This post contains portrayals of homosexual actions and lifestyles. There may be references to, or explicit descriptions of, sex between consenting adults.
If homosexuality, sexually explicit language, or swearing offends you, or if reading material that contains these violates any law or personal or religious beliefs, you must exit now without proceeding further.
If you’re under 18 years old you may not read it either because it is against the law. I regret this because I was once a randy teenager myself and I feel somewhat two-faced in helping enforce the law. Hopefully, one day, censorship may disappear along with other vestiges of Big Brother and Mother Grundy.
The story is entirely fictional. Kirkhall Island is a fictional Barrier Island off the Georgia Coast. Where I mention real people or companies, it is merely for a semblance of verisimilitude and the attitudes and actions I ascribe to them are entirely fictional. As far as I know there is no SE Services company in Georgia. The one in the story is imaginary.
For those of you who have had the misfortune never to work on an IBM Mainframe there is a glossary of terms at the end of the story.
My thanks to Bill and Alastair who edit my work and make suggestions. Any errors that remain are probably because I ignored their advice.
Grant trudged into his office. As the door closed behind him, he sagged into his chair and stared unseeingly at his computer screen. The confrontation with his wife had come without warning. A thoughtless and frivolous comment by a mutual colleague, meant in jest, had somehow mutated within Freda’s mind until it had transformed into the concept that he was having an affair with the lead operator on the night shift. With her demeanor chilling by the second Freda had retreated to her office with Grant tumbling helplessly in her wake trying to restore reason. Yet rather than mollifying, his words had triggered another of her violent outbursts that seemed of late to be coming with ever greater frequency. For fifteen minutes she had ranted and raved while he, embarrassed by the knowledge that her tone, at least, if not her words, were penetrating the office walls to the cube farm outside, had tried to reassure her that her suspicions were unfounded. But he pleaded his case in vain and became increasingly mentally cowed until a silence fell on the room and he looked up to see Freda walking rapidly toward him. Expecting a blow he flinched, but she merely pushed him aside and left the room, the slamming of the door underlining her Parthian shot that any further extra-marital contact with Elizabeth would result in a divorce that would leave him pecuniarily destitute and professionally stained.
That was the problem about the average guy marrying a very wealthy woman, he mused as he slumped at his desk: eventually you became her prisoner. In the impassioned days of wanton sex that had been the trademark of their romance, he’d thought he’d arrived at the end of the rainbow, but that, like all mirages, had imperceptibly vanished as they had raced up opposite sides of the corporate pyramid. Now the trap — the pre-nuptial contract — had sprung. What had been hers would remain hers and a divorce could very well make much of what was his, hers as well.
It was ironic, he reflected, that he had no feelings whatsoever toward this lead operator, Elizabeth. Admittedly there had been extra-marital forays, yet Freda was in total ignorance that they had taken place with her star sys prog, Kevin. Her pet, Kevin. How often had he heard how good, how efficient, how proactive Kevin was? Would she be so ebullient, he wondered, if she knew that two or three times a week, on some occasions even five, Kevin was lying in his arms in bed? It gave him a momentary sense of victory, another coup in the scoring that had become their marriage and he smiled briefly, but it vanished as the recent memory of her tirade brought back to him the inescapable reality of the situation: he would be under close scrutiny now and, for the sake of his own survival, Kevin would have to go.
And once he had made that decision, he was astonished that he did not feel all that bad about it.
At first it had seemed a fantastic stroke of luck — a thousand miles from home and the friendly guy he encountered lived in the same town as he. It was at the SHARE Conference in Minneapolis: both had flown in a day early to attend a couple of workshops being held on the Sunday before the conference opened and, not incidentally, to save on airfare by staying over a Saturday night. Alone in the unfamiliar city, they had enjoyed dinner together, gravitating afterwards to the bar, chatting and swapping war stories with other early arrivals. Grant had been flattered by the attention with which the younger guy listened to his anecdotes, the deference he showed to his background and position, and thus, when the bar closed, it seemed natural for them to retreat to Grant’s room for a nightcap and continue the conversation. An hour after the door closed behind them it seemed just as natural for them to be in shirtless embrace while their tongues ardently explored each other’s mouths.
Nobody could have termed Grant a sexual neophyte. While yet in high school he had spent many a Saturday night surrounded by the pseudo sophistication of flowing booze and the abundant selections of leaves and pills that could be found in his brother’s apartment. He was a good looking lad and, in the free and easy lifestyle that prevailed there, two weeks before his seventeenth birthday, he lost his virginity to a libidinous woman some five years his senior. By the time he reached college he was a seasoned lothario.
A year after graduation he met Freda, and during their courtship and first years of marriage their love making was so frequent and diverse, that being faithful and forsaking the prowling for the inamorata de jour proved to be no hardship.
But, with ethereal subtleness, their sex life had metamorphosed from copulation to career rivalry and, as the previous intimacy had dissolved into the background of his memory, he began to feel a growing void in his life.
The young man that Grant met in L’Etoile du Nord reawakened these long-dormant passions and opened up domains of ecstasy that he’d never visited before. Like any addiction, in the second time around the urges were both more forceful and more tenacious. They survived the sobering wake up on the following morning and, by the time the wrap-up session ended on the Wednesday, a plan had been put in place for the two men to meet up back in Savannah.
Somehow, in those tumultuous days, Kevin never got around to mentioning that he was already in a relationship, nor that he and Larry, his partner, had made plans to buy a condominium and move in together, just as soon as Larry completed the MBA for which he was currently studying most nights.
The stroke of luck that had brought Kevin to him continued for Grant. Over dinner on the evening he returned home, Freda had mentioned to him that one of her team was leaving to get married and so, with feigned disinterest, Grant fed her Kevin’s name. Within a fortnight Kevin had an interview and three weeks after that, on a sunny Monday morning, he moved into his cube — within sight of Grant’s office.
At first it had been bliss for Grant. His irregular work hours facilitated many a passionate evening in Kevin’s apartment or an invigorating good morning kiss accompanied by much more than bagels and hot coffee. For Kevin’s part, keeping his new-found lover and Larry apart proved to be less of a problem than he had feared, since almost every night his boyfriend was either in class or studying, and Grant was rarely available on those weekends when Larry would surface from his books.
Grant was not exactly a free agent himself, so their meetings were, of necessity, conducted in seclusion: there were no outings to fine restaurants, no hand-in-hand walks along the riverfront, no evenings at the symphony together and, hardest for both, they had to remain distant in the work environment. Yet this was not all bad news for Kevin: perhaps from the guilt of his duplicity in one relationship, Grant felt he had to compensate in the other and he lavished gifts on the young man. There had been clothes, a DVD player and, in the late Fall, he had agreed to pay $100 a month toward the loan payments for a sharp little red Jeep Wrangler that Kevin fancied.
Finding this arrangement to be profitable, Kevin exploited the situation to its fullest.
The IT Department’s Kick-Off party the following year was held at the Hyatt Regency in a room that overlooked the Savannah River. The profits for the previous twelve months had been good and management handed out several rather generous awards. The only surprise was the announcement that Freda was to be promoted to division manager.
Grant applauded with feigned enthusiasm and gave his wife a congratulatory kiss, but it was a deep disappointment for him. He had been lobbying for the position himself and now the higher salary he had been almost certain would be his, had been snatched away from him and, with it, the financial security that would have permitted him to leave Freda and set up home with Kevin.
Now, a bare four weeks later, the final nail was being driven into the coffin. One rash remark, uttered in jest and misconstrued in hearing, and he was screwed. But he had waited too long, worked too hard to get where he was, and he wasn’t about to go down now. And if that meant Kevin had to go, then that was the sacrifice he had to make. Emboldened by having made the decision, he pushed his chair back and headed out to the cubes. Most of the staff had already headed home into the late-winter evening and he half wondered if he’d find his lover still at his desk, but as he turned the corner he noted the light on the wall and quickened his step.
Kevin turned as he heard Grant enter and grinned at him. Minimizing the application window on his screen, he asked, "How do you like my desk-top?"
Grant moved his focus to the monitor and was shocked to see a picture of himself and Kevin, bare-chested, locked in a passionate kiss, occupying three quarters of the screen. "Shit, Kevin, are you out of your friggin’ mind? If Freda saw this she’d kill me."
"She’s not going to see it," Kevin chuckled, "I only turn it on once everyone’s gone." He gave a mischievous grin and added, "See, it’s just like you, I only turn you on when nobody else is around." He put his hand out and fondled Grant’s leg, but for once it was pushed away.
"Look, Kev, we’ve got to talk."
"Sure. What’s up?" The younger guy swiveled his chair around and swung his feet up onto the desk.
"Man, the shit hit the fan this afternoon and things have got way out of control. No, it’s nothing to do with you," he added noticing the look that moved across his friend’s face, "It was that dumb-ass Geoff making one of his usual stupid remarks, and now Freda thinks I’m having an affair with Elizabeth. She."
"Elizabeth Greene?" Kevin asked incredulously.
"I kid you not. Geez, does the woman think I have no taste?"
"She doesn’t have any idea about us, does she?"
"No. Hell, no. But she’s suspicious and I just can’t risk anything now. Not for the next few months at least," he hung his head momentarily then looked back up. "She’s put me on short notice: if she catches me fooling around the slightest bit she’ll divorce me and, if that happens, I’m screwed."
"There’s no way she’s going to find out." Kevin responded reassuringly. He dropped his feet to the floor and leaned toward Grant, lowering his voice. "Shit, it’s been six months already and nobody here has the slightest notion about us."
"Kev, I’m sorry man. I just can’t risk it, man."
There was a pause while Kevin tried to figure out the implications of what he had just been told. He searched Grant’s face for some sign of comfort but there was none. "So where does that leave me?" he asked evenly.
"Kev, I’m sorry, but you and I are history. Believe me, I don’t want it any more than you do," he added quickly noticing the look of dismay that flashed over the young guy’s face. "This has been a happy time for me — and you are the greatest, too — but I can’t hang my ass out any more."
"Over? What exactly does ‘over’ mean?" Kevin demanded, his voice beginning to rise both in pitch and volume.
"Kev, believe me I am so sorry this has happened. Probably more sorry than you. I mean look at it: I’m stuck, but you — you can move on, find some cute young guy and do all the things together that you wanted us to do that we couldn’t."
"Oh please, spare the rationalization. You didn’t answer my question. What does ‘over’ mean?"
"Kevin, listen to me. We can’t be together any more. Freda will be watching how I spend every spare minute, every cent. If any hint of fooling around surfaced she’d finish me."
"Hey, I can be discrete. I haven’t said or done anything. We can carry on like we have been — we’ve just got to stay real careful, that’s all."
"Geez-us! Are you not hearing a fucking thing I’m saying? It’s finished. You and I are over, Kev."
Kevin stared at him for a moment and then sat up. "So that’s it? What was all that talk of divorce that you’ve been giving me? All crap! Going to live together in a nice place? All bullshit!" He kicked his trash can under his desk. "Geez, have I been such a fuckin’ idiot not to see this coming? I believed all that stuff you dished out, but I was just your friggin’ gigolo, wasn’t I?"
"Kev, listen man," he grabbed the younger guy’s shoulder, "you were way more than."
Kevin shot out of his chair and stood in front of Grant, their noses less than fifteen inches apart. "My name is Kevin, not Kev. And if you think I’m gonna just be chucked out with the trash and do nothing about it you can think again." Across the office the door to the computer room opened and a couple of women came out and walked over to their cubes. Grant felt trapped. He had to get out of this office, but Kevin was giving no quarter. "What about my Jeep? You going to keep your promise to help pay for that?"
"Man, you’ve got to understand. Freda’s suspicious. She’ll be watching everything I do, every buck I spend. I can’t hide a hundred dollars a month — she’ll be onto me right off. When I spoke of divorcing Freda, I was expecting the promotion. You know what happened to that
"Look, soon it’ll be your anniversary here and you’ll be getting an increase. That’ll cover my share — probably more than — you’re good."
Kevin held up both hands, all five fingers extended on one, one on the other. "Six months. That’s when my anniversary is. Six fucking months. What am I going to do till then?"
Grant saw the two women looking in his direction. They probably couldn’t hear what Kevin was saying. Shit, he hoped they couldn’t. "Listen, Kev er Kevin, why don’t we talk about this later. I can come over to your place and we’ll talk through everything?"
"Whatever. It’s a free country." Kevin replied numbly as he sat down, turning his back on Grant and began to shut down the running applications. "Do you remember where I live or did your memory go, too, when Freda cut your spine out?" he asked over his shoulder.
"C’mon. Don’t be like that. She’s got me by the short and curlies, Kev Kevin." He paused then pointed to the screen, "And please get rid of that picture."
Bringing up the control panel Kevin clicked at a couple of file selections. "You like this better?" he asked clicking ‘apply’ and a picture of Grant’s phallus filled the screen. "I call it ‘Some prick I once knew.’"
"Fuck, Kev-in, don’t do this — and get that crap off your PC. I’ll see what I can do, but sure as shit I won’t be able to do much if I’m divorced." He paused and changed his tone. "You know I’d rather be together with you, but right now I just can’t afford it. I’ll be wiped out if she divorces me. I thought I’d get the promotion and we could have ," his voice trailed off as he recalled his hopes. "Maybe in a year’s time ," he finished.
"Yeah, yeah, sure." Kevin shut his computer down, stood up and pulled it out of the docking station and slid it into his backpack. Gary watched in silence, unsure of what to say that wouldn’t provoke the guy and get him angry again. Kevin pulled his denim jacket on, turned the collar up, then slung his backpack over one shoulder. He pushed past Grant. "See you later then. Get your own dinner, I’m not serving," he said not looking at the other man, and headed for the elevator. He’d gone about ten feet before he half turned and fired off one last salvo, "And unless you’re singing a different tune you’d better keep your zipper up ’cause I ain’t T-room trash."
