Friday, October 24, 2008

Script Kiddies - Chapter 5

Deep In Clowns - CH5

Back in the car, Brad merged with the traffic on Federal and headed north. Where you would expect to find a radio, Brad's Civic had a reasonably sized screen neatly customized into the dashboard. Just below this was a small slot where he slid his cell phone in, docking it with the vehicle's system. The screen lit up with a map that highlighted the path he would need to take in order to meet up with Lieutenant Dunberry. It was a neighborhood that Brad wasn't familiar with and he wondered what sort of problem they must have run into that the script kiddies couldn't figure out.

Script kiddies was how he thought of the computer forensics of the police department. It was a term he had borrowed from the hacking community. The term derisively described the untalented but curious teenage hackers who were curious enough to find programs that could sniff out vulnerable systems on the net but weren't smart enough to find and take advantage of these vulnerabilities on their own.

The term neatly applied to the departments forensics team. For the most part they had a standard set of programs that they ran against a captured computer. The good news was that most crooks weren't very sophisticated, so this approach generated good results 80% of time. The other 20% of the time the computer was considered a loss for whatever investigation was underway.

The address and Dunberry's comments made Brad believe that he would be visiting a crime scene. This was a new approach, he had never been asked to come in so early. Generally he got called in after the Script Kiddies had worked on the machines for a few days or sometimes even weeks. He had completely forgotten about the morning's events at this point. He excelled at compartmentalization, the ability to completely focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Sarah, his girlfriend, had introduced the term to him. She had explained to him that to her this wasn't an endearing trait and that it probably explained the "off again" part of their "on again, off again" relationships. Sarah didn't appreciate being compartmentalized, which felt a lot like being ignored if you were a person.

Before he arrived at the address, Brad could see the flashing red and blue lights on several patrol cars. The neighborhood was a bit run down but not lost to the urban blight that affected other neighborhoods close to downtown. It also wasn't one of the yuppie neighborhoods that had been taken over by the Volvo crowd during the housing boom in the late 90s. This neighborhood's streets were lined with old pickups and an assortment of inexpensive or run down cars. Approaching the scene, he saw at least five patrol cars pulled into the driveway and lined up on both sides of the street, which was no longer passable. Parking wasn't too hard to find given the hour and he pulled into an empty slot a few doors down from all of the flashing lights. His stomach did a bit of a flip-flop as he pulled his cell phone from its cradle and placed it into a leather holster on his hip. Brad got out of the car and circled to the trunk from which he withdrew a small leather backpack.

A small crowd had started to assemble at the edge of the police tape that had been strategically wrapped around a couple of trees and tied off on bushes at the edge of the house. His stomach did another flip-flop as he approached the tape. Brad reached for the tape and ducked beneath it, catching the eye of one of the uniformed officers. The man didn't look happy that Brad had entered his domain but fortunately decided that Brad wasn't much of a threat. He did, however, hold up his hand directing Brad to stop.

"Lieutenant Dunberry", was about all Brad could manage as his heart rate jumped up about 20 beats per minute.

The officer was too far away to hear Brad and directed, "Step behind the tape." The man's voice was clear and authoritative, adding to Brad's stress.

"Uh," Brad starting to stammer a little, "Lieutenant Dunberry asked me to come over." He was able to get the second sentence out quite a bit louder. The officer apparently heard him and this time pointed to the front door. Reaching the front door Brad could see a number of officers in his way. He asked the first one who would make eye contact with him where he could find Dunberry. It was at this point his nose was assaulted with smells, pungent, acrid, putrid, awful. He immediately felt the queasiness return. "Eff", he murmured involuntarily.

"Lieutenant Dunberry, your guy is here." The man he had been addressing had turned and was yelling towards the back of the house. Brad saw Dunberry turn and start towards him, making his way into the front room which served as both foyer and living room. Brad followed Dunberry's eyes as they looked over into the main area. Enough people had moved that Brad was now able to see what Dunberry was looking at and the queasiness that Brad had been feeling exploded throughout his body. On a couch and a chair amongst innumerable pizza boxes, empty beer cans, and other sorts of trash were a couple of bloated bodies, blackened and disfigured by decomposition. Regardless of having skipped lunch, Brad's body felt compelled to completely evacuate the contents of his stomach in a most violent way. Having not cleared the door jam by more than a couple of feet, he was able to push himself past one of the officers, barely making it to the grass. He leaned over as his body continued it's unsuppressed purge.

"Crap Brad, I should have warned you." Dunberry sounded genuinely sincere. "It happens to everyone the first time they see it this bad." Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a small greenish saucer that you might keep lip balm in. "Here, this will help." Dunberry, without much warning opened the little jar and placed a good bit of the greasy material on his fingers and swabbed it none too gently into Brad's nose.

Brad's nose shifted from the nauseating smell of decomposing flesh to that of mentholatum, which in turn started to burn where it had been applied. Instinctively he reached up to clear it out, but one look up in to Dunberry's face told him that a little burning would be a small price to pay. "Eff, Dunberry," dropping politeness as well as his title. "What happened?"

"Honestly we don't know, we got a report about the smell from a neighbor. Best we can figure, it is some sort of drug deal gone bad." Dunberry explained.

