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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Mystery stories
- Subject: Crime story
- Published: 10/20/2010
Sometimes, They Use You As An Alibi!Born 1972, M, from Nanticoke, PA, United States
From a police report dated March 12, 1975
‘…Schematics, of the 3rd generation of UNIVAC, were stolen from a lab at the University of Syracuse. The mainframe is said to be the fastest in the world. The professor reporting the crime, a Mr. Ernest (Ernie) Quick, stated, “It’s the Cold War man and we can’t have our enemies getting the upper hand on us…”’ Who would have thought the Cold War would come to Syracuse? I drank my coffee and continued reading the report.
‘…There are plans in the works to make a desk-top unit people could use at work or home. The personal computer, as it is being called, will be using new technology: the silicon-based microprocessor aka microchip. A few large electronics companies, and a few smaller ones, are trying to become the first ones to introduce the advanced system to the business world. It is unknown at this time why domestic distribution is being considered; perhaps to allow people to work from their home, save gas, and spend more time with their family. Mr. Quick reported some companies in on this venture are: Hewlett Packard (HP), Future Dynamics (FD), IBM, Apple, and Bear Electronics; the latter out of Pittsburgh. Most of these companies have regional offices near or in the major cities. The offices are just large enough to support a staff of 5-10, reported Mr. Quick, where they are open mostly to distribute and gather information.’
I drop the report back on the roll top desk, to my right. Disgusted and because I like to drink, I go to the bar at my left, and pour myself a beer. It’s too early for a Scotch today. I know there must be better cases out there. There aren’t that many of us here. This city is dying, now that many people are moving to the suburbs. That is where all the good cases are. Will people drive to the city, to avoid police involvement and scandal? Or, will some PI’s open an office out in the sticks? I am just so bored. I haven’t had a capital crime case in over 6 months, and only five since this gas crunch.
Seems like things are changing everyday. We’re finally out of Viet Nam, new music is on the radio – disco, and that dope Ford is the lame duck President. I miss tricky Dick and his espionage racket. Ah, maybe I’m just too hung over to care this morning. It’ll be good to go on vacation in a few months. This time, I will leave the case at the office.
Six days ago, my buddy at the precinct called me to say he had a tip about a robbery. I was hoping it was an old lady who had her jewels stolen. Trust me, it ain’t like the movies sweetheart, the pretty dames are always trouble. Sometimes, they use you as an alibi! Nope, give me an old bird with a lotta dough any day. They are nicer and appreciate the compliments you throw their way.
Anyway, my buddy at the 4th said a guy with a beard and long hair came in to report a major robbery. Some electronics manual was stolen from his office, the dope. Jimmy ran him through the ropes and told him, “The department would be down to gather evidence, but the likelihood of the item being recovered would be slim”. Jim told me later, “I wouldn’t bet on it.” He thought I may be able to do something, if the hippy hires me. Jim usually does the name drop for me, if anything interesting arises. What he was thinking this time, I don’t know; probably about his $20 he knew he would get. The hippy gave the cops about a week and then he came to me.
It was after 11:00am on the 18th. I was glad no one had been by earlier, giving me a chance to recover. People were extra wild last night for St. Pat’s, as compared to recent years. It must be because we know the war is finally over. I am glad I decided to stay for the hotel party, where I only had to grab the elevator instead of a cab to go home. There are perks living very close to where you work.
Enjoying my second cup of coffee, I look up from the newspaper as I hear a knock on the glass door of my suite. I let my secretary Vanessa have the day off; I get up to answer the door. It is a bearded guy, of average height, who was holding a book and a large envelope. He couldn’t afford a briefcase? I unlock the door and turn on the charm.
“Are you Herman Chase?” “Yah, that’s me.” I answer. “I’m Ernest Quick. A cop gave me your name and said you can help me, man.” I showed him a seat and he joined me in a cup of coffee. He went on for five minutes about the UNIVAC, the robbery, the Cold War and the future of computers, whatever those are. Trying not to let my headache bother me, or get worse, I tell this guy that I would stop by the lab, in the afternoon, to look around and let him know if I would take the case.
