Crack the Code
Ready to go on your own mission with Sam? She needs your help to crack the code and open the safe for an important case.
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Sam Rader Thriller Book 5-Thrill Kill dedicated to you personally.
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A personal Zoom call with Simon King.
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The Devil's Quest
It’s not long after Sam’s return from another case that John Milton stopped by her home one evening, carrying his usual briefcase. The visit surprised her, as it’s the first time John had stopped by her home since she moved in.
“John, what a surprise.” His face appeared a little cautious, as if he was carrying a heavy burden.
“Sorry for dropping in unannounced,” he half whispered and Sam immediately waved him inside.
“No, don’t be silly. Come on in.”
He did, following her gesture into the living room, where she offered him a seat on one of the lounge chairs.
“What brings you by at this time of the day…or should I say night?” John opened his briefcase and pulled out a manila folder, one which Sam thought she recognized from a recent dream. But when John began to speak, she knew that wasn’t the case.
“We were clearing out an old desk of Jim Lawson’s and sitting in one of the bottom drawers, Shelley found this. I didn’t think much of it at first, but…well, I’m sure you’ll see.” He handed it to Sam, who took it whilst trying to make out the small writing on the front.
When she held it in her lap and looked at the front, the words written there stirred something inside her, almost as if she somehow already had a feeling about the folder’s contents.
It was the question mark that was intriguing her, almost as if Jim didn’t know whether the contents were really meant for her.
Sam opened it and inside found a single sheet of paper that appeared older than Jim himself. It was yellow from age, stained with decades worth of passing time that seemed to leave its imprint on it. One corner was torn off, whilst a smudge of some sort was smeared near the small passage. Blood? Sam read it, unaware of the pounding in her chest that was growing in intensity with each word.
To find the answers you seek, you need to come home. They remain safe where I kept them until you find the key. Try to get them without it? Boom.
Sam read the message a second time and then a third. When finished, she looked at John even more confused.
“Jim found a safe buried back near the body of Harry Lightman’s father. It’s back at HQ. There was also this.” He reached back into his briefcase and pulled out a small bundle of notes, each with a single line. “Turns out your great-grandfather was quite a schemer. These are clues for finding the combination to get into the safe. It’s already been x-rayed and just as he says, there’s some sort of device rigged inside. We can’t access it without destroying whatever’s inside.” He sat forward in his seat, holding out the notes. “Jim was close to opening it, but somehow knew it was meant for you.”
Sam reached out and took the notes, unfolded the first and read the clue. After reading several more, she sat them in her lap, looked up at John and smiled.
“I’m always up for a challenge.”
Sam remained awake long after John bid her a goodnight, sitting on top of her bed with the folder and the scraps of paper spread out before her. It was the question mark that had her intrigued the most, with questions of her own rushing through her mind like little flash cards. Why would Jim doubt the message was meant for her?
The clues made little sense to her, although a couple seemed more than obvious. It was as if Lightman was somehow baiting her even now. She reached for one of the notes and held it up to the light, somehow imagining a hidden message, like one of those watermarks. But the slip of paper appeared normal, with just a single line of text.
It was another riddle, just like all the others, although this one seemed to be nothing more than a math problem.
"Ugh," she whispered to herself, never a fan of the subject.
Knowing that they held the key to finding out whatever was hidden in the safe must have frustrated Jim for years and she wondered why he had never mentioned it to her. Perhaps it was a secret she needed to solve before she could attempt to solve the clues Lightman had left behind.
Sam suddenly realized that she needed to see the safe itself, even if she had little chance of opening it. Just touching the object may help her mind fall into place and focus on the puzzles at hand. If she could take herself to a place where she knew Lightman had been, maybe the monster inside her would somehow awaken and recognize some of his old handiwork.
Without hesitating, Sam jumped off the bed, grabbed a jacket and half-raced downstairs. Once outside, she jumped into her Mustang and fired the thoroughbred up. Despite the clock reading a little past midnight, she couldn’t detect a trace of fatigue and knew she was on the right track. As she slowly crept out of her drive and turned for the main road, Sam began to smile, happy to be on one final case with old Jim Lawson, the master detective himself.
The safe had been moved into one of the storage sheds near the main building of the compound and Sam stood staring at it for a few moments. The safe’s brand, Johnson and Myrtle, appeared barely affected by age, the name still almost gleaming under the fluorescent light. A single combination wheel sat just above a handle that sported a touch of rust near its elbow. It was the only bit of age Sam could see.
“What have you left us, Harry,” she whispered to herself, stepping forward and carefully running her finger along the top of the safe. The paint felt rough, a strange sensation considering its smooth appearance. “More secrets, huh?”