Brad was glad they were in the front yard having the conversation but chose to move over a bit from his contribution to the lawn. The Mentholatum was doing quite a number on his olfactory, but the images of the bloated bodies were still there. It appeared, however, that his stomach was satisfied with his sacrifice and he began to regain his equilibrium. "So what do you need me for?"

At this point a couple of black coroner's vans pulled up, backing into the yard where the men were standing. Moving out of the way even further, Brad positioned his body so that he wasn't looking at the front door. He had no desire to see the bodies come out, even though he supposed they would be in bags.

"Thing is, we didn't find any drugs, and we found something else really strange. I wanted you to have a chance to look at it before our boys did anything." Focusing on Dunberry's words, he was trying to imagine what he could possibly be talking about. "I think you just need to see for yourself."

Brad nodded, not really that interested in going back in the house, but it sounded interesting and important. As they turned he saw a couple of men unloading a metal gurney from one of the vans, rolling it over to the front door and maneuvering it into the hallway. It barely fit in the front door given the position of the furniture and other junk. The two men waited silently as the technicians presumably loaded at least one of the bodies into a bag and then rolled it back out to the van.

"We can get past them, just don't look when we go in, you will be fine." Dunberry was trying to be convincing and only succeeding somewhat. As they entered the front door, Brad couldn't help himself as he scanned to where the bodies had been. Indeed one of the bodies had been removed, but the other man's body was lying at a grotesque angle. The smell once again hit his nose, but this time Dunberry's remedy provided enough protection to deflect the brunt of the wave. Brad felt the queasiness, but this time it was manageable. It crossed his mind that he should be disappointed to be so quickly used to the idea of a dead body and the putrid smell. He turned his head to Dunberry and followed the man down a narrow hallway. Reaching a kitchen, Dunberry turned to a doorway that lead to stairs going down and proceeded down them. A fresh wave of smell caught the men, Brad could guess what they would run into.

At the bottom of the stairs Brad had expected to see a corpse, but instead he saw that the basement was considerably smaller than the house's footprint would suggest. Boxes and junk littered the area, but no corpse. Then he saw it, there was light seeping around what if completely closed would have been a row of shelving, instead it was a doorway. He imagined that if closed, it would be impossible to tell that there was any door at all.

"Ok, this is a bit grim in here, so brace yourself. Don't worry, you're gonna be ok." Dunberry reassured for the third or fourth time.

"Let's just shut them down and pack them out. This is our turf, he can't stop us, it is not his deal." A younger male voice carried through the doorway.

A slightly deeper voice answered, "ah, let's just see what he's got, this is pretty heavy duty."

Dunberry pushed past some clutter into the room, "don't eff with me on this Carter, I think this might be a bit out of your league." Brad internally winced. That wasn't going to help.

"Bull! Morris 4.3 is the best software out there for this, we just need to get the CPUs over to the lab." Again the younger male voice, pitched slightly higher this time, was clearly offended by Dunberry's insult. Brad knew that Morris 4.3 was the latest in law enforcement software for invading a captured computer. If the owners of the computers hadn't gotten too crazy, Carter was probably right. Stepping into the room behind Dunberry, Brad saw another corpse laying across a keyboard, this one was not anywhere near as blackened, although the smell was all there. The differential in temperature in the room caught his attention, and he estimated it to be close to 60 degrees. He wondered if the air quality was also controlled. It would have been obvious if not for the corpse's fumes.

The room was considerably different than the rest of the house. Instead of litter every where this room was immaculate. The operator, now dead, was sitting at a console in front of a keyboard. The three screens and keyboards that were lined up on a laminate surface had all been similarly riddled with bullets rendering them useless. Brad scanned the area quickly not finding what he was looking for. "Where is the rack?"

The deeper voiced technician spoke up immediately, "That's the odd thing. They either didn't know to look for it or didn't find it. Not like it was really hidden." The man was in his early thirties, black hair and too skinny, not your average cop. Brad guessed he had been told that at least once before. The black haired man pushed open a panel that, while not obvious, wasn't overly well concealed either. Behind the door, the four of them crowded into a 8 x 10 room that had a couple of metal computer racks bolted to the floor. Brad recognized the racks as the type typically used in larger computer data centers. Nineteen inches wide and ceiling height, these were loaded with expensive equipment, Brad quickly estimated sixty to seventy thousand dollars of hardware, probably more depending on how it was configured. He quickly turned his attention to the communications equipment that was on top of one of the racks, it was lit up like a Christmas tree on Christmas morning. The lights were flashing madly. Whatever they were looking at it was still operating and by the look of things it was going to town.

Carter, wanting to make sure to regain the upper hand, restated what Brad had already figured out. "All these computers are running full out, we checked to see if there was an internet connection, but no DSL or Cable hookup here."

"What about a hardline?" Brad didn't care about the pissing match and was genuinely interested in figuring out what they were looking at. The smell and images of dead bodies were already driven from his mind.

"Uh, geez, hadn't thought about that." Blotchy red started to fill in on the younger man's neck. "I suppose that's possible."

"I would guess, they have a private contract with somebody big, what do you bet this house is conveniently located near a trunk?" Brad had already guessed the answer. Aside from being well concealed this mini data center was hooked very near to a main artery of the internet, possibly directly connected to a main trunk. It was the same reason he had chosen the location of his home, most people didn't realize that location really does matter. It was just like a river, the closer to the main branch of the river the more water you had available. Brad had also phrased the question in a way that would help the techs save a little face. They saw the idea posed as a question, it would be easy to agree with it. Carter grabbed at the lifeline.

