“She’s not here, ma chérie. Nobody’s here!” A calm but alarming intensity in Pierre’s voice over the phone made me sit up straight and pay attention.
My chest tightened, and a vague sense of unease seeped through me, winding its way into the thick rivers of emotions that clogged my senses. “But what about Paula?”
“I told her to go home, Anna. She can’t stay in Tahoe forever—the girl has to work. She has her own life—”
“I’m not suggesting she had to stay at our cabin, just…just wonder if she’s okay.”
“If who’s okay, Ava or Paula?”
“Both of them!”
“Paula is more than fine, she’s at my classroom now. She said she and Ava had a nice time, and I see the clay sculptures they created together drying. Ava seemed to like horse sculptures. I’ll bring them back to my class for bisque firing.”
I smiled. How nice to have brought normalcy through art to Ava’s crazy world. The happy thought vanished as soon as it came. “Pierre, what if they tracked her to our cabin through her cell phone? We could jeopardize ourselves—and Jared.”
“There’s no sign of any struggle. The place is cleaner than we left it. Looks like she simply decided to pack up and leave. The only thing remaining of her presence is a lingering scent of perfume—smells like Caron’s Poirre. Don’t worry about her, ma chérie.”
The mention of the perfume reminded me of the night my art gallery was robbed and my security guard murdered since that perfume lingered in the air there afterward. “She could be dead somewhere. What if they dragged her back to that mind control lab?”
“Anna, it’s not our job to look after this troubled girl—”
“But you think I failed at looking after our own girls!” I chocked down the words.
“Please don’t start. Our girls were not troubled and have nothing to do with Ava. You need to let go. Don’t let her crazy world ruin ours.”
Were our girls not troubled? One stormed angrily out of our loft, took her skateboard on a winding street in the pouring rain and got killed; the other commited suicide. I took a deep breath and changed the topic. “I miss you, when are you coming back?”
“I’m heading home now but will hit traffic. Anna, there’s something else here.”
“Oh no, not another dead dove?”
“No, a painting.”
“I know my replica of Picasso’s Guernica is there. I packed it during our last trip to Tahoe, remember? How could we miss it, it’s huge and you complained about it fitting in our car, so I had to roll it up. I was concerned it would damage the painting, especially since it’s only half done.”
“But it’s been removed from the cabin basement, mounted onto a stretcher and placed leaning against the desk where the sculptures are as if Ava created a mini-art gallery.” Pierre hesitated, and I could tell there was more to it.
A mini-art gallery. Now the fateful night at my art gallery was coming even more alive in my mind. I cringed at her mounting my painting, did she ruin another of my art pieces? “Please don’t tell me she attacked it with scissors or something.”
“No, but there’s writing on the back—lots of writing.”
I braced for the message the girl wrote this time. “Let me guess, another anti-war message that matches Picasso’s original intent of the painting?”
“Hmmm…looks like the decrypted text of Kryptos, with a clue for the fourth yet unsolved message.”
Kryptos. There it is again. An art sculpture located at CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. Installed in 1990 by artist James Sanborn with four encrypted messages, of which three have been solved. The fourth is said to be impossible to decipher.
“Holy Christ, she said she was going to solve it. Imagine if she’s ballsy enough to be on her way to Langley?”
“The least unsafe place for her to be—”
“I’m not serious, that’s not where she’d go. Read the first message please.”
“Over the phone? You don’t want to come and see for yourself? A couple of them are somewhat long….” Pierre’s voice trailed off as if he was moving away from his cell phone, turning the painting over. “And it’s all mumbo jumbo….”
“At least read the first deciphered code.”
“Okay, here goes—they are all marked with ‘K’s’. I think it stands for key:
K1: Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion.
“Iqlusion. It’s not a word—”
“I know…it’s all coming back now. I studied this sculpture in art class. The artist, Jim Sanborn, purposefully misspells words and if I remember correctly, some words are backward.”
“We can easily say the word is ’illusion,” I insisted.
“Oh, it is. It’s known worldwide that’s what he meant. Anna, don’t worry, your painting is fine, although it’s totally covered with writing on the back.”
