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 lived on 4th street, about a block away from the Flying M Espresso Coffee House. They put on their heavy coats and walked down the street to the popular hang out spot. The night air was crisp. Joshua brought along his lap top so they could continue monitoring the chat room using the coffee shop’s free Wi-Fi.
The Flying M was a favorite local hang out for art lovers and creative types. The brown brick building contained big comfy furniture and some of the best coffee in Boise served by a friendly staff that loved the place as much as the many varied customers. Dancia hung out there all the time, catching up with her friends from school and consuming fresh baked goods and gallons of delicious coffee.
Even on a cold, November night, there were people sitting outside on the wooden benches absorbed in conversations and sipping coffee. The smell of zesty Italian sauce lingered from the pizza shop at the other end of the building. Dancia spotted someone she knew outside but just waved at her briefly as they headed inside to warm up.
Inside there was a modest crowd for a Saturday night. Joshua grabbed a seat on the black leather couch and Dancia went to stand in line to get their coffee. She immediately started chatting with other people in line. Joshua opened up his computer and signed back into the IRC channel. It still showed nooblet and six others logged in, but nobody was chatting. They picked a good time to get away.
Joshua looked around and took in the atmosphere of the coffee house. He used to hang out there all the time when he was a student. But lately, he only found himself coming in when he wanted to get out of his apartment and still be found by his friends. When he didn’t want to be found, he headed to the airport and worked on his airplane. He was always polishing the chromed metal skin or fixing some little part that was broken like a piece of fabric trim in the cabin.
Dancia came back with two big white cups of coffee and a large cookie for herself. She sat down beside him and motioned to the computer. “Anything going on?”
“No, it’s dead quiet.”
They sipped their coffee and watched the other people talking and laughing. Most were either students or arty types as the house had a fairly well known local art collection on display.
“There’s Melina.” Dancia pointed out her friend across the way, sketching patrons with a charcoal stick on a large pad of paper. As if she had heard Dancia, Melina noticed her and got up. She sat down next to Dancia.
“What’s up stranger?”
“Not much, just came out for some caffeine then it’s back to the ones and zeros,” Dancia replied, taking the drawing pad from her friend.
“You are so talented girl.”
Melina grinned sheepishly. She was a short, brunette with straight hair and big brown eyes. She was wearing a tight T-shirt with her belly exposed and faded blue jeans. It was warm in the coffee house and everyone slipped out of their heavy coats upon coming inside.
“Who’s your friend?” Melina asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Melina, Joshua. Joshua, Melina.”
Joshua waved and said hello. She nodded and replied, “Hi, I’m Dancia’s frustrated art friend.”
“I’m her geek friend who keeps her at the computer all the time.”
Melina raised an eyebrow. “Mmmm, sounds kinky.”
Dancia hit her in the head with her drawing and gave it back to her. They started chatting about common friends and who was dating whom, Joshua quickly tuned them out as he looked around the room. There was a good mix of students reading textbooks, computer nerds staring at laptops and a few older people talking at a table.
Near the back of the room, sitting under a neon clock was an older man peering at a laptop. He had thinning brown hair and wore a faded flower shirt and tight blue jeans with well-worn cowboy boots. It was Larry Taggert the UNIX guy from Joshua’s office. Joshua felt an urge to go over and say hi, but it looked like he was absorbed in reading something. Larry was not the most social person and Joshua thought it was kind of strange to see him in a public place. Of course he got that feeling about seeing most anyone he worked with outside of the work place. You work with people every day in a given environment and you start to associate them with that environment. When you see them outside of that environment, your brain has to reconcile that and sometimes it just doesn’t seem right.
A crowd of people came inside talking loudly and drawing attention to themselves. It was Tripp and his nerdy film friends. There were three of them and they immediately came over to Joshua.
“Hey it’s the geek squad,” Tripp said, slapping Joshua’s hand in a lazy five. “What’s up?”
There was another guy named Dave who was tall and had tight, curly red hair. Joshua recognized him as having worked at the local art film theater. A girl was with them; she was kind of heavy and wore glasses. She was carrying a Variety magazine under her arm and dressed all in black. Her name was Suz and she was a film critic for the local free paper.
“Just taking a coffee break, what kind of trouble are you guys into tonight?”
Tripp fell into the couch beside Joshua. “We just saw that new indie film at the Flicks. It was pretty cool, but we thought they could have done better.”
