This is the serialization of my first mystery novel, Null_Pointer. It will be released on this blog every work day until it is complete. You may purchase the novel at Amazon, Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords or order it from any brick and mortar bookstore near you. Thank you for reading it and I hope you enjoy this free look at the book.
You can find all the chapters of this book by searching for the Null_Pointer Novel tag.
Dancia’s dark green Karman Ghia coupe pulled onto Broadway and cruised south towards Federal Way. The sun had slipped low on the horizon and the city was coming alive on a Saturday night. The Boise foothills were turning deep purple, the brown scrub brush and snowcaps reflected the last rays of sunlight.
She loved her car and it showed. The simple dashboard was restored to its original condition. A flower holder attached to the passenger side was purple and cream colored with a papier-machÈ flower in it. The carpet was new and cream colored. The AM radio was original equipment and was turned down low on the local college radio station that played smooth jazz from the same era as the car.
Joshua took out the envelope he had written Glenn’s address on and read it again. It was up near the Columbia Village subdivision that was built by the legendary potato king of Idaho – J. R. Simplot. The area had been enjoying a growth boom, though not to the extent of the west side of town. They turned on Federal Way and cruised east along the bench overlooking the Boise River Valley. As they came to a light a yellow Chevy Nova pulled up along side them and revved its small block engine. Dancia looked over at the young male driver. He winked at her. She looked over at Joshua and grinned. He rolled his brown eyes and grabbed the inside of the KG as she pushed down on the gas. The air breathing German engine came alive like the rolling thunder of an approaching summer storm.
Dancia’s older brother was a Volkswagen mechanic and she used to help him rebuild cars from the frame up. She was a gear head long before embracing her geek side. Her Karman Ghia did not have a stock VW engine. She and her brother had mated a Porsche 914 engine to the Italian designed German car. Dancia loved to race it whenever she could against unsuspecting guys in American hot rods. Tonight the conditions were right for a little old fashioned street sweeping.
The light changed and the Nova leaped forward like a hulking metal giant, its mag wheels burning up the pavement. Dancia zipped through gears and floored the metal gas petal. Before they made it past the Maverick station the Nova had fallen behind and could not catch up to the little green Ghia with the Porsche heart. Dancia laughed as she saw the Nova receding behind in her rear view mirror. Joshua just shook his head and held on as she throttled back down to the legal speed limit. At the light to turn off Federal Way, the Nova caught up to them.
“What the hell do you have in that KG?” the Nova’s driver asked from his rolled down window.
“Enough German horsepower to spank your butt, punk!” Dancia replied.
Joshua figured they were in for a fight but the Nova driver just waved at her and laughed. She pulled away from him again and he let her go this time.
They eased onto Glenn’s street and slowed down, counting house numbers as they cruised. It was completely dark and they had to rely on the brilliance of streetlights and house lights. They eventually found it and both of them stared hard as they passed. It was outside of the subdivision and as such not affected by the strict covenants. The house was old and not well maintained. Tall weeds and grass that had not been mowed most of the summer mixed with all kinds of junk around the house. It was the kind of house parents forbid their kids to approach on Halloween and the same house their kids made up ghost stories about.
Dancia and Joshua exchanged looks before she sped up and went around the neighborhood. “I don’t want to break into Boo Radely’s house,” Dancia said.
“Me neither. I wonder if he left any doors open or a key under the door mat.”
“I’ll make another pass.” Joshua nodded his consent to that, looking around and trying to think of an easy way in.
Dancia went down the street until she found a court to turn around in. The neighborhood was quiet, a few dogs barked and you could see into homes that were lit up. People were watching TV. It was very familiar to Joshua. This was the kind of middle class neighborhood he grew up in just in a different side of town. His father worked at a technology firm and his mother was a stay at home wife until he was able to fend for himself after school and then she went back to work as a legal assistant. They had plenty of money but he never thought of his family as being rich. Most people he knew lived in his neighborhood and they all had five bedroom cookie cutter houses with two and a half car garages and a cleaning service that came every week.
Dancia was not as fortunate growing up. Her mother left them when she was five and her brother was ten. Her blue-collar father raised the kids until he was injured in a construction accident and had to retire on disability. They lived in a trailer home in an area of town long since paved over with a shopping center. Her brother Scott put himself through an automotive trade school and got a job as a mechanic at a foreign car dealership. Dancia worked odd jobs growing up just so the family could eat better. She never made enough busing tables or scooping ice-cream to set aside for her own education but she was able to contribute to her brother’s schooling. In return, he taught her everything he learned at school so that she could at least be a mechanic.
She decided the best thing for her was to get an education through the military and get away from her then depressed and alcoholic father. She joined the Marines just in time to be a part of the invasion of Iraq. Her MOS was large vehicle mechanic and she was able to turn a wrench with the best of the guys, due in no small part to the training she got from her older brother. She stayed in the Marines for one enlistment and several tours in Iraq before getting out and using her GI bill to put herself through college. She met Joshua while attending Boise State and working part time at the local memory chip factory. Joshua had been out of school for almost two years now and she was still taking classes part time and working. Another semester of upper level courses and she would be able to graduate.