Grant felt beat up. He dug his hands into his pockets and for the second time retreated dejectedly to his office.
The drive home helped Kevin to cool down. It wasn’t all bad, he decided. There was this guy he’d met the previous week in the web chat rooms. On a cold night they had spent a perspiring night of uninhibited sex together and he seemed keen on getting together with Kevin again. There was even Larry: good and steady Larry, studying so hard and never having a good time, a slave to the image of a secure future. ‘Ah, the brave music of a distant drum,’ passed through Kevin’s mind as he thought about Larry. He tried to remember where he’d read the phrase but couldn’t, so he returned to thinking about Grant. No, it wasn’t all bad. He was tired of being secretive about the friendship, of never going out together, never going to a gay club. But, apart from that, it was more of the gutless way that Grant was ending things that had made him so angry. There was no sign of regret or sorrow, no question about whether he, Kevin, would be OK. It was all through fear of what that virago Freda might do. Typical breeder — never trust them. It should have been clear from the start that there had never been any intention on Grant’s part of getting a divorce: if Freda had so much raised her voice, he would have given in. The ease with which he’d allowed himself to be duped galled Kevin, and for that he wouldn’t let Grant off easy. He swung the Wrangler into the garage behind his apartment block, reversed it into his space, checked in the mirror that his hairstyle had survived the trip home and, hoisting his backpack onto his shoulders, walked out into the street.
Dodging the evening traffic he ran across the street to the small mom-and-pop pizza shop that, in his opinion, served the best pizza this side of Chicago, and entered the warm and cozy atmosphere. He ordered his usual, double cheese with spicy Cajun chicken strips, then edged between the closely placed tables until he found a vacant seat in a back corner where he could sit and read and sip his Coke until his order was ready. He did not think of Grant.
Half an hour later in sweats and an old T-shirt, he settled down at his desk in front of his computer, chewing on his pizza as he fired the PC up then logged onto his work account. A glance through the spool manager showed him that the nightly production was running on schedule. Minimizing his TN3270 session window, he opened up his personal Hotmail account and started to scan through the new messages. There was one from Larry which he opened first. Larry wanted to postpone their date for Saturday, claiming that he needed to study with a group of fellow students. Kevin was annoyed. Fuck, why did this guy do nothing but study? He had wanted to go out to dinner and see the new show at the City Lights this weekend. Coming on top of Grant’s announcement, this was the last straw and he began to unload on Larry. Putting down his slice of pizza he typed an angry response: Forget the whole thing; forget the condo — he was too young to settle down, anyway, and had too many wild oats yet to sow. In a sense of spite he added a final sentence that he had met a new guy who didn’t spend every night studying and was available to go out with him. Just writing those final words had the effect of draining his anger and he paused, contemplating what he was doing. He would probably have deleted the message if, right then, the front door buzzer had not sounded and Grant’s voice rasped through the intercom asking him to open the door. Merely hearing that voice aroused his peevishness again, and in frustration he clicked on the send button then hit the switch to unlatch the front door.
Grant came in, put his arms around Kevin and tried to kiss him, but the younger guy pulled back. "That’s all over, remember? Keep your kisses for Freda — she’ll tell you whether it’s her face or ass you’re allowed to put your lips on."
"Kevin, don’t be like that," Grant protested and tried to hold on, but Kevin broke free. With Grant following he walked back to his study and sat down at his desk.
"No more noogies for you, Grant," he said leaning back in his swivel chair and smiling, "You make your bed, you lie on it — pun intended."
"Geez-us, Kevin, I have been through fucking hell today. Cut me some fucking slack will ya."
"Oh sure, cut you slack. That’s all I’ve ever had to do for you, isn’t it. Never go out together in case we’re seen by someone who knows you. Never tell you a joke at the office. Never touch you and never, ever, God forbid, phone you. Just hang around here in case you decide you need to get your rocks off and have the time to trot on over to your homo boy-toy."
"You didn’t do too badly from the relationship, did you?" Grant retorted pointing at the DVD.
Kevin opened his mouth in exaggerated amazement. "You’re un-fucking-believable. That’s it? I got a DVD for a good fuck? A sweatshirt for a blowjob? Was I just a whore to you? Someone you could have sex with and afterwards get swiveled out of site because you’d paid for it?"
"No. No. You were never a a whore to me," Grant back- pedaled, "I love you, Kev, you’ve got to believe that"
"Yeah? Well you’ve got a real perverted way of loving then."
"Oh, for fuck’s sake, Kevin, cut it out," Grant tried to assert himself again. "You know how things are for me. You know there is no way I can leave Freda right now. I’d be finished."
Kevin gave a humorless laugh. "It’s funny, you know. I’m your whore and you are hers. It’s like big fleas have little fleas."
"She and I don’t even have sex any more," Grant replied deprecatingly and without thinking.
"So you go out and get yourself a boy to satisfy your hormones? She treats you like shit and yet she’s the one you choose to stay with. I’m always here for you and I get tossed."
"Oh fuck!" Grant sat down in exasperation.
"Why do you stick with her? What do you two ever do for fun together? Forget that, what do you two even do together? What are you to her? Have you ever stood up to her in your life?" Grant merely stared at him without saying anything. "Why don’t you stand up for who you are, what you want?
"You’ve just said it, man: you’re not even having sex with her any more. What do you think she’d do, Grant, if she got an email with some pics of you and me?" He closed his Hotmail session and opened up his work email and, selecting a new mail, started to import a picture. "What would she like? This one of me holding your dick?"
"Kevin, quit it, man. Don’t fuck around like that." Grant’s brain reeled, regretting having let Kevin record any of their trysts. Actually, it had happened only a few times, when Kevin first bought the digital camera, and in the passion of the moment, taking photos of themselves and each other had seemed like an exciting and arousing thing to do. But, like his pre-nuptial agreement, this chicken, too, now seemed to have come home to roost. His eyes focused back on the screen where Kevin was opening up picture after picture: God, had they taken so many?
"How about this one? Just your dick. Think she even remembers what it looks like? Think she remembers that little mole hiding in the pubes?"
"Yeah, those two should be good. What should I say to her? ‘You snooze, you lose!’" he spoke as he typed.
"Give it up, Kevin. Delete those pictures, for God’s sake."
Kevin ignored him and continued to type. "And what is her address? Freda underscore Mulvaney at seservices dot com?"
"You fucking idiot," yelled Grant as he leaped from his chair and strode across to the PC just in time to see Kevin click on the send button. He didn’t notice that Kevin had replaced the underscore with a dash: the address was invalid and the message would bounce. But nothing registered in Grant’s brain other than the message disappearing from the screen. Wild panic filled his gut. His right hand drew back and he aimed a vicious back-hander at Kevin’s face. The young man tried to move out of the way but the chair rolled under him and the blow fell with full force on his Adam’s apple. The impact lifted him off his seat, his head struck the bookcase behind him and with a slight moan, he sprawled across the rug.
There was silence in the room and Grant felt the walls moving in on him. "Kevin!" he cried out, his subconscious noting the unnatural angle of the head before his brain could analyze its significance. "Kevin, are you OK?" He pushed the chair away and knelt next to the figure on the floor, grabbing at the wrist to feel for a pulse, too frightened to feel for it in the neck. There was no detectable beat and, as he noted the lack of resistance in the warm young hand, he began to sob even before his fingers hesitatingly reached for the phone to call for help.
He hadn’t punched the second digit when trepidation began to set in. He’d killed somebody. There’d be no way he could hide anything: it would be headline news. Everyone would see it. Oh, fuck! It would be all through the office by 9am. And Freda it would be over with her — there was no way she would stand by him through this: what was he doing in Kevin’s apartment, would be her first question. He replaced the handset on the cradle and closed his eyes as he imagined the horrors and shame to come. The computer beeped and he opened his eyes to look at the screen as though somehow the machine was accusing him, too. An email flashed up. Kevin’s mail had bounced, as he had intended, and was returned. Grant looked at it for a full half-minute before he realized what had happened. "You stupid shit!" he screamed at the body, "Why the fuck did you have to do that?" and the tears once again welled up in his eyes and he sunk onto his knees to crouch next to his lover in a fetal position.
He was still curled up when the phone began to ring. Its shrill tone startled him and he uncoiled rapidly to his feet and stood, back to the wall, staring at the beige instrument until the answering machine came on and the sound of Kevin’s voice instructing the caller to leave a message, rang in his ears with imagined disapprobation. He wanted to slam his hand over the speaker to block the tones out but his muscles remained frozen in apprehension.
"Kevin! Kevin, it’s me. Please pick up," a soft yet masculine voice came through the speaker. There was a pause, "Look Kevin, I’m sorry about Saturday. I’ve canceled my plans. We’ll go out like we planned." There was another silence. "Kevin? You there? Kevin, please don’t leave me. I know the past two weeks have been hard, but it’s so difficult to work and study, too, and I guess I kinda neglected you. But I love you, man, I really do." Again the voice halted. "Look, I’ll be around as soon as class is over — about nine fifteen — I can’t get away before then. Let’s just talk through all this. Finals will be over soon and then we’ll go choose a nice place to live together." Grant could hear unsteady breathing and then there was a gentle "I love you, Kevin," and the phone line clicked.
Grant stared at the phone for a minute digesting what he had just heard. "You bastard," he said at last softly looking down at the floor and then louder, "you two-timing piece of shit." He stood up and kicked at the foot. "If you think I’m going to fry for you, you’d better think again." His mind became icily focused. He had to cover his tracks and get out of there. If there was no trace of anyone else, if he could remove any trace of his visit and leave in time, maybe they’d think this phone guy was the killer. Serve the bastard right for making Kevin cheat on him. What would they look for? Fingerprints. He had to wipe everything he’d touched. It couldn’t be too hard: he hadn’t been there that long. He walked across to the other chair in the room and sat down to plan.
No, there was more than fingerprints there was the time factor. They measure body temperature don’t they? That’d be a give-away that Kevin had been dead too long. He must keep the body warm somehow. Looking around he noticed the thermostat on the wall and he jumped over to it and was about to move the switch when he pulled back and wrapped his handkerchief around his hand before touching the lever. With cloth-covered fingers he moved it all the way to the end and heard the fan kick in.
Striding down the passage, his hand still covered with the handkerchief, he opened doors as he passed, looking for the small space-heater he remembered Kevin having used sometimes in the winter. He found it finally in a small cupboard in the bathroom and carrying it back to the study he plugged it in. Watching the warm air ripple the sleeves of the T-shirt, he considered where to aim it. Guessing that they’d take the temperature in the butt, he very gingerly turned the body over and pulled the heater so the hot air would blow across the ass and under the T-shirt, up toward the head. He stepped back and surveyed the arrangement. It looked as though it would work. God, he was amazed at how clear his mind was. All of a sudden he felt exhilarated: his brain was analyzing, planning, probing alternatives at amazing speed and if there was a little sweat forming, it was surely because of the temperature in the room. He carefully slipped his jacket off and draped it over the door knob. What could he do to give the impression Kevin was still alive? He couldn’t imitate Kevin’s voice well enough to make a phone call. An email? An email would work. He sat down at the computer and scanned the messages in the corporate inbox. He glanced through a few before finding one about a change control request. He clicked the ‘reply’ button and typed in a brief note saying that he’d discuss it with the sender in the morning. What else would Kevin do? Maybe submit a job or two to run on the mainframe. He maximized the TN3270 session and browsed through Kevin’s libraries. He didn’t understand what most of the jobs did, but then he found an assembly and link-edit program. That’d be OK — these guys were always running these kinds of jobs he thought as he submitted it. It would leave a record on the system log and that would prove that Kevin was alive. Going back to Windows he browsed around the email folders some more. He deleted the pseudo-message Kevin had sent to Freda as well as its bounce-response; he emptied the ‘deleted items’ folder. Doing that reminded him about the digital pictures which had triggered the fight, so, switching to Explorer, he searched the hard drive for any jpg or bmp files. Each one he found he opened, and each with him in it — holy cow had they had some hot sex — he deleted.
Selecting Explorer again, he searched for any files containing the word ‘Grant’. It would take ten minutes or more he knew and, while he waited, he moved around the apartment wiping anything he could remember having touched. Ripping several sheets off the paper towel roll he moved to the front door. Opening it cautiously he quickly wiped the outside handle and closed the door again. Wouldn’t it look suspicious if everything was wiped clean he wondered, so using the back of his hand he made little jabs over the arm of the chair he had sat in. What else had he touched? The desk. He’d have to wipe that. With paper towel over his fingers he picked up the glass of Coke and tipped half of it over the edge of the desk where he had leaned to see what Kevin was typing, then mopped the mess up with firm strokes of towel and dumped them in the trash can by the desk. That would make it look more like the cleanup after an accident rather than a deliberate wiping clean.
Turning back to the computer he saw a few files had been found and one by one he opened them. All were work related and innocuous: Kevin had obviously been cautious, Grant realized feeling somewhat reassured. With a quick foray to TN3270, he resubmitted the assembler job to get another record of Kevin’s well being.
Reverting to Windows, he emptied the recycle bin and then went to the system tools and selected the disk defragmenter. With some satisfaction he noted that Kevin’s hard drive was a mess of fragmented files, so he started the defragmentation process: the reshuffling of the files’ data would safely obliterate anything he’d deleted from being recreated without a lot of effort.
