Don't Bet on It by Robert S. Swiatek - HTML preview
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With only two weeks to go before the election, Senator Jim Collins was leading his rival, Representative Tom Brown, in presidential polls by 10%. The race had been relatively free of dirt, and that was unusual. Many people thought that there would have been plenty of mud slinging, especially since Brown was known for dirty tactics.
I turned on the television to catch up on the news to find a Kathy Pendleton being interviewed by the media. Her voice was completely drowned out by some kind of machinery in the background and, since I can’t read lips, I didn’t have the slightest notion of what she was saying. Fortunately the interviewer summarized the proceedings and stated that Ms. Pendleton mentioned having had an affair with Senator Collins a few years ago. It was public knowledge that the two had known each other and dated for about a year, but that had been before Collins was married. I figured that this bit of information wouldn't damage the Senator, even if it were true.
I walked into the kitchen to check on the turkey chili and found it just about ready. I sliced some fresh Italian bread and prepared a small salad and opened up the refrigerator to get a bottle of Molson Export Ale.
By the time I returned to the tube with my food, the news was just about over so I changed the station to channel 29 to watch an old episode of Seinfeld. Jerry was recalling his high school days when he beat Duncan Meyer in a sprint. The current day found him in a rematch, proving who was faster. The writers had outdone themselves again.
The chili was as hot as a summer afternoon in Tijuana but the ale helped to put out the fire in my mouth. I finished the salad and brought the dishes back into the kitchen. I would have put them into the dishwasher, but since I am the dishwasher, they would have to wait until later.
I opened the newspaper and read about some of Tom Brown's promises if elected. He wanted a balanced budget within two years and cuts in taxes as well as building up the armed forces. He also talked about making other cuts to help the country. Rumors were about that some of the victims of elimination might be the school lunch program and all forms of welfare. Also in danger was funding for public radio and television and Brown promised to reduce term limits for those in the House and Senate, but only for newly elected individuals. What some people won't say to be president!
On the other hand, Senator Collins mentioned that since most Americans had been forced to endure salary cuts or at least concessions of some sort, it might be a good idea for Congressmen and Senators to bite the bullet by accepting a salary cut. This would set a great example for all. He also added that rushing to eliminate welfare might not be as prudent as properly administering it, and the same could be said about farm subsidies and funding for PBS. Lastly, he suggested a boycott of major league baseball so as to send a message to both management and the players that the fans were getting upset with the greed of both parties.
Tom Brown had mentioned that the public shouldn't trust Collins because of his questionable moral character. He claimed that the senator was a womanizer and that governing the country was very difficult with your pants off. Finally he suggested that the people should listen to what Collins' lady friend Kathy Pendleton was saying about him.
I didn't have a chance to turn the page of the paper when the phone rang.
“Did I wake you?” It was my accountant and close friend, Tom Daniel.
“That’s OK, I had to get up to answer the phone anyway. How’s everything with you?”
“I’m doing fine. Was your contract renewed?
“I got my notice today. At least they gave me a month to find some work, not like my previous contract.”
“Weren't you happy with a day's notice?”
“Actually it wasn’t even that much time as that contract ended on a moment's notice...and I mean that literally. We were told the contract wouldn't be renewed and ten minutes later we were out of the building, never to return. I went back to my desk before leaving and got my stuff together but I didn’t even get a chance to remove my telephone list, which I should have gotten.”
“What did you want with the phone list?”
“Oh, nothing more than the names and phone numbers of people who might have a connection to future contracts. You can’t have too many contacts in this business. Unfortunately the end came so quickly.”
“You'll be all right, John. I'm sure you'll find something better and soon.”
“I hope you're right.”
“If you want to stop over for a brew, come on over.”
“Thanks, but not tonight. I'm not up to it, Tom.”
“I'll talk to you in a few days. Hang in there!”
Such is the life of a computer consultant. Timing is so important. Once I had three job offers but when you need just one place to work, the jobs aren't there. Fortunately I always save for a rainy day so a short stretch with no checks coming in would not pose too big a problem. I just had to make sure to find something as soon as I could. I turned to the want ads and found a few analyst jobs but they all appeared to be full time work, in which I was not interested. I guess I was going to have to dig out Sunday's classified section. I just didn't feel like bothering tonight.
I spent the next few hours reading the paper and, as I turned the page, I saw an article dealing with the interview of Kathy Pendleton. She mentioned that she was to make a statement tomorrow regarding Senator Collins. She also stated that what she had to say would be damaging to his campaign for president. She said that all the press people would have to wait for further statements and then left with no further comment. Wasn't there a blond named Marilyn in the 60's who had intended to do just this same thing to a politician but her untimely death prevented it?
I turned on the television to see what else was happening and saw that the stock market gained a whopping two points while the NASDAQ lost almost a point. I would have to wait a couple minutes if I wanted to catch up on sports so I figured why not. When the station returned from its commercial messages the lead story was what else but the Bills and their preparations for their archrival Miami Dolphins at Rich Stadium on Sunday. Both teams were almost completely injury free and the game was sold out so there would be TV coverage in Western New York. The next story was on the World Series where game six was still being played in the bottom of the eleventh inning and the score tied at two. I had no plans to switch the channel to watch the remainder of the game so I patiently waited for the end of sports coverage and a few more boring commercials. The weather woman would be on shortly.
I hoped the forecast was better than my day had been. Little did I realize that tomorrow would not turn out much better.
A MURDER IN BALTIMORE
I awoke the next morning somewhat tired. It seemed I got no sleep whatsoever although I probably got a good five hours worth. I shaved and showered and got ready for another day at the bank. I had toast and hot tea for breakfast and put together a quick lunch. With no contract immediately in sight I could see that I was going to have to brown bag it for now. Otherwise the checking account would soon be depleted.
I got to work and things were the same as usual. I finished doing some changes to my program and was ready to resume testing when the phone rang.
“Is your desk still there?”
“Yeah it is, but just barely. I didn't expect to hear
from you so soon, Tom. What's the occasion?”
“Have you read the morning paper?”
“I didn’t have a chance. Why? Is there something of
“A certain Kathy Pendleton was found murdered in
her Baltimore townhouse early this morning. Wasn’t this the
day when she was supposed to make a statement to the
media regarding presidential hopeful Jim Collins? Do you
realize what this might do to his campaign?”
“Wow! That just might put Brown in the oval office.
And Collins seemed to be a shoe-in, at least according to the
polls. His political career may be over.”
“Why not stop over tonight for the beer you missed
yesterday? If you want I have an extra steak to throw on the
grill for you.”
“I can't pass that up. See you then.”
I hung up the phone and went back to testing my
program. The day seemed to really drag on. I had plenty of
work and no reason to be anything but busy. Somehow time
stood still or appeared to do so.
Finally it came time to quit and until then I really
believed the day would never come to an end. I drove home
and checked my phone messages. The machine's blinking
indicated someone had left a message but on playback I
heard only an old one. Apparently someone was trying to
sell me something. I changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and
left for Tom's.
It was unusually warm for a Buffalo evening in
October. The sun looked like a pomegranate and I had not
seen a sky like this one in some time.
I drove into his driveway and Tom handed me the
newspaper heading about the murder. I could smell
something out of this world on the grill.
“Hmmm. At this rate I may eat both steaks!” “You better check your nose. The steaks are on the
counter. I forgot to clean the grill from my last cookout. I
thought I'd torture you. Would you care for a beer or some
“I’ll have a beer later with the food. So how are
things at the office?”
“Same as usual. I should be getting that promotion
that was promised me.”
I sat down on a deck chair and asked, “Is there
anything new about Kathy Pendleton?”
“I haven't heard much since I talked to you earlier.
But the polls indicate that Brown picked up two points today
alone. At this rate Brown will overcome Collins in less than
a week. What do you know about Pendleton's alleged affair
“If I’m not mistaken Pendleton dated Collins for
about a year, but that was long before he and his wife Fran
were married. That came out a while ago but there were no
ties after the wedding and certainly no affair that was made
public. Up until two days ago that was the extent of their
relationship and then Pendleton unexpectedly comes out
with the acknowledgement about an affair and something
even more damaging. That news was so fresh that Collins
hadn't even had a chance to refute the claims.”
“Even if it were true that there was an affair, I don't
believe that it would have affected the presidential race,
unless it was still going on. Heck, even if the affair happened
after Collins' marriage a while ago or even just recently, he
could still win the election.”
“I have to agree with you.”
“Let me clean the grill and get those steaks going.
Can you fix the salad?”
“Sure enough. And I'll put on a CD. Any
“You make the selection. Anything you select should
The steaks were coming along nicely and Tom had
put two potatoes in the oven about an hour ago so they
would be ready too. To our delight Candy Dulfer was filling
the night air with her magic sax, accompanied by the Tower
of Powers horns on the song, ‘Funky’.
The strip steaks were sizzling so we sat down to
indulge. The taste was even better than the aroma while they
were on the grill. We didn't let the last two days' events
interrupt our enjoyment of these culinary delights.
Once dinner was over we piled the dishes into the
dishwasher and switched on CNN. The news revealed that
Kathy Pendleton was shot twice with no trace of a struggle
and no murder weapon found. Two empty glasses were found at the scene and they were being checked for fingerprints. There were no signs of a break-in to the townhouse, so it appeared that the murderer knew Ms. Pendleton. The police had no suspects yet but were asking
for any leads in the case.
Senator Collins was interviewed and said he was
shocked to hear of the murder. He sent out his condolences
to her family and friends. He seemed quite shaken by the
death of Kathy Pendleton. He declined any further comment.
After this interview it was time for the latest sports. I had a glass of cranberry juice and Tom and I talked
for a short while and then it was time to leave. The evening
air was sixty degrees and I didn't mind it in the least. I drove
home, undressed and hopped into bed and made up for the
COLLINS THE SUSPECT
Two days later NBC broke the news. Fingerprints on one glass found in the townhouse of Kathy Pendleton belonged to her. That wasn't too startling. The fingerprints on the other glass belonged to none other than Senator Collins. Perhaps the affair had not ended until Kathy Pendleton died from a bullet. Maybe the Senator had permanently silenced her. It didn't look good for Collins and that was reflected in the polls, which now showed the candidates about even. Collins had been in the lead for the entire race and now this one tragedy had suddenly propelled Brown ahead.
Ms. Pendleton was a well-established business executive who lived life to the fullest and commanded a sixfigure salary comparable to that of males in the same position. She had been married once but her husband had died of lung cancer five years ago and she remained single after her marriage of ten years. Both she and her spouse had been heavy smokers and that’s probably what had killed him. It did set an example for her as she quit shortly after his death and never resumed the nasty habit.
Meanwhile Collins would not comment on any of the events of the previous two days, saying only that he would hold a press conference that evening. NBC did state that the Senator was campaigning in Baltimore and stayed overnight at a hotel in the city on the evening of the murder.
I finished dinner and washed the dishes and let them air dry. The evening paper didn't shed much light on the Pendleton murder but I noticed a small article that had comments from the wife of Senator Collins. Fran Collins mentioned that her husband had never been unfaithful, and she knew of his past relationship with Kathy Pendleton. As far as she was concerned, there had been no affair as reported by Ms. Pendleton just prior to her death.
The doorbell rang and my friend Tom made an appearance. I let him in and showed him the article with Fran Collins' observations. He read it and mentioned the NBC story of the day.
“I understand that Collins is quite bright, probably not one who would consider going into Kathy Pendleton’s home at this time of the campaign. His schedule doesn’t allow that luxury,” my friend noted.
“You’re right about that! It doesn’t make too much sense for a happily married man to have an affair with Pendleton. Of course, if the affair took place, the admission would not have hurt his chances of being elected, even if he lost a few votes.”
Tom responded, “I don't think I would leave a glass with my fingerprints at the murder scene.”
“I agree. If you were going to kill someone, you certainly wouldn’t have a drink with that person and then leave evidence. You’d probably have someone else do the dirty work. There is no reason for him to be there in the first place?”
“Good observations. And then why didn't Pendleton make her statements initially instead of saying she was going to make a statement soon?”
“And why did she wait until now to come out with these statements?”
“It seems that all these statements would really benefit no one by themselves. Only her murder would help Brown and destroy Collins.”
I interrupted the discussion, “Are you thirsty?”
“A ginger ale would be fine if you have it.”
I poured two glasses of Vernor’s and continued, “Let’s get back to the fingerprints on the glass again. Maybe the senator stopped in to talk to Pendleton, had a drink and then things got ugly, resulting in her murder. I guess that is a remote possibility.”
“Except the shooting indicates that Collins brought a gun to kill her.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense.”
“So the fingerprints on the glass were planted.”
“Most likely. They had to be to make Collins look like the murderer. He was in town at the time. It wouldn't take much to get a glass from his hotel or from his campaign scene with his prints on it,” I retorted.
“So you think Kathy Pendleton was paid off to come out like she did?”
“It looks like it but that somehow doesn't seem to fit.”
“From her status, it is obvious that she hardly needed the money. But then again maybe she had no choice in the matter.”
“It is possible she was forced to do it against her will.”
“That could be but the delay in coming out still puzzles me if that is the case.”
“There’s something else strange that I noticed when Kathy Pendleton was being interviewed. You couldn’t hear her talk over the annoying background noise. Her comments, though sparse, were summarized by the interviewer. Ordinarily you would think that the media would set up an environment somewhat free of this type of clutter.”
“I didn’t notice that but then I didn’t catch her being interviewed.”
I finished my ginger ale and asked Tom if he wanted another or a pale ale. He passed and asked why I didn't acknowledge him downtown earlier today near the library.
“What time was that?”
“About 11:30 or so.”
“That wasn't me. I was at a meeting from ten until almost 12:30, and a boring one at that.”
“Oops, sorry! It certainly looked like you.”
“They say that everyone has a double.”
We sat talking for a while longer and then Tom departed. I turned on the TV and found Michael Keaton and Andie McDowell starring in ‘Multiplicity.’ It was a flick about a construction supervisor who was so caught up in his work that he barely had time for his family let alone himself. He was really running ragged with only twenty-four hours in the day until he alleviated his problem by having himself cloned. Now he could perform his duties at work, have time for being with his wife and kids and even get a chance to play some golf and do some bungee jumping.
The movie was well done and it wasn’t even finished when it came to me. Kathy Pendleton never did say all those things that came out prior to her death, nor was she the one being interviewed by the television reporter. But someone who looked a lot like her did.
