A close encounter four years ago with a sphinx atop Manitoba's legislature has taken Winnipeg scholar Frank Albo down an increasingly curious rabbit hole. His journey has uncovered one of the province's greatest secrets -- a secret that's been hidden in Manitoba for more than 80 years.

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A close encounter four years ago with a sphinx atop Manitoba's legislature has taken Winnipeg scholar Frank Albo down an increasingly curious rabbit hole.
His journey has uncovered one of the province's greatest secrets -- a secret that's been hidden in Manitoba for more than 80 years.

Today, we present the first chapter of The Hermetic Code, a story that promises to reveal more of the mysteries of the legislature and its Golden Boy than ever before.

As bizarre as this 15-part story gets -- and bizarre it certainly gets -- there's one thing you must remember. IT'S ALL TRUE.

The facts and people are real; the events have been dramatized by Free Press writers Carolin Vesely and Buzz Currie. Take a step down the rabbit hole yourself today, with Chapter 1 of... THE HERMETIC CODE



Over the past four years, Winnipeg scholar Frank Albo has been engaged in an unusual excavation: Digging up the the magic and mystery of Manitoba's Legislative Building.

The facts and the people in this made-in-Manitoba story are real: The events have been brought to life by writers Carolin Vesely and Buzz Currie.

In this, the first chapter of a special two-week series, we pay homage to Dan Brown's bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code.


Chapter 1

FRANK Albo awoke slowly.

A telephone was ringing in the darkness -- a tinny, unfamiliar ring. He fumbled for the bedside lamp and turned it on. Squinting at his surroundings, he saw a French Chateau-style bedroom with a 10-foot ceiling, solid mahogany armoire and desk and an exquisite bed ensemble with down duvet and fine Italian linens.

Where the hell am I?

The thick cotton bathrobe hanging on his bedpost bore the monogram: Fort Garry Hotel Winnipeg.

Slowly, the fog began to lift.

Albo picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Mr. Albo?" a woman's voice said. "I hope I haven't awoken you?"

Dazed, Albo looked at the bedside clock. It was 12:32 a.m. He had been asleep only an hour, but he felt like the dead.

"This is the front desk, Mr. Albo. I apologize for the intrusion, but you have a telephone call. He insists it's urgent."

Albo still felt fuzzy. A caller? His eyes focused now on a crumpled flyer on his bedside table.

 


 

THE MAGIC AND MYSTERY
IN THE MANITOBA
LEGISLATURE

 

The Club Room, Hotel Fort Garry

AN EVENING WITH FRANK ALBO

Research fellow in the Department of Anthropology
University of Winnipeg

 


Albo groaned. Tonight's lecture -- a slide show about pagan symbolism hidden in the stones of the Manitoba legislature -- had probably ruffled some conservative feathers in the audience. Most likely, some conspiracy theorist had trailed him home to pick a fight.

"I'm sorry," Albo said, "but I'm very tired and -- "

"Yes, Mr. Albo," the receptionist pressed, lowering her voice to an urgent whisper. "Your caller is a very insistent man."

Albo had little doubt. His published papers and media interviews on occult symbology had made him a reluctant celebrity, and last year Albo's visibility had increased a hundredfold after hisguest spot on the Alex Jones Show, a syndicated radio call-in show out of Austin, Texas.

A so-called 15-minute phone interview had turned into a two-hour ambush, led by one of America's most hard-core conspiracy theorists. Since then, a steady stream of notes from paranoiacs and religious wingnuts -- including an evangelicalTexas church group that had begun a prayer vigil for the souls of Winnipeg -- had flooded his e-mail inbox.

"If you would be so kind," Albo said, doing his best to remain polite, "would you take the man's name and number and tell him I'll try to call him before I leave for Amsterdam on Tuesday? Thank you." He hung up before the receptionist could protest.

Sitting up now, Albo frowned at his bedside Guest Relations Handbook, whose cover boasted: The Fort Garry Hotel. A Castle to Call Home. He turned and gazed tiredly into the full-length mirror across the room. The man staring back at him was a stranger -- tousled and weary.

You need a vacation, Frank.

The past year had taken a heavy toll on him, but he didn't appreciate seeing proof in the mirror. His usually sharp brown eyes looked hazy and drawn tonight. A dark stubble was shrouding his strong jaw and dimpled chin.

Albo was 32, but at this hour, he looked closer to 40. If the University of Winnipeg Alumni Journal could see me now.

Last month, much to Albo's embarassment, the magazine had run an article with the headline: U of W Grad Uncovers Winnipeg's Own Da Vinci Code. Even Premier Gary Doer had taken to calling him, a budding academic with a view to Harvard, "Canada's Dan Brown" -- a dubious tag that made him the brunt of endless ribbing by his colleagues.

The ringing of Albo's hotel phone again broke the silence.

Groaning in disbelief, he picked up. "Yes?"

"It's a red herring, Frank," a man's voice said. "The Ark of the Covenant is a red herring."

Albo recognized the voice immediately, although he'd never laid eyes on its owner.

The Smoking Man.

Maybe he'd seen one too many episodes of the X-Files. But what better to call an enigmatic figure who kept popping up with cryptic clues that led him farther and farther down the rabbit hole? Albo had been feeling a bit like Fox Mulder ever since his research on the architectural significance of the Manitoba Legislature had veered off into an esoteric realm of occult symbolism, sacred geometry and secret societies.

The truth was out there alright, cleverly encoded into every precisely placed stone, every sculpture, every painting and adornment, every dimension of the building.

It was Albo's quest, now bordering on obsession, to crack that code.

In fact, he was becoming rather famous in his hometown with his research into the huge neo-classical Greek style building forged out of Tyndall limestone, nestled on 30 acres of parkland on the Assiniboine River's north bank.

Just recently, high up on the east side of the grand building, Frank had discovered another Tyndall stone marvel: A carving he believed represented the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark is -- or was -- the box that held the Ten Commandments, the stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God himself and brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses. King Solomon built a permanent house for the Ark on the highest point in Jerusalem: The great temple, a building that would surely be one of the wonders of the world had the Babylonians, about 400 years later, not destroyed it and carried the Israelites away into captivity.

As Frank dug deeper into the architecture and decoration of Manitoba's legislature, he was gradually uncovering a strange kinship with that ancient, long-lost building.

Sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, its 20th-century builders had evoked the work of the 10th-century BCE designers of the temple.

The Ark of the Covenant had seemed to be the ultimate mystery of the legislature, and Frank had already begun, in his head, the research paper that would turn scholars' heads around the world.

And now, here was The Smoking Man, so smug, waking him up in the middle of the night to stick a barb into the bubble of his dream.

Albo ran his fingers through his close-cropped black hair, the way he did when he was annoyed or stressed. Right now, he was both.

"What are you talking about?" he asked. "The Ark of the Covenant, the very presence of God, is sitting on the roof of a government building in the middle of North America. How could that possibly be a red herring?"

The Smoking Man was silent for so long, Albo began to wonder if he'd hung up. Then he heard breathing. As usual, the answer came wrapped in a riddle.

"Think about who built the temple, Frank," the deep voice said, in the trademark cool and measured tone that Albo found so infuriating.

"And when they built it.

"And why."

Albo tried to keep him talking. "We know who built it," he said.

"And as for why -- do you mean beyond it being the government's headquarters?" Albo suspected the guy on the other end of the phone knew the answers to his own questions.

But The Smoking Man was done talking.

The phone line buzzed mockingly.

Albo was alone with his notes, his laptop and his mystery.

NEXT CHAPTER