His eyes scanned the desk looking for anything else he would need to take care of. His eyes rested on the pizza box and something clicked in his mind: Wouldn’t they do an autopsy? And if they did, wouldn’t they find the pizza? And from the degree of digestion they could estimate a time of death. If there was some way he could make it appear that the pizza had been bought later With a handkerchief-covered hand he lifted the box and examined it for any kind of time stamp but there was none. Then a scrap of yellow that had been under the box caught his eye: he looked more closely, yes, it was the receipt. Gingerly he picked it up. Kevin had bought it at 6pm — that’d be a big time difference. Unless he looked at his watch, twenty six minutes before nine he could do it the pizza shop was just down the road, he remembered. He took Kevin’s building key off the hook, then, grabbing his coat, he took the apartment door off the latch and headed out.
Half an hour later he furtively hurried up the stairs with a hot pizza box in his hands and a Coke balanced on top. Cautiously, just in case anyone was there, he knocked on the door and barely giving time for anyone to answer, he pushed the door open and went inside and through to the office. The room was like a furnace and winding the handkerchief around his finger he reset the thermostat it to its normal temperature. The pizza shop, as he’d expected, had been busy and it was doubtful that anyone would remember him, yet the busyness had cost him more time than he had bargained for. Hurriedly tearing four slices out off the hot pizza he swapped the remainder with what was in the old box: it would have assuredly aroused suspicions if he’d picked up his pizza box in the shop with a covered hand! Carefully rubbing the new receipt clean he pressed one side against Kevin’s thumb and then, turning it over, pressed the other side against his index finger. Having placed the receipt on the desk, he bent down and tugged the space heater’s plug from the socket and carefully returned the little machine to the bathroom cupboard. He cleaned the handle and returned to the chair in front of the PC. The defragmenter had finished and he closed its window then opened up the TN3270 connection and, for the third time, submitted the assembly before logging off and closing down TN3270. He briefly rubbed each key on the keyboard with his knuckle to smudge any fingerprints and finally wiped the front part of the keyboard clean. Stuffing the paper towel into his pocket he gave one final searching look around the room and, without a glance at the young body on the floor, he picked up the pizza box and the unopened Coke, set the latch on the door and left the apartment. It was ten after nine.
At half past nine Grant was ensconced at the bar in the local tavern where folk from the data center hung out. A group at the far end was idling away the time watching news coverage of The President’s meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak on the television and he walked over to them making as though he’d moved up from further away because he’d been unable to hear. Acting a little tipsy he knocked over someone’s beer and bought the guy two more as compensation. If questioned, the victim would be sure to remember Grant for his generosity — and that he’d obviously been there drinking for some time
I weaved past a couple of slow moving cars on Route 80 then, leaning over hard, swung left in front of some yuppie dallying in his fancy Range Rover and, with a burst of speed, headed toward the river and the small complex of townhouses where Mike lived. I flipped my visor up and the tang of sea and river wafted into my helmet as I moseyed around to the back with the Ninja’s engine growling gently beneath me. I pulled up outside Mike’s garage and cut the motor.
As I dismounted, the front door opened and Mike, in tank-top, shorts and sandals, came out. "Hi, Chris! You made good time."
"Hey, Mike! Yeah, traffic wasn’t too bad." I replied unclipping my tank bag. I pulled the key from the ignition and walked over to him sliding the helmet off my head.
"It’s good to see you, man," he said putting his arm around me and giving me a welcoming kiss. "I’ve missed you."
"Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this weekend, too," I responded somewhat noncommittally. It wasn’t what I wanted to say: truth was that most — all — of my instinctive body had missed Mike, too, and the hours until Friday noon had dawdled by. My brain, though, citing the damage that had been caused in times past when similar sentiments had run amuck, and backed up with mental 8-by-10 color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back, firmly proscribed any overt display of affection with another guy. If Mike noticed my evasion, he didn’t remark on it, merely taking my tank bag from me and leading the way inside.
"Make yourself at home," he said closing the front door behind us, "you know where everything is. Want a beer?"
"Thanks. I’m so thirsty it won’t touch sides as it goes down," I replied taking my bag from him. Mike chuckled and I continued, "I’ll just go change and be right down."
I made my way up the broad, open staircase to Mike’s room and put my helmet down next to the bedside table. The window had an uninterrupted view of the wide river mouth and I enjoyed the vista as I pulled my boots, socks and jeans off, relishing the cool air on my skin. It wasn’t summer yet, but the slow ride through the evening traffic had been rather warm. I hauled a pair of jogging shorts out of my bag and slipped them on. A splash of cold water on my face and rinsed hands sufficed as toiletry then, pulling a baseball cap onto my head, I took the stairs two at a time to be with my friend.
Mike’s living room was furnished in a more modern style than mine and things tended to match — the black shelves against white walls, glass and steel and leather carefully arranged, were very different to the eclectic collection of items that I had hunted down for my home, then placed together with an eye on convenience rather than pattern. The sliding doors were open to the deck and he had my beer on the table next to a giant bowl of chips with smaller dishes of salsas. I lowered myself into a teak steamer chair next to him and picking up my beer, settled back.
"Cheers!" I toasted raising my bottle to him.
"Skol, Chris." The first gulps of cold beer tumbled down my throat as we watched an enormous container ship slide past a couple of hundred yards away from where we sat.
"So, how’s your week been?" I inquired as I set my half empty bottle down.
"Not bad. Working about four cases for money which are boring and one pro bono which is a mess. How’s the robotic airplane business? Last night you sounded kinda happy with the way your tests worked out."
"Oh yes! We did real well on the simulator test yesterday. The NASA guy threw us a curve ball and my code caught it. So I’m in good shape, ahead of schedule for a change, and my boss loves me — also for a change."
Mike grinned. "What kind of a curve ball?" he asked as he scooped some salsa onto a chip. That was one of the real nice things with Mike and me: we operated in totally different fields, each of which appeared arcane to the other, but there was always a genuine fascination and admiration in hearing about the other guy’s work.
"Well, way back in the 50’s a DC-3 crashed at Los Angeles because the aileron cables had been attached to the control wheel in reverse. So when the right wing dropped and the pilot attempted to level off by applying a left turn, his action actually caused the right wing to drop even further and the plane crashed. Ironically, the only one killed of all on board was the guy who had signed off on the repair."
"Freaky," Mike remarked.
"Yeah. Well, on our last test yesterday, the NASA guy rigged the simulator to mimic a reversed control cable and sat back to watch the fun. You remember we work in parallel with another company who create the same code because of redundancy? So, the day before was their test day and, with their software running by itself, it didn’t detect this error before take off at all, and when it finally decided the aircraft was in too steep a bank and started to try to level the wings it was too late. With my software running by itself, the very second the pilot tested his controls before taxi, an alarm went off warning him that the ailerons weren’t responding to his control and he aborted the test."
"How in heck had you known to test for reversed cables?" asked Mike incredulously.
I pulled a wry grin. "Actually I hadn’t. I’d put the test in there in case something jammed the control surfaces - I’d been thinking more along the lines of ice or an aileron lock. At worst I had thought it’d catch a broken cable."
"You have a warped way of thinking, Chris, you know that?" Mike laughed, shaking his head.
"That’s what my boss has said on a couple of occasions. Initially I thought it was a gentle jibe at my orientation, but yesterday when he said it he was a very happy boy: apparently his counterpart at the other company had got pretty banged about when their simulator crashed."
"You guys fly in the simulator during your tests?"
"Yeah. Me, the guy doing engine control software, and our boss are along with the flight crew. It was kinda funny: it was a different pilot on our test than the one who had flown the other company’s test, and he didn’t have any advance knowledge about how the test had been set up. He’s just getting ready to taxi out and wiggles his control wheel then the alarm goes off and the message flashes up on his screen that the ailerons aren’t responding. So he stops, resets the computer, moves his control column fully over and the alarm goes off again. So he immediately says ‘There’s a bug in the software — I’ve got full, unrestricted movement.’ Geez, I had my laptop open and was scanning the code to see what could trigger that alarm when the ailerons are free, and my boss and the engine control guy are looking at me wanting to know what the heck is going on. It was a little tense for a while.
"Then the co-pilot chimes in and says that there is spoiler deployment and the pilot gets impatient and says yeah, that’s because he has the control wheel hard over."
I glanced at Mike and saw he was looking somewhat bewildered.
"Oh, sorry. In a big airplane, when you turn hard, the spoilers — those panels that come up on the wing — deploy on the side that’s going down. It makes the airplane turn quicker and more easily."
"That scares the shit outta me," Mike said. "I always think the wing is coming apart."
I laughed at him. That was my buddy: the intrepid birdman. I picked up my tale again. "So the co-pilot says ‘No, you’ve got left bank and I have right inboard spoiler deployment.’ So then the pilot looks at us and says ‘Jeezus — what are you guys doing?’ He was kinda pissed — it’s only a simulator, but once inside everything becomes very real.
I was still digging through my code, so I just told him that the computers had detected a different amount of aileron movement than his control movement had called for. Then the NASA guy starts to laugh at us and we knew it was some kind of a set-up. Of course, in a real airplane the pilot would look outside and visually check the aileron movement so he’d know right away what was wrong."
"You are such a nerd!" Mike mocked.
"Yeah? Well I bet you cream in your jeans when you can zap one of your legal eagle buddies with some obscure point of law that hasn’t been used since 1776."
"Pretty much, I guess," Mike chuckled. The evening sun was bringing out the warmth in the brown of the river and the greens in the vegetation on the far side. Further out, in the gray-blue of the ocean, another mammoth ship was cutting gently through the water with hardly any visible bow wave. I drained my beer as the pilot boat butted its way out against the choppy swells. Being a pilot at a big port seemed romantic but, I guessed, like pretty much any other job, it would turn out to be pretty mundane after a while.
"Want another?" Mike asked pulling another bottle of amber liquid from a bucket of ice.
"Sure, why not. I don’t plan on riding again tonight — at least, not the bike," I added with a mischievous grin at him.
"Pervert," he responded as he passed the dripping bottle over to me. "Help yourself to a lime."
I twisted the cap off and pushed a lime wedge down the neck. "What are the plans for dinner?" I asked as I settled back in my chair.
"I was planning a grill out here. A couple of steaks, some mozzarella in lettuce, I’ve got some potatoes baking in the oven. That OK with you?"
"Oh, yeah. Sounds great."
"You hungry? I can start now if you like?"
"Naah. I’m fine: enjoying being out here watching the ships." I took a gulp of beer and let it trickle down my throat. "So what’s going on in Perry Mason land? What’s the pro bono case you’ve got?"
"A big mess. A buddy of mine who works in the local HRC mentioned it to me, or, I should say, more or less guilted me into taking it. The usual — guy discovers his boyfriend is leaving him, gets into an argument, smacks him a bit and, by pure bad luck, the boyfriend happens to die. Tough noogies — the law says it’s murder."
"Holy cow! You’re meant to be his defense! Shouldn’t you at least be trying to cut the guy some slack? What you meant to say, I think, was ‘Chris, this guy slipped in the bath and hit his head on the side and died. Then the cops find out my client, who, by the way, was in New York to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, is gay, and are framing him with trumped up evidence’"
"Geez, Chris, what kind of books do you read?"
I put on my patented innocently-surprised look. In the short time I had known Mike I had discovered that, if I tilted at the justice system in any way, I could almost guarantee getting a lecture to curb my wayward thoughts. "No, Chris, that’s not how lawyers work. Whatever I may argue in court,I do happen to live in the real world, you know." I caught the gentle emphasis on the ‘I’ but let it pass: you’re either a resident in cyberland or you only go there as a tourist. "Like when I got you off your speeding ticket," Mike continued to make sure I learned my lesson about flippancy, "I successfully argued your case and you got off, but in my mind I knew you’d been over the limit," he said pointing an accusatory finger at me. I grinned back at him. "Seems like that was another pro bono case," he added slyly.
I snorted. "Pro boner, more aptly. You were paid handsomely that night, if I remember correctly."
Mike laughed out loud and we settled back in our chairs and studied the steadily approaching ship. Eventually Mike spoke. "No, Chris. There’s motive, opportunity and means here, I’m afraid. I’m trying to advise him to accept a plea bargain, but he wants his day in court. It’s going to cost him about ten more years in jail unfortunately." He took a long swig of his beer. "What do you know about Ghost?" he asked out of the blue.
"Jet engine in the first commercial jetliner or computer backup software?"
"Interesting you never mentioned the obvious: spirit of the departed," he remarked looking out of the corner of his eye.
I leaned forward and scooped a chipful of salsa out of the bowl, paused for effect with it halfway to my mouth and replied, "Well, see, I tend to live in the real world," and then popped the chip into my mouth and ducked in time to avoid the balled-up napkin that was thrown at me.
"Computer backup, you geek."
"Does a good job of what it’s supposed to," I said leaning back into my steamer. "Backs up your whole hard drive so you can restore the whole image if your PC craps out. Saves you having to restore all your operating system and software.
"Why d’you ask?"
"Well, the DA’s guys have the victim’s PC and, one of the first things they do, apparently, is take a Ghost image. I had guessed it was some kind of saving of stuff, but I didn’t know the details. Anyway, they gave me a copy of the Ghost CDs and I got a PC like the one the victim had, so I was wondering if "
"Your nerd friend would be so kind as to spend his evening setting it up for you?" I finished.
Mike didn’t blush — I think they have surgery in law school to prevent it. "Yeah, something like that. In return for a good dinner, of course."
"Yeah, I guess I could do that. I’ve sold my soul for less than a dinner before."
"I think you’re getting your soul and other parts of your body mixed up," he said standing up.
I sat back and watched the next ship pass steadily and effortlessly up the river, its black steel sides showing streaks of rust. I supposed that containers didn’t care what their carrier looked like. The gentle rumbling of its idling engines carried across the water as seagulls swooped in its wake ignoring the obvious health hazard of the diesel fumes from the blue and once-white funnel. Mike came back out with a PC in a cardboard box and a large manila envelope of CDs. He set them down on a side table and I got over to look at what he’d got. "Not new?"
