“Ranger regulations did not specifically state that you couldn’t have intimate relations with a fellow Ranger. As an organization that often left its members alone on distant outposts for extended periods of time, that sort of thing would eventually happen. Ranger Command’s unwritten policy only frowned upon it. Personally, I leave that decision up to the discretion of sheriffs in the field.”

– Excerpt from: A Ranger’s Life, an autobiography of Joh Solano.


Chapter 9


Seth sat in the back of Downer’s at a table by himself. A rugged man with dark wavy hair and brown eyes, he was dressed in tan colored, utilitarian clothes that were well suited for the harsh desert environment of Ocherva. His big hands were cupped around a warm beer that he hadn’t touched in over an hour. The band was playing a slow, boring tune that nobody was paying attention to. Ever since Hap’s death a week before there had been no joy in Haven. Ore was mined. Ranger patrols were flown. Life went on in a dull haze that hung over the town and all its citizens.

Seth knew the cause of the gloom and he was finally fed up with it all. He stood up and walked over to the stairway that led up to the rooms on the second floor of the tavern. The lead singer of the band watched him climb the stairs as she sung a song about lost love. There were half a dozen patrons at tables. They all watched Seth make his way to Devon’s room at the far corner.

He didn’t knock but instead let himself in. The room was empty. Clothes were strewn around in piles on the floor and draped over furniture. The bed was rumpled and unmade. He noticed the window was open. A warm breeze blew lace curtains. He stepped over the piles of clothes on the floor and looked out the window. A rickety fire escape led to the roof and down to the alley below.

Seth knew where she was, he just didn’t want to have to climb out onto the fire escape to get to the roof. He left the room and headed down the hall to a stairway that led up. Seth opened the door to the roof and was confronted by Thirty-seven.

The android’s expressionless oval face somehow conveyed a sadness that could not be dismissed. “Sir, Miss Devon is bathing. She doesn’t wish to be disturbed.”

Seth pushed past the metal man with a hand to its chest and a stern look. The android gave way, its head slightly lowered in a programed grief routine.

Devon was sitting in a low metal tub facing away from the main street below. Her head rested on the round stucco edge of the roof and her long legs were draped out of the tub, feet resting on the warm gravel roof. The tub was only big enough to fit her lower torso. It wasn’t even a real tub, just a piece of scrap metal that she had the metallurgist bend into a shape that could hold water.

The Rangers took turns using the tub to soak their muscles in after a long hard day of patrolling. A tall bottle of clear liqueur was in her right hand, her left hand rested on her chest above her breast. Her blond hair was tied up away from her neck. She had a fresh scar on her forehead from the ejection. The water in the tub came up to her belly and thighs. She had another fresh mark on her thigh, where the alien had shot her. The white scar tissue contrasted with her tanned skin.

Seth stood over her in silence. She opened an eye to see who it was, then she raised the bottle. “Go away. I’m drinking alone.”

“How long are you going to drown your sorrows like this?”

Devon opened her eyes and looked up at Seth. She could see the disdain in his eyes, but she paid it no attention. “What do you care?”

Seth got down on his knees so he was eye level with her. “You’ve been drinking and keeping to yourself ever since her death. You don’t fly anymore. You barely do your share of the patrolling. When you do, you’re too drunk to apprehend anyone by yourself. How do you think the others feel about seeing their leader act like this?”

Devon closed her pale blue eyes dismissively.

“I’ll tell you what they feel. Betrayed.”

Devon lifted her head off the back of the wall and shot Seth a harsh look. “Screw you all. I lost my best friend. They only lost a pathetic drunk leader that was good enough to save her own skin but not good enough to keep her wingman from getting killed.”

She started to cry, the tears filling her eyes and streaming down her already wet face. “It was all my fault, Seth. I saved my own ass and got her killed.”

Seth reached around her shoulders and held her close in a reassuring hug. Devon’s body shook with every burst of tears. She let the glass fall to the roof as she held on tightly to Seth’s broad shoulders.

“You couldn’t have known what that ship was about to do. You reacted on instinct. Hap was just not as fast as you were. Hell none of us are, that’s why you’re our leader.”

Devon rested her head against the stubble on Seth’s neck and continued to sob. She had needed the release. She had not cried once since Hap’s death. After a few minutes of crying she forced herself to stop. “I asked her, on the day she died, what I would ever do without her.”

Seth sat patiently listening.

“She told me that she thought I’d become a lonely old drunk.” Devon laughed. “She knew me pretty well, didn’t she?”

Seth nodded. “She was a wonderful spirit and we all miss her Dev. But we miss you more right now. We need the old Devon back. The one who parties with us and gets upset when we can’t do split roundels as good as she can.”

Devon smiled to herself for moment and then looked more serious than he had ever seen her before.

“Seth, I can’t stay here any longer.”

Seth pushed her away, but still held onto her wet shoulders. “What?”

“I have to find those aliens. I don’t think I can rest until I have.”

“How are you going to do that? They’ve got to be light years away from here by now?”

Devon wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I don’t think so. I think they’re looking for someone to fight them. Everything we know about them suggests that they are a warrior society. Sooner or latter they’re going to make their way into the inner systems and that can mean only one thing-”


Devon nodded. Seth let go of her and sat down on the gravel roof. He gazed up into the orange sky. “Dev, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

She looked over and down at him, her curiosity piqued.

“The military is sending a ship here to investigate what happened. They’re looking to recruit some of us for military service.”

Devon turned to face him in the tub. He could see the look of intense interest in her eyes. “When will they be here?”


Devon’s face came alive with the possibilities. She got that old mischievous look in her eyes. Seth knew she wouldn’t stay. It was why he hadn’t told her they were coming.

“Look, Dev. I know some of the guys want to leave. They feel an obligation to avenge Hap. But there are plenty of us who don’t want to leave.”

She looked at him knowingly.

“You don’t want to leave do you?”

“I don’t want you to leave either.”

Devon frowned. “Seth, I never knew you felt that way.”

“I never told you this before because I didn’t want it to affect our professional lives. But I’ve always loved you. From the day you arrived on this rock and started making this unit over into your own, I’ve wanted you.”

Devon was suddenly feeling very vulnerable. There she was naked in a bath and the man she had always relied upon to be her second in command was professing his love for her. She reached over and caressed his stubble cheek. Then she climbed out of the tub, dripping wet and sat down on top of him, kissing him deeply.


Author’s Comments:

I like this scene because we get to meet Seth and find out about his unrequited love for Devon. If you’ve read any of the Ocherva Ranger short stories, this will have more meaning for you. Seth becomes an important minor character in this book and the next one.

Null_Pointer Chapter 15

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.

