A Modern Day Adventure
About Computers, Drugs and Espionage
All of the characters in this story are real, though the names have been changed to protect the guilty. The events that are described here only have a slight possibility of having occurred some time in the not-so-distant past. The Mouseman himself was a real live character in the Haight-Ashbury area. He could be seen most every day near the "Coffee and Eats" cafe near the corner of Haight and Masonic. We got used to seeing him there and it wasn't until my cousin Kate said "I bet he's up to more than most people realize" did I think of writing about him. At this time, and since the writing of this piece, the Mouseman has disappeared from sight. If anyone knows of his whereabouts, drop me a line.
--- Gene 20 July 95
Linus Hunter laughed. "Oh yes" he chuckled at his computer screen, rubbing his unshaven chin then brushing back his wavy hair. The screen was nearly blank except for some numbers at the bottom. He pressed a few keys and the screen went completely blank blocking any use of his terminal without the password. Linus stood up, his baggy hospital clothes covered a muscular and fit frame. He felt the chain on his neck for his security card and walked smoothly out of his small office at Radius.
He walked to his buddy Dave's office down the corridor and stuck his head in but Dave wasn't in. An expectant voice called his name and he turned. He gave a slight groan as the V.P., John Kemper, walked toward him, also in the hospital dress. In the past, whenever Linus had finished a big project he loved to see John and give him the great news. John had hired Linus and was his first friend at the company. But this project was different and so was John. It wasn't just the hospital clothes they had to wear now, and all the other bullshit. Radius was going to make a killing off this deal, but it had already cost them much more.
"Linus, I just talked to Joey and he wants to know how we're coming along."
"Who the hell is Joe?" asked Linus, sure that he wasn't going to like the answer.
"Joey is our rep over at Ames. He's the key to this whole deal, remember?"
"Actually, I thought my code was the key to this whole deal." Linus was short and stocky and not afraid to get in John's face.
"Heh heh," John laughed and leaned back a little. "Of course, I just mean Joey is the one who will be pulling for us when the boys in Washington decide who to give the contract to. So how are we coming along?"
"Tell your pal Joe that my code will work by next month's deadline and that we don't need any hand-shaking bullshit artist to get us this contract." He walked past John toward the exit.
"Look Linus, I just need to see how we're coming along." John snapped hoping to command respect with his voice.
"Ok, ok, I'll show you after I grab some dinner."
Linus walked through the door to the security checkpoint. Nobody got in or out of Radius with anything. Even employees had to leave all their clothes with security. No data could be smuggled in for fear of viruses and the unknown, and certainly no data could be smuggled out. Similarly electronic mail and other telecommunications had all been cut or subject to heavy censure in the last six months.
In a few minutes he was in street clothes heading north on 101 to San Francisco to celebrate. His car made a little noise as he hit eighty miles per hour. Linus laughed thinking it was probably sand still caught in the muffler from the time he got it stuck down in Baja. Well, maybe now I can get a new car, he thought, although this baby has been through a lot with me.
He'd been at Radius for four years working to design ever faster graphic accelerator cards and the software to run them. Radius was a small company but had done pretty well serving the relatively small market that needed its computer graphics turbo charged. But now they were after something bigger. With the exploding interactive multi-media market, more and more people wanted the best graphics Hollywood could offer and they wanted it at a high speed - as fast as it could be pumped through their phone lines. Copper wires weren't exactly the best way to send this type of information but the market wasn't going to wait for anyone to string fiberoptic cable into every home in the U.S. The information super highway just wasn't going to happen anytime soon. What was happening was that the superhighway's biggest promoter was looking for something else to put his name on.
