-one footballer with great potential. “I finished my football training and found myself in need of a special type of hug.”

“Oh, really?” Holly patted the bench beside her as the air was filled with police sirens.

“Yeah, I was sure I could find this hug on the Workhouse menu. I went there and was disappointed when I couldn’t find it.” Samuel sat down. “There was a nice waitress called Tierney at work. She told me they took that hug off the menu because it was being sold at Poppyfields Park now. So, I came here to find it.”

Holly gave a coy smile. “Did you find that special hug here?”

“I don’t know yet. I’m waiting to see if the vendor has one in stock.” Samuel glanced at the battle forming between the police and the protesters. Then returning his adoring gaze to Holly, he looked expectant.

“Well, I do think there is one in stock. But it’ll be very expensive.”

“The best products always are.”

“Yep, that type of hug. The cost you one special kiss.”

“Now, that’s a price worth paying.” Samuel wrapped an arm around her.

Holly met his lips with hers as he held her with all his affection. Even the rioters and police sirens seem to melt away as they kissed for a long, happy moment.

“Hmm, now I’m a happy boy.” Samuel breathed.

“Holly’s happy too!” Holly left her head against his shoulder with a feeling of contentment.

“Were you working on something in your notebook?” Samuel asked. He would never look at the pages without permission, but he knew that book was often the start of a troubling case.

“Hmm, there was a note left for me at work this morning.” Holly showed him the page. “Granddad is going to collect it from the Workhouse later. I transcribed it in here in the hope of cracking the code before I see him later.”

“You’re not forgetful, I bet you could have remembered it without writing it down.” Samuel read the note. “Seems this Amy Sallows is in trouble though.”

“It’s not about forgetting. To decipher a code, it’s always important to be able to see it exactly as it was writ—” Holly flinched at the sound of a windscreen being smashed.

“I think, we should go somewhere else is getting dangerous around here.” Samuel decided as a member of the cadre delivered a solid right hook to a police officer’s jaw. He was wrestled to the ground and cuffed within seconds causing a fresh uproar.

“Good idea,” Holly rolled her eyes at the pandemonium as she stood and adjusted her denim messenger bag over the shoulder of her skater-style trench coat. “They’ll never score a victory with violence, it’s ridiculous!” she remarked as a bottle smashed against a tree close at hand.

“Sure is,” Samuel curled his fingers in hers and gratefully led her away from the danger. “Do we know who Amy Sallows is?”

“She’s a top Broadland City historian. Which I’m sure has something to do with why she was taken.”

“I’d bet on it.” Samuel gave her a quizzical look, “That code in your notebook…”

“I’ll solve it soon don’t worry.” Holly felt confident in that.

“That’s what puzzles me. You are an adorable, skillful sleuth who showed me how to break a pigpen cipher. That’s what this is right?”

Holly kissed him on the cheek, “Well done, Sam. The only problem is, this one seems to decode as nonsense.” Her granddad had taught her how to write or decipher the ancient Templar’s code by the time she was five years old. The kindred pair had even created their own version of it. Now, Holly could write and decode such messages without even having to create the grids for it.

“So, the person who did this got it wrong?” Samuel surmised.

Holly led the way out of the park and passed the Theatre Royal. “I don’t think so. My guess is that there’s another layer of encryption going on here.”

“Oh, now that’s sneaky.”

Holly nodded as they crossed the road and walked along to the front of the symposium library. Like a great glass-fronted aircraft hangar, it was an amazing center of learning in front of the church on the Millennium Plain.

“How do you go about breaking a multilayer encryption then?” Samuel asked as they stepped into a space within the carousel doors and circled into the library’s grand rotunda.

There were a lot of people milling about the gift shop, learning facilities, and a café surrounding the event space today. Closer to the doors of the library proper was a man working the floor buffer.

Holly found herself watching him reverse the machine. “Well, we have to look for some more clues in the text.”

Samuel led the way into the café, “You do that, I’ll get coffee,” he decided having selected a comfortable sofa to park at.

“Thank you, Sam.” Holly kissed him then placed her notebook on the table to begin her work.

“Okay, pigpen code, talk to me,” she mused as she began to substitute the symbols for letters.

Holly glanced at the floor buffer and then back at her decoded letters. “Gotcha!” she remarked having nodded to a suit-wearing gentleman choosing to sit close by with a mug of tea.

“One cappuccino with a slice of millionaire shortbread, for my precious,” Samuel remarked returning with a tray.

“This is one of the reasons I love you, Sam.” Holly rewarded him with a kiss.

“Well, if coffee and cake make me loveable, I can live with that.” He sat beside her and sipped his coffee with an arm around her shoulders. “Ahh, every coffee break should come with a Holly. It’s just more relaxing this way.”

Holly giggled, “You silly old softy.”

“Right, my beautiful, bountiful font of mysterious knowledge. How do we break this code?” Samuel nodded to the decoded letters, “That clearly makes no more sense.”

Holly savoured a mouthful of her delicious caramel shortbread, “Actually, it does. I just reminded myself why I need to write down everything to do with a code. In this case, there’s not exactly a second cipher.”

“You mean, it is readable this way?” Samuel switched his gaze to her as if expecting a miracle.

“I do.” Holly picked up a pen again. “It just needs writing correctly.”

