When Eric San Leté, visiting curator of the Whitney Museum, is found dead, having left only a cryptic message as a clue to his death—“Oh, Rubik’s Cube! / Oh, Alien Weapon! / Find Hank Thomas / (Ehay idn’tday oday itway)”—Hank Thomas, professor of modern art, and Saphie Paradise, French exchange student, are sent on a whirlwind adventure to uncover the most profound conspiracy in the history of the human race.
Except for the words, every aspect of The Da Vinci Mole is accurate, and it reveals the truths behind some of the great mysteries of the universe, including: the secret meaning of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, definitive proof of God’s existence, the truth behind Area 51, the secret plan of the Scientologists, and what Karl Rove does in his spare time.
Keeping The Da Vinci Code fans, conspiracy buffs, and puzzle enthusiasts in mind, the mysterious Dr. Ian Browne has woven a story of taut suspense and shocking revelations.
|Publisher:||BenBella Books, Inc.|
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Read an Excerpt
Professor Hank Thomas was on top of the world. It was past midnight, and he should have been sleeping, but he couldn't stop thinking of his triumph. His presidential suite at the Four Seasons was filled with flowers and Dom Perignon (he ordered both himself), and he contentedly sipped his drink and smoked his expensive Cuban cigar.
He stood in front of the mirror admiring his reflection. His round, cheerful face held an expression of vague befuddlement that he knew women found intriguing. His receding hairline revealed a broad expanse of scalp, but his mother insisted the bald patch only accentuated his virile appeal. He tended to agree.
His lecture to the Jackson Pollock Admirer's Society had been brilliant, and the room, which normally sat as many as twenty, had been filled to overcapacity. He was greeted by the beautiful secretary of the society, Hadley Boyd, who gave him a warm smile as they shook hands. "A pleasure to meet you, Professor Thomas."
"The pleasure is mine, Ms. Boyd. Am I correct that you will be introducing me?" When she nodded, he added, "Let me take the liberty of giving you this article to read in your introduction. As you can see, Obscure Symbologists Magazine named me one of their twenty most interesting people."
"You want me to read this? Out loud?" she asked uncertainly.
"If you would," Hank suggested smoothly. "I think it gives folks a nice introduction to the complexity that is moi. And, incidentally, I have nothing scheduled after this lecture. I'd be delighted to take you back to my room and show you some of my most recent, unpublished work." He gave her a seductive smile.
"Umm ... that's, um, a great honor, Professor, but unfortunately I'm very busy this evening," Boyd replied uncomfortably.
"Yes, well that's fine," Brown responded weakly. His brilliant symbologist mind then clicked into action, regrettably late. Hadley was, of course, an unusual woman's name. It was the name of Hemingway's first wife, the only wife he truly loved. But his son was also named Hadley, a common man's name in the UK. And Hemingway was deathly afraid of lesbians, having had an unfortunate encounter with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas. This was not definitive, but consider the last name — Boyd, which breaks up symbolically into boy-d. The letter "d" is derived from the Greek delta, meaning change, creating the symbolic meaning "boy-change." ITLΔITL is derived indirectly from the Aramaic derka, meaning similar or like. This generates the symbolic meaning "boy-like." The conclusion was definitive. Hadley Boyd was a lesbian, and if only he had thought this through a little more quickly this awkward situation could have been avoided. He quickly rallied. "I approve of your life choice," he declared magnanimously.
"Uh, thanks," Boyd replied, inching away.
Aside from that awkwardness, the evening had been a stunning success. His description of the hidden meanings in Jackson Pollock was brilliant and he was a big hit. Naturally, he did not reveal the deepest meanings in the works; these were secrets he shared with no one. He sunk into the chair, in the peaceful reverie that only contemplation of one's own great wealth can provide, when the phone rang.
He glanced at his Rolex in irritation. It was almost one A.M. "Hello?"
"Dr. Thomas, I am the concierge. My apologies for calling this late, but an Inspector McGruff is here to see you."