I awoke the next morning to the realization that I had missed the press conference. I wasn't too concerned because the morning news would have all the highlights anyway. One highlight they wouldn’t have was that someone was posing as business executive Pendleton.
If my theory was right, it explained a good deal of what had transpired over the last few days. It all fit, too. What a devious plan and execution by the Brown campaign! It certainly was doing Collins in and what could he do about it? Even if he could prove his innocence, it would be much too late for this election. Such is the fate of a politician.
The morning summary of the press conference was not very surprising. Senator Collins did not sound like himself when he sent out his condolences to the family and friends of Kathy Pendleton and mentioned that he had no contact with her and certainly no reason to kill her, completely ignoring any implications of an affair with her. He acknowledged being in the city of Baltimore, but said he didn't even know where Pendleton lived. His wife wasn't with him so he couldn't use her as an alibi, but he did have his associates with him that evening for most of the time. They would testify on his behalf if need be.
I turned off the car radio and headed into work. My days there were numbered even though I still had quite a bit to do. My boss, Madalyn, said to take as much overtime as necessary to finish my assignments. She really didn’t care...it wasn’t her money. Actually the consulting firm I worked for, the SLZ Group (an acronym for Simmons, Lawson and Zeller) was only getting paid the same rate as my regular hourly billing so the bank could care less. Unfortunately for the SLZ Group, they had to pay me time and a half for any hours over forty hours and my overtime rate was higher than their billing rate. I’m sure they weren’t too thrilled with all my overtime. And yet they had made enough money from my performance to buy their BMWs and Volvos so why should they complain? After all, they did indeed find me the opportunity, but wasn’t I the one who had to go through the interview and wasn’t I the one who did all the work. They should have no complaints.
I dialed Tom Daniel at work and he answered in his usual happy voice.
“What if someone who resembled Kathy Pendleton passed herself off as Collins’ lover a few days ago? Don’t overlook the wonders of makeup.”
“That is an interesting thought. Even if it could be proven, it probably won’t save Collins’ campaign.”
“I know,” I said.
“Now that you mention it, that explains a lot. All the puzzling questions that we brought up now have answers. Your observation about the so-called Pendleton interview with the background noise indicates that whoever this was may have been a near clone of the real Kathy Pendleton but her voice was not in anyway close to that of the business executive whom she was trying to impersonate. How did you figure this out, anyway?”
“Two events inspired me: your comment about seeing me downtown yesterday and a movie I watched last night called ‘Multiplicity.’ Maybe you’ve seen it.”
“I sure have. It’s a movie about cloning. Oh, I see where you’re coming from. That woman was a look-a-like and the fingerprints on the glass were a setup! She didn’t have to say anything to implicate Collins just as long as it appeared that Collins had her murdered. Killing someone was a lot more serious matter than adultery with that person. What a setup!”
“Even just the possibility that Collins had her eliminated could very well give the presidency to Brown. And that is what we have now.”
“It looks like the senator is finished, unfortunately. So who is this mystery woman, anyway?”
“You got me. Chances are we’ll never find that out. If we do find out, it will be thirty years from now when both Brown and Collins are long gone from the political scene and it won’t make any difference. Where did Brown find this woman?”
“He probably had his henchmen dig deep into Collins background to come up with any dirt they could on the senator. They came across his relationship with Pendleton, but that seemed to be on the up and up. They were completely at a loss for what to do. Then one day some member of the Brown entourage happened to catch a glance of this good-looking woman who had a strong resemblance to Kathy Pendleton. It didn’t take long before they figured why not use this woman to somehow destroy Senator Collins. Before long this devious plot as we now see it was developed.”
“Very ingenuous, indeed.”
“Did you find a new contract yet?”
“No, but I am actively searching. SLZ Group is looking for me too, or so they say. I'm also in contact with two other firms to see what they have.” I would have to cut this conversation short, as the water I had earlier was catching up with me.
“You'll find something, I'm sure. You always have before.”
“I hope it doesn't take too long.”
I was relieved when Tom said, “Well I've got a meeting in two minutes so I have got to go. Talk to you later.”
I made the necessary trip and returned to my desk to find a report program change on my desk. It didn’t take long. The rest of the day passed fast enough but I had a very restless feeling within. The thought of the murder scenario didn't set well with me. If Brown gets elected and that seemed forthcoming, what would he do while president? I wasn't looking forward to four years with him in the White House.
A few weeks later, the gloom set in. Election night came and the race was as close as two newlyweds on their honeymoon night. Brown carried California just barely and Collins had control of New York and Massachusetts. The rest of the country seemed to be a toss-up and it brought to mind the 1960 election when John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon. Rumors then were that the Democrat’s success might have been due to some wheeling and dealing by those who expected some favors from Kennedy. Would that same thing happen here?
I went to bed before the final results were confirmed but it appeared that Brown would be the next president. He was in the lead and I somehow felt that he would make sure that this election would be his or at least his cronies would do so on his behalf. I didn’t like the looks of things.
I awoke and the radio was announcing that Brown had defeated Collins for the presidency by a few electoral votes. I felt quite nauseous and it didn’t help that at the same time my contract at the bank had ended. I had a few interviews and was submitted to quite a few companies, but no one offered me a contract. Luckily my checking account had some funds so I was prepared for the layoff. With a little free time I figured I would call some people whom I hadn't seen in some time. The first was my sister Elaine in New Hampshire. I also planned to call my friend Ed in Maine as well as Father Ted Evans, a Jesuit who taught me computer science back in college a few years ago. Since it was only seven a.m., I figured that I would wait a bit before calling anyone. They were probably all up and out of bed anyway but I made it a habit not to call anyone before nine a.m.
I shaved and showered and then had a small breakfast while catching up on the election details. There was a rumor of some voting improprieties on the part of the Brown campaign. After realizing what happened over the last few weeks, I figured that it was probably more than just hearsay. But I had no way of proving it.
Before too long I decided to try to reach my sister. She answered the phone after three rings so I said, “Hi Lainie. It’s your long lost brother.”
“Well, it’s good to hear your voice. I haven’t heard from you in weeks. Mom said your contract at the bank ended. How are you coping?”
“I’m OK. I’ve had a few interviews but no offers so far. I should be fine with no work for a few weeks. I imagine I should get something soon. How are Mike, Steve and Kim?”
“They’re all fine. The children ask about you all the time. So, when are you coming to visit?”
“I have a fair amount of free time so maybe in the next week or so. Unfortunately I’m at the mercy of the consulting firms, as I have to be available for interviews at a moment's notice. That means that it would probably be closer to the end of the week. I do have an interview set up for next Wednesday, so the earliest I could leave would be later that day. Ideally, I could interview, be offered the contract and have to start in a week or two. That would give me plenty of time to visit. Unfortunately it probably won’t happen that way. But it sure would be nice.”
“We’d love to have you, even for a few days and we don’t need advance notice.”
“Well let me see how this interview goes and as soon as I know I’ll give you a call. You’ll hear from me no later than next Thursday.”
“That will be fine. Talk to you soon.”
“So long. Give my regards to Mike and the kids.” “Bye.”
I decided to try to reach Ed in Maine although I figured he probably wouldn’t be home but at work. I was surprised when he answered the phone.
“Go ahead, it’s your dime.”
“Good morning. It’s John Kuzinski. I didn’t expect to find you at home. You’re working, aren’t you?”
“I sure am. I work at home a few days each week. It’s great! Are you working?”
“Actually, I’m between contracts so I have some free time. How would like a visitor for a few days?”
“That would be great. When are you coming?”
“That’s the tricky part. I can’t be too far away from the house in case of any upcoming interviews. I’d love to leave today but I don’t have that luxury. I have an interview next Wednesday so you wouldn’t see me any sooner than a week.”
“Next week would be great. What did you think of the election?”
“I wasn’t too thrilled with Brown getting into the oval office.”
“Me neither. I think Brown had the election rigged.”
“You’re probably right and that’s not all.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I can’t go into that now but you’ll get all the details when I see you. I guess you’ll just have to wait awhile.”
“That, I will do. Anyway, you’re welcome anytime so just let us know.”
“I’ll give you a call no later than Thursday. Send my regards to Rebecca and the children. I can’t wait to see you folks again.”
“And we’re looking forward to seeing you too. ‘Til next week.”
I took a short break and then called Father Ted. He offered me a tour of the computer science facilities since I hadn't been on campus for some time. The last time I was there was for a Thanksgiving Mass and breakfast, although I’m not sure when that was.
I didn't realize how long I had been away from the campus when he showed me around the grounds two days later. I was impressed and also felt inadequate regarding computer stuff. I had spent years studying computer software and then actually working in that area for a longer stretch but it still seemed like there was so much more to learn. Computers give you that feeling at times.
“Feel free to use our facilities at any time you like. There's a few things that I can show you that might interest you.”
He forced me to get hands on experience so I logged on and went to a few sites. He guided me along when I needed help and we spent about an hour so that I was quite comfortable with the system. I did get to learn some neat tricks from him. Then he mentioned PROCOMM PLUS.
“What exactly is that?” I asked.
“It's some software that lets you dial into other computer systems from the comfort of your own home, using your PC and modem. You also need to know all the variables involved at the other end to make the proper transition. Let me show you how it works.”
Father Ted then proceeded to show me how to use it and I was impressed.
“That's really easy and it can be very useful software.”
“I thought you'd like it. You can get a contract in New York City or Los Angeles and not have to worry about driving to work. I’m sure most consultants would prefer telecommuting rather than spending time in the car, especially if the trip is an hour or more. Before I forget, you can use this logon or one of a handful of other logons that we all use from time to time. We're not supposed to let anyone outside know about this but I'm sure we can trust you. I'll write these down for you, along with anything else you may need. Here’s a short list of the requirements for the PROCOMM PLUS settings. There's no need for you to memorize a great deal of stuff but just remember to keep this confidential.”
“You can count on me to do that. Thanks for all this very useful knowledge. I'm really glad I made this trip to see you. Can I pay you back by taking you out to dinner?”
“Some other time perhaps. I have some papers to grade. That's the trouble with giving tests...you have to grade them.”
“Well thanks again for the tour.”
“It was my pleasure. I hope you find a contract soon. I'll say a prayer for you.”
A LOTTO PROPOSAL
Tom rang me the following Wednesday and asked, “How would you like a PC with all the works for under $500? It’s not brand new but close to it, probably no more than six months old.”
“That's a real steal, but is it hot? I'd love one for that price. I could throw away my old 286 and really get ready for the twenty first century. I think my PC has cancer.”
“Sounds like it may need a lobotomy. You’re probably better off ditching the old clunker and getting a new one. You know how exorbitant health care costs are!”
“You’re probably right. But speaking of costs, why is this PC that you have for me so cheap?”
“One of our clients went into bankruptcy and we have to dispose of all his assets. We'll give you a Pentium processor with a built-in modem and even throw in a color monitor. You'll be able to surf the Internet.”
“I'd be a fool to pass up an offer like that.”
“It's done then. I'll talk to you about it later over a brew.”
I really wasn't a hacker, so I didn't plan to get so much software as to have no other life. I would use the new system at my leisure and donate my dinosaur to charity, if someone would have it. I would keep my inkjet printer and keyboard and use them with the new PC.
I turned on CNN and President-elect Brown was proposing a national lottery.
“We can eliminate many of our taxes with a national lottery. After paying off the winners and subtracting administrative costs, the remainder of the money collected can be split up proportionately by the states. This means that we support any programs that the state in question wants. We have studied the effects from many of the state lotteries and it’s about time we applied this formula to a national game. Everyone wins, as individuals who never dreamed of being rich are turned into millionaires overnight, taxes are cut and we create many new jobs. At the same time programs that may have been floundering because of a lack of funds can be restored to what they once were.”
What Brown said was partially true but nothing was mentioned of the problems encountered by some of the states in their gambling ventures. Specifically, Atlantic City was supposed to be resurrected with casino gambling but the years have proven that the people living in the city that were poor before are still poor. In 1978, the first casino opened and a decade later the town had over 18,000 slot machines and no movie theatres and no car washes. The city lost twenty per cent of its population and seventy-five per cent of those people still there were classified as poor. So much for a revival!
Then consider California. Money from the lottery was earmarked for education and some of it made it, but unfortunately not enough. Some people in the state feel that California was better off before the lottery. Many people think that a lottery solves all those financial difficulties for the school district. Because of this scenario with the lottery, other sources for funding are cut or greatly reduced. Consequently, if profits from the state games are sub par, who will have to bear the brunt of the shortfall? The students.
Even if the lottery is hugely successful, what happens when administrative costs go overboard? What happens if the money that is supposed to be used for education never quite gets there? Once again education gets to suffer. And it’s even worse if the lottery doesn’t perform as expected. But Brown didn’t bring up these points.
He left the press conference and his campaign director then got into some of the workings of the proposed new national LOTTO.
“A national lottery has not been proposed since the 1950’s but this time we plan to implement it. It will be a 6/49 lottery, that is, you have to select six different numbers from 1 to 49. You must get all six numbers to win the LOTTO pot, which will be one half of what was collected in the previous week’s lottery. You can pick the numbers yourself or use the random number selector that is available when you buy your tickets. A ticket will cost one dollar and give you two chances to win. This means that you will select two sets of six numbers each. That is required for each entry along with your social security number, which you must verify with the person selling you the ticket.”
One of the press corps then asked, “If the pot is half of the previous week's take, what will be the prize for the initial game and when do you expect the first LOTTO to occur?”
“The first game will pay ten million dollars to the winner and the pot will be adjusted accordingly for game two depending on how much is taken in for game one. The winner has a choice of either a lump sum payoff or monthly payments for twenty years based on yearly inflation figures. We are striving to have the first game played on the first Wednesday after April 15th of next year. Lottery tickets will be on sale at all supermarkets, gas stations, drug stores and convenient stores and perhaps a few other places as well. That’s all the details we have at present but we will make anything else known as soon as we have the information. Thank you.”
He hadn’t been finished ten minutes when the phone rang. It was George from the SLZ Group.
“The health care people want you after all. They’d like you to begin on Monday if that’s no problem.”
“That sounds fine with me. I thought they found someone else they liked better.”
“Apparently she didn’t like doing the work they assigned her so she quit. You’re their second choice but it’s better than nothing. You’ll be able to pay your mortgage again.”