Radius had been pursuing the idea of sending digital movie quality graphics over standard phone lines for about a year, when vice-president Al Gore stopped in Silicon Valley. Gore picked up on the idea and decided that government had to do something to help. Linus knew, as did everyone else in the industry, that help wasn't needed. Unheeded, Clinton and Gore were putting up lots of money. Someone on their staff had come up with the idea of a contest: The U.S. firm whose product appeared to have the most merit in six months time would win an exclusive monopoly to put their technology in all existing government computers and all new government computers for the next year. There was a big media blitz about bringing the latest technology to government, to serve the people. It was immediately obvious that no one could develop the technology for some eighty percent of the government's computers because they were too old. It was also discovered later that the government couldn't afford this offer anyway. But the government thought they could afford it for their top of the line computers and a year's worth of new ones, which was still a deal in the hundreds of millions. It was also one Congress couldn't reject when the economic fear mongers and Japan bashers gathered to support it. It was finally decided that the government would distribute a few million in seed money amongst various companies to help get the ball rolling, and give everyone an opportunity, It didnt' matter that the ball was already rolling pretty fast.
Linus hadn't been interested in the politics of the deal and declined to sit on any technical board the government was forming. The only opinion he voiced was when the news broke that all employees working on the project would be subject to random drug testing in keeping with federal policy. "I'm not pissing in a cup for anyone." he had said. True to his word he submitted some one else's urine sample when his unlucky number came up. He had decided that he couldn't have been the only one to use that trick, though. It was estimated that twenty percent of the programmers in Silicon Valley lit up a joint now and then.
The hardware engineers had done their job over a year ago. They had the easy part. They put two top-of-the-line digital signal processors from AT&T onto a silicon board and added a few bells and whistles that didn't cost much. The AT&T chips weren' t quite fast enough to let every teenager in the country play arcade quality games across his phone line, however; so if this system were going to work, the difference had to be made up in the software. That was Linus's job, and now it was largely finished, about a month ahead of schedule.
He turned off on the Fell St. exit and looked for parking along the panhandle of Golden Gate Park. His buddy Bernardo lived just off Haight St. and that was exacty where Linus wanted to be. In a few minutes he was walking up Haight looking to purchase the smallest zip-lock bag the Glad Company made filled with the most wonderful weed California could grow.
On his left he noticed that the Mouseman was in his usual spot at the Coffee and Eats Cafe. The Mouseman was dressed as always in red tights, fake little mouse ears and of course the big puffy red nose complete with nylon whiskers. Next to him was the Computerman, another deranged Haight inhabitant who typed into a portable computer whose screen was cracked and whose power supply had long since run out.
Half a block up he made his purchase and turned back towards Bernardo's.
Two hours later Linus and Bernardo were sitting on the floor by a small coffee table in Bernardo's apartment. A chain of dominoes had been growing very slowly like a snake across the coffee table and Bernardo stared deep into the black pits on a double four.
"Come on, already" said Linus. "You haven't played in ten minutes."
"Ok, ok, I'm thinking, but my brain has become fossilized." Bernardo laughed. He was a Puerto Rican who grew up in Florida and figured he had to be a great domino master due to his Carribean roots. He played the double four.
"Ah . . . that's a faux-Ba there, Bernie. You played a double without putting it sideways." Linus spun the domino for him. A faux-Ba was arranging a domino the wrong way, named after the famous Senegalese domino champion, Mbissane Ba , whose only playing fault was occasionally laying a domino backwards or sideways.
"Oh," Bernardo laughed for a minute. "Alright, alright, let's just get outta here. We've been playing this one game for an hour. We've definetly turned into fossils 'cause we're not moving. We have to go out now or we never will."
"Welcome to Jurassic Park, home of the living fossils." Linus was pleased with this joke and laughed awhile. Then, "Ok, let's go to the Mad Dog."
They got up and walked outside, and continued down to Haight St, the cold breeze and the movement sharpening their awareness. Bernardo had lived in the Haight for about a year and The Mad Dog in the Fog had become his and Linus's hang-out. They had known each other since the first day of college in Boston, seven years ago. Despite serious jobs in Silicon Valley, neither had changed his life style much since freshman year, and tonight Linus especially hoped would be a night to remember, or even better, to have no memory of.
"Hey check it out Bernie.", Linus pointed to the corner. "The Mouseman." The Mouseman was standing on the corner looking away from them. A small and ragged back pack was between his feet.
"Ok, this is it, we're going in for a closer look." Despite having seen the Mouseman at least a few times a month, Bernardo had never gotten a good look at him. He had never wanted to stare too much.