"Please tell him that it's way too late; I'll see him in ..." Hank heard a large crack as his hotel door was violently kicked in. The door flung aside and there stood a massive, bull-like man in a rumpled suit and trench coat. Hank lowered the phone slowly.
"Can I help you?" Hank asked tentatively.
"I am Inspector Sean McGruff, known as 'the Poodle'," McGruff declared in a surprisingly high-pitched voice.
"The miniature poodle is a far more powerful dog than most people realize. It can yap, loudly and consistently, for over twentyfour hours."
"Okay," Hank replied slowly.
"But more to the point. We need your help, monsieur."
Hank didn't know where to start. "You're French? You don't sound French."
"What? Of course I'm not French. I hate the damn French. The French are effeminate, wine-sipping defeatists. I ought to beat the crap out of you for suggesting I'm French. You're the one who is French."
"But you called me monsieur ..." Hank replied feebly.
"As a courtesy to you, you damn Frog."
"But I'm not French."
McGruff pulled out his pad and flicked through it. "Let me get this straight. You've devoted your life to studying art?"
"An expert in symbols?"
"And you filled your own room with flowers and French champagne?"
"And you aren't French?"
"No! I'm American. Well, Californian."
"Californian. I see," McGruff grunted in satisfaction. "Close enough. Anyway, let's go. Eric San Leté, an important art expert and symbologist, has been murdered."
"San Leté! I was supposed to see him tomorrow. He died tonight?"
McGruff coughed apologetically. "Last night, actually."
Hank stared at him uncomprehendingly.
"This is New York; there's a lot of crime. We don't get to every alarm immediately. Sue me." He paused. "But the important thing is that San Leté left a cryptic message. We have our cryptologists working on it now."
"So that's why you are here. You want me to decipher it?"
McGruff hesitated, then gave a sinister smile, "Uh, yeah, sure, that's it. Now let's get moving."CHAPTER 2
They drove north on Madison Avenue, a street best known for its infamous association with the nation's leading advertising agencies. But the portion of Madison Avenue north of 60th Street was part of the arts district radiating off of the monumental Metropolitan Museum, and the street was lined with overpriced art galleries, upscale antique shops and overly precious eateries. I'm an expert on art, Hank thought.
It wasn't long before they approached the distinctive outlines of the Whitney Museum. The Whitney was a huge, concrete square, or series of squares, that combined made a striking architectural statement. "What do you think of our Whitney, Professor Thomas?" McGruff asked.
Hank knew this was a trick question. "It's quite imposing," he ventured.
"It's a monstrosity and a menace," McGruff declared.
Hank stayed silent.
"It should be torn down. This building has killed three people so far this year."
"Surely that's a bit of an exaggeration," Hank said.
"Really? See those square indentations?" In the darkness, Hank could barely make out numerous square indentations in the wall, seemingly set at random. "Those are 300-pound blocks of concrete; seven of them broke loose and fell in the last year. The building is a freaking hazard."
Hank saw his point. Still, he felt the need to defend the artistic structure. "Well, you have to consider the entire artistic gestalt in the context of an ever-changing aesthetic dynamic," he muttered.
McGruff glared at him, and hauled him into the building.
Entering the hall, McGruff pulled Hank through a crowd of police. The scene was horrific, as was the smell. Eric San Leté was dead. He lay face down, naked below the waist. In the moments before his death he had carefully arranged his body with his arms and legs outstretched, reminiscent of Da Vinci's famous Vitruvian Man.
On the wall he had drawn a rectangle, apparently with his own feces. Within the rectangle there was a seemingly random assortment of curving lines and dots. Below the painting were the initials "SP," then four lines of writing:
Oh, Rubick's Cube!
Oh, Alien Weapon!
Find Hank Thomas (Ehay idn'tday oday itway)
Finally, below the writing, there was a series of numbers:
24 103 17 3 72
"You can see we've got quite a puzzle on our hands," McGruff stated. "This rectangle is meaningless, but he does name you quite specifically. We believe the line below is in some kind of code. As you know, San Leté was an expert cryptologist. But we have our best men working on it and we'll get it cracked. It's only a matter of time."
