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10.28.09

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Phaedra

Jive Brown

Readers Danned their best Brown for our annual writing contest


Every year, we host a writing contest aptly named "Jive," in which we start a story and you finish it. After a heated discussion over who was the more important writer for 2009—Walt Whitman or Dan Brown—we wearily relented to Brown's bestselling genius (or rather, his genius at bestselling). Plus, even we're not so hard-hearted that we could enjoy making fun of Whitman.

(Plus-plus: poetry. )

Readers Danned their best Brown by finishing our riveting, sure-to-be a bestselling story based on a movie by Ron Howard in 500 words or less, and we thank them for it. We celebrate the five winning writers, everyone who entered the contest and Bohemian readers in general next Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 6pm with an open reading of these witty treasures at our offices. This emphatically is a dessert-before-dinner dealie (I bake a cake), and is entirely cryptex-optional, but please RSVP at 707.527.1200. See you at 847 Fifth St., Santa Rosa.—Gretchen Giles


The Lost Digital Da Vinci Fortress Symbol

Bob Lamedum stepped briskly out of the Louvre and glanced around. Located at 34 Rue du Louvre 75001 Paris, France, the building was impressive, even to a markology professor from a leading California State University. The April morning was fresh and inviting, but Bob was late for an appointment with his sometime mistress, the celebrated astrophysicist-cum-pole dancer Angéle Démon. From there, he planned to meet his mentor, the prominent Odd Fellow and secret tax-dodger Solomon Mines. His phone rang.

"Darn thing," Bob thought. "How do I work this?"/

The phone was new, a gift from Angéle, and Bob was still unused to its flip-top feature.

"Hello?"

"Bob!" Angéle cried, for Angéle it was. "Solomon has been brutally kidnapped! You must return to California to find him!"/

Twelve hours later, Bob was in Solomon's Santa Rosa home. Looking around, he fondly saw that his friend's favorite touchstones were proudly displayed: a laminated parking ticket, a glass artichoke tumbling from a cornucopia, a sculpture of a sideways hand set nicely on the piano.

But wait. Two items of the five were missing.

Could they have anything to do with Solomon's brutal kidnapping? Bob leaned against a bookcase and felt it give, revealing . . .

. . . what looked like a dark room with oddly shaped straps hanging from crisscross clotheslines. Against the walls stood glass-paneled closets, stacked with folded items in all colors of the rainbow. Bob, being a professor, knew immediately that he was in the presence of the world's largest treasure trove of classical chastity belts. There were, for instance, the rough-hewn 12th-century specimens worn by women whose husbands had left on crusades to Jerusalem; a pretty nothing for Catherine de Medici; a replica of the fancy Bellifortis model for Queen Elizabeth I; and an early Tollyboy design that had inspired Benjamin Franklin to invent the lightning rod.

Across the room was a table loaded with books, scrolls, photographs, a pocket mirror and a purchase order from a vendor in Haifa, written in Aramaic. "Eureka," Bob said to himself in perfect Greek, "that's where Leonardo got his cockamamie idea of backwards writing, and the reading mirror is Sol's touchstone number four." Holding it slanted against the order slip, Bob read aloud, translating from the Aramaic: "Chastity belt, model Fortress, for Miss Mary of Magdala, to be delivered before Christmas, 32 A.D."

"If that's so," Bob mumbled to himself.

"What then, prof?" continued albino-blonde Angéle Démon, suddenly behind him and pressing a gun into his lumbar region.

"Then Mary Magdalene wasn't Jesus' wife, nor the mother of his daughter Sarah . . ."

"Yep," said Angéle, "the foundations of the da Vinci Code would collapse and the damn book would be a total fraud. That's why those religious junk publishers have bandied together, paying me to end this eff-ing research into reading mirrors and chastity belts."

From her disdain of research, Bob realized that her doctorate in astrophysics was only a mail-order degree.

Outside, a muscular editor from Doubleday was at the wheel of a Prius, and as they were driving to the Odd Fellows' lodge in Sebastopol, where Sol was padlocked to a heater, Bob said to the driver, "This reminds me of the worst sentence in the book: Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair. Only she is now me. You should have done something about almost inconceivably and into which."