“Totally? My painting is the same size as Picasso’s original! It’s eleven-feet-tall and twenty-five-feet wide!” I bellowed.
“And as I mentioned the Kryptos four encrypted messages get a bit long, plus she wrote the messages kind of big.”
“Oh no, in a black marker like before?”
“No, she compromised this time and used one of my charcoal art pencils I had supplied for their Tahoe session. Look hon, I want to take off and head home. I’m tired.”
“Read the second Krypto message before leaving please!”
“Come on, Je t’aime, ma chérie Just google it! I’m sure Ava wrote the same words the artist did. ”
“Okay, but…but at least tell me the clue she left about the fourth message!”
“Oh, you’re a beautiful pain in the ass! You have no patience. It’s complicated! She wrote:
K4: Only words known are ’Berlin Clock.’ Then below that clue, she wrote “Time itself is circular, not linear. So, all the world keeps repeating misdeeds.” Then her third line is, “By 1987, 6 million people died as a result of CIA covert ops. Dark and light; Shadows and secrets. The last line of her personal clue simply reads, “American Holocaust.”
“Wow…deep and creepy! Ava told me she thinks Kryptos resembles the CIA’s grand illusion to the people about America’s true history or timeline. Well, bon voyage! Drive safe and see you in a few hours.”
After hanging up, I sat immobilized thinking about Picasso’s Guernica painting. Its been over a decade since I attempted replicating the original with oil on canvas. I simply could not paint death and destruction after losing my daughters. The details of the painting were now as fuzzy as the obscured painting itself.
The first thing I keyed into the search engine was Guernica. There, staring back at me, was the mural-sized masterpièce Picasso had painted in 1937, displayed at the Paris World Fair.
It struck me as admirable Picasso was brave enough to display this piece—this antiwar icon—at an art fair with a theme of modern technology. It stood alone, challenging the cult-like notion of war as “heroic.” The painting was deemed too risky to use as a backdrop for President Bush as he raged against Iraq…. Or perhaps too moral.
Why did Ava choose this painting to display the Kryptos messages?
The overtly political painting, as confusing and dark as the Kryptos sculpture and encrypted messages itself, speaks volumes of the inhumane brutality of war. Was she trying to say there’s increasing fascism in America?
Chills ran down my spine as I looked at the painting. It was hard to distinguish the scattered figures but I recognized the ones I had already painted myself: A woman, head back and screaming in anguish while holding her lifeless child. Death and dying in chaotic images throughout. In the center, a dying horse with a sword sticking through his mouth. Perhaps most telling is the soldier, looking frightened rather than the brave facade put on by too many art pieces.
I googled Kryptos sculpture solutions, and read the second encrypted message :
K2: It was totally invisible Hows that possible? They used the Earths magnetic field X The information was gathered and transmitted undergruund to an unknown location X
Does Langley know about this? They should Its buried out there somewhere X
Who knows the exact location? Only WW This was his last message X
Thirty eight degrees fifty seven minutes six point five seconds north
Seventy seven degrees eight minutes forty four seconds west ID by rows
Wow, Pierre wasn’t kidding about the spelling and punctuation mistakes intended to add mystery or ambiguity. ’WW.” Must mean William Webster, an active member of America’s shadow government. I scrolled to the third message :
K3: Slowly, desperately slowly, the remains of passage debris that encumbered the lower part of the doorway was removed. With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left hand corner and then widening the hole a little I inserted the candle and peered in. The hot air escaping from the chamber caused the flame to flicker but presently details of the room within emerged from the mist x can you see anything q?
And now, Ava wants to solve section four of the mysterious art sculpture lurking on the grounds of her father’s work headquarters. She had mentioned the only words known in K4 are “Berlin Clock.”
I know that Sanborn, designed Kryptos in 1989; the year the Berlin Wall began to come down. But what does this have to do with the Berlin Clock? It’s all as secret as the agency itself. The Berlin clock tells time through a complex scheme. Illuminated light. What’s also worth noting is who solved the first three messages: The NSA. As if they can be trusted?
Where is Ava? I wondered if she was dead or alive.