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The Big Cloud: One last adventure in the casebook of Mack Rowe

It was 3:00am. The streets were deserted. The fog was as thick and impenetrable as a tech support phone mail system. Somewhere in the distance, an iPod was playing a weary, bluesy tune, and I wondered what it sounded like to the misguided soul wearing those earbuds–assuming that misguided soul had any hearing left.

I was heading back to my office after a tough case. Some college kid spilled three pints of beer into his laptop. The hard drive hadn’t been backed up, of course. Luckily, the dope was smart enough to call me. I was able to recover 89 percent of the data, and 63 percent of the beer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I turned the corner and walked into a reddish, sandstone building. Holding my throbbing nose, I found the door and walked up to my office on the fifth floor.

She was waiting for me in the hallway. “Mr. Rowe,” she asked.

I noticed her immediately–and not only because she was calling me by name. She looked as sleek as a MacBook Air, and twice as expensive, with legs as long as a white paper on Recommended Security Precautions For Financial Institutions Hoping To Increase Their Presence on the Worldwide Web.

I let her into my office and sat down at my desk. “What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I asked as I poured myself a scotch with one hand and rolled a cigarette with the other.

“My name is Lulu Lacross, and I need to know the whereabouts of my data.”

I looked up at her as I put down my soaked cigarette paper and shot-glass of tobacco. “Hard drive flew south for the winter?”

“My hard drive is fine,” she told me. “It’s just that my data isn’t on it. Hasn’t been in awhile. I’ve been using online applications.”

I shuddered. Poor thing.

“When did you notice that you couldn’t access your data?” I asked.

“Oh, I can access it just fine,” she told me. “But I worry. Back when I used local applications, I knew that my documents were in My Documents. Every five minutes, HackupBackup for Paranoids copied it to another location on my hard drive. As an extra precaution, at the end of every day, I’d plug in an external hard drive and run Blackhole Backup. I’d follow that with burning everything to DVD.

“But last month I switched to online tools. I don’t know where my files are physically stored, if they’re getting backed up, or even whether they’re lonely. I don’t even know whether they belong to me, legally speaking.”

“Google apps?” I asked. She shook her head. “Office Live?” Negative, again. “Joe’s Bar, Grill, and Internet Application?” Not that one, ether. “Okay, sis, who’s online apps are you using?”

“,” she told me.

I sighed. This was going to be a tough one.

Hardboiled Softpop

The next day I paid a visit to Softpop’s worldwide headquarters–a suburban house just outside of town. I rang the bell and a middle-aged man with a bewildered expression answered the door.

“” I asked. He nodded. “My name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.”

He smiled broadly, grabbed my arm, and pulled me inside. “Mack! How nice of you to come by.” He was dragging me down the hall to his office. “Call me Norman. I’ve just got to show you my new iPhone program for viewing widescreen movies. Much better than turning the phone sideways! I use three iPhones standing side-by-side. I’m calling it Softpop CineiPhoneRama!”

I shook my arm lose and confronted him. “Forget the iPhone, Norman. I want to know what you’ve done with Lulu Lacross’ data.”

He looked at me, confused, then he smiled. “Of course, Lulu Lacross. She’s using my suite of Internet apps.”

“You know all your customers by name?”

“Well, you can’t expect us to have a one-to-one relationship with every customers. For instance, if she called Tech Support, she’d get our slave laborer in Bombay. But I try to know all three of our customers by name.”

By now we were in his office and he sat down behind the desk as he continued talking. “Her data is perfectly safe. It resides on that XT clone in the corner. That 20MB hard drive hasn’t failed me in more than 20 years.”

“And she can access it any time she wants?”

“Of course. Until we change our policies. It’s all spelled out in our End User Licensing Agreement.” He handed me a stack of papers as thick as a phone book. It was filled with impenetrable legalize printed in very small type.

He handed me a ballpoint pen as I studied the text. “Here. It will help if you underline key phrases.”

I absentmindedly clicked the top of the pen and began to underline a sentence about first-born children.

“You did it!” he cried triumphantly! “You just clicked the EULA. That means I own your data. I own your surfing habits. I own you.”

Something here made me suspicious.

He handed me a box of Oreos. “Here, have a cookie. Have lots of cookies. That way I can track you. Goodbye.”

I left his house, somewhat dazed and confused. Somewhere in the distance, Windows was booting up.


Dear Readers:

My first Gigglebytes column appeared in 1986 in the San Francisco Bay Area Computer Currents. Like the vast majority of periodicals that have carried the column over the last 22 years, that one no longer exists. I have decided to discontinue this column to save the Sunday Business Post from a similar fate.

