Thursday, July 08, 2004

Software is my business

Trouble is my business, by Raymond ChandlerThe old Alpha-vintage laptop yielded, among other things, this silly work of fiction starring several Alpha employees. Written in the Philip Marlowe-style of first person crime novels, it is stunning proof that software authors should not delve into other areas.

Software is my Business
by D. Ross

What? Was that the sound of a helicopter landing? Nah, it was the phone jangling in my ear. My head felt like a jackhammer had been working on it for a couple of weeks. But maybe that was just the combination of the phone ringing and the fifth of Jack I'd accidentally drunk last night. It took some effort to lift my head off the bed.

"Huh?" I grunted into the phone. "Ross!" It was my boss, 'Sel the Snake'. "Get the hell over here. We's got a problem." Then I heard dial-tone.

I fell out of bed and slapped on a pair of Levi's, a black T, and a steel gray Armani blazer that was hanging over a chair. The rugrats were up, watching the Rugrats.

The ball-and-chain was actually awake for a change, frying up a healthy breakfast of pork fritters and sausage links. A cigarette dangled from her lips. Her hair was up in curlers and the pink robe she wore looked like it had been dragged through the garden by jackals.

"Do ya want some grub?" she asked, in a gravelly voice that only a longshoreman could love. "Shaddap", I intoned and slammed the door shut behind me.

My 968 cabrio needed a wash the way people need to eat. I shrugged and sped North on 128, avoiding the speedtrap at Route 2A. Within a few minutes I was passing the Burlington mall. The parking lot at Alpha was full; I don't like to waste time walking, so I drove over the curb near the entrance and just parked on the grass.

Sel was in his office near the front of the building. Half his time was spent keeping the customers happy; the other half was keeping the folks in the crew satisfied. I didn't envy his job a bit. My job, on the other hand, was real simple; sort of a 'trouble-shooter', with emphasis on the 'shooter'. When someone found a problem with our software, I took care of it, if you know what I mean.

"We gotta problem with the Gates Family", Sel was speaking without even looking up. "Close the door." I eased the door shut and stood at attention. The Gates Family was the biggest crew in the country; most software didn't move anywhere without their taking a cut of the pie. And their cut was big.

"See this?" Sel held up a box. It was the Gates' database software, called 'Axis'. "This is the new version. Gates and his crew aren't satisfied making 70% of everything in the trade. With this version, Gates is moving in on our turf." Sel was angry. Angrier than I'd ever seen him.

He looked up at me and his eyes were piercing. "I want you to do a little job for me." He paused to light a Camel. "I want you to take care of Gates. Make sure he never writes another line of code or designs another GUI. Got it?"

That was it. I was dismissed. It had finally arrived at this: taking down the biggest enchilada in the software biz. And me? I was caught - as usual - between a bulldozer and dirt. If I backed down on this job, Sel would see to it that I was worse than dead. And, if I managed to terminate the Gates problem, I'd most likely be hunted down for reprisals. Sweet - real sweet.

I stopped by the front desk to check messages. Jolene, the receptionist, looked at me with her big, brown eyes. "So... you're back for more dirty work?" I just grunted. If she only knew.

I stopped at the Registry of Motor Vehicles to see an old friend, Michele. She was a clerk with access to the Nationwide Drivers' Database. Better yet, she was a redhead with enough looks for two women. Her green eyes flickered as I walked in to her office.

"What the hell do you want, Ross?". Yep, she still had a thing for me. "Let me guess, you need a rundown on someone...".

I got right in her face. "You got that right, doll." I squeezed her arm for effect and she looked surprised. "Get me a rundown on Poppa Gates... the big guy. I need every bit of info you got."

She looked stunned. "Gates? You're crazier than ever..." She stopped talking when I squeezed her arm harder... just enough to make her realize I was serious.

Within seconds her fingers were dancing over the keyboard. She printed out a complete rundown on Gates and his organization. When she ripped off the last sheet from the printer, her face was flushed and her lips were parted. "Whatcha doin' tonight?" she whispered.

So I'd squeezed her. The problem was, she'd always liked it. Liked it alot. She was panting, but I'd gotten what I came for.

My eyes narrowed. "I'm busy, baby. Busy tonight and every night for the rest of my life." She was still looking at me doe-eyed when the door closed behind me.

In the car, I dialed up Palooch. He was over at the bagel dump with Petie. I figured I would need some help on this job, and these two jamokes were the next best thing to human beings I could round up on short notice.

I'd brought Palooch into the organization. He was still young enough to be eager, but he'd seen his share of bad coders. Petie was older and more experienced. He looked like a cross between a grizzly bear and... another grizzly bear.

I pulled up to "Pig in a Bagel". Parked in the handicapped spot was a red NSX with dents on the front left quarter-panel. It was Palooch and Petie's ride. They were inside, facing the window, sipping on hot java and smoking cigars.

I eased into the seat between them and dropped the stack of pages from the RMV. As they leafed through a few pages, I saw their expressions change. Petie rose up as if to leave. I hauled him back down.

"You're f**kin' nuts!" He whispered. I stared him down. "No... WE'RE f**kin nuts. We're goin' to do this, cuz!" Palooch's eyes were wider than I'd ever seen. "Get down!" he yelled.

We ducked as the glass around us was blasted into a million needle-shaped shards. Each of us already had our strap in hand. "That SOB's already onto us," Petie yelled.

Palooch was peeking around the booth. "It was a coupla Micros with Mac-10's". Micros were what we called the Gates crew. We heard some tires peeling out and it woke us up to the sounds around us. Sirens were going off in the distance and there were sobs and whimpers from some of the diners lying face down among the weiners and mini-bagels.

We hopped into our cars and sped back up the Middlesex Turnpike. In the lead, I spotted the tail end of a black Cadillac STS. It was bobbing and weaving along the two-lane highway and it had at least a quarter mile lead.

I held my foot to the floor and the modified 968 surged forward with stomach-wrenching force. As I passed a rusty Volvo wagon, I glanced down and read 130. After passing a couple of more civilian rides, I was able to creep up to the tail end of the STS. Now the needle read 140 and we were approaching the intersection of the Turnpike and 62. And the light was red.

Instantly, the STS' brake lights were blazing red too. I pulled the emergency brake on and was riding the brake pedal as hard as I could. The STS broke off into a flat spin as it headed into the intersection, wobbling over the uneven surface. As it faced me, I saw the two Micros holding on for dear life. Just then, an Egghead software truck broad-sided the STS.

The next thing I knew, I was parked on someone's front lawn with a sprinkler giving my car a much needed wash. One of the Micros was prone on the grass, too, having been thrown out of the drivers' side window. The other Micro was still in the smoking wreck. They'd need a spatula to get him out.

I wobbled over to the Micro on the ground. He was bleeding hard from gashes on his nose, forehead, hands, abdomen, and thighs, but otherwise appeared okay. His eyes flickered open. "You're history, Ross..." he slurred, "'re all done...".

"You know how many years I been hearin' that?" I whispered back as I went through his pockets. He carried no wallet, no ID. These guys were pros. His strap was nowhere to be found. In one pocket was a Logan Airport parking ticket and I confiscated that.

Palooch and Petie were parked on the Turnpike. Traffic had backed up behind them already, blocked by the smoldering remains of the STS and assorted game software. I jumped back in the Cabrio and dialed them up while I drove onto 62 westbound.

"Meet me at Logan in Central Parking, as close to the front as you can get. And bring the jimmies."

(Continued on Page 12)

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