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.”
“Deal.”
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.
“Cool.”
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.

Null_Pointer Chapter 7

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 7

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

Null_Pointer Chapter 6

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 6

“Beware of Geeks bearing food,” Joshua quipped as Trish let him in and took some bags from him. Joshua had shown up at Dancia and Trish’s apartment with his arms full of Chinese take out boxes. Trish answered the door wearing a T-shirt and flannel pants, her face was all made up like she was getting ready for a date. Her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was naturally pretty with blue eyes and a slender build. Tripp had the hots for her but she was not Joshua’s type. He preferred women who could hold an interesting conversation for longer than ten minutes without getting bored. Trish was cute and nice but not for him.
“Hello Joshua. Is this for us?”
He nodded as he looked around the small apartment.
“Is she up yet?”
“Of course not,” Trish said, as she brought the food to the small round kitchen table.
“More for you and me then.”
“Actually, I have a date tonight but thanks for thinking of me. You’re so sweet,” she said as she kissed him on the cheek. She glided past him and down the hall to rap on Dancia’s bedroom door.
“Juliet, Romeo brought you some breakfast,” Trish teased.
There were no signs of life from Dancia’s room so she came back to the kitchen. “She’ll be out when she smells the food. Gosh it’s making me hungry.”
“So who’s the lucky guy tonight?” Joshua asked as he opened some boxes and started separating the wooden chopsticks.
“Someone I met at the restaurant. Gary Summers, he’s a lawyer I think,” she said as if she thought that were a good thing. Joshua nodded and dug into the fried rice.
“What are you two up to tonight?” she said her tone suggestive as she wiped a loose strand of hair from her eyes.
Joshua finished chewing and swallowed. “Oh you know, writing some code, surfing the net, plotting world domination, the usual.”
Trish laughed. “You two are pathetic. You should go to a movie or out dancing.”
“We’re just friends Trish, besides geeks don’t dance.”
She smiled. “Right. You’ve never seen Dancia cut loose to Techno music have you?”
Joshua stopped chewing and stared at Trish as he tried to imagine that. “No, I can’t even picture that.”
“She’s pretty hot. You should see her dance some time.” Trish glanced at the wall clock and stood up. “I have to get dressed Gary will be here soon. Excuse me.” She headed for her room and closed the door.
Joshua helped himself to the Sweet and Sour Pork and looked around. Their apartment was clean and modestly appointed. It was smartly decorated in the way that only women could accomplish. It was definitely not a bachelor’s pad. He knew that Trish was responsible for most of it because Dancia could care less about decorating. Her room was always messy and decorated with things like framed car ads from the 1950’s and Jazz posters from the Boise Jazz Festival. Dancia was the Oscar and Trish the Felix of this odd paring.
Dancia’s door opened and she came shuffling out down the hall wearing a sleep-shirt. She squinted in the kitchen light. “What are you doing here?” she asked as she moved to the couch and curled up in a ball. The smell of the pork and rice was permeating the small apartment and making her stomach growl. Her black hair was frumpy from sleep.
“I found out some interesting things today and you need to know about them.”
She opened her dark eyes. “What things?”
Joshua got up and looked down the hallway. He could hear Trish’s stereo playing music so he moved across the room to sit beside Dancia on the long couch. His voice was low just in case Trish overheard them.
“Glenn was actually Themis and he was murdered by the same guy who got Zemo.”
“Glenn was Themis?”
She sat up, her white sleep-shirt tight against her chest. She wiped the sand out of one eye. “Really?”
“I found a message in his code at work. It was just like what they found in Zemo’s code.”
“Holy shit, we could be next!” she said, her eyes wide-awake.
Joshua nodded solemnly. They stared at each other for a moment each one realizing that they may be getting in over their heads.
“Damn. Have you gone to the police yet?” Dancia finally asked.
“No. I don’t want to until I have a better idea who it was that killed him.”
She pulled her legs up under her oversized white shirt and held her cold toes in her hands. “Good, the police would be clueless.”
Joshua nodded in agreement with her.
“That’s not all,” he said.
“I spoke with Psycho at lunch. He showed me how to tell if Glenn’s PC had been hacked. Turns out it was. He was streaming MP3’s through a secure shell connection to his home PC. It appears that the bad guy hacked his home box and came in through the open port.”
“Sneaky,” she said her eyes shinning.
Joshua took another bite of pork. “That’s all I’ve got so far.”
She got up and walked to the table adjusting her panties as she walked. Joshua pointed to the food on the table with his chopsticks. “I got you Char siu and some white rice.”
“Thanks. You want something to drink?”
“What do you have?”
“Looks like Coke or water I’m afraid.”
“Better make it Coke we could be in for a late night,” Joshua said. He came back to the table for more fried rice.
Dancia brought him a cold can of Coke in a coozy and picked up her bucket of barbecue pork. They re-convened back on the couch.
“Did you find anything useful on Glenn’s work PC?”
Joshua shook his head. “No, it was just the conduit. There were a few mIRC logs and some trivial programs that he added to his system, nothing directly responsible for anything.”
“We can start going over his logs and try to find out who he was dealing with. Be better if we could get his home PC.”
Joshua chewed on his meal and thought for a moment. “I wonder if we could sneak into his house and capture an image of his hard drive.”
Dancia stopped chewing and looked at him. “Ah, that’s breaking and entering. A crime last time I checked.”
“Glenn was not big on security. It’s possible he left a back door open or something.”
Dancia continued eating. “Do you know where he lived?”
Joshua shook his head. “Somewhere on the East side I think. We can just google his name and get that.”
