Somewhere in France, Summer 1858
They invited the priest. Would you believe it? The priest!
There is a mirror in the mayor's office. My reflection looks at me with his emotionless eyes, his stiff moustache, his flawless uniform, all his shining brass. Distant, martial, a creature from another world. He is not fooling me. I know that beneath the shell of the distinguished officer arrived from the capital, he is just as frustrated as I am. I was respected, I was well connected, I was in line for a promotion. One mistake, and all of that is gone. Here I am, now, in this pathetic excuse for a town, sent to fix what can only be some ridiculous rural squabble.
I am about to be made aware of the trouble by the authorities of this place: the mayor, a stout old man who dresses like a gentleman and speaks like a peasant, the elderly sergeant in charge of maintaining the peace, and, of course, the parish priest. I am sure the reverend is an expert in matters of public security...
The mayor seems to have come to the end of his endless introduction and appears to have come to the point:
"You see, Captain, this is a community of honest people. Hard working, always voting for the government". I nod along, feigning the keenest interest. "So you can imagine the shock when we found out that four dangerous revolutionaries are hiding in our beautiful town".
It takes me a couple of seconds to realise what he is saying. Four revolutionaries? Here?
"Excuse me, Monsieur le Maire, what do you mean by revolutionaries?"
There you go: nothing like sounding stupid to inspire confidence in our loyal citizens.
The mayor looks genuinely surprised: "I don't understand, I thought you were aware of the problem. After all, the dossier that started the investigation came directly from Paris."
"Of course, of course. Wrong choice of words, I apologise. I am just trying to establish what you know about the issue." - For a moment, only a moment, my twin beyond the mirror lost his countenance. This is the most humiliating moment of my whole life. Why wasn't I told?
The mayor doesn't seem to have noticed my misery. With a gesture, he invites the sergeant to illustrate the situation. The old man jumps from his chair with unsuspected enthusiasm, laying the content of a leather folder on the table so vehemently that he comes dangerously close to toppling the reverend's cognac.
"Monsieur le Maire, Captain, this is what we know so far:" - he says, visibly excited - "four dangerous revolutionaries have established their residence in our peaceful community. They are known in their circles by the names of Brumaire, Pantagruel, Norbert and K89. We know that they are affiliates of the notorious agitators Louis Blanqui, Mikhail Bakunin, Karl Marx and Giuseppe Mazzini, although we are yet to draw the individual connections. We know that one of them is plotting to assassinate a member of the imperial family, and another one will try to plant a bomb in this very place, our beloved Town Hall."
The priest gasps and empties his glass in one gulp. I am speechless. I thought I was going to deal with some silly story of cattle rustlers, and all of the sudden I find myself involved in something much bigger than this squalid town.
"As for the other two, their plans are not as murderous but no less despicable. One is apparently aiding some fugitives to escape abroad, while the other is organising a shipment of vicious merchandise of some sort into our country."
"Do we know who these criminals are?" - I ask.
"Not at the moment. However, we have managed to identify five suspicious individuals:
- Signor Ettore E., of Florence. We are aware of his affiliation with Mazzini, but we have no other information on his plans.
- Monsieur Benôit B. He appears to be a wealthy gentleman, but he seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Besides, he often receives encrypted communications.
- Madame Michelle M. She is a teacher in the local school. She has received encrypted communications in the past.
- Herr Hans H. A Swiss cobbler with strange literary interests and even stranger acquaintances.
- Miss Judith J. A well educated English lady. Nobody can explain her presence in town."
"So we have five suspects, but only four of them are our rebels?"
"Yes, sir. However, we are aware of suspicious traffic of information to and from five foreign countries. We suspect that the crooks could have backers in those countries".
"Russia, Great Britain, Belgium, plus one of the Italian states and a German Kingdom."
"What elements do we currently have?" - I ask.
"Of course you will be aware of the four dispatches we have intercepted..."
"Of course" - I lie - "do you have them with you?"
"I do indeed. This is evidence 1. A letter addressed to Madame Michelle M., from a person in the Kingdom of Bavaria. It was intercepted and never delivered:"
EGNRTU OYUNRI TSDAIL TACPHS RUEOVY ELDATE YTOAUH CSOIVD DEARPE TTOOAL SASSIS ETEAMN SESREP NEIGEU SIRHIT TSRKIS REIGNG PNRUEG EDNETC ERPDRE ISOSNE AESLEP ATBSLE CHOSNI TCWAIT HTEHPT TTEORL NOVCIS TEHCEN AOBTAM NOTDHN ALNPTE HSAISH OIRRIP VOEYRT ORWUNO ETRNPE ESXIXR
"This is evidence 2. It is a telegram received by Monsieur Benôit B. The telegraph office has provided us with a copy."
