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Accidental Information

A short story by Matti "Chandler" Vuori

I was walking to my office early in the morning (not even eleven yet), a car stopped by me and the back seat door opened. The door revealed a big man. Not as big as a beer truck, but close. His gun was big too. It was the kind of a gun that could make a hole in somebody's stomach big enough to put your fist in it - if it was your idea of a good time to put your fist in somebody's guts. And he pointed it to my new leather jacket. But I was used to that kind of encounters.

''Sit in the car, Marlowe. We got things to discuss.'' Who could say no to a nice gunman. I sat in.

''Marlowe, I heard you are the kind of a sleuth who can keep his mouth shut. I want you to get me some information.''

''Why don't you buy a magazine, if you can read. They'll print all the information you'd under-stand.'' Shit this guy was offering me a job.

''Shut up and listen. I want to get occupational accident information from my factory. I'll give you five grand to fix me with an Accident Information System. I heard you have built this kind of systems before the war so l came to have a word with you.'' I looked into the rear mirror. I saw the face of a man, which was whiter than many of the fresh stiffs I had ran into during the ten years of detective work. The face belonged to me. The big man had caught me without guard. Now l understood the gun. Nobody talked to me about accident information systems without a gun. I might otherwise not listen. Doing accident information system stuff was a lot like doing divorce cases. Only more humiliating. 'That's an ancient system. A program of the past. Dead and buried. It might have been good at the time, but now it's the nineties. Why don't you buy some other system?'' The program Hudley was talking about was made well before my time - and that's old. I had the software in my possession because of a deal I had come to regret many times.

''Don't bullshit me, just deliver what I want next week. Don't call me, I'll call you. And keep your lips tight about this.'' He pushed me out of the car and drove off. A funny man, didn't even tell me his name or what his factory was. Possibly thought an investigator wants to find out himself. I didn't want to, but I knew how to. I went to the drugstore to make a call to the police station. A friend of mine who works there owed me a favor. I got him to the phone and told him the man's looks and the car's registration number. He said he'd call me back in half an hour. I sat to the counter.

''Black coffee, eggs, toast and a smile", l said to the sad looking black fellow, who was cleaning glasses behind the counter. He didn't even look at me. ''You know what's wrong with this town. Everybody wants blacks to smile. Some even call us 'boy', boy.'' He was right. In this town there was no reason for a black man to smile. ''Yeah, I know the ways of the southern small towns. Like some poet once wrote: Life's a bitch and then you die.''

The food was good and the coffee hot. Just as I got finished, the black man said someone wants to talk to me on the telephone. It was my friend from the station. ''Hello, Fred. What did you find out?"

''Marlowe, what are you mixed in? This guy's a big fish. Name's Eddie Hudley. Runs a construction firm that has a suspicious reputation. Seems he owns a couple of town politicians too. A right wing supporter''. Eddie told me a couple of other things too. Hudley's firm had a far higher occupational accident rate than others. There was also something funny about the accidents. There was a rumor circulating around that some were made on purpose. I thought I could trust Fred.

''The man wants to get an Accident Information System. You think he wants to find out what kills his workers?'' Fred laughed.

''Stupid. He's got his workers well insured, so he earns money with every death. He couldn't care less about workers' lives. Hudley just probably wants to find in which sites people get less frequently killed than in the others, so he can push the foremen to keep the death rate up. This is the thing the Finns call "tulosjohtaminen". Seems kind of sick to me. Hudley naturally wanted to keep quiet about it. That's why the gun and the hush-hush. I thanked Fred and walked to my office.

At the office I sat in my chair and opened my desk drawer. I took out a full bottle of whisky and my gun. I poured some whisky down my throat. I thought about giving the man to the police, but the case wouldn't hold. And me, a man's got to eat. After the bottle was less than half full, I had an idea. I'd sell him the information system for his five big ones, but fix it so it gives reverse results. That way he would push the sites harder, where people kept dying fast already. Soon they would have to close the sites down because there were no workers left. The losses would be huge. As he had many contracts with the town, he'd lose the support of the mayor and the chief of the police. Soon he'd find himself in jail. I took a sip to that thought.

I stood up and went to the closet. I took out my old computer and lifted it on my desk. Nearly broke my back in the process. I dusted it off and switched it on. Slowly the hard disk accelerated to full speed. The DOS prompt looked at me. ''Hello, old friend'' l said. ''Long time, no see.'' A quick look with DIR command confirmed, that the program was still lurking in the corners of the disk. ''A man's got to do, what a man's got to do''. So with my C compiler I set to work.

It took two days, but finally I had the system set up to my liking. Last thing l did was to change the dates of the files to five years earlier so the setup would be perfect. If Hudley would suspect something, I could say that the errors in the program were due to its old age. I would believe that myself.

On Friday I found a pack of empty diskettes in the mail for me to put software in, plus an address where to mail the program. The address belonged to a downtown club. The system could not be traced to Hudley from there. He was careful, very careful. So careful, that he would die hanging.

I put the diskettes and the manual in an envelope. When I closed the envelope, I smiled to myself. Hudley would not know, what hit him. For some time this town would be a little better place to live in.


Int J. Accident Information Systems and Detective Stories Vol 28 No 11 (November 1990) p. 2450