A Private Eye Gets Her Feet Wet

by Gina Marie Wylie

Tags: Historical,

Desc: Mystery Story: Our intrepid private investigator does some investigating in and out of the office.

Rico Hernandez stood by the refrigerator door as his sister Lydia was finishing up the last of their lunch bags.

She glanced at her brother and grinned. "Are you ready for school today?"

"No big. Quiz today in algebra. The coach had everyone in after practice yesterday for a review."

Lydia nodded. "He is a good man."

"And a good coach; I'll be okay. An A for sure." He waved at the four lunch bags on the counter. "I wish..."

Lydia could only shrug. "I know, it sounds crazy. It is crazy," she told her brother. "I can't explain it, Rico. When I found the bad men at Valley Electric ... The way I felt..." Her voice trailed off into silence, words not truly being able to describe what she'd felt.

Rico grinned, a mirror of her own. "You should get a boyfriend, Lydia! Then maybe you could explain it!"

She laughed. "No, nothing like that." He raised an eyebrow and she stuck her tongue out at him. "It was my thinking against theirs, Rico. Like a chess match, only for a lot higher stakes."

"You could get hurt."

"I can get hurt in lots of ways, Rico. Who is sitting on the bench for the rest of the season with a green stick broken arm? Eh?"

"One job was a surprise, Lydia. But another?"

"This one will be even less real than the one before. I'll be a detective working for an insurance company, undercover at their client. Three checks! I'll be able to retire soon!

"Seriously, Rico, all I have to do is write a report and keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth closed. I did it before; it worked out just fine."

Well it had ... for Lydia. For Valley Electric Supply, a relatively small wholesaler of electrical parts, it had been a much bigger deal. She'd been asked by her best friend's boyfriend to investigate the accounts payable clerk at the company, because the man was driving a new Corvette, living in a new condo and sporting a lot of gold jewelry. It had taken her a while to figure out what he was doing, but she did in the end. The problem was, while she was at it, she'd also caught a store manager selling stuff out the back door and pocketing the money.

The married store manager and his lover -- a woman inventory clerk who was married to someone else -- had been easily caught. Jeff King, the accounts payable clerk was another matter. For one thing, he'd stolen more than a hundred thousand dollars, not a few thousand. Second, because no one saw him actually do anything illegal, he was still sitting at a desk at Valley Electric. Of course, now he was a file clerk, not the A/P clerk and was making considerably less, but it still rankled with her that he was out and about.

Rico laughed at her. "Guys daydream about pretty girls we've met. My sister dreams of arresting bad guys."

She shook her head. "Rico, I can't arrest anyone. All I can do is gather evidence and give it to the police."

"Yeah, there's that giving to the police, too."

Just then her two younger sisters trooped into the kitchen, wanting to know what was for breakfast. Elizabeth was twelve, willowy thin like her older sister, and if anything, a shade darker-skinned. She went straight to the cabinet with the breakfast cereal and poured a bowl for herself. Juanita, her ten-year-old sister, put in two slices of toast and starting slicing up an apple.

Momma, Lydia thought, would have had hysterics to see one of her "babies" using a knife. Well, Momma and Poppa were in heaven now and Lydia wasn't her mother. She'd shown Nita how to do it safely, when Nita stubbornly refused to let her older sister do it for her.

Juanita might be the youngest of their family, but she was also, beyond a doubt, the stubbornest.

Diego came in and dug around in the fridge coming up with two eggs. In a second he had them broken, and he was stirring them in a small frying pan, making his version of an omelet.

Diego was sixteen and because of the dislocations of her parents' deaths in the same car accident, had been denied a chance to learn to drive. She'd been making time on the weekends to teach him and this Friday she'd get off early and they would go to the Motor Vehicle Department and see if he could pass his driver's test.

The death of their parents had hurt them all terribly, but all in different ways. Diego had been talking for a year about how eager he was to get his driver's license. He was, he said, going to work on the weekends at a burger place and save up enough money for his own car.