Chapter 15

Joshua slapped the snooze bar three times then noticed he was late and rushed into the shower. He could shave, brush teeth, relieve himself, shower and dress in under 30 minutes. This morning Nix had pooped all over the floor in the hallway, so he lost some time cleaning that mess. The thought occurred to him again to get rid of the poor old animal, but he knew he could not do it. He usually didn’t bother eating breakfast just grabbed a coffee at a drive through place on his way into work.
It was a Monday and it was his first day back at work after Glenn’s death. The traffic was light to moderate heading West through Garden City. He was lucky to live down town because it meant he was commuting against the flow of traffic into Boise. He had enough time to guzzle most of his coffee before cruising into the main gate at RegTech. It was just after eight and the parking lot was full. He had to park farther out from his building, which made for a cold walk on a crisp, sunny morning. The wind was blowing harder than usual from the West, which meant a front was moving in from the Pacific coast. He noticed the high stratus clouds and understood that rain or snow was less than forty-eight hours away.
He thought about heading out to the airport after work and messing around with his dad’s Cessna 120. He liked to work on it whenever he needed to think something through. Cleaning the grease and bugs off the classic plane seemed to relax his mind and let him think without any distractions. There was no Internet, no friends popping by and no phones, provided he turned his cell off, which he frequently did while he was in the hangar. He pushed thoughts about the airplane from his head, hard as that was. He had to get back into the swing of things and focus on his work. There would be many distractions today and he knew it would be tough to concentrate.
Walking up to the outside door of building four he swiped his security badge and opened the glass door. He felt like everyone in the building was looking at him even though hardly anyone paid him any attention at all. When he got to his row, he slowed down as he passed Glenn’s cube. There it was, empty and clean. Just two days before it had been the home of someone who worked here, now it was just another empty cube, soon to be occupied by another person. Any evidence of who used to work in the space would be gone forever. He thought about the transitory nature of work cubes and how many different people had lived in each cube over the years. There was really very little of Glenn left behind in his cube. His spirit survived in the code that he had written, but even that would no doubt change over time and at some point be completely thrown out for the latest technology.
Information workers rarely had anything substantial or real that you could hold in your hands and say, ‘I worked on this item and a little bit of my soul is inside of it.’ More often then not, there were only temporary bits and bytes of information that could be lost forever with a stroke of a key or a random hardware failure. At least an Architect could point to a building and say that he designed it. Although, time and nature could render that building a pile of rubble just as easily as any careless user could destroy a code file. That thought made Joshua realize that what he did was not always as fleeting as it seemed.
He put his book bag down in his cube, sat down and turned on his PC. While he waited for it to boot up, he picked up his phone and listened to a couple voice mail messages waiting for him. One was from RegTech Security, reminding him to come down and sign something; he didn’t really care about the details. Two more were from coworkers expressing their sorrow for Glenn’s untimely passing. The phone messages got him in a down mood, so he dug his iPod out and dialed up some happy tunes. He sat and listened to “In the Garage” by Weezer, as he read through his emails and opened the programs he always used. By the time he finished getting organized he was ready for a break and a fresh cup of coffee. He locked his PC and picked up his cup that still had old coffee from Friday in it. On his way to the coffee station, he stepped into the men’s room to wash it out.
As he was rinsing the cup, someone came out of the stall and nodded to him. It was Larry Taggert, the UNIX guy from a few rows over. Taggert never said much to anyone and Joshua didn’t expect him to say anything now. Joshua wiped out the cup with a brown paper towel as Taggert washed his hands.
“Didn’t your supervisor give you some time off?”
Joshua looked up. “Huh? Oh, yeah, but I’m all right. Besides, I’ve got some work to keep me busy.”
Taggert looked at him with a concerned eye.
“You look tired. Have you been getting enough sleep?”
“I’m fine.”
Taggert nodded and managed a thin smile. “Take it easy then.”
“Thanks,” Joshua said. He ducked out of the room and headed down the hall. That was weird. Guy never speaks a word to him in years and then out of the blue is all concerned for him. Maybe he felt he should look after Joshua having been a friend of Joshua’s father years before. Joshua figured the whole day was going to be like that, uncomfortable encounters with coworkers until everyone had said their condolences.
He filled up his cup with fresh java and dumped a couple packs of sugar and a creamer in it. While he was stirring his coffee another coworker came up and offered her condolences. It was Stacy Grimes, the Copywriter on the web team. She was a bit mousy and wore wire-rimmed glasses. She hid behind straight brown hair that dropped in front of her eyes when she looked down, which see seemed to always be doing. She was painfully shy, but she knew grammar rules better than anyone he had ever known.
“Sorry about Glenn. You doing okay Joshua?”
“I’m okay. You?”
She looked up at him briefly, as if nobody ever asked her how she felt about anything. She nodded, and then quickly went back to her cube. Joshua walked back to his cube and avoided eye contact with anyone. He turned his music on again and sipped his coffee. His mind wandered as he looked over the code he had been writing on Friday, before the interruption.
He thought about how someone would write a Flash program that could hypnotize a viewer. Technically, the mechanics of Flash allowed for just about any moving image to be manipulated with underlying code. But you would have to be familiar with the technique of hypnotizing before you could design such a program. That got him thinking about what qualified someone to be a hypnotist. Did you take classes? Learn at someone’s side, like an apprentice? He did not know. Obviously, if the killer used that technique, he not only knew how to code Flash but also how to hypnotize someone.
Joshua opened a browser and started searching for anything on Flash and hypnosis. While exploring, he found that virtually anyone can learn to hypnotize themselves or others. Experts recommended that you learn from certified individuals and that you only use the condition to help improve yourself or others. He wondered what damage could be done to someone under hypnosis if your intent was to harm instead of to help. He searched for examples of people dying as a result of being hypnotized and came up empty. Either it was not easy to do, or people did not want to admit that it was possible to avoid further injuries.
His search stretched out for hours and he realized that he was getting very little work done. Then he came across a reference for something called Binaural Beat music. When the brain is presented with two beats that were below 1000 Hz and they differed no more than 30 Hz, the two beats combined and became a binaural beat that could put the brain into an altered state. This altered state, can then be used to hypnotize someone. Joshua slowly began to make connections about how Glenn and Zemo could have become hypnotized. Both of them were wearing earmuff style headphones that had the added ability to isolate them from back ground noise. If they were subjected to this binaural beat music they could have been slowly hypnotized without even realizing it. They may not have even needed a visual stimulus.
If that were the case, then Muse would not have to be a Flash programmer at all. Either that, or if he did use Flash in the seduction, it may have only helped to move the victim into a more suggestive state quicker than with only the music. He thought about that for a while. Muse would have to have possessed detailed knowledge of music and electronics to create the binaural beats. They already know that Muse was into Ham radio, which still required its participants to understand at least basic circuitry if not advanced theories about sound wave propagation and creation. So theoretically Muse would have enough know how to pull off hypnotizing someone. The only thing missing was just exactly how he was able to kill them.
Joshua could not even imagine how hypnotized people could allow themselves to die. Everything he had read suggested that the patients being hypnotized would never allow themselves to do anything that they were morally averse to doing while conscious.
Joshua googled some more for possible deadly side effects of hypnotizing a person, sifting through the returns with care and found another interesting tidbit. But it had nothing to do with hypnosis. He came across a study about death from fright. Apparently, Air Force test pilots are routinely monitored for vital signs while they put new aircraft designs through their paces. Many pilots, while trapped in fatal dives were found to have their hearts stop beating moments before impact. They were literally scared to death before they died. Rapid amounts of endorphins pumped into the body during such traumatic events could cause heart failure.
Joshua stopped reading and sat back in his chair. What if Muse was able to convince his victims that they were about to die? Could they have been frightened to death? A cold chill ran through Joshua, causing goose flesh on his bare arms. In order to pull that off Muse must have known what each person was most afraid of in such detail that he could suggest to them that their fears were real. It still sounded far-fetched to Joshua, but he knew he was on to something.
Someone stood before the entrance to Joshua’s cube, breaking him out of his thoughts. It was Nik Dean, a coder from the test team that played in a local metal band. Nik was a lean, longhaired guy dressed in torn jeans and a T-shirt that read “Me worry?”. He also wore an old leather jacket that had seen better days. He was a drummer for the band and he always seemed to be moving, keeping time to life.
“What’s sup?” Rik asked.
“Hey Nik, not much. You?”
Nik came inside Joshua’s cube and plopped down in the guest chair. He seemed to occupy the chair like a spider would – all spread out with limbs bent over it.
“I guess our little break club just got smaller.”
Joshua nodded. “You need a fix?”
“Yes, let’s go.”
They got up and headed down the rows of cubicles to the back entrance of the building. There was a designated smoking area tucked under the eve of an adjacent building. As soon as they were outside, Nik had lit up a cigarette and was puffing it as they walked over to the picnic table. Joshua stood upwind to avoid the smoke.
“I never figured anyone would die before me. You know, due to my insane lifestyle and all.”
Joshua grinned. Nik was either drunk or high depending on what time of day it was. He was real good at keeping it clean at work, but the guy could party with the best rockers. Joshua had been to several of his gigs at local clubs and took an interest in what Nik had to say about his music and life in general. For a metal head, he was pretty deep at times. Joshua liked that about Nik. To look at him you would immediately label him a loser, but he was actually a centered individual who knew where he came from and where he wanted to go. Joshua respected that about him. He also loved the band’s crazy fast drum solos that Nik pounded out with ease.
“Don’t say anything to anyone, but I don’t think Glenn died of a heart attack. I mean, he prolly died of heart failure, but I think it was induced by someone,” Joshua said, after making sure nobody was around to hear them.
Nik got a serious look on his face as he took a drag.
“You think he was murdered?”
“Yup. You hear about that coder in Germany who died?”
Joshua could not believe someone did not know about that, but then Nik was only into coding at work. He was real good at it, but he never hung out in chat rooms or visited geek sites like Slashdot or Digg. He was more often playing games on his home PC or hanging out on his MySpace page, mixing it up with groupies of his band.
“This coder kid was found dead and the police ruled it murder because they found a calling card in his source code. It’s all over the internet man.”
Nik thought about it for a minute. “So, like you think Glenn was killed by the same guy?”
“I know it. I found the same message in the code he was working on the day he died.”
Nik shook his head in disbelief. “Man that’s messed up. You tell the cops yet?”
“No, I’m actually trying to figure out who did it first. I’m real close to figuring out how it was done and who did it. As soon as I know for sure, I’m going to the cops.”
Nik walked around, tapping his foot to some unheard beat. He smashed his cigarette in the table and took out his pack to knock out another one. After tapping on the pack a few times he took a fresh one out and lit it with a Bic lighter.
“So, how do you think he was killed then?”
Joshua sat down on the table and put his feet on the seat. “I think they were hypnotized and then while they were under a trance, the killer convinced them that they were going to die. Maybe took advantage of some fear they each had. Made them think that they could not survive something. There is some evidence that fear will send large amounts of adrenaline to the heart, enough to stop it.”
Nik started pointing for emphasis as he spoke. “I’ve heard of that man. You know what else it could have been?”
Joshua shook his head.
“Arrhythmia, the irregular heart beat. Certain snare drum rhythms have been know to cause people’s hearts to get messed up. Some have died from it.”
Joshua’s face clearly displayed his disbelief. “That’s an urban myth, has to be.”
Nik shrugged. “I’ve heard it from many musicians.”
Joshua grinned. “Whatever. Have you ever felt it?”
“No, but that’s because I’m causing it. I’ve heard bassists and leads say they can feel it if they are near the bass speakers at a concert.”
Joshua was not convinced, but he let it slide. Nik finished up his cancer stick and they walked back inside. Nik went back to his cube and Joshua loitered around the main hallway. Should I go out somewhere or just settle for a cheeseburger at the campus choke and puke? Neither sounded appetizing to him.
He strolled past Lawrence Taggert’s cube and looked at the poster of the moon on his outer cube wall. There was something familiar about that moon poster. Then it hit him. It was the same poster that was behind Ed Asner’s desk in that seventies sitcom Mary Tyler Moore. He forgot that Taggert was that old. Joshua’s parents used to watch that show and he remembered seeing it on Cable TV not too long ago. As he was standing there lost in thought, Taggert came out of his cube.
“Hey man, what’s up?”
Joshua stuttered. “Ah, I was just looking at this cool poster.”
Taggert looked at the poster and then back to Joshua. “Your dad gave me that years ago. I think I must have said something about it one night when we were watching TV. A few weeks later he came in and handed it to me in a cardboard tube.”
“Mary Tyler Moore. That was the TV show,” Joshua offered.
Taggert squinted as if he were trying to recall the show. Then he lit up. “That was it. Ed Asner had it behind his desk.”
They both nodded in agreement before falling into an awkward silence. Finally Taggert shook his head. “I used to think NASA stuff was pretty far out. Your dad did too. You know he even worked for NASA once?”
Far out. You don’t hear that phrase much anymore.
“I remember him talking about it.”
“He was too good for them. They knew it too. That’s why he came here in the seventies and helped build RegTech. I followed him out here to the middle of nowhere. I should have stayed in the Sunshine state.”
Joshua didn’t really feel like traveling down memory lane. “Well, I have to go get some lunch. See you around, Larry.”
Taggert nodded and started walking towards the cafeteria. Joshua went back to his cube and plopped down in his chair. He didn’t feel like coding. He didn’t feel like doing anything. He logged on and did some searches for snare drums causing arrhythmia. Nothing turned up, just like he figured. He probably should not have told Nik about the murder plot. He hoped his friend kept his mouth shut, at least for another day or so.
Joshua considered going to the police after lunch, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it until he knew who Muse was. It was starting to bother him more and more.

Null_Pointer Chapter 14

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.

