This post is an excerpt from the next to last chapter in my novel Affirmative Action. It is long, more than 12,000 words – read it as if it is a short story – and there is much dialogue in it between my protagonists Catherine Duvall and Jonathan Tyne, whom Catherine knows by his assumed name Michael Ware. The dialogue is rich and tension-filled because the wheels of their relationship are coming off. And as the story tends towards its conclusion I take pains to set the stage for the story that follows, The Seventh Circle. For the careful reader the most important aspect of this chapter is its emphasis on encryption, specifically the technique known as one-time pad encryption. The application of one-time pad encryption in the story is real; the context in which it is used is fictional. But make no mistake; the way Jonathan proposes to use one-time pad encryption is valid. The arguments made in the story, both pro and con are the very arguments you might use if someone you know and trust needs to be able to communicate with you without anyone else being able to read your correspondence. In the world we live in, that is no small issue and one we all need to consider.
I chose to put this discussion in a fictional context because at this point in the story and in the one to follow, encryption of e-mail communication is essential for Jonathan’s survival. It is insufficient in itself to keep him alive but when combined with the other things he does, it just may tip the outcome in his favor. You’ll have to read Rogue Elephants to find out.
To briefly set the stage: The date is Wednesday, September 15, 1999. Jonathan is recovering from surgery required to repair a gunshot wound inflicted by Nicholas Parma, one of two men Jonathan killed in a gun battle at Catherine Duvall’s home in Bend, Oregon four nights before. They are staying in Sisters, Oregon at the home of Dr. Anita Bellamy, a friend of Jonathan’s of long standing. Catherine, though planning to return to her ex-husband to give their failed marriage another try, agreed to play nurse maid just in case complications from surgery render Jonathan incapable of calling for help. He’s had serious abdominal surgery with extensive internal bleeding, is self-administering an injectable blood thinner and is wearing an indwelling catheter. He’s on the mend but blood in his urine makes the situation problematic. The fear is sudden hemorrhage, circulatory shock and loss of consciousness. So, for your reading pleasure, here is:
Jonathan Tyne proposes that he and Catherine Duvall use one-time pad encryption for all future e-mail communication.
Update: 8/16/2015, from The New York Times
AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet Traffic, Files Reveal
Fancy that. Here is the latest in a long line of revelations from Edward J. Snowden, patriot extraordinaire. When he first revealed the complicity of certain e-mail providers – you all know who they are – you could hear the whining and gnashing of teeth from here to Silicon Valley and back, because they feared for their business model. So, as we were told, they were compelled to cooperate by secret court order. Since then we’ve been encouraged to continue to trust because they have added end-to-end encryption to their e-mail services. But if you believe your e-mails are now secure, I have some swamp land in Florida I’ll sell you real cheap. Why bother to decrypt encrypted e-mail, even though they can, when it is so much easier if you can get a secret court order to access the raw e-mail text before it is passed through the encrypter? Since the Patriot Act, and even before, the courts have been only too willing to issue such orders. If you’re going to use encryption, think about how Jonathan Tyne does it.
Bright morning sunlight flooded the room when Catherine Duvall abruptly drew the heavy drapes aside that covered the double casement windows. Jonathan Tyne, somewhat disoriented from self-induced withdrawal from too much hospital supplied painkillers, sat up and reflexively reached for the pistol he’d placed on the bedside table under the open book. When he saw it was Catherine he feigned stretching. Only four days post surgery, both movements induced sharp pain in his abdomen. The incision was healing but it was still more than a little tender. He’d left one of the casements open and the room was cold.
“Good morning sleepyhead. Jeez, it’s cold in here. Do you always sleep this way?”
“No, I like it cool but you’re right, it is too cold.”
“It would never have worked, us sleeping together. I’m not about to freeze my ass off.”
“I would have kept you warm.”
To that she responded by sticking out her tongue. She opened the valve on the radiator. It hissed and rattled and a water hammer, not unlike the sound of an AK-47 on full auto, added its staccato rat-a-tat-tat from somewhere below. “Too much,” he said. “A half-turn is just about right, otherwise it will be an oven in here.” She fiddled with the valve until he nodded. He was wearing only a T-shirt so she tossed the robe she found at the foot of the bed at him and handed him the mug of coffee she’d brought up from the kitchen.
“When was the last time you showered?”
It took him a moment to recall when last he’d bathed other than with the anti-bacterial wipes the hospital freely dispensed. “Saturday morning.”
“Well my friend, four days and counting. You’re pretty ripe. The good news is you’ve got time for a shower before breakfast,” as she headed for the door. “And shave too. Oh, Anita looked in on you before she left for the hospital. She wants you to change the tubing and collection bag. She said just a few drops of blood that cling inside the tubing can turn your urine magenta. She thinks the bleeding may have stopped but she can’t be sure. She said she thinks you know how to do it. Do you?”
“Yeah, but it takes three hands. I could use some help.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
She closed the bedroom door behind her and Tyne headed for the shower. Because he was recovering from surgery for a gunshot wound Tyne had been given the upstairs master bedroom, Joanna Bellamy’s room. It had a private bath. Joanna was away at college so the room was no longer in daily use. Catherine was down the hall in one of the two guest bedrooms. She used the hall bathroom. Anita had assumed Catherine would share the room with Jonathan and it came as a big surprise when Catherine explained that they were friends and not lovers. That was the first Dr. Bellamy had heard that Catherine was returning to her ex-husband, to give their failed marriage a second chance. She disapproved but she bit her tongue and said nothing. Tyne was drying himself when she returned with a breakfast tray.
He wrapped himself in his robe and hooked the urine bag connected to the indwelling catheter over the robe’s belt. Catherine arranged the pillows for his back and motioned him to get into bed. She hung the urine collection bag on the bed rail and then placed the tray on his lap and sat beside him on the bed. On the tray were eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon, a slice of melon, orange juice, coffee and a bud vase with a single pink rose.
“Aren’t you eating?” he said.
“Just coffee. I ate with Anita. She had early surgery so I made breakfast for her. She’ll be back about two.”
The eggs were done just the way he liked them. “Your Hollandaise sauce is better than mine.”
“That’s because it’s from scratch, not that packaged stuff you used.” Her answer was a little too sharp. After an awkward moment of silence she said, “I don’t think I ever told you how much I enjoyed those Saturday and Sunday brunches you prepared. You’re a very good cook.”
“A labor of love for my love.”
Frowning, she said, “Please don’t say that.”
“Why the hell not. It’s the truth.”
After a pause he said, “If you say so.”
He finished his breakfast, which was excellent, in silence and when she removed the tray he said. “I’d like to talk but I could use another cup of that coffee.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Are you still planning on leaving Friday?”
“Yes, if Anita removes the catheter on Friday.”
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Then I’ll stay until she does.”
“The surgeon who patched you up said you must not be left alone while you’re wearing the catheter and Anita concurred. She can’t be with you every moment of every day so I agreed to spell her.”
“That still doesn’t tell me why. A Foley is a pain in the ass especially the way that bitch-doctor Conejo set up mine. She was infusing saline and she set the drip rate faster than the discharge capillary tube could drain it, so I felt full, and damn uncomfortable, all the time. I complained twice and the fucking night-nurse increased the drip rate, so . . . I noted her setting and then I adjusted it myself until I was comfortable. When I knew they were coming back on rounds I put it back the way Conejo had set it. It’s hardly life-threatening.”
Catherine was shaking her head and rolling her eyes while he ranted on. “By itself it isn’t but what makes it life-threatening is that blood thinner you’re taking, enox . . . something or other.”
“Whatever. When it’s taken after major abdominal surgery, like you had, there’s a risk of hemorrhage and with it, shock. If that happened you might not be conscious long enough to call for help and you could bleed to death. With all we . . . you’ve been through, to bleed to death now would be too much to bear. So, I’m here to see that that does not happen. You are taking it, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, twice a day, nine and nine.”
“You still haven’t told me what you want to discuss?”
“Us . . . after you leave on Friday . . . or whenever.”
“I’ll get your coffee.”
. . .