Well, thanks to the monumental sum her father had insured himself and their mother for, none of them were ever going to need to work for a long time. And now Diego was tentative and unsure behind the wheel, not quite terrified by the other cars and trucks on the road, but he was certainly more aware than most kids his age of what could happen if things went wrong. Lydia was going to spend a lot of time in prayer between now and Friday afternoon, hoping to get her brother through the test, one way or another.

Finally they all went out and got into the van she drove these days. Juanita went to an elementary school, Elizabeth to a middle school and the two boys to the high school. Like her mother, Lydia made sure none of them forgot their lunch bags.

After Nita, the last of them to get out, Lydia watched her go into the school building. Then, with a sigh, she put the van into motion and headed for Valley Electric, for her last day.

Saying her goodbyes at Valley Electric was a lot harder for Lydia than when she'd left the university. The people at Valley seemed genuinely sad to see her leave. At college it had been far more perfunctory. Tom was the hardest goodbye to make.

"I'll not pretend that I'm happy to see you go," Tom said, as they munched Mexican food at his favorite restaurant. "The worst thing about this is that I really need a second programmer and I have major doubts that I'm going to find one anywhere nearly as good as you."

Lydia made some sort of socially acceptable noise and he looked at her across the table and grinned. "On the other hand, you've given me a great boost at work. Downside, though, is that both Jed and Jason are convinced that they have to redouble computer security." He made a face. "I can't keep the door to the computer room unlocked any more. That's going to be a real pain."

The diminutive Chicana nodded; that would be a pain. Carrying an armload of reports was hard enough; going through the door with them was going to be more than hard. But, she'd been waiting to surprise Tom and now was as good a time as any.

"About my replacement, I'd like to make a recommendation." He looked at her curiously.

There was silence for a moment, then he gestured impatiently, so she went on. "Do you know Doreen McWilliams, in Credit?"

"About your height, a little heavy? Quiet?"

Doreen was a good hundred pounds heavier than Lydia; she wanted to throttle her former boss, even if she knew he was pulling her leg. She could see the grin on his face.

Lydia very carefully said, "That's the one. She likes to be called Mac." Lydia tried to sound as disinterested as she could muster.

Tom nodded again. "She wanted that for her password; I told her no way."

"She has an Apple II at home. She's in her second year of computer science at Phoenix College." That was a local junior college. "She wants to be a programmer."

Tom laughed. "Right under my nose again, eh? You really do like to rub it in!"

Lydia was nonplussed when she realized what he'd said. That had hurt!

"Tom, she's very shy. She's just like she looks: a pudgy, timid, shy mouse. Except she spends almost as much time a week on a computer as you or I. I've been talking to her the last few weeks -- she knew I took C in college. It's her language of choice, but she doesn't have a firm grip on pointer arithmetic yet. I explained it to her and now she seems to understand."

Tom was silent. "I'll have to talk to her supervisor, but, yeah, there won't be a problem. If she's anything like you, I'll take her in a second." He paused, his memory obviously working. "Jeez, she's been with Valley since high school! She was a summer intern; everybody liked her and wanted her to stay. This is her third year with the company. Thanks, Lydia."

He chomped a few chips, after liberally dosing them with the extra spicy hot salsa they always brought to the table as soon as they saw Tom coming. "What about you, what are you going to do now? Go back and finish your degree?"

Both Reed and Denny had been emphatic about the need not to talk about what they were going to be doing, at least at first. Her common sense told her they were right ... but other things were right, too. "I'm going to follow the yellow brick road," she told him. She'd lied enough to the man already!

He looked at her steadily. "You're crazy, Lydia." A grin crooked at the corners of his mouth. "Of course, if I was your age, I'd think it a great idea, too. Watch yourself!"

After lunch there was a steady stream of people through the computer room, but not Jeff King -- the word had finally percolated down to him about who'd blown the whistle on him.

Sancho from the warehouse was one of the last. "Lydia, I am really pleased you are going back to school."

She was curious, because he sounded so serious. "People like you, you're going to make things a lot better for people like me and my family."