"eBay. I told you, this is a pro bono case. It’s the same model, but the hard drive is bigger."
"That’s no sweat," I said as I pulled the PC and the power supply from the polystyrene peanuts. Once it was plugged in I hit the power-on and watched as Windows came up. Clicking on the Explorer icon, I was surprised to see that the previous owner hadn’t bothered to clean out much of his stuff. "Kinda dumb," I remarked to Mike as he busied himself lighting the grill. I powered down, pulled open the manila envelope and pulled out the bootable floppy. By the time the grill was at the right temperature and Mike came out with the steaks, I was half-way through restoring the first CD.
"You like your steak rare, don’t you?" asked Mike as he placed the little lettuce parcels around the side of the grill.
"Reh. With my bie-eh."
"Reh. I like my steak reh. And I drink bie-eh with it."
"OK," Mike said doubtfully.
"You never saw Mickey Blue Eyes, did you?"
"No, I can’t say that I did."
"There’s this Brit artsy guy played by Hugh Grant who gets involved with the Mob. So he’s at this restaurant and has to pretend he’s from the Chicago Mafia, so he says these words in an ultra-fake, American-gangster accent."
"Oh, OK then. I guess you had to have been there."
"Yeah, kinda. It was nowhere near as good as ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ or ‘Notting Hill’, but it had a couple of good moments in it.
"What’re you cooking there in the leaves?"
"Mozzarella in lettuce."
And thus conversation drifted away from his case and meandered through various other subjects as the food was cooked and even further away from Mike’s case while we dined. I’d moved the table with the PC next to my chair, and every so often the CD-holder would pop open and I’d slip in the next disk without interrupting whatever we were discussing. It was only after we had cleared up and settled back under the dark sky with a large cup of espresso and a glass of Cointreau that I broached the subject again.
"So tell me more about this trial," I asked pointing to the PC.
"It’s not really all that great a case and, as I said, I’m trying to persuade my client to enter into a plea bargain to save everyone’s time and money."
"What did he do? You said it was a fight?"
"Uh-huh. Larry, that’s my client, and the victim, Kevin, were close. Larry worked outside of town at Grumman and Kevin at SE Services, the big outsourcing and computer services company in town. They had plans to buy a place down here on Tybee or hereabouts when Larry finished his MBA for which he was studying part time at the local college. It was Larry’s studying which was the source of discontent. Kevin liked to go out and party, but Larry was steadfastly ploughing forward in his studies and spent most nights at classes and afterwards with his books. Large chunks of weekends were similarly spent with his study group. Kevin stayed faithful for a long time, but recently had met up with a guy on the internet and had been spending some time with him. On the night he was killed, Kevin finally broke up with Larry. Larry was devastated and, after class that night, went over to Kevin’s place to try and talk sense into him and get him to change his mind. All this is undisputed.
"Now, according to Larry, he went to Kevin’s apartment and let himself in — he had his own key. He says he found Kevin lying behind the desk in his office. He maintains he didn’t know he was dead, he thought he had overdosed or something — although there was no evidence that he took drugs — so he dragged him into the middle of the room and tried to give him mouth-to-mouth to revive him. When this was unsuccessful he panicked for a while and called 911 only about 5 minutes after that. A police officer was the first to arrive and, having ascertained that Kevin was indeed dead, secured the area as a crime scene. The lab guys were there pretty soon after that and lifted fingerprints and examined the body. Time of death was set between 9pm and 9:30.
"Larry left the college before 9pm and must have arrived around a quarter after."
"Conveniently right in the middle of the estimated time of death," I remarked as I watched the cluster of lights in the distance as an MD-88 rocketed into the sky from Savannah airport and turned toward the west.
"Yes, although his handling of the body has made many of the tests, such as lividity, invalid."
"Aha! And what’s the cops’ idea of the crime?"
"Larry came in to the apartment in an emotional state; Kevin wasn’t willing to reconsider; Larry went over the edge and hit him — as I said earlier, not intending to kill him but, nonetheless, with fatal results."
"Hmmmm nasty. What’s this Larry like?"
"Probably in different circumstances an OK guy. He doesn’t present a great picture right now — he’s been outed, he’s accused of murder, he’s lost his job and he’s losing his life savings."
"And if he plea bargains? What will he get?"
"Ten, probably. With good behavior he’ll be out in five. He’ll have his MBA finished "
"And every Fortune 500 company standing in line to hire him!"
Mike sighed. "Yup, that’ll be a problem for him. He’s an engineer, so most good jobs for him will want a clean record."
I sipped my liqueur and we fell into a contemplative silence for a minute or so. In spite of what we say, prison hardly ever rehabilitates anyone: it’s just too hard to get a good job afterwards.
"How did this er Larry guy get in to the apartment? You said he let himself in."
"He had a key. Nothing strange in that."
"And when he got there the door was locked?"
"He says so, so it probably was. If he was trying to pin it on anyone else he would have said something different I guess."
"Only the victim’s and Larry’s. Some others in the bedroom but they turned out to belong to the Internet guy who has a solid alibi for the entire day of the murder. He’s an OK guy, too, looking for an LTR on the web. That night he was out having dinner and watching videos with other friends all evening."
"But his fingerprints are only found in the bedroom, not the kitchen, not the sitting room, not anywhere else?"
"Some in the bathroom. There is some evidence that hand-touched places could have been wiped. The prosecution will say my client did it, and I must say it would be hard to dispute in light of the syslog evidence."
"Huh? Syslog? You haven’t told me about that. Didn’t know you even knew the word."
"Oh yeah. Sorry. I guess I assumed you’d know about it. Apparently the mainframe keeps this record of every job starting and ending "
"Mike, I know what a syslog is. What does it show that affects your case? Where does a mainframe enter into things?"
"Apparently he used to dial in from home. Sometimes do some work or check on things. Anyway, there’s this syslog thing and it shows that the victim worked up until about ten after nine. Larry’s classes ended at nine. If he’d raced and had every light in his favor, he could have made it by then. If he’d gone across at normal speeds he’d have been there at nine fifteen or shortly after. So if someone else had killed this Kevin guy, then he’d have had to kill him and wipe the apartment all within, at most, ten minutes."
"How’d you come across this syslog?"
"Kevin’s boss, some woman named Freda something-or-other, called one day and asked if I wanted that. Said it had evidence of when Kevin was working."
"Yeah. She’s right. You got it here?"
"Uh-huh. It’s on a CD in my briefcase. We’ll look at it after the PC’s restored," he said.
"You’ve got your Gateway inside. Let’s go have a look at what we’ve got."
Mike stood up and I followed. Sitting down at the PC in his study I slid the CD he gave me onto the reader. As it spooled up Mike massaged my shoulders. "One day I’m going to learn: don’t tell Chris anything about a case if I want a romantic evening." I laughed and leaned back putting my arms around his waist.
"We’ll pack it in after this. The restore is just about finished anyway." I clicked on the filename and WordPad opened up. It was the log from a mainframe’s master console all right. "This isn’t complete," I said as I looked at it. "It’s been edited."
"Yeah, I know. This woman told me that already. Apparently there is a lot of stuff on the log and it becomes harder to read. I’ve subpoenaed the original for evidentiary purposes."
"OK. That’s good." I turned to the screen and scanned down the messages. It was weird thinking about it — here were snapshots of a guy working normally not suspecting that in less than an hour he’d be dead.
I scrolled up and down, not looking for anything in particular but just playing. Something in the patterns at the end caught my eye and I stopped to study the screen. "That’s strange."
"Well, the guy ran the same job three times shortly before he died."
"Well, it was the same job."
"Now that’s a revelation!" Mike remarked. "When you had said ‘the same job’ I had assumed you meant ‘the same job.’"
"No, I mean the jobs he ran were identical." I saw I still wasn’t getting through to him and back-tracked. "Come here and check this."
Mike pulled up a second chair and peered at the screen.
"Look," I said scrolling down from the top, "here are the batch jobs he ran during the day. All have different names. See? Now look at these lines here. Each time a step in a job completes it tells you what the step name is, the program that was run and the number of EXCPs — the number of reads and writes — it did. See, most often the program name is different from run to run and, like here, where the program name is the same, the EXCPs are different. That’s exactly what you’d expect to see.
"Now look at these last three jobs." I scrolled down and pointed at the screen. "See, first step is an assembly, the second is a link-edit. Look at the EXCPs: in each run the first steps are all the same and the three second steps are all the same."
"I’m sorry, Chris, I hear what you’re saying but you have really lost me."
"Well, he’s compiling a program. That means he’s taking the code that he’s written and is readable by mark-one humans, and converting it to a format that is readable by, and can be run by, a computer. Now look at this column marked RC: that’s the return code. The first job: both steps have a ret code of zero. That means his program compiled cleanly and link-edited cleanly. No errors.
"Now, we go to the second job. The EXCP count is identical. That is really unlikely if he’s assembling a different program. It would have to mean that the second program had exactly the same number of lines and the same macros as the first. Almost impossible to do. And again, ret code zero.
"And then, the same thing for the third job. It really looks like he’s run the same assembly three times in a row."
"And that isn’t usually done?"
"Remember the old schoolboy riddle ‘Why is a lost thing always in the last place you look for it?’"
"‘Because you stop looking when you find it,’" Mike completed.
"Exactly. This boy gets a clean assembly and link-edit. Why resubmit the job? It’s not going to change anything."
"Yeah," Mike sounded skeptical, "I kinda see your point." He paused. "Is there no way anyone would do this in real life?"
"Well, yeah. He could be working on code and he’ll compile it to see what he’s done so far is good and then he’ll code some more and re-compile to check that. But then there would be more reads and writes — more EXCPS. Here the EXCPs are the same so his changes would have to be pretty cosmetic: not changing the number of program statements in any way. For example he could have added comments — but comments don’t need to be re-assembled. And, most likely, the EXCP count would change on the compile step anyway."
I paused for Mike to consider what I had said and then asked myself rhetorically, "Why would a guy run the identical job three times? He could lose the output and re-run the job. That didn’t happen here, though, because we don’t see a message saying the output was purged." I did a quick search. "See? Like this message here for an earlier job of his where its output was flushed. Another reason could be that his response time was slow and he thought his job hadn’t run, but again, here, the jobs are far enough apart for that to be almost impossible."
Mike sat back in thought. Eventually he asked, "So what, if anything, does this have to do with my case or, more specifically, my client?"
I pondered over that. The order of runs was slightly strange, but hardly worth noting in even the most cost-conscious of shops. "I don’t know. Probably nothing. It’s just something strange. I don’t like coincidences: in reality they hardly ever happen — look hard enough and you’ll nearly always find some real-life event that connects them." I held Mike’s stare. "I don’t know what this could mean to your case. Was the dead guy on drugs and forgot that he had submitted the job? Was he distracted by something else? Could he not concentrate because your client was coming over? I dunno. Personally, I don’t think any of those are likely."
"Why," asked Mike.
"Something way more puzzling. When you tweak your carb settings, what is the next thing you do? You take your bike out for a ride to see what difference you’r changes made: go faster, accelerate better — or worse. About the only thing you don’t do is change the carb settings again right away. Likewise, when you assemble a program what is the next thing you nearly always do? You run it. See if the program does what you want it to do.
"Our boy re-compiles the program, then without testing it, recompiles it again."
Mike sat and looked at me for a while mentally digesting all this and I answered his unasked question, "I don’t know what all this means any more than you do. All I know is that this guy was doing some strange stuff just before he died. You call any programmer you like to the stand and they’ll tell you this is kinda unusual."
"And this is all the information you can get?"
"From this system log, yes. There’s much more stuff you can dig out, though. Go subpoena the company’s SMF data for that day. I can write you some code that’ll pull a bunch more stuff off."
"Like what? What’s this SMF?"
"Mainframes and their software were created for businesses by business people. They’re not like UNIX — written by smart nerds for their own use. Mainframes are strictly establishment. SMF is a record of everything that goes on on a system. Like everything, man. Every job step’s start and end time, every file that every job accesses, how many reads and writes, what programs a job used, the amount of CPU time the programs consumed. All this is kept. Because these were designed as business machines and the companies that used them wanted to be able to charge the individual departments for their computer usage."
"Will they still have it for a couple of months back?"
"A place like SE Services? Oh yeah. They’ll have it going back at least a year, maybe three or even five."
Mike turned and grabbed the sheet of yellow legal paper and a pen. "OK, what must I ask for? SMF?"
"Yes. Hang on, let me get online and I’ll tell you what record types to ask for. You don’t need all their stuff." I opened up IE and browsed through the IBM manuals for a while. "OK," I said to him, "write this down. You’ll need record types 4, 5, 6, 14, 15, " and I carried on calling out the record types that would give me the data I needed. "And ask for this Kevin guy’s TSO PDS’s, too," his pen paused and his eyebrows rose questioningly. "Just say that: they’ll know what you mean," I replied.
Mike finished jotting everything down and looked up at me waiting for more. I became a little worried that I had aroused false hopes in my friend’s mind. "Look, it may be nothing we may be grasping at straws here."
"Geez, Chris, a straw would be so welcome now. I tell you, I’m grasping at blades of grass, dead beetles, anything," he said. He dropped the pen on the pad and pushed it across the table away from him.
"OK," I said closing the file and standing up. "’Nuff case, ’nuff computers for today. It’s Mike and Chris time. How about a glass of red to relax to?"
"Good idea," agreed Mike making a playful nibble on my cheek and we moved out of his study. He rummaged around his wine rack, selected a Cabernet Sauvignon and, glasses in hand, we headed back out to the deck and kicked back, chatting as we watched the stars and the lights of the occasional boat that passed by.
In fact we had a real good Saturday and didn’t speak much about work the entire day, hanging out together, relaxing and talking and eating and all the other stuff two buddies do when they’re together.