When she returned with two mugs of coffee Tyne had gathered the supplies needed to replace the tubing and urine collection bag. He was cleaning tape residue on the inside of his thigh with alcohol when she came into the room. A three-lumen catheter, the irrigation port now sealed, emerged from his penis and was anchored to his thigh with a plastic clamp, the clamp taped in place. His penis was shriveled down to the size of a walnut from the effects of the catheter and there was dried blood caked on the glans.
“I’ve never seen one so small,” was the first thing Catherine said.
“Like all those Greek and Roman statues. It’s because of the catheter. It’s big enough unless you’re one of those women, for whom size matters. Madeleine never complained.”
“I can assure you my interest is purely academic.”
He swabbed away most of the dried blood with alcohol and then said, “Good, now how about cutting two pieces of that tape, about five inches each.”
She did and then he held in place a fresh tubing anchor. “Tape it to my leg where I’m holding it.”
After she secured the anchor he pulled the tubing off the outlet lumen and holding his penis and it so it did not spill urine on him or the bed he said, “Now you hold the lumen like I am, so I don’t pee on myself.”
She did what he asked while he unspooled the tubing and attached it to the lumen, then snapped it to the anchor. “Thank you, you did good. Nice warm hands. You’d make a fine nurse.” It was a few minutes to nine so while she watched he injected himself with enoxaparin. She then gathered the supplies and disposed of the used urine bag, syringe and the packaging. When she returned he was sitting on the south-facing balcony on one of the two chaises, his legs covered with a heavy woolen throw. He indicated she sit on the second chaise with its matching throw. The two chaises were separated by a small redwood table with a large unfurled umbrella rising from its center. She set the coffee mugs on the table, sat and covered herself with the blanket. The air was cool, probably still in the upper fifties but there was no wind to make sitting outside unpleasant.
“So . . . what about us?” she said.
“Aren’t you neglecting your husband?”
“He’s still my ex-husband. I haven’t decided yet what to do about that, at least not in the short term.”
“You still don’t trust him?”
“Let’s say I want to see whether he . . . no whether we have staying power. We can always deal with the legal issues later.”
“Okay, aren’t you neglecting your ex-husband, Charles, right?”
“He’s still in London. He won’t be back in Seattle until Saturday week, or possibly Sunday. So no, I’m not neglecting him and you know damn well his name is Charles. I know you know him so it’s pointless for you to continue to deny it. He admitted to me you and he met at Spears-Fisher’s place in Sausalito.”
“Okay, I met him just that once, in June, at Jeremy’s birthday bash.”
“I knew it. That’s why the name Spears-Fisher rang a bell but I couldn’t place him. And he told you all about me, didn’t he? Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I didn’t want you to know that when I met you that first night at Di Giorgio’s it was to get you to hire me as your accompanist. That was my mission. That’s why I was there but I wanted it to be your idea . . . or not at all.”
“Where was this birthday party?”
“There were two, actually. The first was on a Friday night at a restaurant in Jack London Square. It was there so that people where Jeremy’s works could attend. It was a regular Friday night chill-out but everyone knew it was to celebrate Jeremy’s birthday. At least twenty people, possibly more were there at some point that evening. The second was the next night at Jeremy’s home – and yes, he owns a floating house at Sausalito.“
“I know that, I’ve been there.”
“The guests at the second party were fewer and mostly from the academic community at Berkeley. Charles and I were both weekend houseguests.”
“And he was with this . . . this person, who performed oral sex on him in public?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“I’m asking you.”
“Why, because you think he’d lie?”
“I know he was with someone in June. I don’t want to ask him about her but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know. Call it independent verification. Call it anything you like, just tell me?”
“Her name is Hillary something or other – I’m not always good with last names. Thirtyish, shoulder length blond hair, tall, taller than me in heels, classic features . . . really great cheekbones . . . model thin, too thin for my tastes but with gorgeous fake tits . . . I have this vague recollection that someone, I think it was Claire, Jeremy’s S.O., told me she is a second violin with the Seattle Symphony.”
“How do you know her boobs weren’t real?”
“I saw them. Sunday, when we took Jeremy’s boat out – he owns a 36-foot sloop – she went topless. She’s much too thin to have naturals as big as those.”
“And that’s where she sucked his cock, in front of all of you?”
“Uh-huh, on the bow, beneath the spinnaker. It would have made a fantastic photo for Sailing Magazine.”
“Who else was on the boat?”
“Jeremy, Claire and me.”
“And you all saw what was going on?”
“Well, I didn’t point out what they were doing, but it was pretty obvious. We were all concentrating on the spinnaker. By the way, Charles is an excellent sailor. I know more about powerboats, but he certainly knows more than me about sailing. The spinnaker was his gift and he taught us how to fly it. Did you know that about him?”
“Yes, he’s always been interested in sailing. I can’t think of a time while we were married that we didn’t have some sort of sailboat. We mostly sailed on Long Island Sound and he was very competitive.”
“Well, that will give you two something to do together in Seattle. Keep him on a short leash, sail with him, travel with him when he’s on tour and he just might do right by you, although I’d bet against it.”
“How were they together?”
“Meaning . . . other than having sex in front of the rest of us . . . meaning what?”
“You know damn well what I mean. Were they a loving couple? Was there empathy between them? Did she slavishly echo whatever he said?”
“I’d say they were into each other big time but there was also some tension between them. I got the impression from what I overheard on the boat that he wanted her to do something she didn’t want to do. They were trying to be discreet but the wind has a tendency to carry conversations. I couldn’t help overhearing some of what they said. And then, of course, I couldn’t ignore what she did to him. It was so . . . what’s the right word . . . so uninhibited. You might have to learn to be more demonstrative.”
“Why didn’t you want me to know he steered you to me?”
“Ego, I suppose. I wanted you to want me . . . for me, not because I came recommended by someone else. I don’t like friend of a friend connections.”
“What did he say about me?”
“Catherine, it was months ago. What does it matter now?”
“It matters to me.” After a moment when he said nothing she said, “Tell me.”
“He said you were a good person. Smart, loyal, honest to a fault but you have a ferocious temper. He said that would be the biggest problem I had to deal with if I worked with you, your temper. He said you were a better than average singer, a superb pianist and an accomplished dancer. He said you should stick to the piano and forget about singing but if you insisted on a singing career, then I was the kind of musician who could help you make the best of what you had. Since I’d already seen you that was enough of an intro for me to want to work with you.”
“My temper isn’t any worse than yours.”
“Well I beg to differ but it turned out not to be a problem because from the very beginning I decided it was your act so I’d do it your way.”
“Well, I have no complaints in that regard.”
“So, what happens next? What do you want to happen between us after you leave?”
. . .
With an exasperated tone in her voice he knew well she said, “Didn’t we have this conversation just a few days ago?”
“We did but a lot has happened since then. My point of view has changed so I’m assuming yours probably has too.”
“Have you changed your mind about working with me?”
“You mean in front of a live audience?”
“Yes, as I told you we’ve been offered a gig in Seattle.”
“No, and now not just because I’m feeling sorry for myself. It could get us . . . well, maybe not us but certainly me killed.”
“Is there anything I can say to get you to change your mind?”
“Not a chance.”
“Does that include working with me on a CD? And you promised to build a website. What about that?”
He didn’t answer immediately. When he finally did he said, “The website is a no-brainer. As I told you I want to do it because I want to test out some new ideas before I pitch them to my friends in Chicago. I’ll have it done in three weeks, a month at most. I think making a CD is a bad idea but I said I would so I will . . . but . . . it’s all in the details.”
“You mean rehearsal?”
“That and the timing. Also, you may not use my name or picture. You’ll have to invent a new name and bio for the jacket copy.” She started to protest and he stopped her with an upraised palm. “Catherine, hear me out. I know how important it is to you but it’s such a bad idea I really think we should forget the whole thing.”
“Because these Tosca people aren’t going to give up looking for me. I’m going to be very difficult to find and when that reality sets in they’re going to come looking for you. They know we worked together. They know we lived together and they’ll assume we were sleeping together. They’ll probably think we still are even after they observe you playing house with your ex. They’ll think you can tell them where to find me. You can’t but they won’t know that. I think you should distance yourself from me. You should come up with a story why we aren’t working together, why you’ll never again work with me.