"All I'm doing is what anyone else would," Lydia told him.

"Yeah, but you're doing it in the big leagues! Look, I know you are pretty tight with Mr. Wilson and Mr. Fong, I was wondering ... My sister, she speaks English real good and she needs a job. Could you, would you say something for her?"

"Sancho, what she needs to do is come in and fill out an application. If you want me to give her a reference, I need to talk to her. But Sancho, if you tell Jason that she's your sister, they really will consider her. These are good people, here. Maybe you don't think so, but they value you as an employee. They know you and would take your recommendation."

He nodded doubtfully, but thanked her profusely again, before he left.

Lydia drove to Denny's house and parked the van; Denny was waiting for her at the door. "Ready to be briefed?" he asked cheerfully. She nodded.

"Want some coffee or tea?" he asked her.

She nodded gratefully. "Iced tea, please."

"It's early November; only in Arizona does a glass of iced tea sound good in November." He laughed easily. A moment later they each had a glass of good sun tea.

He changed to serious. "The first rule of undercover work is tell no one what you're doing, unless you absolutely have to. I've seen unbelievable coincidences ... like an undercover narc showing up at his daughter's school play, to find out that a sister of one his targets had a daughter in the same school and in the same play. Some of the drug dealers are loose cannons. That one ran away, but he could have just as easily opened fire in the crowded auditorium.

Lydia nodded. "I've already told my brothers and sisters that I am working on private things and that they must never tell anyone anything, however unimportant. The boys," Lydia said drolly, "are excited beyond measure that their sister is working as a private detective."

Denny laughed. "Well, wait until you find out how dull it is! You spend weeks and weeks doing nothing; then half the time you don't make the case. Even when you do, the other side is trying to score too -- trying to beat the rap. We won't win them all; it's not like TV or the movies." He sighed.

"Reed and I have gone over this a couple of times." He explained how the bonds were inventoried, packed into a case, given to a courier and how they were unpacked and checked. "The obvious weak spot is the courier, except that the couriers are always different and from a firm where I would wager none of their people are crooked before I'd bet that all of them are. There have been four thefts, each for upwards of a hundred thousand dollars on the bottom end, to nearly half a million on the top end. Private security, not us, is now escorting the couriers. But that hasn't prevented the last two thefts."

"Sounds like a locked room mystery," she told her partner.

He looked at her and shrugged. "Lydia, I can't warn you enough -- this isn't like on TV or in books. Nothing at all like it."

"I can't argue with you based on experience. It's just my own personal feelings. Those feelings are telling me that someone is getting as much pleasure from stumping the cops as from the thefts themselves."

He wagged his finger in her face, or at least tried to. He was three inches off, to the left. "Woman, think! Someone is stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars! They beat someone up; they scared a woman speechless! Does that sound like someone getting their rocks off messing with the cops?" His expression suddenly altered. "Sorry about that."

Lydia looked at him a little mystified. "Sorry about what?"

"Saying ... well, what I said."

She laughed. "Denny, my father was first a laborer, then a foreman working for the city. He and his friends would get together on Friday nights for poker. I've heard that before; that and a lot worse. A lot worse. I am not going to faint if I hear you cuss. I will not be the least offended if you make metaphorical allusions to masculine pastimes. I don't cuss and I don't make metaphorical allusions. At least not to a peanut-brained fascist Neanderthal with a badge and a gun."

Denny peered myopically around. "Nobody around here like that! My brain is at least twice the size of a walnut! It's true I do have trouble with skinned knuckles from dragging them on the ground." He sighed. "And they took the badge and gun back." Lydia felt guilty when he said that. "Still I think it incumbent upon a gentleman such as myself to speak a little less metaphorically around a lady."

"Back to the locked room," Lydia said, impatient to move ahead. "Seriously, I think someone is getting their jollies as much from stumping the police as robbing the money."

Denny snorted and changed the subject.