"Sounds about right, why would anyone need to be that hooked up?" Carter offered a bit more amiably.

"Heh, you guys are the experts, probably have to get into the boxes to figure it out, though." Brad was now in his element, Carter just needed a bit of respect, this was a game he knew well, it was one of the reasons his consulting firm was able to attract talent. "Since I am here, do you mind if i do a little tracing on the outgoing packets?"

"How you gonna do that?" Carter looked skeptically back Brad.

"Mind if I show you?" Brad didn't want to lose the ground he had made up.

"OK, as long as you are under contract. He is contracted, right Lieutenant?" Carter's voice now edgy again.

Dunberry didn't say anything. He just nodded his head and looked back, clearly a bit annoyed. Brad took this as a sign that he could go ahead, so he pulled off his backpack and grabbed a keyboard from it, connecting it to his cellphone. He also brought out a small box, roughly the size of a paperback book, and connected it to the cellphone as well.

"What the heck is that?" Carter couldn't restrain his curiousity.

"Ah, it's cool," Brad said proudly, "There aren't a lot of them around, but it is a full up Linux g-phone, I have some wicked programming on my portable drive that can sniff out what this communications switch is saying. It will inject itself into the switch and copy every packet onto the drive in real time. It is crazy cool. We will be able to see everything that is coming in and going out."

"No crap," Carter sounded pretty impressed.

"Yeah, I will send you a copy of all of the data so you can feed it back into whatever you have for this." Brad knew they wouldn't have any software that could interpret the packets. He himself wasn't really expecting to get much data out of the packets, it would no doubt be highly encrypted, and without a passkey, virtually unbreakable. What he could get from the packets was a decent trace on where they had come from and where they were going to.

"Yeah, make sure you do," Carter responded a bit too optimistically.

Brad started typing on the keyboard and his phone's screen lit up. After a couple of moments he grabbed a cable from his bag and strung it to one of the many devices in one of the racks. A display on the cell phone's screen showed data pouring into the device. "Holy Crap! There is a ton of data moving around here." Brad couldn't imagine how much data was being moved, impressed by the sheer volume of it all.

Just then, all the lights in the racks shut off, the computers drives griding to a halt with a high pitched whine.

"Crap, I didn't think that would happen." Carter said sheepishly. Brad had been focused on the little device not noticing that Carter had positioned himself in front of the rack. He had pulled one of the keyboards that were attached to the rack out and had apparently been typing something.

"What the Eff?" Dunberry demanded.

"I was just trying to login on this station and poof, it all shut off." Carter sounded considerably more apologetic than he actually looked.

"Turn it back on!" Dunberry demanded again.

Carter and his partner started pushing buttons and flipping switches, but nothing was happening.

"Deadman's switch." Brad said mostly to himself.

Dunberry looked at him and asked, "What's that?"

Brad, this time more assertively, "I said Deadman's switch, it seems like something triggered a meltdown. We need to open the boxes up to see what's going on." Carter and his partner now punching buttons, moving cables and trying the rack-mounted keyboard. A small amount of smoke started to curl from behind the rack being pulled up in to ventilation system.

"Just great! Effing just Great!" Dunberry sounded seriously pissed off.

Carter responded, "Sorry Lieutenant we have smoke, you guys are gonna have to clear out. I am calling the bomb squad."

"What", Dunberry turned on the younger man, " are you nuts!? I want Maunikey to take a look at this crap." A quick check of Dunberry's face showed that it was starting to show a deepening red.

"Outta my hands, where there is smoke there is fire. It is in the procedures." Carter seemed unfazed by what appeared to be the start of a tirade. As Dunberry took a breath to respond, Carter flipped open his phone and dialed, placing a finger in the ear didn't have a phone next to it. "Yeah, this is Carter with Tech Forensics, we have a problem."

The look on Dunberry's face told the story, he had just lost control of the scene. "You effing jackass Carter! There is no need for that."

"Look, I have no interest in blowing up, bomb squad is on there way and we have been directed to evacuate the building." Carter tried to deliver the news straight, but a small smirk escaped at the corner of his mouth.

Dunberry turned back to Brad, "You get anything? Tell me you got something!"

"Not sure, I need to take it back to my shop and crunch on it, we definitely got some data", Brad responded sounding fairly distracted..

"OK, this is a huge priority, three DBs and a bunch of hardware. There is gonna be some heat on this one."

Carter interjected into their conversation, "We gotta move, bomb squad was very clear about it."

Dunberry in the lead, the four men worked their way out of the basement and up the stairs, apparently word had already made it to the rest of the people working in the house as they were also filing out rapidly. As they cleared the front door, Carter grabbed Brad's shoulder saying, "Hey, send me whatever you get, OK?"

"Yeah, sure, I will send it over first thing tomorrow, the g-phone is transmitting the data to my system at home as we speak."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chapter 4 - Home is where the Hard Drive Is

Home is Where the Hard Drive Is

The door opened with a whoosh, disappearing into a slot to the left of the metal door jam. Brad entered the loft and dropped his keys in the bowl on a small table under the keypad on the inside wall. Next to the bowl was a cradle that he placed his cell phone in. Rosie's voice came over a small speaker somewhere in the entry, "telephone access redirected to home base."