Sunday morning found us lying in bed, the morning sun lighting up the room while the sounds of folk out riding their jet skis on the river came faintly in through the open windows. Mike looked down at me, toying with my neck chain, "Be nice if we could wake up every morning like this, wouldn’t it?"
A nano-second was all it took for my well-trained reflexes to move me right from DEFCON 5 to 1. I closed my eyes. This was how it originated, I recalled. You could never drop your guard, not for a second, otherwise the benign-seeming feelings irrupted deep into your insides. And when, later, they got ripped out, the roots were all intertwined and thus whole chunks you were torn out, too, and you ended up weak, bleeding and hurt. I wasn’t going there again.
"Chris?" He touched my chin with his hand and I opened my eyelids. "What do I have to do for you to love me? Even just a bit?" His brown eyes, those killer eyes, searched my face in earnest. "When we first met we had a great time and you seemed to really like me and I sure liked you. But now every time I try to get closer to you, we go a little distance and then you slam on the brakes, like you don’t want to take the next step, and I just don’t understand what’s going on."
I wanted to run, get out of there, be anywhere else, just be alone, yet no part of my body would move. All existence had ceased, no jet skis, no wind, dark sunlight. He couldn’t see it, totally incapable of grasping what was so plain to me. I wanted to set out the logic of my position, rationalize for him the soundness, for both of us: my thesis of how people get hurt. But my heart and brain were locked in deadly embrace, fighting for control, and no sound would come from my constricted throat. I swallowed hard. "You don’t have to do anything, Mike," eventually the words escaped. "I just have to figure out how to let myself do it."
He ran his hand across my cheek wiping away an involuntary tear. "Was breaking up with Steve that bad?"
I nodded. I’d told him the Readers’ Digest version, that we’d decided to go our separate ways, but that was a vast over-simplification because there are some things you just can’t explicate. If someone has never eaten chocolate, how do you describe what it tastes like? Likewise, how do you rationalize to someone who has never been there, what it’s like to be so joyful and contented and so inwardly at peace in a relationship that you think nothing could possibly make you happier? And if you can’t render that, then exactly what phrases have the power to limn the minute when your partner says he needs to move on, and that he wants to move on without you?
"Chris, not every relationship goes sour; not every relationship has to end in pain. Some many work out to be real good." Mike spoke gently as his fingers traced my chin. "But even when there is a chance of some pain, it’s a risk you’ve got to take if you’re going to live, man. You’re going to hurt a whole lot worse if you try and go through life by yourself." He paused. "What you’re doing is like never wanting to go in an airplane again because you think it may crash."
"Mike, you don’t know what it’s like. It just hurts and hurts and doesn’t go away. You don’t want to be with your friends because you imagine they pity you; you don’t want to be with other people because they have lives and lovers and laugh and have fun — all the stuff you used to be able to do." I swallowed hard to keep my composure and Mike gently rubbed my jaw and neck. "And you know what’s the worst? You hate yourself most of all, because somewhere inside you’re convinced you drove someone you really love away because you just didn’t try hard enough."
Mike took a few seconds to digest all this, "Yeah, Chris, I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know that I could, or would, handle it better or differently either. All I know is being like this isn’t good for you. And I just know that I want to be with you, that I miss you a bunch when I don’t see you each day," he paused while his eyes reached out to mine as I fought real hard not to shut him out.
"I’m not asking for any major commitment right now, but it’d be really cool if you’d hang a bit looser with me and not always let us get to a certain point and then push me away." His fingers ran through my hair. "For a few weeks, why don’t you just follow your feelings? We can take it as gradually as you like: I won’t push you. And I promise I won’t hurt you."
I put my arms around him and held him close hearing his steady breathing near my ear. I couldn’t speak because, again, there was no way I could put into words exactly what I felt. I was the hang glider pilot about to take that final step off the take-off ramp: I could stall and crash - possibly, probably, die — or I could embark on a flight that no mere mortal could hope to emulate. We held onto each other like that for a full five minutes before I pulled back and looked into his eyes. "OK. I’ll try, Mike."
He squeezed me tightly. "Thanks, Chris. I’m telling you, this time it’ll be OK."
And the day lived up to its promising start. We rode into Savannah for lunch on the River Walk, we swam in the pool at Mike’s complex, and we had dinner under the stars on his deck. At first things weren’t very different — old habits die hard, but Mike was patient yet gently persistent and by Monday morning when I was once again getting ready for the ride home, the good bye was difficult. "You going to be OK to ride?" Mike asked as he released me from his hug.
"Yeah, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry — you go get that SMF data." But later, as I settled down on I-95 South, I felt really down and I had to force myself to concentrate on the traffic to keep my eyes from blurring.
Once back home and into the work routine, things became better. Even the pangs of missing Mike were lessened by the knowledge that we had some short term plans. It was Thursday’s call before Mike talked about his subpoena for the data I had requested. "SE Services say that there’s confidential stuff about their clients in those files you wanted. What they propose is that you sign a non- disclosure agreement covering anything that is not germane to this case. Now I’m going to try to paraphrase the rest of the agreement for you, but bear in mind that a lot of it I don’t really understand."
I laughed, "Some lawyer you are!"
"Hey! That’s why I rely on experts."
"OK, what do they want? My professional soul?"
"Pretty much. They will give you read access to the SMF files and Kevin Calhoun’s files. They will also give you a TSO ID and the ability to set up your own JCL and program libraries. Any information you gather, or output you generate, has to be cleared by Kevin’s manager: you can put it into files and she will ftp them or email them to both me and the prosecution so long as she believes they do not violate the confidentiality of their clients’ business. Similarly, any code you either have now or will create off- site to run at their site you must email to her and she will place in your source library. You are free to develop any other code on site: they will provide a cube for you. You may not bring on site, or take off site, any CD, diskette or tape containing computer readable code. You may not take any printouts off site. You may not have any type of camera or video recorder on site.
"Can you work like that?" he asked cautiously. In the relatively short time he had known me he had seen me do my prima donna act a couple of times.
"No sweat," I said. "Sounds real reasonable. One thing, though. If I think something is pertinent to your case and they don’t, who is the tie-breaker?"
"Good question. You, they, their legal people, the prosecutor and I will sit down together and try to resolve it. If we can’t clear it up, we’ll move forward to the trial judge with the request."
"Sounds fair. When do I start?"
"Any time you like. How about your work schedule?"
"I’ve cleared it with my boss. They’ll loan me to you for two days. I could do Monday and Tuesday next week if that’s convenient, much after Thursday my workload might pick up."
"OK, I’ll organize it."
I spent the remainder of Thursday night writing some code that I tested on our own SMF data and when Mike arrived on Friday night to spend the weekend, I had some specimen reports to show him.
"Well it shows a lot of information," Mike commented as I poured him a beer.
"Don’t sweat it too much now," I said as I sat down next to him. "It shows the details of every job that a certain user runs within a certain time. These were some test jobs of mine. I get the times they run, the name of the programs that were executed. It shows the files that they read and the files that they wrote to and whether the jobs ran OK or had an error."
"Sounds good, but I must admit, Chris, I’m a bit skeptical of what we’re going to actually get out of this information. You had me hyped last weekend, but over the week I’ve been thinking of what the effect will be in the courtroom. At very best it can show that the victim was possibly under some kind of stress or confusion before he died."
I watched the bubbles rise in my glass for a while. "Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that, too, over the last few days. But I think it’s OK. It’s the way I work: you can’t have too much information. Some, maybe lots, of it may show nothing, but it’s all relevant stuff. We at least know what the guy was doing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to be a smoking gun pointing to anyone. It’s just filling in the background.
"I mean, think of the Mona Lisa. Her facial expression would be interpreted very differently if, in the background, there was a soldier running a sword through some wretch’s heart, or if there was a young couple holding an infant."
"OK," said Mike smiling at my metaphor. "Go have your fun - and I appreciate it, I really do. I’m just trying not to get my hopes up over something that won’t pan out."
"Well, that’s a change from last week. Do I read into that remark that you think your miserable client may be telling the truth and may, in fact, not be guilty?" I raised my eyebrows in mock innocence.
"No, all the evidence is pretty much pointing at him. It’s just that I like to win and with him not taking a plea means he’s going to lose real big and I’ll be standing next to him when the sentence is read."
"That’s a problem," I agreed. "Well, let’s see what we find out and go from there. We’ll know more for sure." We watched three pelicans skim smoothly over the low waves on their way home for the night. "Anything interesting on his PC?"
"Not really. His internet history showed some pretty interesting porn sites. His personal emails were a bit raunchy of late with the guy he was leaving my client for. Other than that it didn’t seem to bring anything new to light."
I shrugged in dismissal, "Yeah, it wasn’t a crime long in the planning so there was little trail to leave."
"Right," agreed Mike. That was all of significance we discussed over the weekend and the remainder of the time was spent in having a good time and chipping away at the fa‡ade to uncover the real Chris.
Monday morning found me neatly clothed in Dockers, collared shirt and tie and black bomber jacket waiting patiently at the security desk for Kevin’s ex-boss to sign me in. As she filled out the paperwork I had time to study her: about 5 foot 9, brown hair, neat tan slacks and a scarlet blouse. The pen held in her manicured hand was swiftly printing out my information in clear block capitals. She had seemed friendly enough when she came through the security doors and gave me a firm handshake, her eyes holding mine in a steady gaze. I guessed she was trying to figure out what kind of person she was letting into her site — apparently a programmer that knows his way around a mainframe, involved with a legal firm, carrying a motorcycle helmet — probably not an easy guy to categorize. Truth be told, it was a conundrum I tried to cultivate in order to sift out the folk who tend to judge a book by its cover.
"OK, Chris, sign here and we can go inside," Freda said pushing the sheet over to me. I signed my name, took the id badge from the security card and dutifully clipped it to my belt and walked through the door that Freda held open for me.
"Good day for a ride," she commented as we walked. "Do you live far away?"
"Down on Kirkhall Island."
"Oh! That’s quite a distance."
"Yeah, but the traffic wasn’t bad this morning and there weren’t any cops around so I made good time." We turned a corner and entered the cube farm. "Nice place to work," I commented. High black walls surrounded each workstation. Individual brass lights spread pools of light over the desks and keyboards giving the entire area a quiet, subdued environment.
"Yes, it is. We try hard to look after our staff — they’re expensive to train!"
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Especially the mainframe folk."
"Right. And they’re getting scarcer, too. We’re about fifty-fifty here. We run some applications on Suns and HP, but our bread and butter is the mainframe work. Would you like to get a cup of coffee before I show you your cube?" she asked as we passed a small lounge.
"Please. I’m an addict."
Five minutes later, my helmet, jacket and PC stashed in the cube previously occupied by Kevin, I was sitting in her office with my note pad as Freda outlined the rules of my engagement. I had signed the non-disclosure agreement and the rest was pretty much what Mike had explained to me and made sense. I’d emailed my code to her before the weekend and she had placed it in a file for me. "I don’t know what you expect to find from the data you want to pull," she said finally, "but if it helps sort out why what happened to Kevin did happen I’m only too glad to help." She paused and then added almost reflectively, "He was a sharp guy. Did a lot of good things around here."
The morning passed quickly. With my code assembled and tested I set it to run against their files and, while I waited, began to browse around Kevin’s libraries. It was the normal stuff that any sys prog would have: a lot of SAS and assembly code for analyzing performance issues and working on capacity planning. Certainly nothing that was going to get him killed.
When my program finally completed I started to go through what it had found. Scrolling down the screen, I quickly came to the three jobs that had first caught my attention. It showed me the library that contained his compiled code. I opened its directory : all three runs had written out to that file, yet only one member in it had a ‘modified’ date that matched the day Kevin had been killed. All the other members had been updated weeks earlier. It looked as though I had been right, all three jobs had link-edited the same source code. Turning back to the output of my job I found the name of the file that contained his source code and I opened it up on the monitor. That was strange: the source code had not been updated for almost a month before Kevin’s death. Why would he have needed to re-link an unchanged program?
I copied his library over to one of my own so that I wouldn’t inadvertently change anything and scanned the code. Nothing spectacular: it wandered around the system control blocks looking at the disk devices and comparing them with a file to see if anything had changed. I made a copy of my program, made some changes to the new version and set it running to search for when this program of Kevin’s ran. I soon had my answer: it had run many times around the time that the source code had been changed, obviously that was when Kevin was developing and testing it since the jobs had run under his ID. After that, however, the job had run once a day under what I assumed was a normal production ID.
I was sitting back puzzling over this when Kathy, the woman who occupied the cube next to Kevin’s, came over and asked whether I wanted to join them for lunch in the cafeteria. The change was welcome and I joined the small group wending their way out of the cube farm.
With my soup and salad on the tray I walked over to the table where Kathy and the others had settled together with a couple of other guys. With the introductions over, Kathy asked "You finding what you’re looking for, Chris?" Mike and I had discussed what I should divulge and we had decided it was probably safest for me to be merely doing a task for him without too much knowledge about what it was for. This actually made a lot of sense because neither of us really had a clue as to what we were hoping to find.
"Yes, thanks. Don’t know what it’s all for, but I guess the lawyers have their reasons."
"Yeah," quipped the guy next to Kathy, "they can charge more!" The others laughed in agreement, but I bristled slightly. It was OK for me to treat Mike’s profession with levity, but nobody else was going to flame him.
"Actually, this lawyer is an OK guy," I said leveling my gaze with the joker. "He does a bunch of pro bono stuff and he’s pretty good in the courtroom." Maybe I was sounding too defensive, so I decided to lighten it up some, "At least he got me off a hefty speeding fine, so he has to be good, right?"
It worked. Everyone laughed and a guy named George asked, "Is that your bike in the visitors’ parking?"