"Rules of evidence," he said firmly. "Get some notebooks, steno pads are the best, wire or bound in some way. Not loose leaf. Whenever you talk to someone, take notes of everything the subject tells you. On a stakeout, keep notes about whatever it is that happens, anything at all. Put the date and time on everything you do. Undercover, as soon as you can, write down what you remember. Date and time for everything for that as well.

"If yesterday you talked to John Doe and he said something you remembered only today, make a note with today's date, referring to the earlier entry. Never go back and change something, add or delete. If you have a thought at a later time, put it in at the later time, and refer to the original. That's why spiral rather than loose leaf. You maintain the sequence."

He grinned. "It's part of the rules of evidence. If you have dated notes, if they are consistent, and if they can see you follow the rules, it's a lot easier to get your notes accepted into evidence. Yes, you can testify from memory in court cases, but you'll notice all of the sharp characters do it from notes. There's a reason for that.

"And when you are testifying, never be afraid to say, 'I'm not sure of the exact circumstance, let me refer to my notes.' Thorough police work is what puts perps behind bars. Every least thing helps. Anything can be the one fact that unravels the entire tapestry."

He finished his tea and looked at his watch. "It's a little before one. A friend of mine manages a bookstore, and he has a backroom where his employees take their breaks. We have it for an hour, at two. We'll meet with James Ware, the insurance company's head investigator. He'll go over things with us. At four, you have an interview with Harold Pinter, the head of data processing at the bond firm.

"I had your friend Jason Fong do a new version of your resume, and it's in Pinter's hands. I'll give you a copy, but I believe you're familiar with the contents already."

Lydia stuck her tongue out at him and he smiled. "Mr. Pinter is looking for an outside consultant about data center security. I can't say this too strongly: there's about zero chance anyone on the DP side is involved. None of them get within a country mile of real bonds. However their auditors and the SEC are screaming bloody murder about data center security.

"Both of your friends have agreed to give you a glowing recommendation about data center security. You are not, under any circumstances, to go anywhere else at the bond firm, except between the data center and the parking lot. There's a cafeteria in the building on the fifth floor. It's garden style. Go at ten, one and three. Two snacks and lunch. Sit by yourself. If someone wants to talk to you, discourage them. I've found that the best way to do that is to either be reading Atlas Shrugged, War and Peace or the Bible. Reading discourages ninety percent of the people who might want to talk to you, and each of those titles puts off ninety percent of the rest."

"You think of everything," Lydia told him.

"Lydia, the name of the game is staying safe. Ask only questions of people in the data center, and then only about security procedures inside. You pay no attention at all to anyone outside, do you understand?"

"You want me to just listen to other people, and use my eyes?"

"Just that. When you get ready to leave at night, I'll give you a number to call. That's my pager. The phone beeps and buzzes and then hangs up. You on the other hand say 'Hi, it's Lydia, I'm on my way home now, Rico.' And you get up and leave. I'll be lurking around the parking elevator and make sure you get to your car safely. The same thing in the morning. You call me a few minutes before you're going to leave, and I'll be there, lurking when you get in. The company will give you an assigned parking spot."

"And how are you going to get there, Denny?" Lydia asked, concerned. "You see double."

"I ride the bus."

Lydia laughed. "So, no overtime and no weekends! I like that!"

"There's a bond issue coming up about that. Maybe in a year or two, it'll be better," he told her. "Let's get going; we'll meet with Jim Ware. Myself, Reed and Jim Ware will be the only three people in the world who know what you're doing. Even your friends at Valley Electric think you're a computer sleuth again."

James Ware sat uncomfortably in the overstuffed chair, obviously not comfortable, leaning back, and not sitting up straight. Lydia had taken one look at the boostore's break room and had opted for a folding metal chair at one of the card tables. Denny sat on the arm of another chair.

After the introductions, Mr. Ware was brisk. "This is kind of a scouting mission," he told Lydia. "Simple to do, really. Denny swears you're a cracker-jack computer analyst."

"Yes, sir."

