When Chip got back to his apartment, he started digging through the small number of moving boxes he had still possessed when he had driven back across the country. Two thirds of the boxes were full of various computer parts and cables and what not, so it took him a while to come up with what he had been looking for. It was a small circuit board about the size of a credit card that had a network jack, a power plug and a USB port and some incredibly tiny chips soldered on. A relative of the Raspberry Pi, this tiny circuit board was a fully functioning computer. It wasn’t fast or pretty, but it could run for a week on a nine-volt battery and the drivers could easily handle the traffic on Ellen’s aging network.
Chip gathered what he needed to turn this into a network sniffing device and headed for the tall granite countertop that separated the kitchen from the living room area. Whoever renovated this loft probably thought of this as a breakfast counter, but for Chip it was a great workbench for some embedded computing experimentation.
Before he got anywhere near his zone, there was a knock at his door. Since this had now happened once before, he was a bit more prepared and stood in what he thought was a welcoming manner at the top of the stairs. Just like the last time this happened, the top of a beehive hairdo rose above the railing like a shellacked calling card.
“Dear God my man, what have you gotten yourself into?” Lurlene fairly shrieked with concern.
“Someone died on my shoes. I don’t think that I got myself into anything except an unfortunate seat.”
“Well, for someone who just rolled back into town, you’ve sure got people talking about you now, and not just for your potty mouth.”
“If people are talking about me, then what could they possibly be saying? I was less than a bit player in the whole thing, I was just scenery.”
“You’ve left an information vacuum with your return that must be filled. I heard someone this morning at Dolly’s Diner speculating that you had learned some king of druid magic out in Oregon and that you had snapped Don’s neck just by looking at him.”
“That’s ridiculous. Why would I want to use my druid magic to murder someone I hardly knew?”
“Very funny, oh high priest. What you need is a media blitz.”
“What? No. That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t want to be involved in any media of any kind. Besides, what sort of media is left here to blitz on. Are we going to xerox some fliers and put them up in the Walmart parking lot?”
“You’re quite hopped up this morning, aren’t you? The only possible solution to an information vacuum is to fill the space with your own spin. Didn’t you learn even the basics of crisis communication in college?”
“I don’t think that was required for computer science majors. And just how do you know so much about the subject?”
“Online classes. Rural broadband gets subsidized by the nanny state so that hicks like me can better themselves. There are some fantastic classes out there from small colleges around Iowa. Crisis Communication was one of my favorites. Which is why I am here to tell you that you need to get on the stick and the airwaves as soon as possible.”
“OK, if you were my communications consultant, which you’re not, what exactly would you have me do?”
“I’d book you a slot on drive-time on WORX–working country 109 right after the farm report.”
“And if I were to take your suggestion, which I’m not, then what would I say when I was there?”
“You’d just have to tell your story straight up. Since you didn’t do anything, you ought to sound very convincing when you tell people that you didn’t do anything. Although, maybe, do you know how to fake cry?”
“Stop it, I’m not going to fake anything. I’m not going to go on any radio show. No DJ would want to talk to me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong boy-o. You’re already pencilled in for 4:35. A producer should be calling you around 4:30 to get the line set up. Make sure that you’re somewhere downtown so the cell service is good. And for god’s sake don’t try to drive while you’re talking. Everyone knows how you’re always texting and driving.”
Chip thought that he hadn’t been anywhere near any other people while he made his necessary map entry swerves, but as empty as the country seemed around here, apparently you were never really alone.
Exasperated and reeling enough not to argue too much, Chip just harumphed “Fine,” and figured he could beg off when they called this afternoon. “If you will excuse me, I’ve got some detailed technical work to do.”
“Oh, that’s fine, I don’t mind watching you work. I’ll just sit here on the … floor … until it’s time for your interview.”
“No, Lurlene, you can’t stay here.”
“I don’t remember you as being someone who could throw a girl out of his apartment.”
“If you don’t go, I won’t do your stupid interview.”
“And if I do go, then you still won’t do the interview. I’ll go if you promise me on whatever it is that people like you hold sacred that you will pick up that phone call and take the interview that I so kindly set up for you as my client.”
“I’m not your client, and if you insist on a promise, then yes, I will do the interview. I don’t know anything, but since it’s such a deal to you, then I won’t miss it for the world.” He was sad that his plan to disobey had been so easily seen through, but he was well over being surprised at how well he could be manipulated by the females in his life.
“Now, you can see yourself out down the stairs, I trust.”
She could see herself out, but not without a satisfied shrug of the shoulders and another of those damnable mysterious winks.
He tried to return to his sniffer project, but he so wasn’t looking forward to his forthcoming fame that he couldn’t concentrate.
As self-assured as Lurlene had seemed, Chip figured he could use some slightly more professional media advice. He pulled up the contact information that he had received last night for the freelance reporter Allison and returned the messages she had left him.
“Allison Mayes,” she answered confidently.
“Hi, uh, this is Chip Hardwick from last night.”
“Ah yes, my new patient friend. Seen any more cops today?”
Her casual question was just nosy enough to remind Chip that she was, at heart, still a reporter.
“Nope, none here. How about you? Have they subpoenaed your yellow pad for evidence yet?”
“I don’t think they’re going to be collecting any evidence in this case.”
“Wait, why not?”
“According to the police detective, Mockson died from a brain aneurysm. Apparently a blood vessel in his brain stem sprung a leak and he was a goner.”
“But what about that slogan he was shouting, ‘Commerce Clause has got to go’ and Bucks outburst? Doesn’t the timing seem suspicious?”
“Not to your small town police force. They’re just chalking it up to a stressful moment that was a little too much for the tissues and blam-o, down like a sack of potatoes.”
“Well, you do have a way with words to go with your callous disreagard for human life.”
“Sorry, both of them come with the job.”
Chip couldn’t make sense of the cops theory of accidental death on the spot and time where it was most dramatic.
“So, what do your sources say about what they were chanting?”
“Just what a little Wikipedia will tell anyone. The Commerce Clause is the part of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has interpreted that to mean that even when Congress hasn’t made a law about something, then states and counties and cities still can’t make laws that impinge on interstate commerce.
“It’s basically been used to create a nationwide free trade zone, just like the international trade treaties of the ’90s and 2000s, only much older because it’s been based on something out of the constitution.”
Chip felt distinctly out of his depth on the issue and he was having to conquer the geek’s natural tendency to believe that they already know everything worth knowing and that there isn’t generally a need to learn from other people. “But what does that have to do with what was hapening last night?”
“Well, since they weren’t proposing a constitutional amendment or a violent overthrow of the government, I’d have to guess that Don and his merry band wanted to put on a piece of political theater to help educate people about what their own constitution has been made to say.”
“Sudden death seems like a bit too high of a price to pay for a glorified teach-in.”
“I don’t imagine he was planning to not come back from this particular meeting.”
“What else did you dig up about him as a person? Does he have a wife and kids somewhere?”
“Just a wife at this point. One child between the two of them, but he preceeded his father in death as they say in the obituary section.”
Having been so scared and afraid and sorry in the presence of a dying or already dead man, Chip had a strong desire to share his story with Mrs. Mockson, to try to give her something to remember her husband’s last moments by.
He thanked Allison for her legal tutorial and for her concern for him last night. She gave an unconvincing “you’re welcome” and thaked him for returning her call.
Chip pulled up the only address that he could find in the County’s tax record database for a Mockson and thought he would take a drive out there just to see how the lady was.