They walked slowly, eyes glued to the Mouseman. Both thought how completely ridiculous he was, and how ridiculous they were for being so interested in this king of the clowns of the Haight St. parade. Bernardo was contemplating a joke about some cheese, when the Mouseman spoke.
"Linus Hunter!" his voice was low and commanding.
"What?" said Linus.
"Holy shit" said Bernardo trying to hold his laughter.
"Linus Hunter, MIT graduate, employee of Radius Corporation, software developer, resident of Sunnyvale California." The Mouseman's face was serious and his eyes stared directly into Linus's and held them. His stance was solid, legs slightly apart, arms folded across his chest and he leaned forward slightly. The sight of such a serious and confident posture in clown's clothing could only be matched by Robin, the Boy Wonder, talking tough to a common criminal.
"What, did you steal my wallet?" Linus was in disbeleif than any of this had just transpired. His right hand found his wallet in his back pocket.
"You are currently developing high speed graphics software to try and gain a large government contract for your company. You stand to make a tremendous sum of money if your company is awarded the contract one month from tonight. Your stock value alone will be nearlly a quarter of a million dollars." The Mouseman paused, then turned and studied Bernardo. "I am not concerned with you, banana boy," he said and turned his attention back to Linus.
"What the hell do you want?" Linus demanded in a low controlled voice. He wasn't afraid. He stepped forward until he was toe to toe, eye to eye, whisker to nylon whisker, with the Mouseman. He stared into the cold dark eyes, black and haunting, but not without life. "You've been watching me or something? You freak! Is that what turns you on!"
"I want half-a-million, cash." the Mouseman spoke barely above a whisper. His puffy mouse nose was touching Linus's and the fake whiskers tickled Linus's cheeks.
Linus laughed. "For What? So you'll stop learning my life history?" He backed off a bit, and rubbed his cheek. The humor of the whole situation hit him and he couldn't be sure that this wasn't a dream.
"Your working on a government contract, Linus." The Mouseman didn't move.
"Who are you, Uncle Sam? So what?" Linus was puzzled.
"You know, all you Silicon Valley boys think your so damn special. You come up here, Oh, I've seen lots like you, you come up here to have a good time. You buy your little bag of weed, or some mushrooms or acid, whatever you like. It's like a pharmacy up here isn't it? Well, that's fine. The Haight St. Pharmacy thanks you for your patronage. Those fools out on the street are making good money for me. I'm not unappreciative. But I think that service is worth a little bit more. I don't want your weekend spending money. I don't want your good-time money. I know you're worth a lot more. And I know what can happen to my good customers if their secret habits stop being a secret. I'm looking out for YOU, Linus"
Linus swallowed hard. He couldn't think. It had to be some twisted dream. What the hell had they smoked! The Mouseman wasn't this, some king of the Haight St. drug trade. He was a crazy. He drank coffee and just acted weird all day. What the hell was this?
"Now Linus, be reasonable. The government is going to award a contract, a very big and well publicized contract. It's part of a nation-wide government sponsored contest. Are they going to name a company, whose chief software engineer is on the front page of every newspaper holding a bong to his lips, as the winner of their big competition? Or how about a film clip of that engineer making a deal, details at 11:00? How about two cops who'll swear they sold it to that engineer in a sting operation? I don't think Uncle Sam is going to be too keen on that, Linus. Radius may be able to salvage the deal if they act early enough, but can they do it in one month without you? And what are you worth then, Linus, if Radius doesn't get the deal?"
"How about if I just knock you off right now." Linus got back in the Mouseman's wrinkled, nylon-whiskered face. "Are you gonna scream?" He shoved the Mouseman and pushed him back a foot. "Are all the rats of San Francisco gonna rally to your side? Who's gonna come save the Mouse. . .
A hand was over his mouth and three sets of arms pulled him back. Bernardo was held by three more pairs of arms. Every junkie and bum from Haight St. formed a circle around them. He hadn't seen them approach, and now he tried to fight his way out but was held fast.
"Ha ha ha!" the Mouseman bellowed: a deep, booming, James-Earl-Jones laugh disguised in red tights. "Half a million, all cash, seventy-two hours."