Samuel beamed and shook his head in admiration, “Nice! That was an amazing bit of detective work, my precious.”

“Thanks, Sam. But, it was only backward.” Holly took a breath, “So we’ve got to go to the jail of Gaol Hill.”

“Yes, that was the first jail in the city alright.” Samuel agreed. Far from being the typical footballer, he did love to learn about history among other things.

The couple savoured a few minutes enjoying their coffee and cakes.

Leaving the symposium library, they groaned in disbelief. Some of the protesters had come around to the front of City Hall. They’d gathered around the copper heraldic lions at the front doors to shout abuse and demands.

“What a nightmare!” Samuel sighed as he put himself between Holly and the protesters to guide her past them to safety.

Holly spotted a familiar police officer and gave him a nod. She turned her gaze over the sea of coloured roofs below the garden terrace that was the city’s historic marketplace. The peaceful city she grew up in was becoming lost in a rowdy sea of discontent.

The goal was the city’s Guildhall these days. Built of flint walls in 1407 as a civic meeting place and judicial hall. It was the first place in the city to house convicts in its dungeon. Nowadays it was an information center and coffee shop, although the courtroom still existed as a tourist attraction.

Samuel held open the heavy oak doors and followed Holly inside. The walls here were all oak-paneled and adorned with history in the form of photos and paintings of Broadland City throughout the ages.

Holly approached the lady in charge of the information stand. “Good afternoon, I need to get access to the rooms that held the first prisoners here please.”

“Hello, dear. Historians say that’s the undercroft which is the coffee shop these days,”

“Thank you. Is there any chance there’s a room below that?” Holly questioned.

“I don’t think so. Wait here and I’ll go and check for you.” The lady smiled and walked away into a restricted area.

“There’s always been the suggestion that secret tunnels ran between the dungeon and the castle and to the cathedral as well,” Samuel remarked as he gazed into the bustling café just visible down the stone steps.

“Those are what we need then,” Holly said with a smile at the returning lady.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. The undercroft is the lowest portion of the building we know about I’m afraid. Christian martyr, Thomas Bilney, was held there until he was burned at the stake in 1531 A.D.”

“Thank you for the information,” Holly said. Nodding to Samuel she led the way down into the Kaley café. The name came from the chocolate factory which used to reside in the city.

The stone walls here were adorned with tapestries and medieval coats of arms.

Holly walked into the middle of the room and turned a circle. She took in every detail of the space over the heads of the dozen diners enjoying the café’s wares. “I think this is the end of the trail.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Samuel replied.

“That better not be the case,” said a man rising behind the footballer.

“He has a gun at my back,” Samuel said in a shaking voice.

“It’s okay, sweetheart.” Holly glared at the weaselly man who’s been following her since she left the Workhouse earlier. She took an immediate dislike to his gaunt features and evil little eyes, “If there were a secret tunnel in this room, somebody would have found it and by extension your treasure by now.”

“Oh dear, looks like the Sallows family is about to have a funeral,” threatened the man.

“Look, I might have solved a couple of mysteries but that doesn’t mean I can magic secret tunnels and treasures out of nowhere. Maybe this tunnel did exist at some point.” Holly palmed the pen from her notebook. “Over the years it’s been lost, or filled in maybe. Either way, I’m sure it doesn’t exist now.”

“Well, that’s too bad. Now your footballer and the hist—”

Holly snapped her wrist sending the pen arcing over Samuel’s shoulder.

The man shrieked as it slammed into his right eye.

Samuel spun on his heels, grabbed the gun, and punched his attacker in the jaw in one move.

The man fell over a chair and crashed through an unoccupied table as he tumbled to the floor.

The room was full of screams of exclamations of shock as he staggered to his feet.

It was then officer Jake Klass sprinted down into the café and made his arrest.

“Thanks for coming, Jake.” Holly smiled at him as he made the gun safe.

“My pleasure, Miss Ward. I’m just glad I got your message outside.”Jake nodded to Samuel and led his prisoner away.

Samuel picked up Holly’s pen, “So, that’s what they mean when they say the pen’s mightier than the sword. Thank you for saving me, precious.”

“Well, I couldn’t let my special footballer become full of holes now, could I?” Holly hugged him. “I just hope he tells the police where the historian is now.”

“Me too. Do you think there’s a treasure hiding down here?” Samuel asked as peace returned to the restaurant.

Holly nodded, “I’ve no doubt that if the Templar cipher proves to be from a genuine source. There was once a treasure secreted here. Whether it’s still here though, that is another mystery.”

“I suppose it is. We have to come back with a sledgehammer to knock these walls down and have a look.” Samuel said with a buzz of excitement.

“Hmm, we should use a gentler approach so as not to upset people.” Holly chuckled. “In the meantime, Holly has to go to work. Or the only thing she’ll be doing is getting fired!” she rolled her eyes at the clock on the wall. “We’ll be back for you soon treasure. Count on that!”

The End

Learn more about Holly within Holly Ward investigates: Holly’s Story

Thanks for reading my friends.

There’s more in the Poetry CornerPoetry Nook, and the Short Story Collection

Have a great day!

11 thoughts on “The Treasure Cipher

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  1. Wow, talk about a super sleuth. Solves mysteries on her lunch break, all I do is drink coffee and stare blankly into space. Great tale Mason 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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