Chapter 14

<shemp> No, I have never met Muse. Why do you ask?
<nooblet> I was just curious how old he was. He seems to come off as one of those longhaired, bearded types in tie died T-shirts and sandals.
<shemp> LOL
<mostaban> Yes, he lives in his cube at his office and showers in the men’s room.
<nooblet> Don’t laugh, I used to know a guy like that at my last job. He was a UNIX hippy. Not all there upstairs sometimes, but he sure as shit knew his way around the file system.
<shemp> Muse is not like that. He’s pretty much a normal guy like any of us.
Dancia smiled. What a stooge, he even protects his master. She was sitting on the floor in her room, still wearing Joshua’s T-shirt, with a hoodie over it to keep her arms warm. Her laptop was running Gentoo Linux. Gentoo was a custom Linux distribution that was favored by system administrators because it let you build nearly everything from scratch, thereby making the software conform to the hardware like a fitted T-shirt to a body.
It was getting close to the diner hour and she was starting to get hungry. She was due back on shift in a couple hours, but she really didn’t want to go in. She was having too much fun chatting with her new Perl buddies and trying to find a motive for which one was a killer. Muse was not in the chat room so they all felt comfortable with talking about him.
<nooblet> So just how good a coder is Muse anyway? What has he done that would garner the kind of loyalty you guys all have for him?
<mostaban> He’s never not had an answer for any problem we have had. You know he knows his shit. He’s a national treasure for what he knows.
<losing> The guy really knows programming. He’s an old school Hacker.
<shemp> He was in Nam, towards the end during the pull out. He has seen some bad shit. But he never talks about it, at least not to any of us. I found a post he wrote on a Veteran’s board once about living with the bad memories.
<mostaban> I didn’t know he was in Nam.
<shemp> Like I said, he never talks about it.
<nooblet> I was in the sandbox. I’ve seen some shit. Not something I talk about either.
<shemp> Really? Army or Marines?
<nooblet> Never mind.
<losing> Nooblet, you don’t have to talk about it man. Just know that we all appreciate what you did.
<mostaban> Not everyone has the balls to go fight for their country. Thanks man!
Dancia swallowed hard. She had never talked about her military career since getting out. In many ways it was like a bad dream but she did appreciate the kind sentiments of most people when they found out she had served in Iraq. The experience had hardened her to the dark side of human nature. It had forced her to see the good and the bad in herself and her fellow Marines. Her way of dealing with it was to try and forget it, even though she knew that those experiences would be forever with her and had changed her for better or worse. She knew that people were capable of doing some pretty horrific things and that kind of scared her sometimes.
Her own war experience had given her a new found respect for older war veterans. She no longer looked at them as freaks or as damaged goods for what they had been through. She didn’t want recognition in the form of medals or coverage in the press, she just wanted to live her life to it’s fullest and never have to be in a situation where she was forced to take life and to be staring at death’s face again until she was very old.
<shemp> None of us have even been in the military.
<nooblet> What else can you tell me about muse? Where does he live?
<mostaban> Montana or Colorado maybe. I heard him mention some mountains and sage brush around his place once.
<shemp> Somewhere in the American West. He’s pretty tight lipped about exactly where. Where do you live Nooblet?
Dancia hesitated; she didn’t want to let them know exactly where she was either. She tried to think of someplace that she knew well enough to lie convincingly about. She had never lived anywhere but Idaho and a few Marine bases. She decided to be evasive.
<nooblet> Western US. I’m trying not to let the world know how cool my home town is, so that nobody will want to come here. Know what I mean?
<mostaban> Ha. I know what you mean.
<shemp> You Yanks can come up to the Great White North.
<nooblet> Where are you at in Canada, Shemp?
<shemp> Central Canada, Tri-Rivers area. It’s an old town with lots of history and beautiful buildings. We get plenty of tourists, especially for the festival.
<mostaban> Don’t even get him started on poetry. Hey Nooblet, heard any news on that German kid who died?
Dancia took her fingers off the keyboard and stared at the chat window. Nobody had talked about that before in this channel, at least not when she was on. She wondered if Mostaban was a stooge too or maybe he was actually Muse. Maybe they were all in on it and she was the stooge. No way, she was letting her imagination get the best of her. She put her hands back on the keyboard and started to type.
<nooblet> What German kid?
<mostaban> Are you kidding me? Everyone knows about Zemo getting murdered at his computer last week.
<nooblet> Oh yeah, I think I saw something on Digg about that.
<mostaban> The police think he was murdered, but they can’t find any suspect and they don’t have a clue how it was done.
<nooblet> Sounds fishy to me.
<mostaban> I think he was killed by a Hacker; someone who can kill with code, like some kind of mutant from the X-Men or something.
<shemp> Mostaban, you’re a nerd. You can’t kill someone with code; this is reality here. Put away the comic books.
<nooblet> What kind of dork are you anyway?
<mostaban> Whatever, but I can’t see any other way to reach through someone’s computer and kill them.
<nooblet> I’m sure the police will find something. No crime goes unpunished.
<shemp> Eventually the grim reaper gets all.
There he goes, evading the topic and adding a dramatic flare. She slid the laptop to the floor and stretched her arms. Her cell phone started playing a jazzy tune from her pocket.
“Dancia, you going into work tonight?”
It was Joshua. She loved the sound of his voice.
“Me too, in the morning. I’m going to listen to the short wave as late as I can, see if I can catch them chatting again.”
“But they talk in French, how are you going to know what they are talking about?”
“I won’t. I’ll record them and let you listen to it later and translate it.”
Oh, well there’s a thought. She wanted to come over to his place and hang out until she had to go in. But she was having trouble thinking up a good excuse to come over.
“Have you been monitoring IRC?”
“No, been doing laundry and listening to the radio.”
“Have you had diner yet?” It was just after seven in the evening.
“No, you?”
“No. I’m coming over.” She decided to just be forward and not explain anything.
She packed a book bag with a change of clothes and some makeup and her toothbrush and threw it in her KG before leaving. She didn’t want to be caught without it again. On the short drive over, she stopped at the pizzeria behind the Flying M coffee house and got a medium pie to go.
They ate the pizza at the kitchen table, while they listened to the radio and talked. Joshua opened some beers for them.
“I learned that Muse is a Vietnam veteran. Shemp offered that tidbit this afternoon,” Dancia offered.
“Really? I suppose we should be putting together a psychological work-up on the guy to try and find out what would make him a murderer. I never took any psychology classes in college.”
“I did. Not that that makes me any kind of expert. Let’s see, we know he’s in his fifties, possibly early sixties to have been in that conflict. Everyone in that room thinks very highly of him and his hacker skills. So he’s probably been in the IT field since its origins.”
Joshua finished chewing. “So he prolly started on main frames. Man, I can’t even imagine living in those days.”
Dancia smiled, she couldn’t either. They thought they had it bad on a 486-based chip in the early nineties. “Neither can I. I tried to paint a portrait of him as some kind of Berkley hippie, but Shemp shot me down. He insists that Muse is a normal guy like any of them. But still, how would he know for sure, he’s never met Muse?”
Joshua thought about that for a moment. If they have been chatting on Ham radio, and in a chat room, they may indeed know each other pretty well and still never have met in person. Like two people who meet online and get to know each other with intentions of meeting in person and getting married. Many times they think they really know the person and then when they finally meet, the other person has an annoying personal habit that never came out in correspondence and the marriage is called off.
“I don’t know, maybe Shemp is lying. Maybe they have met and he’s trying not to let anyone know.”
Dancia remembered something “Oh, Shemp said he was from the Tri-Rivers area of Canada. Let’s look that up and see what we can find. Nobody seemed to know exactly where Muse lived, other than out West.”
“Did you tell them where you lived?”
Joshua wiped his hands on a napkin and left the table to get his MacBook. When he returned, she had made a space for him to set it down next to her. He moved his chair around and sat down, opening the laptop. He opened Firefox and typed the Canadian city into the Wikipedia search box. She helped him spell it, as it was a French word. Trois-Riviers sits at the confluence of the three prongs of the Saint Maurice and the Saint Lawrence Rivers in Quebec. They both read the Wikipedia article in silence, neither one of them had been to Canada.
“International Poetry Capital of the World?” Joshua intoned. They both looked at each other. Shemp was talking about poetry to the other guy on the radio.
“Perhaps our Muse is really a muse,” Dancia stated. “I would have to say there is a strong possibility that they have met at this festival on at least one occasion.”
Joshua nodded in thought. “We should see what we can find about a poet that goes by the name Muse.”
Dancia glanced at the kitchen clock and then back to Joshua. “I have to get to work. You going to google Muse then?”
“Go ahead. If you get bored tonight, you can monitor the IRC and do some searches.”
She helped him clean up the pizza and beer before she left. Joshua appreciated her help and he told her to stop by when she got off work, he would be going in a little later this week so they could compare notes. After she left, he sat down at the radio and tuned around for a while. He didn’t hear anything so he retired to his computer room for a few hours of googling.
The first thing he did was write a program. A small Ruby script that parsed a Wikipedia page for words that were links and then searched Wikipedia for all the definitions found on the single page. The program kicked out a simple text file with all the definitions found on a single Wikipedia page. The file was updated whenever the Wikipedia page was altered. It actively polled the live page and adjusted its results in real time. It didn’t have to be that elaborate, but once he started writing the script, he could not finish until it was the best he could make it.
Two hours later, he hit the Muse article on Wikipedia and within seconds had a text file with all the many definitions of Muse found on the page. Then he set about doing searches on each word that interested him. He briefly thought about adding a search engine parser to the script, but realized that he would be programming more than actually trying to find what he was looking for – a connection behind any of the names of the Muses with a programmer whose hacker handle was Muse.
He took a break and went back into the kitchen for a drink of water. While he was filling his glass, he heard the radio come alive with conversation. It was Shemp and Muse; he knew it because they were speaking French. Following Amateur Radio protocol, they said their call signs in English.
Joshua scrambled to get his digital tape player and started recording as he sat down and listened. He had very little clue as to what they were saying, but he could tell that Muse was coming in much louder. He wondered if Muse was closer to him. She did say that he lived out West; maybe he was real close. That thought was not too comforting.
Joshua turned the fine tuner knob to see if he could bring in the signals better. He was having trouble hearing Shemp due to a wavering signal that seemed to fade in and out. An idea occurred to him as he found a cleaner signal. He wondered if Steve could some how locate Muse’s signal. Steve used to talk about doing something called Fox Hunts using his Ham radio gear. A bunch of guys with special antennas would drive around town looking for a hidden transmitter using triangulation and signal strength meters. Could something like that be done with High Frequency signals?
He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Steve’s number.
“Steve, this is Joshua. Is it possible to locate a HF signal? You know like when you do those Fox Hunts?”
“Well, those are done using VHF or UHF signals, much closer to home. I suppose one could do something similar on HF, but you would need to have many Hams located all around the country or the world to isolate the signal. Even then you would most likely just be able to get the general area down to a few states.”
Joshua dropped his shoulders. “Oh.”
“Are you listening to your suspect?”
“Yeah right on the same frequency.”
“Is one of them coming in more powerful than the other for you?”
Steve was silent for a moment as he dialed in the frequency on his fancy modern rig. “Yep, but sometimes when conditions are bad, like right now, signal strength is not a reliable indicator of how close a signal is to you. Radio is kind of fickle in that way. He is coming in a solid S9. He could be local.”
“Do you mean local as in state or city?”
Joshua sighed. “He’s using a bogus call sign. I looked it up and it’s from a silent key.”
“Really? We could turn him in to the FCC, but it would be difficult to find out whom he really is. That whole process could take a while to resolve. His voice sounds funny to me. Like he’s talking through some kind of…”
“What?” Joshua asked.
“I think he’s masking his voice through a filter of some kind. Notice how he sounds like a really fat robot?”
Joshua was not sure if it were normal behavior for HF signals or not. “I did notice that.”
“I bet he’s using some kind of electronic voice scrambler, like they use on TV when a victim does not want to be identified.”
“That would fit. He’s using multiple methods to mask his identity.”
Steve sighed. “Damn idiot. People like him give Ham Radio a bad name.”
“Yeah well, he’s done more than break a few radio rules. He’s also a killer.”
“Right. You going to the police in the morning?”
“Yes. I just hope I can give them enough information to find this slime ball.”
“Good luck man. I gotta get to bed.”
“Me too, thanks Steve.”
“No problem, later.”
Joshua put the phone down and continued to listen to the radio. They talked for another ten minutes before signing off. Joshua turned off the recorder and then shut down the radio. He padded back to his room and went to bed. It was a little past midnight when he dozed off. Within an hour he was awake again tormented by the car accident. He lay in his bed and tried to forget the terrible images by reading Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.

Null_Pointer Chapter 13

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.

