The fog was as thick as a dBASE manual when I returned to my office. I had a hard disk whose insides needed cleaning out and an old toothbrush to do it with. Pouring myself a glass of cheap bourbon and lighting up a Lucky, I settled down for some serious work.
I was just prying the top off the drive with a crowbar when my phone rang. "Mack Rowe," I answered, "private consultant."
"Mr. Rowe?" asked a timid voice. It was a man, maybe late forties, probably rich. Another scared executive.
"What’s it to you?" I asked.
"Mr. Rowe, I’m in a terrible fix. I’m learning a new program, and it says here on the screen, ‘ Press any key when ready.’"
I waited for him to go on. He didn’t. Finally I prompted him. "So?" I asked.
"So I’ve looked all over the keyboard. Where’s the ‘any’ key?"
I smiled to myself. This was going to be a piece of cake.
"It’s the one with the asterisk and ‘PrtSc" on it," I told him.
"Oh yes," he said happily. "You know I’ve always wondered what that was. How can I ever repay you?"
"Just make sure your check is good," I responded.
"As I hung up the phone, I noticed a beautiful pair of female legs had come into my office. Looking up, I saw a face to match. What was in between was pretty good, too.
"Well, sweetheart," I smiled as I leaned back in my chair and tried to get my feet up onto the desk, "what can I do for you?"
"My name’s Anita Lift. My late husband was heir to the Lift Elevator fortune. I want my five year old son to know computers, so I bought him a copy of WordStar and Compaq 386 to run it on."
She was just how I like them, beautiful and rich. But I pretended not to be interested. "So, what do you need me for?"
"I want to have it set up when he returns from camp tomorrow," she explained. "I can’t install it. I came over here to see if you could help me."
"Did you bring the disk?" I asked.
"A friend told me to keep the disk in a safe place. She said I should just bring a copy."
"Well, she’s right," I told her. "Did you bring a copy?"
She handed over a folded piece of paper. It was a photocopy of a MicroPro disk.
"Tell you what, sugar," I told her, "I’m gonna have to go to your place to work this one out. "
"My car’s waiting," she said breathlessly.
I gave her my toothiest smile. "Sorry, cutie-pie, but I’ve got some unfinished business to attend to. Now you just run along home and I’ll be there in an hour."
As soon as she left I made a few inquiries. By the time I left for her place, I had a pretty good idea of what was really going on.
Her house was one of those big jobs outside of Mountain View. Whoever she really was, she was fixed up pretty well. She greeted me in a see-through nightgown with two martinis. I drank both of them as she showed me her computer.
"I put WordStar onto the hard disk," she explained. "But when I enter it and log over to my floppy, it just says some silly thing about an olderlay or something."
"The word’s overlay, sister. It’s discussed on page 10-13 of your DOS manual."
"Don’t be ridiculous," she retorted. "Page 10-13 of the DOS manual discusses the Assemble command in Debug."
"I know that, sweetheart. The question is, why would Anita Lift, elevator heiress and computer novice, know that? She wouldn ’t. But Sue Torself, famous hacker, would. In fact, you wrote the DOS documentation, didn’t you, Sue?"
"I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mack. My name is Anita Lift." I could tell she was getting nervous. "Besides, no one wrote the DOS documentation. It just grew."
"Oh no, baby," I said, going in for the kill, "you wrote it. And you can’t pin it on anyone but yourself. Millions of people need to learn Lotus or WordPerfect, but first they have to learn DOS, and you set out to make that impossible."
"It was an accident!" she cried. "I never intended it to be unreadable!"
"Oh, yes you did. But you couldn’t stand the heat. So you got me to come here to install your WordStar. And after WordStar, your Lotus, and then your dBASE III Plus. You were going to sweet-talk me, tell me your dBASE was my dBASE, and get me to initiate it with my name. Then you could prove we’d been together and try to pin the DOS rap on me. Next thing you know we’d be dealing in bootleg copies of Copy II PC."
"Oh, Mack, I only did it ‘cause I love you. Couldn’t we forget about software? Maybe move to Korea and make clones?"
"Sorry, baby, but when someone does what you’ve done, she’s got to take the rap herself."
I walked back to my car. The fog had lifted and the stars were shining brightly. As I got behind the wheel, I lit up another Lucky and popped a stick of gum into my mouth. In a house nearby, someone was playing a war game on a Macintosh.