NaNoWriMo 2013/2016

Chapter 20

Now that Chip was thinking of himself as an infected carrier of the viral seed of the next American revolution, he couldn’t do even the simplest things without worrying about their consequences. When the barista at the coffee shop smiled at him, he quickyl averted his eyes to avoid even the temptation to talk to her and confront the polite question of “What’s happening?” Even in his own apartment, Chip began to feel a sinking mix of fear, dread, and pride that led him to frantically tidying up the space to look like the abode of a proper revolutionary in between sneaking furtive glances out the front windows that he had hastily curtained with the sheets from his bed to prevent any spying in the visual portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Chip fished out the to-do list that he had made from where it had begun to slide under the refrigerator and looked to see if there was anything that his obedient mind had begun to cross off. Under and beside broad headings like “Gather Evidence” he had jotted down particular tasks that could actually be contemplated like “Find out more about Buyck Lemaire”.

Even in his grandiose paranoid state this afternoon, that felt like something he could tackle. He riffled through his own memories of Buck while he almost reflexively began to riffle through the online versions of those same memories.

As online social identity matured, so had services that archived and correlated that information. Chip subscribed to a service called FriendMinder that promised to keep tabs on your “friends” online behavior when you weren’t able to pay attention to them. Although that was their marketing pitch, it was primarily used for stalking and invading other people’s privacy. You just had to tell FriendMinder that you wanted to catch up on what had been going on in the life of your long lost friend Buck Lemaire and they would query various services and build a historical timeline for you.

Looking over Buck Lemaire’s photos, status updates, online forum postings, retweets, some leaked text messages, account types with various banks and telecommunication companies, Chip could begin to build a scaffolding between his adolescent memories and the present day. It appeared to be the record of an almost entirely normal American male of the early-mid twenty first century. There were drunken bar shots, excited selfies with aspirationally beautiful women, prideful declarations of economic success, slightly shameful displays of economic failure, and a distinct blank spot where Chip remembered the legal documents he had looked up before.

FriendMinder didn’t mine the public records databases for court filings, although Chip filed the idea away as a possible business venture where you could also see where your friends were getting red light camera tickets and indecent exposure citations from sidewalk surveillance cameras for taking a leak in the alley. Chip built his own folder in a mind-mapping application to combine the FriendMinder data with what he had already dug up about Chip’s history with lawyerdom.

When he had a very pretty color- and date-coded dossier, he realized that he knew very little more than when he had started out. Regardless, he zipped up the file and sent it off to Allison’s encrypted work email address. That reminded him that he also needed to send her the results of his pulse recognition project. In the interest of verifiability, after he sent the particular images that established Don Mockson’s cardiovascular health in the moments before his demise, he posted up the source code that he had used to do the analysis as a new open source software project.

He sent a couple of announcements that he had created the projcet to various email lists and groups. Within the next couple of days, word of the new project should spread to the community of people who already knew how to do that kind of work and if he was lucky, one of that particular flavor of geek would feel honor bound to verify his code. Chip felt slightly guilty for manipulating the prickly supremacy of geeks to his own ends, but he comforted himself with the old trope that “it wasn’t like he put a gun to their head”. If they were so insecure that they would spend four and a half hours nitpicking anyone else who encroached on their intellectual territory, then that was their own problem.

Chip was slightly frustrated by the vacuousness of what he was able to put together from the digital world on Buck Lemaire so he decided he was going to need to mobilize the high bandwidth pattern recognition parts of his evolved brain and go see Buck in person. A quick glance at the location check-ins that FriendMinder had collated gave Chip a general idea of where Buck was spending his working time and a quick text to Lurlene gave him an address. Pasting the address into his phone gave Chip street level photos of a seedy looking half brick, half vinyl siding building with small offices for rent like those that an accountant might use for tax season.

It was within walking distance of Chip’s loft so he grabbed his coat and its load of gadgets and headed out the door. When he arrived, he tried to slink stealthily up to the door while paying attention for any possible clues, but he just made himself look like a suspicious raccoon on a daylight trip to the dumpster. Slumped in the entry alcove, he gave up his attempts at spycraft and looked up and down the names on the doorbells at the front door. Someone had handwritten “B & C” in sloppy block capitals with a poor attempt at an ampersand. Buck probably hadn’t majored in penmanship in his one semester at community college.

Before formulating any shred of a plan or what he would say when the door was answered, Chip rang the bell for the local office of the B and C Mining Company and had no choice but to push the door open when it buzzed insistently. The bell had been marked 3B, so he started up the cheaply carpeted stairs to the third floor. When he got there, all of the offices were marked “2” so he figured that some European immigrant had first split the building up into separate offices and the first floor was really the second floor and so on, so he went up another flight of stairs. He was in a dim hallway with very little headroom, probably a converted attic space. He paused at the door to 3B to take a few deep breaths and knocked lightly before deciding that people with legitimate business would just walk in to the company’s office and twisting the knob to go in.