Dancia nodded as she ate. There were an alarming number of things you could find out about someone by simply putting their full name into a search engine. Even without paying for a service if you knew what you were doing you could access hundreds of public documents, all of which held valuable information about whomever you were searching for.
Trish came out of her room dressed to the nines for her date. She did a fashion model twirl in front of Dancia and Joshua. “Well, how do I look my peeps?”
Joshua did a geeky imitation of a catcall whistle. Dancia eyeballed her roommate from head to toe in a very precise, critical manner that only another woman could provide. “Those shoes don’t work with that dress. Get your black boots.”
Trish looked down at her feet and frowned. “I broke the heel on them last week. This is all I have that even half matches.”
Dancia waved it off. “Never mind you look fine then.”
Joshua nodded in agreement. “I think you look great Trish. Gary will love it. When will he be here?”
“Any minute. Damn that Chinese food smells good.” She walked over to the table and checked out what they were eating.
“We have reservations at the Game Keeper.”
Dancia and Joshua exchanged looks. The Game Keeper was an upscale restaurant downtown.
“Must be a law partner,” Dancia said.
“Yeah pretty impressive catch.”
Trish turned around and came over in front of the couch. “He’s a bit older than I usually date but Gary has style, you know?”
“And lots of mullah,” Dancia grinned.
Trish shrugged with a sly smile. “You can’t blame a girl for trying.”
Trish glided over to answer the ringing doorbell. Gary was a short, dignified man who looked to be in his late forties. His dark hair was thinning and he wore a slick mustache. Dancia didn’t care for him right off the bat but she pretended to be impressed. Trish grabbed her purse at the door and went outside with a quick look over her shoulder. Joshua gave her thumbs up and Dancia was locked in a forced smile of approval.
As soon as the door shut, Dancia wiped the smile off her face. “She’s crazy. That guy’s a slime ball.” Joshua nodded in agreement. She got up and moved to the front window to peek out at them. She watched Gary help Trish into his Cadillac CTS and then he walked around the back of it to get in himself. He moved with a swaying motion that reminded her of a mobster from Brooklyn. As they drove away she turned around and headed for her bedroom. “I’m getting a shower. You can use my computer to look up his address then we can take a drive out to see his house.”
Joshua followed her down the hall to the master bedroom. Dancia was a night shift worker and her bedroom was modified to accommodate her lifestyle. There were cardboard baffles around her door on the inside to keep out daylight. Her window was covered with cardboard boxes and duct tape. She had curtains covering the window but they were as plain as the rest of her decor. The first thing Joshua noticed was the pile of clothes all over her floor. Dancia was a slob and she made no effort to hide it or apologize for it, especially in her own room.
She had a dresser and the several drawers that were open contained presumably clean clothes. But no real effort had been made to fold them and they fell out onto the floor like overflowing water from a glass. Her bed had a white down comforter on it and a sheet wrapped up underneath it. Several fluffy pillows were strewn about near the head of the bed. She liked candles and there were several still burning as they entered the room. I wonder if the scented candles are masking other funk, Joshua thought.
He smiled to himself as he waded over to her computer/makeup desk. She had a new Mac Pro complete with a wireless Mac mouse and keyboard. Some slender Mac style speakers surrounded her 24-inch cinema flat panel monitor. It was on so all he had to do was switch to his own login.
Dancia grabbed some underwear from her dresser and headed into the bathroom. He could hear the water running as if she had not closed the door. He started to think about what that meant when he caught himself and focused on his task at hand. He brought up a browser and searched for, “Glenn Becker + Boise + Idaho”. After a few false starts he quickly found his former co-worker’s address. He was right. Glenn had lived on the East side near the Simplot Sports Complex.
He looked around the desk for a printer and didn’t find one. So he searched for a scrap of paper and a pen. There were some bills laid out on the desk but no loose paper. He pushed his fingers around under the makeup cases and found a pen. She had some colored sticky notes tacked to her monitor – reminders of when to pay bills and few phone numbers that he didn’t recognize. There were no drawers in the desk unit so he dug in her wastebasket for an old envelope. He scribbled the address, folded the envelope and stuck it in his pocket.
While he was waiting for Dancia to finish her shower he scanned the latest posts to Slashdot and Digg, two technology related discussion sites, to see if anyone had learned anything else about Zemo’s killer. There were some interesting posts but nothing related to Zemo or Glenn. He was reading an article on out-sourcing IT workers from the local newspaper when she came out of the bathroom. She had a towel tucked under her arms as she fumbled around the darkened room, looking for an outfit.
“I found his address, do you want me to wait outside?” Joshua asked.
“No, you’re fine. I just have to find a bra. Oh, the laundry room,” she said turning down the hall.
Joshua was a little uncomfortable with being in her room while she was trying to get dressed. It was every boy’s dream to be in the same bedroom as a girl who was getting dressed but he somehow never really thought of Dancia in that way, at least not until recently. She was like his best friend and they pretty much did everything a couple would do in front of each other, within reason. He went back to reading the article and noticed it quoted a few local programmers.
Randy Fickler, one of the programmers he knew from RegTech, was upset about how much work was going offshore. This was odd because Joshua had always thought of Randy as being a cool and collected kind of guy, not prone to discussing his opinions about anything unless directly asked by someone. The other programmer was unnamed and spouted the same line as Randy.
Dancia came back wearing a black, long sleeve sweater. She found some blue jeans on the floor and slipped into them on her bed. Then she went back into the bathroom to blow dry her hair.
When she came out of the bathroom again her face was softer and her hair fuller. She sat on the bed facing the computer desk and pulled on some black boots.
“So, you driving?”

