I am Mashie Niblick, filling in for Detective Staff Sgt. Deviled Yeggs, at least at his home. Deviled and Glyce are “absent,” and Pauline and I are filling in for them. It is hard to say babysitting when the children are all in middle school and high school. But Pauline got a call from Glyce. All Glyce said was that they had to leave town and they hoped to be back in three days.
I did not have a golf tournament this weekend, so I had no need to be at the golf course. So, it is Pauline and Mashie to the rescue, I guess. I have had no experience at babysitting. I bow to Pauline’s expertise. Plus, she has been around these three children for a long time.
Pauline had them working a diabolical 25 by 25 grid Sudoku. It was not going to keep Blaise busy for long. I was thinking that Easter would take all weekend. Sophie? She is quiet, but I think she is pretty smart. This ought to be interesting. Sophie had made five or six copies of the grid. She sat on the sofa with Pauline and had the grid and her copies on the coffee table. She was using the copies for her notes.
After an hour, Blaise came in from his bedroom. He handed the finished grid to Pauline, “I did your spy homework for you, but if you are using this for some kind of code, you are missing a letter.” Sophie snickered.
Pauline asked Sophie what was so funny.
“Blaise keeps skipping a grade every summer and he keeps missing the fun parts. Last year we learned about a tap code named the Polybius Square. You eliminate the “K” and then you fill in a 5 by 5 grid with the remaining letters of the alphabet. Then the first set of taps was the column, and the second set of taps was the row. You used a “C” instead of a “K”.”
“That is cumbersome. And using this as a Polybius Square could be used as a substitution code, but substitution codes are easily broken. I will have to tell Easter that he is all wet on his ‘spy stuff’ theory. Instead, this was just a waste of time in delaying when you reveal where our parental units are.” Blaise announced, wheeled around, and marched to his room.
Sophie asked, “Are you going to check to see if Blaise got it right?”
Pauline rolled her eyes. “I should not have to check. He almost certainly has it right. I should have started checking his work before he walked out to see if he can handle criticism.”
Sophie laughed at that. Then she turned pensive, “But what if this is a secret code. It’s too big to be a Polybius Square.”
Pauline smiled, “Yes, but it is a 25 by 25 square and each five by five square within it must have the numbers 1 through 25. Each row must have no repeated numbers. Each column must have no repeated numbers. If you substituted 1 through 25 with A through Z and skipping “K” what would you get?”
Sophie gasped, “You would get 25 Polybius Squares, but with the letters jumbled up.”
Pauline gave her a hug. “I knew you were the really smart one. But then each row has the 25 different letters. Each column has the 25 different letters. That gives you 75 Polybius Squares once you rearrange the rows and columns into squares.”
Sophie asked, “Could you just use the entire square and choose an “A” or a “B” at random?”
Pauline shouted, “And you get a gold star! But I still want you to complete the puzzle.” They both giggled and went back to work.
As Sophie’s grid was about half finished, she asked, “Do you always eliminate the “K”?”
Pauline smiled, “You could eliminate the “Q”, using “K” instead. You could eliminate the “C” with “K” being the hard sound and “S” being the soft sound substitutes. Shikken may sound funny, but you would know that was chicken. You could eliminate “Y” and substitute “I”. And why not eliminate “X” and use ”KS” instead? Then if there is not “Z” in the message…”
“But wouldn’t all that tapping be tiring?” Sophie asked.
I could not hold back any longer. This was getting to be fanciful and fun. “Sophie, have you ever heard an old rotary telephone? You dial a five, and five clicks are sent over the line. Then there is a gap while the dial resets itself. You could use a similar device.”
And then Sophie’s imagination was running wild, “And then you would have a series of codes at the beginning of the message for whether you are using a box or a row or a column. Then another code for which one. Then which letter to eliminate. And if the field agents could solve the puzzle, you would never send the new set of codes completely, just a puzzle to solve. That is ingenious.”
Another hour passed and she had the puzzle complete.
She turned to me and asked, “Since Pauline won’t say where our parents are, do you know?”
I swallowed really hard, “Sophie, Sweetie, your father told me nothing. Your mother called Pauline and told her it was an emergency, and they could not say what they were doing or where they were going. But, Sophie, they left willingly, and they know how to take care of themselves.”
Sophie gave me a hangdog expression and went to her room.
Pauline got feedback from two of the children on the ease of solving the puzzle. Could the puzzle be used as a secret code? Time would tell, and we might have to switch from one of the 76 codes within each monthly puzzle to another of the codes in order for it not to become a basic substitution code.
But now, with us alone, I asked the question about Deviled Yeggs and Dr. Trinity Yeggs.
Pauline said, “Dr. Yeggs told me exactly what I told you. The only thing that I know besides that is that I called the prison, and Deviled’s grandfather, Millennium Yeggs, was not available for comment and he does not answer the cellphone that he uses when he escapes the prison from time to time. Mashie, I’m worried.”
I asked a dumb question, just to take the edge of the fear in the room, “Why do you call her Dr. Yeggs?”
“We agreed when she got back from her extended vacation that I would call her ‘Dr. Yeggs’, and she would call me ‘Dr. Niblick.’ We will always be friends, but we need to be professional around our students. And by the way, while we are on the subject of people’s names, you have never told me your real name.”
“Mashie Niblick is my official name now, by court order, but I was born with a number. Well, to be more precise, I showed up at the orphanage without any legal record of my birth, maybe born in a barn as the saying goes. No known mother. No known father. They called me Tom Thomas, and then a couple named Mcgillicuddy adopted me. I kept the ‘Tom’. The Mcgillicuddys died in a car wreck when I was attending college. With no known birth parents, my adoptive parents gone, no siblings, the agency recruited me soon after.” Then, I went to the front window and stared into the darkness, “But where are you, Deviled Yeggs?”
The Polybius Square has been used as a code with good success due to most people knowing morse code and thinking in such terms, but with a standard square, it could be broken easily in time, becoming a basic substitution code.
This story came to me and rolled around in my mind for a couple of weeks, but before I starting to write, it dawned on me that the Yeggs were responsible parents, and something would have to be a life-changing event for them to disappear for a weekend without letting people know what was going on, especially their children. I have not started writing the next story, but “Intervention – A Glyce Yeggs mystery” is rolling around in my brain and may reach my fingers soon.