"The Ninja? Yeah, that’s mine."
"Looks speedy. How fast have you taken it?"
"Hundred and thirty-five on the speedo. Probably just over the hundred and twenty for real."
"I could take it higher if I ever got on a track, but on the road I get kinda wary, so I normally am not much above eighty or ninety on the slab and slower on the smaller roads which are a lot more fun."
"Mind if we join you?" Freda interrupted us as she put her tray on the table. "Chris, this is my husband, Grant." I stood up and took his hand. Not a bad looking guy, I thought. Pity he’s straight.
"Good to meet you, Chris. Freda tells me you’re looking into what Kevin was doing on the er his last day here."
"Yes. Along those lines. Just the SMF records that show the jobs that he ran. That kind of stuff."
"Ah, yes. Working right up to when he died," Grant said looking at me intently. "I pointed that out to Freda when it happened. I thought it would help to narrow down the time that he was killed." It sounded pompous the way he said it. Stupid burke, I thought to myself. You were probably just hunting around for the macabre because, for once in your life, you knew someone who had been thrust into the limelight.
"That’s the curse of DSL and cable modems," I said trying to get off the topic, "you’re never really free from work."
"I hear you," agreed Kathy. "In the old days the operators would think twice and try a couple of things themselves before calling you in at night. Now they know you can just log in, so they call you for every little problem."
And so the lunch progressed with small talk of work and computers. Only when we got up to go did the subject raise its head and, again, it was Grant who spoke. "Well, Chris, it was good to meet you. I hope the stuff you find helps fry that little fag that killed Kevin. Gays are all emotional: feelings of a woman, strength of a man. It’s a dangerous mix"
There was an uncomfortable silence and I tensed momentarily but merely shrugged and said "We’ll see. I don’t know what the lawyers are going to make of it all."
Kathy followed me into the cube and said, "The consensus here is that Grant is pretty stupid, so don’t pay any attention to what he says. We all knew Kevin was gay. He didn’t force it on anyone and no-one even knew who his boyfriend was."
Where was this coming from, I wondered. I hadn’t said anything about being gay and I hadn’t had my helmet and its HRC sticker in obvious view. "What was Kevin like?" I asked trying to stay professional.
"He was a real good programmer," Kathy said. "And he knew a lot about computers and the software. His programming skills were awesome." She paused, "He was OK to be around."
I looked at her. There was something she was hedging around. "But ?" I asked.
"The only thing I sometimes thought," she went on quickly, "was that with all his talent he was more of a taker than a giver. Like when someone had an idea, if he could use it he would put it forward as his idea without saying where it had come from. He didn't need to do that: he had enough good stuff of his own." She stood up and headed for the cube door. "I guess we all have our faults. I wouldn’t want anyone picking on me after I was dead. I just didn’t want what Grant said to influence you."
"No," I said, "there are guys like him all around. I’m a computer guy, I go on data."
Kathy laughed, "Yes, we nerds have to stick together."
By 4pm I had got as much as I thought I needed and everything had been burned onto four CDs. I walked over to Freda’s office and handed them to her. "This is what I think they want," I said. "I have a listing here of everything that’s on them and where it came from. When you’ve checked them out you can upload them to the ftp site that I have at the bottom of the paper. I can download it from there."
Freda scanned the paper for a minute and then looked up. "That looks fine. I’ll have a quick scan of the CDs tomorrow and have the stuff uploaded by this time." She smiled, "It’s not that I don’t trust you, Chris, but I have to do due diligence."
"Hey, no sweat. It’s real professional and it’s been a pleasure to work here with you. Oh, yes, one more thing. Once you’ve uploaded that stuff, maybe you should keep the CDs in a safe place until after the trial. I never know what these guys will want."
"Sure. I’ll put them in the safe. Who knows, one day I might have them framed as an important piece of criminal folk lore." She laughed and stood up. "Ride safely, Chris. And if you ever need a real job, just call me."
I laughed. "I’ll remember that. Thanks."
The ride home was beset with vicious trucks and slow moving cars and required my full attention. Later, after a good dinner I sat on the deck and watched the stars as I recounted the day to Mike over the phone. We agreed that what I had thought had happened was now confirmed, but what the meaning of it was, if anything, was still eluding us.
The following day I called my boss to tell him I was once again available and to chat about what part of the flight-control code I was going to develop next. When we had discussed this at some length and were winding up he asked me about my previous day’s work. I told him about the three identical jobs and why they were so puzzling. "Why would anyone run the same compile job three times without testing the program?" I asked him.
"There was this old guy on a communist farm. One night at knock-off time he goes past the guard with a wheelbarrow full of straw. The guard is convinced that he has some stolen goods hidden in the straw and so stops him and pulls all the straw onto the ground and goes through it. Doesn’t find anything, so he has to let the old man go. The next night, it’s the same thing. This goes on for two weeks. Finally, one night, the guard says to the old man, ‘Look, I know you’re stealing. I’m off this farm tonight to go to a job in Moscow. I promise I won’t tell anyone, but I have to know — for my own satisfaction — what you’re taking.
"The old man looks at him and says, ‘I’m stealing wheelbarrows’"
I thought for a moment. Oh, shit! I’d missed the obvious. "You reckon he was testing the assembler or link editor?"
"Sounds like it to me, Chris. That’s the only reason I can think of for running that kind of a job over and over without testing the actual code in between."
"Thanks, Rod," I said. Inwardly I cringed. If this were the case then I’d led Mike on a wild goose chase for naught. I dialed Freda’s number.
"Hi, Freda. It’s Chris Lawrence." We exchanged the pleasantries and then I asked, "Do you know if any system upgrade was done any time before Kevin’s death? New link-editor or anything?"
"I don’t think so. We did it the normal put-level upgrade at the end of March. That was afterwards."
"And before that?"
"Are you going to tell me why this is important?" she asked evenly.
"Oh, sure. I was just writing up my report for the lawyers and I was going to say that I’d checked this," I hedged because I didn’t want more exposure of how little I really knew. "What was your phrase from yesterday? Due diligence? I want to at least give the appearance of earning my fee."
Freda laughed, "OK then, Chris. Anything else you need to know just call."
"Thanks. I’ll try to leave you in peace."
So that theory hadn’t panned out and once again we were back where we started, but at least I didn’t have to sneak back to Mike with my tail between my legs.
The rest of the week went by with normal work. Freda uploaded the data I had pulled to the ftp site and I downloaded it and burned a couple of sets of CDs, one for me and one for Mike. Friday afternoon came and I was northbound on I-95 again to spend the weekend with my guy. We spent about an hour after dinner discussing what I’d found and its significance. Mike thought it was accidental or trivial. I simply didn’t know. What Kevin had done was not logical and not being able to explain something really riles me. I could not recall any time in my career that I had done something like running compiles without testing in-between.
Late on Saturday afternoon, Mike climbed on the Ninja behind me and we set off to have dinner in town and wander around the River Front. Sitting at a red light on the way in, I called back to Mike, "Where did Kevin live?"
"Take a left at the second light and I’ll show you," he replied. For about a mile he directed me, and then pointed to a fairly modern apartment complex. I signaled him to get off and then backed the bike into a parking spot. "Third floor on that side," said Mike pointing as I unclipped my helmet strap and stepped onto the sidewalk next to him. I walked up to the entrance. There was no doorman, but the door was locked and each apartment had a buzzer that one could use to call the occupant and gain admittance. Number thirty-two had no name and I guessed it used to belong to Kevin.
Turning around I surveyed the street. Down a block and kitty corner was the pizza shop where Kevin had bought his dinner. The cops had probably pumped any useful information from them that was to be had.
"Let’s go get something to eat," Mike called. "I’ve had enough of this place."
"Yeah," I sighed and went down the stairs, but once on the sidewalk I caught sight of the bank a few doors down and remembered I was low on funds for the evening. "Hey, I’m just going to the ATM over there to get some cash."
"Don’t worry. I’ve got money for tonight," Mike called after me.
"Naah, I told you I’d take you out tonight. And who knows, I might meet a cute guy and want to buy him a drink!" I turned round in time to catch an unlawyerly bird being flashed at me and, laughing, I strolled into the vestibule and up to the ATM. I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket, and as I took the card out I scanned the little room. Two cameras, one above the ATM one monitoring the door provided my security. I punched in my security code, selected the amount, the machine whirred and my money, receipt and card popped out of their slots. I was folding the money away when what had been in my subconscious clicked into focus. "Hey, Mike!" I called taking a step outside. "Come here a minute." He left the bike and came sauntering towards me, hiking-boots, jeans, leather jacket — the very antithesis of the suave courtroom lawyer he’d been when he had arrived home twenty-four hours previously.
"What?" he asked as I gawked at him.
"If I’m ever on one of your juries, come into court dressed like that and, even if you’re defending some right wing talk show host for being homophobic, your guy walks free."
"You goof! And anyway, I have some choices in whom I defend. What did you want to show me? You didn’t call me over just to make sweet talk, did you?"
"Look here," I said pointing at the camera that scanned the doorway. "I wonder what that saw on the night Kevin was murdered?"
"He didn’t draw money. We checked that in case robbery was a motive."
"No, I didn’t mean that. But that camera must cover most of the sidewalk, too. It isn’t all that wide here because of the newspaper vending box. It would probably have caught Kevin walking back with his pizza. If he was on drugs or drunk or whatever so that he forgot he’d submitted those jobs, we’d see it in the way he walked, wouldn’t we? Maybe he was walking with the person who killed him?"
"Look, Chris, get this program thing out of your head. It’s nothing. The evidence, everything, points to Larry. You watch, as the trial date comes, or as the jury selection starts, he’ll bargain." He turned toward the bike, "let’s go eat."
"Mike," I called striding after him and catching his sleeve, "we need to see this. Other than whoever killed this guy, that camera was one of the last things that saw Kevin alive."
"You don’t even know he walked this way," Mike protested. He could’ve walked up the other side of the street and crossed over here."
"Yeah, he could have, but it was night and it would be way safer to cross at the lights."
"Chris, if I go and get another subpoena, it’s going to look like I’m on a fishing trip, as though I’ve got no case and am just thrashing around desperately. Not good for me, buddy."
"OK, make me your deputy or whatever they are, give me a letter saying I work for you, something that makes me official and I’ll go to the bank and get it."
Mike put his arm around my neck and ruffled my hair "Aaah, make him a deputy! Who watches w-a-y too many westerns?" I ran my hand up his T-shirt and grasped his nipple and pinched. He let go of me quickly and took a step back laughing and rubbing his chest.
"Listen, Mike, the truth is out there. Somewhere are all the pieces to the picture. We just need to find them and put them together. I’m not saying your guy isn’t guilty, but at least let’s satisfy our — OK, my — curiosity."
Mike came up to me, his face serious. "OK, Chris. On Monday we’ll come and talk to the manager here and see what he has and what we can get. That’s all I’m prepared to do."
"Cool. That’s good, Mike. Let’s do that." I pulled my keys out of my pocket and inserted them in the ignition switch. I turned and looked at him as he zippered his jacket. "Shit, you are such a hard guy to work with, you know that?"
"Can we go and get something to eat now?"
"Give me a kiss and I’ll give you a ride there."
"Yeah, right! My nip is still numb you bastard."
I laughed at him and pulled my helmet over my head. An hour later we were sitting on a balcony overlooking the river-front, downing gumbo and making comments about the people walking past beneath us.
I held Mike to his word and two days later found me, for the second Monday in a row, not dressed in jeans. We parked Mike’s Audi in a nearby garage and walked the couple of hundred yards to the bank. I had expected that such an establishment would be busier on a Monday morning, but there were only three customers in the banking hall and a secretary ushered us into the manager’s office as soon as we arrived. Mike introduced us and, once we were seated, gave a brief background to the case, his involvement and what we wanted.
Nor was the manager as unfriendly as I had anticipated. Maybe the paucity of customers necessitated a friendlier attitude I mused as the secretary brought Mike and me cups of coffee. The tapes were kept for just under a year, we were told, just in case there was ever a dispute about what the machine had paid out to whom. But what he was more than a little concerned about was showing us information of customers who use the bank. Mike spent some time addressing this and subtly pointing out that if he were to subpoena the tapes and show them in court a lot more people were going to see them and the bank’s name would very likely get on TV as well. And so the manager relented and we were taken to a dusty office upstairs where there were several VCRs and a couple of screens. A young guy of about nineteen came in with a tape, inserted it in a VCR and, when we had pulled up a couple of aged chairs and sat down, he started it up. We stared at the screen as it flickered with electronic snow. Suddenly it snapped into focus and I saw I had been right: the camera did cover much of the sidewalk. The date and time were recorded continuously on the bottom of the frame and Mike asked the young guy to fast forward the tape to about 8.45pm —about ten minutes before the time on the pizza receipt.   At night the scene was slightly less clear, but because of the newspaper box the people were forced closer to the building where the light from the bank’s huge sign outside augmented the glow cast by the streetlight and provided sufficient illumination for us to make out a reasonable amount of detail in the passing pedestrian traffic. It had been a cool night and not too many people were about.   Some folk hurried by, a few couples went past holding each other close, and a few people came into the bank to get money from the ATM. One person even paid a quarter to get a fifteen hour old paper out of the vending box.
And then, at just seconds before 9pm, a man walked past in a great hurry carrying a pizza box and a bottle of Coke.   Mike and I yelled out simultaneously and the startled youth dropped the VCR control. As he rewound and then hit play we waited. "There," called Mike and our operator froze the picture. It was too fuzzy to make much out and he began to take it forward frame by frame. And suddenly we had a clear picture.
"Oh, shit," Mike said resignedly, "that isn’t Kevin."
I studied the picture that seemed strangely familiar. I stood up and pointed to the screen. "That, my friend, is Grant Mulvaney, the husband of Freda Mulvaney who was Kevin’s boss."