“But isn’t a consultant’s job to do what the client wants? Oh, never mind.”
“Can you stop at the office Friday morning so we can formalize the contract?”
“You bet. I’ll be there. What time?”
“Ten should be fine. It shouldn’t take longer than a half-hour or so. See you then. Congratulations!”
There went my trip to New England. I’d have to call my sister and Ed and give them the bad and the good news. I had a new contract and my vacation would soon be over even before it started.
And we would soon have a national lottery. That was exactly what the country needed...more people throwing away money on a dream that would never come true.
We already had BINGO and the state lotteries. Now there might be an even bigger LOTTO. Along with this proposal, there went hand in hand the request for huge tax decreases as well as massive cuts to be made in endowments for the arts. This I felt as I kept getting calls for donations for PBS. Of course I would give what I could since I felt that some of the best television is of a non-commercial nature. If you wanted news and good jazz, the place to get it was from NPR on the FM dial. Unfortunately, a great deal of funding was to be cut out, even though this support was needed and justified. All these cuts were a result of the election. Things may have been bad, but it appeared that they were going to get even worse.
THE “NEW” COMPUTER
A few months later I was really settled in to my new contract when the phone rang. It was Tom Daniel. “How’s your new gig going?”
“Things are good. What are you up to?”
“I’ve got that PC that I promised you. I can bring it
“What about tonight? I’ll even feed you if you like. I made a huge pot of spaghetti and meatballs and sausage.”
“That will save me the trouble of cooking. What time?”
“I should be home by five so anytime after that will be fine. We can get the PC set up first and then eat if it’s OK with you.”
“That’s good for me. See you then.”
“See you when you get there.”
My day passed by so quickly that I was surprised to see it was 4:30. I logged off and departed the scene. An accident on the Thruway in the opposite lane slowed down the traffic ahead of me for the voyeurs but still I was home at a few minutes before five. I quickly undressed and got into some more comfortable clothes. I then proceeded to get dinner going. All I had to do was warm the sauce, cook some vermicelli and a vegetable and make a green salad.
By the time I got everything going, Tom arrived with the new PC (new to me anyway) and we spent about an hour getting it set up.
“If you want any special software, let me know...I can get a pretty good discount from my friend Joe at work.”
I replied, “I will keep that in mind although I don't want to become so obsessed with the PC that I have to call PC anonymous!”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“Would you care for a brew?”
“I thought you'd never ask.”
“I had to make sure the computer was up and running before I plied you with alcohol...just a precaution. We can eat in about twenty minutes or so.”
We sat down in the living room and I brought out two Labatt Blue.
“What ever happened to the political career of Jim Collins?” I asked.
“He's on the mend. Collins won't make a political impact for a few years.”
“Excuse me. I’ve got to see to the food.”
Everything was ready so I brought out the spaghetti, meatballs, sausage, salad and cooked broccoli. I also had some Italian bread and a decanter of burgundy wine.
We sat down and I asked Tom, “Care for a small glass of the house red?”
“No thanks, the beer will be enough for me.”
The only sound was that from the sax of Warren Hill.
“Everything is excellent, chef.”
“I’m glad you like it. Thanks for getting me the PC and getting me set up. Remind me to give you a check before you go.”
“If I forget, pay me the next time. It’s no big deal.”
“Speaking of cash, have you played the national LOTTO at all?”
“Not me. What about you?”
“Me neither. The odds are way against you. If I want to gamble I’ll head over to Casino Niagara. You can play blackjack and you can even win a good deal of the time. You won’t win as much but your odds are so much better at coming out with anything.”
“Apparently the new LOTTO is raking in the dough big-time. There seems to be quite a few winners. I guess that’s what keeps it going.”
The CD ended so I headed to the stereo for another.
“I read recently that the father of the composer Johannes Brahms lost a good deal of the family savings by playing the lottery.
“I heard a bizarre story about a guy named Enrique Mendez who decided to play a trick on his lottery obsessed wife. He somehow managed to rig a lotto ticket so that it appeared she was a winner, big-time. She was so thrilled that she clutched her chest, fell over and died.”
“Wow, that is some story. I have heard of a few incidences similar to that. As far as the lottery goes, the bad outweighs the good.”
“I heard that the lower and middle class workers were wasting their wages on lottery tickets. They were throwing away their money on the slim chance of winning.”
“Who said that?”
“Surprisingly, those comments came from individuals in the first half of the nineteenth century in this country. I guess some things never change.”
We finished dinner and then adjourned to the living room. The dishes would have to wait. An hour later Tom decided to call it a night.
“Are you going to the benefactors' dinner for the college?” Tom inquired.
“I was thinking about it. Do you plan to attend?”
“That sounds like a fine idea. I'll meet you there.”
“I hear they have an outstanding chef there so I'm sure we won't be disappointed. It will be an excellent opportunity to sample the fine cuisine and meet some people that we haven’t seen in some time.
“It's a go, then.”
DINNER AND A REUNION
It was a fine night for being at the country club. The appetizers were exquisite and I imagined that dinner would be even better. Tom was really impressed with the Moroccan chicken delights and I thought highly of the crab croquettes, which made fine use of a dry white wine. The draught beer we were enjoying complemented the appetizers.
Some of the current students came over to have polite conversation. A former student to whom I had taught computer math a few years ago showed up and addressed me as Mr. Kuzinski.
“You can call me John now. By the way, this is Tom Daniel. Tom, meet Dave Fisher, one of my prize students, though I never told him at the time.”
“It's my pleasure, Dave. I hope John didn't corrupt your morals during his tenure.”
“Quite the contrary. He actually inspired me to get into the data processing world. Maybe I shouldn't thank him for that...not with some of the seemingly endless days I put in from time to time.”
“Where are you working?” I inquired.
“I have what many people call an oxymoron, a government job in the nation's capital.”
“Not only did I teach him about computer programming, but I also saw to it that he improved his sense of humor,” I added.
“God only knows that without one you can't survive in the information processing profession. What are you doing now, Mr. Kuzinski?”
“I'm consulting at one of the health care facilities in downtown Buffalo...a far cry from teaching high school math so long ago. We're moving one of the systems to California and trying to ensure a smooth transition. This Los Angeles health care firm bought out our prescription drug system and within a year they are supposed to be on their own. I'm not sure it can be accomplished that quickly.”
“What are you working on, Dave?” Tom asked.
“I’m doing a good deal of maintenance right now. That's why my hours are so long. I have been trying to make sure all the existing systems keep running. Every so often I write some new programs but mostly my job is looking after all the old garbage programs, and I do mean garbage. They’re almost impossible to maintain. I certainly am learning a lot though, Mr. Kuzinski.”
I added, “I know exactly what you are talking about... spaghetti logic. I worked with a guy in Boston some time ago. He referred to the programs as 'trash'. He really was right on the money. Some programs are rushed to get done in such a slipshod manner and they hang on for a long time, but it's a miracle they work. Other programs are designed, coded and tested and then within a year they are nowhere to be seen. Either the project got canned or the system was replaced. Then others get patched and bandaged up and they hang on forever, but try to figure out what they are doing...forget it!”
“We had better get a seat for dinner or else we'll miss out on the main course,” Tom interrupted.
“Want to join us, Dave?” I asked.
“I would love to,” he responded.
We met some other nice people at the table. Frank Wilson was a financial planner and his wife Terry taught English at the community college nearby. As the evening progressed, I casually heard mention of the new LOTTO game from Frank so I asked him, “When did lotteries originate?”
“They have been played for centuries. The emperor Nero, who ruled in the Roman Empire from 54 to 68 A.D., invited his dinner party guests to draw for prizes such as slaves or a villa in the country. Even before him, Caesar Augustus instituted a lottery in order to help repair the city, which had been damaged by civil war. A century or so after Nero, the emperor Heliogabalus offered ‘prizes’ in his lottery of dead animals and insects.”
“What great prizes!”
“During the Middle Ages, lotteries were featured at festivals and fairs. “
“What about in this country?” I asked.
“As you might guess, they came over from Europe with the colonists. In 1612, officials of Jamestown, Virginia decided to institute a lottery. At first some of the other colonies were opposed to gambling, but by the middle of the eighteenth century, every colony was using the lottery to help finance education, keep charities going and aid in municipal improvements. Lotteries were used to establish or support Columbia University, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and Williams College.”
“It sounds like you did your thesis on LOTTO. Where did you get all this knowledge?
“Some time ago I saw a program on the tube about lotteries. I stayed tuned in and soon got some books on it. After that, I was hooked, on the idea not on the gambling part.”
I was about to ask for another slice of bread but instead asked, “Did these lotteries ever stop?”
“They continued during wartime. For example during the French and Indian War they were used as a substitute for tax increases.”
“Doesn’t that sound familiar? Maybe Brown got his ideas from Caesar Augustus or Nero,” Tom chimed in.
“Lotteries came to an end in the United States for the most part at the time of the Civil War. They were illegal at that time. Nonetheless the state of Louisiana got it going anyway in 1869. With this enterprise came illegal payoffs and bribes, the latter going to judges and U.S. senators. In 1892, the state of Louisiana banned lotteries and it would be three quarters of a century before there was another one.”
“So when did the lottery resume?”
“The great state of New Hampshire instituted their lottery in 1963. It was a twice a year event. Can you imagine buying tickets and then having to wait half a year to see if you’ve won? Within time other states got their own lotteries going and you didn’t have to wait forever to find out the results. You could say everything returned to the way it had been.”
“You could say we’ve come full cycle. So what about this national LOTTO? Is there usually a winner for every contest?”
“Are you kidding? It seems like there's too many winners each time. The first LOTTO had five winners and it seems like that was the smallest number of people who have split the pot so far. And what’s more amazing is the fact that if you pick five of the six numbers, you get absolutely nothing.”
“You know a lot about this LOTTO. Is there something else that we don't know that we probably should?” I inquired.
“Oh, sure. Did you know why they only publish the winners' last name and social security number?”
“Why is that?”
“You won’t believe this, but don’t forget that the government is running this operation. It’s done to retain some privacy for the winners.”
“I would guess to keep it simple, too,” Dave offered.
Frank continued, “Besides, the IRS has all it needs with the name and social security number.”
The LOTTO discussion proved to be almost as good as the dinner. The main course was salmon en brochette and it was outstanding. The finishing touch to the meal was an amazing amaretto chocolate mousse cake.
“I thought the cook outdid himself with the salmon, but the dessert was a delight too,” my close friend added.
“I must have some kind of sickness since I seem to always crave chocolate.”
“Dave, if you’ve got it, you’re not the only one,” Frank chimed in.
I figured we had more than enough to drink. I offered, “I didn't bring any cigars so I can’t offer any.”
It was getting late so we had to admit the party was over and called it a night. As Dave was leaving, he offered me his business card and I gave him mine.
“If you're in Washington, give me a call. I know a few good places to eat in the city and Baltimore is close by too.”
“I will do that. It was a pleasure seeing you after all these years.”
“Drive carefully going home. Nice meeting you, Dave.”
“Thanks. It was good to meet you too.”
We departed knowing the morning would be here only too fast. That night I had a dream about the state lottery being fixed. I guess all that talk from the dinner table stuck in my subconscious. I don't think the fine food and drink had anything to do with it.
MORE LOTTO THOUGHTS
Sometimes dreams have a strange effect on you. I awoke the next day and I thought again about the previous presidential race and all that had transpired. Maybe it had to do with the fact that President Brown was the originator of the LOTTO idea and I really didn't trust too many politicians, let alone him. Don't tell me that this LOTTO was fixed. I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind, since I had to be at work within the hour for a meeting. I showered and had a bowl of cereal and headed out the door for downtown. I got to work and had fifteen minutes to spare before the meeting when I found out the meeting had been postponed for half an hour anyway. I was working on testing the program I changed the day before when the phone rang. It was my mom.
“Hi, mom. How are you and dad doing?”
“Oh we're fine. And how are you? Is work all right?” “I'm doing well and work is work, the same as
“Dad had to go see the doctor this afternoon. It's just
a follow-up to last week. You haven't been here in some
time. Are you available tomorrow night for dinner? I'm
making your favorite, city chicken,” she said.
“Dinner sounds like a wonderful idea. I don't have
anything for tomorrow so I can be there after work, say five
“That would be fine, son. See you then.”
The rest of the day was quite uneventful. Just before
leaving for home the phone rang and I was talking to Tom. “Do you know what I forgot to do? I forgot to give
you the check for the PC when you were at my house.” “Yeah, and I forgot to remind you. Pardon me.” “I brought the check with me to the country club but
once again I forgot. If you’re going to be home tonight I’ll
drop it off then.”
“Oh sure, stop in. I’d fix you some grub but my
refrigerator is malnourished.”
“Don’t worry about dinner for me. I still have a few
leftovers that I want to polish off. How about some time after
“That would be good. See you then.”
“Take it easy!”
I hung up the phone and finished logging off the
system and moved out of the office into my car. The
commute was routine but I was starved. My supper was
some meatloaf that would soon be a science project if I
didn’t manage to do it justice soon. I also had some leftover
vegetables, some semi-stale rye bread and I fixed a small
salad. I spent a few uneventful minutes watching the evening
news and then I drove to Tom’s home.
I parked my Honda Civic and he ushered me in. “Why can’t someone play every lottery combination,
either in a pool or by himself, and be guaranteed of winning
“First of all, where will all the money come from?
You’re going to need a hell of a lot of dough. Even if you
pool your resources with 1000 people, each of you will need
a good amount of cash.”
“So if the odds are fourteen million to one and your
pool has 1000 people, each person still has to throw in seven
thousand clams. But you could win, if my math is correct,
ten thousand dollars. Assuming the grand prize is ten million, seven thousand down to win a guaranteed $10,000
seems like a good bet, don’t you think?”
A jet flew by and I waited until it passed before I
added, “Well, you may be assured of winning, but it may not
be for as much as you thought. You’d most likely have a
split. If four other people hit it, your individual winnings
would now be $2,500. Your winnings are now less than what
you put in. There was a California lottery with a payoff of
118 million a while ago, but you would have had to spend
twenty three million to win. That particular contest had ten
winners. If you had pooled your resources with 999 others, it
would have cost each of you $23,000 and your lump sum
payment would have turned out to be not quite $11,000
before taxes. That is a horrible investment. It could happen
that there are fewer winners, but you may still lose money or
just break even. Even if you win more than your investment,
there is still another even more overwhelming problem.” “What’s that?”