Seriously, I’m giving up this column for personal and professional reasons. Thank you for reading it and (I hope) find it amusing.


The Maltese Window Cleaner

The night was as dark as a spammer’s heart. I had just finished a big case…some recording company wanted to know who was stealing their music. They didn’t like the answer: everybody. But I liked their check; it was big and fat and had lots of zeros—some of them before the decimal point.
The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.
I was debating what I should do with the money—buy a new overcoat or invest in gumshoes—when someone knocked on my door. When you work in the scummiest part of town and someone knocks at 3:00 in the morning, you can’t be too careful.
“Come in,” I called. “The door is unlocked.”
In walked a gorgeous dame with blonde hair out of a bottle, a bright red dress with a slit skirt, and legs that stretched all the way to her waist. “Mr. Rowe,” she said, “I’m in a terrible fix. I need your help. Teddy hasn’t been himself, lately. I suspect foul play.”
“And Teddy is your husband,” I asked.
“No,” she explained, “my computer.” She pulled a notebook out of her oversized purse and laid it on my desk. “He’s painfully slow. Several programs don’t run at all. It can’t be a virus, I’m running Kowalski Internet Security Suite.”
That explained it. Kowalski might protect her from viruses, but she needed me to protect her from Kowalski. I named a price, we negotiated, and I agreed to do it for nothing. Then she left some CDs and an AC adapter and disappeared into the night.
I plugged in the AC adapter, booted the notebook, downed a shot of bourbon, rolled a cigarette, smoked it, then checked the PC. Still booting. Three cigarettes later, it was ready.
The first thing I did was slip the Run box a little msconfig. But instead of the configuration utility, I got a web page full of naked women. This puzzled me for a moment. Had Microsoft changed the interface or was my client just a little bit kinky? I tried regedit with the same results.
I scanned the hard drive with Kowalski Internet Security Suite—just on a hunch. Turned out the dame had installed a free program named UCanTrustUs. According to Kowalski’s site, this package records your every online move, slows down your PC, and—to protect itself—redirects all calls to msconfig or regedit to a porn site.
Coincidence? Could be.
I knew I needed something better than Kowalski to go up against UCanTrustUs, and that meant Hammett and Chandler’s PC-Spellen. The trouble was that installing PC-Spellen and Kowalski on the same computer was like mixing whiskey and gun powder. It might taste good in the short run, but it could blow a hole in the back of your head the size of a Windows bug report.
And uninstalling Kowalski wasn’t going to be easy. That program digs itself into Windows like a rat in cheese. I started with Kowalski’s own uninstaller. When that finished, I rebooted.
Windows came up with an error message. I clicked Cancel and up came another. And another. And another. Who would have thought that Kowalski would load 17 different startup programs, and not bother to turn them off at uninstall? Who was I kidding? Anyone who ever tried to uninstall Kowalski would think that.
Luckily, I knew how to remove unwanted autoloads. I went to that old Run box and typed “msconfig.” You know, sometimes even I don’t like looking at naked women.
This was going to take a different strategy—or at least a third-party Registry editor. I ran RegUrgitate and removed the 17 autoloading commands, plus the 873 other references to Kowalski.
For good measure, I also tried to remove the C:\Program Files\Kowalski folder. Windows wouldn’t let me. It appeared that there was still something in that folder running in the background. But I know a few tricks, and managed to remove it.
How was I to know that Kowalski moves system32 to its own folder? There was only one thing left to do: Reinstall Windows from scratch. I looked through the packet of CDs my client had left me and found what I was looking for: a Windows Restore disc made by the company that had sold her the notebook.
I put it in the drive and rebooted. No long wait this time. Just a simple text screen with a single question: “Reinstall Windows? Y/N.” I hit the Y key and waited.
In a few minutes the screen showed me a more detailed message: “Your hard drive has been reformatted and returned to the condition it was in when it left the factory. All viruses, incompatibilities, and incorrect settings have vanished with your data.”
I removed the disc and rebooted. Everything was serene, so I called my client and gave her the good news.
“But Mr. Rowe,” she asked after I had explained my brilliant solution, “what happened to my financial records? My photographs? My rare collection of antique word processors?”
“Don’t worry about it, Toots,” I reassured her. “You can simply restore all that from a backup.”
She sighed with relief. “That’s wonderful, Mr. Rowe. I’m so glad to hear that. Just one question: What’s a backup?”
Dawn was breaking as I left the office in search of breakfast. I was heading for the cheapest hash house in town. Something told me I wasn’t getting paid for this job.