"It's pig latin," Hank said. "The last two lines say 'Find Hank Thomas. (He didn't do it.)'"
"Yeah, right, good try, Thomas," McGruff scoffed. "I'll rely on our experts, if it's all the same to you. In the meantime, I need to ask you a few questions."
"Why were you meeting Eric San Leté tomorrow?"
"I don't know. The meeting was at his request."
"Why would he want to meet you?"
"Well, we were both experts in modern art and cryptology. Maybe he wanted to compare notes."
"And why did you kill him?"
"I didn't kill him!" Pause. "Does that ever work?"
McGruff smiled ruefully. "More often than you'd think, Frenchie."
At that moment a young and very attractive woman pushed her way through the crowd. "I must see the body," she insisted, her eyes filled with tears.
McGruff blocked her path. "Okay, sweetheart, what's your story?"
The young woman explained. "My name is Saphie Paradise. I'm a French citizen, a senior at Harvard University. Your men told me my grandfather had been killed. He raised me since I was a little girl. This message is clearly meant for me. The initials, SP, stand for Princess Saphie, which he called me as a child. He was dyslexic, as I'm sure you know, so clearly he accidentally reversed the letters. In any case he called me yesterday, promising to give me profound revelations about my family and telling me that we were both in danger. But I ignored him, as I cut off ties with him four years ago after catching him in a revolting act that is possibly subject to multiple interpretations now that I think about it."
"Whoa, slow down, young lady," McGruff demanded. "I don't need your life story. I'll take mine with two sugars."
As Saphie glared at McGruff, Hank quietly slipped away. He had already unraveled the message and needed to get to the Jackson Pollock wing as quickly as possible.
Seemingly oblivious, McGruff quietly observed Hank's departure. It was all according to his plan. He wasn't called "the Poodle" for nothing. Yap. Yap.CHAPTER 3
ank stared up at the giant Autumn Rhythm. One of Jackson Pollock's great works, it dominated the room, roughly eleven feet tall and seventeen feet wide. Eric San Leté was a true artistic genius. In a two-foot by three-foot rectangle, he had duplicated the Pollock masterpiece. His was much smaller, of course, and monochromatic — there were limits to feces as a medium. Nevertheless, it was an almost perfect replica; there might have been a few differences, if he recalled San Leté's painting exactly, but it was incredibly close, particularly as it had been drawn from memory.
But more to the point. Why did San Lett want me to come to this painting? He examined it carefully, looked behind it and all around. He found nothing. He was about to give up in despair when he heard footsteps behind him. He whirled. It was Saphie Paradise.
"You spotted it too," she observed. He looked her over carefully. She was in her early twenties, with shoulder-length black hair and petite Gallic features. He thought he had never seen anyone so lovely.
"Yes, it was quite obvious, at least to a Pollock scholar such as myself. You must have quite an eye for art yourself."
"Well, I was raised by Eric San Leté, a man of great brilliance and gentleness," she said modestly. "He was the kindest, most wonderful parent anyone could have ever had. But that didn't stop me washing my hands of him, despite his numerous and desperate pleas for reconciliation, for the rest of his life, when I found him doing something completely revolting." She paused. "Unless I misinterpreted it," she added weakly.
"That's all water under the bridge now, young lady," Hank soothed.
"So why did my grandfather want to find you? And why send you here?"
"I'll be damned if I know. Do you have any idea why he was killed?"
"As I said, we haven't been close lately. He's recently left a number of messages saying that danger was approaching for both of us and that he had to speak to me. Naturally I assumed that he was making this all up to scare me into seeing him," Saphie explained. "I might have been wrong about that."
"Well, we're dead-ended here. I've searched everywhere, but couldn't find a thing," Hank said.
"Have you tried this?" Saphie held up an ultraviolet light.
"Now where did you get one of those?"