"Good, good! My company, together with Touche Ross, their auditors, and the SEC have recommended that they tighten security in their data center. We don't think there is a problem there, you understand, but as you found out on your last assignment, that it's easy to be surprised. We don't like expensive surprises and we already have a major one. We can't afford another. Do your best there, and we might have more work for you in that line, and the pay will be a lot more than Denny and Reed pay you."

"That's for later," Lydia said patiently. "Right now, I'll concentrate on the job at hand."

"Good! That's the thing! Denny has explained to you, right, that you aren't James Bond? You aren't to go around asking everyone in the company uncomfortable questions about the way they play bridge or how they golf, right?"

"No, sir. I don't play golf. I have four younger brothers and sisters that I'm responsible for. Rest assured, I'm going to be careful. If Denny's going to be riding the bus every day, he needs to worry about that, because the Phoenix bus system is terrible; I know, because I used it for years."

Mr. Ware leaned forward. "You're from Phoenix? What high school?"

"Phoenix Union."

"Ah! I went to Central! Class of Sixty-four."

"A little before my time, sir. Class of Seventy-five."

"Do you keep up with any of them? Do any of them know what you are doing?"

"One person knows I'm no longer going to ASU, and that have switched to computer business applications. If you're worried about my meeting someone, I know, I've already thought of that ... because that could be a problem."

"What do you mean?" He blinked like an owl.

"My parents were killed in a car accident nearly eight months ago. My father was a city employee and took advantage of a subsidized life insurance plan. Quite a few people know that I, and my brothers and sisters, inherited enough not to have to work."

"Oh, my!" He was obviously distressed.

"Don't be concerned, though," Denny interjected. "Lydia bores easily."

"Very easily," Lydia agreed. "And of course, who's not going to believe me when I say that there is no such thing as too much money?"

"Ah! It's good you've thought about this!"

"Jim," Denny told the insurance man, "like I told you, this isn't the first time Lydia has done this. You heard about that."

"No recovery, to speak of, in either case," Jim Ware said with a sniff.

"But the perps went to jail in one case, and in the other, reduced to file clerk. I expect he'll quit any day now."

That had been the consensus at Valley; Lydia had to agree.

Howard Pinter was short, obese and smelled faintly of onions. He seemed like an intelligent man, though, and Lydia listened closely as he described what they were looking for. "The insurance firm has asked us to do a security review for the Information Systems department. Touche Ross, who were our auditors, have given us nothing but solid 'excellent' ratings for the last three years, so I don't expect any problems.

"They have asked that I not tell anyone else why you're there," he went. "So, they think you're an analyst from our new auditors, Price Waterhouse." He looked at her.

"There's a growing trend in the auditing business to have a department of business and IS consultants as well. Personally I think it's a very bad trend and when our auditors came up with pages of recommendations and suggested using their business services consultants, our company president flew into a rage and fired them on the spot. We usually change auditors every five years, anyway, this was just a little early."

He smiled at her. "So, walk around, ask a few questions, if you need to, although it would be better to ask them of me."

"I don't see any problems."

"A week, you think?" he asked.

"That should be more than enough time." It had, after all taken seven weeks the first time and this time she wasn't looking for anything specific.

"Well, tomorrow morning then, eight AM, in my office. I'll take you around, show you what we've got and let you get to it."

"That sounds fine, sir."

They shook hands, and Lydia rode the elevator down to the fifth floor. She walked into the little cafe that was virtually empty at four thirty in the evening. There was a man even shorter than she was standing behind the cash register. "Could I get an iced tea to go?" she asked.

"Sure, miss. Fifty cents."

She put the change down while he filled a paper cup with tea and put a lid on it. He rang it up and then handed her a wrapped straw.

"Thanks! Now I'm good to go into traffic," she told him.

He smiled and she walked to the parking lot and got in the van, and drove out of the parking garage, having to pay a couple of dollars to get out. "First note in the notebook," she said into the seeming empty air of the van. "Make sure to get my parking validated."

She stopped at a traffic light a half mile away and Denny sat up in the back seat. She handed him the tea and he drank it hastily. "Thanks, Lydia!"

