A short story by Matti "Spillane" Vuori
The body had been shot three times in the belly. A painful way to die.
"Mike, do you know him?" I was at a murder scene with my friend Pat from the murder squad. He had asked me to come along because the victim was found with my business card in his hand.
"Yeah. The guy is Pete Jones. We fought in Korea together. He was the communications guy, kept the radios working. I heard he later went to the IT business."
"Why did he have your card in his hand?"
"I have no idea. I haven't seen him in years. Didn't even know he was in town. Maybe he was trying to call me. Too bad the killer had destroyed the phone." The killer - or killers - had trashed everything else in the room. Looked like they had searched something. I wonder if they had found it.
"Mike, I want you out of this. I am getting the heat from the DA. He wants you out of the streets."
"He can want what he likes, but when my old friends are killed, you know there'll be more bodies before the dust settles. The DA can go to hell."
"At least be careful. This was not the first murdered computer user this week. And all murders looked like they were not done just for fun."
I was getting sick with Pat too and instead of answering I just left. I already had a hunch of who the enemy was. In my calling card Pete had scratched the letters WWW. Rumors had been circulating in the underworld about this new criminal organization World Wide Wrongdoing. WWW was making truckloads of money out of selling bad HTML code to kids. Pete had probably found out who runs the racket and was silenced.
I went to the local Net Bar. WWW had sold cheap PCs to bars so that it could keep the users constantly hooked. It was still before noon, and there were only some customers in the bar. A couple of old men, and in the booth in the back a worn out old hooker was crouching on her keyboard searching for a fix. I bought two whiskeys from the bar and went to the woman's booth. I realized that I knew the woman.
"Hello, Debbie, so you are blond this week. How's tricks?"
"Hammer shut up. I have a bad hangover. Did you bring that whisky for me?"
"Yes, but you are going to earn it. I see you have the WWW habit. I want you to tell me who is pulling the strings behind the sites". I could see her stiffening from fear, but the thirst was more powerful than fear. Death is nothing compared to living without whisky if you are an alcoholic.
"Be quiet, you fool. I'll tell you, but you must be quiet about me telling you. And get me another drink."
What she told me was staggering. The boss was man named William Bates. Bib Bill, he was called. Millions on WWW sites were using the bad software Bates was pushing, and each site had thousands on users.
"Mike, be careful. Bates controls almost the whole world."
"Not for long he does. Read the morning paper tomorrow baby. I'm going to take out the trash." Behind all his wealth Bates was worthless piece of trash, worse than a drug peddler at the street corner. I got out of the bar and whistled to a cab.
"To Bill Bates' mansion", I said to the driver. "Yes sir!" Just a mention of Bates' name made people think you were a hot shot. It all made me sick.
At Bates' mansion two men were guarding the gate. One of them was Windows Pete. He had spent most of his adult life in jail for peeping through girls' bedroom windows. But that was not how he got his name. It was from that night when I pushed his ugly face through the glass of a closed window. Ten times. The scars were deep and covered his whole face.
"Mike, what do you want? I have been straight for years"
"Didn't come for you. Came to meet your boss. Call him."
The phone was adjusted pretty loud so I could hear most of the call. Bates was not surprised of my visit.
"Go in, but you'll have to leave your gun here".
I expected that. The suckers did not frisk me or search the car for another gun. Pete was probable too scared of me to try that. He would be fired later today, if Bates would be alive to do any firing.
A Chinese butler let me in.
"Mister Bates is expecting you in the library, Sir".
As the butler turned to lead me in, I took a gun from my pocket and hit him in the head, putting him out. The war had begun and the chink was one of the enemies. I knew I was right when I found a loaded gun in his pockets. "Bastard. I'll kill you later". I would have shot him, but I needed to be quiet. As for now, a couple of kicks in his ribs would be enough.
Library was easy to find. No time for finesse. I kicked the door open. "Bates, show your ugly face so I can smash it, before I shoot you." My voice was tight with hatred and ...death. But there was no reply. The room was dark, so I switched the lights on. Now I noticed a figure lying behind the table. Bates! He had been shot in the chest. But he was still alive.
"Hammer... the Chinese... I was just the front... a puppet. Destroy the bad software."
"What is the password, Bates? Quick, you have not much time, you are dying".
With his last effort Bates told me the password. I went to his desktop computer. On the desktop was an icon named "Destroy bad software of all web sites". Bates had left plenty of backdoors to his programs. This one was lethal. I double clicked it and applied the passwords. I sat down and lit a cigarette. After a minute I could hear the sirens in the city. The riots had begun. The nerds had come out of their holes when web sites came crashing down. I put on my hat and started to leave. Time to drown the rats. On my way out I shot the still unconscious Chinese killer.
"What was the sound?" asked the taxi driver waiting outside. "The butler. Don't you read the pulp rags? It's always the butler."
Int J. Global Information Systems and Hard Boiled Detective Stories Vol 39 No 4 (April 2001) p. 980