“How in the world will you ever get the time to fill
out over a million lottery tickets? Don’t forget that you have
to get all the combinations written down first.”
“Couldn’t you do that with a computer? You’re a
programmer and you could easily write that one. Speaking of
computers and chips, don’t you want any snacks? I have
pretzels and cashews.”
“No thanks. The computer program isn’t difficult but
you had better be sure that your program doesn’t miss one
single combination, lest it be the winner. You could even do
it so that each page of printout was easy to read and check
off by the 1000 people in the pool. But the problem is the
filling out of the tickets. Assume each person had 14,000
combinations to do and it took one minute to do four of those
combinations. It would take almost two and a half days without a break and that’s really hustling. You probably
want to take more time so you don’t mess up.”
“And you probably won’t be allowed to do that many
tickets at any one location because of the limits set forth.” “Even if you could, it would take at least nine hours
for the machine to process those 14,000 entries.”
“I can see your point. The guarantee of winning can’t
even be made.”
“A while ago some person spent $80,000 on tickets
for a Florida lottery. I’m not sure if he did it by himself or
was involved with others but he was not one of the winners
of that pot.”
“That’s a lot of money to spend and have nothing to
show for it. He could have invested the cash in junk bonds
and lost it if he wanted to.”
“My sentiments exactly.”
“We’d better forget about buying all the
combinations. What about certain people who play numbers
that appear to occur more frequently than others. Are those
good numbers to bet?”
“Perhaps, but then why not bet the numbers that
rarely occur since they’re due? The truth of the matter is that
the numbers that get picked this week have no relationship
whatever to those that will be chosen next week. Each
number is just as likely to get picked as any other number.
That’s what chance is all about. This means you can study
the winning combinations from all previous contests and it
won’t do you one iota of good. It just doesn’t matter.” “What about playing the same set of numbers from
week to week? You would think that every combination
would be bound to show up some day, isn’t that true?” “Consider the 6/49 LOTTO which has approximately
fourteen million combinations. If the lottery were played
every week and, assuming that eventually every combination came up, one different one per week, it would take seven million weeks to be assured of a winner. That’s 135,000 years, too long a time and too much money to spend. Of course you could conceivably win big in the first year. It all
depends on chance.”
“I think you convinced me that LOTTO is not that
good an investment. Everything is against you and then
when you win, who knows what could happen? We’ve heard
about those disasters that beset some of the winners. It’s
probably not really worth it.”
“One thing you have to take into account is human
nature. If someone is good with money, when they win at
LOTTO they will probably not change too much and they
will survive. On the other hand someone who has struggled
all up until the time they win the big one will probably waste
all the dough and be right back to where he or she was.
Naturally there will be some exceptions. But think about
this. Let’s say you won a million dollars and opted for
payments over twenty years. Each year you would get about
$37,000 after taxes. That’s nice to have but it’s not so much
as to overwhelm you.”
“But if you won that amount and spent the money
like there’s no tomorrow, tomorrow you’d be a nobody.” “Correct, once again.”
“I should have known you’d have this all figured out.
You taught probability, didn’t you?”
“I sure did. And you probably thought that
knowledge would never have any use!”
I handed Tom the long overdue check.
“Thanks, John. I meant to tell you this sooner; your
former student Dave is quite a guy. He seems really on the
ball. He did mention that some woman that he works with
has been complaining about some program that seems to take
forever to run.”
“Oh yeah, what program is that?” I inquired. “It's that national LOTTO program!” DAD AND LOTTO OBSERVATIONS
I had another dream that night about the LOTTO. All the winners from the previous few months were together in this large hall. It turned out that not a one of them had a single vowel in their last name and only five could speak English. The door opened and Vanna White appeared with the question, “Who wants to buy a vowel?” It was then that I awoke.
I showered and headed off to work. The day went by fast as we had all kinds of communication problems, so everyone was complaining and fit to be tied, whatever that means. I was happy to see the end of the day and left the office for my parents’ house.
My dad greeted me with a book in his hand. It was a book on, what else, lotteries. “Everything You Wanted to Know about Lotteries but Were Afraid to Ask” by Shirley N. Chance.
“Did you know that you're more likely to get struck by lightning than win the lottery?” he asked.
“I'm not surprised. Your chance of winning in the 6/49 game is about one in fourteen million. With fewer than forty-nine numbers your odds increase and with more it’s worse. What other gems of wisdom are in that book?” I asked.
“Here's a little known fact. The more money available, the more people take a chance. You've heard someone say that with seventeen million dollars for the taking, they had to play. Well, if you do win you'll probably have to split the pot and probably won't get as much as if you were a single winner of say eight million dollars. Of course, you have almost no chance of winning regardless of how big the jackpot is.”
“What does the book say about probabilities with respect to multiple winners?”
My father replied, “It mentions that multiple winners are indeed possible because of the multitudes taking part in the game. I've noticed that the national LOTTO seems to be having more multiple winners than what the statistics indicate. Of course, with chance anything can happen and it usually does. The disturbing thing is that the multiple winners are occurring more often than they should be and it keeps on happening. Just last week there were eight winners.”
“Of course that probably motivates more people to get involved. No one will complain about winning.”
“How did they come up with your chances of winning with one entry as approximately one in about fourteen million?”
“That's probability combinations. The one represents that favorable single outcome of having all six numbers exactly. The other number represents the different combinations of six numbers chosen out of forty-nine, in this case fourteen million. Actually the number is 13,983,816. Probability is nothing more than the ratio of the favorable outcomes to the total number of possible outcomes.”
“The one is simple enough, but what about the 13,983,816? How did you come up with that?”
“Let me try to simplify it. Think of it this way. From forty-nine numbers you have 49 choices for the first number and then 48 choices for the second since you’ve eliminated one number. Naturally for the third number you have 47 choices as I think you will agree.”
“I’m with you so far. Go on.”
“Then you have 46 choices for the fourth number, 45 choices for the fifth one and lastly 44 for your last or sixth number. Now you have to multiply these six numbers and the result you get will be slightly over ten trillion.”
“How do you get ten trillion when I thought you said originally fourteen million?”
“Well you have to do some further calculation since our ten trillion choices would have some duplication. For example if we picked the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, I think you will agree that this combination is the same as 1, 3, 6, 2, 4, and 5.
In fact we have to divide this ten trillion number by the number of combinations of six numbers. That specific number of combinations is 6 times 5 times 4 times 3 times 2 times 1 since you have 6 choices for the first number, 5 choices for the second number, 4 choices for the third number...”
“3 choices for the fourth number, 2 choices for the fifth number and 1 choice for the sixth number. I think I get it, son.”
“This product of the six numbers is 720 and our ten trillion number is actually 10,068,347,520. When we divide the larger number by the smaller number, our result is 13,983,816.”
“And that is where they get your chances of winning are about one in fourteen million.”
“To simplify it, consider picking two numbers from 1, 2 and 3. Once again we have 3 choices for the first number and 2 for the second. But 3 times 2 is 6. The specific 6 groups of numbers are 1 and 2, 1 and 3, 2 and 1, 2 and 3, 3 and 1, and 3 and 2 but there’s really only 1 and 2, 1 and 3, and 2 and 3 if we eliminate the duplications. Thus there are three different combinations and we get this three by dividing 6 by 2 where 2 is the number of combinations of 2 numbers, 2 for the first choice and 1 for the second.”
“I think it’s time to end the probability lesson. Dinner's ready,” came the call from the head cook and master of the kitchen. I had hardly said hello to my mom but the air was overwhelmed with delightful fragrances.
After giving thanks for all our blessings, we sat down to indulge. It was as good as ever as I expected. Dessert was blueberry pie with ice cream, a fitting touch to the meal.
“How long is your contract?” my mom asked.
“I anticipate another six months, at least. I may even get a chance at some overtime.”
“How is Tom doing these days? Did he ever get that promotion?” my dad inquired.
“He's doing fine and he did get a nice raise along with the promotion. Why don't you come over for dinner on Sunday? I'll see if Tom wants to join us since you haven't seen each other for some time.”
“We can't make it on Sunday. We're going to a hundredth birthday party.”
“For George Burns?” I asked.
“We didn't get an invitation for his party. The one we are going to is for the parent of a friend of your father's. We can make it the following Sunday if you'd like to have us.”
“I think something's going on that day. We'll have to make it another time. I'll talk to Tom and see what day is good for him.”
We finished dinner and sat talking for a little while.
“So you found that book on lotteries quite interesting, I assume.”
“Yes, it has a good deal of fascinating tidbits, such as commonly played numbers.”
“What are the most common combinations played?”
“Well you have different games since one may use forty nine numbers and another fifty four and so on, but the statistics I read indicate that the most common set is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Next in line are 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 and 42 and the third most popular combination is 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30.”
“When you think about it, each combination is just as likely to occur as the next, so any could come up.”
“So you could pick the numbers yourself or let the computer do it and your chances are the same for winning. But let’s say you happen to take 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. For the $106 million jackpot in Florida some time ago over 52,000 people played this combination. It didn’t win, but if it had come up, you would have been rewarded with about $2000 before taxes.”
“Wow! I can’t imagine picking six numbers exactly right out of forty and only winning that much. So that means you have to pick a set of numbers that is not too popular even though a very familiar combination could win. That is unusual.”
“It’s all chance.”
“Could I borrow that book for a short while? I’d like to look through it.”
“Just make sure I get it back someday. One thing I have found with books and videos is that if you let someone else have them for a while, you have a good chance of not seeing them again. The people who return the item are few in number.
“I will get it back to you the next time I see you and you have my word. I guess I better get going. I'll talk to you soon.”
“So long, son.”
I headed home and watched some of the National Geographic Special on New Zealand and read some of the newspaper. After that I went to bed and once again had a dream about LOTTO.
A WEST COAST TRIP
A few weeks later the LOTTO dreams only occurred once a week, but that was after a beginning week of almost every night occurrences. I intentionally forced myself away from the lottery so maybe that had something to do with it. The project I was working on was proceeding quite well and my boss decided that I was the person who should head out west to work with the people there for a few days. Most of the required systems were now running out of California but there were some difficulties so I was the one requested to make things smoother.
I was just printing out some reports when Tom’s words about that LOTTO program overcame me. That really was odd. Then and there I decided to call Dave Fisher in the nation's capital. Unfortunately he was in San Francisco at a conference but I was fortunate to get the name of the hotel at which he was staying.
“He's staying at the Best Western Hotel on Sutter Street. He’ll be there for the rest of the week and all next week too,” his project leader, Margaret, replied.
“Thanks. I'll be in the area myself, so I'll get in touch with him there.” I was supposed to fly out on the weekend to the city by the bay so why not contact him there. He’d be surprised by my call but more surprised by what I had to ask him about that dreaded computer program. I was to stay about a week or so in the area to lend as much assistance as they needed to the people involved with the prescription drug program. I was glad that I didn't have to go to Los Angeles where the head honchos were, not to mention the earthquakes, floods and raging forest fires.
I still had some packing to do for my long journey westward. To say I wasn't thrilled with flying was an understatement but I didn't have a choice. It came with the territory. I think I'd rather see the dentist than have to fly anywhere, especially someplace as far away as the West Coast. Since my flight was very early in the morning I figured that I would catch up on my sleep while in the air. Just in case I had trouble sleeping on the plane, I did bring along a few books, one of which was the book on lotteries that I borrowed from my father. I had gotten through about half the book and my going and coming flights should probably give me enough time to finish the book.
Some of the stuff I discovered was that, in early colonial days, King James had warned the Jamestown people in 1612 not to defraud participants in the lottery. I guess corruption and cheating in the games was prevalent a half millennium ago.
Not that long ago, officials of the Pennsylvania lottery were found to have injected latex into a good many of the balls used in the drawing. The substance made the balls heavier so that those without it would rise to the top and constitute the winning combination. As you might have guessed, these were the numbers on which the officials had bet. Fortunately this plot was discovered before the guilty parties completed their scheme and they had to spend a few years in prison. Then there is documentation of cash skimming in Tennessee and the resulting suicides of two state officials involved. This does not even take into consideration undetected plots and schemes that may never surface.
Another interesting tidbit has to do with a “Lottery tickets for guns” swap program. This took place a few years ago in Scituate, Rhode Island as well as in the state of Iowa in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Iowa City. The last I heard, Lotto World magazine is still encouraging the concept. Of course if you get involved in this exchange and lose at the lottery, you won’t be able to shoot anybody. I guess that’s probably a good idea.
I spent the rest of the afternoon doing some more testing and getting last minute instructions from my boss Catherine. She gave me my tickets and wished me luck on the trip.
“You should be fine with the people there. I met them all and they seem to be very accommodating. You met some of them when they were in town.”
“Joe, Lucy and Terry all seemed friendly and helpful.”
“Keep track of all your expenses and you’ll be reimbursed. Well, enjoy California and I’ll see you when you get back.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you in a week or so.”
I got home and was barely in the door when the phone rang. It was Tom.
“That was excellent timing. Just seconds ago I walked in the door and haven’t even changed my clothes. You must have special powers.”
“I guess you could say I have E.S.P.”
“You didn’t forget about driving me to the airport Sunday morning did you?”
“Not by a long shot. In fact, I was just calling to check what time you need to be there.”
“The flight leaves at 8:45, so I would like to be there about an hour before that. I know it’s early but at least you can go home after your trip while mine won’t even have started.”
“You have my sympathy. I’m glad you’re making the trip and not me. Did you start packing yet?”
“Just barely. I’ll probably finish up tomorrow. I really hate packing so I usually wait until as late as possible.”
“Have you talked to Dave Fisher lately?”
“I tried to reach him today but it turns out he is at a conference in San Francisco.”
“It’s too bad you couldn’t have been in the bay area this week. You could have met him there. Your timing is just a bit off.”
“Actually he’s going to be there through next week as well, so I will try to rendezvous with him then. That will save me the trip of going to D.C. to see him. If you’re not doing anything later, why not stop in?”
“Thanks, but I’ve got a million things to do. I will pick you up 7:30 on Sunday morning.”
“That should give me plenty of time. I am not too thrilled about a five-hour flight. Oh well, that’s the way it goes!”
“I’ll see you then.”