“Make me out to be the villain. I never told you my real name. You didn’t find out until after the shooting, during the police investigation. I lied to you and you won’t have truck with liars no matter how well we perform together. We were never romantically involved, the proof of which is your return to your ex, which has been planned for months. The catalyst for moving back to Seattle is the fire but you visited Charles in Seattle to show the flag many times while you and I worked together.
“I can’t tell you exactly how to cobble that story together but you’re a smart girl; you’ll think of something . . . but don’t ever let them catch you in a lie. You can’t hurt me, no matter what you tell them so you should not try to protect me. For example, you know I maintain a P.O. box in John Day, my business card says so – that’s where your accountant sends my performing fees – so that implies my ranch is closer to John Day than it is to say, Burns or La Grande or Pendleton, but close to John Day encompasses thousands of square miles. By the time they find my ranch . . . and they eventually will, I’ll be long gone. I’m thinking of leaving Oregon for good and starting over somewhere else. So, it’s against my better judgment but if we can work out the logistics you have until I leave to get this CD made.”
“Are you certain it was the Toscas?”
“Isn’t it rather obvious?”
“Weren’t those two men you shot in that restaurant in California named O’Meara? Brothers, weren’t they? And didn’t the stories in the press say they were formerly IRA, from Belfast? Perhaps their IRA buddies or a relative is responsible?”
“Perhaps but I doubt the IRA would hire a Venezuelan to do the job. They would want me to know who they were. Besides, what you didn’t read because it was withheld from the media is the reason why the Toscas want me dead. It’s a long boring story but the bottom line is they think I can identify the last man standing, the man that got away. He was wounded in the exchange of gunfire and left behind DNA, which was partially matched to a man serving time at Folsom. This man is a distant relative of Frank Tosca Junior, on his mother’s side.
“I didn’t know this but in California convicted felons have to provide samples of their DNA. Tosca Junior has never been arrested much less convicted of anything so his DNA is not on file. The tests they ran indicate a strong probability the true owner is a maternal cousin or uncle of this guy at Folsom but apparently that isn’t enough for a court order. When I was still facing indictment for manslaughter and negligent homicide, and it appeared to all, certainly to my attorney, an indictment was a virtual certainty, an ADA named Sullivan offered me a deal: all charges dropped if I would say that photo number eight in a photo array could have been the shooter. That’s all I had to say, that number eight and three or four others could be the man because they look enough like him in general type. That would give Sullivan the probable cause she needed to force Tosca to give up some of his spit.
“I refused, because I knew I had information that would come out during my grand jury appearance that would exonerate me. Hell, I wouldn’t have identified Tosca even if I could. That would be like signing my own death warrant. Francesco Tosca—”
“You mean the reflective elements?”
“Yes, the REs.”
“But the press said the authorities found them and that’s why the charges against you were dropped.”
“That’s the story we agreed to, the deal my attorney negotiated. My arrest record expunged in return for letting ADA Sullivan take credit for finding them. My attorney provided a copy of the surveillance video and I thought I saw several REs. It was actually one of Jeremy’s grad students who rendered them so they were meaningful.
“As I was saying, Francesco Tosca knew about the photo show-up and sent a lawyer with a camera crew to record it. It wasn’t just me who viewed those photos. They were also shown to the other witnesses but I was the only one whom the DA thought she could intimidate. I can’t ID the shooter. I told that to the police and her numerous times but after the showing I made the mistake of calling the Tosca lawyer, a guy named Siebert, and of telling him what Sullivan tried to do. I thought by disclosing this information they would know I wasn’t a threat and they’d leave me alone. I didn’t exactly threaten Tosca but I did say something stupid like if they wanted war then I’d oblige them and I quoted from Shakespeare: Cut off the king’s head and you don’t have to worry about the king’s men. It was a stupid thing to do. It probably put the idea in their heads that I might some day recant, if I ever got into trouble and needed something to sell to save my ass, because my dear, there is no statute of limitations on homicide. With me dead they’ll have to figure out some other way to get Junior’s DNA.
“So, now you may be a target too.”
“Why do I get the impression all this bullshit about burning my bridges, burning you is just your not so subtle attempt to persuade me not to return to Charles? You seem to be implying the only way to be safe is to abandon my plans and instead live with you at your stupid ranch where I’d be bored out of my gourd.”
“I won’t imply it; I’ll say it straight out. You would be safer with me, and not just at the ranch but wherever we’d happen to be but you’re as wrong as you can be about my intent. I’m not offering you such an arrangement and what’s more, I know you wouldn’t accept it if I did.”
His last remark was intended to hurt. If it did he couldn’t tell from her face. At best, he thought, she was indifferent. Then she said, “You can’t remember from one day to the next what you say. The first conversation we had when you woke up in the hospital was to advise me to hotfoot it back to Charles as fast as I can because he’s rich enough to provide me with security while you can’t. Now you’re saying I would be safer with you, anywhere with you. So which is it?”
“If you recall I was flat on my back, virtually helpless with a tube up my willy and wired into the electrical grid. If the people who ordered that hit had even one operational brain among them they would have sent a follow-up shooter to the hospital. That they didn’t was luck, good for me, bad for them. And in general I meant the public you. The you that performs in public and wants me to work with you, in public. That’s what nearly got me killed . . . and no, I’m not blaming you. I wanted you and I thought working with you was the key to you eventually wanting me. And sure, I’m terribly disappointed you’re going with another man but the last thing I would do is chase after a woman who’s secretly yearning for someone else. I’m simply trying to get you to understand the danger you are in.”
“I get it. You made your point. Can we move on?”
“Sure, let’s. So, since we’ve determined that we are going to have some sort of ongoing relationship after you leave Bend, I want to discuss how we will communicate. Are you cool with that?”
“Until I hear what you have in mind.”
“Okay, as I see it there are three methods we can use: encrypted e-mail, burner phones purchased with cash and private courier services, such as UPS, FedEx and DHL, also paid for with cash.”
“You mean PGP?”
“No, I no longer trust PGP. In fact, I spent most of yesterday writing a better alternative.”
“Come on Michael; I know you are a top engineer but a better PGP than PGP? In only one day? PGP has been around for years.”
“One-time pad encryption has been around even longer and XOR, exclusive-or, is baked into silicon and every serious programming language.”
“Aren’t fictional spies the only people who use one-time pads? It makes a good spy story but get real. I use PGP with my accountant, my agent and my editor at Penguin and I’m satisfied it works.”
“There are instances of one-time pads in fiction; probably the best known is Follett’s The Key to Rebecca. And real spies particularly from the Eastern Bloc have used them but they don’t scale well. The problem is creating the pads. What makes the one-time pad method unbreakable is the randomness of the pad. Unfortunately, if you create the pads with a computer you will not get true randomness since computers are only capable of what we call pseudo-randomness. That means they repeat themselves and any encryption method that uses a repeating pattern can be cracked.
“Follett’s spy used the Daphne du Maurier novel to effect random one-time pads along with a manual transliteration method. A better method, not so error-prone, is to use XOR with text taken from a book, any book. When you apply XOR to two sets of bits, the result is 1 if the bits differ and 0 if they’re the same. One set is the message to be encrypted; the other is the one-time pad. The beauty of XOR is that it has the mathematical property that it is self-inverse. That means if you XOR the one-time pad against the encrypted message, it yields the original message. My contribution to the art is using any ordinary paperback as a book of pads, in this case the book you bought for me to read in the hospital, Deighton’s Berlin Game. Terrific book, by the way.
“First you have to decide which page to use. One way to do it: yesterday was day 257 of the year so that’s the page I used. I typed that page into a Word document and saved it as an MS-DOS Text file. That’s a must. You want text only, not formatting markup. It isn’t necessary to type the whole page but it must be as long or longer than the message. The program will report a fatal error if the one-time pad file isn’t long enough and it will tell you how many more characters you need. I then used that file as a one-time pad in a Perl program I wrote that uses XOR.