"That's ridiculous. I don't have that kinda money. I can pay you after the deal goes through, but there's no way in hell I can get that kinda money. In three days?" Linus's mind was numb. He needed to think but he couldn't. He tried to buy some time. "Where the hell am I supposed to get half a million bucks? It's almost impossible in three days. At least give me two weeks."
"I'm sure Radius would be willing to help out, after all, they stand to lose quite a bit without you." The Mouseman laughed but stopped suddenly. "I wouldn't be late either, I may decide to sell my information to your competition. SuperMac or RasterOps could be very interested to hear what I have to say." The Mouseman had played his last card for tonight and his footsteps echoed down an eerily silent Haight St. as he walked away. Bernardo laid on the sidewalk and Linus stood looking after the Mouseman and his retreating gang of dealers and junkies. The Mouseman had left his backpack behind and Linus tore it open. Inside he found two pictures of himself buying dope. "Jesus, these are from tonight!" he swore to himself. There was a third photo with the bong to his lips - in Bernardo's apartment!
"Front fucking page." Linus said. The Mouseman wasn't bluffing and Linus knew he was in deep trouble.
Linus was racing back down 101 to Sunnyvale. He had to get to work and hide his files. He needed to form a plan to eliminate the Mouseman. Jesus Christ!, he thought. Murder? Could he really do it? Maybe there was a way to avoid it, but that wasn't his chief concern. Would a few pictures of a pot-smoking engineer really blow the deal? He thought about it for a minute. Not if it were a regular deal, but if there's politics involved, it sure as hell could, he concluded.
He had to get to Radius and keep his files out of enemy hands. His enemies were growing. If John knew the code were finished, any trouble Linus got in wouldn't matter to anyone. And any code of his at Radius would quickly become their code, hell, it already was theirs legally he cursed to himself. But how to keep a copy of his work? He couldn't smuggle it out, he couldn't even make a copy inside without them knowing. Too many variables, he thought, too many ways to lose. There were only two things Linus knew for sure. He would burn in hell before he paid a blackmailer, and in one month's time he would be named the winner of that contest.
"Hello?" Kate answered. The phone had woken her up, but her voice hadn't shown it.
"Hey Kate. It's Linus Hunter." Linus was at a pay phone. If Bernardo's place was wired with video equipment, his place probably had more bugs than the rainforest.
"Linus, it's, it's 2:30 a.m. What kinda trouble are you in?" She met Linus through a friend of a friend about a year ago. She hadn't heard from Linus since a party a few months ago when he and Bernardo had asked if the could buy confiscated drugs from her, only somewhat jokingly. She worked in San Francisco for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
"No, no, I want to help you out." Linus knew he didn't sound convincing but what the hell, he thought. "I got a tip for the Agency."
"I'm sure you have a lot of tips, but why the sudden change of heart? And mostly why can't this one wait 'til Monday morning. Ya know, I'm not one of those ultra-dedicated employees who likes to work on the weekend." Kate had only been working with the Agency for a year and certainly didn't take the job because of any strong desire to rid the world of drugs. In a recession, any job's a career move. "What's the skinny, Linus?" she wanted Linus to cut to the chase.
"I can give you the biggest drug trafficer in the Haight, but I can't exactly do it without incrimminating myself."
"You mean the Mouseman." Kate stated a well known fact around the office, one she had helped to prove.
"You know?" Linus was incredulous.
"Sure. In fact, Haight St. was my first assignment. I knew that Mr. Mouseman was up to more than most people realized."
"Well why in the hell don't you nab him?" Linus was impatient and frustrated.
"Oh, you know, usual reasons. They wanna see who he's getting his stuff from and who they're getting it from and on and on, until they get either some guy in Colombia or some guy in the White House. Why what's he got on you?" Kate was somewhat amused at seeing Linus in such a panic.
The line was silent.
"Kate, I can't say. But can you get me some info on the Mouseman. Where does he live, where does he go, who does he talk to, that kinda thing."
"Um, sure, sure, I'll do what I can. But Linus, what are you going to do?" she paused and Linus didn't answer. "Jesus, just be careful. I'll fax you all I can on Monday or Tuesday. I think I still have your card."