Null_Pointer Chapter 5

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 5

Joshua dropped Psycho off at his house and pointed the shiny silver car toward the west side of town. As he pulled into the parking lot at RegTech, he flashed his security badge at the guard who waved his car in with a bored look of someone who did not want to be at work. Joshua had the car’s top down and he wore a heavy brown cotton overcoat to insulate him from the chilled air. Black Wayfarer sunglasses protected his eyes from the bright sunshine and framed his unkempt collar length hair. Brown leather driving gloves helped him keep a good grip on the smooth wheel of the little sports car.
Joshua’s father had been a life long Porsche aficionado and had owned half dozen different types for as far back as Joshua could remember. Before the accident that took his life, John Jones had owned a sterling silver 1958 Porsche 356 Convertible D. He doted over it more than anything else he owned. Joshua associated the friendly, round head lamps with his father’s warm personality, and could not bring himself to sell the little convertible. The elegant sports car turned heads all the time despite being old enough for classic car plates.
Joshua drove the convertible until the bitter cold of winter completely froze him out. Then he had it cleaned up, tuned and put back into the garage. He didn’t care so much about the elements but he was careful to keep the car clean and in good running order. He was not mechanically inclined himself but he was well off enough to make sure that only confident and certified Porsche mechanics ever touched his baby. In that respect he was very much like his father. He even attended road rallies and Porsche drive-ins across the western states where the same car nuts that knew his father got together to talk sports cars and drink German beer. None of that could stop the feelings of guilt from creeping up on him, but it did give Joshua some solace.
Joshua noticed several cars in the parking lot; not everyone took the weekend off. He pulled the Porsche into an empty spot near the closest entrance and got out. Reaching into what constituted a back seat he pulled out the cloth satchel containing his laptop and headed for the entrance. There was no sign of anyone in building four. The lights were again in energy saver mode and flickered on as he headed for Glenn’s cube.
Joshua sat down at Glenn’s PC. He needed to be logged on as Glenn or administrator for what he wanted to do. He knew Glenn hated having to log into his computer so he somehow doubted that the programmer wasted much time remembering a new password every ninety days. He pulled out the ergonomic keyboard and looked underneath it for a password written on the bottom. It was blank. He looked around carefully at the sparse furnishings. Just a coaster made from some kind of rock and a few pages of program specs. There was a black stapler and a plastic cup penholder with one cheap pen and a well-chewed pencil. Some paper clips lay at the bottom of the cup. The garbage and wrappers from all of his junk food were gone.
Joshua pulled open a desk drawer and found it filled with unopened candy bars and bags of chips. It looked like Glenn did his shopping at one of those cost savings warehouses and bought it in bulk. Smart, considering how often he ate the stuff. Joshua often had to scrounge around pretty hard to come up with sixty-five cents for a Coke at his desk. Something caused him to reach down under the low-slung Herman Miller chair where he found a sticky note taped to the chair’s frame. Bingo. His password was nothing unusual, just a random string of characters auto generated by the IT department. They gave up running password breaking software just to find simple passwords like dog’s names or movie star names in favor of generating their own passwords and making the user remember whatever crazy combination they drew by chance. Joshua figured they had several dozen calls a day for resetting passwords.
He typed in the random characters and waited for the operating system to boot up. He started Outlook and checked to see if Glenn had received any postmortem emails. He had but they were mostly internal company group mailings reaching hundreds of employees. The list barely changed when people left the group or the company. There was nothing suspicious in the email. He closed the email program and checked the Start menu for mIRC.
After the IRC client auto-logged into several channels Joshua took note of them in a small tablet he kept in his coat pocket. He loitered for a few minutes. There didn’t seem to be anything unusual going on. Joshua took the time to write down all the user names in the smaller channels. Some of them had hundreds of members on-line and he didn’t bother with them.
Next came the inventory of all the programs Glenn had added since his machine’s last re-imaging. A re-image occurred when the operating system was installed again to get a clean new system. There were surprisingly few shareware or open source programs on his system. Glenn really wasn’t a slacker when at work. He spent most of his time programming. There were things like Google Earth and some Free Software for network packet sniffing, nothing too unusual. Joshua recognized the media player he used as being written by a programmer in another building – GAmp. It had an extensive playlist when Joshua brought it up. He saved the information to a pen drive that he had in his coat pocket. Most of the songs on the playlist were not on his work computer. There was a SSH tunnel that Joshua remembered Glenn had mentioned. As Joshua poked around he found a Visual Basic Script that launched the connection. Glenn sure hadn’t made it hard to find that one.
Joshua thought about playing some of the music and then he looked at Glenn’s padded Sony headphones and realized that the last person to wear them was a corpse. Perhaps not.
Finding the program’s process was going to take a while so he decided to go get some coffee. He snagged his cup from his cube and headed off down the hall towards the coffee station. He had the distinct feeling of dÈj‡-vu as he started making a fresh pot of coffee. He slowly walked back to Glenn’s cube thinking about Friday and how Glenn and Zemo’s deaths had given him a new mission in life and a new respect for how fragile life can be.
Some movement caught his eye and he noticed another programmer was present. Peering over the cubicles he saw Lawrence Taggert coming in and entering his cubical. Larry was the only UNIX programmer in the web group. He did the administration of the Linux boxes they used as file servers and any scripting that was needed. He was an old school programmer, had been coding longer than anyone else on the team. Joshua remembered that Larry used to work with his father back in the seventies. The guy hardly ever talked to anyone. Joshua didn’t really know much about him personally but he knew he didn’t use Windows and he ran his Linux box in terminal mode. Which was pretty hard core. Whenever Joshua had a question about Linux he would ask Larry and always got a concise and short answer with little or no commentary. Larry was all business and kept to himself any details of his private life. Joshua could respect that about him and never tried to be his buddy. Even now when they were the only two people in the building Joshua would not think to bother him.
Joshua sat down at Glenn’s PC and got to work. A couple of hour’s worth of investigating further and he was sure that he had accounted for all the processes running on Glenn’s computer. He did a reboot into safe mode like Sikes had suggested and looked for anything out of place. It looked clean. Either the root kit was harder to find or it was removed. Somehow he felt like he was missing something. Then it dawned on him – the music hack. Could the bad guy have come in through that connection from Glenn’s home computer? If so then his work PC was just a conduit. Sneaky, very sneaky. He looked around at Glenn’s cube and realized there was nothing more to do. He logged off and went back to his cube. He propped up his feet on his desk and slowly finished his cup of coffee.
A picture began to form in his mind about what had happened to Glenn. His home PC was hacked into and the killer used the SSH connection to the work PC to somehow get to Glenn. How exactly he was able to kill Glenn was still not clear. Joshua wondered if Zemo was compromised in a similar fashion. He briefly pondered if there was a friend in Stuttgart who was trying to work out who killed Zemo. More likely it was a computer crimes expert at the local police station or whatever they had in Germany. Too bad they didn’t publish what they knew about the Zemo case. He dropped his feet from the desk and sat up. Maybe they didn’t, but the city had a newspaper and he might be able to glean some details about the investigation by reading what they had published about the case.
He quickly logged onto his PC and googled for newspapers in Stuttgart Germany. He found three web sites for newspapers in the city and ran them through a web-based translator. One of them, Stuttgarter Zeitung, had a local Police report section and he found a fairly detailed account of Zemo’s murder investigation. The translation was not perfect but good enough to get the gist of it.
Police had originally thought the death was of natural causes there were no signs of malice and no obvious motive. A friend of Zemo’s from the local Stuttgart University had come by to pay his respects to the kid’s family and wound up carting off all his computer gear. The parents never really approved of their son’s hacking and they were happy to give away his gear not a day after his death. While that sounded cold, Joshua knew the parents were acting in emotional self-defense. Little did they know the move was going to take a bizarre twist. It was this college friend who had found the message in Zemo’s code and alerted police. At that point a murder investigation was launched, and all of the computers used by Zemo were confiscated by the police as evidence.
Joshua realized that crucial evidence was out of his reach and that if he went to the local police about what he found on Glenn’s PC he might very well lose what access he had to Glenn’s computers. There was no guarantee that the Boise Police Department would ever be able to find out what he could simply by poking around. He knew that the best chance of finding out what happened to Glenn and possibly to Zemo lay with his own investigation. It was a challenge that he accepted without further thought or deliberation. He had too. It could mean his own life or even, God forbid, Dancia’s life.
Joshua sent an email to the IT person he knew and requested that Glenn’s computers be left untouched for at least a week while they made sure all the code he was working on was cleaned off. It was a legitimate request and he knew that Todd, the IT guy, would honor it. It would take management several weeks to hire a replacement or they could decide to distribute his work to the remaining programmers. That would be typical for clueless managers.
He glanced down and realized that it was getting late, which could have explained the growing hunger in his stomach. He logged off and gathered up his satchel. Chinese sounded good to him tonight and he knew that Dancia and her roommate, Trish, both loved Yen Ching’s Chinese restaurant. He wondered briefly how Dancia would react when he told her what he had found.