Brad continued, veering off to the left past a section of the loft that looked much like a conference room. Ceiling high, etched glass walls segregated a large table complete with high back leather chairs from the other spaces in the loft. Just past the conference room was a wall filled with large flat screen LCD panels, beneath which were a few keyboards and comfortable looking office chairs. As he approached the LCD panels he addressed them saying, "Rosie, please bring up new communications."

Almost immediately, three of the larger displays jumped to life showing a list of new email, phone calls and posts from the variety of social networks he belonged to. He quickly scanned the list attempting to prioritize the messages. As he scanned the messages, a three toned chord sounded softly in the background. "Rosie, who is it from?"

"Telephone call from Pristine Auto," the disembodied voice responded.

"Rosie, open telephone access." Brad waited a couple of seconds to allow the connection to be made. "Cirkus Consulting, Brad Maunikey," he answered with a bit of up-inflection in his voice.

"I thought I saw you drive by. Your lunch is here." The voice on the phone belonged to his friend Eduardo Gomez, or Big Ed as his friends called him. Big Ed owned an auto body repair shop in the building directly adjacent to Brad's home. Both buildings were owned by Brad and he in turn leased the space used by Big Ed's repair shop. The arrangement worked well for both men as Big Ed kept an eye on Brad's home during the day and Brad supplied high tech security for the shop when the business wasn't open. Big Ed and his family had adopted Brad, who was not an uncommon visitor for holiday dinners.

"Great. Thanks, big guy! I'll be right there. Have you eaten yet?"

"Sure have."

"Cool. OK. Be right there. Rosie, end call." Brad's mind was always working too fast and was oblivious to the confusion he caused others.

Just before the line cut off he could hear Big Ed's voice say, "Rosie, who, wha..."

Brad made his way down the back metal staircase, "Rosie unlock south entrance." He heard a slight buzzing sound as an electromagnet engaged and pulled back a two steel rods that kept the door at the bottom of the stairs locked. He pushed the door open and entered the space beneath his loft. Even though the space was technically part of his residence he had offered the space to Big Ed for storage. Painting supplies, fenders, welding rod, sheet metal, etc were neatly arranged on long rows of shelves.

Brad keyed a combination into a door at the end of one of the rows of shelves and pushed his way into a short hallway that held entrances to the body shop's restroom as well as Big Ed's office. Brad leaned on the doorway that entered Big Ed's office and saw his friend Big Ed sitting behind a well-worn metal desk that had probably been around since World War I. The chair was utilitarian and just barely up to the task of fighting off the considerable effects of gravity on the large man. Big Ed didn't really look fat as much as he looked well-packed. He had large tattooed forearms and thinning hair that was mostly grey. Big Ed's office was clean and organized, although there were a considerable number of folders neatly arranged on his desk.

"Good thing you showed up, the smell was getting to me. I still don't get it, why do you call me Rosie?" Before Brad could say anything, the phone rang. Big Ed grabbed it and started talking car shop business. Brad knew it was a very busy place, Big Ed ran a clean shop and had built a considerable business through word of mouth. Big Ed motioned toward a bag on his desk and Brad reached over and picked it up. The conversation wasn't ending quickly, so Big Ed put a hand over the receiver and said "Sorry, this is gonna take a while."

Brad smiled and waved with his free hand. The food smelled incredible and he wouldn't mind taking it back upstairs to eat. He turned around and retraced his steps through the back of the shop and up the stairs to his loft. He dropped the bag on one of the computer stations and turned back into the loft heading for the kitchen. "Rosie, list phone messages."

"10:04am Denver Police. 11:23am IPSO, Incorporated. There were also 5 hangups from the cell phone of Lieutenant Thomas Dunberry." Brad grabbed a cold bottle of soda from the refrigerator and headed back to the workstation where his burrito awaited. His curiosity was peaked by the phone calls. He was surprised that he had missed so many calls. He didn't like answering calls while he was at a client's site, but five hangups and two messages seemed like a lot for a short morning. "Rosie, play Denver Police call."

"10:04am Denver Police. Uh, hi Brad, Thomas Dunberry, its been a while since we talked last. Uh, its kinda important, could you give me a call?" Brad opened the sack and pulled out the white Styrofoam box that held his burrito. The Chile Verde sauce was out of this world and his mouth was salivating with anticipation. He wondered if he would get to finish it. He had only worked with Lt. Dunberry a couple of times and it had never proven to be boring.

"Rosie, call Lieutenant Dunberry cell phone." He opened the white Styrofoam box and let the remaining steam waft out. Geez, he loved a good burrito.

"Dunberry," came the sullen voice.

"Uh, hey there Lieutenant, its Brad Maunikey, I have a message to give you a call." It was odd. Brad was uncomfortable talking to Lt. Dunberry, always having that odd sense of guilt that is commonly associated when passing a patrol car even when going the speed limit. He heard that the pitch of his voice was higher than he would like.

"Great", Lt. Dunberry's voice seemed to cheer up slightly, "Hey, I know you are busy, but it is bad. Any chance I could get you to come down here?" Brad's eyes lit on the untouched burrito, a wry grin touched the corners of his mouth.