"Oh, it's the biggest thing at Harvard these days, at our sex parties." She blushed prettily. "It's not even considered a proper orgy anymore if you don't have black light."
"Okay," Hank said slowly. He was enormously attracted to Saphie, but he had already decided she was a lesbian based on both behavioral analysis — she hadn't come on to him — and symbolic reasoning. Saphie is clearly short for Sapphic, meaning lesbian, and Paradise was a clear reference to Paradise Island, home of Wonder Woman and her Amazons, lesbians all. The evidence was overwhelming, and he didn't want to repeat his earlier faux pas. "I approve of your life choice," he muttered cautiously.
Saphie gave him a penetrating look, followed by a warm smile. "You too, big guy. Now let's see what we can find." She turned on the UV light, which glowed eerily in the semidarkness. Clear as day, written to the left of the painting, were the words "Knight Named A.H.P."
"A clue!" Hank exclaimed. "Okay, let me think." Hank scratched his head furiously, pacing up and down the room. His was the mind that had cracked Pollock's nineteenth level of meaning; no code was beyond his reach. "Got it!"
He went on. "The knight in question is Arthur Huther Pendragon, of Camelot and the round table. Clearly your grandfather wants us to go to Camelot. I'm not sure exactly where that is ..."
"Actually," Saphie said gently, "it's Arthur Uther Pendragon, not Huther, and Arthur was a king, not a knight."
"Well, do you have a better idea?" Hank demanded testily.
"Mind the gap, Hank," Saphie declared.
"It's an anagram. 'Knight Named A.H.P.' is an anagram for 'Mind the gap, Hank.' This message is intended for you, Hank."
"How did you do that so fast?"
"Oh, Grandfather trained me since I was a little girl. From the ages of seven to thirteen, he refused to speak with me except in anagrams."
"That's a bit sick, isn't it?" Hank ventured.
"His death!" she blurted.
"What are you talking about?"
"It's an anagram3," Saphie said, smiling sweetly.
"We have no time for games, Saphie. What could 'mind the gap' possibly mean?" He sat on a stool, bending his fingers into a fist, putting his elbow on his knee. Lowering his chin to his fist, he assumed The Thinker position.
"Oh, for God's sake," Saphie muttered.
"I've got it," Hank declared. "'Mind the gap' is a colloquial phrase in an obscure English dialect known as 'British.' Translated, it means either 'pay attention to the gap' or 'don't stick your foot in a hole.' There are subtle differences (or gaps) between the San Leté painting and this Pollock. I thought they were quite understandable mistakes, but maybe these differences were deliberate. We need to study your grandfather's painting, Saphie, although I don't quite know how we're going to get to it without being noticed by McGruff."
"Will this do?" Saphie brought out a series of photographs of the crime scene, including her dead grandfather and close-ups of the faux Pollock.
"This is perfect," Hank exclaimed. "How did you get your hands on these?"
"I'm an accomplished pickpocket," she explained. "I nabbed them off the crime-fighting dog."
"Good work, Saphie. Now we need a place to hole up and do some analysis."
"I know just the place."CHAPTER 4
It was good to be able to relax. They had, apparently, eluded the police. They were now comfortably ensconced in the fourth-floor sitting room at the Harvard Club, a beautifully apportioned room filled with the smells of leather and cigars, and perhaps the faintest hint of vomit. Hank had laid a trace paper over the photograph of the San Leté painting. All the differences, he realized, were in the bottom left corner of the painting. From memory, he traced those elements of the painting that differed from his memory of the original.
The result was a series of thirteen star-like objects, on the left. On the right was an incomprehensible series of tiny dots. Saphie looked over his shoulder. "Stars have great symbolic value, Saphie, I get that. And thirteen is a mystical number. But these dots ... that's a mystery."
"May I?" Saphie asked, taking the sheet. She took a pencil and unhesitatingly drew a series of connections between the dots. When she finished the dots on the right had taken clear form. It was a man's head, in profile, with horns and a long beard.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Da Vinci Mole"
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