"No." Linus snapped. "You can't, I mean, it'll be too late. I'll come meet you at noon tomorrow." He checked his watch. "Today that is. Pier 39?"
"Jesus, I can't have it all by noon, it's Saturday. Most of the office is closed and I'm not sure how or where to get it, or if I can." Kate was worried, but not just about Linus.
"I know you can. Pier 39, by the seals. Thanks Kate, I owe ya big." Linus hung up.
Linus was nervous. He, Bernardo and two other friends, J.D. and Katy Raffle, sat around J.D.'s living room. J.D.s apartment was three blocks from Bernardo's, and probably not bugged or rigged with cameras. It was late on Sunday night, still twenty-four hours before the blackmail money was due. Bernardo was in camoflage gear, his face painted and his body completely covered with broken up blobs of counter-shaded green and brown. J.D. and Linus were dressed in various styles of street clothing: urban camoflage.
"Ok . . . now!" Bernardo said and all three punched their watches, now synchronized. Bernardo picked up his night vision goggles and went to the table.
"Awight, wet's go ovew it one wast time. The intewigence wepowt fwom Kate, says that the Mouseman checks in hewe evewy Sunday at twewve." J.D. pointed to a hand drawn blow up of the Haight, indicating a small door next to Ben 'N Jerry's on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. He had a slight speech impediment but he could stand his own against the shit-talkers of the world. "Then he goes up Haight, acwoss Masonic, and into Pipe Dweams. What he does thewe, no one knows but aftew he weaves, he's not on a set pattewn anymowe, just wandom. So we gotta naiw him befowe then."
The three of them had been formulating a plan all weekend, and were convinced it would work. It had to.
"Ok he's coming." The voice crackled across the walkie-talkie. It was Katy, parked in front of Ben 'N Jerry's trying to look as non-chalant as one could in a brand new Infinity on Haight St.
"Got it." Bernardo clicked off his walkie-talkie and dumped a cup of water onto the street below.
Down below a bum scratched his beard as he saw the water falling. Linus was parked in a rented van in front of Holey Bagel on Masonic. He saw J.D. scratch his beard and took a deep breath, then lit up another cigarette and took another deep breath. He was wearing shades, a fake skin-head and a prominently displayed Gun's 'N Roses water-soluble tatoo on his left arm. He was Ramzino, and he tried to look like he had an attitude.
In a few minutes he saw the Mouseman crossing Masonic, just in front of him. Linus put the van in gear and checked traffic behind him.
The Mouseman had crossed Masonic and now started up the next block.
"Hey, buddy got any change?" J.D. made his voice as gruff as he could, trying not to say any r's or l's. The Mouseman was still a few feet away, and J.D. moved toward him.
The Mouseman didn't respond and started to veer out toward the street. J.D. outflanked him and forced the Mouseman to stay in close to the buildings.
"Aughhhhh! Oh God! Ahhh!" A piercing scream exploded from behind the Mouseman, across Masonic. The screams continued and all the street turned is attention toward the screams.
"Hey man," J.D. was right in front of the Mouseman now,and wouldn't let him pass. The Mouseman turned his attention away from the screaming and back toward the supposed bum in front of him. Although he didn't realize it, the Mouseman stood on a big X taped to the sidewalk.
The hit was perfect. Bernardo dropped from the roof above, rappeling down in just two jumps. His boot heels smashed the Mouseman square in the head, sending him sprawling. Linus had whipped around the corner as soon as he saw Bernardo lower himself over the edge, the side door of the van already open.
J.D. and Bernardo dragged the Mouseman into the street and threw him into the van, then hopped in after him. Linus pulled away as fast as he could without squealing the tires.
Back in front of the Coffee and Eats, Katy stopped screaming. She looked up at the crowd that had gathered around her. "Sorry." she said, "Just remembering my last orgasm." She walked around the corner and took a long circuitous route home.
The Mouseman cracked more easily than they had expected. Within half an hour Linus had managed to bluff and beat all the information he needed out of him. Bernardo returned in another twenty minutes with a box-full of photos and video-tapes. It's probably everything, Linus thought, but no use taking chances. He tied and gagged the Mouseman, then locked him in a public storage warehouse near the airport. He'd have to remember to feed him throughout the month, he told himself as he shut the overhead door to the Mouseman's tomb.
