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Hello World!

two shoesThe shoes, Sorghum was told, were all that was found the of the man. The man in question was a 50-year-old computer systems administrator for a small Manhattan talent agency. In recent months he habitually spent the better part of each day tucked away in the server room working on his next year’s entry in the celebrated International Obfuscated C Code Contest. Apparently, he’d hoped to make a splash with a program that scanned millions of digits of pi, converting intricately randomized 12-byte chunks of it into ASCII characters while looking for occurrences of the string “Hello World!”

The closest he’d come in seven months of work was “Jelly Whorl?” and “Hulla Berle!”


Early on a Friday afternoon, the agency—operating on the sixth and seventh floors of an older, run-down sixteen-story building in midtown—lost its connection to the Internet. This might have gone unnoticed had the company president not lost her ability to water a poppy crop in the Facebook game “Farmville.” But she had and it was noticed. Bob-the-security-guard was roused from a nap to unlock the server room.

Bob and Shirleen—a large secretary in a too-small floral-print dress—entered the server room and found the shoes on the floor in front of a chair. Two nearby computer monitors flickered. Well, one of the two flickered. One display remained static, showing the Wikipedia entry for “Natasha Fatale.” The other flickered with a continuous scrolling of odd two-word, 12-character phrases:

 Huzza Wildo.
 Filet Volvo;
 Hecka Wowie?
 Booty Golly!

And so on. Bob pulled out a small notebook and started writing them down. Shirleen rolled her eyes. “They might be important, see,” he insisted, “I don’t know what ‘Keeno Mamba!’ means. Do you? See?”

They didn’t know what to make of the fact that the sysadmin had disappeared leaving just his shoes, but the priority at the time was to get Internet service restored. The agency wasn’t doing all that well to begin with, and could ill-afford to have its website inaccessible for any period of time. The President’s poppy crop needed water, too. No one had a phone number for the sysadmin (he had long refused to carry a cell phone, and considered his home number to be “none of the company’s business”). Whether he was wandering barefoot in the city, or napping at home on his couch there was no way to reach him. So Shirleen sent a text message to a geeky guy she knew at the coffee shop across the street. It took him 45 minutes to get away from the latte machine, another eight minutes to cross the street, climb six flights of stairs and find Shirleen. Three minutes later he had restored access to the web (he flipped a switch on a power strip), and had let the company president in on a Farmville “cheat” that was the digital equivalent of pouring massive amounts of MiracleGro on her poppy fields.


It was two weeks later before anyone got around to reporting the missing sysadmin to the police. And now, a week-and-a-half after that, Detective Sorghum looked over the scene in the server room. On one computer monitor, a Wikipedia page still recounted the impressive resume of Natasha Nogoodnik, and on another, a long succession of meaningless phrases scrolled slowly by:

 Folky Drawl.
 Oompa Genie?
 Lucko Worel?
 Thyme Outta!


one shoeThe well-worn shoes sat as if mesmerized by the hum of computer equipment and the two glowing monitors: endless meaningless chatter on one; a fetching cartoon spy on the other.

Sorghum didn’t think much of his chances to help reunite the pair with their owner. Lots of computer guys go missing in the city. Who knows where? Some of them leave behind their shoes. Who knows why? He wrote down a few perfunctory notes. Some phone numbers. We’ll let you know if anything turns up, he’d tell ‘em. Probably should get a cuppa coffee across the street. He snapped his notebook shut and prepared to go. Better switch these off, he thought, waste of energy. He flipped the switches: “Pop,” there goes Natasha; “Click,” the last few phrases flicker out …

 Bogie Wolfs/
 Floor Zonky!
 Jumba Fleet?
 Hello World!


This has been another Detective Sorghum Mystery
08/31/2012 A Death in Brooklyn
02/12/2011 Hello World!
12/14/2008 Cross Words

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