Chapter 13

It was a little past noon when Joshua awoke. It was the first time he had slept for more than a few hours in as many days. He felt rested and refreshed. He was on his side and looking across the room when he felt the presence of someone else in bed. The steady rhythmic motion of someone breathing beside him caused him to open both eyes wide and slowly turn over.
It was Dancia. She was lying on her side facing away from him. Wearing only her underwear! Joshua’s mind raced. Did they hook up last night? He could not remember anything happening; surely he would have remembered something like that. He started thinking about what happened last night, going over everything in his mind. After a few minutes he realized that he was panicking for no reason. He had come to bed by himself.
Why was she in bed then? Perhaps she was tired and cold. He thought about that for a moment. Usually, when she spent the night at his apartment, she slept on his couch, like all his other friends did — his guy friends anyway. She had never done anything this brazen before. Perhaps she was trying to tell him something. Perhaps she was hoping that something would happen. His heart started racing again. He really liked Dancia as a friend and he wanted to keep her as his friend. If they slept with each other; they would be more than just friends, they would be lovers. He was not ready to be her lover. Not until he figured out who was trying to kill them.
It was kind of weird, but he felt as though he were on a mission to find the murderer and anything he did for himself, only got in the way of that mission. He never realized that he could be so committed to anything like that before; then again his life was never threatened like it was now. He felt like he was acting as some kind of Dudley Do Right. Not that he was ever more than a straight arrow kind guy before, it’s just that he never really cared that much about anyone other than himself. He did his own thing and if someone was into that, then he let them come along, otherwise, he didn’t care what they did as long as they didn’t get in his way. For now, a relationship with Dancia would be getting in his way.
She began to stir and rolled over on her side facing him, he rolled over on his back and watched her sleep. He used to watch his old girlfriend sleep all the time. Lindsey was not a morning person. She liked to sleep in as late as possible on weekends. He was a morning person and would always wake up before her and sometimes he would just lie in bed and watch her sleep. She was so peaceful and content when she slept. So was Dancia. Her breathing was calm and her black hair fell loosely across her face covering an eye and part of her mouth. Lindsey was a brunette and her hair was much longer and thinner than Dancia’s.
He had not thought about Lindsey in a few days, ever since Glenn had died. Which was a good thing, he reckoned. They had split several months ago under less than favorable circumstances and he had not even seen her in passing since that time. She was a career woman climbing the corporate ladder and she felt that he was holding her back. He was not ready to commit to marriage and she was not willing to ride along in a relationship with no clear purpose other than to just be together. She needed a husband to get to the next rung of the ladder and he was not the man for the job. She dumped him and he didn’t put up much of a fight.
But he continued to think about her off and on for weeks after they split. The fact that he had not thought about her in a few days was a good sign. It meant that he was starting to get over her and get on with his life. He always knew that she was not the one for him, but sometimes when you are with someone for a long time, you find it hard to let them out of your life. He often wondered where she was, what she was doing; who she was with, but it never gave him any satisfaction thinking about her. It was not worth his time and energy and he knew that eventually he would stop thinking about her and move on. In that respect, the time he spent figuring out who killed Glenn and Zemo was therapeutic for him.
Dancia’s eyes fluttered open and she looked up at Joshua, watching her. He smiled down at her and she pulled the covers up and managed an embarrassed grin.
“Good morning,” Joshua said.
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t feel like spending the night on your couch.”
“Not a problem.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, adjusting the covers and trying not to be exposed.
“You sleep like an angel; I didn’t realize you were there right away.”
She became defensive. “Nothing happened last night, I can assure you.”
“Too bad,” Joshua said, with a warm laugh.
Dancia looked at him oddly. Joshua saw the look and decided to get back to the business at hand. “Did you hear anything useful on the radio last night?”
She pushed the cover against her chest and sat up to face him. “Yes! I was listening to two guys talking French. They were having a very interesting conversation about Beatnik poetry. After they signed off, I found our man Shemp online in the chat room. I think he was one of the men I heard on the radio and he mentioned he was from Canada.”
Joshua sat up while she was talking and his dark eyes narrowed as he listened to her.
“Canada. Did you write down their call signs?”
She nodded. “They are on your lappy desktop. I didn’t think to look them up.”
Joshua flung back the comforter and slid out of bed. He was wearing boxers as he padded down the hall and snagged the laptop from the kitchen table. Unix was standing at his water bowl. Joshua reached down and pet the cat’s back and was rewarded with a quiet purr. He came back to bed with the laptop and slid under the warm blanket.
“Damn cold this morning.”
“You mean this afternoon,” she corrected him.
He opened the computer and added the first call sign, W5ZPGC, to the search box in his browser. Then he selected a browser search engine that Steve had written that let him search the FCC database for Amateur Radio call signs.
The results came back empty. He searched for inactive call signs only. Bingo. It was registered to a man in Florida who was listed as a silent key – meaning he had passed away. It was doubtful that Dancia was listening to a dead man talk last night. Something fishy was going on.
He entered the second license, which was the call sign – VE2SHM. It came back with Mike Metz, from Trois-Riviers Canada. Dancia glanced over his shoulder at the return.
“See, I bet that’s our man Shemp. He said he was from Canada last night on IRC.”
“Did you write down what band you heard them on?”
Dancia shook her head. “No, but the radio is still on frequency. It was a little lower than the number we got from IRC.”
“Must have been a code for another band or something, I guess we can just keep it there and listen again tonight.”
Dancia nodded. She lay back down and covered up. “I have to go back to work tonight. Are you staying up to listen? I heard them around three in the morning.”
Joshua nodded, laid back and pulled the covers up over his chest. “I wonder if they are both up that late on a work night. Maybe if I listen as late as I can, I’ll hear them earlier tonight. Heck, they may only talk on certain days of the week. It’s going to be hit and miss.”
Dancia sighed. “I’m not sure Shemp is capable of killing. He doesn’t strike me as someone who is psychopathic. Actually, neither man sounded crazy in any way to me.”
“I know what you mean. But maybe that’s why no one has suspected them. I’ve been thinking about a motive for the murders and try as I might, I can’t find anything about the two victims that someone would want to kill them over. They were programmers but aside from that, they had little in common, except being a member of our web project.
“One was a brilliant coder and the other one was not. One was a loved member of the community and the other was just a middle aged corporate hack. Neither one talked to the other on IRC that we know of. I could find no emails between them or even between Shemp and them.”
Dancia yawned. “Maybe the killer doesn’t want us to go public.”
Joshua had no idea how the mind of a crazy person worked. It may be that he didn’t have to have any connection to them, but somehow that did not feel right. Something inside Joshua was telling him it was another programmer. He was so convinced of it, he refused to even consider anyone else.
“I think he’s a programmer and I think he wants to kill us because we are programmers,” Joshua said.
“The killer needed someone to be at their computer in order to strike. Computer geeks are always at their computers. He also needed them to be online and using headphones. Again, what coder doesn’t have a broadband connection and listen to music?”
She stared at the ceiling and scrunched her face as she figured. “So we’re looking for a programmer who likes to kill other programmers?” There was a note of disbelief in her tone.
“It sounds weak, but that’s because we just don’t have a motive,” Joshua insisted.
They lay there in silence, both of them thinking.
“Maybe he’s trying to prove himself,” Joshua said, breaking the silence. “Like a hotshot kid who wants to show how l33t his skills are.”
Dancia looked at him, a sly grin spreading on her face. “Killing someone with code would be a pretty bold statement for a cocky young coder.”
Joshua agreed. “The ultimate hack.” They were both well steeped in Hacker lore and they knew how common it was for new Hackers to feel the need to prove themselves. Traditionally, it was pulling off a technically difficult prank on someone or some group, but lately it was more about writing an application that other Hackers used or admired for its technical excellence and its creative elegance.
This was not to be confused with writing programs that defaced web sites or that let script kiddies hack into school computers or data centers, that was cracking and most real Hackers were as far removed from that behavior as you could get. A Hacker was someone who was at a different level of skill and understanding.
Dancia winced. “How are we going to prove that to the police? They don’t know anything about Hacker culture.”
“We just have to find out more about how he managed to kill them and hope that we turn up something damning on Shemp. I still have issues with using Flash animation to hypnotize someone. Unless he was talking to his victim through the headsets they wore and was able to offer spoken suggestions.”
Dancia turned to face him. “Wouldn’t he have to know what the person was afraid of in order to use that to kill them?”
“Maybe we can look for something in the chat logs about fears or phobias? I still got a problem with the motivation thing. Proving yourself by killing seems very brutal even for a nut job programmer. There has to be some kind of a connection between our group and the killer.”
Dancia agreed with a nod. Joshua got out of the bed headed for his dresser. “Lets get clean and have some breakfast then we can get to work on finding a motive.”
After his shower Joshua headed to the kitchen to start the pancakes and more importantly, the coffee pot. As he waited for the griddle to warm up, he pushed the oil around making sure to cover the whole cooking surface. His mom had first taught him to make pancakes when he was six years old. He was too short to reach the stove, so she let him stand on a footstool. It was one of the first times he remembered cooking with his mother – something the two of them would do a lot of as he grew up. She was a fine cook and loved to improve her craft by watching cooking shows and making new dishes every once in a while. Joshua’s dad was always ready with a technical explanation of why things were done the way they were in the kitchen, but his mom tended to cook on instinct. She could make just about anything in the kitchen and her instincts were passed on to her son who found that cooking relaxed him and gave him a creative outlet that was outside the world of bits and bytes.
There was knocking at the door and Joshua knew by the sound that it was Tripp. He unlocked the door and Tripp entered, his nose immediately smelling the coffee and the heating oil. “Pancakes for lunch?” he asked.
“Yeah, well, it was a long night.”
Tripp came into the kitchen and noticed the big radio on the kitchen table. “What’s with the antique?”
“I was listening for someone to talk on the Ham bands last night. It’s a long story. What are you up to today?”
Tripp stood beside him at the stove, looking around at the two plates and two coffee cups set out. He looked at Joshua who seemed not to notice anything wrong.
“Were you expecting company?” he asked, nodding to the counter.
Joshua tried to come up with an explanation that would satisfy his curious friend.
“Sure smells good in here,” Dancia stated before she came into the kitchen and saw Tripp.
Tripp’s eyes bugged out as he immediately put the clues together. She was wearing a towel on her head and one of Joshua’s long sleeve T-shirts that read, “Code Monkey”.
“Oh, hi Tripp. Joshua, do you happen to have a hair dryer?”
“Sure, in the cabinet under the sink.”
“Thanks, tootles,” she teased as she headed back down the hall towards the master bedroom. Both men stared at her bare legs as she strode down the hall.
Tripp and Joshua exchanged looks. “You dog, you finally hooked up with her!”
“No, really. That’s not what happened.”
“Right, dude. She’s wearing your clothes and using your bathroom.” Tripp slapped his friend on the back and started to head for the door. “I’ll leave you love birds alone. Catch you later man.”
“Tripp, don’t go. It’s not what you think, really. I have plenty of pancakes. Please, stay.”
Tripp paused, the pancakes did smell pretty good and he hadn’t had any lunch yet. Joshua flipped the pancakes on the griddle. “Grab a plate and sit down.”
You didn’t have to bend his arm to get Tripp to eat. He turned around and came back to the kitchen.
“Alright, but I feel like a third wheel.”
“Don’t. Nothing happened, we were working late last night and I offered to let her use the shower.”
Tripp motioned to the radio. “What’s got you two so busy, not getting busy, anyway?”
Joshua poured four more pancakes on the griddle and handed Tripp a plate with the first batch on it. Tripp helped himself to a fork and brought the butter plate and syrup to the table.
Joshua poured Tripp and himself a cup of coffee. “Remember those programmers that died Friday?”
Tripp nodded as he stuffed a fork full of pancakes in his mouth. The sound of Joshua’s old hair dryer came from the back bathroom.
“They were murdered. I found evidence on Glenn’s computer that someone killed him. It’s a bit complicated, but it looks like the killer used a program to somehow hypnotize Glenn and then kill him at his computer.”
Tripp listened intently as he chewed. “Have you gone to the police yet?”
“No, I wanted to give myself the weekend to look through his computers and see if I could ascertain who might have gotten on his system. I don’t think the police have much of a computer crimes department. If I can get a suspect and or a good motive, I’ll go in and tell them what I know. Until then, we really don’t have much of a case.”
“Still, you better be careful, messing with evidence.”
“I have not modified his system, just copied some log files. Technically, it’s not a crime until the case is declared a murder. Either way, I think we are on the trail of someone, so it may not be too much longer before we find out who it was and inform the police. If I’m right, the killer may be wanted for both murders.
Tripp smiled. “Maybe you should be going to the CIA or Interpol or something. You could be on the trail of an international terrorist.”
Joshua slid the next batch on a plate and poured some more pancakes on the griddle. “Maybe, but until we catch our man in some incriminating way, we don’t have anything.”
“Who is your suspect?”
Dancia came back into the kitchen. “Some hacker named Shemp.” Her black hair was freshly styled and she smelled soapy clean.
Tripp looked at her and stopped chewing. “His name is Shemp?”
“No, that’s his alias, his real name is Mike Metz and he’s from Canada. Thanks,” she said, taking a plate full of pancakes from Joshua. She sat down at the table opposite Tripp.
“I don’t think he’s your man,” Tripp said.
Joshua turned around. “Why do you say that?”
“Shemp was one of the three stooges.”
Joshua and Dancia exchanged looks of astonishment. Dancia smiled, she knew Shemp was not the one. Joshua looked back at Tripp. “Curly, Moe and Larry. Who was Shemp?”
“He was one of the original stooges, but he left the group before they became famous. They replaced him with Curly.”
Joshua looked back at the griddle and watched as the tiny bubbles formed in the pancakes he just poured. If Shemp was a “Stooge” then who was controlling him? He tried to remember the conversation on IRC when they first started monitoring it late Saturday night. Who was the older guy that everyone considered a Perl guru? Muse.
“It’s Muse, he’s the killer. He’s using Shemp as his stooge.”
Tripp swallowed and brought his fork up to point at Joshua. “Who’s Muse?”
“Another participant in an IRC chat room we’ve been monitoring,” Dancia said. She had stopped eating and was thinking about that first night. “He was someone that the other guys all respected because he was a Perl guru.”
Tripp continued eating while he spoke. “Always there is an apprentice and a master. Sounds like you guys were going after the apprentice.”
Joshua grinned; Tripp was always ready with a nerdy Star Wars quote. Sometimes hanging out with him was like being in a Kevin Smith movie. You never knew when he would launch into a lengthy dissertation on why Han shot first. At least he didn’t try to sound like Yoda – this time.
Joshua turned off the stove and flipped his serving of pancakes onto a plate. He covered them with butter and then poured some maple syrup on them. He ate standing up, and facing his friends. He sipped his cup of coffee between bites.
He and Dancia exchanged glances, now they had to look for a connection between Zemo, Themis, Dancia, Joshua and Shemp.
Tripp finished eating. He stood up and brought his plate to the sink, letting Joshua sit down at the table. “Well kids, it’s been interesting, but I have to be going.”
“Where you off to?” Joshua asked.
“Gotta make a quick stop off at the Flying M to pick up Dave and then we’re off to a movie. I was going to see if you wanted to come with us, but you guys are busy playing Clue.”
“Can you drop off Dancia at her place? She doesn’t have her car.”
Dancia finished her last bite and brought her plate to the sink.
“Sure, no problem.”