The Big Cookie: Another dark tale of Internet noir

The night was as black as an overworked metaphor. I was returning from the office after a particularly difficult case—some poor mug in trouble with a loan shark had accidentally wiped out his Quicken file.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

She was waiting for me in the hallway, as expectant as a dialog box and as beautifully built as an iBook. “Mr. Rowe? May I come in.”

I opened the door for her. “Sure thing, toots.”

I sat down behind my desk, put my feet up, lit a cigarette, and set my hair on fire. “What can I do for you, babe?”

“That’s Miss Babe,” she said, correcting me. “But you can call me Toots.” She handed me her card. She was Toots Babe, Manicurist Extraordinaire. “Mr. Rowe, I’m in a desperate fix. I’ve been surfing the Web a lot lately, and now I’ve got a desperate feeling that someone is following me. Every site I go to, they know my name, they know my shopping habits, they know about those intimate love letters I’ve been posting on Usenet. It’s such a violation of my privacy! Can you stop it?”

I named my fee and she accepted it. Then she gave me a long and luxurious kiss before walking out the door. I sat at my desk for awhile, thinking about the case and wondering about the retching sounds coming from the hallway.

Ferreting Out Data

The next morning I paid a visit to an old adversary, Jimmy D. Weezill. Two years before I’d caught Jimmy red-handed collecting compromising data on just about everyone. Thanks to the evidence I gathered, he got five to ten at Microsoft with generous stock options. I figured he owed me a favor.

“Of course someone’s following Toots Babe. She’s a consumer, and if consumers aren’t watched, they stop consuming.”

“Who’s tailing her?” I asked.

“Probably a cookie.”

“Does she owe him money?”

“Not a bookie, a cookie. As in walnut or chocolate chip.”

Now I understood. She was being tailed by a dessert. I gave Jimmy a tip—I told him not to wait for Windows 2000—and went off in search of more information.

Next I visited an old friend turned Internet billionaire, Dorothy Kaum. Her company,, is worth billions, and probably will be for at least another week.

“Dot, ever heard of a bird named Toots Babe? She’s being tailed all over the Net.”

Dot thought for a moment. “Let me look up her credit card number.”

Something felt as phony as a Microsoft press release. “How do you do that?”

“When someone buys something from my Web site,” she explained, “their personal information is stored in a decrypted database on our server. We then share this information with other e-commerce companies and they share their credit card numbers with us. This is a big convenience for Web shoppers—we can charge them without their ever having to visit our site. It’s all in our privacy policy, right under the part about breaking their legs.

“Do you have my credit card number?” I asked.

“You mean the card that was revoked three years ago?” I didn’t answer.

“Here we go,” she said triumphantly. “Everything you need to know about Toots Babe. That’s odd.”

“What’s odd?”

“She has the same IP address as Trudy Kockenlocker.”

Suddenly everything fell into place. I leapt out of my seat and everything fell on the floor. It was as clear as fresh spring water poured over a brand-new surge protector.

Confrontation at Dinner

That night I went to Toots’ house for a dinner date. She greeted me in a luminous, semi-transparent raincoat. “Darling! I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Enough of that, Toots. Or should I call you Trudy?”

She looked confused. “Whatever do you mean?”

“You tried to play me for a sap, didn’t you? In fact, you did worse than just trying to play me for a sap; you succeeded in playing me for a sap—just like all the others. You’re not Toots Babe, Manicurist Extraordinaire. You’re Trudy Kockenlocker, founder of, the evilest manicure Web site of them all. Every time some unsuspecting dope logged onto your Web site for a manicure, you noted every cuticle and torn nail in your database. Yes, you’ve been gathering information on the fingertips of every well-dressed swain and dame in the country.

“But you wanted more than that. You wanted people’s credit card numbers, shopping habits, and political party affiliations. And to find out how it’s done, you created Toots Babe and shopped the Web. Then you sent me out to do your dirty work for you.”

“Yes, Mack, you’re right,” she cried. “I’m a bad sector. I admit it. But there’s something else. I…” She paused and swallowed hard. “I love you.”

“Sorry, babe, but I’m not buying it. Most women gag three or four times before they say that.”

I walked out of her house and into the night. Before getting into my car, I paused to light a cigarette. I heard the distant sound of a modem making its connection. Someone, somewhere, was getting onto the Internet. I idly wondered who it was. “Oh well,” I said, “I’ll find out back at the office.”