"No problem. Now what?"

"A favor, if I might."

"Sure, whatever you need."

"Reed will come pick me up around six or seven. Would you mind if I mooched dinner off you?"

"Sure! No problem. Any time you want, it's okay. It must be pretty hard trying to cook for one."

"Not since they invented macaroni and cheese," he said lightly. "I do try to avoid TV dinners."

"Me too."

She was privately glad she didn't have to drive out to the neighborhood that Denny lived in. It wasn't quite as bad as her old neighborhood, but it was headed there.

Everyone was home when she got there. She introduced Denny to her two brothers who were monosyllabic and almost overtly hostile.

Elizabeth was eager to get back to practicing with her clarinet; only Juanita was more than minimally polite.

It was, Lydia thought, odd. Juanita was terribly shy, but she looked at the big man and asked if he was really a policeman.

"No, but I used to be one. Then I got hit on the head and now they say I can't do it. Whenever I get a little tired, I start seeing double."

Nita craned her head to one side, looking at him soberly. "Does it hurt? Your head?"

"Sometimes. Mostly the double vision is a nuisance. I have to drink with a straw or I slop everything down my front."

Nita stopped talking then, looking concerned.

"I'm fine, really. It's getting better. Slowly, but it's getting better." He grinned at her. "I have two daughters, they're both grown up now, but about now they'd have been doing homework."

Nita met his eye. "They don't give very much homework. Sometimes Lydia thinks I'm fibbing when I say I don't have any, but it's true. My teacher says we should use our time at home how we want, not how she wants."

Lydia met Denny's eyes over her sister's head. Both of them had looks of disgust on their faces.

Nita wasn't stupid. "Lydia asks me to do special little things for her. So I do. I read extra books and write reports on them for her. She's a lot tougher than my teacher."

"You are lucky to have such a fine sister," Denny told her. "Education is the key to anyone's future. Once upon a time, when I was young, the city let anyone with a high school diploma join the police department. Now they want you to have two years of college. There's talk of requiring a college degree."

Nita nodded soberly. "I should go read my book."

"Yes, you should," Lydia agreed with her.

She was gone then and Denny grinned at her. "Good kids."

"I think so," Lydia told him. "I just wish their two older sisters were as good. As for Rodrigo -- I don't know about him at all."

"One day at a time, Lydia, do the best you can. Be there for them, like you've been. That was my big downfall as a parent. I was never there. My wife died and I didn't know how to raise two girls. I had to have a neighbor explain her first period to my oldest. It was humiliating for her. But it's just not something I knew about..."

"Denny, no offense, no woman on the planet is very comfortable talking about that subject. A little, with each other, but not even then, a lot of us. They're happy, right?"

"Now they are. Happily married, happy with their families. Both of them are stay-at-home moms."

"That's the best -- but nothing's perfect."

"I guess."

The next morning Lydia beeped Denny and headed to the bond company. Mr. Pinter met her and led her around to meet people and see their equipment.

This time the computer was a big IBM mainframe that occupied a huge amount of space, with loads of tape drives, disk drives, processing units and all sort of other paraphernalia.

Lydia made a few notes as the morning progressed. First, it was deja vu all over again, when Mr. Pinter just opened the door to computer room, even though, like at Valley, there was an electronic combination lock right next to it.

There was a storeroom where the checks and other important forms were kept; at least it was locked. However, she couldn't help seeing that Mr. Pinter pushed the keys 1-2-3-4 in sequence.

She listened to their system administrator talk, and she only asked one question of him. "Do you know all of the passwords?"

He shook his head. "My deputy does that bit of housekeeping. I have the security officer password of course, and when someone forgets theirs, as happens occasionally, I have the ability to look it up for them."

Lydia nodded.

A few minutes later she was handed off to the programming manager who explained their procedures to her. "We're a busy shop, and our software base is something we bought about ten years ago and have been nursing along for the last couple of years. We've done a lot of custom work as well," the manager told her.

"What do you use for source control?"