”Works like a champ. I now have encoder and decoder versions of the script. That’s what I want us to use instead of PGP, with two different books. When you want to initiate a message to me you will use one book, like Berlin Game, but when you wish to decrypt a message I send you you’ll use a different book. That’s so we don’t inadvertently use the same page to encode two different messages that happen to be sent on the same day. That’s the whole idea of why one-time pad encryption is unbreakable; each pad is used exactly once. I’ll take responsibility for choosing the books and obtaining two identical copies of each. All you’ll have to do is type the appropriate page into Word, and of course, the message. The encoder will write an encrypted file to disk that you then e-mail as an attachment.
“Let me demonstrate.” He then showed Catherine step-by-step how to encode and then decode a thirty-line message.
“I have some questions,” she said after he finished.
“I thought you would.”
“How do you know one-time pad encryption is better than PGP?”
“The study of mathematical algorithms was one of my specialties in grad school. PGP uses pattern repetition, just as all encryption methods do, except one-time pad.”
“Can you show me something authoritative, not just your opinion, that asserts one-time pad encryption cannot be broken?”
Tyne connected to O’Reilly’s Safari website and opened his online copy of Orwant, Hietaniemi and Macdonald’s Mastering Algorithms with Perl. The ability to do research was so important to Tyne he subscribed to the Safari service to avoid having to buy, much less carry around whatever technical books he needed in his work. He did own a hard copy of the book but it was currently sitting on his desk back at the ranch. He opened to the chapter on cryptography and then paged forward until he found the discussion of one-time pad encryption.
First he explained the Safari service. Then he said, “This book was just published in August. The discussion is a little technical but I think you can follow it. Read these two pages but skip the section labeled Swapping Values with XOR. It’s not relevant to our use of XOR. Skip the sample program too. Mine uses a somewhat different approach to managing the pads. If you get stuck on any terminology I’ll translate.”
She did what he asked. She actually read the two pages twice. When she finished she said, “There is nothing here about using a book like Berlin Game for the pads. All this book says is how difficult generating the pads is and how much trouble it is to use this type of encryption.”
“Yes, I agree it is difficult and it doesn’t scale beyond a small network of users. That’s why it will never be used by a large organization like the military. It’s why so much effort has been applied to solving the encryption problem with much shorter keys, such as with PGP and similar approaches, and that’s why they are inferior. They all repeat. I used Berlin Game because it was handy. Think about fictional prose, as opposed to say, poetry . . . or song lyrics. Think about your own writing. There is no repetition in the text of a book such as Berlin Game, or any other contemporary fiction. Thus, we are assured of randomness created by others with no ax to grind. We don’t have to resort to a computer random number generator we know isn’t random.”
“But it is a lot of trouble to go through. And what if we don’t type the page correctly? What if what you type is different from what I type? What happens then?”
“Good question. It tells me you understand the issues. Yes, that is a weakness of my implementation of the method. Any errors will cause the message to be garbled at best and possibly completely unreadable. It depends on the type of error and where in the pad it is located. A one-character error at the beginning of the pad, say an extra letter or an omission would render the message unreadable. That’s why great care must be used when entering the text.”
He demonstrated by making several changes to the test pad file he’d created from the Deighton book and showed Catherine the errors that would result from using it. “I’ve watched you type,” he said. “You’re very fast, faster than me and you’re expert with Word. I think if you slow down a bit and opt for accuracy, and use a spell checker, you can create pads without any errors.”
“I’m not a Word expert; I just get by.”
“Well, you sure fooled me and I’m very good.”
She was silent for a long time and then she said, “Unless you make it easier to use and less error prone, I won’t use it. I’ll use PGP, or nothing . . . or those two other methods you mentioned.” She rose from the chaise, folded her blanket and started for the French doors, but before leaving the balcony she said, “I have some phone calls to make and then some errands to run in town after Anita gets back. You’re a smart guy; you’ll figure it out . . . or not. But unless you do I won’t use it.”
. . .
Tyne spent the rest of the morning doing research online. At lunch – Catherine made sandwiches and iced tea, and Tyne went downstairs still wearing his robe to eat with her – he said nothing about what he was doing. They talked about horses. Catherine told him how much she was going to miss working with Dr. Bellamy’s horses. When Jonathan reminded her that the Bellamy horse, a four year old filly, she most liked was sired by the same Idaho Arabian stallion as his two geldings, she abruptly changed the subject.
After lunch Tyne returned to his labors. When Catherine looked in on him after Anita Bellamy returned from the hospital, to ask whether he wanted anything from town, he believed he had a solution. He said that to Catherine but did not tell her the details. In any case, she said she was on her way out and it would have to wait until later. Then she asked him, somewhat testily, if she was to be the only person stuck using his encryption method. He said no, that he would ask six or seven of his closest friends some of who, his ex-wife, for example, were already using PGP to switch. How about Dr. Bellamy, she asked. Yes, Annie was certainly one of those he would ask. Then would he mind explaining it to both of them, say after dinner. Not at all, he said; it would save him from having to do it twice. So they agreed that after dinner tonight he could make his pitch, to both of them.
For dinner Catherine returned from Bend with a rack of baby back ribs and several ears of fresh sweet corn. She announced she would bake the ribs with her special sauce and also make coleslaw with her own private recipe. As Tyne always did when meat was being prepared, he volunteered to grill the ribs, of course, with Catherine’s sauce but on Dr. Bellamy’s charcoal grill. The good doctor also had an expensive gas grill, which Tyne disdained as inferior to cooking over coals. A short but potentially acrimonious argument then ensued between Catherine and Jonathan, which Anita quickly settled by waxing near rhapsodic about Tyne’s ability, about which she was very well informed, to cook meat. So, while Tyne prepared the grill Catherine mixed up a batch of barbecue sauce – she loathed she intoned anything store-bought that came in a jar. She also made up a batch of slaw and both it and her barbecue sauce were strongly influenced by her expertise in Chinese cuisine.
As a concession to modesty he ditched the robe in favor of a loose set of sweats. He ran the catheter tube down the inside of his leg and hooked the collection bag over a leather belt he wore around his waist explicitly for that purpose.
After removing the membrane from the ribs, which Catherine closely observed and for which he was thankful came off in one piece, he first basted the meat with extra virgin olive oil. Catherine wanted him to add the sauce immediately, as she would have if the ribs were baked in an ordinary convection oven, but he said the fire was so hot that the sauce would caramelize long before the ribs were done. He began basting the ribs thirty minutes before he judged them to be done and as was often the case, he misjudged how long done would take. He had to leave them on the grill another twenty minutes for the internal temperature to reach 170 degrees. To keep the sauce from burning he moved the ribs to a place on the grill where the heat was not so intense. Catherine, of course, made a snide comment about his inability to keep to a schedule, to which he had the good sense to ignore.
They dined outside under the stars on Anita’s flagstone patio, the women sitting together on one side of a redwood picnic table, and Catherine admitted, somewhat grudgingly Tyne thought, that the ribs were excellent. Tyne made a point of complementing the barbecue sauce and the slaw. Over a 10- year-old tawny port, Brie and coffee, actually espresso, which Catherine also prepared, she challenged Tyne to put up or shut up about one-time pad encryption. Apparently believing, so Tyne surmised, that Annie would be an ally, she said in a particularly sarcastic manner, “Michael, always arrogant to the point of being obnoxious thinks he has invented a better PGP than PGP. He is insisting that we use his latest creation when we exchange e-mails. He also says he is going to ask you too to use his method. What do you think of that?”
“Well, I’m not a fan of PGP, or any of the other encryption methods, such as public key encryption. I wish someone would invent a better technology. Michael has all the right training and credentials. Perhaps you ought to heed his suggestion.”
“What have you got against PGP?” she said.