"Shut up," said the pole dancer, "what's with Sol's three touchstones?"

"Oh, those," said Lamedum, "they reminded him of the day he arrived in Santa Rosa. He got a parking ticket on Fourth Street, went to the Wells Fargo Center to hear Jeffrey Kahane's piano recital and enjoyed a cornucopia of wine, fruit and artichokes with me afterwards."

Suddenly, the muscular editor, the pole dancer, the California State University professor and the Prius were smashed by an 18-wheeler from Shasta, and it remains only to report that Solomon had used his fifth touchstone, passé-partout and lost symbol of every woman's freedom, invented by Leonardo da Vinci for Mona Lisa but designed to open all model Fortress chastity belts and any other lock, and freed himself from the heater.—Wulf Rehder


Could they have anything to do with Solomon's brutal kidnapping? Bob leaned against a bookcase and felt it give, revealing . . .

. . . a brace that had become loose—loose enough to dislodge the Five Books of Moses, each landing separately on the toes of Bob's right foot. As Lamedum lay spread-eagled on the floor staring up at the ceiling, enjoying the flash of pain clearing his mind, he recalled the two missing touchstones. There was a 12-ounce bottle of Pepsi-Cola, bronzed by an itinerant baby-shoe peddler, but the second artifact was far more precious. A green lucite desk lamp depicting a naked Britney Spears, hands together in supplication, head inclined heavenward. Two laserlike beams from Spears' nipples illuminated a spot on the bookcase where the Five Books had reposed. Where the books had stood, there was a small piece of paper. A Post-It! Someone's shaky hand had scrawled, "Tween the Churches."

Mines had been losing it for months, reflected Lamedum. Any normal soul would post on the fridge, but being an Odd Fellow, Mines had to be different.

Vowing to enter Valhalla and "conquer Thor" had been his latest obsession. He'd immersed himself in mythology, the Middle Ages, and Scrabble since his adolescence in Bruges, and his megalomania was growing beyond control. Bob crawled outside, and hailed a taxi downtown to the Moon of Uranus to consult with Angéle, who was working the pole on the magnetic north side of the dance floor.

Arriving late, he sat to the side of the stage where the pole had taken on a peculiar sheen. "Sweat from her inner thighs," Bob mused before discerning, in the pole's reflection, the image of a bearded bald man in a white smock who looked eerily familiar. Thinking about the Post-It, he had a brilliant revelation. Britney and the Pepsi bottle were absent, but the clues they left remained.

The letters P-E-P-S-I C-O-L-A floated about his brain and became . . . EPISCOPAL! They had churches, surmised Bob. And B-R-I-T-N-E-Y S-P-E-A-R-S . . . was an anagram for PRESBYTERIANS! Now "Tween the Churches" made more sense!

If he could just locate the churches which stood near each other, perhaps he could find, likely still obsessed with murdering Thor, the immutable Solomon.

Maintaining close ties with clergy and astronomers, Angéle had no trouble uncovering the two churches that Mines must have been alluding to. A few professional offices stood between them, and they scoured the lobby directories for another clue. They saw optometrists, podiatrists, a proctologist and a dentist. Could Mines be nearby? The revelation jolted Bob's mouth like a root canal.

"Of course!" /

Tearing upstairs, he heard in his mind Solomon's lisping voice. He wasn't out to conquer Thor—he was talking about a cankersore!

And there he was, asleep in the dental chair, a bald bearded man in a smock hovering over him. Bob recognized the IRS agent-cum-dentist immediately. He'd found Solomon, but it was too late. Tomato juice stains on his shirt, his wallet empty, Mines was no more than a shell.

His number in Folsom prison ended in a "nine." For the next 10 years, Mines would indeed be an "odd" fellow.—Stephen D. Gross


Could they have anything to do with Solomon's brutal kidnapping? Bob leaned against a bookcase and felt it give, revealing . . .

. . . a marking on the wall.

Bob crouched for a closer look.

"In all my years of markology, I've never seen the like! Whoever did this draws about as well as I can."

Which was to say it was utterly indecipherable.

Bob whipped out his notebook. A sultry voice interrupted his scribbling.

