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.
Detective Bill Plait was in early for a Wednesday morning. He wanted to make sure the ball got rolling on the search warrant for Lawrence Taggert and that the Canadian police were alerted so that they could try and find Mike Metz. It was always interesting dealing with the Canadian authorities; they seemed to have many different law enforcement divisions and most of them overlapped in some areas. He was able to reach the S˚retÈ du QuÈbec and they were going to send a patrol car out to the kid’s residence to see if they could speak with him.
He also had to contact the “C” Division of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) due to the fact that this could turn into an international investigation, which meant that he would have to bring in the FBI. Something told him that it was going to be a long day. The last thing he wanted was to involve all those agencies and then have it turn out to be nothing, or a prank of some sort. Plait had a pretty good feel for people and he was confident that the kids were not pranking him last night.
Around ten that morning he got his search warrant to check out Taggert’s home. He took a squad car with him for back up and another detective. They drove out to the northern edge of Ada County to Taggert’s trailer. It was parked on top of a ridge that was part of the Boise Foothills. You couldn’t miss the forty-foot radio antenna that hung above the property. There was only one road up the side of the hill to the house and it looked like a pretty steep drop off to the far side of the ridge. The DMV had a late model Dodge Ram truck registered to Taggert but there were no vehicles to be found anywhere.
He thought about sending one of the troopers around back, in case Taggert made a dash for it on foot. The rough terrain made that a poor exit route, so he dropped the idea. They stood away from the front door with their weapons drawn, better to error on the side of caution. Everyone was wearing body armor but that didn’t always work with a large caliber rifle.
Plait pounded on the door and rang the doorbell. He was required to identify himself and his intentions before entry and he did so with authority. There was no response. The house was quiet.
He motioned for one of the troopers to open the door. It was not locked. Sensing a trap, he followed the trooper with a shotgun into the house. It was empty. They moved with caution around the various rooms and reconvened in the front living room. It may have been empty, but there were signs that someone had been home recently.
There was some camping gear strewn around on the floor and a couple of empty boxes of nine millimeter ammunition in the waste basket, but by and large the place looked normal. Plait and the other detective set about looking for anything that could link Taggert to what the kids had accused him of.
Plait had seen a computer room back down the main hall, so he started there. There was only one computer in the room. It was housed in a large server box with caster wheels on the bottom that looked like a doghouse to Plait. The monitor was on, but there was only a command line interface with a silent, blinking curser.
His eyes scanned the desk and bookshelves, mostly old UNIX manuals and some very old hardware that probably no longer functioned. It was clear the guy was an old school geek. There were a few Ham radios on the desk, again, older type gear that judging from the amount of chrome trim was new back in the seventies. None of the radio equipment was on.
Plait found a paper logbook on the desk and read some of the contacts made in pencil. It was all pretty esoteric and near as he could tell, normal. None of the latest contacts were from Canada. But that would be expected if he were covering his bases.
There were lots of wires coming out of the radio gear and going into what looked like a speaker box and an antenna-switching box. More wires went from the back of the radios to the back of the computer. The kid, Joshua, had noted in his report that he thought Muse was using voice altering software to disguise himself on the air. That would appear to be correct from what Plait could tell. He was no engineer.
The detective called for him and Plait left the room for the back yard. They had found a makeshift shooting range in the back yard. There were shell casings lying around in the dirt and snow. Plait bent down and picked one up to smell it. The brass was cold and smelled of sulfur.
It looked like Taggert was getting in a little target practice this morning. Plait studied the radio antenna while he was outside. It was made from triangular tubing and braced with four guy wires that were mounted on eyelets that were cemented into the ground. The wind was blowing pretty steady up on the hilltop and Plait guessed that during a storm the winds were quite a bit stronger.
He turned the brass over in his hand and thought about the other case he was working. A nine-millimeter bullet killed Henry Levine. He was also a Ham. Plait went back inside the computer room and looked around. There was some equipment stacked in a corner that looked like it was radio related. He picked up a metal cover that had been removed from one of the electronic boxes between the computer and the radios. Turning it over he saw Henry Levine’s call sign written inside. At that moment Taggert went from a person of interest to a suspect.
Plait took out his cell phone again and called the McCall police station. He knew the police chief there and was put through to him immediately.
“Pete, this is Bill. Yeah, doing fine, yourself?” He listened politely for a moment as Pete went on about how nice and quiet it was for early in the season.
“That’s great, listen I need you to send a car out to a cabin up there for me. Just check in on some kids and make sure they are okay.” Plait gave his friend the address to Joshua’s cabin and then hung up. He took out his notebook and a pen, and started making notes about what he found.
There was no evidence that linked Taggert to McCall. So it was a good bet that they would be safe, but he didn’t want to chance it. He radioed into dispatch to put out an APB for Taggert’s Dodge truck and a warrant for his arrest. With any luck they would find him at a local area store and bring him in.
His cell went off. “Detective Plait.”
It was the Quebec Police. Mike Metz was found dead in his apartment at his computer with no evidence of foul play. They were moving the case to homicide and the RCMP was coming in to take it over.
At his computer? Plait quickly asked if Metz was wearing head phones – he was. Plait looked around the room with renewed interest. The style of killing sounded too similar to be a coincidence.
Plait spent a good twenty minutes talking to several detectives on the Canadian side, answering all their questions to the best of his ability. His next call was to the Salt Lake City Division of the FBI. He spent another thirty minutes talking with the Special Agents assigned to both computer crimes and violent crimes divisions. When everyone had been briefed he was told by the FBI to stay at the house and that they were sending an Agent out there immediately.
It was starting to cloud up towards the West and obvious that a major snowstorm was brewing. Plait continued to look around the property, hoping to find some bit of evidence that would definitely link Taggert to Joshua Jones. It was almost noon when he called Joshua’s cell number.
“Joshua Jones?” Plait asked.
“This is Detective Plait, Boise Police Department.”
“Yes sir,” Joshua replied, wiping his mouth and sitting up in the booth. He and Dancia were just finishing their burgers for lunch.
“I just got word from Canada that Mike Metz was found dead in his apartment. This is rapidly turning into a serious situation.”
Joshua blinked and stared in disbelief at Dancia. She gave him a curious look, wondering who was on the phone.
“Shemp is dead?” Joshua repeated. Dancia’s eyes grew big.
“Yes. In a few minutes the FBI will be taking over this case. I’ve already briefed them about the situation. They want you to stay put for the time being. I’ve spoken to the police chief up there in McCall and he’s agreed to send a car by your place to check on you.”
Joshua nodded, as if he were listening to the detective in person.
“You still there, kid?”
“Good, we have an APB out on Taggert, he’s wanted in connection with another murder. We should have him located in short order. Until then, stay where you are.”
Joshua thanked the detective and then hung up. Dancia had held herself in check, but he could tell she was shocked that Shemp was dead. Joshua moved to her side of the booth and hugged her. She appreciated the support and clung to him tightly. Snow was beginning to fall in huge, gentle flakes.
“I felt like I knew him and now he’s dead,” she said.
Joshua squeezed her shoulder.
“I know. There’s been far too much death in our lives lately. But don’t worry, the cops will find Taggert and everything will be fine.”
“They always are,” she said sarcastically.
They sat there quietly for a moment, as if out of respect for Shemp. Joshua elected not to tell her that Taggert was wanted for another murder back in Boise.