“You have to understand the problems we in health care face. What we desperately need is the ability to exchange patient information electronically. Even better would be standardized patient records with industry-standard secure access. Unfortunately, there is no standard for patient records, none, absolutely nada, and a host of incompatible methods for accessing them remotely and almost zero ability to exchange them. PGP is only one of many methods and what I dislike about it, why I don’t trust it, is the government apparently is content to encourage its use. I think any technology the government is willing to endorse is one they’ve already compromised.”
“Do you actually see that encouragement, because I don’t?” said Tyne.
“Yes, in several white papers I’ve seen circulating concerning certain very preliminary proposals for that part of a patient’s record the exchange of which Medicare is considering authorizing. Whether they will or will not is anyone’s guess but it’s way in the future, perhaps not in our lifetimes. Hell, the VA won’t even participate in the discussions. To say I and some of my colleagues are skeptical is an understatement.”
“Do you use PGP?” said Catherine.
“I do, but reluctantly, and only when my correspondent insists. When I want to have a private communication with another professional I pick up the phone. So Michael, what have you been up to?”
Before he could answer Catherine said, “He’s written some half-baked version of one-time pad encryption based on a few paragraphs in some stupid book.”
“Is it half-baked?”
“No, it’s fully baked. I demonstrated the half-baked version to Catherine this morning and she shot holes in it. So, I spent the day doing research and I’ve come up with the changes that answer all her doubts and concerns.” He then briefly, for Annie’s benefit, reviewed the notion of using a book of fiction as a one-time pad.
“Okay,” he said, “to summarize Catherine’s concerns: first, the probability that two people at separate locations can enter the same page of text into a word processor without errors is so high as to make the method impractical, and second, the process is too cumbersome to use. Did I state your concerns accurately?”
“Those weren’t my words but yes, you paraphrased what I said correctly.”
“No, those are plenty.”
“Have either of you heard of Project Gutenberg?” Both women shook their heads.
“The project is the brainchild of a fellow named Michael Hart, who invented the eBook, which is a freely downloadable electronic version of a book in the public domain. Books that are currently out of print and for which copyright has expired.
“I’d heard about the project when I was at UofI but until Catherine complained that my one-time pad implementation was too unwieldy, I’d forgotten that it existed. When I visited the project’s website I was amazed at the number of books available for download. I made a list of a dozen or so I thought would make good one-time pad candidates and then I searched Annie’s library to see whether she had any hard copy versions. I found Melville’s Moby Dick; Or, The Whale.” He held up Annie’s copy for them to see. He then entered the Project Gutenberg website and used its search feature to find Moby Dick.
“The file I downloaded was the Plain Text UTF-8 version. If that type is not available for some book we think we might wish to use, we’ll look for a different book.” He then opened the file in Microsoft Word. “Notice the absence of page numbers. The person who entered this text either typed it or scanned it and the process used discarded the page numbers. That’s why we also need a hard copy version, two actually.
“So, suppose I want to send Catherine an encrypted e-mail. I need a method for selecting the page to use as the one-time pad. I prefer simple to complex so the method I like uses the day number of the year. Today is day 258 so—”
“How would I know today is 258?” said Catherine.
Tyne connected to a NOAA website that provided a day-of-year calendar. He entered 1999 and the page clearly showed that today was indeed day 258.
“So, I open my hard copy version of Moby Dick to page 258 and then I search in the downloaded version for the string that begins: ‘the affirmative fact.’ I then hold down the shift key and use the down-arrow key to select from that location to the last word on the page, the string that reads: ‘have reason to know.’ I cut this to the clipboard and then paste it into an empty Word document.” He demonstrated each step as he described it. The two women were sitting next to him, one on each side, both apparently unaware they were pressing against him with their legs, and they were completely engrossed.
“Notice I use the right margin to cause Word to wrap the lines to the same length as in the book. I then save this page as an MS-DOS Text file and voila, we have a perfectly random one-time pad.”
He then used the pad to encode a pro forma message to Catherine. Tyne had two public e-mail accounts, one at Yahoo Mail, the other at Hotmail. He sent the message as an attachment to himself from the Yahoo! account to the Hotmail account and then downloaded the attachment. When he applied the Moby Dick file to the encrypted attachment file that looked like gibberish, the decoder program rendered the original message perfectly.
“Now there’s one additional refinement I’m going to make. I can’t show it to you yet because I just thought of it but rest assured, I’ll have it done before you leave. It’s a search tool. It’s okay to keep the encrypted messages on your hard drive but it’s not a good idea to keep the pads. So, the tool will take a single argument, a fragment of the first line of the page you intend using, long enough to be unique, say . . . twelve to twenty characters starting with the first character on the page. Since the encrypter already truncates the pad to the exact length of the message, you don’t need to express the end of the pad, the tool will take care of that. And of course, the key is the rule for selecting the page. This is simple enough to commit to memory, so you don’t need to write it down, anywhere. Without the key no one could read any encrypted messages on the machine even if they had the machine.”
“What if I need to send more than one message on any given day?” said Catherine.
“Very good question. In that case call me on your burner.” He then walked them through the Perl programs explaining in layman’s terms how each worked.
. . .
Just as he was finishing this explanation of the Perl code his cell phone rang. When he heard the voice on the other end he excused himself, to take this call in private. He’d avoided Catherine’s eyes so she assumed it was from his cop friend in California. To cover her discomfort she asked Anita what she thought of Michael’s one-time pad design. Anita was impressed, she said. She also said she intended to ask Michael whether she could use the programs with a colleague at Penn State, with whom she exchanged frequent confidential e-mail discussions using PGP that would benefit from better encryption. They discussed Project Gutenberg. Tyne had left his laptop connected to the Internet and the browser connection to the project’s website was still active so the two women spent a few moments searching through the eBook database looking for titles they recognized.
. . .
Tyne retreated to Dr. Bellamy’s study and closed the door behind him. The call was indeed from Mike Castelano, his cop friend in California. After greeting each other with the usual ribald repartee Castelano began with, “Jonathan, you are one lucky sumbitch to have survived this encounter. It was very well planned and perfectly executed except they were not expecting an ambush. It’s probable that they assumed you and Duvall would be asleep.”
“Do you know who sent them?”
“We can’t prove it was Tosca but Nicholas Parma being one of them points in that direction. Unfortunately, the linkage is not definitive. Parma was married to a woman named Connie Falco. Falco is the daughter of Frederick Falco, a San Francisco lawyer, and Elizabeth Rhoades and Rhoades is the older sister of a guy named Arthur Rhoades.
“Now here’s where it gets really confusing . . . or really interesting depending on your point of view. Even though Parma had ID on his person the Oregon cops ran his fingerprints through the bureau and it turns out Parma’s real name is Nikolai Petrovich.”
“That sounds Russian?”
“He’s Bulgarian but he was born in Trieste, Italy in 1957. Apparently he lived there until he was a teenager. Spoke Italian fluently. He also served in the Soviet army, flew Hinds in Afghanistan until he was wounded and invalided out. Came here in ‘87. Last known address under his own name was in ‘93 in Brighton Beach. Under Parma he lived for a time in California but for the last three years his address was in Aloha, Oregon. It’s unclear whether Rhoades knows his real name. He and his sister are estranged and we don’t know whether he’s broken up about the death of his niece’s husband but you may have made another enemy. I think you may know this Rhoades and we’re certain Duvall knows him. We know Rhoades does business with the Toscas but there is no proof there is anything illegal about this connection. You do know him, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I met him twice at the restaurant in Bend. Was Parma some kind of mole?”
“Man, that’s what makes him so interesting. Don’t know but you can be sure we’re gonna find out. Tell me about those meetings.”
“The first was three or four weeks before the shooting. Not sure of the date. Rhoades came in during happy hour with a local woman named Sharon Robinette. At first they sat in a booth but after a bit they moved to stools at the piano. I know the Robinette woman casually so she introduced Rhoades although she said his name was Andrew Carr. At one point Catherine joined us and she greeted Carr as if they were old friends. They stayed for the dinner show and then the four of us had a late supper. On the drive back to Catherine’s condo she told me his real name was Rhoades, that he was a novelist and a successful real estate developer and that Carr is his pseudonym.