Null_Pointer Chapter 4

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 4

Detective Bill Plait pulled in behind the police cruiser and parked his late model Buick. He looked around briefly to assess the quiet residential neighborhood in West Boise. It was the kind of charming, tree-lined street where nothing bad ever happened. On this day, the violence had come to the suburbs.
As he walked up the front walk he was approached by Officer Samantha Nelson; a stout policewoman with a solid stance and a pleasant, round face.
“What do we have Sam?”
“Henry Levine, a white, elderly male, maybe in his seventies, shot in the head, execution style. No signs of a struggle and nothing out of place, as least as far as we can tell.”
They walked into the open garage and Plait immediately noticed the clutter. It was hard to miss. There were shelves of technical books all the way to the ceiling along the far wall of the garage. The two remaining walls were filled with drawers and cabinets that were overstuffed with electronics and parted out radios. It was the kind of junky garage that kids loved to explore and wives were ashamed of.
Lying on the dirty concrete floor was the victim. He was facing down, a small entry wound at the back of his balding head. There was enough gray matter and other fleshy parts on the floor to make looking at the exit wound unnecessary.
Plait looked around at the desks built into the wall of the garage. There were Ham radios stacked on wooden shelves and lots of paper logbooks. Everything looked like it was well used and well loved by its owner. Various test instruments surrounded a workbench that had the guts of a radio spread out like a large filleted fish.
“He must have been a radio hobbyist or something,” Nelson said, looking around the garage in amusement.
“They call them Hams, I believe. Who reported the body?” Plait asked.
“Lady next door, she was out in her back yard when she heard a shot and a car pulling away.”
Plait looked up at Officer Nelson.
“She didn’t get an ID on the car, sir. She came back inside and called 911.”
“Is there anyone else in the house? Relatives, spouse?”
“No sir, apparently he was a bachelor. The neighbor lady is waiting if you’d like to question her?”
Plait nodded. Whoever the man upset, he was pretty hard core, there was powder burns on the dead man’s head, indicating the killer was standing right beside him.
“This is Detective Plait, Mrs. Zigler. He’s investigating the murder,” Officer Nelson explained.
Mrs. Zigler was in her eighties and wore a polyester flower print dress and a knit sweater. She was sitting in her front parlor where she spent a good deal of her time, watching the traffic pass. She was a little hard of hearing and Officer Nelson spoke loud enough so she could hear her.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Zigler, I understand you heard a gun shot this afternoon?”
The woman slowly nodded. She was visibly upset by the day’s events and kept shaking her head.
“Yes, I was out in the back yard with Muffin. She was doing her business and I was putting sunflower seeds in my bird feeder.”
Plait took a knee before the woman and wrote notes in his wire bound notepad.
“Do you remember what time it was?”
“Why yes, I do. I always put Muffin out at three in the afternoon. Today was no different.”
Plait looked up at Nelson who was smiling. Sometimes luck was on their side, other times it was not. He jotted down the time.
“Did you hear any voices coming from Mr. Levine’s home while you and Muffin were outside?”
She furled her brow and looked at him astonished.
“No, I can’t say that I did. Got hearing aides you know.”
Plait smiled at the woman who honestly thought he was a little slow.
“Mrs. Zigler, did Mr. Levine have many visitors in the last week, as far as you know?”
She glanced out the window and watched a car pass by. “He doesn’t get many visitors at all these days. Margaret died oh, about two years ago now. He mostly just stays in his garage and fiddles with those old radios of his.”
Plait looked around her dining room. The furniture was from the nineteen sixties and so was the decor. Muffin was sitting on a cushion seat nearby, a small white poodle. An ambulance pulled in next-door and the dog’s ears perked up and she moved over to look out the low main windows. The dog stood tall enough to see clearly over the windowsill.
“Does Muffin notice when she sees Mr. Levine’s car come home?”
“Oh yes, we keep a pretty good eye on the neighborhood, Muffin and I,” she said, petting the poodle on the head.
Detective Plait stood up and thanked the old woman for her time. They only told her that her neighbor had been shot, they did not explain how for fear of upsetting her further. Perhaps a detailed study of Mr. Levine’s personal records would turn up something.
Back inside the old man’s house, Plait went over items on the desk in the den. It was where Henry paid his bills. There was an old PC that looked like it was purchased over a decade ago. He picked up some of the papers on the desk and skimmed through them, bills mostly. He was looking for some kind of documentation that would indicate any sort of criminal activity.
He nudged the mouse of the computer by accident and it snapped the monitor to life. On the screen was a web browser opened to Craig’s List, a popular on-line classified site where you could buy and sell things to people directly. He looked closer at the item on the screen. It was registered to Henry Levine and it was some kind of electronic device. Plait got out his glasses and put them on so he could read the tiny print on the screen.
It was a cell-phone jamming device of some kind. Henry was disappointed with the device and was looking to unload it at a fair price. There were no takers for the item, not even a comment; the site was pretty bare bones. Damn, that would have been too easy. Then he thought about email, Craig’s List customers primarily emailed each other about sales. He opened Outlook Express and scanned the latest emails for cell phone jammers. Nothing.
There was another Ham radio on the desk, a hand held model that was still on. He picked it up and thought about it for a second, maybe the killer was a Ham and they met on the air. Plait wrote down the frequency number displayed on the face of the little Yaesu handy talkie. He knew a Ham back at the precinct that may be able to tell him what the number meant.