"What are you doing there, Bob?" said Angéle.

He hadn't expected her, but there she was standing in the doorway.

"Oh hi, love," he said distractedly. "Just found a clue from Solomon. Don't know what it means, though. Two touchstones are missing."

"Not unlike your personal pronouns," Angéle quipped. "Might you be referring to these?" She handed him the objects in question: a gold-enameled crab claw and a cryptex.

Bob jumped to his feet. "But how did you . . . ?"

"I received them in the mail along with this sealed note."

Bob finger-scissored the envelope and read: If you want to see your beloved mentor alive again, you might find a visit to San Francisco worth your while.

Faster than one could say "Knights Templar," Bob and Angéle were standing before an old Victorian-style mansion. They rang the bell and the front gate opened automatically. They made a cautious approach to the front door and slipped inside.

"Stay on your guard," Bob whispered.

Just then, a cry for help.

"Bob! I'm in here!"

It was Solomon.

They traced his voice to the kitchen, only to find Solomon bound hand and foot to a chair. Curiously, he was covered in doughnut crumbs.

"What's happened to you? Are you all right?" said Bob as he rushed to undo the ropes.

"They're never going to get away with this. If they think force-feeding me doughnuts will make me squeal, they've got another thing coming!" Solomon fumed.

Knowing how sensitive he was about his figure, Bob and Angéle kept silent.

"My captors number three," Solomon continued, "and they'll do anything to get their hands on my grandfather's horde. This used to be his house, you know. I trust you uncovered my message?"

Bob nodded.

"Where's the treasure, then?" said Angéle from behind a pulled gun. Three men were instantly beside her.

"Angéle! Are you mad?!"

"A far cry from a dance pole, I know," she said with a wave of the gun. "But it gets the point across nonetheless." "So it was you all along!"

"Who else? I've been chasing Solomon's treasure for years. Now, monsieur, if you would be so kind?"

"Fine. The mark I left you is a map. It shows the treasure's exact location," Solomon said.

"Of course!" Angéle was gone in an instant, followed by her henchmen.

But all too late. The police were waiting.

Bob and Solomon emerged into the daylight and waved as Angéle was cuffed and taken away.

"Looks like the adventure's ended before it even began," Bob said.

"Speak for yourself. I've still got 10 pounds of doughnuts to work off!"

Bob held out the cryptex with a smile.

"Care for an A-P-P-L-E instead?"—A+T


Could they have anything to do with Solomon's brutal kidnapping? Bob leaned against a bookcase and felt it give, revealing . . .

. . . a secret chamber. Lamedum brushed through the cobwebs, held a lit candle before him and entered. He touched his candle's flame to another in the room's corner; its wick linked with 300 others, and instantly illuminated the room. Solomon Mines was tied down to the floor behind a thick plexiglass wall; a steel cable slowly lowered an enormous steel weight toward his chest. Lamedum's eyes followed the cable to the gear that controlled it. Attached to the gear was the combination scroll. Lamedum noticed folding metal chairs and artichokes piled in the corner.

Bob glanced at Solomon. "Solve the code!" Solomon silently mouthed from behind the wall. Angéle Démon slunk from the shadows like the pole dancer she was.

"I found the entrance earlier—we must help him," she said.

"The two missing items were a tiny replica of Rodin's Thinker and a miniature folding metal chair," said Lamedum. "But what do they mean?"

"The laminated parking ticket represents punishment for occupying a space too long. The glass hand's thumb and forefinger configuration suggest feeding a mouth something . . . like a potato chip."

"Or an artichoke leaf?" Angéle offered.

"Good, good! Now consider the posture of the Thinker—it's as if he is taking a constitutional."

"Yes, but what about the chair?" asked Angéle. "If the Thinker were seated upon the flat, metal chair while attempting a constitutional, the chair's adhesion would result in maximum flatulence amplification."

"But how do these clues tie together?"

"The parking ticket indicates the Thinker was taking too long to perform his business. If taking too long results in a punishment, i.e., Solomon's being crushed, then what's the opposite of taking too long between flatulence emissions?"

"Rapid-fire flatulence."