“The second meeting was the Saturday afternoon before the night of the shooting. Catherine was asked to attend a meeting at the restaurant and on the way her car broke down. She had it towed to a Honda dealer and someone at the dealership gave her a ride to the meeting. When the meeting ended she called me and asked me to come and get her which I did.”
“What time was this?”
“Early afternoon, probably between two and three. When I got there Catherine was in another meeting that did not include Carr. He saw me drinking coffee at the bar and we talked briefly.”
“What did you two talk about?”
“He was whining about how expensive repairing the fire damage was going to be – that’s when I learned he was one of the owners, apparently a very silent partner – how insurance never covered all the costs and how this was the second fire the restaurant had sustained. I’ve been eating at Di Giorgio’s for a decade and know one of the other owners well and his rant pissed me off so I made the point, not too politely, that if they had installed a chemical fire suppression system after the first fire this one wouldn’t be so costly. He politely told me I was full of shit but seemed to pay attention to what I was saying when I told him that computer data centers use such systems to avoid costly water damage. I offered to give him some names of companies in that business.”
“Did you give him the names?”
“No, but I also told him to ask Catherine to do the research online. She later told me that he had.”
“Did Duvall tell you that they’d once been lovers?”
“Yeah, She told me they’d met when she was in grad school in . . . I think ‘93, or there abouts. She met him at a writer’s workshop at her university and yes, they had a brief affair. She said she broke it off when she caught him with another woman.”
“Is that all she said, just that they’d once been lovers?”
“She told me she lived with him for almost a year. She also said contacts he gave her led to getting her book published. He’d also read and critiqued her stuff and for that she’d always be grateful even though their personal relationship was over.”
“Did she say what this meeting at the restaurant was all about?”
“Insurance and repairing the fire damage.”
“Why was she asked to attend?”
“Managing the insurance program was her job.”
“So, is she going to oversee the repairs?”
“No, they laid her off right after the meeting.”
“So, she’s unemployed?”
“Yes and no. She said Rhoades invited us, Catherine and I, to dinner that evening at Eagle Crest to discuss hiring us to perform together at a restaurant he owns in Seattle. She said he hinted that if we were a hit in Seattle there could be another engagement at another place he owns in Berkeley.”
“Did you attend this dinner?”
“No, but Catherine did. I reminded her that our agreement to work together was limited to Bend and since under no circumstances would I work with her anywhere other than Bend, I saw no point in having dinner with Carr, or Rhoades, since she referred to him that way. I didn’t tell her that I didn’t like the guy especially after she admitted she’d slept with him. He’s not bad looking and he’s as smooth as silk but I thought she had better taste, although him being a successful author, I can see why she might have been smitten.”
“And he’s rich.”
“That never hurts.”
“So, she went alone to this dinner at Eagle Crest?”
“Yeah, I let her use my rental. She left about seven and was back just before midnight.”
“Was it just her and Rhoades at dinner?”
“No, she said the Robinette woman was there too. Catherine knows Robinette well and was aware that she and Rhoades were an item. I don’t know and Catherine didn’t say whether Robinette knows his real name.”
“Did she say what they discussed?”
“That indeed Rhoades wanted to hire us to perform in Seattle. When Catherine told him I wasn’t available he didn’t exactly withdraw the offer but she said he sounded ambiguous about hiring her without me. She said she told him she could easily get someone comparable to me in Seattle, it was only in Bend where I was indispensable. That’s how she described me, she said. When the dinner ended she said he told her he’d think about a separate arrangement and get back to her.”
Castelano was silent for a moment and then he changed the subject. “That stuff you sent me was very interesting, particularly the match book from the Black Cat Bar & Grill. The number written inside is the bar’s pay phone. Someone called that number from a burner phone twice, once at 8:17 P.M. and again at 11:43 P.M. from near Bend the night of the shooting. Two minutes before each of those calls someone also on a burner called that burner. The second call was from near Redmond but the first was from a tower less than a half mile from the restaurant at Eagle Crest. The first calls were fast, less than twenty seconds each but the calls to San Leandro each lasted between one and two minutes. Later there were four separate 9-1-1 calls, all from burners, all from women and all different women that pulled first responders away from Bend. One domestic abuse, two auto accidents and a fight over a woman in the parking lot of a biker bar; all phony.
“That’s why it took twelve minutes for the first cops to arrive at Duvall’s apartment. Only one call each was made from any of those 9-1-1 phones. None has been used since. That’s why you were indeed lucky you weren’t killed. At least eight people with nine separate burner phones were involved in this attempt on your life and at this point we have no real leads. We have no idea who answered the phone in San Leandro but it’s a known wiseguy hangout. We think it’s owned by Anthony Dellacroce. You remember I warned you about him?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Here’s my best guess as to what went down: The second call from near Redmond, the one at 11:43 was what started the action. The earlier call, the one at 8:17 is a mystery. Possibly it initiated a change of plans. That would have been about the time Duvall arrived alone at the restaurant. If they were expecting you and they planned to take you out, say, in the parking lot, then they had to go to plan B. Eagle Crest is near Redmond, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. You think Rhoades made those calls?”
“It’s likely he made the first, but his house at Black Butte Ranch is in the opposite direction. However, based on when you said Duvall returned home he probably had time to drive to Redmond to make the call. These people are obviously smart enough to know the kind of bread crumbs cell phones leave, even burner phones, so driving east 8-10 miles or so to make a call isn’t a bad idea. Or, she did. Late at night she may have preferred driving back to Bend by way of Redmond rather than the back roads that aren’t very well lit.”
“Come on Mike, you don’t really think she was involved?”
“At this point we’re not ruling that possibility out, nor should you.”
“I saw her when she came back and we talked for at least an hour. If she’d just set me up to be killed she would have been as nervous as a cat. No way she was involved.”
“Maybe, and maybe you don’t know her as well as you think. And maybe you think too much with your pecker. We think the call to San Leandro was a cut out because within a minute of that call the burner Parma was carrying was called from another burner in San Francisco. Parma then called yet another burner cell phone records say was in the same cell as the call made to San Leandro. Within a minute of this call the phones used by the 9-1-1 callers all were called, probably instructing them to proceed. We think the person who received that call provided logistic support, possibly transported the 9-1-1 callers to where they initiated their calls from and collected them afterwards. All of those calls were close enough to the emergency addresses provided not to arouse the suspicions of the 9-1-1 operators.”
“Any idea who assisted Parma on the ground?”
“We thought it might have been his wife but she has a pretty solid alibi. She says she was driving from Seattle to her home in Aloha, Oregon and stopped for gas in Kelso, Washington. She has a credit card receipt time stamped 11:57 P.M. to prove it. Impossible to get to Bend from Kelso even in a plane in time to make or receive any of those calls. Speaking of planes, did you know Parma was a licensed pilot?”
“No, I know nothing about the man.”
“The Oregon state police found his plane, a Cessna 172R, at the Bend airport. And get this, they found traces of cocaine residue in the cargo compartment. Parma was a pro golfer, not a very good one but he made enough money at it to stay on the tour. It appears that he was using the plane to supplement his golfing income as a drug mule. We’re looking into whether that was the Tosca connection. Also, it seems likely that that’s how he and the Venezuelan traveled to Bend from Portland.”
“Any video of the person using Parma’s wife’s credit card?”
“Very good, but no, no video. That’s very good . . . I’ll have to keep my eye on you.”
“So someone else could have provided her with an alibi, if as you say, so many people were involved?”
“Yeah, that is a possibility.”
“So, that’s all you have?”
“All except what might have happened between Duvall and Rhoades.”
“Meaning was Duvall involved? Did she help them, even inadvertently to know you were available? Giving her the benefit of the doubt, if as you say she didn’t display any anxiety when she got home, that call from Redmond smells suspiciously like Rhoades made it after the dinner with her. Perhaps the call was to confirm to Parma that you were still in town? When you didn’t show for dinner he may have assumed you had gone back to your ranch and the first opportunity he had to make that call was after Duvall split.”
“So if that’s true he was setting her up too?”