"I don't BELIEVE you!" Bernardo slammed his cup on the table. "As if you didn't have enough excitement out of this fucking deal."
Linus said nothing. He took a drink of his beer, finished, and opened another one.
"Ok, we did nail the Mouseman pretty good, and you were about to get rich anyway, but how in the hell did you get a huge raise, AND get another 10,000 shares of stock, BEFORE the winner was named?"
"Simple," Linus said. "They really wanted the shit done."
"You mean you got all that before you even finished it, before you even had a working product?"
"Kinda like that." Linus smiled.
"But it doesn't make sense. They didn't have anything else to gain. I mean, it was already all or nothing for them. What did they stand to gain by offering you more? Like they didn't think you had enough incentive already?"
"Well, for starters they also had nothing to lose, except a ridiculous salary for me next year. I figured if I didn't win the contract, I could blow off what little work there'll be around there next year and enjoy the good life. Plus, they may actually have thought I did need more incentive. I wasn't in to work for two whole weeks. I took a few days off after we bagged Mousy." He took another sip of his beer. "Went down to L.A. and sat on the beach."
"What?? Shit, you got balls. With an incredible deal like that on the line, you just took off two weeks?"
"And when I came back, I almost got fired. They erased my password and got into my account. They saw how far my work was from being completed, and the whole place was in a panic."
"And I had 'em by the balls. They knew no one there could finish it in two weeks. Hell, it would've taken someone two weeks just to figure out how it all worked, let alone finish it. So I demanded a new contract. What were they gonna do, say no?"
"But you wasted two weeks! Excuse me, but what if even you couldn't do it in the two weeks that were left? Your new position and stock would've been worthless." Bernardo was mystified, he knew Linus wouldn't be so careless about something so important.
"It was already done." Linus smiled. "I finished before we first met the Mouseman. I just made a copy of my code and put it on some random floppy in the office and hid it in a book. Then I backed up the original code to the way it was two months ago. All our code changes are recorded and can be reversed."
"So you bullshitted them? You had it done all the time and let them think it wasn't. But still, that's a pretty ballsy move. What the hell did you tell them you did for two weeks?"
"I told 'em the truth, sort of. I said I was battling Mousy the whole time. Hell I even showed 'em the video tapes and pictures of me. They didn't believe any of it, 'till I sent one of our new guys out to take Mousy some food."
"Shit, have you let him out yet?" Bernardo had forgotten about him.
"Yeah, last week. Right after we won the contract."
"So what did they think about that?"
"They gave me the third degree for smokin' dope in the first place, lectured me about how bad it could have been for the company image, that whole spiel. All that self-righteous crap really eats me up, so I told 'em I was walkin' without a new contract that gave me some guarantees, whether we won the contest or not."
"And they gave in?"
"Hell, it was a drop in the bucket. Every company in the industry was throwing everything they had into this. The contract with the government is one thing, but the publicity blitz they showered us in was the real gold mine. Now, not just the government is buying from us, but no one is buying from anyone else. The contest is really served to give everybody else a bad name. Who wants to buy a card from the loseres?"
"So basically, it was all on the table but the kitchen sink, so you threw that in too."
"You got it."
Bernardo chuckled. "So wait, how did you ever pay Kate back for her help?"
"Oh yeah." Linus smiled. "Well, when Mousy didn't show up on the street for two to three weeks, the DEA was shittin'. They thought they lost him for good and any chance of making a major West Coast bust with it. I think they had half the force out looking for him. Meanwhile, Kate was calling me up all pissed saying that Mousy's gone and afraid that they'll figure out she had something to do with it. Fortunately, the day she called me was the day they announced the winner, so when I was about to let Mousy out of his cage, I gave Kate a few tips about where she might find him. She was the big hero down there and I think, got a raise.
"Pretty slick, Linus. Well I'm glad you gave me the inside trading tip. I'm not as rich as you are, but I'm sure as hell glad I bought all the stock I could." Bernardo finished his beer and sat back, relaxed.
Millionaire Hunter just laughed.
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