He blushed; it looked very odd, Lydia thought.

"We had a problem last year with a program that broke a different way every other day. We finally found out that two different people were working on it. One had broken part of it and didn't know it. His other change wasn't working, either. Whenever he'd turn over his code, it would break again. Another programmer would go in and fix it, then the next day it would break again."

He met Lydia's eyes. "We let the one programmer go, finally. Now we have a 'checked out' list of programs that we maintain. When you start working on something, you add the program name to the list and when you're finished, you move it to the 'just finished list.' That seems to work."

"You assign maintenance and development tasks?"

He shrugged. "Sometimes. We have some senior programmers who've been here for years. The users know who to go to if there's a problem in order to get it fixed. I get a note from the programmer telling me what they're working on. We have a weekly staff meeting of all the programmers and we go over everything everyone is working on."

Lydia nodded and then the programming manager walked her around the various workstations of the programmers. The last thing she did before lunch was turn to the programming manager. "Do you have a list of critical application programs? Check printing, anything that affects the core business?"

He thought for a second. "No, nothing explicit. I've worked here for twenty years; I pretty much know what they are. I could gen up a list for you, if you'd like."

"Sure, if you don't mind. Not right away."

"Tomorrow morning?" he asked.

"That would be fine," Lydia assured him.

"Has someone shown you the break room, the cafeteria?" he asked after that.

"I stopped in the cafeteria yesterday after talking to Mr. Pinter. He showed me the break room first thing. And the bathrooms."

The programming manager reminded her a little of Tom Leech, but at the same time, he was older and far more set in his ways. "Well, get some lunch and afterwards see me, and I'll introduce you to Kevin Ramos, the System Administrator."

"I met him earlier," Lydia reminded him.

"Oh, yes! Sorry! But this time he'll get you set up with a password and show you a workstation you can work at. He'll also talk to you about our ongoing issues with IBM."

"You have issues with IBM?" she asked.

"With a system this large, you have issues with IBM," he said flatly. "It goes with the territory. But Kevin will go over those with you."

Lydia went down to the cafe and the small man was standing at the register again. However, this time two older women were ahead of him, dispensing prepared sandwiches, bowls of soup and bags of chips. There was a drink dispenser as well, that Lydia didn't remember from yesterday. She got what she wanted and presented herself at the register.

He smiled at her. "Del Maria," he said, offering her his hand.

She shook it. "Lydia Hernandez."

"I used to be a jockey. I bet you're a little surprised you finally met someone shorter than you."

"I don't meet many, at least, not since about fifth grade."

He wasn't offended, and he chuckled at that. "My mother thought I was the greatest baby in the world. Tiny when I was born, barely five pounds. I stayed small and as she was fond of saying, 'very portable' until I was a teenager and put on my big growth spurt. I grew two inches in two years."

"You were a jockey?"

"Yeah, right up until a horse decided that he didn't care what I weighed, he was going to ride me, instead of the other way around. He rolled over me and I was a new man after that. A new shoulder, a new knee, and pins and screws in my legs and arms."


"Hey, now I'm on permanent disability! I've got this cush job and none of the stress of racing. If you're leading, you have to worry about the horses behind you. If you're trailing, you have to worry about the wrath of the owner and trainer. Now, if there's a problem here, it's just a new sandwich or another bowl of soup. People in Arizona are a lot more easy-going than they ever were in Brooklyn."

"I like to think we are," Lydia told him. "I'm a native!"

"Ah! A rare gem!" Then someone else was there ready to pay and Lydia went and sat down.

She quickly filled a couple of pages of notes while she munched a tuna-fish sandwich and nibbled some pretty decent potato salad. And it was inexpensive, too!

After lunch she spent some more time with the system administrator. He talked about IBM and their erratic support, mostly. "There are two kinds of account representatives we have, the 'system engineer' who is their account representative and the 'customer engineer' who is the repair tech. Our repair guy is a disaster; he complained to his bosses when we made that the CE password." He laughed.