CONTACTING DAVE FISHER
Early on Sunday morning, Tom picked me up and drove me to the Buffalo airport. I had no trouble getting up, although it seemed that Tom would have rather been asleep.“Rough night, Tom?”
“I guess I shouldn’t have stayed up to watch that movie.”
“What did you see?”
“Oh, an old flick called ‘The Boys from Brazil.’
“I’ve seen that one. It’s about Josef Mengele and his attempts at cloning Hitler. It brings back to mind the incident with Kathy Pendleton.”
“I thought about that too when I was watching it last night. Or this morning, to be technically correct.”
“Well you can rest up when you get home.”
“You're coming back on Saturday night, right?” Tom asked.”
“That’s my plan, but you never know. They may want me to stay there longer. The flight is scheduled to arrive at eight, but I'll call you on Friday and let you know for sure.”
Before long I was on my way. We took off and in less than a half hour we stopped at O’Hare airport in Chicago. I didn’t have to change planes but there was a delay of forty-five minutes to pick up more passengers. That didn’t give me much time to do anything but wait. I took out the LOTTO book and resumed my information gathering. For not being a gambler, I found the book fascinating indeed. Despite the overwhelming odds, I was at the point of convincing myself that spending a dollar each week on a lottery ticket may not be that bad an idea. If you could get some kind of payoff for having say four numbers out of six, then it could be somewhat worthwhile. The goal was to have fun, make a few bucks or not lose too much and not get addicted to gambling. The goal was not to get greedy. Why not get a ticket from the computer for the first week and then stay with those same numbers from week to week?
The book did talk about bad luck to the winners of the lottery but it also mentioned some heartwarming stories of the victors who took their success in stride and even shared their wealth with their families. I guess that would keep you from having problems.
There was also documentation of people who won the lottery and somehow passed their luck onto others. It sounds strange but that’s LOTTO. You have to admit that some people are lucky and others aren’t.
Before long we were back in the air. The in-flight movie was ‘Babe’, the pig movie that I had already seen. There were no clones in this movie although maybe the sheep weren’t all originals. There was no way for me to know. Though I enjoyed the movie when I first saw it, I figured that maybe I’d either do some reading or catch some zzzz’s. I was just about finished with dad’s book so I found another. After a half hour or so I felt like maybe a nap was in order. I put the book aside, put the seat back, closed my eyes and before I knew it we were landing at San Francisco International Airport. I did manage to sleep for a couple hours during the flight, but I couldn’t remember any of my dreams. Of course that didn’t mean that I didn’t have any dreams about LOTTO.
I picked up my rental car, a Ford Taurus, and then went to the hotel to check in. I unpacked and then headed out for something to eat. When I returned I checked the television schedule but couldn’t find much worthwhile. I did some reading and before long it was late, at least by my clock. I reset my watch and realized that this day was too long so I figured I’d call it a night.
The alarm rang and it was another day. I had a blueberry bagel along with some rich coffee and it seemed to jump start me. I drove to the facility where I was to meet Frank Ignatio, the project leader for the drug prescription program in California. I had talked to him via telephone on numerous occasions so by now I had created an image of him based on his voice. Needless to say my visualization was quite off the mark but nevertheless he seemed pleasant enough and I spent the rest of the day with him and others involved in the conversion. I got to see Joe and Terry again but Lucy had a personal day so I would see her the next day. It was a long day as jet lag was catching up with me. I got to my hotel at a few minutes after six, just in time to catch the news. There wasn’t much new going on so I decided to try to reach Dave Fisher at his hotel but he wasn't in. I left a message for him to call me after eight. I should be back from dinner by that time as the effects of the long flight from Buffalo still lingered.
When I returned from dinner it was not quite eight and a half hour later the phone rang. It was Dave.
“Your name isn't by any chance Ted and you aren't the Unabomber, are you?” Dave inquired.
“No. His name sounds the same but it's spelled differently.”
“What brings you to this part of the country, Mr. Kuzinski?”
“I'm here on business for a few days. Call me John...I'm not your teacher anymore so you don't have to address me as Mr.”
“How about if I call you bomber?”
“I guess that's all right...as long as it's not Mr. Kuzinski. Do you want to get together tomorrow evening for dinner? I'll pick you up at your hotel.”
“That sounds fine with me. I can be available at six tomorrow out in front. What kind of car are you driving?”
“I have a dark blue Ford Taurus. I'll see you then.”
“Have a good night, bomber.”
I settled down to rest and before long I was sound asleep. Those long flights do that to most people.
MORE LOTTO DISCUSSION
The next day I awoke refreshed. I wouldn’t say that I had conquered the jet lag completely but I was on my way. I got into the office and Frank introduced me to Lucy Hilton.
“John, this is Lucy. Lucy, meet John from Buffalo.” “I already know her from her visit to Western New York last month. You must have forgotten that you sent her there to escape the rains.”
“My mistake. This project is getting the better of me. But speaking of the weather, you missed an earthquake last week. It was small but unforgettable nonetheless. Maybe we’ll have one for you this week.”
“Oh, don’t go out of your way for me. I’ll pass on the tremors!”
“Don’t you have all that snow most of the year?”
“The city itself escapes the brunt of the storms, usually. The area that gets it is south of the city, but only for three or four months.”
Lucy added, “That must be where the ski areas are!”
“Precisely. Of course, snow in Western New York does not match up to the yearly amount in Syracuse. There’s even more of the white stuff in the area north of that city.”
“I’m originally from south Florida, so I know all about the hurricane season,” said Lucy as she sipped her coffee out of a Miami mug.
Frank sighed, “I guess we’d rather have some snow than earthquakes, fires and floods. It would stop the drought.”
I mentioned, “I love coming to California because of all that is here: the mighty Pacific, the mountains in Yosemite, the giant Sequoias, Hollywood, the glorious sunshine and wonderful weather.”
The rest of the morning was spent going over concerns about the drug program. The questions were coming so fast and furious that when I looked up at the clock, it was already 12:30. We stopped for an hour for lunch and then proceeded to where we had been. The afternoon sped by as well and before long I headed back to my hotel.
I changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and turned on the news. Because of our late lunch, which was delicious, I could go for some time without food.
Half an hour later, I picked up Dave at the Best Western Hotel and I said, “Greetings, stranger!”
He grasped my hand firmly, “How are you doing, John?”
I had finally gotten him to not refer to me as Mr. Kuzinski. Oh, if only more people had more respect for others! But then, Dave was an outstanding young man.
“I’m fine. I’m slowly getting over my flight fatigue. What are you doing in this part of the country?”
“I’m here for a course on programming efficiency. It’s quite interesting. I really thought that it would be boring but it isn’t. With all the programs that we have to maintain, this is an attempt to streamline systems to make them run faster. I have been here over a week and the time has just flown by. Last week I was in class for database management. All in all, this is so much better than working.”
“Tell me if you feel the same way in twenty years. As you get older and take more classes, you’ll probably get sick of them. You may be right that it’s better than being at the office, though. Are you hungry?”
“We had a late lunch so I could manage without food for a while, unless you’re famished.”
“No, we can eat later. Well, why don't we head out to Muir Woods? Have you ever been there?”
“No, but I hear the redwoods are really impressive.” “Indeed they are.”
We procured two bottles of water for our hike and got onto the highway. Fortunately I knew how to bypass rush hour traffic. The sky was glowing with hues of orange and red and I knew this would be a great evening to view the sunset. We got there in a short time and headed out to one of the trails.
“This place is incredible! I’m glad you suggested it.”
There were hardly any people around so I said, “Tom mentioned that you were talking about some co-worker who was complaining about the length of time that the LOTTO program took to run.”
We kept moving along the trail, always away from others.
“That program seems to take forever to finish. It must have been written by some consultant who got paid by the length of time the program takes to run. Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you’re a consultant.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve seen many consultants in my day, some commendable and others not worthy of hiring. And yet management somehow signed a contract with these incompetents.”
“You don't think that the program is fixed, do you?”
“Well, how long would it take to generate a few random numbers, match against all the entries and do calculations to figure out how much money will be paid? I don't think that should take more than a few minutes, certainly under an hour.”
“The way I would do the processing is I would sort the entry of six numbers from smallest to largest to create a twelve-digit number. This number would have two digits for each of the six numbers from the forty nine.”
I postulated, “So if someone picked 13, 7, 34, 3, 41 and 18, this twelve digit number would be 030713183441 and you would sort the computer’s randomly generated six numbers in this same way. Then see if the twelve-digit number for the contestant matches the twelve-digit winning number.”
“Sure. Then repeat this process for each entry until the whole file is processed. If there happens to be a match, the social security number attached to this twelve-digit number would then be used to get the name, address and whatever else was needed from another data file and this is recorded as a winner. At the same time, the number of entries is accumulated so that the pot is determined for the following LOTTO. Naturally some data record from the previous lottery has to be read to determine this payoff and each winner’s share.”
We stopped to catch our breaths. My companion sipped some of his water.
“Well done, Dave. Perhaps a sort of the file of entries before processing could speed up the process somewhat. It sounds complicated but it’s half a dozen tasks that involve not much activity except for the matching of entries to the winning combination. That will take the longest but even that should be processed quite rapidly with today’s powerful computers.”
“I agree, but then why is that program in my beloved D.C. running so long?”
“I don’t know. Can you get me access to the program so that I can take a look at it?”
“I'll see what I can do. You have access to the system, don't you?”
“Sure, but just send me all the information I need in the mail. I'll go from there. Now what do you think about dinner? Are you in the mood for some Mexican fare? I know a good place called Chevy's that I think you will like. It's a little out of the way but well worth the trip.”
We headed towards the car and Dave seemed to be ready for dinner, “I could go for a nice fajita or some black beans. What are we waiting for?”
We got into the car and were on our way. RESEARCHING THE PROGRAM
I was fortunate to make my flight back to Buffalo on Saturday. Frank was satisfied with the week I had spent and figured that I didn’t need to stay any longer in the golden state.
Tom picked me up at the airport and we headed for home.
“So you saw Dave Fisher. What did he say about the monster LOTTO program?”
“We had a small discussion about what we thought the program should do and how long it should take in general terms. We did all this in the quiet darkness of Muir Woods.”
“So you were there in the midnight hour. I didn’t think you could get into the area after sunset.”
“You can’t, as far as I know, but we were there in early evening well before the sun was gone. It was still light but don’t forget that Muir Woods seems to always be dark because of the monstrous redwoods.”
“What else came up about lotteries?”
“Not too much more except that Dave will be sending me some information so I can sneak a peek at the LOTTO program. I really am curious.”
“Just make sure curiosity doesn’t kill the cat!”
A few days later, I was back into my normal routine in Buffalo and somewhat recovered from my western trip. I got back home from work and found the correspondence that I was looking for in the mail. It was David's note about the LOTTO program. He sent all the information I needed to take a peek at the slow monster. I didn't finish reading to the end of the page, as I wanted to dive right in. I decided to get something to eat and then head over to the college.
While getting some grub, I recalled that Dave mentioned an alternate design for the lottery program. The collection of data at the remote terminals would be the same and a record for each six number combination would still be there. It would once again have the twelve-digit number created from the six numbers and sorted from lowest to highest. Along with this number would be the entrant’s social security number. This was the same as before. In our previous discussion, every one of the records in this file was processed since we had a sequential file. This type of file is good for processing because it can be processed very fast, even if the file is huge. Unfortunately, if you want to get to a specific record in this file, you have to read the whole file. That’s just the way sequential files work.
There is another kind of file that you can use called a keyed file, one with information on the people who enter the lottery. We can get all the information on the person we need, provided we have the social security number, which is the key to the file. In this case we would only read a single record, not every one in the file, which saves time. Since there is only one record for each social security number, the keys are unique. But keyed files can have duplicate keys.
This was the type of file that Dave proposed. After all, you could have two or more contestants who submitted the same six number combination and this sorted combination would be the key to our file. Now our LOTTO program would be a little different.
We would still have to generate the six numbers and create our twelve-digit “winner.” We would also have to determine the payoff, probably from another small file. At the same time we would have to keep track of the number of entries from this LOTTO because that number would be necessary for the next week’s contest. This could be done easily if each location sending data transmitted the number of tickets bought. But now we would only read a few records from our indexed file. We would take our twelve-digit “winner” and use it as the key in our reads. We could find zero, one or more records.
We are still not through because we still have to get information on the winners and determine how much each one would receive. These reads would again be keyed reads and the remaining calculations shouldn’t take too much time.
Dave’s proposal was an excellent one. I put down his letter and had some leftover soup, bread, salad and a small glass of orange juice. My next step was to get down to work. I headed out to the college. I figured I would sneak into the system in the nation's capitol as indirectly as I could.
The computer room at the school was almost empty so I was in luck. I logged on and then got to use PROCOMM PLUS for the first time. I found the phone number to use to get into the system in Washington and made sure that I had the right settings.
I dialed the number and got into the system that I wanted, but all I got on my screen was garbage. I rechecked the settings both on my system as well as on the other end and was relieved to find that one of the settings was wrong. I changed it and what a difference that made!
It didn't take too long before I found the LOTTO program. Instead of looking at it, I created a test file and copied the LOTTO program over to it. Then I sent the test file to a new location and logged off and went off to get a soda. Then I signed back on. I was really disappointed but not too surprised, as I couldn't make heads or tails of what I saw in front of me, and this had nothing to do with any settings. The program was in BASIC but I was looking at object code instead of source code. Object code is what the computer executes and it looks like a bunch of swearing. It comes from the source code, which is what programmers write. On occasion I have seen source code that appears to be object code. That is, because of some programmer’s creation, you didn’t have the slightest idea what the program was supposed to be doing.
But anyway, the source code is compiled, or run through another program that does some checking but mostly conversion. The result of the compile is object code. Anyone looking at object code will have no idea of what the program is doing but the computer understands it. I logged off and decided to drive home. When I got home, I called Tom and agreed to stop over later. I also mentioned that I had some news.
When I got over to his place he asked, “So you said you had some news for me. What exactly is it?”
“I got a glance into the LOTTO program and I can't figure out what it's doing.”
“I thought you were a hot-shot programmer! Or is it written in a language you don't know?”
The phone rang but Tom let it and eventually the answering machine picked up.
“It's written in BASIC on a PRIME system using the PICK operating system, but what I was looking at is object code.”
“I object! What are you talking about? What's object code?”
“Simply put, I write a program or source code and then compile it and the result of that compilation is completely unreadable to human beings and it’s called object code.”
