Tim knew where he would find the bad code just a few minutes after he opened the tired old program in his debugger. He doesn’t hurry there, though. He lets the patchwork of code play across his eyes, a collage of all the programmers who ever worked on it. This program is a dinosaur, despite at least a half-dozen attempts to update it. A big bank’s trust accounts had depended on it for decades.
The bank had grown, shrunk, and grown again through a succession of mergers and reorganizations. The trust-management operation rambled on. The conversion from COBOL to Java left the program barely able to run. Now the bank is getting ready for another conversion project: to C#.
"Easy money," Tim's manager/agent/accountant Rudy Cho told him on the phone when he pitched Tim the assignment. "The project's funded and the clock is running, so they need the clean code by Monday a.m."
Tim hesitated, not because he didn't agree that the contract was easy money. He had other plans for the week.
"Fifty," Tim told Rudy over the phone.
"They quoted 25 for three days," Rudy answers. "That's already 40 percent above the standard rate."
"They'll pay 50," Tim says. "When they do, ftp the code to the server. I'll post the cleanup by 0:00 GMT Saturday."
"Wait, so, GMT, that's in England somewhere, right?"
"Five p.m. Friday, L.A. time," Tim clarifies.
"Great," says Rudy. "I'll take care of the contracts as per usual. Anything else I can do you for?"
"Maybe," says Tim. "Will you be on the clock this weekend?"
"For you, I'm on call 24/7. You know that."
Tim does know that. He's Rudy Cho's one and only client. They met in a high school computer club and took entry-level jobs at a small payroll-processing company right after graduation. Tim soon proved himself to be a programming prodigy, especially adept at debugging other coders' work. He picked up new languages like a bloodhound picks up a scent.
Rudy wasn't much of a programmer, but he was a natural-born schmoozer. In no time, Rudy was managing Tim's workgroup. Rudy was smart enough to recognize that Tim was a workgroup of one. After awhile, Tim's reputation as a debugger spread, and Rudy was fielding offers for his services from outside companies. By the time they were both in their mid-20s, Tim had gone solo, and Rudy managed his one-person operation.
Rudy is already looking forward to his $7500 share of the contract. "We're both going to have a good week, bruh," he tells Tim on the phone. "Fifteen K a day, and I bet you won't break a sweat."
"Okay," says Tim and hangs up.
Tim is halfway through his second pass through the code when he formulates his plan of attack. He shuts down the debugger and starts to think about the route for this night's walk when Mrs. Pellegrini knocks on his apartment door. Tim knows it's Mrs. Pellegrini by her knock: light and rapid-fire.
"My Facebook's broken," Mrs. Pellegrini says when Tim opens the door.
"Come in, Mrs. Pellegrini," Tim says and motions her into the apartment. She steps inside and stands just inside the door.
"I'm so sorry to trouble you," Mrs. Pellegrini says. "I know how busy you are."
"Not at all, ma'am," Tim replies. He moves to a PC across the room and activates the remote-control program on Mrs. Pellegrini's computer. The network icon indicates no connection. "Could you please go downstairs and flip the power switch at the back of the blue box?"
"Oh, darn," says Mrs. Pellegrini. "I forgot to check the blue box like you said."
"You can leave the box on, Mrs. Pellegrini."
"But the light is so bright in the dark," she replies. "And the electric."
Tim cuts a small piece of black electric tape from the roll he keeps in his desk drawer. He hands it to Mrs. Pellegrini. "Put this over the light. Don't worry about the electric."
"You're an angel," Mrs. Pellegrini says as she takes the piece of tape from him. "Come for tea tomorrow. I'll get your favorite cookies."
"Maybe Saturday," Tim says as he sees Mrs. Pellegrini out and closes the door.
Tim considers reconfiguring the apartment-house network. That's the task he asked Rudy to be prepared for. It's about time for a new series of IP addresses.
Tim's two-person corporation was a registered Internet service provider whose only customer was 2402 Steiner St.
Mrs. Pellegrini was on her own subnet, along with most of the other 10 units in the apartment. All of Tim's network traffic traveled through several proxy servers, except the VPN connection from Mrs. Pellegrini's subnet to the San Francisco Police Department network. Mrs. Pellegrini's deceased husband worked for the SFPD for 25 years. The last several of those years, following an on-the-job injury, Mr. Pellegrini worked from home -- just long enough to qualify for a full pension.
Tim had lived in the building for nearly 10 years, soon after he went solo. Mr. Pellegrini recruited Tim to troubleshoot his network link so often that Tim installed remote-control software on the Pellegrini computer. This gave him access to it from his apartment. Soon he was helping Mr. Pellegrini with the work itself, which entailed checking the accuracy of records converted from paper to digital.
Tim was able to finish the record proofs so quickly he had time to rummage around the SFPD network. He found Detective Blisflix's 10-most-dangerous list in an old backup of the detective's hard drive. He realized that he was in a unique position to help remove errors from the human genome, just as he excised the bugs in the programs he cleaned.
What put him in that unique position was in the apartment building's sub-basement. As far as Tim knew, since Mr. Pellegrini died last year, he and Mrs. Pellegrini were the only two people who knew about the unique facility. In the sub-basement was a home-made gun range, complete with sound proofing and thousands of pounds of sandbags.
In a large triple-locked cabinet in the sub-basement was an arsenal of weapons Mr. Pellegrini had taken from the citizens he encountered while on the beat. When Mr. Pellegrini first disclosed the hidden chamber to Tim, the total count was 27 handguns, 2 shotguns, and 1 semi-automatic rifle. All were in perfect working order, and all had a store of ammunition.
Mr. Pellegrini insisted that Tim learn how to shoot and maintain all the weapons. He explained that he knew he would pass before his wife, and he was counting on Tim to keep her safe when "all hell breaks loose," which Mr. Pellegrini was sure would happen soon.
Two years since Mr. Pellegrini's fatal heart attack, no riots threatened their Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. But as he read the rap sheets of the 10 people on the Blisflix list, Tim knew why he was the nexus between Mr. Pellegrini's confiscated armory and Detective Blisflix's wish-they-were-gone list.
It needed to get done, and Tim was the only person on the planet who could do it right.
Tim takes his wide-brimmed hat off the peg by the door and sets off for his nightly walk. With the first step, the words start to stream.
...lapidary farmulation, livin' luxe on reprobation. "Porous a cuppa, willya, wouldya, won'tcha?" Antipodiatrickleberry hounded, run agrounded, lashed and flounded, braised and browneded. 'Onerous a pome, where debabbulous roan. Andy dear, won't you let the Pole pay? We're never assured, 'til we scorch the last bird. Undersize Ornette Coleman's tokay.' Koan, koan in the rain, wordier than an antipode Dane....
Part 7: Charlie
Part 1: Tim
Part 2: Three's a Problem
Part 3: Ninth Avenue
Part 4: Peru Avenue
Part 5: Toast
Part 6: Mrs. Pellegrini
Part 7: Charlie
Part 8: 2D
Part 9: Smith
Part 10: Cece
Part 11: Quarter Moon
Part 12: Interview
Part 13: Mieke
Part 14: 2D Ex
Part 15: Logs
Part 16: Steiner
Part 17: Number Five
Part 18: Cold
Part 19: Intern
Part 20: Coffee
Part 21: Sloth
Part 22: Tennessee Street
Part 23: Error-correcting Code
Part 24: Villa Lobos
Part 25: Entrance
Part 26: Cloak
Part 27: Meeting
Part 28: Fog
Part 29: Bootle
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