Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 7.1

Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.

Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.

Together, they make a formidable team!


Rory (ret’d). Chapter seven, part one.

Priya arrived first thing to check on the upgrades she’d done and to look at the camera and monitoring setup.

“I have to be off any minute, Priya,” I said, “can you make it later?”

“I can stay if you have to go off,” Penny said, “that’s if you’re okay with that, Priya. I don’t know the system as well as Rory does, but I’m reasonably au fait with its general working.”

“That’s okay. I’m really just being inquisitive,” Priya said.

“A woman after my own heart,” my wife said, “Anyway, it’s your playtime. Off you go,” and shoved me out of the door.

Walking away, I heard her tell Priya that I was following up on some important developments in this break-in case.

Charlie was expecting me. I should never forget that his camera system can see my gate, that his system knows my face and that it will inform him when it sees me, so he knows I’m on his patch almost before I even know myself. The door was open on my arrival and closed as soon as I entered his house.

“I fitted a door opener yesterday evening,” he called down the stairs, “Like it?”

“Love it,” I said as I slowly climbed to his upper floor, “Not automatic, I take it.”

“Yes and no. For people I have authorised, people like you and Penny, it will open as you approach, provided I have the system in welcoming mode. That usually means I’m here. The really clever part is that if I’m not at home but you have a good reason to enter my home, I can disarm the alarm, unlock and open the door and set it so that as soon as you leave, it will close, lock and alarm all by itself.”

“You have been busy, haven’t you?”

“I hope you have as well.”

“I have,” I said, fishing the tin out of the bag in which I was carrying it.

“A light-green box,” he said, “and almost exactly the size of a ream of paper, I’ll be bound.”

I lifted the lid. “There’s nothing in it,” he said sadly.

“Correct. Had us baffled for a while. Then my very clever wife—”

“Which one’s that?” he asked cheekily.

“The one who’s currently next door with the alarm woman,” I said, “she found a QR code on the base. My impression, looking at it, is that it was made later, possibly much later than the other printing and coding on the tin, and with a heavier ink.”

“What does it say?”

“My QR reading app can’t decode it, says it’s an unknown format. That’s where we were hoping you would come to the rescue. Can you check it with your apps?” I handed the tin to him.

“That’s a hell of a dent in the top. Where was it?”

“It’s been propping up the corner of the bed for the past three years.”

“Which corner?”

“The one closest to my head.”



“Feeling sorry for the tin – especially what with it being empty and all.” He turned the tin over and inspected its base. “Hmmm. Agreed, it is younger than the rest. Let’s offer it to the scanner.”

“The same one you used for the panel?”

“I use that one for everything. Its own software will work out what it’s scanning and pass the data to the right application to interpret and decode it as needed.”

“That’s rather clever.”

“Thank you. It’s just what I do, though.”

We placed the tin, upside down, on the scanner’s bed and Charlie sat at the screen and typed furiously into it. The scanner whirred and clicked and finally, the bright green trace moved across the QR code first horizontally then vertically. “Right,” Charlie said picking the tin up and handing it to me, “back to the nerve centre.”

We parked ourselves in front of the desk with the two large monitors and waited whilst the software did its thing. After a couple of minutes, the screen came to life. Charlie read its output. “I’m not surprised your system couldn’t cope with it,” he said, “It’s encrypted.”

“Can’t your software deal with that?”

“Yes, easily, once we know the encryption scheme and the key.”

“How long will that take?”

“If quantum computing was available to me, we could try every possible combination and have a definitive answer inside a minute. With the best we have now—”

“I’m guessing a bit longer.”

“At least a century although, given the rate at which computer speed and efficiency grow, maybe only a few decades.”

“So what now?”

“First, we analyse the ink to put a date on it. We then see which encryption models were most popular at the time it was laid down, then we do some serious digging to try to determine what Mr E’s key was likely to be.”

“And how long will that lot take?”

“The first two steps, dating and establishing the most popular encryption methods will happen while we’re restoring the phones in the police station car park. I’ve already set them in motion.”

“And the rest?”

“Depends on the outcome of the first two, and what, if anything, we find on the restored phones.”

“Which we will disconnect from the web as soon as they’re restored.”

“Goes without saying, old chap. Goes without saying. Let’s away.”

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