"What’s he got do with it?"
"I haven’t the faintest idea, but I’ll bet you a hundred dollars that is Grant."
Mike pondered for a few seconds. "Whatever! Let that slide for a minute. What time was this?" He looked at the screen and jotted the time down on his pad. "OK," he said to the VCR operator, "let it roll again." We watched for several more minutes. At twelve minutes after nine the same man walked past in the other direction.   Again, he was carrying a Coke bottle and a pizza box, not horizontally as though to protect the contents, but vertically as though it were trash. Looking at the frozen picture once more, I was convinced the person was Grant Mulvaney — roughly the same height, same hairstyle and the face appeared to be real similar.
We chatted over the implications of this for a few minutes. "He wouldn’t have had time to kill the guy and cover his trail in so short a time," observed Mike.
With the tape rolling again we watched not knowing what to expect. At nine nineteen a thin young man ran past. "That’s Larry," cried Mike. "That’s my client." The tape was stopped and we went through frame by frame and going forward and backward, but with the man running, no very clear picture could be seen, yet Mike remained convinced it showed the man now in jail accused of murder. About fifteen minutes after that we could see the pulsating lights as the police cars and ambulance arrived and we turned the tape off.
"Well, that is indeed very interesting," Mike remarked. "Can we see this again," he asked the young guy who by now was completely mesmerized by what he was seeing.
"Sure, Mr. Wilson said to help you and this sure beats working."
"Fine," said Mike standing up. "Let’s go over to that pizza shop we’ve heard so much about and get something to eat. Then we are going to follow this thing minute by minute from beginning to end."
Thus, some thirty minutes later, we had scrounged up some chairs that were more comfortable, the pizzas boxes were balanced amongst the dusty cables and we settled down to get to the bottom of things.
"Where do you want to start watching," Ben, our youthful helper, had asked. "Right from the start?"
"No," Mike responded trying to stop an errant strand of melted cheese from falling on his tie, "we know that Kevin left the office around 5:15, so let’s start then."
After a few minutes of fast-forwarding and reversing Ben arrived at the correct place and we settled back to watch. The sidewalk was busier at that time and there were a couple of instances when one of us thought we had seen something of interest only to find out on going through the frames that we were wrong. It was just after six on the tape that we got lucky. Mike had his cup of Coke to his lips when a young man in Dockers and a denim jacket with a backpack on his shoulders came into view carrying a pizza box.
"That’s Kevin," he spluttered and began to choke. Ben stopped the tape and backed it up while I slapped Mike’s back and he mopped his chin with a napkin. When Ben finally found a clear frame, the likeness was unmistakable.
"This really blows the whole theory," Mike murmured staring at the image on the screen.
"Why? Because the guy was hungry?" I asked.
"No. Because the time of death was pretty much fixed by the how far digestion had progressed. When Larry came into the apartment he moved the body all around trying to revive him. He dragged it from behind the desk in order to get a clear place to try CPR or whatever and so lividity was somewhat unclear. He’d moved practically every limb, so they went along with body temperature which gives a wide margin and settled on what they thought were two known points: when the pizza had been bought and how much digestion had progressed.
"Now we see that the pizza time was off by almost three hours. Man, do I now have reasonable doubt." He turned and landed a punch on my shoulder that nearly knocked the pizza from my hand. "Chris, you are THE MAN, buddy."
"Let’s see the rest of the tape," I said wiping crumbs off my slacks, "maybe we can get a better shot of the other guy arriving."
"Good idea," Mike replied then ruffled my hair and said with a smile, "you are so good, you know that?"
"Wait until you get my bill!" I responded ambiguously.
Mike glanced at Ben who was starting the tape up again and then replied evenly, "You’ve earned yourself a bonus on this one, bud," and winked at me.
The tape started up again and we sat in silence sipping at Coke and munching on the pizza as we regarded the cinematographic glimpses into brief moments in people’s lives. We had made our way to about twenty to seven when the recognizable form of the man appeared on the screen. He passed by from right to left and by frame freezing I got a better feeling that my recognition had been correct. I discussed the salient points with Mike for about ten minutes and then, by mistake, Ben set the tape rolling again.
"Hey, wait " I shouted, but then stopped, mouth agape: on the screen the figure returned and entered the vestibule and moved to the ATM.
"Can you tell me who took money out of that ATM at that time?" Mike asked Ben.
"The records are all kept on the computer and I could look it up, but I’m not allowed to tell you that kind of stuff. You’d have to ask Mr. Wilson for that."
Mike pondered this and then suggested "Look, how about I give you a name. Then you go and look it up and tell me if I’m way off base or whether I need to get permission to get the records."
Ben hesitated. He knew the legal limits of what he was allowed to say, but having spent several hours with us and sharing our hopes, he felt somehow part of the team. "You won’t tell anyone that I told you anything?" he asked.
"No. If the name turns out to match, then I’ll go to your manager and say we think the guy is our man and I’ll ask him what legal steps I have to go through to get the information."
"OK. What’s the name?" Ben asked.
"What’s his name?" Mike asked me handing his yellow pad across.
I took his pen and wrote down ‘Grant Mulvaney’, tore the sheet off and handed it to Ben.
"OK, wait here," he said folding the paper and putting it into his shirt pocket. He got up and left the room.
"What makes you so goddam smart, Chris?" Mike asked speculatively. "How the hell did you know?"
"Hey, I’m not smart. I didn’t know anything. All I ever knew was that the dead guy had done something that was real odd. For that matter I still don’t know what was going on with those jobs or what they mean."
"I think I can guess," Mike replied, "but I don’t want to jinx things until we find out what Ben has discovered." We chatted about the case for another five minutes or so and the youth returned. He closed the door conspiratorially behind him before speaking.
Turning around he looked at us and then said, "You guys are going to have to go to Mr. Wilson."
Mike let out a yell, stood up and gave Ben a hug which seemed to confuse and embarrass the boy.
"OK," I said, "let’s finish up watching the tape." Was it completing the picture that made me so anxious to get things going again, or was it seeing another guy in Mike’s arms, I wondered to myself?
"Yeah, we’d better do that," Mike agreed, sitting down. "Maybe we’ll see Kevin and this Grant guy together. That would be a real clincher."
But there wasn’t anything for a long time. The number of people on the sidewalk thinned out, a few people came into the lobby to get cash and a bag lady trundled a shopping cart past without looking in. We were almost in a trance when, at 8:36, a man who appeared to be wearing the same clothes as Grant Mulvaney, ran past the window in the direction of the pizza shop.
"Bingo!" said Mike. "Thank you for your time and efforts, Ben. I really appreciate it. If I may ask you, please take this tape to Mr. Wilson and tell him that I have said that it is material evidence in a trial and that it may be subpoenaed as evidence. Ask him to keep it locked up in a safe place where it won’t get damaged in any way."
"So what do you think was going on?" I asked
"Tell you back at the office," Mike responded as he started to push his pad into his case.
"Hey, I want to know, too," Ben wailed. "I helped you guys, you can’t leave me hanging."
Mike paused and took in the earnest look on Ben’s face. "Alright, then. But like we don’t tell anyone that you looked up that record, you keep this to yourself. You don’t tell your best buddy, you don’t tell your mother and you don’t even tell your girlfriend when you’re in bed with her, OK?"
"Shit, I should be so lucky," Ben responded with a wry grin, then, turning serious, said, "No, I won’t tell anyone. Promise."
Mike pulled his yellow pad out of his case again and pulled his chair up to the table. Ben and I hurriedly got rid of the pizza boxes and pulled our chairs up, too.
Mike tore off the page where he had been making notes and placed it on the table where he could read from it. On a fresh sheet and holding the pad sideways he drew a long line along the length of the page. On the left end he jotted down 5:15 and on the right end, 9:35.
"Right, then, this is what we know. At 5:15 Kevin leaves the office." He put another tick on the line and wrote 6:02. "Just after six, Kevin comes home with a pizza and a drink. Then at about 6:45," another tick and the time, "this Grant guy arrives on the scene. What his involvement is I have no idea, but he has no pizza box.
"Nothing more happens until here," he moved way across to the right and wrote 8:36. "Mulvaney runs out to get pizza. He comes back here, just before nine. Then here, twelve after nine, he leaves carrying a pizza box.
"Not ten minutes later, Larry the boyfriend arrives at 9:19 and, finally, here, the police arrive.
"So when was Kevin killed?" he remarked almost to himself, "I don’t know. I don’t think Mulvaney came to the apartment with murder on his mind. I can’t believe a guy who knows he’s about to take a life, stops to get cash from an ATM."
"Yeah, that would be sick," agreed Ben getting into the spirit of reasoning.
"So," Mike continued, "he goes up to Kevin’s apartment and at some stage they have a dispute over something and Kevin ends up dead. I suspect this happened fairly early on because, the longer Mulvaney stays at Kevin’s, the more he’d be leaving fingerprints and, as a corollary, the less time he’d have to clean them up."
"The cops didn’t find any unidentified prints," I asked.
"No. A lot of smudges, though. More than they would expect to find. Like every key on the PC had a smudge. C’mon: in the normal run of things you’d expect at least one key to have a partial.
"So, he finds out he has a corpse on his hands. So what does he do? This guy is a thinker. He knows he needs an alibi for the time of death. As it stands, that is impossible. But, if he can delay the apparent time of death, though
"He figures out that he must keep the body warm. Maybe he turns up the heat, maybe he covers the body in a blanket, I don’t know. Then he figures out that, if it looks as though the dead guy is working, that would help, too. So he submits those jobs. He probably doesn’t know what the jobs are, but they’ll leave a trace. And," Mike emphasized to me, "who was it that brought those jobs to our attention. This Mulvaney guy’s wife."
"And Grant was the one who pointed them out to her," I exclaimed. "He told me that at lunch."
"Exactly," my friend agreed. "Finally he realizes that the coroner will very likely check the dead person’s insides as well. However, if the pizza appears to have been bought later, we will assume the guy died later. Which, of course, was exactly what we did. So he heads out, buys another pizza, comes back, does a swap, cleans up a bit more and he’s out of there. Along comes Larry and, because he’s real upset, doesn’t think very clearly and, completely unintentionally, does everything he can to obfuscate the evidence and dig his own grave."
Mike leaned back in his chair and looked at us. "Tell me, guys, if you were on a jury would that sound like reasonable doubt to you."
"Oh, yes," agreed Ben enthusiastically. "Man, when you tell them all this in court, I’m going to be down there watching you kick the shit outta them. I’m part of history!"
"I’ll be sure to call you and let you know when it’s going to happen," Mike replied seriously as he once again put his pad back in his case.
We all left the VCR room together and walked downstairs to Mr. Wilson’s office. Mike gave him the briefest of synopses, mentioned that he’d be sending a subpoena for the ATM records, and asked him to keep the tape safely for us. He reassured the manager that he really doubted any part of the tape would be shown in court and, thanking him and, once again, Ben, we left and walked in silence to his car pondering what we had discovered.
Out of the garage and into the flow of traffic, we were headed to his office when he looked over at me. "I have to be the luckiest guy in the world to have a friend like you. This is the second time you’ve hauled my ass out the fire."
I grinned at him. "You wouldn’t prefer a cute nineteen- year old? ‘Oh, I’m part of history, I’ll be in your court room when you kick shit outta people,’" I mimicked Ben’s voice in falsetto.
Mike swerved across the next lane and deftly slid the Audi into a loading zone. He grabbed me and pulled me across to him and locked his lips over mine. At last he said, "No, you jack-off! You’re the one I want to be with. Now. Always." I listened carefully but didn’t hear a single alarm bell going off in my brain. I sat back in my seat and smiled contentedly.
"That’s what I want, too," I replied smiling at Mike. "Let’s get back to your office and finish up and then you can start recompensing me for my hard work."
"I’ve got some other stuff to do," he said as he eased out into the traffic. "How ’bout I drop you off at my place and you can get some of your work done. Maybe even cook us some dinner," he added slyly looking at me out of the corner of his eye.
"I can do that. Be good to get this goddam tie off."
Later that night, freshly showered, Mike and I sat on his couch talking about the case. "But what was the motive?" I asked almost rhetorically.
"Does it matter? Not my problem. I reckon I can get an acquittal with what we’ve got."
"Fuck the acquittal. I want to nail this Mulvaney so bad," and I went on to recount Grant’s ‘fag’ statement.
"First rule of being a lawyer — for any kind of debate — don’t get personally involved. Work with the facts. I thought it was your way, too, nerd," he kicked my shin with his bare foot.
"Not this time. I want to see this guy sweat and, when he’s really scared and sweaty, I’m gonna tell him ‘You fucked with the wrong fag this time, buddy. I was the guy who nailed you.’"
"Forget him. He’s not worth it," said Mike. But I didn’t.
I woke up at about three, and the motive was still on my mind, so I quietly got up leaving Mike breathing regularly and dreaming cool, lawyer dreams while I made my way to his office. I opened the laptop that he’d bought to restore Kevin’s system to and powered it up. I had no idea what I was looking for, and was just poking around various directories looking at files. Not too much told me of his personal life. Most of the Word documents were work related and, other than that, merely a couple of letters about car loans. He had a fair collection of porn, but I was on a mission and didn’t waste too much time drooling. The Excel workbooks were almost all statistics from his work. I opened up numerous files looking for something that could look like bank account stuff without turning up anything. And then I hit pay dirt, only I didn’t realize it then. It was a workbook named ‘backups’ and appeared to be a list of files backed up. Each sheet in the workbook had a different label — a date-tiemstamp format — and I surmised by the adding up the amount of data referenced on each that it could well be a list of CDs that he’d used to back stuff up. I was still trawling through this and making notes when Mike came padding through at 6:30.