Null_Pointer Chapter 3

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 3

It was a little before noon on Sunday when Joshua finally found Psycho on IRC. Tripp had gotten bored and went home muttering something about going to the movies with one of his film friends. Joshua hadn’t told him about the connection between Glenn and Zemo. He knew that Tripp would insist on telling the police and Joshua was not ready to go there yet.
Joshua was on his computer searching message boards for information on Zemo. The blogosphere was running out of ideas about who killed the German teenager. The consensus seemed to be that it was someone in the community but nobody could agree on who it might be. Joshua was beginning to realize that he might be in a unique position to find out who killed Zemo and Glenn. The Boise Police were unaware of the damning message he found in Glenn’s code and thus probably were none the wiser for it. If he could just get into Glenn’s system and look around, who knew where that might lead him. Back in the chat room, Joshua began typing to his friend. He didn’t normally use an alias while on IRC unless he wanted anonymity.
<jjones> Psycho, where are you?
<psycho> City of Trees, my friend. I just got in from Tokyo yesterday.
<jjones> Can I buy you lunch? I want to pick your
brain.
<psycho> Sure man. Bar Gernika?
<jjones> I’ll pick you up in few.
<psycho> Just come on in, door’s unlocked.
Joshua smiled to himself; only Psycho would leave his doors unlocked in the real world and live inside Fort Knox in the cyber world.
Sikes lived in an older East Side subdivision situated just under Boise’s Bench and protected by the sun for much of the year. Large shade trees and expensive, older homes where close-knit neighborhoods kept each other in line with restrictive covenants, dominated the area. It was some of the prettiest tree lined real estate in Boise. Many of the housing developments surrounding the city were either carved out of the desert or paved over farmland. Next to the trendy North End, it was one of the nicest communities to live in.
Joshua pulled over and parked his silver Porsche in front of the house. At least his car looked like it belonged there. As he walked across the yard to the front door, he noticed the front windows were all cracked open. It was a pleasant forty-eight degrees and the snow was already melting from the previous day’s storm. Joshua tried the door and it was indeed unlocked, in fact it was cracked open just like the windows.
Once inside, he stepped gingerly over a meshwork of LAN cables and power cords leading to the living room. Every spare inch of floor space was covered with various computer cases and odd printers. There was no place to sit and barely enough room to walk around them. The house was humming with the fan noise and it was noticeably warmer inside than outside. Must be nice to be able to afford such gratuitous power consumption.
“Sikes?”
“Back here man!” Sikes hollered from deep inside the house.
Joshua walked back toward the bedrooms past the living area and the kitchen. Every room was crammed with humming PCs, including a few on the kitchen counters. He found Sikes in the spare bedroom hunched over an open PC case in the process of swapping out a power supply. He was dressed in a pair of old army fatigues with side pockets and wore a faded red T-shirt with black kanji script on it and no shoes. His red hair was tucked under a pirate bandanna and ran down below his shoulders. He wore a long goatee that naturally curled upward making him look like a tall Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz.
“Just firing up the matrix here, be done in a few.”
The “matrix” was what he called his network of computers running every flavor of operating system under the sun, including a Sun Solaris Sparc station. He used them to practice breaking into networks composed of every kind of computer imaginable. Some of them were identical units with nothing more than a different version of an operating system on them so he could replicate un-patched and patched systems. Others were just oddball configurations that he had ran across and replicated just for the experience.
Security gurus tend to become very intimate with the operating systems they specialized in. They can describe the inner workings of the hardware and how the software makes calls to the hardware. Only those who actually design operating systems know more about low-level operations.
“This old Windows 98 box blew a drive while I was gone. She gave up the ghost and nearly caught fire,” Sikes said, as he replaced the cover to the CPU case and stood up. He offered a quick hand shake to Joshua.
“Good to see you again, what’s on your mind?”
“Murder.”
Sikes lifted his left eyebrow in a perfect imitation of Spock from TV’s Star Trek.
Joshua waited for him to slip on his hiking boots before they left. In the Porsche on the way downtown, he outlined what he knew about Glenn and Zemo’s deaths. Sikes listened intently and stared off into traffic to ponder the ramifications.
“Wasn’t Zemo one of Captain America’s villains?” asked Sikes.
“I didn’t read comics.”
Sikes looked at Joshua like he was crazy, then he shook his head and mumbled.
“He was a German scientist and founder of the Masters of Evil. Dude, Zemo invented the Death Ray or,” Sikes put up finger quotes, “Laser Beam”, imitating Doctor Evil from Austin Powers, “years before anyone else had them.”
Joshua nodded politely thinking his friend must not be all there. He wondered if comic book geeks actually believed the story lines or if they were just so into the imaginary universes that it only seemed like they did to outsiders. He supposed it was not too different from Tripp and his friends quoting movie lines and talking about movie characters like they were real people.
“Well, this Zemo was a damn good coder and his death is a loss for this world.”
Sikes nodded in agreement.
“I didn’t know the kid, but I like his sense of style in picking such a cool and well thoughtout alias. Most people just use the names of fictional characters that everyone is familiar with.”
Joshua agreed with his friend, Zemo was definitely an original.
/*————————————————–*/
Bar Gernika was a hole in the wall joint just off Capital Boulevard in down town Boise. One of the most popular Basque restaurants in town, the impossibly small establishment was nearly dead on this clear November day. Joshua parked in the Bank of America parking lot next door and they walked around the corner to the entrance of the bar.
Joshua set his laptop on the table away from where they would be served. A tall, thin man dressed in a black punk rock T-shirt and black jeans appeared. Joshua ordered a lamb grinder with pepper jack cheese and a beer. Sikes ordered the same thing minus the pepper jack.
“Tell me how a Windows system could be compromised?”