“What do you mean by compile? Say, do you want something to drink?”
“I’m fine for now. A compile is just software that converts your program so that the computer can understand it. The computer doesn’t speak the same language that we do, even if it is COBOL or BASIC.”
“Apparently not. So what are you going to do now?”
“Fortunately, programs written on PICK systems are compiled but they can also be de-compiled or converted back from object code to source code.”
“Do you have the resources to de-compile the program?”
“Not yet, but that's where you come in. You said that Joe could get just about any kind of software that I want. Do you think he could get me this de-compiler?
“I can ask him. I'll bet that if he can't get it, he has the resources to find it somewhere.”
“That's good news. I'll pay whatever he asks, too.”
“I’ll have to write down exactly what you need. I’m not into computers like you are.”
“Tell Joe I need a BASIC de-compiler for a PICK operating system. That should be sufficient to get what I need.”
“And speaking of needs, can I get you a beer?”
“Why don’t you have one and I’ll have a ginger ale, if you have it.”
Tom decided that he would bypass the beer so he brought out two glasses of Vernor’s. We finished them and then I headed home. It seemed like the day had started a month ago. I figured that I would have no trouble getting to sleep. I also guessed that I would probably have another one of those dreams. I was right on both counts.
A week later I was at the office when the phone rang. “Systems, John Kuzinski.”
“Joe found the BASIC de-compiler, but it’s not
cheap. It will cost you a case of beer.”
“I thought you said it’s not cheap. A case of beer for
the software is quite a deal.”
“I didn’t tell you this. Joe wants a case of Foster's
Lager. That’s the catch.”
“It’s still a good deal as far as I am concerned, as
long I don’t have to buy him a boomerang.”
“Do you want to talk to Joe? He’s right by my side.” “Sure, put him on.”
“Hello, John. How are you on this fine day?” “Very well, now that I found out you got the decompiler. You’re not Australian?”
“No, I just happen to like Foster's.”
“I’ll get you the brew as soon as I can. You should
have it by the weekend.”
“There’s no rush. It took me long enough to get you
what you needed. Besides, I know where you live. Well, I’ve
got to go. Do you want to talk with the accountant?” “Just tell him I’ll catch up with him later. Thanks
Tom dropped off the software and I was thrilled. I
had a copy of the LOTTO object code from the remote site
so I figured I would work on it from the PC at my house. I
started by reading the instructions on the de-compiler and
got a good handle on what I had to do. Armed with the
necessary knowledge, I proceeded. The end result was a lot
better to read but quite a bit of the code was still
undecipherable. I was stymied but I wasn’t about to give up. After some consideration I realized that maybe there
was an upgraded version of the de-compiler. I went back to
the instruction manual and delved deeper. There’s an old
adage: if at first you don’t succeed, read the instructions. I
had read them, just not completely. The manual said that this
de-compiler was version 1.3. Now all I had to do was figure
out what the version of the program was.
I was stuck but I figured that somewhere in the object
code there must be an indication as to what version of the
software I needed. I got back into the code and did some
searching. After a while I almost called it a night but then I
found it. The program appeared to be version 1.6, which
could be the reason for all my difficulties. I needed version
1.6 of the de-compiler. At least that was what I hoped. I
logged off my system and headed towards the phone. I dialed
Tom's number and fortunately he was home.
“So you are home?”
“Stop over if you'd like.”
“I'll be there shortly.”
I wasted no time getting to Tom's place.
“Did that de-compiler work?”
“It helped somewhat but it looks as though I need a
different version to get the object code back to completely
readable source. It’s my fault. I should have realized I
needed a specific version of the de-compiler.”
“Let me see if Joe can find it for you. What version
do you need?”
“It looks as though it should be version 1.6.” “Well, if he found the de-compiler that you have,
he’ll probably be able to find version 1.6. You never know
until you ask.”
“So do you think that this will mean another case of
lager? And when can I meet Joe? He sounds like an
interesting guy for an Australian.”
“He’s not from down under. He just likes Australian
“I thought it was only the Foster's.”
“That too. But it’s funny you should ask about
meeting him because I just talked to him and he's having a
party this Saturday night and told me to ask you to come.” “It's been a while since I’ve been to a party. I think
that’s a wonderful idea. Would he want me to bring anything
besides the Foster's? Like a bottle of wine or some food
concoction of mine?”
“I’m sure Joe wouldn’t mind those Chinese wings,
the ones you made a few months ago. They were out of
“I'd be happy to make them. They're easy and
everyone likes them.”
“I'm not even going to tell Joe that you're bringing an
appetizer. We'll surprise him.”
“Great! Well, I have got to get going. Thanks. I will
be seeing you.”
I drove home and headed to the land of zzzz’s. I was
somewhat disappointed that the de-compiler didn't do
exactly what I had hoped it would do but still I was not
discouraged. I was looking forward to the party.
Saturday evening came around faster than I thought and it was too soon to have news about version 1.6 of the decompiler. The wings were just about done when the doorbell rang. I figured it was Tom, and sure enough it was.
“I could smell those wings before I made the turn onto your street...they smell great!”
“All I have to do is get them out of the oven and wrap them. It's easier to cook them here than at Joe's. They will stay hot for quite a while if I wrap them in foil and newspaper.”
“Are you kidding? They won't be around long enough to get cool.”
“I guess you're right.”
I did what I had to do with the wings and we were on our way. It was a magnificent spring night for the party with temperatures in the high 60's.
“You'll like Joe. He's an interesting and very likable guy.”
We got to Joe's house, which was just outside the city in the town of Amherst, and we had trouble finding a place to park. And it was early. This had the makings of an outstanding shindig.
“John, this is Joe Terry. Joe, meet John Kuzinski”
“So you're the mad bomber. I thought your name was Ted!”
“Fortunately it isn't and he's not related, I don't think. You’re not from Australia, are you?”
“Not really although there have been a few nights where I’ve been ‘down under’, if you know what I mean. So, what did you bring?”
“I made some Oriental chicken wings. I also have a case of Fosters in the car in exchange for the software.”
“The wings smell great! Bring them to the table over there. You didn’t have to get the lager. I still have to locate the de-compiler version 1.6 for you.”
“So do you think you’ll be able to get it?”
“I looked for it but so far I haven’t had any luck.”
My spirits sagged. “So you don't think that version is around anywhere?”
“Well I do have one more possibility, but don't get your hopes too high. These wings are out of this world. You can come to any of my parties.”
“Thanks.” I was glad he liked them but sad that he couldn't find the version I needed. Fortunately I forgot about that real fast, as a tall woman wearing a dark green dress that almost matched her eyes approached.
“Are you the one who made those wings? They are fabulous. Oh, excuse me, I'm Annie Dalton.”
“Hi. I'm John Kuzinski.”
“Are they a lot of work, and what’s in them?”
“They aren’t that difficult to make. The secret is the blend of garlic, fresh ginger and soy sauce. Marinating overnight helps to finish the process.”
“There’s some lovely spice that I am trying to identify. What is it?”
“Cinnamon! I’m glad you like them.”
“So you must be a chef from some area restaurant.”
“Actually I don’t make a living cooking. If I did, I probably would never enjoy eating as much as I do. My main means of support is as a software consultant. And what about you?”
“I'm an investigative journalist with United Press.”
“I thought your name sounded familiar. I've read many of your articles and I must say I admire your work. Didn’t you do the feature on the Unabomber?”
“Yes, I did write a few things about the former math professor. You’re not related to him, are you?”
“He spells his name somewhat differently than mine. Nevertheless, I taught mathematics a few years ago before I got into information services. I hope my destiny doesn’t parallel his.”
“I certainly hope you’ll never reach those depths. He was an interesting individual but strange to say the least.”
“Can I get you a drink? I was on my way to the bar.”
“I’ll join you. I may have a glass of pop or juice. It depends on what Joe has.”
We headed over to the bar and I was delighted to see that our host had a half keg of Molson Ale. Annie only wanted a glass of tonic with a twist of lime so I obliged her and then poured myself a small draught.
“You’re three quarters of the way to having a ‘sugar bud,’” I said.
“What in the world is a ‘sugar bud’?”
“Some Rhine wine added to your tonic and lime. I believe the drink originated at Anacone’s on Bailey Avenue. It’s a poor man’s gin and tonic.”
“It sounds like it might be quite pleasant. I usually don’t drink except for an occasional beer or a glass of wine with dinner. When I was younger, I had an experience with tequila that probably made me the way I am now. And that had nothing to do with the worm at the bottom of the bottle!”
“I think I know what you mean. Everyone probably goes through a night like you experienced. Some never drink again, others have a decent respect for alcohol and then others aren’t effected in the least by this overindulgence.”
We spent some time conversing about more pleasant topics like cooking and Seinfeld and she made the night fly by. As the party progressed, I met a few more people and it turned out to be a fine evening. The food was excellent, as were the people and the music. Before I left I swapped business cards with Annie Dalton. I also delivered the case of Australian beer and thanked Joe for a wonderful time. We got onto the highway and Tom said, “You seemed to be having a good time with Ms. Dalton.”
“Every aspect of the party was enjoyable and she seemed very nice, considering she works for the media.”
“You’re kidding about that media line, right?”
“Of course. Annie is a very interesting woman.”
“Did you know that she was a close friend of Kathy Pendleton?”
A SOLUTION TO THE SETBACKS
A few days later I heard from Tom. “Joe found version 1.6, John. That should make you happy.”
“You don't sound all that thrilled and excited.”
“I will be excited once I see if it does the job and not before. I have been in this predicament before so I don't want to get my hopes up too high. I think you know what I mean, don't you?”
“Yeah, I've been there myself. Have you called Annie?”
“I was going to do that later.”
“Well, I'll let you go so you can call her. Are you going to be home later?”
“Sure. Stop in.”
“I should have the de-compiler for you. Talk to you later.”
“So long, Tom.”
I called, but I got her answering machine. I left a short message. Tom dropped off the software before I got home and I immediately got on to the system to see if what Joe found was what I needed. Indeed it was!
I didn't really get into the LOTTO program that much as I had to run a few errands. When I returned, there was a message on my answering machine from Annie. I figured I would call her back after I looked at LOTTO for a while, so I got down to work. I discovered that the input to the program was a file of LOTTO entries. These consisted of a nine-digit number and six more numbers. The nine-digit number was the social security number of the entrant and the six numbers that followed were the numbers selected that could make the player rich. First the program read through the entire file of entries for a count to be used for next week’s game. Then it read the same file again and created a table with entries for each possible number and then added 1 to each one for every one of those six numbers. It did this for every record or set of six numbers. I didn’t really know why this was being done. Maybe it was for some kind of statistics.
When this process was done for all the entrants, it took the table with the counters and selected the six numbers whose counters were the smallest and this turned out to be the winning combination. Now I could see that this exercise had nothing to do with compiling statistics.
So it almost selected the six winning numbers at random, but the winning combination turned out to be the six numbers that the fewest people had selected. How devious! And yet if that procedure was being followed, why were there so many winners? I found that the next thing the program did was to go back and find the winners' social security numbers from the input file. The next part of the program was confusing but it appeared that another file was being read. My guess was that it was determining the amount of the payoff as well as the names of the winners and some other needed information. At this point I was a getting a little tired and somewhat confused. I would have to do some more investigation into the program.
It was as good a time for a break as any so I decided to try to reach Annie. I dialed her number but once again she wasn't home so I left another message.
It wasn't a minute later when the doorbell rang. It was Tom.
“Well, does it do the trick?”
“It sure did and what I found is very interesting. However, I am a little baffled.”
“What do you mean, John?”
I told him all that I had discovered until that point and he was as stymied as I was.
“How about a cold one?”
“That sounds like a great idea. So the old LOTTO program is rigged after all. That would also explain the long running time, wouldn’t it?”
“It sure would. It’s doing a great deal more processing than it has any right to do. It’s also reading the entry file twice, which requires more time. Despite that, I still can't understand why there would be so many multiple winners if the program was doing all that it seems to be doing.”
“Is it possible that it doesn't always go through that specific logic? For example, on some days it generates the six winning numbers legitimately and on other days it does its hocus pocus. Thus we could see no winners or multiple winners, the latter being what we have witnessed to date almost exclusively.”
“That's a possibility. Let the program run in a normal way for a while and after the people get all obsessed with the game, have the program get devious.”
“Thus, the people keep playing and the money keeps rolling in and the program alternates the way in which it runs. That sounds like a possible explanation.”
“I will have to look at the program in greater detail tomorrow. It's too late to do anything more tonight. I'm zonked.”
“So the program is difficult to follow, I presume.”
“Yes, it’s not very well structured to say the least, difficult to read and impossible to maintain. I’m sick of those types of programs. This is just another example.”
“Did you talk to Annie?”
“I left her a message and she left me one and then I left her another. I love technology. What did we do before answering machines, faxes and pagers?”
“We lived our lives.”
Tom continued, “Getting back to LOTTO, I thought today’s computers were so fast that they could do all kinds of processing in no time at all. If so, why does this program takes so darn long to run?”
“Well, to begin with, the program has to make multiple passes at the input feeding it. If it sorted the entries first and then generated the six random numbers and then read the sorted file, the time to run the program would be much shorter. You are only reading the entries once and you wouldn't have to read the entire file. As you pointed out, the computers out there now can do unheard of processing in no time at all. What takes so long is I-O.”
“Isn’t that part of that song, ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’”?
“Very clever, Tom. I-O refers to any input or output operation. Input involves reading a file and output means writing out a record for a file. If you read a file and then update the file, then you have a combination of input and output. Any of these operations is time consuming and bound to slow down a program. Of course just about every program has I-O. This is what really consumes time and this appears to be what is making the LOTTO program drag.”
“Well I think I understand what you are saying. Don’t forget I’m an accountant and not a computer nerd...no offense intended. I better be on my way. I will talk to you tomorrow.”
Despite the fact that I was really into the program, somehow I figured it was time to get some sleep. Tomorrow was another day.
POSSIBLE LOTTO SCHEMES
I did get some sleep but nowhere near enough. Work was horrible, as all I could think about was LOTTO. Then the phone rang. I figured it was Tom, but I was wrong and pleasantly surprised.“So I finally got in touch with the gourmet!”
“Well, hi. It's nice to talk to you rather than your answering machine.”
“I hate answering machines, but they're a necessity.”