I just had to get him out of my office. I really feel like crap – DWO ‘Death Warmed Over’, as my girl Laney likes to say. Maybe I am getting old? At least it’s only my head and not my, stomach. I don’t think 48 is old. Sure, I can’t drink like I could when I was a kid, but I know I‘m too young to quit now. I figured I better meet Laney for lunch then see what the hippy has to show me.
Seeing my girl helped a lot. She was just as hung over as I am. We ate a good lunch and I told her about the long-haired dude. She works in an accounting office and there’s been talk of the whole operation there going electronic. I guess these computers are to help with the number crunching – I don’t know. I told her I’d see her tonight and walked to the train station. It’s not often that I go to the University; the train lets off about a block from campus. I then had to look for a Professor Jennings at Cromwell Hall. At least the guard at the gate drew me a good map to follow.
The hippy was talking to an older woman in a lab coat. He saw me and walked over. “Hey. Thanks for comin’ over, Mr. Chase.” “Where was the book stolen from?” I ask. Ernie showed me the way – up two floors from where we were, in a small, secure-looking lab containing only a few tables, some chairs, and locker-sized reel to reel machines with a lot of flashing lights.
The sign on the door read Rm. 319: Electronics Lab - ACCESS RESTRICTED! The hippie scientist said, “I work on this floor and the tech manual was kept in this room”. I observed that there was no safe or surveillance camera in the room, but I saw a fixed camera in the lab. The doors were half glass and half metal. I wondered if the camera was able to pick up this little office. I would have to survey the tapes from that camera, but would have to do that tonight or tomorrow. For a job like that, I needed my thermos and a pack of smokes.
I sat this guy down, because I had to know why the book was so damned important! Ernie said it contains the schematics for the computers in the lab; the 3rd generation of mainframes since UNIVAC was unveiled in the ‘50’s. As he told me at my office, “The Soviets would love to get a hold of this book. The stuff they’re using is 20 years old!” He laughed to himself. I just stared at him, wishing I could smoke in this place. He composed himself and continued, “Also within the manual, are a list of scientists connected to the project and schematics for vital components that will revolutionize machines within the next five years.” Great! I have to search for a book, like some wacky spinster librarian! I then think about Pete’s bar being only a few blocks away. Has it really come to this? Easy, Hermie easy, I say to myself. I have to try to understand why a book is so important – to this guy.
“So Ernie, throw some numbers at me. How much do you think a book like this would be worth to somebody?” Yep, you guessed it. He broke at his slide ruler and calculator. “According to my figures, I would say over a million dollars, give or take a cent or two.” This was Ernie’s reply. My eyes got wide, I’ll tell ya. Flabbergasted and while walking him towards the door so I can light up I said, “Really? It’s that important? Is there another copy?” EQ thought for a while then said, “Not that I’m aware of. It was written especially for these computers. It’s not like an instruction manual, ya know!” He seemed perturbed; like I’m supposed to know this stuff!
Finally outside, I noticed a bench near by. We continued our discussion there. It was a warm March day and the campus was busy, for a Saturday. He lit up a Kent, while I reached for my Camels. He actually looked upset over the loss of this book. Was he for real or just a good actor? After a few drags, I asked, ”Do you have any idea who could have taken it?” He replied, “I don’t even know where to begin – other scientists here in the building? Someone from a rival computer company? A foreign agent? It was there on the 9th when I locked up; both the lab and the reference room. When I returned on the afternoon of the 11th to get a phone number I needed, it was not there. The odd thing was, the door to the reference room was still locked.” “I’m gonna have to see that tape, Mr. Quick”, I told him. That seemed to me the only tell-tale clue that could solve this matter lickety split. “When can I see that security tape?” He said, “I’ll have to speak to my supervisor in a few minutes and can let you know in half an hour. “OK”, I said, “I’ll wait in that lobby we passed to get out here.”
