Meanwhile, Sophia poured us another glass of Corbieres rouge. Her daughter is on the computer in my office reading pithy comments by the Maniacs about the relative merits of their virility. We crank up the volume so that Kate Bush's tribute to Joan of Arc drowns out the scathing shrieks about bagels and gnomes in the background. Listening to Kate's lyrics reminds us of the time we painted Joan's armored toenails with red Chanel nail polish during our first secret mission to Reims Cathedral. Rock on, Joanni!
Once upon a time, I considered myself to be a fairly normal person. After touring the world as a rock'n'roll sound engineer, I happily settled down in London and focused on establishing a music production company with my now ex-husband.
The stress of nurturing an ever-expanding business fractured our marriage in the end, but the dismantling of our company for the divorce took almost as long as it had taken to build it, during which period my life was frustratingly on hold.
Most people, faced with the simultaneous annihilation of their marriage and livelihood, might embark on a serious attempt at prolonged serial debauchery but, instead, I ended up investigating secret societies. Trust me, I didn't consciously intend to do this and, if I'd known where it would all end up, I probably would have pursued infinitely less challenging hobbies such as motor racing or parachuting.
But, firstly, I started spending more time “doing business” in Paris and, then, we decided to mischievously embroider Michael and Richard’s Mary Magdalene myth into the lyrics of a pop album. And, before I knew it, I was hooked.
It was around this time that I decided to hire Sophia. Up until the separation, the Ex and I shared a secretary but now that we were spending time on different projects, even in different countries, I increasingly needed a personal assistant of some description.
So, experiencing the novelty of having time on my hands with Soph on board, during the Christmas vacation of 1995 I read a suitably dull and mindless book about chivalric orders with unpronounceable titles and "sacred bloodlines". On the last page was an advertizement for a promotional contest which cryptically referred the reader to a website featuring paintings allegedly containing "cosmic knowledge" passed down through the ages by luminaries such as Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Isaac Newton, Debussy, and Jean Cocteau. I was an internet virgin at the time, and on my own for Christmas, so I took the bait.
The contest was devised as an opportunity to "complete an intriguing quest" by decoding symbols which were incorporated into the featured artist's "uniquely energized" paintings in the style of Leonardo da Vinci's coded transmissions, which in turn would supposedly give the quester the answers to a series of "clues", leading to the "solution" of the quest, for which the prize was a trip to Stonehenge.
The quester was invited to purchase a set of "fine art" prints which were supplied with associated useful documentation, for the bargain price of around $400, in order to aid their advancement of the quest. But I already knew this material backwards, so I was able to decode the sketchy clues and solve the quest within the space of my Christmas vacation, without spending a penny.
So, I registered to the public discussion forum on the website and posted the solution to the quest, right out in the open. I didn't care about the trip to Stonehenge, which I have visited dozens of times, I was just playing the game for amusement.
You probably won't be surprised to learn that I was completely ignored. No magical trip to Stonehenge transpired. Just complete radio silence as other "questers" struggled their way through the no-brainer "secret clues" on the forum.
Had I not been engaged in the process of disintegration at the time, I probably would have shrugged the whole thing off as an obvious scam and walked away but, instead, I petulantly dug my heels in and wrote out all the background to the "solution" on the public forum in the guise of "Stella's internet adventure diaries" over a period of two to three years. This might sound pathetic, but we became an internet community in the same way that the Maniacs are a community, so this seemed like a harmless diversion.
To this end, "Stella" enthusiastically wrote about Saint Sulpice, Leonardo da Vinci, the Fibonacci series, Rosslyn Chapel, the Temple Church and Notre Dame de France in London, and all her side trips investigating the "codes" around Paris, Chartres, Versailles, and Gisors, ultimately following the trails to US locations such as San Francisco and Washington DC.
As my intrepid internet persona unfolded, Stella undertook a pilgrimage to the Louvre Museum in Paris to see the twin of her favorite da Vinci painting, Virgin of the Rocks, which in my real life I would superstitiously visit at the National Gallery in London as a good luck charm before attending the increasingly tense meetings with my company's bank, located virtually across the street from the gallery. After the bank meetings, I would walk around the corner to light a candle at Notre Dame de France, where I was already talking to a priest about the annulment of my marriage. These places, which most people read about in books or visit on literary tours, were part of my daily life.
After about a year of what I regarded, at the time, as a therapeutic creative outlet, strange people began to track me down, offering me obscure documents and "secret" information. For me, this was just like a new game. During this time, I got to know all the authors (including the author of the book which promoted the quest) and the French characters involved in the arcane world of secret societies and was leaked reams of "confidential" fabrications, which I duly incorporated into Stella's cyberspace adventures as part of an unfolding plot which had no apparent resolution.
It was only when government agents and royal military police officers started to casually make contact that I began to suspect that something might be amiss. But, by this time, I was so used to everyone blatantly ignoring my meandering endeavors that I simply incorporated these new characters into Stella's adventures for colorful effect.
By then I had mastered the technique of writing on two or three different levels, which would read effectively as dumb-blond rock chick chat on the surface, but contained multiple layers of increasingly alarming information if someone actually knew what they were looking for. So, that's when I started incorporating exact names and events that I knew were being officially investigated, into a fictional context.
This new tactic got an immediate reaction, but not the one I expected.
First, I got mildly vicious email threats, then telephone threats to my unlisted home number, then the brakes of my car were sabotaged. The police detective investigating the matter, who I already conveniently knew through my company, suggested at this point that I should cultivate a more wholesome hobby. Or maybe I should just get myself a boyfriend. At minimum, he recommended that I stay off of internet forums for the rest of my life.
After this, to my complete astonishment, I was officially declared the winner of the quest on the internet website. But, instead of a trip to Stonehenge, I was sent a full set of coded "fine art prints" (which are still packed in their cardboard containers), and my "solution" was featured prominently on the site, to signal that the “contest" was over. Behind the scenes, swathes of my forum posts were deleted, leaving behind a string of unrelated mindless drivel that I still cringe over, and then the forum was unceremoniously shut down with a terse message from the author and I was sent on my merry way.
You would think that this would be the end of the matter but, in fact, it was just the beginning.
Newton Coordinate:- New Year of the Rat, on the Greenwich Meridian.