Null_Pointer Chapter 11

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.

Chapter 11

It was a short ride down Federal Way past the Boise Depot to Steve’s house. The heater in Joshua’s Porsche barely had time to get warmed up. Steve’s house was a three-story custom home that over looked the city and the surrounding foothills. It was built in the mid 70’s and updated through the years by his parents. When they wanted to retire and move to Arizona, they sold the house to their only son.
Steve moved into the basement and rented out the main two floors. He charged outrageous rent and people paid for the spectacular views and close proximity to the down town area. He could almost live off the rent, but chose instead to keep his System Administration job at a local business.
He usually worked the graveyard shift, which left his evenings off free to talk all night on his Ham radios. The best propagation occurred at night on most High Frequency or HF bands. His position along the Boise Bench also aided in getting his signal out to the world and in bringing in signals from all over the planet. He had made contacts with other Hams in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska and was starting to work other countries in Asia and Europe. There was something about talking to another human being who lived far away by bouncing your signal off the upper atmosphere that was both technically cool and fashionably quaint in the modern world of instant digital communication.
In the back yard he had raised a forty foot main tower with a rotating beam for 20, 40, 60 and 80 meters, letting him point the antenna he was using in any direction by remote control. The setup was not uncommon for Hams active in HF signal chasing. He was in the process of raising a second tower that would be for 6, and 10 meters. Right now he was using a simple inverted dipole wire antenna for those bands. The backyard of his house looked like a small antenna farm, with guide wires running all over the yard. It made mowing the grass a bit tricky, but his renters didn’t have to worry about that, because Steve gladly did the yard work so they didn’t have to. He preferred that the renters didn’t even go in the back yard. There was a large wooden deck on the main level of the house and a small deck on the top level, so they could get outside without going down to the backyard.
Joshua parked in the roundabout in the front yard, leaving the main driveway free. He and Dancia got out and walked to the side of the house down a narrow footpath to concrete steps that lead to the basement level door. Steve had turned on the porch light for them so they could see to walk down the stairs. Joshua rapped his knuckles on the door a few times and after a minute Steve opened the door to let them in.
Steve was in his late thirties and wore black-framed “geek” glasses. His hair was salt and pepper where it once had been black and was cut military short, he wore the fashionable goatee and side burns popular with younger men. He was slim and stood a few inches over six foot. His face had a ready smile as he recognized Dancia.
“Hey guys, come on in.”
“Hi Steve,” Dancia said, as she came inside before Joshua. She waltzed into the place like it was her own home, as she often did at Joshua’s place. “Hey pug,” Steve casually said as she passed.
“Hope we’re not intruding,” Joshua said, wondering what that exchange was all about.
“Oh no, I never turn down visitors on a Saturday night, or is it morning now?”
Steve’s basement was the ultimate nerd pad. There was a small kitchenette off to the right and a narrow home theater to the left of the entrance with a fireplace in the corner and a plasma screen tuned to a Right Wing news channel. They followed Dancia down the short hall that lead to the main room where he had all his radio and computer gear. Dancia glanced briefly across the hall where Steve’s bedroom was. The door to his Ham shack had a picture of a big red circle with a line through a Microsoft Windows logo on it. Steve was somewhat fanatical about his dislike for the software giant.
Steve called the room a “shop” as it was still unfinished and had thick throw rugs on top of the concrete floor. A space heater was running near his main workbench. The room had large picture windows that looked out over the city and the surrounding foothills. It was an impressive view during the daytime, but not at night. Only their own reflections looked back at them through the windows like a mirror.
The lighting was from over head fluorescent tubes of the kind most people used in their garages. He had one old black desk with a matching wooden chair with springs that let you lean back comfortably in it. He had two twenty one inch LCD monitors on swing out metal mounts and a wireless keyboard with a trackball mounted to the right arm of the chair. His computers all ran Linux, of course, and the monitors displayed custom programs that let him monitor his radios and his servers remotely.
Behind the monitors were several custom built black wooden shelves containing high-end Japanese amateur radio gear. He had the latest and most expensive gear money could buy; the kind of radios that most Hams only dreamed about owning. He had them hooked up to antenna switch boxes and rotators. A nice cordless headset rested next to the keyboard.
His workbench was about twelve feet long and ran along the same wall facing the city. It had all manner of electronic test equipment. Everything from simple meters to advanced waveform monitors and temperature controlled soldering irons. Much of his equipment was new but a good bit of it was old and probably no longer manufactured. He loved to recondition old tube radios and he had some ancient devices that looked like they came from an old black and white science fiction movie.
Every few feet along the bench there was another unfinished radio or electronics project of some kind. Miles of coax cables and hundreds of test leads and cables with different connectors on them lined the space under the bench hanging from nails. All along the length of the bench were miss matched drawers filled with little electronic bits and pieces, tiny plastic drawers that fishermen used to keep their lures in, Steve stored – ceramic insulators, resisters, capacitors and tiny knobs.
There was an entire corner dedicated to old antennas and the parts for fabricating antennas out of metal tubes and rolls of wires from heavy gauge electrical wire to thin electronics wiring. Several antennas lay unfinished and waiting for some attention.
The middle of the room was filled with metal racks full of old radios and miscellaneous electrical devices making the room look like either a radio repair shop or a swap meet for electronics geeks. Towards the far right there was a rudimentary machine shop where Steve was known to build his own radio cases and just about anything that he dreamed up that needed a box to live in.
The back of the room seemed to be dedicated to a completely different hobby – guns. Steve was a proud member of the NRA and owned a respectable little collection of firearms. He had a bench dedicated to cleaning and working on his guns. He even had a nice Dillon Progressive reloading press in the corner. There was an American flag pinned to the back wall, just in case anyone questioned his loyalties.
“So what can I do for you guys?” Steve asked. He was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt that had a penguin armed with a big machine gun from a video game.
“We need to listen to that frequency to see if we can hear anyone talking.”
Steve moved over to his Ham station and plopped down in the chair. Its springs creaked under his weight. He moved a monitor up out of his way and fiddled with a digital radio dial.
“I’ve been monitoring it ever since you asked about it, nothing going on. Tuning around, I found some chatter a few clicks up the dial but they were talking French or Spanish or something.”
Dancia and Joshua looked at each other and frowned. If they were referring to a Ham frequency there was no guarantee that it was somehow code for another band. They may have been intending to talk at a different time on the given frequency. There were just too many possibilities.
“Steve, do you need all this fancy gear to just listen to that band?”
“Heck no, you could listen to this on a commercial receiver with a simple wire antenna,” Steve replied, still tuning around the band.
Joshua looked around the room at the stacks of old radios, “Do you think we could borrow a radio to do some listening with? It would only be for a few days, maybe a week.”
Dancia started to wander around the room, her dark eyes washing over in all the details. Steve got up and headed for the racks. “Sure, I got plenty of old rigs that would work for you.”
He pulled an old brown radio with a big dial on its face off the rack and hauled it over to an empty spot on the long test bench. Moving around the bench like a surgeon around an operating table, he quickly assembled the parts and pieces for a complete radio.
“You can set this up just about anywhere and it should work with a simple dipole antenna. Hang on a few and I’ll make you one.”
Joshua nodded as he watched Steve pull some coax cable and start building the wire antenna. Joshua never really was into radio technology, it all seemed too old fashioned and low tech to him. But he loved to watch a skilled tech build something from nothing. He often spent many hours watching shows on TV that were about people making things like motorcycles or cars. It was a part of the unwritten Hacker ethos that fueled his curiosity for things mechanical as well as things digital. When he was a kid, he lived inside those books with detailed exploded views of everything from microwave ovens to aircraft carriers. If it were manmade, Joshua was always curious about how it was put together.
Dancia was over looking at the open gun locker. She noticed a few new additions to Steve’s collection. There was a nice new Ruger 10/22 with a black laminate stock sitting in a cleaning rack. She ran her fingers down the metal barrel and took in the smell of the laminate and the gun oil. It brought back very real experiences that she had tried unsuccessfully to lay to rest. She recalled the last time she and Steve were on the local outdoor range plinking with rifles. Steve loved guns and was very macho about his knowledge of them, but he was a lousy shot. He preferred making modifications and cleaning his pieces to actually putting rounds down range at a target. He didn’t even like to hunt.
That was fine by her, since shooting was more than enough to trigger uncomfortable memories from her time in the sand box.
She had first met Steve a few years ago when she was hired to assist him in the UNIX shop where he worked. She was the gofer and back up tape jockey, eager to learn UNIX and system administration. He was the wise, older guru who seemed to know all the obscure inside knowledge about computer systems. She was a quick apprentice and after about six months she had learned more than he knew and had bagged him in the process. Not only was he limited in his computer skills; he was not that interesting physically for her to bother with for too long. She realized he compensated for not knowing everything he claimed about computers, by dazzling people with his knowledge about radios and electronics. Whenever anyone got too deep in the details of something that he didn’t really know very well, Steve would somehow manage to steer the conversation back to radio theory, his comfort zone.
To Dancia, once she figured this out about Steve, she became less interested in him and soon broke off their relationship. She quickly got a better job and was making more than him even though her computer experience was about one quarter that of his. Guys like Steve found their little niche and then never cared to advance further, fearing the ranks of management or change in general. Steve was in charge of the UNIX group at his company and he had no ambitions to move up or move on. He was a big fish in a little pond and he liked it that way. Not two months after she had moved on, he had hired another newbie girl and was cheerfully passing on his wisdom to her.
Steve finished up the antenna and started going over how to tune the radio and set it up with Joshua. Joshua listened very astutely, making Dancia smile as she watched them. She knew enough about radios from working with Steve to have confidently set up the little Hallicrafters receiver by herself. But it was still cute the way Joshua soaked up new and interesting things. He was like a kid on Christmas day, waiting for his father to finish building a new toy, so he could play with it.
They were just finishing up as she came back to them. Joshua picked up the radio and Steve gathered up all the accessories.
“Looks like we’re set. Steve, thanks again for your help man.”
“No problem. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.”
“Thanks Steve, it looks like we’ll be busy for a few days anyway,” Dancia commented as she held the door for them.
Joshua headed out the side door and up the stairs to the car, Steve and Dancia held back. He waited until Joshua was out of earshot before speaking.
“So, are you two seeing each other?” Steve said his tone smug.
“Maybe. It’s really not your business, Steve.”
“You’re right. Does he know about us?”
“No, and please keep it that way for now, okay?” She glanced at him over the top of her black rim glasses. He laughed and headed out the door first. “No problem, Pug.”
“Stop calling me that,” she said, hitting him in the back. Pug was his nickname for her when they were going out together. He thought she was a little firecracker, which reminded him of a fireplug and somehow he managed to get pug out of all that. She really didn’t like pet names and that one really annoyed her. It reminded her that she was short and possibly fat. He liked using it because it annoyed her. They made for a real dysfunctional couple, which had a lot to do with why they broke up.
Out at the car Joshua had tucked the radio into the back seat and covered it with a throw blanket that he kept in the trunk. Steve handed Joshua the antenna parts. “Give me a buzz if you have any troubles.”
“Will do. Thanks a bunch Steve.”
“No problem, just remember to tune around, you may get lucky, providing they stay on that band. Let me know how it goes, you got my curiosity up too.”
Joshua shook Steve’s hand as Dancia got into the Porsche.
“We will,” Joshua said, stepping into the driver’s seat.
Steve watched them pull out and then went back inside.