There were a few magazines: Look, Time, National Geographic, and Car & Driver. I picked up an NG and the Car and Driver. After flipping through both magazines, I look to see the time. The wall clock showed Three O’ Clock; nearly forty-five minutes since he left to talk to his boss. No coffee vending machine around here, huh? I step out for another cigarette, taking the magazines with me; he finds me out there. “The video tapes are located in another building. My supervisor thinks the most cautious thing to do would be for us to go now to obtain the tapes from the 9th-11th and allow you to view them on a VCR here in our building.” “That’s a good idea”, I said. “Security here may be okay, but this plan makes sure no one takes us for a ride.” He nodded his head in agreement as we made our way to get the tapes. We arrived at a two-story brick building where the sign out front read Campus Security Building 29.
We met up with a Lt. Pete Jorgensen. We quickly spoke. He gave Ernie the tapes and said he hoped they would be helpful. I did not disclose exactly what we were looking for. “Though they are University property,’ I said to Quick, “I will take responsibility for them so they too do not get stolen.” Ernie agreed. I locked them in my briefcase, took the train back to my car, and locked the case in my trunk, driving to the office.
Because it was stuffy in the office, I opened the window and gave Laney a quick call to say I would be over after 6pm. The briefcase and tapes were securely locked in my safe and I enjoyed a drink. As it was fast approaching dinnertime, I closed and locked the window, put the office to rest and took the elevator to my room. A few minutes later, I met Laney at her apartment, three floors up, and we went out to dinner.
Laney went to the Ladies’ room and I thought about those damned tapes. I have been reluctant to get a Video Cassette Recorder/Player (VCR/P) because they are about a Grand and I’m cheap. I am relaxed around her and try hard to forget about work. Another drink should help. She gets back from the bathroom and we get up to dance. She is a great gal and understands that my business is a crazy one. Those tapes can wait ‘til Monday. After a few dances, I told Lane I needed to make a call and that I would be back in a minute. I told her this would be a Quick call; catching on, she laughed. I gave her a smooch and went to the phone. Since I was near the Men’s room, I went there first. I told Ernie that I would see him on Monday. He said that would be fine and told me how he would set up the VCR in an infrequently used room. I said it had to have a window so I could smoke. He said not to worry and wished me a ‘Good Night’.
The sun is out and that is a good start to my day and the new season. I arrive at my office early, before my secretary, and go to the safe. I am relieved the place is untouched. I have held evidence at my office before and only one time in 23 years have I had my place ransacked, where the item was stolen. Nonetheless, I am still apprehensive, and will be until I can get these tapes back to view them and see Quick’s smiling face. I grab the briefcase and call Vanessa so she can stay home until after lunch. Until my secretary calls the answering service with her pass code to receive the messages, the service will continue to collect them.
In my business, you learn to be crafty and unpredictable. I decided to drive to a shopping center near the University and leave the car there. With my briefcase in one hand and thermos in the other, I am ready to start my uneventful day of surveillance tape analysis. I figure the job will take a few days. I enjoy the quiet of the morning before I head upstairs.
Ernest is already there and points out the conference room. It is nice inside, almost bigger than my office. The room is broken up by 4 to 5 seating areas. Quick said that this is more relaxed than the typical conference table. I choose the seating area farthest from the door in the corner, opposite the window. I notice that there is a private bathroom, a coffee station, as well as the prerequisite water cooler. I get comfortable as I prepare to scan hours of people standing still or walking around. rnie told me the reference room should be in plain site. I’ll be looking for someone who goes in with nothing and comes out with something. If they are shifty, that helps too.
The camera is always on, but it is fixed. As with all security footage, this starts with 0001 on the 9th of March. The lab has no night shift, so no one should be in there until after 6am; just an empty room, so I can scan through that down time. With the remote control, I feel like a god, making Time whiz by. I have often hoped I could put some days on Fast-Forward, Rewind, or Pause; we all have, I’d be willing to bet. Some people start to enter after 7:30am. Later, I see the hippy and his female boss. During most of that first day, no one goes into the little room. At about 10:00am, Quick enters and is followed shortly after by a dark-haired woman. They are in there together for about five minutes. She leaves first and he follows a few minutes later.