"Once he reminded me of my teenaged son. He took apart a disk drive, left bits and pieces all over the computer room floor. Then he got another call from a higher priority customer. That's what he told me to my face. A higher priority customer. Like the equipment in this room isn't worth nearly six million dollars? That without that drive we were only a hop, skip and jump from being dead in the water ... Like I said, the man's a fucking disaster."

Lydia nodded. "We had one at Valley Electric that has us down for two hours one day to chase whether or not a squeaky bearing was in the floppy drive or a fan motor in the CPU cage. Turned out it was a low battery warning from the room's smoke detector."

The system administrator guffawed. "Must be the same guy!"

"Could be!"

She got a password and he let her sit at the workstation they'd assigned her in the computer room. She shook her head in dismay. Was it always like this? She had no idea if it was. She had seven weeks experience now on IBM computers, and not even this machine in particular. How was it she could see clearly so many things they were doing wrong?

In a way, it was a little frightening.

She wished she could use another computer than theirs to write her first day's report on. She was acutely aware of what Tom Leach had said once, "One of my jobs, as I see it, is to know everything that's going on in the computer." If she had a security expert in, would she look over their shoulder? She sniggered. Yes!

While she was at it, she found she could rename source files. She signed off, used the "DISASTER" password and was rewarded with "Customer Engineer Limited to System Console" error message. As a lark, remembering what Tom had said once about the banality of IBM, that they shipped their computers with preloaded passwords for the major functions and they were simple and half the IBM systems in the world had never changed them, she tried the two big ones.

So, she typed "SE" and sure enough, got the system engineer menu, which was a security officer level password. She went in, quickly found the names of the two men with security officer authority, wrote down their user names and passwords, plus those of some of the senior officers of the company.

And yes, "SECOFR" was still the default username and password for the IBM security officer as well.

Still, there was nothing for it. She finished her report, saved it in the production load object library, which she had authorized herself access to, and then printed four copies to a small dot matrix printer. She signed on as the security officer and changed the security level of the file used by the programmers to list what was being worked on at the moment and then went looking for Mr. Pinter.

His secretary sniffed. "He's on the phone. It'll be a few minutes."

"I don't have a few minutes. I have places to go, things to do. If I don't see him now, I'll give you my first day's report and he can explain it tomorrow instead of today."

She took one good look at Lydia and went in Mr. Pinter's office. In a second he was back. "You have a preliminary report?"

"The insurance company wanted daily progress reports. I'm not comfortable doing such a negative report without giving you a chance to respond."

He blinked. "A -- negative -- report?"

"Yes. Quite negative."

"Surely it would be premature."

"Surely there are serious lapses here, ones that are, so far as the insurance company will be concerned about, intolerable."

He shook his head. "It's not possible."

"Your office is next to the computer room. There are no locked doors between the street and either your office, with all of the system backup tapes on your shelves," she pointed to them, "or the computer room itself."

"Jesus! We'll just lock the fucking door! That's no biggie!"

"And what? You'll put the backups in the computer room?"

He reacted with anger, obviously he'd been thinking just that. "I'll put them in the company vault."

"In the same building, right? Any disaster that affected the computer might compromise the vault as well, couldn't it?"

His face was mottled red. He stalked out his office door and locked the computer room. Lydia reached past him and punched the four numbers and opened the door.

"What did you do?" he said, spitting with anger, shouting loudly enough that everyone around was looking at him. "Look over my shoulder when I was punching in the combination?"

"How could I do that?" Lydia asked innocently. "It was unlocked before."

She thought he was going to have a stroke, right then and there.

"I will have the locks changed overnight, everyone with access to the computer room will have a memo on their desk in the morning with a caution about obscuring the code if a non-authorized person is standing close by."

Lydia walked inside the computer room, walked up to the system console, pushed aside the operator and logged off. She logged on as the customer engineer and typed in the "Power down system immediate" command.

There is more of this story...
The source of this story is Storiesonline

For the rest of this story you need to be logged in: Log In or Register for a Free account

Story tagged with:
Historical /