Null_Pointer Chapter 12

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.

Chapter 12

The red numerals on the clock in the kitchen read one forty-five in the morning, but the apartment was neither dark nor quiet. The back of the friendly brown receiver was a warm yellow color as the tubes heated up. The two large semi-circle dials on its front panel gave the faint impression of a barnyard owl. One was for band selection and the other for fine-tuning. The interface hearkened back to simpler days and consisted of two dials flanking a signal meter, a row of knobs and several switches extended across the bottom, each with clearly readable labels. The old Hallicrafters SX-100 was a legend in its day and still pulled in signals with a clarity and warmth that no modern transistor radio could ever hope to equal.
There was no sound coming from the external speaker. Joshua was still stringing up the simple wire dipole antenna and letting the radio’s tubes warm up. He taped the thin wires to the ceiling in a north-south direction, while standing on a kitchen chair. He was awake and full of enthusiasm. He had never listened to short wave radio growing up and had somehow felt like he had been deprived. He remembered his dad talking about listening to far away commercial stations when he was a kid in the sixties, but his dad didn’t keep his old radio and so Joshua never had the opportunity to be exposed to it. In an age when the personal computer was your conduit to the world over the Internet, the idea of pulling in signals out of a wavering atmosphere seemed hopelessly old fashioned and low tech.
Joshua had a thing for old tech; he drove a car and flew an airplane that were both from the fifties. His clothes reflected that time period in their simplicity and classic styling. This new toy was just as exciting to him as getting a new laptop. He also loved the romance of old tech. Something about consumer items from that decade left him feeling warm inside like eating fresh baked cookies or sipping warm peppermint tea on a cold winter night. Back then things had curves and class and warmth that the mass-produced, perfectly manufactured items of the today lack. There was no denying the simplicity and elegance of an iPod, but it could not hold a candle to a 1958 Corvette or a Western Cutlery sheath knife.
Dancia was on his laptop browsing for news on Zemo and monitoring the IRC chat room. She was not the least bit intrigued with the radio. Having dated Steve for several months, she had heard him waxing over and listening to his radios for long enough to learn to loath them. It was not that operating radios was something that only men did; there were plenty of women Ham operators. It just seemed to her that it was a technical hobby that still required you to know something about how your equipment worked and how signal propagation worked, which tended to be a major turn off for most females. Most of what the men talked about on the air was related to the technical nature of the hobby. It just was not that interesting to her. Sometimes they talked about politics and that usually led to rants that had a decidedly Right Wing slant, which made her gag. She never could figure out why more women didn’t become Hams and talk about womanly things. Even idle gossip would be more interesting than signal reports.
She let Joshua play with the radio and occasionally watched him fuss over it like it was some kind of new arrival. Mostly she just surfed and listened to some jazz on a radio station that simulcast on the web out of the San Francisco Bay area. Eventually, she turned on the big screen TV and found an old black and white movie. The cable guide said it was Rebecca, 1940, and stared Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. After coming in near the beginning, she became engrossed in the story and soon abandoned the laptop for the easy chair. The black and white movie shined brilliantly on Joshua’s big plasma TV. She snuggled under the afghan and watched the show.
Joshua sat down at the Hallicrafters and switched the knob from Standby to Receive. A warm, soft sputtering static filled the air from the square speaker resting beside the radio. He adjusted the band dial and then started tuning around, looking for conversations. He didn’t have to go far before he found a Ham chatting away about his family ranch in Colorado. Joshua thought about the signal bouncing over the Rockies and traveling down the wires of his antenna and getting converted by the radio’s tubes into something that could be understood. The magic of radio.
He sat at the kitchen table and listened to the radio for another hour before becoming tired. He caught himself dosing off several times and finally decided around two forty-five in the morning that he had better go to bed. He dragged himself away from the warm, glowing radio and into the dark living room where Dancia was watching some old black and white movie.
“I’m going to bed. I left the radio on the frequency we got from Shemp. Feel free to listen, turn it off when you are done.”
She looked away from the picture and nodded. He looked really tired, his eyes baggy and his shoulders hunched. She didn’t expect him to have lasted this late into the night. Joshua turned and padded back down the hall to his bedroom. Dancia returned her attention to the troubles of the new Mrs. De-Winter.
An hour later, the movie was over and Dancia was bored. She opened the laptop and checked into the chat rooms she was monitoring. There was little activity so she went into her favorite Linux chat room where there were hundreds of users on and plenty of activity. She started to get the munchies and went into the kitchen to see what Joshua had to snack on. His refrigerator was nearly empty, so she poked around in the cupboards for some crackers or chips or maybe some cookies. She found a box of Ritz crackers that had an unopened sleeve in it. She took out the sleeve and put the box back. He had a wine rack on the counter and she really wanted to open a bottle.
Joshua’s taste in wine tended to lean toward local Idaho red wines. Red wine gave her a headache, she pulled out a light colored chardonnay from the Sawtooth Winery and decided that would do. She opened the drawer where she remembered his wine opener was and opened the bottle. She let it breathe while she searched for a wine glass. She found some in a top cabinet that she was too short to reach. Dragging a kitchen chair over, she grabbed a glass and set it beside the wine. Scooting the chair back, she noticed the orange glow of the radio on the table. It was casting interesting shadows on the dark kitchen walls from the fine mesh grill on the back of the radio.
She decided to sit down with her crackers and wine and give the radio a listen. She turned up the volume and turned the tuner knob slowly across the band. There was a signal that was weak and then as she turned the knob slowly, it came in stronger. It sounded like a large man’s voice and he was talking in French. Dancia took French in high school and her first two years in college. She was pretty good at it but she didn’t use her skill very often and was not very fluent. She did manage to follow along to what the man was talking about.
It was poetry. She caught references to Shakespeare and several modern American poets. Dancia wondered if the man was in France or Canada as she listened to the one sided conversation. Hams tended to ramble on for long periods of time on the HF bands before signing over to the other party. This was mostly do to the conditions but was also just a tradition. There was no timing out or other interruptions and it let the other party take a break and gather their thoughts for a rebuttal.
When it was finally time for the other Ham to talk, it was another man, younger and more hip in his phrasing. Dancia listened and became enthralled with the conversation. They were discussing poetry and reciting favorite passages back to each other. She wondered briefly if they were gay but she didn’t get that impression from their tone and inflection. They were just two fans of the medium talking about what they enjoyed most about their favorite poets. Dancia liked poetry, but she had not read much in quite some time. In high school she went through her Emily Dickinson phase and then moved on to the British poets and finally wound up appreciating Bob Dylan.
They started talking about a poem called “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg – a Beat Generation poet and friend of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Dancia had read Kerouac’s On the Road back when she first heard the song “Hey, Jack Kerouac”, by the alternative band 10,000 Maniacs. It launched her on a cross-country trip to pick up the Karman Ghia with Melina, before Dancia went into the Marines. It was the best time she ever had and it was her last rudderless voyage before her life took a purposeful turn. The military matured her in ways that civilian life could not and going to college helped her make sense of the madness of war and the questions she had about her station in life.
She found the poem on line and started to read it as she listened to them talking about it. It was an epic poem, banned at one point for obscenity and admired by nearly everyone. She liked it immediately and wanted to talk about it, but could only listen to the two poetry fans on the brown receiver. The older Ham seemed to have lived during the fifties and had been turned on to the Beat Generation first hand. He was well versed in Jazz and Beatnik culture. The younger man was less impressed with the work and tried to insist that his generation had its own crazy time making sense of life. He quoted modern poets and writers like Neal Stephenson, Eliot Katz and Levi Asher. He mused on how the Internet has shaped his generation more than any other medium has changed a generation. The older man seemed to scoff at that notion, but he had to concede that the Internet revolution was only just beginning and that history will only record those alive at its birth that caused it to come into existence. Those early pioneers of the medium may be lost to the winds of time when they are quickly replaced by the generation that perfects the idioms used in the global voice.
Dancia found the conversation intellectually stimulating, like a good college lecture on philosophy. Just when she was beginning to enjoy herself the conversation ended and the foreign voices signed off with their call signs. She typed them down in her editor and saved them to the desktop. She would be listening for them again, regardless of whether they ever heard this Shemp guy talking again or not. She tuned around the band for a while, and then grew bored with the radio. She left it on the channel that Joshua was listening to and turned down the gain so she could surf and read some more poets of her generation.
She checked the IRC chat room and found it dead quiet. Shemp was in the chat room and so were a few others, but nobody had been talking.
<nooblet> Who speaks for our generation?
There was no reply. She had hoped that Shemp was around. It was nearly four in the morning; most people in North America were long in bed. She picked up her glass of wine and finished it in one drink. Maybe it was time to turn in. She checked the temperature on the weather widget. It was twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit. “Colder than flijigans,” she said out loud. She was wearing a sweater but it was not a tight weave and her arms were feeling chilled as she rubbed them with both hands.
She remembered a particularly cold night in the desert after seeing action along the road to Baghdad. She was in a ditch off the side of a road in the middle of nowhere with four other squad mates. Their HUMVEE was disabled and they were waiting for help from the convoy. That was the longest, coldest night of her life. The temperature dropped after sunset and the stars came out like jewels spread out over black velvet. All she had was a light poncho in addition to her BDU shirt and undershirt. The days were still in the low nineties and they were dressed for the heat of the day, not the cold of night. Once the shaking stopped, she felt at one with the cold. By morning, she had never been so glad to feel the warm sunlight on her face and hands.
The laptop bleeped and she was shaken out of her remembrance. Shemp had responded to her question.
<shemp> The poets.
She read it again; to be sure she had not imagined it. The poets. She felt a chill as she sat up in the kitchen chair. What were the odds that he would respond like that? She wanted to type her questions about the modern poets that were discussed on the radio, but she knew she could not give herself away.
<nooblet> I say the coders.
<shemp> Same difference. Some of the best programmers are not that different from poets.
<nooblet> Code poets. LOL
There was a popular T-shirt with that message printed on it. Dancia always wanted one, but never had actually purchased it yet.
<shemp> Yes, actually. There is a recognizable correlation between coding and writing poetry. Have you ever heard of Sun Microsystems Richard Gabriel?
<nooblet> No.
<shemp> He’s a Distinguished Engineer who also writes a poem a day. He’s even got a Master of Fine Arts degree. Granted, he’s not from our generation, but he is a fine example of how the two skills are related.
Dancia thought about that for a moment. When she was in high school, she had written a few poems about her boyfriends and other typical teen angst. She had never tried to express herself in that way after graduation. Life in the military during a war did not afford her much free time for self-reflection.
<nooblet> I suppose the creativity is similar. The best coders have a flair for programming that you can’t get in school or from a book.
<shemp> Exactly. Well, I’m going to lie down for a while, before the sun comes up. Laters.
<nooblet> Where you at anyway?
<shemp> Canada. You?
Dancia smiled. “I bet you speak French Canadian too.” she said aloud to herself. She decided to be vague and give a trite answer.
<nooblet> The beautiful south.
<shemp> Ha! Good band. G’nite.
She closed the laptop and turned the radio off before getting up and turning off the lights. It felt to her as if the apartment was on the cold side. She checked the thermostat on the way back to Joshua’s room. It was set to sixty-five, no wonder she was chilled.
Unix was already snoring on the back of the couch and did not hear her flip the lights out when she left the room.
She came into his bedroom and watched him sleeping under a down comforter. He looked peaceful and warm. They hadn’t discussed sleeping arrangements when they came back to his place and she really didn’t care to stay on the couch. She peeled off her clothes and slid into the bed beside him. He didn’t even stir. She pulled the covers up over her shoulders and waited for the flannel sheets to warm her up. She fell asleep before she noticed that she was warm.