"Excellent, Angéle! By eating artichoke leaves while sitting bare-bottomed on a metal chair one would emit rapid-fire, or staccato, flatulence emissions . . . "

"The Staccati!" gasped Angéle with exhilaration.

"Precisely. We must both assume the position to hit the right combination of staccato emissions to activate the scroll and stop the gear from lowering the weight onto Solomon. Quickly, pull down your pants—a man's life is at stake!"

Lamedum and Démon exposed their bare bottoms and sat on two nearby metal chairs. They then grabbed artichokes and nibbled the flesh from the leaves. Rapid successions of popping reports resounded from buttocks against metal chairs. Solomon looked desperate as the weight descended to an inch from his chest.

"Again, hurry!" commanded Lamedum.

They grimaced and nibbled more artichoke leaves. Machine-gun-like effluviums burst forth into the room.

"It's working!" cried Démon.

The cylinders on the scroll spun and the weight stopped. The remaining tumblers aligned; the symbol fragments spelled out S-T-A-C-C-A-T-I, and the plexiglass wall slid back.

Lamedum and Démon rushed into the room, their pants around their ankles, and untied Solomon Mines.

"Thank God, Lamedum, you saved my life!" Mines said. "The Staccati were sure you could never solve such a ludicrous code and their secret would be safe forever."

"Never underestimate a markologist," Lamedum said, pulling up his trousers.—Wray Cotterill


Could they have anything to do with Solomon's brutal kidnapping? Bob leaned against a bookcase and felt it give, revealing . . .

. . . a life-size poster of Barack Obama. Bob stared at it for a few minutes until he found what he was searching for.

The perpetrators had left a clue. In the bottom right corner of the poster was the Fox News' symbol for the anti-Christ: a bolt of lightning.

Talking to himself, the best way to solve any mystery, Bob said, "It's common knowledge that Jesus spoke Aramaic, but not everyone is aware that he also knew Hebrew. Since the Bible, which was written in Hebrew as soon as the Phoenicians discovered clay tablets, predicts the coming of the antichrist, we can follow the derivation and translation of the words. The Bible says the antichrist will come from the heavens, so it becomes obvious that the original word for light (from the sky), "barach," has evolved into 'Barack.'"

Bob congratulated himself for discovering the clue so quickly. As soon as he could find his mentor's computer he'd have the answer to his whereabouts. Easier said than done. After a frantic search through the dark house, he found the light switch. It was of no avail because even with more light, the computer was missing.

He heard the click of a key in the front door lock and stepped behind the flocked velvet drape. Dust tickled his nose, but before he sneezed, Angéle's perfume assailed his nostrils. He'd know that pole-dancer anywhere, even in the dark.

"Thank God it's you," he said. "The Fox News antichrist poster is behind the bookcase, and it holds the secret of Solomon Mines' kidnapping."

"Where's the computer?" Angéle was on it. She was the master of Youtube, the logical place to find any conspiracy relating to politics and the church.

"I haven't been able to find it," Bob admitted, aggressively scratching his head.

Angéle smiled knowingly as she picked up an enormous fluffy, orange Persian, revealing Solomon's laptop computer. Bob had seen the cat but thought it was some kind of bath mat.

"It's still warm," Bob told her. "Solomon can't have been gone that long if he just used the computer."

"I think the cat just used it. How do you spell 'Barack'?"

"Let me go back to the poster and I'll tell you." He struck his forehead. "Wait! I'm so stupid. Solomon is being kept in the White House."

"Hmm. It won't be easy," Angéle said, "but I think with the right credentials we can gain access. Just so you know, I'm not entering any building through the sewer again."

Whipping two press passes out of his tweed jacket, Bob waved them in front of her. "This time we'll enter in style."

"Uh, I think those were for a Led Zeppelin concert, Bob."

"No worries, with a little Clorox, ink and a Xerox machine, we're in business."

It turned out to be unnecessary. Solomon had been abducted because he translated a document on Youtube, claiming the president was the antichrist.

It was a simple matter to create another video proving that "barach" actually meant "healthcare" in Aramaic. So the White House had no further use for keeping Solomon prisoner.

"We're so smart," Angéle gushed. "When this is over, maybe we can make some more like us."—Carol Collier


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