“Why should he care about her? They hadn’t been together since ‘93 or ‘94 at the latest. His current squeeze, by your own admission, is the Robinette woman. Duvall was expendable, once she provided information about your whereabouts. But that does not mean she wasn’t involved. How well do you really know her? Maybe Rhoades made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, she not knowing that he was using her. She might even have been foolish enough to believe they could come into her home and whack you and not whack her. That is possible, wouldn’t you say?”
“She’s smarter than that. I don’t think she would ever fall for an arrangement like that.”
“What if they paid her? She’s not exactly rolling in dough. Isn’t she struggling to make it as a singer?”
“I’ve never gotten the sense that she was motivated by money.”
“Okay, it could have been inadvertent then, couldn’t it? You said Rhoades is as smooth as silk and the dinner was meant for both of you. Perhaps he learned what he wanted to learn without alarming her in any way? That Oregon cop, Araya, said she knew your name was Jonathan Tyne so she may have been careful about what she said but he may have got her to concede you were staying over the weekend at her apartment. Isn’t that possible?”
“Yes, it’s possible.”
“And wasn’t the weather awful that night? He might have said something like he hoped you got home safely in the storm and she might have said you decided to wait until Monday. Isn’t that possible?”
“You made your point. Yes, that could have happened. Anything else?”
“Man, I just hope you profit from all this and stop making it easy for them. Playing the piano in public was a stupid thing to do and you and I both know it. I hope Duvall was worth it. In fact, I think maybe you ought to start thinking about leaving Oregon and going somewhere else, far away. With your computer skills and a new name you ought to be able to start over anywhere, even in Europe. Ever think about that?”
“I’ll give it some thought.”
“Do that . . . and ditch the Duvall broad. I wouldn’t trust her as far as I can spit.”
“She seems to be driving that bus.”
“Good. There’s plenty out there as good as she but way, way out there is where you should be looking.”
“Thanks for the call . . . and the advice I didn’t ask for.”
“Don’t mention it. If you heard me, if you were listening, maybe I won’t have to make another. Maybe I won’t have to attend your funeral.”
Tyne ended the call by closing the shell of his phone. What troubled him now was the confrontation he was certain to have with Catherine.
. . .
When Tyne emerged from Anita’s study he could hear voices coming from the media room. The media room had originally been an unfinished walk-out basement. Over the years it had morphed first into a family room, finally transformed into its present manifestation as a high-end place to listen to music or view film, complete with sound enhancing ceiling and wall tiles and the latest in surround sound technology. All that had been done by Anita’s long-term life partner, Faye Treadwell, dead now, more than a year, from breast cancer. Faye was an interior decorator and over the years had almost completely remodeled the thirty-year old Arts and Crafts house.
The sound from the media room ceased abruptly and a moment later Catherine was standing at the head of the stairs. “We’re watching Casablanca. Come join us. We’ll turn the sound down low, you can play Rick, Anita can play Ilsa and I’ll play all the other parts. It’ll be fun. I made popcorn and if you like, I’ll make some of that espresso you like.”
“I think I’ll read for a bit.” He didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he went up the stairs to his room. A moment later she was standing in the doorway holding his laptop computer and the two books he’d used to demonstrate his one-time pad programs.
The door was open but she stood glued in the doorway, apparently afraid to enter without an invitation. She tapped on the door and said, “Knock, knock. May I come in?”
“If I want privacy I’ll close the door.”
“Like you did downstairs?”
“Something like that.”
“That must have been some call. You’re so distracted you left your computer logged in and connected to the Internet. We checked out some titles on Project Gutenberg until we got bored and then I logged you off. Where shall I put it?”
He pointed at a chest of drawers.
“It was your cop friend, from Oakland, right?”
“Are you going to tell me what he said?”
When he said nothing she said, “I think I have a right to know, don’t you agree? I was there too, remember?”
When he still said nothing she said, “What did he say about me?”
“Why do you think the call was about you?”
“If it weren’t you wouldn’t be having such a hard time telling me.”
“It was less about you than about someone you know.”
She crossed the room and stood very close in front of him. Her eyes were on his and she said, “If you want me to continue to trust you, you have to tell me what he said.”
“Sit over there,” gesturing at the only chair in the room. He then sat on the bed. He arranged the catheter tube and collection bag and when he was comfortable she drew the chair close to his side.
“You have my undivided attention.”
“How well do you know Arthur Rhoades . . . or if you prefer, Andrew Carr?”
“I told you, we were lovers for nearly a year when I was at USF, my last year. He helped me by critiquing my work and he helped me get published. Had he asked me to marry him I would have said yes, but he couldn’t keep it in his pants. That’s why we split but we’re still friends. I don’t hate him because he didn’t want what you want but I’d never be able to trust him.”
“What about his other business?”
“What other business?”
“Isn’t he a big-time real estate developer?”
“Yes but I know nothing about that.”
“Did you know he’s very wealthy?”
“Yes, I know.”
“Weren’t you even a little curious how he got so wealthy?”
“Not very. I figured if he wanted me to know he would have told me.”
“Did you know he does business with the Toscas?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“He probably launders their money by burying it in his real estate deals.”
“Is that what your cop friend told you?”
“No, but I’m inferring it from what he did tell me.”
“That’s taking a lot on yourself, don’t you think?”
“Maybe, but it’s my life on the line.”
“Mine too. Your ex-wife is married to an investment banker, isn’t she?”
“He runs a hedge fund.”
“If you were to learn the Toscas invested in his fund, would that mean he too launders their money?”
“Touché. You told Araya you recognized Nicholas Parma? How well did you know him?”
“I know nothing about Parma. I recognized his face from when I seated him at the restaurant, the same night I first met you.”
“Did you know that Parma was married to Rhoades’ niece?”
“I didn’t know he had a niece.”
“Do you know his sister?”
“Elizabeth. I know he has a sister but I never met her.”
“How is it you know about her but not about Parma?”
“He never discussed Elizabeth with me. He has a picture of his family on his desk and she’s in it. I asked who the people in the picture were and he told me.”
“The police think Rhoades was involved with Parma and the Venezuelan guy I killed.”
“In what way?”
“After the dinner party you had with him and Sharon Robinette it appears likely that he called someone from an anonymous cell phone and that call started the rock and roll.”
“Is it? Castelano believes Rhoades’ mission that night was to determine whether I was still in town and if so, to send Argueta Otálvaro and Parma to your condo to kill me, and . . . you too.”
“I can’t believe Arthur would do such a thing. I can’t believe he would do anything to jeopardize me, and had those two killed you they would have killed me too.”
She started to get up and said, “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you disparage my friend, someone who has been very kind to me.”
“You said you wanted to hear this? Don’t you want to hear the rest?”
“Not if all you’re going to do is make this perfectly absurd case that Arthur conspired to kill you. Why couldn’t it have just been Parma? You told me you had words with him at the Bend airport. Perhaps he followed you to my place and waited outside until all the lights were off. Isn’t that how it could have happened?”
“Yes, it could have happened that way, in which case it’s just a coincidence that he’s married to Rhoades’ niece. I don’t believe in coincidences. It’s possible Parma recognized me or thought he did but he’s too small change to orchestrate what went down that night. Do you want to hear it or have you heard enough?”
She was silent for a moment and then finally said, “Okay, I’m still listening.”
“As I said, someone made a twenty second call from a cell phone at 11:41 that started a chain of events that included a call to a San Leandro, California pay phone, the same number that was written inside a matchbook I found on the body of the Venezuelan. Shortly after that call someone called Parma from San Francisco, probably ordering him to proceed. Parma then called a burner that just happened to be in the same cell as the one used to call San Leandro. This caller then made four calls in rapid succession to four separate burner phones, the owners of which then made four 9-1-1 calls that pulled first responders away from Bend. That’s why it took more than ten minutes after the last shot for the cops to arrive. All that seems too complicated for the man I had words with.”
“Do they know for certain Arthur made this call?”
“No, the call was made from a burner phone purchased for cash. The only way to prove who made the call would be to link that person with the phone.”
”Then it’s pure speculation that it was Arthur.”
“True, but the timing is right and the Parma connection makes it likely.”