Null_Pointer Chapter 10

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.

Chapter 10

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.”
“Me too.”
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.
<shemp> All I’m saying is if you really look at the code, it’s not that different than JavaScript. It has the capability to do great stuff. Just nobody has done anything with it yet, except for graphics 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.
<muse> 39430
<shemp> k
<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?
<w7rbyy> Nope.
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.”

Null_Pointer Chapter 8

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.

Chapter 8

The USB thumb drive slid into his MacBook. He opened the file manager and in seconds he had all the channels and all the logs from Glenn’s PC. He sat down on the floor in Dancia’s room with his back to the foot of her bed.
“It worked, I have his logs and settings,” Joshua said.
She was busy pouring over the IRC logs from Glenn’s work PC. They were simple text files and she skimmed them in her editor, looking for contacts. It was very boring work so she switched on iTunes and dialed up an Internet Jazz station. A Charles Mingus saxophone solo came screeching out from her speakers. She brushed back a loose strand of her black hair and bobbed her head to the hip tune. She got turned on to Jazz from her blue-collar father. He used to play in his high-school jazz band and he was always playing old Charlie Parker or Miles Davis records when she was growing up. One time he took her and her brother to a club downtown and they heard a live four piece jazz band play. Her brother was bored and complained the whole night about having to go, but Dancia was transfixed by the energy and the freedom the musicians expressed.
Ever since that night, she refused to listen to the sugary pop music that everyone her age gushed over. It was just another thing to set her apart from everyone and everything that was popular.
Joshua transferred all the files to his desktop. He could access them faster locally and run some parsing scripts he had for searching text files. He was glad they did not have to do much to Glenn’s PC, he didn’t want to mess it up for a possible criminal investigation.
I’m starting to think like a detective. The thought amused him, but he had to admit that it was how he had started to view things. Not so much like a crafty gumshoe from a pulp detective novel, but more like as a program that was riddled with annoying bugs and would not compile correctly. It took patience and a clever eye for detail to properly debug a program and that just happened to be one of his strong points as a programmer.
He could track down a memory leak or a find a bad reference in code faster than most people could write such troublesome code. He could see the path of execution that the code followed as he read it. He was like a writer who could keep multiple plot threads alive in his head and still manage to write a coherent novel. This ability to juggle multiple paths of logic in his head at the same time was the hallmark of a good programmer. It also demanded total concentration the likes of which most professions did not offer on a daily basis. The ability to focus on many levels of a program at the same time required an almost Zen-like ability to clear one’s mind of extraneous thought and meditate only on the task at hand.
It was tedious, demanding work that tired out a person just as much as menial labor – without the aching muscles. His brain needed a rest at the end of a long day of coding and sometimes, sitting in front of his big screen TV watching mindless entertainment was how he relaxed and other times, he just laid down and took a nap. He always wondered why his father came home after work and took a short nap before supper. Now he knew that the mental gymnastics of programming often required the brain to reset itself with a little down time.
Joshua logged into Glenn’s IRC channels that he regularly hung out in. They were very similar to the ones he had on his work PC. There was #sharp a C Sharp language channel, #coders a general programming channel and #winhack presumably for people who hacked into Windows boxes. Then there was a third channel that popped up, #0wn3d that Joshua had not seen before. He wrote down the server name for it on his scrap envelope. An idea formed in his mind.
Dancia had lit some candles. Her legs kicked up on the desk provided a surface for her keyboard
“I have an idea. I need you to log into this IRC channel and act like a curious newbie.”
She took the scrap of envelope and started to dial the address into her X-Chat Aqua program. “Can I be myself or someone else?”
“You’re a guy, in his early twenties, living with your parents and hacking on your Mac. I will be in there too, but I won’t say anything. Don’t log in for a few minutes, let me get in and just hang for a while. Then you can come in and ask a lame question.”
She looked over the black rims of her glasses at him.
“Like a Japanese master, putting the student first to distract the enemy?”
Joshua nodded.
“I’ll be on my lappy, and we’ll talk in person. Sometimes I’ll make a comment and you can react to it. But mostly I will be listening and feeding you questions,” he said, as he opened his laptop and started a virtual machine with Ubuntu. “I’m going to be on Linux.” Ubuntu was a popular version of Linux and Joshua ran it on all his non-Mac computers.
A virtual machine was a program that could launch an operating system inside a container where it would think it was the only operating system around. You could access the Internet, and all your real world machine hardware, all while the main operating system lurked in the background. While she waited for him to boot up a Linux virtual machine, she sat up and returned her keyboard to her desk.
“You had better go through another router, so we don’t look like we are in the same place. There’s a wireless access point in the apartment next door, its wide open. I use it when I want to be anonymous.”
“Have you cracked it?”
She shook her head. “I’m not that kind of girl.”
He was soon online, surfing like a skate boarder hitching a ride on a car bumper. “I’m in as – bitbaker. Give me few minutes to loiter and see what’s going on.”
She got up and moved to where he was sitting on the floor by the bed. She pulled a tennis shoe out from under the pile of clothes that they were sitting on to get comfortable. This close to him she could smell a faint hint of his cologne, it was familiar and comforting. She rubbed her arms and sat with her feet pulled up and her chin on her knees.
There were about a half dozen people in the #0wn3d chat room with names like; losing, mostaban, bet-n-man, flynn, muse, slackjawd and shemp. There was one person designated as the moderator – phong. These were all “Hacker handles”, names that they used instead of their real names. You could sometimes look at their connection data and find out if they listed their real names, but most did not. Joshua was skeptical about these guys as they used what was called leet speak for their channel name. Leet or l33t was cracker slang for elite. Psycho had told him on many occasions that real Hackers didn’t use leet speak much anymore, except to ridicule crackers, gamers and hacker wannabes. The method of using numbers to replace text was originally used to speed up communication on modem connections to Bulletin Board Systems and later to thwart the use of regular expressions to search text in logs. Gamers now mostly used it to trash talk to each other.
What he did find interesting was the absence of leet speak in the aliases in use in the channel. That meant that they had already gotten over any fascination with talking in numbers and were perhaps thinking about other things besides computers. The people who hung out in the really good chat rooms could talk about more than just computer related topics. Sometimes the topics ranged from computer languages and politics to astronomy and back again.
As they watched the text scroll in the terminal window, Joshua noticed how clean and fresh Dancia’s hair smelled. She was not wearing any perfume so nothing had to compete with the fragrant candles in the room. He appreciated her lack of pretense when she was with him. It was like they never had to impress each other in that way. He didn’t have too many female friends and none of them were this way around him. He found it familiar and relaxing.
He didn’t think she was anything less than gorgeous, he just didn’t feel any sexual tension between them. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail; it left her white neckline to contrast with the black velvet sweater she was wearing. She glanced at him and they locked eyes for a moment. Her smile was coy and innocent, but she looked away to break contact. His gaze returned to the screen where he noticed the conversation changing from the obtuse refinements of the Perl programming language to the latest Jet Li movie.
Flynn and Slackjawd were discussing who was the best the best martial arts expert in films. Mostaban interrupted with a rant about Chuck Norris being able to kick everyone’s butt and the conversation halted. Eventually, Mostaban bowed out and the channel went quiet for a while.
“Ok, now’s a good time to log on, nobody is chatting and they just shunned that Mostaban into submission with their silence.”
Dancia got up and sat in her chair with her back perfectly straight like a diagram in an ergonomics book. Her ponytail dangled as she typed. Joshua watched her for a moment and then returned his attentions to the terminal. Her user name – Nooblet, came on with a terse announcement.
<nooblet> Anyone here know how to cast in C++?
There was a few seconds of silence, as if the participants could not decide if she were for real.
<flynn> Use a ten pound line and toss the whole lot into the lake. Then jump in after it.
<nooblet> Funny. You guys real l33t in here?
<losing> no
<nooblet> oic
She turned and winked flirtatiously with Joshua, who smiled back at her. She was sounding like a complete loser, but looking real cute doing it. Something about a girl wearing dark rim, nerdy glasses and typing on IRC, pretending to be a guy, was more attractive than it sounded.
<phong> *nooblet Nobody uses C++ in this room. Try another channel.
<nooblet> What do you guys use then?
<losing> The Force.
<nooblet> Right. Seriously.
<flynn> Perl, C and some of us use Ruby.
<phong> C.
<losing> My vastly superior intellect can not be restricted to any one language.
<nooblet> * nooblet laughs snidely
<nooblet> I’m laughing at your “Superior Intellect”.
<losing> Khaaaaaaaan!
“I think you’re in, Kirk,” Joshua said. Dancia was not so easily convinced. “Everyone knows Star Trek lines.”
<losing> nooblet, what are you coding?
<nooblet> Nothing, just trying to learn a new language. I do that every couple of years, keeps the cobwebs out of the brain. I mostly use C, some Perl.
<muse> There is but one language – Perl.
<losing> Muse knows how to do _anything_ in Perl, about ten different ways.
<losing> *losing bows before the feet of muse.
<phong> Perl sucks.
<nooblet> I sleep with the Llama book under my pillow.
<muse> You should try reading it, books make lousy head rests.
<nooblet> I’ve read it so much, its pages are soft and more dog eared than a schnauzer.
<muse> Nice.
“Perl mongers are easy to win over, as long as they think you love the language as much as they do,” she said, glancing back to Joshua over the rim of her glasses.
“Agreed, keep it up. He’s the ring leader of this group, I’m betting.”
She started typing while she was still looking at him.
“I like Losing better.”
<nooblet> muse, do any CGI hacking in Perl?
<muse> I’ve been coding Perl since before you were born, kid.
<nooblet> Shit, I’m barely out of high school, old timer.
<losing> That’s before my time too. Muse used to use Patch, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
<muse> No, but you can believe that if you wish.
<nooblet> WTF is Patch?
<muse> look it up, nooblet.
“Damn, I knew he’d say that,” Dancia said. Joshua shrugged; he didn’t know Perl that well.
<nooblet> *nooblet google’s Patch Larry Wall
Dancia opened her browser and did the search. She found out in short order that Patch was a program Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, wrote to retrofit old source code with the latest changes to it. Some prominent hackers considered it the beginning of the open source culture. Despite the fact that few people knew about it anymore.
<nooblet> Larry Wall is a god.
<losing> Amen, broth-ar.
They chatted about Perl, Politics and to a lesser extent, women. Dancia made a surprisingly convincing sex-starved teenage boy. The hours whiled away, with some pauses here and there.
Dancia was getting tired of sitting. She stood up and stretched. “Let’s go for a walk and get some caffeine, I’ve got the munchies.”