But while touching it had given the safe itself some bearing of reality, it also somehow had given Sam a sense of doubt. It wasn’t anything in particular that had brought on the doubt, but rather something she had been expecting. Inside her mind, Harry didn’t stir, remaining deep in the recesses of her mind.
It wasn’t as if he’d ever come right out and spoken to her while she was awake, but there had always been a sense of “panic” whenever he was near, as if he was about to come forward and speak to her. Sam had gotten used to the sensation and had thrived on it whenever she confronted a threat.
Something wasn’t right with the safe and she knew it the moment her finger touched it. An inquisitive light awoke inside her mind and Sam knew at that moment what she needed. It was Jim’s old paperwork, located in another part of the compound. John mentioned holding Jim’s possessions in his office until they could be sorted and dealt with. What she needed was an opportunity to go through his things and find the answer.
Sam turned and headed for the door, pausing briefly to look back a final time to be sure. She looked at the name of the safe, spoke it under her breath and nodded. Jim would have an answer for her, of that she was sure. As she walked from the room, Sam snapped off the light, closed the door and returned the safe to the darkness once more. The answers she sought would not be found in that room, not until she found the rest of the questions first.
Jim’s belongings had been packed into three boxes and stacked neatly beside John Milton’s desk. Given the late hour, Sam knew that he wouldn’t be around to interrupt her, nor object to her checking out some of Jim’s things. She doubted anyone except the night security would be around and it wasn’t unusual for agents to come and go. What she really wanted was privacy and thus closed the door to John’s office, in case someone happened to be walking past.
The first box she opened contained a bunch of framed photos and Sam looked at a couple before closing the box and moving it aside. In the next, were folders from recent cases he’d been working on, mostly those involving other agents. But in the third box, she spotted an old leather binder, the outside of it cracked with age. There was no name on it, adding to the sense of mystery Sam now felt.
She opened the folder carefully and inside, found several small manila folders, plus a few loose slips of paper. Sam carefully lifted out each one, glancing at them briefly until she had almost a dozen spread out on the ground before her. Just like the note John had handed her, each was yellowed with age.
Sam spent a good twenty minutes reading through several, but couldn’t find a direct link between anything she considered to help with her current mission. That was, until a small slip of paper dropped from between two sheets, looking like a torn remnant from the past. As it landed before her, two things struck her instantly, both like a unified hammer blow.
The first was the brief flash of a name that had burnt itself into her very soul like a craterous scar. The second was that the slip of paper itself appeared familiar, in size, shape and color. Even before the remnant had landed on the floor, Sam reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out her own relic from Harry Lightman. She never left home without the diary and as she opened its cover and thumbed her way to the back, found what she knew would be waiting for her.
It was almost near the very back, the small remnants of a page that had been torn out. Sam picked up the slip, turned it over and ran her eyes across the brief message waiting for her.
3 into 1 x ∞
Sam stared at the equation for several minutes, unsure of its meaning, but knew it had something to do with the safe sitting beside her. Somehow, whatever secrets lay hidden beyond the outer shell, the numbers were there to guide her. But why?
It wasn’t until Sam returned home that something about the safe itself beckoned to her. It was something her father had once said and as he had a fascination with old safes, knew he was the right person to set her straight. Unsure of what she was planning to ask him, Sam again laid out the slips of paper John had given her, each a clue to a part of the combination.
“Hey kiddo,” her father answered enthusiastically. “What’s been happening?” She engaged him in small talk to begin with, giving him all the answers to his parental questions. She knew he worried about her and wanted to settle his mind. Once he had his share of questions answered, she turned to the purpose of her call.
“Dad, what can you tell me about a Johnson and Myrtle, Model DX3?” The line went silent for a few moments as he ran the name through his mind.
“The DX3? Now there’s a unique one,” he began.
“Johnson and Myrtle weren’t around for very long, only releasing safes for around a decade before their business went belly up. The DX3 was one of their first models, offering thicker plating than most of the others on the market, a new hinge system that was supposed to be impossible to break into, plus a 3-wheel locking combination. They produced quite remarkable- “
“Wait,” Sam interrupted. “Did you say 3-wheel?”
“Yes, why? Does that mean anything to you?”
She looked at the slips of paper again and noted that there were ten clues. Even with each combination holding two digits, there were too many clues.
“Dad, with a 3-wheel combination, that means there’s a maximum of 6 digits in the combination, right? Two per wheel?”
“That’s right. Each spin can be a number between one and the maximum on the dial, some going up to a hundred.”
“Thanks, Dad. It’s what I needed to know.”
After a few more customary back-and-forth exchanges, Sam wished him well and hung up, then stared at the clues before her. Either there were too many clues, or the safe held in the Pogrom compound wasn’t the one Lightman had planned for them to open.