“That isn’t enough.”
“Tell me, you arrived late for your meeting at the restaurant because your car broke down. Did you explain to the others why you were late?”
“Was Rhoades present? Did he hear you say your car broke down?”
“Did he ask how you managed to get to Eagle Crest without a car?”
“No, it never came up.”
“What exactly did you say about why I wasn’t with you?”
“That your schedule did not permit you to work with me after Sunday, the twelfth so you saw no point in attending a meeting to discuss a Seattle gig after that date.”
“Think carefully; could he have concluded I was staying at your place that weekend from anything you said?”
She took a moment before answering, then she said, “I can’t recall everything that was said but once I explained you weren’t willing to work with me after the twelfth, you ceased to be a topic of discussion.”
“Are you sure he didn’t ask, even casually, nothing more significant than small talk, what you used for transport that night to get to Eagle Crest?”
“I already told you we didn’t discuss what I drove. Why are you so fixated on my ride?”
“I’m grasping at straws. If you didn’t tell him I was staying at your place that weekend and he didn’t ask, I’m trying to understand how he knew?”
“He didn’t know because I didn’t tell him.”
“Did you tell Sharon?”
She thought for a moment and then said, “I probably would have had we been alone but we weren’t, so no, I didn’t.”
“Why would you have told her and not him?”
“Because she is so crazy about you and I wanted to let her know she had only that weekend left to do something about it.”
“She came with Rhoades and you actually thought she would ditch him for me?”
“Yes, I’m certain she would. I’m certain she still will if you make an effort.”
Tyne was running out of ideas but finally he said, “At any time while the three of you were at table did either Rhoades or Sharon make a phone call or leave the table to make a call . . . or perhaps, to visit the restroom?”
“Why is that important?”
“Because there was another series of calls made to Parma that were initiated from at or near the restaurant, this one at 8:17.”
“Even if they did, and I’m not saying either of them did, why would that be significant?”
“Because they may have intended to kill me when I left the restaurant, either in the parking lot or on the drive back to your place, and when Rhoades saw I wasn’t with you, he had to order a change of plans.”
“This entire conversation is too absurd for words.”
“Is it? In three hours eating and drinking didn’t any of you have to pee?” he said, much louder than he needed to.
“Okay, Okay, you don’t have to shout. As I recall both Sharon and Art visited the restroom.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to raise my voice. Can you recall when?”
She frowned and considered his question and finally said, “I arrived a little early and they were a little late so I waited beside the Koi pool in the lobby. After we were seated and ordered drinks Art excused himself and went to the men’s room. Sharon went later . . . I think just before dessert. I went on the way out.”
“Weren’t you alone with her when Rhoades went to the restroom?”
“I was but we didn’t talk about you.”
“You didn’t go to the loo with Sharon? Isn’t that what women usually do?”
“I wanted to give Art a chance to discuss Sharon in private, that is, if he had something to say.”
“And did he?”
“He said he was interested in her, he used the word fond, but he’d ditch her for me . . . all I had to do was say the word.”
“How late were they?”
“Aren’t you going to ask me what I said?”
“I don’t need to hear what you said.”
“What do you have against Sharon? She’s smart, attractive . . . she has a great body, better than mine . . . she’s younger than me—”
“I don’t have anything against Sharon. I like her but she’s not you.”
“But I’m no longer available.”
“It doesn’t matter. Read my lips; she’s not you.”
She stared at him for a long time, finally shook her head and said, “Art’s reservation was for eight. I don’t remember exactly how long I waited, perhaps ten minutes.”
“What time did you get up to leave?”
“I’m not exactly sure but it must have been a little after eleven, since I got home before midnight.”
“Were they still at table when you left?”
“No, we all walked out together.”
“It was raining, wasn’t it?”
“So you all went schlepping in the rain together?”
“When you dine at the restaurant and are not staying at the lodge you use the valet parking. We all waited under the portico for the cars to be brought out but Arthur and Sharon came in a limo, which was already waiting for them. They waited with me until my car was retrieved, then they left.”
“You mean they waited with you until my car, my rental was retrieved?”
“So it’s possible he made the connection that if your car was in the shop until at least Monday, the car you were driving was mine?”
“Well, you finally did it. You found a way for him to guess you were in town, and that’s enough to prove he made that call?”
“No, it isn’t enough but it helps to connect the dots. How did you drive home? By that I mean what route did you follow?”
“Cline Falls Road to Tumalo and then twenty to Bend, the same way I always go when I go to Eagle Crest.”
“You didn’t drive back by way of Redmond?”
“Why would I do that? It’s ten miles farther and it takes twice as long. Oh I see . . . whoever made that call made it from Redmond. Is that what your pal said? And he implied that I may have made it, didn’t he?”
When Tyne said nothing she said, “Answer my question. He told you I may have made that call, didn’t he?”
“I told him that was categorically impossible. I know you didn’t make that call.”
“If you know it, why did you ask me how I drove back? If you really know I could never betray you, you would not have asked that question. The fact that you did tells me you aren’t really sure that I didn’t betray you.”
“Catherine, don’t read anything into my words that isn’t there. I’m merely—”
“I’ve heard enough,” as she rose to leave.
“I asked you so I could better defend you if Castelano—”
“What I think is that when you told him I wasn’t available for a Seattle gig he realized that that weekend was the last crack his goons would have at me before I disappeared into Eastern Oregon, where they don’t have a clue how to find me. That’s why he was less than enthusiastic about hiring you when you made it clear it would be without me. When he saw what you were driving he knew I had stayed over. And he may not have wanted you to be involved but at that point what choice did he have? So, he started the ball rolling with that call from Redmond. Why his limo went to Redmond instead of the other way, to his place at Black Butte Ranch, is still a mystery. Perhaps it had something to do with Sharon. Perhaps he was taking her home and they went that way for some reason I can’t explain. But the Parma connection is just too much of a coincidence to discount.”
Catherine was already through the doorway before he finished. He wasn’t sure how much of it she had actually heard. When he followed her out into the hallway her bedroom door was already closed. The windows at the far end rattled when she slammed the door.
It took a long time for him to fall asleep but sometime before dawn he finally did. Waking a little after seven and after shaving and showering he waited in his room thinking Catherine would again bring breakfast in bed or at least coffee. When it became obvious this wasn’t going to happen he went downstairs. Catherine’s door was still closed. Anita was in her study when he walked past her door and she confronted him with hands on hips, a hostile expression on her face.
“What did you say to Catherine to upset her so?”
“We talked about her friend Arthur Rhoades. The police think he may have been involved in the shooting.”
“Why would they think that?”
“Because the husband of his niece was one of the men I killed.”
“But wouldn’t they have killed Catherine too?”
“Yes, and that’s why Catherine doubts Rhoades could have been involved. She is convinced he would never hurt her or agree to be a part of anything that would. What did she say?”
“Almost nothing but she left in such a hurry I knew something was terribly wrong.”
“Yes, she bolted out of here before seven bag in hand without so much as a fare-thee-well. If you look where she was parked on the driveway you can see the skid marks in the gravel her car made when she left.”
“She left without saying anything?”
“All she said was she’d had enough of Michael Ware to last a lifetime.”
“Did she leave a note?”
“Not that I could find.”
“How about removing the catheter so I can get out of here? Perhaps I can find her.”
Anita looked at the collection bag and the dried blood on the tubing where it emerged from his penis and said, “Tomorrow, maybe. That dried blood tells me you’re still bleeding.”
“Shit. Tomorrow could be too late. By tomorrow she could be in Seattle or in Canada.”
“It’s too late Jonathan, you’ve already lost her. It was too late weeks ago after Kah-Nee-Ta when you failed to make your move. After that she was convinced you were no longer interested in her, if you ever were, and it was then that she reconnected with her ex-husband.”
“She told you that?”
“Not in so many words but enough to know the issues she was grappling with. She told me you proposed – she said you didn’t use the word marriage but she knew that’s what you meant – but by then it was too late. She would have said yes had you done it sooner, before . . . before she visited Mr. Duvall in Seattle. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”