"Sure, what's up? Where do you need me to go?" Brad closed the white box, pushing it back in the sack. Lt. Dunberry gave him an address.

"Rosie, mute. Rosie, compute eta. Rosie, unmute."

Brad heard Dunberry on the line, "Mute what?"

"Sorry Lieutenant, I was talking to my assistant." It really bugged Brad that he had to prefix all of Rosie's commands with her name. He had initially tried to have the program figure out what commands were relevan,t but it was beyond what he could accomplish right now. It was confusing to the people he didn't speak with very often. His girlfriend, Sarah, on the other hand, had learned to tune out the "Rosie" commands. He was pretty sure that Big Ed understood but he could be pretty stubborn.

Rosie's voice came over the speakers next to the workstation, "with current traffic conditions it should take approximately fourteen minutes twenty three seconds, confirm load of directions to your GPS."

"Rosie, confirm. Ok, Lieutenant, I should be able to get there in fifteen or twenty."

"Great, just ask one of the patrol officers when you get here to come find me. Hey, call me Tom, would you?" Dunberry instructed.

Brad grabbed his soda and the burrito bag and headed back toward the front door. "Rosie, confirm GPS load. Open front door and open garage door."

Rosie repeated the directions as she understood them. Brad subconsciously heard her repeating them. These commands in particular were pretty straight forward and they were rarely messed up. He could repeat them if necessary. Walking past the table he grabbed his cell phone and instructed Rosie to direct voice communication to the cell provider once again.

As he reached the end of the alley next to Big Ed's shop, he hopped out and walked the burrito over to a table in the mechanics bay. He addressed a couple of the body repair mechanics who were near the front. "Hey fellas, lunch if you want it." Why did he always miss lunch?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Character List

Reading a story over a period of weeks if not months will probably lead to some confusion. So in an attempt to stave this off I will endevour to keep this list up to date with Major characters.

Brad Maunikey: our hero
Jack Carp: the original ass clown

Big Ed or Eduardo Gomez: Body shop owner, brad's friend.
Sarah Jerez: On again, off again girl friend of Brad
Jenny James: knock out beautiful, drop dead gorgeous receptionist for law firm.. (am I babbling?)
Dr. Jones: Jack Carp's boss, original developer of Triton-1, Triton-2 software
Rosie: you are not yet sure
Triton-2: a software program owned by IPSO that identifes fraudulent credit card transactions
Triton-3: the failed software program meant to replace Triton-2
Stan: RPG programmer on Triton-2 project
Dave: RPG programmer on Triton-2 project

Duck n Cover - Chapter 3

Duck n Cover

The phone rang with a single chirp and then rang again after a couple of seconds. Carp felt the sweat buildup on his palms. Cripes he hated having overactive sweat glands. Having just made it through his door, he had to reach across his desk to grab the receiver. "IPSO, Jack Carp." He was at a disadvantage as he hadn't yet made it around his desk and couldn't make out the caller id, which would let him know who was calling.

"Jack, could you come up to my office?" The caller hadn't identified himself, but the company was small enough that it was easy to recognize Dr. Jones' voice.

"Yup, be right up." Jack always tried to sound ready to go if not downright gung-ho while talking to the executives of IPSO. It had worked well for him so far, landing him this job. Well, that and his own keen intellect, he mused.

Standing at his door were a couple of the Triton-2 programmers looking expectantly at him. Spinning around the end of his desk he pulled up in front of them, "Come on in guys, I won't be more than a couple of minutes." He broke through a gap between them and hurried down the hall and towards the elevators.

Within earshot and not seeming to care, a middle aged programmer dressed in an ill fitting shirt and jeans quipped, "You hear that Stan? Jack is just gonna be a minute, we should just wait in his office." Sarcasm dripped from his voice.

"I dunno Dave, you really think?" Stan for his part, while considerably older than Dave had never mastered the art of recognizing sarcasm. Between the two of them they had been through thick and thin on the Triton-2 project and were about as close as two completely platonic men could be.

"No Stan, Jack is headed out for another meeting, he is double booked", Dave let the words sink in a minute and then added for effect, "again." Both men turned to head back to their offices, but then Dave turned back to Stan, "Lets grab a butt." It was one of Dave's favorite jokes, Stan would know that he was offering a smoke break, but saying it this way sounded just a little sleazy.

"Sounds good, I could use a break." Stan replied. The two made their way over to the elevator, Dave punched the down button.

"Say Stan, did you hear that Maunikey got canned?"

"What about Patrick, Adam and Gelding?" Stan asked, referring to the rest of Brad's team.

"Yeah, they were all contractors, so Jack nailed Maunikey right before lunch. He freaking actually walked him to his desk and then escorted him to the door. Right after that he shut off all their account access, walked to their cubes and asked them to leave."

"Seriously, right in front of everyone? What a bastard."

Just then the elevator door slid open and the two men sauntered onto the waiting car, looking forward to a good smoke. Turning back to to face Dave, Stan's face lit up, "I guess Triton-3 just isn't gonna make it to production." Both men considered this for a moment and neither could repress a smile and the warm, cheery feeling that they both now shared.

The elevator descended, a small ding for each floor they passed, he couldn't resist a final word, "Nope, I guess they will need us to keep Triton-2 running for a bit longer" This caused both mens smiles to broaden.