The Maltese Penguin

The fog was as thick as a Windows error message. I was returning to the office after another difficult case: The Feds had just discovered a two-digit year field in an obscure, Department of Agriculture database. If it wasn’t corrected by the year 2000, they were gonna bomb Norway. I fixed the problem by strong-arming a systems administrator in Justice into keeping 1999 going for a little longer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private Consultant.

I entered the office and tossed my hat at the coat rack. It missed, hit the heater and instantly burst into flames. That reminded me: I had some work to do in Windows.

I was opening a bottle of bourbon when the door swung open and a large penguin waddled into the room. “Mr. Rowe?” he asked, jumping into a chair.

“Yeah. What’s it to you?” I offered him a Lucky Strike, but he declined.

“Have you ever heard of Linux?” he asked, producing a gold cigarette case and pulling out a sardine.

“Of course. It’s a free version of Unix.”

“Someone’s holding it back from mass acceptance. I want you to find out who it is. We believe his initials are BG.”

“My fee is $100 a day, plus expenses,” I told him.

He raised an eyebrow. “This is Linux. You’re supposed to do it for the love of technology.”

We negotiated. I agreed to take the job for the love of technology, added self-esteem, a warm and fuzzy feeling all over, and the ATM pin number for Andy Grove’s Swiss bank account. He tossed a CD-ROM onto my desk and waddled out.

Bundled Nerves
The next morning I got up at the crack of noon. I started my investigations at the office of an old friend, Dell Gateway. He wasn’t happy to see me.

“BG didn’t send you, did he?” he asked, nervously drumming his fingers and typing “s efasdfasdfasdfsdfasef” into the annual stockholder’s report. “I asked him if we could put the name of our computers on the screen somewhere. He absolutely forbid it, of course. Not that I’d do anything to cross him, but I’m scared he’ll drop by and notice our logo on the box.”

I assured him that BG hadn’t sent me. “Know anything about Linux?” I asked, sinking comfortably into his couch.

He turned whiter than Michael Jackson. “BG did send you, didn’t he?”

I sighed, got up, and let the cat out from under me. “For the last time, BG didn’t send me. I’m working for a penguin who wants to do why more people aren’t using Linux.”

He smiled with all the sincerity of a politician in November. 

“And what does this…penguin want from me?”

“He wants you to bundle Linux with some of your computers.”

“Every computer we sell comes bundled with one of BG’s operating systems. That’s all I can say.”

“Ever think of offering an alternative?”

Gateway pushed a button on his desk. Two powerful men came in and started beating me with printer cables.

When I came to, I was in a large cardboard box filled with Styrofoam peanuts. I climbed out, tipped the FedEx man, and went on my way. Dell Gateway was scared–scared as an Apple employee watching Steve Jobs talk about vision.

Back to School
I next dropped in on Anna Conda, a system administrator for the local university. I knew she’d talk if I made the right moves. I know how to handle women.

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you,” she said. “Just stop begging!

“Linux is great,” she continued. “It’s the best OS in the world. Look, I maintain a network for 53 linguistic professors, and they used to put all sorts of things on their Macs. I couldn’t tell what those programs were…they were in, like, all sorts of languages.

“Then I gave them all Linux; removed that other OS entirely. I found some great point-of-sale software on the Web which I converted to handling grades and Ph.D. theses.

“Now I don’t get no trouble from those professors. In fact, as far as I can tell, none of them are even using their computers anymore.”

Cruel and Unusual
When I got back to the office, I gave the penguin’s CD-ROM a whirl. Things weren’t fitting together. Why was BG muscling the vendors? Was Linux really scaring Linguistics professors? What was the real reason they’d canceled Ellen? The answers, I knew, were on the CD-ROM.

The installation program got off to a good start, asking me if I wanted to wipe everything off my hard drive. The options were XY-14 and Q40. I picked the later and soon knew that I didn’t have to worry about my corrupted Windows registry anymore.

Next, it asked me to pick an X-server. The help file didn’t say what an X-server was, but it did tell me where I could find out on the Web–nice thing to know after I’d formatted my hard drive.

In the end I picked an X-server at random, and was able to boot Linux in a one-color mode. Black on black.

I was about to douse the keyboard with bourbon when my client waddled in. “Well,” he said, “have you found out why Linux isn’t catching on?”

There’s nothing like the sound of a penguin going through a second story window. It enhanced my love of technology, increased my self-esteem, and gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling all over.

