License to Code (The Accidental Cases of Emily Abbott, #9)

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Chapter 10

“Wait… you do?” Emily asked. “What do you mean?”

“Yeah, ‘Wizard’ is a code I learned from some kids’ secret code book when I was probably… 11?”

“No way!”

“Yeah, it’s super cool. My mom wasn’t sure about it because we didn’t do magic stuff when I was that young, so I tested different keywords until I came up with an alternative that worked and was more benign: SUNFLOWER.”

“That’s my brilliant Izzy!” Emily smiled. Her friend was the epitome of where there’s a will, there’s a way. “Do you still remember how Wizard works?”

“Oh, for sure! It’s actually super easy as long as you have the keyword. Write out the alphabet again, A to Z.”

Emily flipped her paper over and did as her friend instructed. “Done.”

“Okay,” Izzy said, “now we’re gonna write the keyword ‘wizard’ under the first six letters. So A=W, B=I, and so on.”

Emily wrote it out. “Got it. Now what?”

“That should have filled out A thru F,” Izzy said. “Now we’re going to fill in the rest of the letters in alphabetical order, BUT—” she paused for dramatic effect, “—we’re skipping any that were already used in the keyword.”

“So G won’t equal A, because A is already used in WIZARD. It will equal… B?”

“Exactly!” Izzy said.

They were silent for a few moments, filling in the rest of the letters. When she was finished, Emily sat back and looked in awe at the cipher key.

“This is amazing, Izzy!” she said. “It’s not just an average shift-substitution cipher, because the number of letters that are being shifted is always changing!”

“I know!” Izzy said with a degree of glee in her voice. “That’s why I adored it as a kid. It felt super unbreakable unless you have the key. I’m sure a computer could crack it with enough time and tries, but it’s pretty solid for your average human!”

Emily was already making plans to see if Brent could crack something written with WIZARD. Or maybe I’ll try SUNFLOWER just in case he’s heard of WIZARD and recognizes it immediately. He is a super-spy, after all.

“This is amazing, but now we have to figure out what ‘applies to one’ means,” she said, thoughtfully.

Before Izzy could respond, the house’s assistant spoke overhead. “Movement at doorbell.”

“Who was that?!” Izzy asked.

Emily jumped and covered the bottom of her phone quickly, knowing that—unfortunately—she really couldn’t share details about the safehouse, no matter how much Izzy’s techy self would adore it. She uncovered the mic for just a moment to say, “I gotta go! I’ll call you later. Oh, no you’d better be doing homework later. We can talk tomorrow!”

Izzy called out a hurried goodbye, and Emily ended the call while locating the doorbell camera on one of the monitors. A man in white shorts and an electric blue polo stood outside with a clipboard in his hands. She couldnt’ make out much of his face due to the sunglasses and white ball cap he wore, shading his face.

Definitely suspicious, she told herself.

In a split second, she recalled the section of the safehouse’s binder that directed what to do if an unknown visitor arrived at the door. She remembered it with precision, since she’d played the whole thing out like a movie in her mind while reading it. 

Protocol said if the visitor were non-threatening, to use the doorbell’s two-way audio to ask what they needed and to play like you weren’t home, but had gotten the motion alert on your phone. This was apparently very common for homeowners in the area.

Emily pulled up the audio interface and said, “Hi, what can I do for you?”

The man gave a small start and then leaned closer to the doorbell, the lense distorting his face a bit with a fisheye effect and making his nose look huge. “Hi, um— I’m just going around and meeting folks and talking about getting you and your neighbors set up with solar panels. My company is new in the area—family owned, and I wanted to just introduce myself to everyone.”

“Do you have a business card you can tuck into the door for me to grab later?”

The man bobbed his head. “Yeah, totally. I’ll put our brochure in there too.” He fumbled with the things clipped to his clipboard and extracted a brochure and business card, which he stuffed in between the weather stripping and the edge of the door.

“You have a good day now,” he said, seeming unsure if she was still watching or not.

Emily opted not to reply, and watched as he sauntered down the walk and monitored his progress along the sidewalk to the next house. 

He seems to legitimately be going house to house…

She searched through the controls until she found a way to call up recording history from other camera angles that showed him coming from other neighbors’ houses.

Probably not a bad dude, then. Probably exactly who he says he is.

For good measure, she surreptitiously retrieved the brochure and business card from the front door and looked up the web address. Sure enough, the man —in the same electric blue company polo— posed on the home page with his family.

“Good,” she said aloud. “You’re in the clear, Mister Solar Panels. Now I just have to log our little interaction.” That was the last step of the instructions from the binder.

When she’d finished, she finally checked the time and noticed how late it had gotten while she and Izzy had been in deciphering mode. She rounded up some dinner and watched an episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King while she ate, feeling grateful that big hair had gone out of style.

When the large TV began to autoplay the next episode, she didn’t bother to stop it, but rather grabbed a throw blanket and got cozy.

She didn’t really notice when a third episode began, until she was halfway into it and was interrupted by a yawn that threatened to make her jaw pop. She paused the show and checked the time.

I should really go to bed.

She went around preparing the house for the night and then painstakingly tapped out a text to Izzy on the flip-phone’s keypad while she brushed her teeth. 

Hope ur paper went smoothly.

She snapped the phone shut, but it vibrated almost immediately with a reply.

Heheh… {some emoji that didn’t register on a dumb phone} about that…

Emily started the laborious task of replying, but within a second, Izzy’s next message arrived with more details.

So I knew I wouldn’t focus on the paper with questions about the code still hanging around in my brain, so I just kinda sorta worked on it some more…

I worked off the assumption it is referring to the scavenger hunt. If that’s true, ‘applies to one’ might refer to the first of the short codes that just got released. I found a site dedicated to chronologically cataloging every code that comes out for this scavenger hunt and located the first of this series.

Emily laid her toothbrush down. In the space between Izzy’s texts, she typed: And? as fast as the nine-key phone would allow.

And it worked!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It translated to: ‘ potions haggard’. 

I’m gonna scan it for safety tomorrow and then visit it when I get to school tomorrow. Our internet just kicked the bucket for no good reason. Can’t even submit the paper I just finished. Will have to do that at school tomorrow, too. Nighty night!

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