Dave nodded and Suz frowned. “Yeah, they’re not going to like my review. But then nobody ever does,” Suz said.
Suz was famous for never liking any film she reviewed. She was sometimes creative in her trashing but mostly she was just brutally honest.
“Speaking of film reviews, how’s the site coming?” Tripp asked.
“It’s coming. Dancia finished the data model and now I just have to tidy up the view, tweak the style sheet a bit. You guys want to bash on it for a while?”
Tripp shook his head. “Not tonight, we’re going to grab some brews and head over to Suz’s place to watch Brazil.”
Brazil was a heady take on Orwell’s 1984 and a really long film. It was one of Tripp’s all time favorites and the kind of film that the more you watched it, the more you found things that you missed before. Joshua actually didn’t mind watching it, because it had some weird computers in it and it was just plain bizarre.
“You and DC want to join us?”
Joshua was startled by the offer but politely refused. Tripp hit him on the shoulder in the way that guys do when they think their friend is about to score. Joshua shot him a look that said, “Get lost!” and Tripp stood up. Dancia and Melina were still chatting about stuff and didn’t really pay them much attention.
“Ok, we’re out of here, see you kids later,” Tripp said as they headed back out into the cold, already arguing about the lighting in the film they had just seen.
After they left, Joshua looked back down at the laptop. There was some idle chatting going on about the latest Intel processors. He tapped Dancia on her knee and she turned to him.
“I think we need to be getting back,” he said, pointing to the screen.
She glanced at it a moment and then returned to Melina. “It was good to see you again girl.”
“Yeah, same here. You guys going anywhere interesting?”
Dancia smiled. “We have a project going on back at my place, we could be coding for a while.”
“I just don’t understand your fascination with computers. I find them cold and boring.”
“Not everyone can be a talented, starving artist.”
Melina shrugged. “That would be pretty boring. I guess I’ll draw some more people, and see if she shows up again. Don’t you hate it when you see someone you would like to get to know better and circumstances align to stop it from happening?”
Dancia nodded. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll come back.”
“She’s prolly not gay anyway, so I shouldn’t get my hopes up.”
That got Joshua’s ear. “Whom are you guys talking about?”
“Some chick Melina saw in here last night. She’s totally got the hots for her.”
“What does she look like?” Joshua asked.
Melina unfolded a few pages of her sketchpad and showed Joshua a portrait she drew of the girl. She was very pretty and you could tell Melina had given some extra attention to the drawing. It captured the girl’s elegant chin line and dimples. Joshua thought she was very striking, but he had not seen her before.
“If you see her again, and she’s a breeder, get her number for me,” he said with a smile.
Melina laughed. “Sure thing. Might as well play matchmaker at that point. But if you go out with her you have to let me follow you guys around and draw her.”
Dancia pushed Joshua in a playful manner. “Let’s get going, we got some work to do.”
Joshua closed his lappy and put his coat back on. The girls hugged and then Dancia stood up and put her coat on and zipped it up. “See you around.”
“Bye guys, see you later.”
They left the coffee house and started walking back to Dancia’s apartment building.
“Don’t you think Melina is cute?”
“Sure, she seemed pretty cool. Do you guys know each other from school?”
Dancia smiled. “No, we’ve been friends forever, went to grade school together.”
“Tripp and I have known each other that long too. I don’t know why I still hang with him, we don’t exactly have much in common anymore.”
“I believe you can’t always shake your best friends that easily. Even if you move to the other side of the country and lead completely different lives, you can call them up and chat knowing that they are still one of the few people that really know you.”
Joshua thought about that for a moment as they walked in silence. Ever since his parents died, he had been pretty much alone in life. All of his relatives were living back East and he only got together with them every few years. Tripp was like a brother, someone you could hang with and not have to communicate verbally with all the time. They always looked out for each other and kept up with events in their lives, just like family would. He even had Joshua over to his parent’s house for the holidays. Sometimes Joshua used Tripp’s father as a sounding board for advice, like he used to talk to his own dad. Greg was pretty cool about it; he always made time for Joshua and would invite him over for dinner just so he and Tripp’s mom could find out how he was doing.
“As Tripp is so fond of saying, ‘No man is a failure who has friends’. I think that’s from It’s A Wonderful Life.”
“I love that movie. Watch it every Christmas.”