When they came back past Glenn’s house there was a late model Ford sedan parked in the driveway and the house lights were on. Dancia pulled over in front of the house and stopped.
“What do you think, shall we pretend we’re his friends or something? See if we get invited in,” Joshua asked.
“Yeah, we’re going out to a LAN party with Glenn and we didn’t know about what happened.”
“He also has some discs that he borrowed from us and we’d like to get them back. That might get us into his computer room,” Joshua said.
“Ok, let’s go,” Dancia said opening her door and getting out.
They walked up the driveway in silence. Dancia pushed the doorbell. After what seemed like an eternity but was in actuality only a few seconds someone came to the door. It was an older woman with graying hair and a homely face. She was dressed in simple off the rack clothes and had worry lines on her pale face.
“Can I help you kids?”
Dancia spoke before Joshua could react. “Hi is Glenn around?”
The woman’s face reflected shock as if she thought everyone already knew what had happened. “Good heavens no, child. He died just yesterday.”
Dancia and Joshua did their best to look shocked by the news. “We’re sorry to hear that,” Dancia finally said.
“We had a game with him tonight. He was going to bring us some disks with a program he was working on,” Joshua said.
The woman looked back into the house for a moment and then opened the door for them to come in.
“I’m his aunt Doris from Nampa. His family asked me to look over his home until they could make arrangements to get back from Europe. They live in Norway, don’t you know.”
They stepped inside tentatively and looked around. It was a typical bachelor’s pad, cheap furniture and sparse decorations. There was a dilapidated couch along the wall and an old TV near the front windows. A very old chrome faced VCR and a stereo that still had a turntable and eight-track player built into it. Glenn was in his late forties and Joshua got the impression he was fond of the technology that he grew up with. There was an old wooden crate with actual vinyl record albums in it, bands like ELO and Yes were visible, along with a few Journey albums. There was even a Bee-Gee’s cassette in the eight-track player.
A stale musty smell snuck up on Joshua’s nostrils, alerting him to the fact that very little attention was paid to cleaning the house. It smelled like a home that someone had lived in for months without actually opening a window. There was also the unmistakable stench of cat urine that hit his nose about the same time as a big old barnyard cat rubbed against his leg. Dancia let out a sneeze that caused Doris to flinch. It was followed by several more sneezes and watery eyes. She apologized politely for her allergies. Doris motioned for them to come in with a look of amusement on her face.
“Can I get you kids something to drink?” she offered.
“Yes, please, water would be great,” Joshua, said trying to buy them some time in Glenn’s room.
“No thank-you,” Dancia said, she looked around like she was missing something and sure enough, Doris picked up on it.
“His computer is in the den, if you two would like to look around for your disks. It’s just down the hall on the right.”
Dancia led the way down the hall and turned into the darkened den. Joshua flipped on the light behind her and immediately felt he was in Glenn’s cubicle. It was just as sparsely decorated. The walls were white and barren and there were no personalized items on his manufactured desk. A wall of cheap bookcases filled with programming and science fiction books attracted Dancia’s attention. She was always curious to see what other programmers were reading. He had a smattering of O’Reilly and Microsoft Press books and quite a few hardback books by Asimov and Heinlein.
Joshua focused on the computer at the desk finding a USB plug on the front and ramming his thumb drive into it he quickly turned on the machine and waited patiently for it to boot. It automatically logged Glenn on and as soon as he was able to pull up the file manager he started transferring files to the thumb drive. Doris came in with a glass of water for Joshua. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Thanks, we’re still looking,” he said, taking the water.
“Glenn was sure into computers, we never saw him much except for the big holidays.”
She looked around at the stack of old pizza boxes and the tower of soda cans stacked along the far wall. “I thought it best if I came by and cleaned up a bit before his parents came. I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. I’ll have to come back tomorrow and work most of the day to get this house presentable.”
“I can’t believe he’s gone. How did he die?” Joshua asked his eye on the flashing blue light on the thumb drive.
“The police said he suffered a heart attack and died at his desk at work. What a terrible way to go and he was so young, so very young.”
Joshua wanted to come clean with the poor woman and tell her he was the one who found Glenn but there was little comfort in telling her that. She excused herself and went back down the hall to finish cleaning in the kitchen.
Dancia came to his side and spoke softly. “You okay?”
Joshua managed a weak smile. “Yeah. Find anything useful?” She shook her head and mimicked Doris. “He was really into computers.”
Joshua laughed and Dancia smiled. He finished the transfer and pulled the thumb drive out and shut the PC down. Dancia picked up some CD-ROMs and they left the den. Doris was filling the sink with hot water so she could mop the kitchen floor. The room smelled like ammonia cleaner.
“Thanks for letting us find the discs, Doris.” Joshua said holding up the CD-ROMs.
“Oh that’s no problem, you kids just let yourselves out,” she said waving at them.
They left the house and got back into Dancia’s Ghia. “Did you get the image?” she asked.
Joshua held up the tiny silver thumb drive and smiled.