At about 2pm, I noticed a few people in regular clothes; everyone in the lab had on their white coats. Were they taking the tour? They were not there that long and did not go into the reference room. I’ll have to start a list of suspicious people whom I can ask Quick about. More scanning until 7pm, then no one until the next tape. I notice on tape two, that at 4 in the morning, a cleaning person enters the lab. He enters the little room, which remains dark and exits once with the garbage can. He re-enters and exits again. He moves his cart through the rest of the lab and is out by 4:08am; the camera indicates. The regulars show up about 8am. Two people enter between then and 4pm; Quick and some other guy. Quick entered in the morning and the other guy was there briefly in the afternoon. A few people stay late for a Friday, until after 7:00pm; then no one. Onto tape #3.
Even on Saturday the 11th, people are in the lab checking and changing the reels at 9:00AM. No cleaning guy this time. Quick gets there in the afternoon, as he said. He talks with someone that shows him a clipboard or folder then goes into the reference room. He went in with nothing and came out with nothing. Yet, he was in that little room for about ten minutes. I stop the tape there, go for a coffee and light up a Camel near the open window. I look through my notes.
There were six people that went by or went in the room: the Janitor, a woman, a man, and the trio; Quick makes seven. The visitors were there on the 9th, Quick and a woman around the same time, also on the 9th, the janitor on the morning of the 10th ,when the lab is closed, Quick again on the 10th, alone this time, then a tall, Black man hours after, finally Quick enters and lingers on the 11th, entering and exiting empty handed. I wonder if the damned book was not just mis-shelved!?! I develop a plan of checking out their private bathroom and finding Quick, so we can walk and talk. I need to stretch my legs and he needs to tell me a few things.
Quick remembered the tall black man that may have been in the lab at the same time. To be sure, he would have to see the tape. As for when he was in with the woman, he said it was a friend of his from the lab and she was asking him out to dinner; he was not interested. “The janitor could have been Ed Mazonis; I would have to see the tape. He has been cleaning that building since before I got here”. I told him that he had to look at the tape now but before we started, I mentioned I had to make a phone call. I called Laney to let her know I may not be able to see her until late, if at all today, but we made plans to meet anyway. I gave her the number here, in case she wants to call me. I returned to cue up the first tape.
I hit FF until the counter read 1340. I then let him watch and identify the trio as I stared out the window. My mind was on other things: Laney’s Beef Wellington, a cold beer at my favorite tavern, and the $100 a day I was getting by just sitting on my dupa. He called me over when the timer read 1357, when the trio arrived. He said they were executives from one of the electronics/computer companies interested in the research being done at this lab. They have been there two other times that he can remember, this year. Ernie was about to tell me more than he intended to.
Future Dynamics and The University were secretly working on the fourth generation of the mainframe and were hoping they could produce an affordable tabletop computer to be used in business and the home. The trio in suits were from FD and take unannounced tours of the lab. He said he believed in their company and bought some stock in it a few years ago. This got me to thinking about the other scientists working there and their portfolios, if they had any.
I immediately thought of my friend Bill at the FBI. He could easily check into the financial histories of these people. I would just have to have a list of names. There ought to be a record of them checking in at the main desk, near the lobby in this hall. The only other one I would have to check up on was Eddie, the Janitor. As it was getting near Six o’ Clock, I left the VCR and Quick and hoofed it to my car. I would follow up on the janitor tomorrow. The tapes were securely in my briefcase and were once again locked in my trunk as I approached the Acme Markets Shopping Center.
The Cherry pie at Del’s diner was calling my name. I went there for dinner and then went up to see if Laney was home. She wasn’t. So I went back to my room, switched on the TV and cracked open a cold beer. The TV show All in The Family was on, as it was Monday night.
After the show was over, I pondered. Was I looking at Corporate Espionage, a Blackmail scheme, or the case of the misplaced Library book? This was a library book worth a Million Dollars; more if you consider the stock angle. There’s something very odd about this case. First, why me? Just because the hippy stumbled into the 4th precinct and Jimmy fed the same hippy my name? Too much of a coincidence. Someone must be trying to take me for a ride.