Sam spent the next day going over some of the other contents of the leather binder she had found. There were a lot of notes about Lightman himself, with things he’d done and cryptic clues he had left for Jim during those turbulent weeks during his second murderous spree. It appeared as if Jim had saved most of the material from that time.
There was one piece she kept coming back to, a postcard that appeared as if Lightman had sent it to Jim during that time. The postcard had a photo of a landscape bathed in moonlight. On the back, there had been no return address, other than the town itself, Cider Hill. Beneath this, Lightman had written a single word: Devils.
The more Sam stared at it, the more she wondered whether the postcard had more to offer than just a photo. Jim had etched a number of words on the postcard himself, maybe to keep tabs on his own thoughts.
A lake? His lake? Their lake? But which?
Sam brought up a map on her cell phone and typed in Cider Hill. She zoomed out and began to search for lakes in the area. There were quite a number and she wondered whether he may have hidden a second safe in one of them. It wasn’t until Sam typed the word “Devils” into the search bar that a number of alternatives came up. Devils Rest, Devils Lookout, Devils Elbow. None of them looked right and she was about to close the list when her eye dropped to something further down.
She clicked on it and as she did, felt something stir inside her. Only this stirring was different from what most people experienced. What Sam sensed stirring inside her, felt as if something was waking inside her mind.
There was only one thing to do and Sam knew that flying to Australia was the only way to be sure of what she suspected. Harry Lightman had known what the press had dubbed him, the Daylesford Devil a title deemed worthy of such a prolific killer. And given the unmistakable feeling of recognition from the presence that seemed to live inside her, Sam made an instant decision to check out the place she thought might hold something.
With Tim out of town visiting friends in LA, there was no one to question her snap decision. She didn’t think John would even notice, himself caught up in a few important assignments with Milton Ward itself.
Despite still being long, the flight back to Australia went a lot quicker than she expected, thanks to a huge stretch of sleep she managed to slip into. Harry did make a brief experience at one point, but Sam had grown accustomed to his repeated attempts to gain some sort of control over her. She had worked out his pattern and now found him spending most of his time sulking in the deepest recesses of her mind.
The plane landed a little after seven in the morning and feeling refreshed from the sleep she managed, decided to hire a car and head straight for the spot she was sure something was hidden. Cider Hill was only a quick two-hour drive from the airport, with Devils Peak around thirty miles further. Driven by a sense of Harry’s own reaction to the name, Sam felt an extra spring in her step as she headed for the hire car counter.
Devils Peak wasn’t at all what Sam had pictured. In her mind she had envisioned a tall peak towering above the surrounding countryside, like something of a beacon. Instead, it was nothing more than a slight rise that peaked out just above the tree line. The area was lush with vegetation and the bush track had several forks in it, the car maneuvering through each, before finally turning towards where Sam’s GPS was directing her.
As Sam drove, she couldn’t help but sense the other side of her mind, the presence living in there working itself up with…with what? Anxiety? She couldn’t picture Harry Lightman ever being anxious, and yet the feeling seemed to indicate that very emotion.
Having him living inside her mind gave her a sense of panic whenever she thought about who he really was. It was a horror she couldn’t escape, no matter how fast she ran. And yet, he was also her, in a way. A side of her that drove Sam to the horrors she was so capable of. It was the alter ego that drove her to kill.
She rounded a bend and pulled up in what appeared to be a wide clearing at the end of the track, looking like a cul-de-sac without the homes. Once stopped, Sam slowly climbed out of the car and looked around.
The area was devoid of any signs of life, except for the birds singing somewhere above her. Harry seemed to stir even more and Sam had a suspicion he was going to do something a split second before he finally talked, communicating with her consciously for the first time in her life.
“It’s time for you to discover the truth.”
Harry led Sam along a narrow path that could best be described as an abandoned goat track. It made its way along the side of Devils Peak, winding back on itself a number of times before Harry halted. The sensation was strange for Sam, feeling like a passenger in her own body. For a brief moment, she wondered whether this was what having split personalities felt like.
“I don’t know if it’s still there and yes. That’s exactly what it feels like.”
“Wait,” Sam whispered, aware that it would appear to anyone walking past that she was talking to herself. “Just hold on for a sec.”
“I’ve waited long enough.”
“No. Why are you leading me here if you already know what’s inside that safe?” She paused to consider, then added, “There is a second safe, isn’t there?”
“There is.” Now it was Harry’s turn to pause.
“And?” It took a long time for him to answer, but when he finally did, turned Sam’s curiosity into outright confusion.
“Actually, Rabbit, I have no idea what’s in there.”