Sikes laughed.
“Let me count the ways.”
“Okay, how about one inside a corporate firewall?”
“Tougher, but not impossible. You would want to look for some way through the firewall, be it a server port or an FTP port, IRC, that kind of thing. Once you can get to the target PC, its fair game. Most big business computers are kept up to date on patches, but Microsoft only publishes fixes for about half the exploits found in the wild. If you had knowledge of any one of those exploits, you’re in like Flynn.”
Joshua nodded.
“So the bad guy would have to know about Windows exploits in order to get in?”
“Not necessarily, he could just be using a program designed by a more experienced programmer. You know, like script kiddies. Kids who don’t have a clue how it was written use most of the malicious software out there. Some clever coder figures out a way to get into a system and then writes a brilliant program that makes it easy for other, less knowledgeable people to use and abuse. That’s how Denial of Service programs thrive.”
Joshua stared with a furrowed brow at an old rusted farm implement on the wall collecting his thoughts. “So I guess I need to know how you could take remote control of a PC and not be noticed by a user.”
“Ah, what you would use for that is…” Sikes lowered his voice as if he didn’t want anyone within earshot to hear him. He leaned forward and then looked around the nearly deserted bar. There were two older women at a table about ten feet away absorbed in idle conversation about their gardens. He motioned for Joshua to lean forward and then whispered.
“…a root kit.”
“What?” Joshua said.
Sikes started laughing out loud as if he just told the best joke ever. Joshua smiled to cover his confusion there was nothing secret about root kits. Psycho was just nutty.
“Seriously, dude. Lighten up. This is how I make a living.”
“Sorry man I’m just trying to find out who killed some people I know. I feel like I owe it to them.”
Sikes sat back and wiped the smile off of his reddish face. The waiter returned with their drinks and sandwiches. They both dug in and the table fell silent for a few minutes as they enjoyed their meal. Sikes ate fast as if he were not used to letting nourishment get in his way of working. He finished his beer and his sandwich and then toyed with his fries.
“Most Black Hatters use a kernel level root kit. Although there are plenty of people using application and library level kits, they tend to be much easier to detect. Believe it or not, it’s not very common to find root kits on Windows boxes, especially the kernel level ones. If that’s what you have, it’s usually the mark of a serious bad boy.”
Joshua finished chewing and swallowed. “I don’t really know what’s on Glenn’s box. Is there any way to detect a root kit?”
Sikes slouched back in his chair, shoved a fry into his mouth and chewed slowly.
“His PC is inside the RegTech firewall and it probably has a virus scanner on it that is kept up-to-date by the site IT. Higher-level root kits are out of the question. He has to have a kernel level job, a program that runs in the actual operating system. In that case the best way to check for it is to boot his machine into safe mode and then check it for unusual processes. You might get lucky.
“You see, what makes a root kit so hard to detect is that it’s loaded into the kernel as a device driver and once it’s in there it can act as a interceptor for all incoming calls to the kernel and redirect scans to discover it. Virus protection software companies hate them.”
Joshua finished his sandwich and pushed the basket aside. He took out his laptop and opened it up. There was a wireless hot spot nearby. He opened a terminal and securely connected to Glenn’s computer at RegTech under his own user name. Then he slid the laptop across to Sikes.
“Can you find anything just by poking around?”
Sikes sat up and pulled the silver MacBook Pro closer to him. He cracked his slender fingers and then started typing like a master pianist. Joshua moved his chair around beside Sikes so he could see what he was doing. The waiter came by again and cleared their baskets. He asked them if they wanted more beers and Joshua motioned for two more. The guy nodded, indifferent to their interest in the laptop and nearly indifferent to them.
“He’s got an open port using SSH. It looks like it goes to a directory on another computer. Your boy was probably streaming MP3’s from his home.”
“I think he mentioned that he had set up something like that. He was boasting about subverting the site IT because they couldn’t see what he was streaming through Secure Shell. They don’t allow streaming media at RegTech.”
Sikes nodded, his fingers had moved on to other directories. “Mmmm, this is interesting. He was using mIRC a popular Windows IRC client. You should snag his logs, might help you find his killer.”
“I was going to get those if I could log in as him or get admin rights to his box.”
“Looks like all the common ports are blocked as per corporate IT procedures. He was running Internet Information Services, but only as localhost.”
“We’re a web team; we all run that to test our development code.” Sikes made a gag face, and Joshua shrugged. Microsoft’s web server was not well liked by security professionals. It was a constant source of security break-ins.
“It’s not possible to really know if this box is owned unless you have physical access, but just from what I’ve seen, I’d say it was a kernel level hack. Which means your killer knew what he was doing. If that’s the case, he still has access to this box and he’s still in control of it.”
Sikes logged out of the SSH terminal and sat back again in thought. Joshua moved the laptop back to his side of the table and closed it down.
“I’d be amazed if he left the mIRC client logs in place. This guy has full control of this box. He could wipe all evidence away and nobody would be the wiser.”
“Maybe he thought IT would just reformat the hard drive and everything would be taken care of for him?”
Sikes shook his head. “These Cracker types are just like thieves. They are paranoid beyond belief. They have to be. If they leave anything at all behind, guys like me can catch them. That’s why the best ones are never found, until they slip up.”
“What do you think I should do with his box then?”
“Boot it into safe mode, start checking for processes that you can’t identify or that should not be there. There’s a page on my web site that lists all the processes running on a stock Windows XP Pro install. You can use that as a baseline to start from. Of course your IT will have anti-virus stuff on there and maybe some programs to push patches and stuff. Then you have to do an inventory of what crazy stuff he installed like shareware apps and open source programs. It could take you a while.”
Joshua grinned sheepishly.
“What else would I be doing on a Saturday night?”