Getting off the elevator, the difference between the fourth and eighth floors was evident. Hardwood paneling gilded the foyer where the elevators opened and a stylish entryway led to a couple of receptionist's desks flanked by several executive offices. Jack, exited the elevator, headed towards Dr. Jones' office and pulled up short as Shirley held up her hand like a traffic cop. "Have a seat Jack, Dr. Jones just got a call." Irritated at this breach of protocol he huffed over to a comfortable grouping of chairs, sat on the edge of one of them and poked at his Blackberry. The irony of the situation completely escaped him. After a few minutes, Shirley looked up and said, "OK, looks like he is free, better get in while the gettins' good." Carp rolled his eyes mentally. Did she spend all night coming up with these witticisms or did she merely pull them from the Internet. Carp knew from looking at her usage logs that she spent a great deal of time in Internet chat, amazon, and various other sites, keeping herself amused while maintaining appearances for the IPSO executives.
"Have a seat Jack." Dr. Jones' was always a first class gentleman. Behind closed doors he could be quite a schmuck as he shredded people that he didn't like, mostly behind their backs. "So how did he take it?" Carp knew he was talking about Maunikey, but felt a little annoyed nonetheless.

"He was pissed, he called me an Ass Clown." Apparently Carp had heard Maunikey's parting shot.

"Geez Jack, I can't believe you let him get so far off of target on the project. You really need to watch your guys better. We spent a god-zillion on him and now we have to tell the board its a complete waste." Jones was starting to get wound up now.

"What? That's not fair, the project was on schedule and they just entered the testing phase. It's to be expected that they would have differences they needed to work through. I thought this was a budget thing." Carp didn't like where this was headed and wanted to make sure he set the record straight.

"Hmm, yeah, I am not sure you heard me Jack. It was your responsibility to keep him on track. Somehow he and his team got off and wasted a bunch of time and money. Since you are fairly new to the position I think I can let you off with a small slap on the wrist and a verbal warning." Jones let his words hang in the air, smiling and looking fatherly at his confused subordinate.

You could say a lot about Carp, but politics was something he caught pretty quickly. "Let me get this straight, just between us, someone up here decided that Triton-3 needed to be axed and I am gonna take the blame for it?"

"Well Jack, that sounds so awful when you say it that way. Look. For whatever reason, Triton-3 is a failed project. We don't have to go into all of the details. You are responsible for all our projects and so the blame rests right where it should. I mean, if you really want to push it you can, but I just don't think that would be good for you in the long run. I don't want to stir up any mud because then the blood suckers come out and feed. Let me help you out on this one. I think I can keep it from making a big stink." Dr Jones delivered his speech smoothly and without loosing his gentile, father knows best demeanor.

"This sucks." Carp complained.

"You probably want to be careful about what you say next there Jack." Dr. Jones' voice never wavered a bit.

"Uh, right, yeah, sorry about that. Look I will do better next time, sorry."

"I understand Jack, we all have slip-ups. Endeavor to do better next time. I think there is a real place for you at the table in the future. I'm glad we had a chance to have this talk." Carp left the office, tail neatly tucked between his legs. Somehow he knew he had just gotten screwed, but he couldn't figure out how and why. Something smelled rotten, but Jones had made it clear that it would all simply disappear. Well, good riddance to Maunikey and the rest of them. By the time he made it to the elevator he was already feeling better about things.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Home Base - Chapter 2

Home Base

Brad pulled out of the parking lot, not really sure what he was doing or where he might go. "Crap! What in the hell?" A fresh wave of confusion washed over him as he pulled out of the parking lot. Turning onto Washington Avenue, he instinctively headed towards downtown and home. IPSO was located in an office park nestled in the suburbs of Denver. This was convenient for most of the employees who avoided lengthy rush hours if they happened to live on this side of town. For Brad it was merely inconvenient, not that it mattered now. He enjoyed the reverse rush-hour of living downtown and working in the 'burbs about as much as he enjoyed visiting with his dentist. A straight-up commute to downtown Denver from the suburbs was misery, but Brad was hardly a suburb kinda guy. At age 30 he wasn't bad looking, just a shade under six foot and when he got around to it he went through fits of exercise, sometimes for weeks at a time. These fits typically fell victim to whatever cool new project he happened to be working on, but invariably started back up when things settled down. He hadn't been to the gym for nearly five months since he and the team had been really cranking on the Triton-3 project.

Jabbing an angry finger at the power button of the stereo, he turned it off. He needed to talk to someone. Sarah was at work, but was likely to talk to him. She was his on again off again girl friend of nearly ten years and a contracts lawyer for a small firm. Unlike Brad, Sarah was in great physical shape, though not in an obvious way. At 5'2" she wasn't particularly leggy and as an avid rock climber her body was more gorilla than princess. Sarah was driven, she had no problem putting in the 60+ hours of work that her job required, generally working that in the normal course of a five day week. Adding to that a healthy workout schedule and her weekend climbing, Sarah held just as much guilt regarding the nature of their relationship as did Brad. Addressing no one in particular, he said, "Rosie, call Sarah at work."

"Dialing 303 055 1922," responded a disembodied female voice from the speakers of his car.

"Babetz and Green. How may I help you?" intoned the pleasant, if uninterested voice of Jenny, the receptionist at Sarah's office.