When they got back to Dancia’s bedroom, they found the IRC group engrossed in conversation about the merits of Flash script. A new person had joined the group named Shemp. He was arguing with Losing about how Flash was more than just a way to make moving images on the web. He was not getting anywhere with the largely Perl oriented coders of the group.
Joshua motioned for Dancia to join in. “Jump in, but stay pro Perl.”
She flexed her fingers and began to type.
<nooblet> Flash is for Windows weenies. Nobody designs web pages with that unless they are art types.
<losing> Exactly my point, nooblet. This guy thinks you can use Flash script to do complicated CGI type stuff.
<losing> Give me access to CGI bin and let me code with Perl. Screw that punk Flash crap.
<nooblet> Amen broth-ar.
There was another long pause where nobody typed anything. Joshua was reading through some chats that Glenn had had with Shemp about Flash. Glenn was more in line with Shemp on the topic. He came across a conversation they had one night about hypnotists. Shemp was convinced that he could write a Flash script that would hypnotize a person. Glenn was skeptical about it and offered links to sites that disproved the idea. But Shemp was unconvinced.
“Mention that you saw a magician hypnotize someone once. I want to see what Shemp says to that. He got into the topic with Glenn once here in the logs.”
Dancia thought about it for a second before typing.
<nooblet> I saw this magic show yesterday where the guy actually hypnotized this lady and made her think she was a monkey.
<losing> Did she fling some shit?
<nooblet> No. But she did act very simian-like. It was such a load of crap.
<shemp> Hypnotizing is legitimate, maybe it was real.
<nooblet> This guy was a charlatan and the girl was obviously in on it.
<losing> What the hell were you doing at a magic show?
Dancia shrugged and looked at Joshua for her reply.
“Tell him you had to take your little sister,” he said.
<nooblet> I had to take my little sister to it for her birthday. They even had clowns. I hate clowns.
<losing> Me too. Clowns creep me out.
<shemp> I hypnotized someone once with a Flash script.
<losing> Shut up!
<nooblet> Hang it up Shemp, nobody believes in that crap.
<shemp> Whatever, I know what I did and the person I did it to was completely under my control.
<losing> That’s how he gets women to go out with him.
<nooblet> *nooblet laughs hysterically.
<shemp> I could have made him do anything.
Joshua looked up.
“Shit!” he said, as he realized that Shemp could be the killer they were looking for.
Dancia turned to him. “What?”
“Do you think he could make someone kill themselves?”
Dancia stared at him for a moment, as she realized that she might be talking to the killer. “Is Shemp the one?”
“Possibly, but we don’t know much about him. Let’s start searching the logs for his name, maybe he will let something slip.”
When Dancia looked back to the screen, she saw an odd exchange and then shemp logged off.
<shemp> has quit (Read error: Connection reset by peer)
“What was that all about? What does that number mean?” Dancia asked.
“I don’t know. I’m switching channels to #coders. See if anyone knows. Keep searching those logs from work.”
She nodded and started doing regular expressions in Vi to find Shemp or that number. Joshua had finished his search and did not find anything.
In #coders, he tossed out his question. There were only five people in the channel. The odds were not too good he would come up with anything.
<jjones> Anyone know what 39430 might refer too? It’s just a number to me.
To his surprise, someone came back. It was Steve, his buddy from over on the Boise Bench.
<w7rbyy> Hey Joshua.
<jjones> What’s up Steve? Any idea what that number might mean?
<w7rbyy> Sounds familiar, oh yeah, that’s a frequency on 80 meters.
<jjones> A Ham band?
<w7rbyy> Yes, why are you asking about a Ham freq?
<jjones> It’s a long story. You busy?
It was just after midnight on a Saturday night. Steve was probably working in his Ham shack.
<w7rbyy> Nope, just testing some old tubes for the Collins rig.
<jjones> Mind if I stop by?
Joshua closed his laptop and stood up. “Get your coat back on, we’re going for a ride.”
“What did you find?” Dancia asked, getting up and looking around for her coat. Her log search had yielded two similar numbers both of which she memorized. She had an uncanny ability to memorize random numbers and little bits of data that seemingly had no connection to anything. She rarely wrote to-do notes to herself either.
“It’s a Ham radio frequency and we’re heading over to Steve’s house to see if we can hear these guys chatting.”
“Steve Lancy?” Dancia asked, tentatively. She was hoping it was someone else.
Joshua nodded. “Yeah.”
Dancia averted her eyes. “Ok, but you’re driving.”