Null_Pointer Chapter 2

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 2

Joshua woke to the sounds of cartoons. He opened his eyes trying to focus on the ceiling. The afghan from his couch was covering him in a warm and cozy pocket. The LED clock beside his bed read eight thirty-five. Somehow he managed to get some sleep. Dancia usually left for work around six, so he must have dozed off long before that. He still felt tired but his mind was grudgingly awake.
Nix was lying up against him snoring. The old gray and black cat had belonged to his father. Born in the same decade as the UNIX operating system, his father named the cat Unix, but for as long as Joshua could recall, he was just called Nix. Joshua sat up and listened. From the orchestrated music and lack of voices he became convinced that it was classic Tom and Jerry.
He pulled the afghan over his shoulders and strode out into the main living area. Nix stayed on the warm spot of the bed, his head turned in towards his body. The cat rarely moved around much anymore, old age and blindness in one eye saw to that.
In the living room, Tripp was stuffing himself with a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal and laughing at the cat and mouse humor on the TV. It was just like back in college except the digs were more up-scale and the hairstyle was different. Tripp was a lean, brown haired man with a bottomless stomach and the annoying habit of eating with his mouth open.
He noticed Joshua moving into the kitchen and spoke with his mouth full, “Sup!”
Joshua waved, found a clean coffee mug and poured himself a cup of coffee. At least Tripp had sense enough to make a full pot. After fixing his coffee how he liked it, Joshua padded into the living room and plopped down in his easy chair. The Korean take out was still sitting there, though it had been finished off and moved to the coffee table. There were a few more empty beer bottles nearby. Dancia must have helped herself.
“I love Tom and Jerry,” Tripp offered, as he watched the animation.
“I know. I still like Looney Tunes better,” Joshua reminded him.
“Do you think its crazy watching cartoons in High Definition?” Tripp asked as he crunched another spoonful of cereal.
“Yes,” was all Joshua could muster until after the caffeine kicked in.
“I don’t. These old MGM classics were shot on thirty-five millimeter film and shown in theaters. They had more definition than the stuff we watched as kids in the eighties.”
Whatever. He was not that into film, unlike Tripp, who was a communications major and had movie posters all over the walls of their shared apartment in college. Tripp and his film buddies would get together some weekends and watch old black and white films Joshua had never heard of and then endlessly debate with each other, which was the best movie of all time, Blade Runner or Citizen Kane. Joshua called them all nerds and retreated to his room to hack on code.
Tripp was a Director for a local TV affiliate and his buddies were either washing dishes at some dive or had moved on to California to wait tables and debate about which version of Blade Runner was better; the original with a voice over or the director’s cut with the new ending. Either way, they were not making a decent living and not making movies like they had hoped. Tripp still liked to watch movies and most of the time he watched them at Joshua’s place. Tripp was the one who told Joshua which high definition TV to buy so they could have the best home theater that Joshua could afford.
“Hey, did you know that dude that died at RegTech yesterday?” Tripp asked.
“I was the one who found him.”
“No shit? Man, I bet that was messed up.”
Joshua was still not ready to rehash the day’s events.
“They think he had a heart attack and died in his chair. He was not a picture of health like you and me,” Joshua said poking fun at his friend’s flab. In college they were on the tennis team and ran five miles a day. But lately they had become lazy and more prone to drinking beer and just skipping the whole exercising ordeal.
“Oh, I saw Delta Charlie this morning. She told me to tell you to check your IM for something.” He was referring to Dancia. In high school Tripp and Joshua used to place labels on people who fit certain stereotypes so they could point them out in public and not be accused of “labeling” anyone, because that was not politically correct. The girls who wore black all the time were called Death Chicks and Tripp’s unimaginative code word for them was Delta Charlie.
“Thanks,” Joshua said, shaking off the afghan and taking his coffee with him as he went into the computer room.
“And take a shower. You stink man,” Tripp called out after him.
Joshua sniffed himself as he sat down at the computer. Yep, he smelled like yesterday’s laundry. Touching the mouse produced a login and he slowly pecked his password into the keyboard twice before being let into the system. The coffee had still not kicked in. He sat back and took a long drought of the miracle java with a soft, satisfying sigh. Tripp could still make a mean pot of coffee.
When his desktop came up he launched Pidgin, his instant messenger client and was soon staring at a message from Dancia. He rubbed the sand out of the corners of his eyes and tried to focus on the tiny font.
(05:15:35) Dancia Rivers: Check your XChat logs for last night on #coders. Looks like the Stuttgart police are calling Zemo’s death a murder based on what his friends found on his computer the night he died. It was something about a message in his code. I looked in our CVS and it still had his code checked out. Guess we’ll loose that change. Maybe I’m just morbid but I wonder what the code Glenn was working on looks like? I’ll be by later. Thanks for letting me use your system last night. I finished the data layer and checked it into CVS. Laters.
They were working on an Open Source project that Joshua had started in college and had decided to resurrect. It was a movie rating and discussion web site, called MyMovies that he had built for Tripp and his film friends. They were updating the basic framework and redesigning it to make it “Web 2.0” and trendy so as to attract hardcore film geeks and maybe some investors. It was kind of like a cross between MySpace and the Internet Movie Database IMDB.
Joshua’s leg started bouncing, the coffee was kicking in. His curiosity was piqued by what the German Police had found in Zemo’s code. He logged into XChat, his Internet Relay Chat or IRC program, and then called up a terminal and started parsing through the logs in Vi, his code editor of choice, using regular expressions. Regular expressions were a kind of code shorthand for finding things in text documents. In just a few short minutes he had found the interesting part of last night’s conversation between several of Zemo’s friends.
In the middle of Zemo’s code they found a calling card, a simple line that turned a freak death into murder. Buried in the code was a single sentence in English, “One down, three to go”. There were no other messages in the code. No other files on his computer were touched. Someone had killed Zemo and wanted the crime to be noticed.
Joshua sat back in his chair, held his black coffee cup in his hands and took a slow drink. The similarity to Glenn’s death disturbed him. Zemo’s apparent cause of death was heart failure. No visible signs of struggle or self inflicted wounds. No family history of heart trouble, no history of illness or disease, just a perfectly healthy teenager dropping dead at his computer in the basement of his parents’ house. Another tragic and sad death.
Joshua knew what Zemo’s parents were going through, at least in some small way. He felt sorry for them and he felt sorry for Zemo. He was a bright kid and a gifted coder, the kind of talent that one rarely found these days in kids his age. He was well respected in the Open Source community too. Already there were Internet effigies being posted all around the globe. Forums and message boards were alive with talk about the murder and about who could possibly have done it, not to mention how they pulled it off.
Joshua scanned the web and quickly took in all the chatter about Zemo. He read forums, news sites and Digg stories all connected in some way to Zemo’s death. The most interesting comment he read was from a well-respected member of the Free Software movement who wondered if the killer was in some twisted way, pulling off the ultimate hack.