Null_Pointer Chapter 9

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.

Chapter 9

Detective Plait set down his coffee and tried to focus on his computer screen. The ballistics report had come back for Henry Levine. It was most likely a consumer round. Plait figured if you had to go, you might as well have your whole head blown out. It was quick and painless but definitely not clean.
The way he was killed said a lot about the character of his killer. The killer was someone who didn’t have much regard for human life and didn’t care about how big a mess he left. His profile for the killer was largely incomplete. Plait had his hunch, but sometimes you had to put hunches aside and stick to the facts. If he had to guess whom the killer was this early in the game, he would have guessed it was some kind of a gang related hit. Gang members usually liked the feeling of empowerment over their intended victims. A close range, brutal death was what they preferred. However, given the age of the victim and the location of the murder, it was hard to believe that it was a gang related killing.
“Hey Bill, did you want to see me?”
It was Eric Green from the communications department. He was a middle-aged man with a friendly face and a belly that entered the room before the rest of him.
“Aren’t you a Ham, Eric?”
“Sure am, W7JWIK.”
Plait handed him the notebook with the radio frequency numbers in it.
“Are you familiar with those frequencies?”
“Sure, these are local two meter repeaters here in the Treasure Valley,” Eric said, handing the notebook back to Plait.
“Do you monitor any of them?”
“I have a rig in my car and one at the house out in my radio shack. So I only listen when I’m in the car or at home. We have some Ham gear at the Communications Center but it’s only used in emergencies.”
Plait picked up a picture of Henry Levine taken from his home. “Did you know this man?”
Eric looked at him closely before answering.
“Nope, what’s his call sign?”
Plait flipped through his legal pad of notes he took at the crime scene until he found the call sign. “N7CDGR.”
“No, doesn’t sound familiar. But there are thousands of Hams in this area. If he was on the local repeaters, it’s a good bet that we could find someone who knows him.”
Plait sat back in his chair and took a sip of his coffee. The problem was, he needed to know if anyone was listening on the day Levine was killed. Something told him that it was going to be hard to find such a person. “Don’t Hams have to give their call signs whenever they talk on the radio?”
“Yup, you should ID yourself before and after conversations and every ten minutes during your talk.”
“Do you think we could find someone who might have been listening to this frequency on a certain day? This man was murdered and I think the killer spoke to him on the radio about a cell phone jammer he was selling on the day of the crime.”
Eric put his hand to his scruffy beard and rubbed it.
“You ever meet old Joe Peterson?”
Plait shook his head; the name didn’t register.
“He was a beat cop for twenty years. Before that he was a Marine. He retired, oh, about ten years ago now. Anyway, Joe’s a Ham, in fact he’s one of the guys who listen to the local repeaters and makes sure people are giving their call signs and not abusing the air waves.”
“Still policing eh?”
Eric smiled. “Yeah, Joe’s the best. Nicest man you’ll ever meet. You should give him a call or stop by his home.”
“Send me his address; I think I will pay him a visit.”
It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that detective Plait managed to get out to Joe Peterson’s place. The principal had called from his son’s grade school to inform him that his son was in trouble for disrupting class again. He hated having to field those calls because he just knew the principal found it ironic that the police detective had a son who was constantly in his office.
Little Jimmy was not a bad kid; he was just having a hard time adjusting to being in a real school. He was in a Montessori school for three years and the class room was not as structured as a regular school so Jimmy was used to being able to wander about and work on whatever project he wanted to. Now that he was in a classroom with desks and a single teacher, he was getting less attention and having to sit for greater periods of time. It was only the first semester so he was confidant that his son would buck up and get with the program, but in the meantime his old man was going to die of embarrassment.
Joe Peterson’s house was in an older neighborhood off of Cole Road. His home was old but in perfect shape and the grounds looked like they were professionally groomed.
There was a flagpole off center in the front yard with a red Marine Corps flag flying proudly under the Stars and Stripes. As Plait walked up the sidewalk to the front door, he heard a dog barking from inside.
Joe answered the door with an excited bulldog in his thick arms.
“Sorry about the noise, he’s my intruder alarm.”
“No problem sir. I’m detective Bill Plait from the Boise PD.”
Joe looked at him with a warm smile.
“Yes, Eric mentioned you would be stopping by. Come on in Detective.” Joe opened the screen door and put a big hand over the bulldog’s mouth to quiet him down.
“Be quiet Sarge, he’s a friend.” Joe said to the dog.
Plait stepped inside and waited for Joe to shut the door and put the dog down. Sarge came over and started sniffing Plait’s shoes, it was apparent from the animal’s playful demeanor that he was not a vicious killer. Plait reached down and rubbed the squat dog behind his white ears. Sarge let out a muffled bark and then was quite content.
“He likes you Detective. Usually he’s slow to warm up to strangers.”
“I’ve always been a dog person.”
Plait stood up and shook Joe’s out stretched hand. “You can call me Bill.”
“Bill, can I get you something to drink?”
“No thanks, I’m fine. Did Eric say what I was interested in?”
Joe motioned for them to sit down in the front living room. Plait took a seat on the couch and Sarge followed him for more affections. Joe sat down on his favorite reading chair, surrounded by bookshelves stocked with military history and electronics books.
“He said you were investigating the death of Henry Levine.”
“Murder actually. He was shot in the head execution style.”
Joe shook his head in disgust. “Man what is the world coming to? Henry was a harmless old man never mean to anyone. A lot of Hams are going to miss him.”
Plate looked around the small room. It was evident that Joe lived by himself, there was nothing womanly about the decor of his living room. From the dark patterns of the furniture fabrics to the framed pictures of Marines in combat and military vehicles, Joe was interested in the kinds of things that only men truly appreciated. Plait felt right at home in the place and he wished that he could spend some time chatting with Joe about his career in the Marines and his time on the force, but today he had a job to do.
“Did you know Henry at all?”
Joe nodded, his crystal blue eyes shined from under bushy white eyebrows. “He came to our club meetings quite regularly and he also checked into the morning net we run on the local repeater. I didn’t tune in every morning for the net, but when I did, he always seemed to have something interesting to say. If memory servers, he used to work on the rail lines, years ago,” Joe said.
“Did he ever mention anything about selling his gear online?”
Joe thought about that for a moment then shook his head slowly. “You know, I’ve tried to recall anything about the man that would have seemed strange or out of place in the last few days and I keep coming up blank.”
“Did you happen to hear him on the radio yesterday at all?”
“No. But there is more than one repeater here in town; he may have been on another one. I try and listen to both when I can, but yesterday I had some other things going on and was in and out most of the day. Tell you what I can do though, I can contact some of my other Ham buddies and see if anyone heard him talking.”
“That would be great, Joe,” he said taking out a business card from his jacket pocket. “Can you give me a call if you find out anything?”
“You betcha I will. Do you have any leads on the case at all?”
Plait shook his head slowly. “Looks like a random murder, except for the manner in which he was killed. Mr. Levine was a fairly honest man, near as I can tell. Going to be hard to pin this on drugs, it could be a revenge killing. But we haven’t found anyone who had a grudge with him.”
“I wish I still had a badge, I’d love to help you out on this one. I’d hate to see something like this go unsolved.”
Plait agreed. He stood up and shook Joe’s hand. “Good to meet you Joe, I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Likewise Bill, likewise, I’ll get right on the phone and I should have an answer for you soon on whether anyone heard Henry on the radio yesterday.”
“Thanks, oh and if you would keep this off the air waves, our killer might still be listening.”
“Will do, sir.”
He let the detective out the front door and held back a panting Sarge. “Have a great and wonderful day Bill!”
Bill waved goodbye as he headed back to his car. Something told him Joe wouldn’t find out anything, but it was a nice way to end his day, making a new acquaintance. Joe probably appreciated having something to investigate.