"Hey, Jenny. Hey it's Brad. Hey, is Sarah available?" Geez, he thought, just how many times can I squeeze the word "Hey" into a conversation. Brad had never been comfortable around Jenny and always felt like an idiot when they spoke. Jenny met every law firm receptionist stereotype. She was blond, leggy and quite intimidating to the likes of Brad.

"Oh. Hi Brad. Let me check for you." Brad imagined Jenny on the intercom, dialing Sarah's office.

"Heya baby, looking for a nooner?" came Sarah's teasing voice over the car's speakers. Just for a moment Brad's sullen face cracked into a smile.

"Carp just walked me out at IPSO."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"They fired me Sarah, it was really weird. Carp called me into his office and said the project was being terminated and I was fired. He wouldn't even let me go back to my desk without an escort. I didn't get a chance to grab any of my stuff. He just walked me to my desk, asked me to check in my code and then walked me out the door. It was surreal, I felt like I was having an out of body experience."

"Holy Crap, Brad, that is crazy. Are you OK?" Sarah's voice was considerably softer than when they had started the conversation. "Where are you?"

"I am on Santa Fe, headed home."

"I am so sorry Brad, Want me to come over?" It wasn't an idle offer, Sarah's office was only about 10 minutes away.

"No, don't worry, are you still coming over tonight?" Just having someone to talk to seemed to make things better.

"Yeah, be there about 8, that OK? I will bring some Thai." Sarah's voice took on an apologetic tone. "I'm really sorry Brad, I need to run." She was working on making partner and generally didn't have much time during the day for anything personal.

"See you tonight." Brad paused for a couple of seconds, not wanting to hang up. "Thanks Sarah." This time he thumbed the power switch off using the rocker switch on the steering wheel.

Accelerating, Brad merged onto I-25 still heading North. "Rosie, order chile verde burrito from Duca's and have them delivered home. Use the Visa."

"Ordering one chile verde burrito from Duca's Mexican Restaurant at 121 Federal Boulevard, charging to Brad Maunikey's Visa account, and delivering to 230 North Federal Boulevard. Confirm please." intoned the same disembodied female voice that had earlier dialed Sarah's work phone.

"Confirm," Brad responded.

Turning off I-25, Brad made his way north on Federal Boulevard which was a very busy road running north/south through much of Denver. He slowed down in front of a rundown car repair shop. Instead of pulling into the drive, he overshot and pulled into the alley that ran next to it. "Rosie, open garage." Almost immediately, a door began to open in the building just behind the repair shop at the end of the alley. The bay he pulled into was large enough for a few cars, although there were currently no others. The floor was clean and the empty bay revealed a large metal staircase leading to the second floor. As the tail of the car cleared the entryway, the garage door started to descend.

Brad slid out of his Cayenne Pepper Red custom Honda Civic coupe. Any other day, he would stop and admire the custom wheels, custom body work, and more importantly a totally electric motor that produced nearly 300 horse power. The only downside was that its range was limited to a hundred miles per charge. This was no problem in town, but it wasn't much for trips. For that he had to rent something.
His head was still reeling from the bizarre morning and instead, he walked past the car and up the steps like an automaton. It wasn't really that uncommon to have a project canceled or even re-assigned once the hard work had been accomplished. Cirkus, Brad's consulting company, charged an arm and a leg for his time. Companies justified the expense when the project had a fresh budget. Once success was in sight, however, it was time to trim the fat. That was what he couldn't let go of. This project had just begun its first round of testing, and out of the blue the entire thing was shut down, citing total project failure. The IPSO project had been weird right from the start. If not for Paul Bently's request, he wouldn't have been involved at all.

He owed almost all his financial success to his good friend Paul. They weren't really hang-out buddies, although they did get together once in a while. They were more the "birds of a feather" type friends. Their friendship began when Paul, in a pinch, had entrusted a fairly pesky regulatory problem at one of his banks to Brad's capable hands. At the end of the project, Paul encouraged Brad to start up Cirkus, even providing some seed capital. On top of that, Paul called several wealthy friends and gave Brad his strongest recommendation. Together they owned Cirkus although Paul was mostly a silent partner unless Brad needed something.

Arriving at the top of the stairs, still mostly lost in thought, Brad stood in front of an oversized steel door with a small safety glass window centered at about five foot high and no visible handle. Directly to the right of the door, a small recess betrayed an industrial keypad and LCD screen. Instead of typing on the pad, Brad simply addressed the door. "Rosie, open front door please." The "please" was unnecessary, but it made Brad feel a bit more human. The door slid to the left, beginning before the words were completely out of his mouth, with just a bit of squeaking. Brad thought that he heard his oversized air compressor kick on in it's basement room, but wasn't sure.

Anatomy of an Ass Clown

Anatomy of an Ass Clown

Brad Maunikey had been summoned yet again to his boss's office. Bad enough that he had been banished to a floor where there were no other coders, but for some reason, his boss, Carp felt compelled to summon him regularly for conversations that could easily be accomplished via email. A little out of breath from the stairs, Brad poked his head into Carp's door and noticed that the office was empty.