“I feel the same way.”
“I’m sorry for not getting back to you sooner but I’ve been swamped. I love my job but sometimes I wonder if all the seemingly endless days are worth it. Maybe I should have become a nun!”
“I know a few religious and their days don’t appear to be any shorter than yours. There probably is no perfect job.”
“Right now, I’m overwhelmed by all that’s going on, but I’m sure that I’ll get over it. It’s been this way before.” S
“I’m sure you’ll survive. Would you like to get t together for dinner sometime?” i
“If you cook, I'm there! Gee, I thought you’d never l ask.” t
“It took me a while to get up the courage. But e seriously, I'd be delighted to cook for you. Do you have any d preferences?” .
“No. I'll try almost anything except liver and snake.”
“Does what I cook have to have had parents?”
“That’s a line from Seinfeld, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I wish I had written it. How about carbonnade a la flamande?”
“I have no idea what that is and I usually don’t eat anything I can’t spell but in this case I may be willing to make an exception. But what is it?”
“It's Belgian and it’s beef with onions and beer.”
“Sounds great. Count me in.”
“How about this Saturday night?”
“Saturday would be good for me. Let me bring dessert. I’ll show you another of my skills.”
“That's fine with me. Come over any time after four. Do you know how to get to my home?”
“I am familiar with your street so I'll be able to find it. Don't forget I'm an investigative journalist.”
“I hadn't forgotten. The house is light blue and the number is on the mailbox to help you out.”
“I'll see you on Saturday.”
I went back to work and the day still dragged on but eventually I was on my way home. I had some leftover spaghetti for dinner and then got right back into the LOTTO program. The program was definitely a challenge so I had to spend more hours than I wanted to working on it.
After two hours I wasn't any more informed than when I had started. I got off the system and starting to reconsider what Tom and I had discussed regarding fraud. There were various possibilities for officials to make off with the cash. To begin with, they could understate the money put in and skim cash that way. Another possibility was to overstate administrative costs and get dough in that manner. As long as no one checked all the expenses, they could get away it. A third possibility would be to have LOTTO but no winners, something akin to what I had uncovered.
It didn’t quite make sense. If the program ran along different paths as we figured it would, eventually there had to be a legitimate winner. Of course the people running the LOTTO could get a substantial amount of interest on the money they held in the coffers when there were weeks without a winner.
But the conflicting thought was that since there had been quite a few winners so far, this theory seemed farfetched. Unless the program ran normally for a while and then the scam came into play. But this in itself might cause questioning on the part of the public. This scenario didn’t seem acceptable.
So then what else could it be? Maybe I made a wrong assumption. Perhaps the plan might be to start as before and then have no winners for a while and finally multiple winners splitting the pot. One winner turns out to be some official who snuck in the winning combination of numbers somehow. All the others involved in the split are winners, but the pot gets diluted. The following week everything goes back to the way it was and no one has a clue that anything transpired.
That is a possibility except I didn’t see anywhere in the code where a “rigged” number won the LOTTO. Of course maybe I have yet to stumble onto this code in the program. Getting back to the program, I did check and see that three files were being accessed and that did seem reasonable. The first would be the file of numbers and social security numbers. The second would be the information file with names, addresses and so on and the last would probably be the file having information to determine how much to pay out. The three files seemed to be what was needed.
I decided to take a break. I was just overwhelmed so I sat down to read the paper. The LOTTO winners' names and social security numbers were on the front page and there were seven people splitting the pot: Smith, Howard, Lesinski, Townsend, Hanson, Cellini and Parello. The first few names were fairly common and did nothing for me, but the last two names seemed familiar. Somehow I had heard that combination of Cellini and Parello before. I just couldn't quite remember where.
DINNER AND MORE REVELATIONS
On Saturday afternoon I had no new information on the program as I decided to take a few days off from it. I figured the best approach was to get away from the program for a while. Returning later might produce dividends.
Shortly after 4:30, Annie arrived. She brought a surprise dessert, which I promptly put into the refrigerator.
“Something smells good.”
“That's my cologne...it's a blend of oregano and turmeric. Can I get you a glass of wine or juice?”
“I think I’ll wait until dinner. On second thought, maybe a glass of wine would be fine.”
“You’re a poet! I have burgundy and white Grenache.”
“White Grenache! Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
“Come to think of it, yes. But it’s a very nice wine anyway.”
“You convinced me. The white Grenache it is. The burgundy should go good with the main course.”
I fetched the drinks and brought out some hors d'oeuvres.
“I made a few stuffed mushrooms...I hope you're a fan of fungus.”
“Until recently, I didn’t care for mushrooms. I guess our tastes change as we get older.”
She moved to the tray of mushrooms and took one. She was wearing jeans and a T-shirt that said, “Friends don’t let friends go into politics.” The look on her face told me she was pleased.
“These are good. I guess you passed the test and I don't have to worry about the main entree.”
“Thanks. I think the secret to being a good cook is following easy recipes that taste great.”
“That sounds simple, but I don't think it's that easy. That almost sounds like a light beer commercial.”
I was going to ask about Kathy Pendleton but thought better of it. The best time would be after dinner. It was no sense bringing up that subject until much later. But I was going to ask another question related to LOTTO.
“Do the names Cellini and Parello ring a bell?” “Aren’t those the two lawyers who have a billboard on the I190 leaving downtown?”
“Is that it? That’s why those names are so familiar. Wait a minute. Aren’t their names Cellino and Barnes?”
“Now that you mention it, that is right. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s not that important. I think dinner is about ready.”
Dinner went well as Annie thought highly of all my culinary efforts of the day and I in turn raved over her lemon mousse. We sat drinking hazelnut coffee and I said, “I understand you knew Kathy Pendleton.”
“She was a dear friend who was murdered by President Brown's thugs. Her death resulted in his elevation to the highest office in the land.”
“I thought that myself, but couldn't prove it.”
“In a few weeks I will have enough evidence to force his resignation from the presidency. I am close to proving that his LOTTO project is fixed and a great deal of the money being taken in is winding up in his pocket. There is also plenty of evidence to prove that he bought votes to win the election and took advantage of illegal campaign contributions. All in all, he is as crooked as they come.”
I didn't need an opening but now I felt like my efforts with the LOTTO program were well worth it.
“A former student of mine has access to the LOTTO program and I have been investigating it over the last few days.”
“What did you find?”
I proceeded to give her all the information I had up until that time and she was almost as impressed as when dinner arrived.
“The information I have uncovered is about the same as yours but I got my data from different sources and in a different manner. However, this is like a confirmation of each others work.”
“I still have some work to do, though,” I added.”
“You and me, both. That’s why you haven’t seen anything in the press about this. But once I finish, Brown will be a thing of the past. I hope you have been careful. You saw what they did to Kathy!”
“I did and I think I know what happened to her. You know more about her, don't you? More coffee?”
“Perhaps a bit. Sadly, I do know about Kathy. You see, the night she was murdered I got a call from her. She asked if I had seen her on television. I told her no and then she said that the woman on the tube was an imposter. She then told me to hang on as someone was at her door. The next thing I heard was a ping, then another ping, probably bullets fired from a gun with a silencer on it. A few seconds later I heard a dial tone.”
“Wow. I hope they’re not after you.”
“Well, they probably are but I have got to do my job so I can’t be concerned about it.”
“Do you always use your real name when you produce articles or do you use another?”
“Most of the time I use Ann Dalton but on rare occasions I use the name Tonia Neland.”
“Don't tell me you know Patricia Hearst!”
“Tonia Neland is an anagram of my name. Actually, very few people know of the Dalton / Neland connection. I probably shouldn't have told you about it.”
“Don't worry. I have no problem keeping secrets. Can I get you anything else?”
“No thanks. I have to get going. You have really been helpful and I love your cooking. It won't be as good but I'd like to cook for you too.”
“That would be nice. By that time I should have a lot more to tell you about that LOTTO program.”
“Thanks again. Please be careful!”
“You be careful, too. Good night.”
As she drove off I knew that I probably wouldn't get much sleep and if I did I would probably have another one of those dreams. Sometimes I hate it when I'm right! THE WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM
Sunday morning came too quickly. I got out of bed and was glad that I only had a few glasses of wine. Hangovers weren't worth it. Years ago I had a few of those mornings to remind me never to do that again. I went to morning Mass and was thankful that Father Christopher’s sermon was merciful.
After breakfast I got a call from my mom reminding me to bring over the book on LOTTO if I was through. I’m glad she called, as I had almost forgotten...about dinner, not the book. I said that I would bring the book and should be over in early afternoon. I spent some time perusing the Sunday news and decided to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the morning. I put Handel’s Water Music and the soundtrack of the motion picture “Amadeus” into my CD carousel and relaxed. The former was one of the very first CD’s I bought and still a delight, as was Mozart.
I would get back to LOTTO tomorrow when I would be rested and ready. Many thoughts raced through my mind but I tried to calm myself and put everything in order. It wasn't very easy.
I drove to my parents’ house and it wasn’t too long before my dad got into another incident dealing with the lottery.
“I saw on the news last week that there was a shooting in your neck of the woods, probably less than five miles from your house. No one was killed but apparently some guy chased his wife out of his or her home and fired at her. He missed and was later arrested.”
“It turns out they had recently been winners in the lottery. I guess all that money can cause serious problems,” my mom added.
Not to be outdone I chimed in, “I heard of a guy who won the lottery and after a few months died of a heart attack. Word was that all those winnings brought a lot of stress and that’s probably what killed him. His life was fine until all that money arrived. What a shame!
“Oh, I left your lottery book in the den.”
“Care for a beer?”
“No thanks, dad. Maybe later.”
“So what did you think of the book?”
“It was really fascinating. I was very surprised
though, because I knew of the unbelievable odds at winning. After glancing through the book, the prospect of winning seemed even bleaker. And yet somehow I’m almost convinced to take a chance on the lottery, maybe play a dollar a week with the same numbers and plan not on winning the big one but just playing with the idea of winning something and not losing my shirt. Fifty-two dollars a year isn’t a great deal of money.”
“Your mom and I play from time to time but not on a regular basis. The trouble is people think they can survive by winning the lottery. If you win a lot of money and don’t control your spending, you’ll be right back where you started from in a hurry.”
“What I don’t like is the attitude that winning the lottery is an alternative to hard work. People want quick fixes. They’re lazy. They don’t want to do anything. Well it just doesn’t work that way. If you want something, you have to work for it. That’s the principle on which this country was founded.”“Tell that to a professional athlete. So much for solving the problems of the world.”
“Dinner’s ready,” came the words from the head gourmet.
“It’s time for chow!”
Dinner was delicious as anticipated. Later, 60 Minutes was sensational as always so my dad changed the channel. PBS had a special on about the Quiz show scandals in the early days of television. I had seen the movie on my trip, and PBS managed to bring everything into focus.
“I didn't think TV executives at that time were so corrupt.”
“Some things never change, John.”
“The amazing thing is that so many shows were rigged. It seems like all of them were.”
“They were out there to make money and it didn't make a difference how they did it.”
“That really is sad.”
“Money is what makes the world go round. And all along you thought it was love.”
We sat around for a while longer and then I decided to head home. “Thanks for dinner. It was as good as ever.”
“You're welcome, John. I'll talk to you.”
“Take it easy. Don't work too hard!”
When I got home, I dressed down and decided to watch the Mark Russell Comedy Special on PBS that I had taped a few nights ago. How did we ever live before VCR's?
I rewound the tape and got a glass of ginger ale and pressed the play button. What I saw was the tail end of a show on about the underworld. I must have set the wrong start time when I set the VCR a few days earlier. As I started to watch, it turned out to be very informative and captivating. I figured I had plenty of time so I decided to continue watching this unanticipated taping.
They were talking about two guys who had been in the Mafia but in different crime families. The one was deeply involved in racketeering while the other made his daily bread by dealing in gambling and prostitution. Though they were in factions that hated each other, these two individuals knew each other quite well. They both played on the same high school baseball and football teams.
One day each was asked to perform a hit on the other. Each was very reluctant to take down his friend so consequently they both questioned what they had been doing up until this time in the Mafia. As a result each gave up his life in the underworld and testified against the mob, resulting in quite a few arrests and imprisonments on both sides. Eventually they were both put into the witness protection program. Their names were Cellini and Parello.
SORTING IT ALL OUT
Then it all made sense. I had what I was looking for. All I had to do was get into the LOTTO program and I would have knowledge of what was going on. Now I was excited and running on adrenaline. The phone rang and I almost fell out of my chair.
“Hello,” I said, although it didn't sound like me. “John, it's Tom. You sound different.”
“I am and do I have news for you!”
“Well, it will have to wait until I see you. I was
called away on a brief business trip and I need a ride when I get to the airport. I wonder if you could pick me up at the airport in a few hours. My plane is due in at 11:23 tonight.”
“I'll be there for you. Don’t forget I owe you for driving me to the airport last time.”
“I didn’t even have to remind you. Well, I've got to go now. I’ll be on United flight 202. See you in a while.”
I had over an hour before I had to leave the house so I dove right into the LOTTO program. My suspicions were confirmed and I also discovered some more logic in the program that would help account for the long running time.
The phone rang but by the time I got to it, the ringing had stopped. Probably a wrong number. It was time for the airport trip anyway, so I was happy to get out the door. Once I got on the expressway I felt I was being followed but then the car got off on the Walden Avenue exit. I could feel paranoia setting in and that I didn't need. I was at the terminal for only five minutes when Tom's flight arrived. He came off the plane rather quickly and he spotted me at the same time I saw him.
“You look pale, my good man. Have you seen a ghost?”
“I wish that was all I had seen. I'll give you all the dirty details once we're in the car. I hope you don’t mind the wait.”
“Gosh, this must really be something big!”
Tom's luggage was waiting when he went to retrieve it so we got to my car without delay. I put his bags in the trunk and we were on our way. I paid for the parking and exited the lot onto Genesee Street.
“So what in God's name is going on? I've never seen you like this before.”
“To start with, Annie came over for dinner last night. Everything was fine until I asked her about Kathy.”
“Pendleton, I presume?”
“Yes. She mentioned that just before Kathy was murdered, the two spoke on the telephone and Kathy stated that the woman on television claiming to be her was an imposter. Just then the doorbell rang and Kathy excused herself to answer the door and Annie heard what probably were muffled gun shots and shortly after that a dial tone.”
