Brent replied that his case didn’t have anything to do with Morse Code. “On the other hand…” he said, “what case?”
Emily rolled her eyes, forgetting he couldn’t see her over the phone. “Okay, Mr. Confirm-nor-Deny— does it have anything to do with baby monitors?”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and she congratulated herself for stumping Brent, for once.
“No, not baby monitors… why?”
“The twins showed me some weird morse code on the baby monitor at their house.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing. Probably just some homeschooled kids amusing themselves,” he said.
Emily had to laugh. “You sound as if you speak from experience. And if you say you can neither confirm nor deny that, I’ll find out from Carter instead.”
Brent chuckled, “Okay, you got me. I definitely had a Morse Code phase growing up.”
“So did I. When it’s one of the only bonding exercises you share with your dad… you get pretty into Morse Code.” She sighed and then changed the subject rapidly before she could get too introspective about the idiosyncrasies of her dad. “Well, if you have no ideas for me on this code, I guess I’ll but Izzy about it. She’s been wanting to talk about the new scavenger hunt code that just got released on the radio, anyway.”
I wonder if they could be related… what are the odds of two different codes going out on the radio waves? Or maybe they’re the same code. Maybe the baby monitor is just picking it up.
She realized Brent had been silent during her entire mental detour. “Are you still there?” she asked, suddenly a little concerned.
After a beat, Brent responded, his voice sounding a little preoccupied, “Yeah, but I gotta run. Talk later!”
“Be careful,” she barely got out before the line went dead. Brent had gone into super-spy-on-a-mission mode, and that meant something was up.
She sighed, and pocketed her phone, praying for his safety before reading the decoded message once more.
I wonder about this “key”, she thought. What kinds of keys are there? Ones that open doors… ones that have test answers… keyboard keys… piano keys… being keyed-up…
It still didn’t make sense of the numbers following the word “key.” She decided she should call Izzy after all.
Izzy picked up on the 6th ring, which was slow for her. “Hey,” she said in a stealthy whisper, “what’s up?”
“Is it a bad time?” Emily asked.
“I’m… not really sure?” Izzy said. There was a light hum of noise in the background. “I’m in history class—”
Emily raised her eyebrows, surprised at her friend. Izzy was very fond of technology and had some fairly strict policies for herself about not using her phone in certain settings—college classes being one of them.
Izzy had hesitated. “Our prof isn’t here yet, though. He’s a good 10 mins late. This happens every now and then, but not often. What’s up? I’ll have to scram when he appears.”
“You’d said something about there being a new scavenger hunt code released?”
“Oh, yeah, the local news station was talking about it. There’s more than one this time. Multiple short ones.”
“That’s different! I wonder why?”
“I know, right? I am dying to crack one!” Izzy’s voice dropped to a lower whisper, as if someone in her class might overhear and beat her to the decoding.
“Want something else to work on too?”
“I mean… always?” Izzy laughed. “I’m the queen of over-committing, aren’t I?”
Emily smiled. “Does this mean anything to you?” She read off the decoded Morse code message.”
Just as she finished, Izzy whispered, “Oh! He’s here now. Gotta run!”
Emily said a quick bye and pocketed her phone once again.
Everyone is saying that today! Clearly, I’m the only bored one.
She decided to see what the news was saying about the new scavenger hunt codes while she waited for Izzy’s class to finish.
She headed into the communications room and pulled up an internet browser. It wasn’t one she’d used before and had a clunky user interface that screamed “VERY SECURE.”
She typed in Phoenix AZ scavenger hunt code news and pressed enter. The search results populated, starting with an ad for a local escape room company.
“Not relevant, search engine algorithm!” she murmured. I’ve moved on from being polite to the house assistant to talking to a search algorithm.
The next several results were from the main local news sites, but the fourth one down caught her eye. It was from a site she didn’t recognize and whose URL had the ring of a blog. Promising herself she’d come back to the news sites, she clicked the article that said, “Scavenger Hunt Enthusiast Missing with No Leads— Connection? The Police Don’t….”
Reminding herself it was probably clickbait, she was surprised when the blog loaded without the approximately 1 million scammy-looking ads she’d been expecting. The site design was clean and almost plain, lending an air of seriousness and credibility she also hadn’t been expecting. This served to peak her curiosity, and she checked the sidebar for a bio. A nice headshot of a woman who appeared to be in her mid-20s and a brief, professional bio explained that the author was a recently-graduated journalism major who was spending her time honing her investigative journalism skills while searching for her dream job. The last line of the bio made Emily smile.
“Coffee is life.”
I bet Whitney, here, is working as a barista until that journalism job materializes…
She turned back to the article and read a well-written, account of how a Tempe-based scavenger hunt enthusiast believed he may have been the first to solve one of the messages sent out over the airwaves.
Some of the ways the account was worded made Emily think Whitney may have known him personally. She thought she detected a note of effort to remain business-like when the article reached the part about the man’s disappearance. As the headline had promised, there were indeed no leads. The man had seemingly vanished without a trace and no sign of foul play.
The police had nothing to go on and waning interest, especially as there was nothing suggesting foul play. According to the article, they were assuming he’d just picked up and left of his own free will without a word to anyone.
“Sources who knew him well say this is not in character, and that he had plans for the following week he would not have stood up.”
“Stood up” is usually used in relation to a date, Whitney. Were you in his plans for the following week?
The article ended with a little commentary from the author, suggesting there may have been a connection to solving the scavenger hunt clue and the disappearance. Emily wrinkled her forehead, feeling that might be stretching some rule of good journalism and the bounds of logic, but maybe Whitney knew more than was in the article. Or maybe she was just someone close to the man and was grasping at any explanation.
Emily knew she’d be tempted to do the same if it were Brent who’d gone missing.
Though with him, I’d just assume it was a mission.