TM EA IWR USJP LN OFGV KDQ HEZ AIW RU YS JPCL XFBT MNO GVH KDQ EZA IW RUS JP YL FCXV HB ETA IW RUS JPML FN O VHEA I WGR KUDS QZY CJ PLF V XH B EAI T MNO WGK R DUS QJP LF ZV YCH XBT ME NAOI GKD QW ZRU SJ Y PL CXB TF M VHEA IN O GWKD QZY RUC SJ XP B L FTV HME AIN WOGR K DUQZ YCX SJB PTL M FNV HO EAIG W RKUS JPL FD QV ZHE AY CIXW BRTU S JMNP O LG FKDV QZY HEA IW C RU XBT MS JN O GPKL DQZ FVY HCE X ABTI WMRU S JN PLF V OHGE KDQ ZA IWR US YJP L FCV HE XB TM A NIW RU SO G J PKL F D VHQ EZA YI C XBT WRU SM JP NL O FGKV H D E AQI WRU ZSJP LFY VCH XBE TAMN OGK IWD RQU SJP ZLY CXB FTVH MENO AG
"Evidence 3 was intercepted when we arrested a traveler with no identification document. The woman claimed that she did not know the sender nor the intended recipient. She was instructed to drop the envelope at a certain place and at a certain time."
ZTPNKH JZSKSN TAXVTR XLINYK SLSZCN XUJLBN QNZAYP STCZJL ZZJNYJ KURNSZ KYLZQL YZXNLI EZCTVX LZNYTG ULRUJQ NZYLSI TZJNXN IAVLZK TSLQRL ZNXKLQ JKIINS KSLVLX HTTGRL VJKSNU LXZYKC KQQZLP NVLXNT GZJNZX LSYUTX ZLZKTS ZTZJNO TXINXL YUXNBK TAYQEI KYVAYY NICJNS NBNXEZ JKSHKY XNLIEG TXZJNU LYYLHN KCKQQQ NZETAP STCZJX TAHJZJ NAYALQ VJLSSN QYZJNX NKYYTR NZJKSH NQYNLG XKNSIK SOXAHN YJLYON NSVTSZ LVZNIO EYTRNN SHQKYJ HNSZQN RNSCJT CTAQIQ KPNZTT XHLSKY NLZXKU ZTOXKZ LKSGTX YTRNBN XEKSZN XNYZKS HULYYN SHNXYG XTRGXL SVNKZY NNRYQK PNYTRN TGZJNR CKQQZX LBNQZJ XTAHJE TAXQKZ ZQNZTC SKZCTA QIONJN QUGAQK GETAVT AQIZXE ZTGKSI TAZCJT LXNCNI NLQKSH CKZJUN XJLUYE TAVTAQ ILYPOX ARLKXN TXNBNS ETAXLS LXVJKY ZGXKNS IGXLZN XSLQQE OGTAXT SNXXXX
"Evidence 4 was handed over by a local farmer who shot the pigeon that carried it. Again, the sender and the intended recipient are unknown."
ZOLM S IDU BYFDL MG DFLOKD WGO MTSM SIMDK MTD DSKBW HKGEBDCL Y UKGMD SEGOM YF CW BSLM CDLLSPD MTD BYMMBD HKGZDRM UD SKD UGKAYFP GF YL HKGRDDNYFP UYMTGOM IOKMTDK NDBSWL. WGOK NSOPTMDK YL MTD EDLM GKPSFYLDK UD TSQD DQDK TSN. WGO TSQD SBB MTD KYPTM MG ED S HKGON ISMTDK. MTD YFIGKCSMYGF WGO HSLLDN GF YF WGOK BSLM BDMMDK TSL BDIM DQDKWGFD KSMTDK EDCOLDN. UD RSFFGM OFNDKLMSFN UTW S EBSFJOYLM HBGM UGOBN KDRDYQD IOFNYFPL IKGC LSKNYFYS. GI RGOKLD, LYFRD WGO SKD LG RGFIYNDFM MTSM MTSM CSKVYLM CSF YL MDBBYFP WGO MTD MKOMT, UD TSQD FG KDSLGF MG NGOEM YM. WGOKL LYFRDKDBW,
"Have you made any progress in their decryption?" - I ask, now almost excited.
"No, sir. We don't have the resources for that. That's why we asked for support from the Capital."
I sigh. This is more than I bargained for. However, if somehow I manage to link each of these suspects with their codename, their political affiliation, their plot, and the nationality of their backers, we will have a solid case against these subversive individuals and, most importantly, I will have something juicy to bring back to my superiors. And who knows? Perhaps my past mistakes will be forgotten.