“So our theory about the look-a-like was correct.”
“Unfortunately, yes. Annie also mentioned that she was just about ready to come out with enough information to tear down the Brown presidency, relating to the murder, the LOTTO deal as well as a few other improprieties of the Brown entourage.”
“Oh, so she knew about LOTTO too.”
“Well, she had information but not from the same sources as I had. I then proceeded to relate what I knew about the national lottery and she was really excited. In fact this news seemed to thrill her about as much as the dinner I cooked for her.”
“So you really impressed her! What did you cook?”
“Oh some stuffed mushrooms for an appetizer and carbonnade a la flamande along with a few other things.”
“Great. What else happened?”
“I mentioned that my work wasn't quite done but that I should have more damaging proof once I got back into the program. Not long after that, she had to leave. She did offer to cook for me and I accepted.”
“That still doesn't explain your behavior. We knew all of these details already.”
“True, but a few days ago I happened to read the names of the LOTTO winners in the news and there were seven winners. The first five names were fairly routine, common names like Smith and Hanson. However, the last two names were Cellini and Parello.”
“Those sound common too. No, wait a minute. I just heard an ad on the radio for two lawyers. I think it was Cellino and Parello.”
“Well, you’re half right. It’s Cellino and Barnes that you are probably thinking of. But anyway, last night I was set to watch the Mark Russell comedy special, which I had taped. Somehow I wound up with a show on tape about the Mafia. It was fascinating and they got into different events over the last thirty years. I got caught up in the program and they talked about two gangsters who eventually were put into the witness protection program. Their names were...”
“Cellini and Parello. Wow, that is a bombshell. So who were these two?”
“Frank ‘that red stuff on your shirt isn’t sauce’ Cellini was a member of the Galliano family and he was asked to take down Gino Parello of the Milano family. At the same time Gino ‘the only hits aren’t in baseball’ Parello was ordered to do in Cellini. But it turned out that the two knew each other.”
“They had played on the same sports teams in high school in South Orange, New Jersey. Not only that, they were still good friends.”
We were cruising the I-90 when Tom said, “So neither of them wanted to carry out the hits.”
“Good guess. To take that one step further, they decided to turn over a new leaf, if you know what I mean. They turned themselves in to the Feds and their testimony netted quite a catch. Cellini and Parello put quite a few of the main players in the underworld behind bars.”
“And naturally they wound up in the witness protection program. Oh God, now I realize what this is all about.”
“Pretty slick, isn’t it?”
“It sure is. I assume you got back into the source code for more details.”
“Just before I met you at the airport I discovered more reasons why the program was chugging along. It first read a data file and did some updating of records. It added new records and then started reading the same file from the beginning, deleting some of the records. The program then read the file of entries for a count and then got the winning six numbers by the minimalist method.”
“You mean by reading all the entries and recording the occurrence of each number and then taking as winning numbers the six numbers that the least amount of people chose.”
“Precisely. Then the program read though the input file of entries to determine the winners. After that it got the winners' names from reading another data file, obviously a name and address file. Then it got a random number from 3 to 10 and went to the very first file to get that number of additional winners of the lottery.”
“And what you're telling me is that this file is nothing more than individuals who were put into the witness protection program...people who lost their original identity forever. They were winners who could never collect one cent of the winnings.”
“This file may even have people who had died. At present I have no way of verifying that. Dave Fisher can probably help me answer that.”
“So this strategy dilutes the winnings of the pot. Sure there's a winner, apparently multiple winners when in fact there may be only one or two, if any. So if the jackpot is forty million dollars and eight people are supposed to split it, they each get a mere five million. But in reality only five million dollars is paid out and thirty five million pocketed.”
“And yet it looks like there are many winners so more people keep playing and this results in an even larger jackpot. This in turn results in still more dough in the coffers of whoever is running the show.”
“What was happening in the beginning of the program with this protection file?”
“New people are being added to the witness protection system every day so they are added to the file. The deletions were records of the so-called winners from the previous week’s LOTTO. You don't want the same bogus winner day after day.”
“How ingenuous! Why didn't we think of that?
“Because we’re not demented!
I pulled up to Tom's house and he asked, “Stop in for a while.”
“Maybe for a bit.”
“Does Annie know all the late-breaking details?”
“No. I haven't talked to her all day. I'll get a hold of her in the morning. She'll be surprised.”
Tom had a beer and I had a cranberry juice. We talked some on his trip and I figured it was time to go.
“Thanks, John. Good luck trying to get some sleep.”
I would need more than luck to fall asleep. A MURDER IN D.C.
I headed home and before long thought I was being followed. On Jamison Road, a Buick was right on my tail. I sped up a bit but so did the driver behind me and when I slowed down, so did my pursuer.
Whoever it was liked to tailgate and there was no traffic on the road so he could have passed if he so desired. There was no use trying to outrun this car as it had plenty of horsepower, which I didn’t. Perhaps I should keep driving until I got to the police station; that might deter him. Then I had an idea. I turned onto Creek Road and I was relieved to see the Buick fly by me. I guess they were just out for a joyride. I made a U-turn and kept heading home.
A few minutes later I got to my driveway. I imagined the Buick waiting for me in the driveway but there was no car there. But then I noticed that my garage door was open. Now I started to get concerned. Maybe I had left it open when I left. Or I may have thought I pressed the button on the remote to close the door but somehow didn’t really wind up with the door closed.
Nonetheless, I was very cautious as I entered the house. I was quite relieved to see that everything seemed to be all right and indeed I must have simply forgotten to close the garage door. Inside the house normalcy reigned but inside me that was not the case.
I knew that it would be difficult to relax and catch some zzzz’s. I wished that I had had a good physical workout so I would have no trouble falling asleep. I thought about a beer or a glass of wine but then decided that either would only keep me awake longer.
I readied myself for bed and lay down but I realized that this could be a long sleepless night. The phone rang, but when I went to answer it, the party on the other end was silent and then I heard a click. I went back to bed and then the phone rang again but when I went to answer it, the ringing ceased. I then turned off the phone so I couldn’t hear any rings. I also wrote “ring, ring” on a small piece of paper to remind me to turn the ringer back on. I put it on top of the answering machine. That effort of turning off the phone seemed to help.
But then I heard a crash. It might have been in the basement or living room. Perhaps something had just fallen in the garage, like a shovel or broom. Cautiously I went to the kitchen to get a glass of milk. Before gulping it down, I checked the basement, garage and outside. There was no answer for the sound I heard. I finished the milk, hopped into bed and tried to relax and get some rest.
I didn't have dreams that night about LOTTO or anything else. In order to dream you have to sleep. The alarm went off so I removed myself from the bed even though I wanted to stay there. I felt like calling in sick to work but I reasoned if I didn't work, I wouldn't get paid. I hoped a long hot shower would revive me but I was still tired and groggy. Even a shot of caffeine seemed to have no great effect on me.
I drove my car out of the garage and headed for the expressway. I wasn’t on the highway more than five minutes when I saw a car speeding down the road at close to eighty miles per hour. I figured I wasn’t going to get in his way so I stayed in the right lane hoping he wouldn’t hit me. Unfortunately he had other plans. He didn’t hit me but after he passed me he cut right in front of me and slowed down to fifty-five.
I had two choices: either pull out and pass him or slow down further. Since there were plenty of cars in the left lane I would have to wait if I wanted to pass him. When it was finally clear, I signaled and tried to pull out and pass. I got into the passing lane but he beat me to it. The car was an old brown Chevy Impala and I couldn’t help notice the license plate on the car: S4 708.
Now in the passing lane right ahead of me, he was starting to slow down. Soon cars were passing me on the right and I was stuck. Eventually I got into the right lane when the traffic subsided but so did he. I didn’t want to stop the car but I couldn’t get away from him. He wouldn’t let me. I didn’t know what to do. I was trapped and scared. Within a few minutes I was somewhat relieved when he pulled into the express lane and took off. Before he did this, he waved as if he knew who I was and would be back to see me again. I hoped that I would never run into him.
By the time I got to work, I had calmed down somewhat. My boss asked me if I had a few minutes to spare.” Sure, George. Anytime.”
I went into his office and he said, “Have a seat. It looks as though you could use some time off.”
I sat down and said, “Thanks.”
He took a sip of coffee and replied, “You had mentioned taking a vacation. Anytime in the next few weeks won't be a problem since everything is running smoothly now.”
“Well, thanks. I will consider it and let you know.”
“Oh, thank you for all your extra efforts. You're the reason things are running so smoothly around here.”
“That's what you pay me for!”
“Well, let me know.”
It was nice to know that someone appreciated my efforts.
I left his office and tried to reach Annie but I got a pizza parlor. The last thing I wanted was a pizza but that wasn’t the reason I almost hung up. I apologized for dialing a wrong number and the person answering was very forgiving. I would have to be more careful dialing. I dialed Annie’s number again and this time got a busy signal. I'd have to try later. I had some programming to do that I wanted to get out of the way but first I had to make a trip to the men’s room. When I returned I got back into my work and it helped me get my mind off recent events.
Thoughts about Cellini and Parello crept into my mind once again. That reminded me that perhaps I should try to reach Dave Fisher to dig up more information on the witness protection file. I used my calling card to call the nation's capital since I didn’t want to have my employer pay the long distance charges. I don’t think they would have been too thrilled if I called on their dime. Unfortunately the number was busy. I'd have to try him later as well.
The lunch hour came and I ate a sandwich and some fruit but I could barely taste what I was eating. I spent more time testing the program I had written earlier. For the first time in a few weeks I was caught up with the work on my desk even though I felt anything but normal. I dialed Annie's number at work and the phone rang but no one answered. I was having a tough time reaching anyone. I decided to try Dave again.
I didn't get Dave but one of his co-workers, Alison Hendricks, answered the phone.
“May I please speak to Dave?”
“Do you mean Dave Fisher?”
“Yes, he's the man.”
The rest of what Alison said was completely incomprehensible as she was overcome by grief. All I heard was sobbing. Another person came on the line.
“I'm awfully sorry but Dave was found murdered in his apartment a few days ago. I’m Sherry Jones. I worked with David. The police say it looked like a robbery.”
My heart sank to my stomach. All of a sudden I felt like the temperature in my cubicle had risen ten degrees. “I'm sorry! I’m John, his former teacher. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, we're all taking it quite hard here. We can’t figure why anyone would want to do that to him. He never hurt anyone. He had no enemies. Are you OK?”
“Yes. Thanks. I've got to go.”
“Take care of yourself.”
THE CONSPIRACY AND FEAR
To say I was scared was a gross understatement. If they got rid of Dave, who would be next? I tried to reach Annie but the line was busy again. It was almost quitting time so I sluggishly finished some testing and called Tom.“Tom Daniel at your service.”
“Thank God I got through to someone. Are you going to be home tonight?”
“Sure, stop over anytime.”
“It might be late.”
“Anytime you come over will be fine. I usually watch the late news and some of Letterman, so that’s not a problem. Are you all right?”
It was starting to sound like an echo, but I assured him that I was surviving.
“I'll see you later.”
I finished up and headed for home. When I got there I tried Annie again but her line at work was still busy. I really didn't have much of an appetite but I ate some of the leftover beef, onions and beer anyway. The dish tasted so much better when I first had it with Annie. That was only a few days ago but it seemed like it was months. I was much calmer then, too. It’s really amazing what a difference a few days can make in someone’s life.
I washed the dishes and while I was finishing up the lights went out. Perhaps someone ran into a power line or maybe it was just another power outage. This was the first one in some time but they were not uncommon. I guess I would have to do something about it or else sit here in the dark. By the time I found some candles and matches, the power was restored. It was bad enough that events were the way they were but now little incidents like power outages and garage doors left open were starting to spook me.
I sat down to rest for a second and after a few minutes decided to finish the dishes. When I was done I figured I better do some serious documenting of my investigation. I got started and every half hour or so tried Annie. After all I got by trying her work number was a ring and no answer, I tried reaching her at home. The result was the same...no answer. She must have forgotten to turn on her answering machine.
I was making good progress when it hit me. Other than Tom, Annie and I, no one knew the whole story of the Brown conspiracy. If anyone got me before I got all this on paper, what good was all the time I spent on this fiasco? A sense of urgency had developed. I had to hurry but I couldn't be sloppy. I proceeded and after an hour tried Annie's number once more. This time I got her machine, which meant she had gotten home, and turned it on and went out. I left a brief message and got back to the business at hand.
When I finished, it was almost 10 o'clock, so I took all the papers and drove over to Tom's.
Tom greeted me at the door. “You look worse than last night. Now what?”
“Dave Fisher was robbed and murdered a few days ago.”
“Oh, no! When did you find out?”
“Just this afternoon. It's possible the robbery was added only as a distraction.”
“Do you think that his death is tied to the LOTTO?”
“I don’t know. It’s possible that he was just mugged and killed by some thief who knows nothing about LOTTO. On the other hand, it could have been agents who work for President Brown. If that is the case, they probably know about what I’m doing.”
“What can we do?”
“I'm not so sure. Here's what you can do for me. I documented all I found and it's in this envelope. Can you make two copies of all this at work tomorrow and see to it that Annie gets one? Her office is close to yours downtown, isn't it?”
“I can walk over there on my break tomorrow morning. That should be easy.”
“Copy it yourself. Don't let anyone do it for you. At this point I'm not sure whom to trust.”
“Don't worry. I'll get the stuff Xeroxed and over to her office as fast as I can. How many pages are there?”
“No sweat. Are you going to go into hiding?”
“Not just yet, but I'm taking no chances.”
“Did you reach Annie?”
“I tried calling her today. I hope she's all right.”
“Don't worry about her. She's been through so much similar stuff as an investigative reporter that this is chickenfeed to her.”
“I hope you're right. Well I better shove off. Maybe I'll finally get some sleep tonight. Heaven knows I need it. So long.”
“Be careful, pal.”
When I got home there was a message from Annie but her phone was busy when I tried to return the call. I tried a few more times. I figured I would have to wait until the morning to talk to her.
The night was loaded with interruptions. The darkness brought all kinds of sounds, most of which were created by the wind. The weatherman had predicted high winds and he was right on the money. I tried to fall asleep but just as I was about to doze off, the phone rang. But it only rang once and then it stopped. I learned from the previous night, so I turned off the phone and let the answering machine do all the work. That solved the problem of the ringing but not that of the wind.