"What are you doing now?" he asked bending over to give me a kiss and rubbing my chest.
"Were there any CDs found at this guy’s apartment? Not music ones, computer data?"
"Don’t recall any," said Mike stretching. "Why?"
"He was pretty good about backing stuff up. Every Friday night he backed up his Outlook files, other stuff he backed up now and then — maybe when he was finished with studying something. He backed up a lot of JPEGs, too. Lot of them are still on his hard drive as well. We’ll need to study them some time together: there are some hot scenes there."
"You are sick," exclaimed Mike, "You’re going through a dead guy’s porn stash?"
"Hey, sure as shit he doesn’t need it any more!" I turned serious. "That’s part of it, but what is interesting is that at least seventy percent of the JPEGs that were backed up and are not now on his hard drive have the letter G as the first character in their name. Only two JPEGs on his hard drive have a first character G and their name format is different."
"Can it, Chris. It’s too long a shot and you’re taking things personally. This is not a vendetta. This is getting my client’s ass out of a cell and I can do that. Thanks to you
"Come, let’s grab a hot shower and you’ll feel better."
But as I turned onto I-95 later and headed home I was still thinking about the case. As the second turn off came up, I flicked my right indicator on and scuttled across both lanes to get the off-ramp, earning a deserved honk from a UPS truck that I’d surprised. I pulled into a Hardees and ordered a strawberry milkshake — my standard ‘on-the-road’ refreshment. Sitting at the table I opened my PC and looked up a number which I punched into my cell phone.
"Good morning, this is Kathy."
"Hey, Kathy. This is Chris Lawrence. Remember the law-firm’s geek who came around about two weeks ago to get that SMF data?"
"Oh, yeah. Hi, how are you doing?" She sounded friendly enough. I hesitated. What the heck
"Kathy, when I was sitting at Kevin’s desk, I happened to notice that there were a whole lot of CDs in the bottom drawer. I was wondering if I could ask you to see if one particular CD is there."
"Sure. I can check now. What will it look like?"
I pulled the piece of Mike’s notepaper toward me. "I think it will have something like ‘20020301 and 2138’ written on it." He had to have written something on it: there was no use in having a backup if you couldn’t locate it quickly.
"OK. Hold on a minute and I’ll go look." I held on for a full two minutes before I heard her pick up the phone again. "Hey, Chris, you there?"
"Yeah, I’m here."
"I found it. Want me to see what’s on it?"
A mental picture of her opening gay porn up in the office flashed through my brain and I quickly said, "No. I definitely don’t think that you should open it at all.
"Look, Kathy, I need to see some stuff on that CD, but I really don’t want anyone else at SE Services to know that that CD exists or that I am interested in it. Especially not Freda or Grant. Look, I know this sounds all stupid Spy vs. Spy stuff, but if I could buy you lunch somewhere off site today we could look at it together? I promise you it is nothing that would break the confidentiality rules of SE Services."
There was a pause, then finally, "OK. There’s a little Mexican restaurant four lights down the main road from SE. I’ll meet you there at 11:30."
I started to breathe again. "Thanks, Kathy. I owe you. One more thing, do you have a Sharpie there?"
"Yes." I knew from the tone that she was beginning to think I was crazy.
"OK, use it to write your initials on that CD. Just so you can identify it later on if we need to."
"OK, Chris. I’ll see you at 11:30."
I turned the Ninja around and headed for SE services. I found the restaurant she had mentioned and then killed a couple of hours in a nearby Barnes & Noble. At 11:15 I was in a booth at the Mexican restaurant with my computer open and booted. At 11:35, just when I thought I was being stood up, I saw Kathy in the doorway. I waved and she came across.
"Hi, Chris," she said as she sat down, "What is this all about?"
Before I could answer the waiter appeared with tortilla chips and salsa and, glancing quickly through the menus, we ordered our lunch. After he had stepped away I told her, "I’m still chasing around for that lawyer guy on this case. We noticed some files that seemed to have been backed up on Kevin’s PC but were missing and I wanted to see what they were. I think they’re on that CD I spoke about. Did you bring it?" I didn’t even reflect on the lie I’d told: Mike would kick my butt if he knew what I was doing.
She opened her purse and pulled out a folded manila envelope and handed it to me. I took the disk in my hand and saw the date-time numbers written on it in blue. Below them in black were Kathy’s initials. "Good," I exclaimed as I popped the CD into my reader and waited for it so spool up. I opened up Explorer and looked at the files on the CD. They were pretty much what I remembered from the worksheet on the PC at Mike’s. I selected PaintShop Pro and located the JPEGs on the CD. I paused. "Look, Kathy, truthfully I have no idea what is on these pictures. I have a very good reason to believe that these files are porn. I have some other theories, too, which I don’t want to mention until I see if they are confirmed. You can look at what I’m going to open or you can look away. Or you can ignore the screen and watch my keyboard to see that I don’t copy anything you haven’t seen." I stopped and she looked at me while she digested what she had just heard. "I just want you to know that whatever is on these pictures has got nothing to do with you or with me. I guarantee that I am doing this only for a case now in the courts."
"It’s OK, Chris," she spoke after a pause, "I’ve been around and seen pretty much everything there is to see."
I selected the first file and clicked open. I can’t tell you what I expected to see, but as an image of Grant Mulvaney and a guy who looked like what I thought Kevin had looked like, naked and engaged in some very intimate activity below the waist, opened on my screen, I caught my breath.
"Oh Oh Oh " gasped Kathy pointing at the screen and taking breath after breath without exhaling. I closed the screen quickly and touched her hand.
"It’s OK, Kathy. I won’t open any more." I was worried that she was going to scream or run out. "Look, I’m sorry, I really didn’t know what was on that picture. Here, have some water." Now that was dumb. What was a gulp of iced, restaurant water going to help after what she’d been shown in a public place by an almost stranger?
But she took a sip and seemed to calm down. Another swallow and she set the glass on the table and looked at me wide-eyed.
"Kathy, I am so sorry. I had got so caught up in this case I never thought through what I was doing."
She gave a little giggle, covered her mouth and then began to laugh. Geez, I thought, I hope she isn’t going to go hysterical. But she stopped after a while and wiped her eyes. "It’s Grant!" she finally said.
"Yeah. I know. Tell me, Kathy, I never met the guy. Was the other one Kevin?"
She nodded. "I can’t believe it. They were having an affair? That is so funny."
"Freda had a hissy-fit a few months back: it was all over the office, we all knew. She thought Grant was having an affair with a woman who works in the computer room. If she had only known what was really going on! Kevin was her team guy!"
"Yeah maybe we’d have two dead guys now." We sat in silence and munched at the tortilla chips. "Look, Kathy, I need to copy a couple of these pictures down onto my PC to show the lawyers and then we need to put this CD in a safe place until we can get it legally subpoenaed. Is that OK?"
"Chris, whatever you want. I am just so amazed I don’t think I can take it all in. Nothing makes sense. I think if I meet Grant in the office this afternoon I’m just going to start laughing and not stop."
"I know what you mean. It’s the oldest story in the world and it still never fails to amaze us, does it?" I opened up my PC and closed PaintShop. "OK, all clear now," I said moving the PC so she could see the screen. "OK, I’m going to select these files, all the JPEGs that start with G and copy them to this folder here," I elucidated as I moved my cursor over the screen. "There they go," as the Windows copy-dropdown appeared briefly. When they were safely across, I shut my PC down and slipped it into my backpack. I returned the CD to her. "After lunch we’ll hit the post office and send this to you by registered and insured mail. That’ll keep it safe for a day or two until we can get something more formal in place."
Our food came and we tried to enjoy a normal lunch, although after what I had shared with her, normal was somewhat relative. She wanted to know what was going on. I hesitated a bit, but then recognized that I had persuaded her to break her company’s policies for me and so, after enjoining her from speaking to anyone else about it, told her the highlights as I knew them.
When lunch was over and the CD was safely in the hands of the US Postal Service, Kathy headed back to work and I pointed my front wheel back to Savannah. I rode slowly through the garage with the Ninja’s exhaust notes echoing from the ceiling until I found Mike’s Audi. I parked the Ninja next to it and cut the engine.
Walking into the office I approached the receptionist. Mike had told me a little about Gladys, enough though to make me just a tad apprehensive. He maintained that it was she and not the partners who ran the office and looking at the stern black woman who greeted me formally made me inclined to agree with him. "I’d like to speak with Mike Jorgensen, please."
"Have you got an appointment to see him?"
"No. But I have some very important information for him about a case he’s working on."
She eyed me up and down, the harness boots, jeans and biker jacket no doubt doing wonders for my image. "What’s important to one person isn’t necessarily important to another. What case would that be?"
"Er I don’t know it’s a pro bono and his client’s first name is Larry," I stammered. Why did I suddenly feel I was back in my high-school principal’s office?
"Take a seat over there and I’ll see if he has a minute. He’s a very busy man." Yeah, Mike had said she liked to mother him. "What’s your name?"
"Chris Lawrence, ma’am."
I waited in the empty room sitting on the edge of the chair in case Gladys came back and had to scold me for slouching. After a brief wait she returned followed by Mike. "Chris! You OK? I thought you were back in Kirkhall." He gave me a brief hug and I distinctly heard Gladys’ sniff of disdain.
"I’ve found the missing piece of the puzzle."
"You’d better come through to my office," he stated and held the door open for me. It was the first time I’d been to where Mike worked and I was suitably impressed. A vast desk that looked about the size of an aircraft carrier’s deck was in the center and a couple of luxurious leather chairs faced it on the client’s side. I slipped the backpack off my shoulders and pulled out my PC. As I placed it on the polished surface I noticed the framed picture: it was me leaning on my bike, a photo he had taken down on St Simon’s when we’d ridden down there a few weeks before.
"Nice pic," I remarked. "Someone you know?"
"Just some guy that got under my skin," he joked, then becoming businesslike, "OK, Chris, what have you been up to now?"
I started the boot process, took my jacket off and sat down. "Remember this morning I was telling you about files that had been backed up but I couldn’t find on the hard drive?"
"Yeah " He sounded dubious.
"Well, I was riding home when I kinda remembered seeing CDs in the drawer of what used to be Kevin’s desk. So I called his cube neighbor and asked her to locate one for me. She found it and she brought it to me when we had lunch together."
Mike groaned, "Chris, we had an agreement with SE Services that you wouldn’t take anything off site without Freda’s approval. You did remember to get that, didn’t you?"
"Counselor, can we table that question until I show you my evidence?"
"Oh, shit!" He rubbed his hair into a mess, the Mike signal that meant I was frustrating him and he knew he couldn’t do anything about it. Windows finally came up and I opened up PaintShop Pro.
"Now, counselor, if you were to hazard a guess, what would you think is going to be on the picture I am about to open?"
"Chris, I have absolutely no idea. What is on the picture?"
I selected the file, "Ta-Da," I called and clicked open.
"Now, counselor, to return to your question: Do you believe that I should have shown this picture to Freda Mulvaney or do you perhaps think that that might have resulted in a second homicide?"
"I think, for once in your life, you made the right choice, Chris."
"I’ll take that as ‘Thanks, Chris, once again your help has been invaluable to me.’"
He smiled. "Where is the CD now?"
"With Uncle Sam."
"It’s in an envelope, registered mail, to Kathy’s — she’s the SE Services person who helped me — work address. I thought that was an easy way of keeping it safe for a day or two. Her initials are on the CD if you need to identify it.
"Want to see some more pics?"
"You’ve got more?"
"I took all the ones that have G at the beginning off the CD." I highlighted them all, clicked open and watched as PaintShop quickly opened them all.
"Wow!" he remarked. "Interesting lives these two led."
"Yeah. You think we could try that?" I asked as one of the pictures filled the screen with a very intimate scene. "Your desk is big enough."
"You have a very naughty mind, my friend." He rubbed his hand up and down my back, "It’s gonna land you in a whole lot of trouble one day."
We chatted a bit more and then he escorted me safely past Gladys and I finally headed home.
That was on the Tuesday.
On Thursday a cruiser drew up outside the SE Services building, and Mr. Grant Mulvaney was asked to accompany the policemen to their headquarters to answer some questions about the murder of Kevin Calhoun. At first he denied even knowing where Kevin had lived, and even when the security tapes from the bank were shown, he tried some story of having eaten a pizza in his car. Only when the police showed him the picture Kathy and I had seen in the restaurant did he capitulate and asked to see a lawyer.
On the Friday, with little formality, the jury in Larry’s trial was dismissed and the judge set Larry free without a stain on his character. Of course, by then he’d missed the final exams, been outed in the most sordid way, and not only was his lover dead, but that lover had been shown to be the most fickle, capricious and gold-digging of people one could have the misfortune to meet. I reflected on our justice system for a long time and decided it was so much more for Larry than for Kevin that I craved to see Grant Mulvaney in court.
But I never got to explain to him exactly the part I had played in his downfall. Grant wangled some plea bargain and he went to prison without any fanfare. A few weeks later I wrote a short note to him asking him if he remembered his lunch-time remark to me and explaining that this fag had fed it to him. Mike, always the more level-headed in our relationship, persuaded me that I should not give Mulvaney the satisfaction of knowing that he had got to me and, in any case, a letter of that type was uncouth. So I tore my missive up and dumped it in the trash.
Then I got to thinking about it and decided that, if I wrote the whole thing down as a story, pretty much as it happened, made up what I didn’t know, slipped in some personal stuff, and checked the spelling, well then it would be literature and even a lawyer couldn’t call that uncouth. And maybe some guy in prison would read it. And if he happened to show it to the prisoner formerly known as Grant Mulvaney, that would be completely out of my hands — kinda like an act of God.
A brief annotation by Mike Jorgensen after reading this story:
"Now you know why I love this guy!"
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