Then, there’s the book itself. I do not even have proof that the book existed or exists. It is not clearly visible in the video I have seen, thus far. If it so valuable, I find it strange that I have not been threatened in some way; no tail or creepy phone calls either. What gives? I am still far from knowing ‘the who’ and I doubt if I will be able to find this dumb book. Tomorrow, I will see Quick first so he can prove the book is real.
Piles of withered snow still dot the campus; hugging the trees as if that will insure their existence through the hot summer months. This is my third trip to the campus. I decided to drive on today as I received a month long visitor’s pass from Lt. Pete; Pete Jorgensen. I have not been on this campus as often since I partied here almost thirty years ago. It is too early to start that tape monitoring yet. I find Quick and we venture off to the cafeteria. Though I’d sooner have a McMuffin, eating here is more convenient.
I left before Laney and I could have breakfast. I’m tired, but feel like putting on the feedbag. Besides, I need to get Ernie away from the lab and his little world; the short break will do him good. I may have to take this guy out for a beer. Then, maybe he’ll tell me something he didn’t intend to reveal. Besides, he is such a square. And though he may be a ‘pot head’, he probably doesn’t drink on the job. Well, to help break the ice, I start talking.
“Do you ever feel like having a drink with your Eggs-over-easy? There are days, I do. I have had my share of breakfast drinks – screwdrivers, Mint Juleps, wine or beer for breakfast; sometimes with the meal, sometimes as the meal. After a long day or night, a drink or two fills you up and tires you out. For those health nuts, one can argue that there is juice in some drinks and you can always have a few cherries for Vitamin C. My girlfriend used to be a bartender and makes the best Alabama Slammers I’ve ever had. Ever have one of those?” Ernie replied, “I‘ve never even heard of them.” “Oh, you should try one some time: three types of liquor, rum is one of them, orange juice, Grenadine and a few cherries. It is red in color and tastes like Hawaiian Punch. If made well, you do not taste the booze, but feel it after a few, when you stand up. They are good!! “Are they like a daiquiri?” he chimed in. “No. They don’t shave the ice; it’s on the rocks."
After ten minutes of being in the cafeteria, I was rethinking my idea. We could not talk about details in here; we’ll have to sit down on the bench before looking at the tapes. Being in this cafeteria reminded me of when I attended college almost thirty years ago. It was a time just like this, after the war. The atmosphere was more relaxed and there was the excitement of a new beginning. We heard so much about the war, now and then, that we had forgotten what our lives were like without having to hear the daily reports. It seems like we get a war/conflict every 15-20 years or so. We should be good for that long now, I imagine.
Quick did not have much to add, as he is 27 years old. For some reason he was not drafted to Viet Nam; maybe he was in college or was 4F for some reason. I asked him if he was at Woodstock. He said ‘Yes’ and so did I. He looked surprised that I was there. Besides the mud, it was amazing! I am saddened by the fact that so many great performers have died before their time within the last few years: Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few. These were talented young people with horrible drug addictions that may have felt they were immortal; their music certainly seems to be! Ernie agreed.
He looked distracted this morning. “What’s up, Ernie? You have been chewing my ear off for three days, but not this morning.” He told me how he received a call at home threatening his job if the book was not found. It was no one from the university. He said the caller was a man, did not identify himself, had no accent and was not familiar. As we were done with breakfast, we walked towards Cromwell Hall, where the lab is, and I told him not to worry about it. It was not his fault anyway. They needed better security for that little room if the manual was irreplaceable. He seemed a little better after telling me about the call.
From the details of the call, I would say we struck a nerve and, someone thinks I work for the University, if they even know about why I am here at all. We arrive at my new office and get ready to analyze the tapes. First, we look at the janitor. This afternoon I have to go to the Maintenance Department to ask about this Ed Mazonis, to verify if he did work that day. About that call, it could have been anyone: a prank, a college student paid to deliver a message. I told him not to worry about it but I had my suspicions. Something was not right!