The Maltese Novice

The night was as thick as a Netscape bug list. The fog was as black as a CEO’s heart. I had just returned from a case–some rich kid wanted to make sure his Nintendo would handle the Year 2000.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I had just returned to the office and was contemplating a bottle of Jolt Cola into which I’d just dropped a lit cigarette. Then the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen walked in the door. She had long blonde hair, a slinky red dress, and legs that wouldn’t stop. Literally–she kept walking into the wall.

"Mr. Rowe," she said, "my name is Natasha Furd. I run a small scroll bar manufacturing plant in Cupertino. I need your help. It’s about my father."

"Sorry, sweetie," I said, "but I don’t do missing users."

"That isn’t it," she said. "It’s just that he refuses to go online. He keeps complaining that I never call, I never write. So I tell him–‘I do e-mail.’ Last month I bought him a Pentium II 300, hoping he’d get interested. He won’t touch it."

Now I understood what she meant. "And you want me to encourage him with a little muscle, eh?"

"No, of course not. I want you to go to his house and teach him how to use his computer."

"Well, I don’t know," I said, leaning back in my chair, putting my feet up on the desk, and stapling my pants legs together. "That sort of work is dangerous."

"Will this help?" She reached into her purse and pulled out five crisp, clean, brand-new CD-ROMs. I took a quick glance. They were the real thing, alright. Not an AOL disk in the lot.

"Okay, lady, you got yourself a boy."

Visit on Green Street

The next night I paid the old man a visit. He proved to be suave, British, and very overweight.

"So," he said as he waddled back to his study, "you’re the chap my daughter thinks is going to get me using the Internet."

"Yeah," I said. "I go where the money is."

"Fine, fine. Would you care for a drink?" Without waiting for an answer, he handed me a tumbler of bourbon. Floating in the glass was a black mouse wearing white gloves and short pants. The guy was trying to slip me a Mickey.

I put down the glass. "So let’s see this computer of yours."

He ushered me into a study where a minitower computer sat on a large mahogany desk. Six other computers gathered dust in the corner. "Her other attempts to get me wired," he explained. "The bottom one is an Amiga."

"So what seems to be the problem?" I asked. "Why won’t you use a computer?"

"Let me see if I can explain myself. Suppose I wanted to write my daughter a letter on my computer. How would I go about doing it?"

"Piece of cake. You’d turn it on, wait for it to boot up, load your e-mail program, click the New Message icon, wait for a window to pop up, type your letter, click the Send button, wait for your system to make a connection, get a Mailer-Daemon error message back saying the address had fatal errors, retype the address, and start over. What could be easier?"

"Using the telephone."

I calmly lit a cigarette, took a deep drag, and coughed until my eyes watered. Now he was ready to listen. "What’re you gonna do when the telephone fails you? When you’ve got fifteen punks with Tommy guns outside your house shooting their way in and the phone line’s been cut? When that happens you’ll be mighty glad that you can e-mail the police."

He smiled at me indulgently. "How will I send e-mail if the phone line’s cut?"

His jibe hit me like coffee on a keyboard. This guy was going to be tough. "You’re a business man," I said. "You’ve probably got confidential information all over this place. And where do you keep it? On paper? Anyone can break in a steal it!

"Now suppose you kept it on a hard drive. You could encrypt your information, delete all backups, empty the recycling bin, and reformat your hard drive so that no one will ever see it."

"Personally," he said, "I keep confidential information in my collection of Perry Como albums. No one would ever look for it there."

I tried another tack. "Mr. Furd, I’m being paid to help you feel comfortable about using computers. If I don’t do that, I don’t get paid. Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"

"Can you speed up my modem connection? Keep my browser from crashing on me? Explain why I must click a button labeled ‘Start’ in order to stop?"

"You expect the impossible!" I said bitterly.

He laughed. "Let me make a proposal. How much is my daughter paying you?"

"I never divulge that type of information. Five CD-ROMs."

He smiled "What would you do if I offered you twice that to get her off of her computer?"

A smile slowly curled its way up my face. "Interesting challenge. I suppose I could sell her a 486 with 8MB of RAM, Windows 98 beta, and Netscape Communicator 4.01–the special Buggy Edition. Then I could e-mail her the complete works of the Microsoft Legal Department every hour. Finally, I’d set her up with an e-mail connection to"

He smiled back. "You’re a cruel man," he said, reaching for his wallet. "Would you accept money, instead?"

By the time I left his home, it was almost morning. The fog was lifting and newspapers were landing on roofs all over town. Somewhere, not far away, a fist was going through a monitor.

The Sunnyvale Falcon

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.