Sam stopped, aware that Harry was telling her the truth, but hearing it inside her mind seemed to give it extra weight.
“How can you not know what’s in it?”
“Isn’t that obvious?”
“It wasn’t me as such. I’m more of an essence of what Harry Lightman was. The actual man? Your grandmother killed him, remember?”
His answer surprised her as much as hearing his voice inside her mind. She felt a little silly thinking she carried the real Harry Lightman inside her, and yet somehow, couldn’t fathom what he really was.
“Look, all I know is that I put something in a safe and then hid it here back in the day.”
“And the other safe? The one Jim had in his possession?”
“What can I say…I liked to play the old fool.” Hearing Jim called that stung a little and Harry sensed her anger.
“I had much more of a history with him. So, are we gonna go and check this out, or stand here talking to ourselves like a couple of dumbasses?”
It didn’t take long for Sam to find what Harry was looking for. It was mostly covered with underbrush, but once they spotted the distinct depression near the edge of the rise, there was no denying the mine-shaft's entrance. It wasn’t the biggest and after peeling back decades of vegetative build up, Sam was able to crawl through the initial opening and carefully feel her way through the darkness.
Once she was all the way in, Sam pulled out the flashlight she’d brought along, snapped it on and paused long enough to check out her surroundings. The tunnel stood almost six feet in diameter, despite the entrance having suffered a cave in at some point. It wound itself back about thirty yards, before disappearing around a slight bend.
“Why?” Sam asked, shaking her head slightly. “What’s the point in dumping it way out here?”
“All I know is that at the time, I didn’t want to give Jim the answers. I wanted him to work for them. Hindsight is a bitch and I wish I had played things differently.”
Sam continued to work her way along the tunnel when she spotted something lying in the shadows ahead. When she knelt down and picked up the object, she was surprised to find a girl’s doll, its black hair matted and dusty with age.
“Shit, forgot about that,” the voice inside her whispered.
“You know about this?”
“It belonged to your mother.”
Sam looked at the relic, imagining it in a fresher state, safely cradled in the arms of her own mum, herself an unwilling passenger on the Lightman train.
“You brought her here?”
“Come on. Let’s get on with it. It’s not far.”
Sam continued on, cradling the doll with one hand, while dancing the flashlight’s beam across the tunnel. A few yards later, the outline of a larger object began to materialize in the shadows. Sam could make out the safe immediately and quickened her step a little.
It stood just two feet by two feet, but looked to weigh a tonne. The dial sitting in the middle of the door held ancient cobwebs that must have been built decades before. Sam wiped them away and knelt before the sealed relic like a worshiping servant.
“What are we going to find in there?” she thought, and as if on cue, Harry answered for her.
“The answer. Finally. It's right there.”
Sam carefully began to rotate the dial, the clicks echoing their way through the tunnel behind her. Each time she thought she heard the wheels inside snap into place, her heart seemed to thump in a symbolic salute.
“A five-wheel combination, something impossible anywhere else,” Sam whispered as she continued entering the numbers.
“It’s a homemade job,” Harry answered. “Keep going.” To Sam, it sounded as if Harry was more interested than herself. Perhaps he really didn’t know what was inside.
Once she entered the final sequence, she carefully grasped the handle, briefly closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The handle didn’t move at first and Sam briefly panicked, wondering if she had entered the wrong combination. But Harry seemed to come forward a little and lent her some of his strength.
With a protesting groan, the handle finally swung down and Sam gave it a pull, feeling the door move just an inch or so. She stood from her kneel slightly, leaned back and used her body weight to open it the rest of the way. Despite protesting with a squealing song of rusted gore, it finally opened fully, revealing a secret it had held in the darkness for sixty years.
Sam reached for the torch and shone it into the safe’s opening. At first, it appeared completely empty and she wondered whether Harry Lightman had once again played her, just as he had for years. But when she sensed the frustration from the presence inside her mind, she knew it wasn’t.
She reached in and began to run her fingers carefully along the surface. The top shelf held its own, turning up empty after all. But it was on the bottom shelf, lying flat and near the back of the small space, that Sam felt the unmistakable edge of an envelope. She grasped it with her fingers and carefully pulled it out into the torchlight.
“Go ahead,” Harry whispered. With trembling fingers, Sam did as he asked, turning the envelope over to reveal the lip sealing its message. There was nothing written on the front or back and with a final deep breath, Sam ran her finger along the sealed edge, opening the final communication of the worldly Harry Lightman.
There was a single slip of paper in the envelope and Sam pulled it out, unfolded the brittle messenger carefully, before revealing the final note of a monster. She held her breath as the message came to light and inside her mind, felt Harry do the same. They read the note in unison, the letters forming the answer to their questions.