His first look around confirmed that this was a converted attic space as the ceiling tilted sharply down to a low wall at the edges of the room. The furnishings were beyond sparse with a dented metal filing cabinet and a slightly swollen particle board desk with an old desktop computer on the top. In the corner was a plastic milk crate with a collection of vaguely industrial looking tools.

Behind the desk sat the customary tangle of wires and boxes with blinking lights and a bright red network cable running to a junction box on the wall. Whoever had renovated the building into this warren of box-like offices hadn’t skimped on wiring since it appeared that each office had its own network port running back to some central location.

Wedged behind the saggy old desk was the surprisingly large bulk of Buck Lemaire looking miserable in a folding metal chair with his hands on a plastic keyboard whose originally professional beige color had oxidized to a lurid mustard shade. Buck jumped up out of the chair when Chip entered and looked grateful for the interruption and the opportunity to unfold himself. In the center of the room where the slanting ceiling angles came together, it was tall enough for Buck to stand without hitting his head, although Chip wondered what happened when he tried to move around the room.

Choking down a bubble of the fear that had been with him since his conversation with Allison and his realization that he was too close to patient zero for his own comfort, Chip strode forward into the office and tried to muster up a socially acceptable grin.

“You probably don’t remember me, but we went to high school together. I’m Chip Hardwick.”

Buck tilted his head to the side like a confused puppy and tried to place Chip somewhere in his massive, thick-walled skull. Failing that, Buck shrugged his shoulders dismissively and extended a hand and asked “What can I do for you, Chip?”

As a novice detective, Chip had no idea what lie was appropriate when talking to a murder suspect, so Chip tried to stick as close to the truth as possible.

“Well, I heard that you were doing some work in town and I’ve recently moved back and have been looking for some work.” This was all true, but a sand mining company hadn’t been on the top of Chip’s list of potential employers when he had left Portland.

“Well Chip, unless you can drive a dump truck, I’m not sure what we have for a guy like you.”

Chip tried to ignore the casual slight to his masculinity and continued “Maybe you need some help with communications work? I’ve done some work with computers.” This was a bit of an understatement, but Chip couldn’t come up with a way to explain the intricacies of his resume to a mining foreman so he just left it at that.

“Sorry, friend, but all the IT stuff comes out of the central office. They set all this up and now they just run it from their fancy offices back in Lacrosse. If anything happens, I just call and they either fix it or tell me what to turn off and back on.”

Chip continued with some determination, circling closer to the topics he was really interested in. “What about public relations work? Do you need someone to craft your messaging and boost your social media presence?”

Chip’s buzzword dropping outstripped Buck’s ability to comprehend and Buck must have started to feel a bit insecure because his next response had a tinge of annoyance “I’m sure we’ve got our presence taken care of.”

Recklessly drunk on a cocktail of fear and remembered shame, Chip tried one final stab. “It seems like you might have some trouble with the Board of Supervisors. Do you have any needs in governmental relations?” Chip knew nothing about governmental relations, but Buck didn’t know that.

The sliver of annoyance in Buck’s voice widened and he squinted his eyes suspiciously. “What do you mean asking about the Board of Supervisors? That old guy at the meeting? A tragedy I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to have any trouble. Why, what did you hear?”

Chip shied back from Buck’s escalating tone of voice. “I didn’t hear anything, I mean, I was there and I saw what happened, and I mean, it looked like some of the Supervisors were paying attention to what they were saying…” Chip trailed off out of things to say that wouldn’t raise Buck’s suspicions even higher than they already were.

“Oh yeah, I remember you now. You were right there in the front row when the guy keeled over.” Buck fixed Chip with an icy glare of recognition.

“Uh, yeah, I mean, I was, uh, there, uh, right there.”

“Then you must have gotten a good look at exactly what happened that night, right?”

Chip didn’t want to have to answer that question in the affirmative, but he couldn’t come up with a plausible reason that he had gone temporarily blind so he just gulped and nodded.

“It’s a shame about how he got all worked up and had that heart attack. A guy that age needs to be careful how he leads his life,” Buck snarled in commiseration.

Chip was desperately ready to make his exit, so he gulped and nodded again and started to back out the door. “Well, uh, just, uh, keep me in mind if you have any job openings that fit my, uh, qualifications.”

Buck smirked back at him with only one side of his former salesman’s grin and encouraged Chip to be careful going down the stairs.

“You take care now. A person could slip and fall and hurt themselves out there.”

11 Mar 2014 2096 words