Interesting. The notion that a hacker would seek attention and notoriety for the taking of another’s life repulsed him, yet somehow fascinated him at the same time. It was not a very hacker-ish thing to do. The common press had bastardized the word hacker long ago as someone who played pranks on or otherwise caused harm to come to other people’s computer systems. The true meaning of the word hacker was closer to a grand master of a trade. Someone who was so skilled in computers that there was little they could not make them do. Joshua had never met a true hacker. He knew some pretty gifted coders but they were either too immature or their egos were too large to truly be considered a hacker. If this murder was the work of a hacker he must surely be psychotic.
Joshua tilted his empty coffee mug and decided he needed a second cup. He padded back into the kitchen and noticed that Tripp had moved on to the news. More death and suffering from the Middle East flashed across the screen in bloody detail.
“I thought you were in the shower?” Tripp asked.
“I was reading some posts about Zemo, a coder in Germany who was murdered,” Joshua said, pouring the last cup of coffee.
“What’s with all the dead geeks? It must be a former jock getting his revenge,” Tripp laughed at his comment.
“They’re not related at least as far as I know.” Joshua paused a moment wondering what might be embedded in Glenn’s code. He did not notice anything yesterday when he checked in the code to source control. Program code was routinely stored in repositories known as source control, so that changes made to the code could easily be redacted. But then he never actually looked at Glenn’s code. Was there a secret message in his code too? Was Glenn a murder victim?
Joshua headed back to the computer room taking a large sip from his mug. Why would there be anything suspicious in Glenn’s code? Glenn was far from the talented coder that Zemo was. Maybe Joshua was letting his imagination get the best of him. Still, there was no way to be sure until he checked the code. Perhaps Dancia’s hunch was right.
It only took him a few secure shell commands to get inside the RegTech firewall and start accessing the source control software. First he looked at the check-in times for all of the code that Glenn had checked out. When a programmer made changes to his code, he then checked the code into the repository. There were no more checkouts since Friday afternoon, when Joshua checked in Glenn’s code. Next he checked out of the code repository all of Glenn’s C Sharp code files. C Sharp was a programming language that they used at work. Using regular expressions again he was able to search for the words “One down” and in seconds, he had an answer – nothing. There were no matches for “One down, three to go” or even any word followed by “down”.
Joshua breathed a sigh of relief. Then he started noticing the names of the code files in Glenn’s repository. Everything seemed right except for the two files with a different extension. All C Sharp files ended in a .cs extension, but there were two files in the repository with a .rb extension. Those were written in the Ruby language. In all his conversations with Glenn about coding, Joshua had never heard the man mention anything positive about Ruby. Programmers love to compare coding languages like theologians compare religions. But in the end, most programmers specialize in only one language. Their support for that language often takes on a religious zeal.
Glenn was always a C Sharp proponent. He never gave any other language the time of day with the possible exception of Visual Basic the “other” Microsoft language. For him to have two Ruby language files in his project was like finding a crucifix in a Jewish Rabbi’s house. Joshua remembered the last conversation they had about Ruby. Glenn had argued that it was just a passing fad and would never have the corporate support that a VB or a C Sharp would have. Come to think of it, Glenn never actually dissed the language, only the acceptance of it.
Joshua checked out one of the Ruby files and started scanning it looking more at the comments than the actual code. It was some kind of a C Sharp to Ruby conversion program, which meant that Glenn must have been working on ways to use C Sharp code in Ruby applications.
“Wow,” Joshua said aloud.
He never realized that Glenn was a closet Ruby coder. It was hard to get his head around that idea. The program was a scratch script, something Glenn was using to try out some new ideas. It was not formal code used in an actual application. There were very little comments and what was commented usually had things like “hope this works” or “change this later”. The temporary notes were for him and did nothing to explain what was actually going on, which was the point of properly commented code.
Joshua opened the second file. It was a real source code file with a proper heading and was properly commented. Joshua recognized it immediately because he himself had written it. It was one of the models used in the MyMovies web application. He had co-written the model with the third member of their team named Themis. So how the hell did Glenn get a copy of my code? Especially code that you had to pull from a closed repository for the MyMovies application? Could Themis have given it to him? I certainly didn’t give it to him.
It made no sense, unless Glenn was Themis. The thought lingered in his mind until it crystallized. Was Glenn the third member of their MyMovies team? How could that be? Then Joshua realized that he really knew very little about Themis. They had conversed on IRC quite a bit over the past few months but they had talked mostly about Ruby and how to construct Ruby web applications. Neither one had mentioned what they did for a living, only that they loved Ruby and wanted to work on a project together. Themis was brought onto the MyMovies team because Joshua invited him. Dancia didn’t know who he was either, but at the time, she agreed they needed his expertise. They all knew who Zemo was and Zemo knew who they were, but nobody knew the real identity of Themis. Since everyone on the project referred to each other by their hacker alias, it was doubtful that Themis even knew who they were. Such was the way things were on the net.
As he looked at the code he and Themis had written he noticed the message plain as day — “Two down, two to go”. The killer had left his calling card in the code of two members of Joshua’s web application team. Someone is targeting us! How long before Dancia and I am attacked?
Did either of them notice the line before they died? Then he realized just how insane the idea of killing someone sitting at their computer was. How could you kill with code? Was the sentence a trigger for another program to run or was it just a signature card and nothing else? I have to find out.
He logged into Glenn’s computer to see if it had been the victim of a root kit. Root kits were back door programs that Black Hat Crackers left on computers that had been compromised. A good root kit would let the bad guy into the computer at any time and have his full way with all the vital system files, essentially running as the machine’s administrator.
Joshua knew about root kits but he was not an expert in finding them. For that he would need some help from a security expert, someone trained in the black art of cracking into computers for the sole purpose of catching those who did such things without consent. I need Psycho. Psycho was the handle of a talented security admin that Joshua knew from college. His real name was Nik Sikes, but everyone called him Psycho because when it came to doing what he did, Sikes was just plain crazy. Psycho was a freelance security expert, hired by companies to break into their systems and find their weaknesses. He would sneak into every computer on a network and drive the company’s security expert’s nuts trying to catch him.
It was a valuable skill to have in these times of complete reliance on computers and networks. Sikes made obscene money doing what he did and traveled the world doing it. Every time he was back in Boise to catch up on his snail mail, Joshua would hook up with him and they’d go out drinking together. Sikes always had some entertaining stories to tell about how he was able to break into some big client’s system and they never knew he was there. One time he was able to catch a Black Hatter at his own game by laying a trap for him. When the client flew him out to their offices in Singapore, Sikes had already been through their networks and caught the offending cracker in his tracks. All he had to do was show them what he had done and accept his fat paycheck.
Joshua knew he had to chat with Sikes but he didn’t know where in the world his friend was working. That was what IRC was so good for. He logged onto his favorite channel and checked who was online. Sure enough, there was Psycho. A quick ping to see if he was actually at the computer came up empty. Even people who spent the majority of their lives on a computer were away from the keyboard sometimes.