The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert. 

Chapter 2a


Tampa, Byron Point Towers, number E 614, October 21, 1 PM:


Jon Brownstone gazed out across Tampa Bay and the Howard Frankland Causeway toward Pinellas County and the Gulf of Mexico beyond.  Somewhere out on the peninsula isolated by a vast grassy area was the inconspicuous building where he had worked so many years on projects so secret he would not even think about them. 


He had developed a mental skill of not letting everything he knew or thought pass through his mind.  Even as the events of the day determine the dreams of night, what is thought is likely to be spoken.  And Jon had known much that should never be said aloud.


It had been heady work.  The pay was good and the resources unlimited.  But it had been so engrossing that he had spent little time on social activities.  No wife.  No family.  No major hobbies. 


He had not gone to church or synagogue during all those years.


When he had taken early retirement, he had expected to be doing things that were fun and refreshing.  But he had not developed those skills.  Had not made any place of worship his own.  Instead he had turned into a bit of a recluse.  Well it was a lot easier than work.  The big events were things like lunch, the remains of which now sat on the kitchen counter waiting for attention.  At a deep level he did not care about anything more demanding or potentially more rewarding.


He had been thinking about the skyscraper tragedy.  While neither so deadly nor as horrific as the World Trade Center atrocity of a few years before, it called forth similar emotions of grief, rage and fear.  Jon, distant as he was from his own feelings, experienced them as a numb, colorless, soundless, dry sense of desolation. 


The doorbell rang.


Brownstone turned off the elevator music he had been playing and went to see who it was.  There was a young man in his twenties, his hair done up in a topknot.  Brownstone thought there are three ways a man can look.  He can look obviously intelligent.  He can look obviously dim.  Or sometimes, as with a woman, you can’t form an opinion.  Brownstone had no opinion. 


There was something else subtle about the man.  It was an air of command that seemed to call for cooperation, even at substantial cost.  He gave one the feeling that any effort to be helpful would never be wasted. 


But what was obvious was that he was tall, fit and amazingly good looking.  He had raven hair, a clear complexion and large engrossing eyes.  Brownstone reflected, “Well I guess you don’t have much trouble meeting women.”


The young giant said, “I’m Ivan Saffski.”


It occurred to Brownstone to say, “We’ve all got our problems.”  But he didn’t.  Usually strangers coming unannounced wanted to talk you into a church or a purchase.  Brownstone wondered which it would be.


Instead the young man said, “I was a friend of Terra Lane.”


“You were?  Did you have a falling out?”


Ivan winced at the unlucky choice of words.  “Do you watch the news?”


“Yes, of course….  That New York skyscraper.   Lane was working in New York.  Oh God, no.”


“We did have an argument.  It was something he thought.  I didn’t like it.”


“Well come on in.  Make yourself at home.  I’m so sorry.”


They moved to a sofa set near the window.  There did not seem to be much to say.  Terra Lane and Brownstone had done some hot air ballooning together a couple of years back, and Brownstone knew him only as a skinny boy from Cuthbert, Georgia with a quick wit and endless raucous enthusiasm.  It made sense that he had mentioned the ballooning adventures to a friend and that the friend had come over to share his grief and shock.  It didn’t seem likely he had come over to renew whatever the conversation had been that the skyscraper tragedy had so cut off. 


It had also cut Jon off from one of his last social links, although he had not actually been in contact with Terra for some time. 


The silence was not much good either.  Brownstone ventured, “The television said that a terrorist group called Purification of Islam had claimed blame for it.”


Ivan said, “I never heard of them.”


“It seems like nobody else ever did either.”


That seemed to end it.  Just another mindless bit of wonton destruction, part of an ongoing cultural conflict that interested so very few but impacted so very many.  Then the young man reached out a piece of paper he was holding.  John noticed that it was not crumpled even after having been handled for a while by those mighty hands.  This was a very careful person.


“Mr. Brownstone...”


“Call me Jon.”


Jon, then, I got this message from Terra Lane this morning.”   


Jon unfolded the paper and looked. 


Obs,. O epm

y jsbr ,uvj yo,r/  Oy ;ppld ;olr O

br ‘,svr dp,rnpfu trs;;u smhtu/  Og O fpm

y [jpmr upi om yjr mrcy gre ,omiyrd. O jsbr yp ;rsbr yjod yp upi/  Hp yp yjr btofr pg         Krtids;r,/  Oy jsd djogyrf ,smu frhtrrd/ Upi lmpe ,u gs,o;u/  Yr;; Js[ O drmy upi/  Upi   esmy yp lmpe snpiy Mreyprm/  Smf fpm

y yr;; yjr sitjptoyorod imyo; yjr rmf/  Jon Brownstone will help you.


Terra lane had been right in the last five words.  Jon had little enough else to do, and besides the sense that these were coded instructions called upon reflexes that had become deeply imbedded because of his work. 


“Well, Ivan.  It looks like a code of some sort.”


“I know that.”


At this point there was the sound of the doorknob being tried and the impact of a shoulder hard against the door.


Basic prudence suggested the next step.  “Time to go, Ivan.”


Jon pulled back the sliding glass door to the balcony, and they slipped out.  Then he took the burglar stick that is used to brace closed a sliding door.  He propped it between the frame and the edge of the door then carefully pulled the door to, dropping the stick into place so the door looked locked from the inside.  He motioned to Ivan and moved toward the side of the balcony. 


The other balcony was only three feet away.  Jon swung over the railing and stood outside, holding on for dear life.  He reached across with one foot and stood balanced, straddling empty space.  Then he looked down and froze at the sight of the drop.  Ivan got the idea, bounded over to the next balcony and reached back, taking Jon around the chest.  One mighty heave and the shaken Jon was up, over and safe.  Then Ivan kissed him on top of his balding head.


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