"Yeah, right, summon me and take off. What an ass clown!" he offered to the empty office. Brad walked over and took a chair next to the windows in Carp's office. While Carp had some windows, it was still a crappy office. The furniture was that old particle board stuff whose edges were worn and chipped. The so-called guest chairs were old secretary chairs that should have been discarded and probably had been.

"Hey Brad, thanks for coming up." Jack Carp said as he walked through the door and swung his large frame around the edge of the desk.

"Sure. What's up Jack?" Brad returned.

At that moment, Carp's computer jangled indicating that he had an incoming text message. It was one of Carp's big things. Everyone on Carp's team was on an instant message system so he could get hold of you at any moment. "Hang on a sec, this is important." Carp turned his attention away from Brad as he started conversing with one of the other members of his team.

Brad worked for a company called IPSO as a software developer. While Brad loved writing code, this particular gig was fairly pathetic. He was only working at IPSO because one of his good friends, Paul Bently was a major shareholder in the company and had requested that he help out. Apparently Carp felt this was some sort of breach and was dead set on making Brad's life miserable. Well, it was working. If not for the request, he would have bailed on these clowns within a couple of months. As it was, he had stuck it out for an entire year and no amount of loyalty was worth this junk.

Carp finally looked up from his computer and turned his attention to Brad. Jack Carp was dressed in dark khakis and a poorly fitting, long sleeved polo shirt. Brad recognized this particular outfit as one of Carp's standard uniforms. Brad felt a little pity for Carp as he noticed the sweat stains building up under his arms. This guy had a serious sweat problem and when he felt pressure it got worse. This particular shirt must be his "go-to" when he expected a bad day, as there was evidence of previous bad days. Brad was almost mesmerized staring at the stains thinking that it was something like the rings of a tree.

"Alright Brad, so here's the thing. I am scrapping your project." Carp let his words hang in the air for a moment.

"Crap, Jack, you've got to be kidding. We're almost done! Have you seen the testing?" Brad could barely contain himself. He and his team had worked on this project for almost a year and they were nearly ready to start showing it to the product teams.

"Yeah, I've seen the testing. As you well know you are getting a lot of false positives. We just can't afford to keep spending money on a system that doesn't work." Jack Carp, whilefocused on Brad, was rubbing the palms of his hands on his khakis.

"You've got to be kidding me Jack. Why do you think they are false positives?" Brad's head was starting to spin. This was crap and he knew it, but what was Jack trying to do? Sure Jack was an ass-clown but until now he had simply been a joke, ineffective and pompous.

"Brad, we have verified with Triton-2 that your project is kicking out tons of bad data. Look, its over. I know it is hard to take, but let it go."

IPSO as a company provided software to credit card companies. The Triton-2 program was IPSO's flagship but venerable fraud detection system. The technology used to run Triton-2 was written in the late 80s and was ancient by software standards. Brad's project was to rewrite the current system using modern technology. Easy enough, just take the behemoth, figure out how it works and start slinging code. Triton-2 was considered to be the "best-of-breed" software in its class. This project was to simply update the technology, no creative work required. The company was so confident in the Triton-2 program that they called Brad's project Triton-3. Software companies as a rule aren't overly creative with their project names, but this was boring even by those standards."

Come on, we just got the results of the test back and haven't had a chance to figure out what the problems are. All we need is a couple of weeks with the data and we will know what is going on." Brad was annoyed at his pleading tone, but this hurt. He had never had a project yanked from him in the 11th hour. And never with thought that his project was poorly done. Doubt was starting to cloud his mind.

"It ain't gonna happen, this goes all the way up." Carp paused, as if he didn't want to continue. "Look, Brad, there's more. Once you check in your code, I am to escort you to the parking lot."

"Eff you Carp!" Brad was starting to lose it, his head was starting to throb. What had started out as a BS meeting had ended in slaughter. HIS slaughter.

"Cooperate and we won't have to get lawyers involved. We think there may be some irregularities on the project," Carp threatened.

Brad's head was really throbbing now, this was a fricking duck shoot and he was the duck. "You wouldn't, that's crazy!"

"Look Brad, make this easy, just check in your code. I will walk you out and you can say you quit."

It was hard to argue with him. He might be a clown but he was holding all of the cards. What a freaking surprise, this was a crap job anyway. Jack Carp accompanied Brad to his desk and watched over his shoulder as he checked in his remaining code. The good news was that since he was isolated from the other programmers, there was no one near his office that really had any idea what was happening. Brad wondered about the other members of his team. They weren't close friends or anything, but they also didn't deserve to be treated like this. In silence they walked to the door of the building where Brad handed over his security card and desk-key. Carp, in an unusual show of humanity, shoved his hand forward, offering it for a final shake. Looking at Carp's outstretched hand and up into his expectant face, Brad turned on his heel and stepped into the parking lot. Mostly to himself, but still audibly he simply said, "Ass Clown".

As he slipped into his car, Brad just shook his head trying to clear his thoughts, thinking, "that really was just a stupid effing job."

Ass Clown - A definition

1. Ass clown

ass clown (ás kloun) n.: one, who, through the fault of his parents conception, is a skid mark in society's collective underwear.

2. ass clown

One whose stupidity and/or ineptitude exceeds the descriptive potential of both the terms ass and clown in isolation, and in so doing demands to be referred to as the conjugate of the two.

This was taken from the Urban Dictionary: This the coolest dictionary.