As soon as you turn your back on the uncertain sunrise and enter your office
building, you cease to be Miguel Sáenz, the civil servant discernible behind
the wrinkled gray suit, round, wire-rimmed glasses, and fearful gaze, and
become Turing, decipherer of secrets, relentless pursuer of encoded
messages, the pride of the Black Chamber.
You insert your electronic ID card into a slot. You are prompted for your password and type ruth1. The metal door opens and the world you unknowingly dreamed of as a child awaits you. Slowly, with measured steps, you enter a vaulted glass enclosure. Two policemen greet you formally. They see the color of your card green, meaning Beyond Top Secret without looking at it. It was all so much easier during Alberts time, when there were only two colors, yellow (Secret) and green. Then that smug Ramírez-Graham arrived (you had once called him Mr. Ramírez and he had corrected you: Ramírez-Graham, please), and card colors soon began to multiply. In less than a year, red (Top Secret), white (Not at All Secret), blue (Ultra), and orange (Ultra Priority) cards appeared. The color of your card indicates which parts of the building you have access to. Ramírez-Graham has the only purple card in existence, Ultra High Priority. In theory, there is only one area in the seven-story building for which the purple card is required: the Archive of Archives, a small section in the heart of the archives. Such proliferation is laughable. But you are not laughing; you are still offended that some of your colleagues have Ultra and Ultra Priority cards and can go where you cannot.
Always so early, Mr. Sáenz.
For as long as the old body holds out, captain.
The policemen know who you are; they have heard the stories about you. They dont understand what you do or how you do it, but still they respect you. Or perhaps they respect you because they dont understand what you do or how you do it.
You walk next to the wall where the great emblem of the Black Chamber hangs. It is a resplendent aluminum disk encircling a man bent over a desk, trying to decipher a message, and a condor holding a ribbon in its claws that bears the motto Logic and Intuition
in Morse code. True, both are needed to penetrate the crypt of secret codes, but they arent used in equal proportions. For you, at least, intuition is what lights the way, but the hard work is done by reason.
They dont understand what you do or how you do it, but still they respect you. What you do? Is it correct still to speak in the present tense? Your glory days, you have to admit, begin to fade in the expanse of time. For example, December 6, 1974, when you detected a cell of leftists who used phrases from Che Guevaras diary to encode messages; or September 17, 1976, when you were able to warn President Montenegro that an insurrection was brewing in the Cochabamba and Santa Cruz regiments; or December 25, 1981, when you deciphered messages from the Chilean government to its chargé daffaires regarding water that was being diverted from a river along the border. There are many, many more, but since then your successes have been sporadic. Ramírez- Graham reassigned you, and although at first it seemed that your new job was a promotion, it actually distanced you from the action. As head of the Black Chambers general archives, you have become a cryptanalyst who no longer analyzes codes.
Your steps echo down the hallway. You rub your hands together, trying to warm them. The countrys return to democracy in the early 1980s didnt end the work that was done in this building, but it did minimize it. At first messages between unionists were intercepted, and then later on between drug traffickers, careless people who spoke on easily traceable radio frequencies and didnt even bother to code their messages. The 1990s brought sporadic work listening to opposition politicians on bugged telephones.
Spanish edition copyright © 2003 by Edmundo Paz Soldán, English translation copyright © 2006 by Lisa Carter. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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