He gets called away and I get a call, while we were away. Some intern took a message for me from Bill; “please call” was the message. I call to find out what he knows. He discovered that the three executives from Future Dynamics did sign out and were expected to tour this Electronics Lab, as they had done in the past. They only walked by that little room. Quick offered a look around but they declined, stating they trusted the manual and other items were in their place; apparently, that day they were. Bill also said that in talking with several electronics company executives, he heard repeatedly about a rivalry, big plans to release an affordable table top computer, and rumors a technical manual was missing.
My friend at the FBI looked into the financial investments of these executives as well as the scientists at this lab. Even Quick was investigated. As was expected, the company executives have a lot of FD stock. However, the woman in that trio also owned a lot of IBM stock. Quick had stock in FD, Apple, and Bear Electronics but he was by no means a Wall Street genius. For right now, nothing seems to be out of line with that trio. I can pursue them later, if needed. I need to know more about that stupid manual. I find Quick and we go to the little room.
Ernest shows me where the book was kept: to the left as you walk in, on the first series of shelves, on the middle shelf by itself. He said it was routinely used by Professor Jennings, his supervisor, who did periodic systems checks. While still in the little room, I ask, “Is there a picture of the manual?” “If there is, it is on microfilm somewhere”, he answered. But it was a dark orange colored, hardcover book that was about 14” square. It was about an inch or more thick and had over three hundred pages. It was printed in 1972, the same year the UNIVAC 3 was available.” Well, I at least know what it looks like. A large Orange square. That would be difficult to hide. We went back to look at the other suspects: the tall black man and his lady friend.
Quick stated that the bearded man was Dr. Williams who worked on the second floor. He is a senior research scientist that has been with the University since 1960. I will need to talk to him. As he views the tape footage with the woman, to jog his memory, he said that it was Ms. Rosaline Ortega. She works in the lab and they used to date; I call her in to hear what she has to say. She explained that she was interested in going to dinner with him but that he was busy that night, she says. That matter seems benign.
“Did you use the manual that day?” “Yes” was her response. “Why?” I asked. “Well Mr. Chase, I knew I had to change the reels that day and wanted to review the process, as I change it so infrequently. You see, the reels are stamped with information every time data is exchanged. The reels record bank transactions or large exchanges in the stock market. Some machines just hold information about the Census or the Ornithological studies done here at the university. Time on the mainframe is shared and reels are changed as needed, to read or store something. This is all done for security reasons. It is not good for one mainframe to store all the transactions from one bank or all the major exchanges on Wall Street. Via modem, that information is shared and stored on mainframes like these, throughout the whole country.” She was very helpful. “Thank you, Ms. Ortega. You’ve been very helpful. You can return to work now.” It helps for a lot of reasons, to be nice.
I found Ed Mazonis’ boss, a Mr. Vernon Simms, at his desk after lunch. He looked at the log and time cards. “Yes Mr. Chase, Edward was working on the morning of the 10th, and he usually cleans that building. As building #44 is cleaned every two days, being there would be part of his regular routine. If there is an accumulation of garbage or a spill, they call us as needed. Other than the occasional power outage that we’ve had to deal with in the last few years, things have been quite uneventful around here.”
I asked this guy if I could flip through the log. He said it was fine. I saw that entries went back over the last two years. People only notate what keys they sign out and if any significant event occurs. Just glancing, I see a few odd entries noted as ‘planned outages’: ‘May 22, 1974 - planned outage’. I asked Simms what they were. “Oh, those are when we know in advance that the power will be shut off for a certain time; to do maintenance on the lines or when we have to install a new set of outlets. We bring our flashlights those days. They usually occur at night because most of the students are asleep. The log does not note any planned outages during the 9th-11th but there was one on the 15th. “Well Mr. Simms, thanks for your help. I’ll come back if I think of anything else.” I doubted I would be back. Simms said Eddie would be in tonight. I may just have to talk to him myself.
I am starting to get sick of this campus. At least I left the tapes home. Laney and I have supper and then I tell her I have to go back to work and won’t see her for breakfast, unless I get a second wind....