Temp work sometimes comes through other sources than the agency I'm employed with. Occasionally, I'm the one getting called for a job. Since I don't send out resumes, I'm pleased when a voice on the other side offers me money.
"Trace? This is Warren. Got a landscaping job if you're open."|
Warren Gates, my parole officer, puts together crews of reliable ex-cons for employers who don't want to pay outrageous agency fees.
"Guy needs to flip a house he inherited, but professional landscapers want bookoo bucks to make it presentable. Report to Martin, my foreman."
Martin was good people despite making one remarkably stupid choice that ruined his life forever.
And like me, Martin's past made employment difficult in an already over-saturated rat race.
We carpooled it to the 'burbs. Martin had the appearance of Santa Claus, the jolly attitude, too. His O-list status made ever playing Ol' St. Nick again impossible.
Martin slapped my shoulder as I got in. "Glad to have you on board! Any good with a hedge trimmer?"
"Not if you want topiaries, but I can get the tops even."
"Excellent. The owner's infirmed aunt let the place go to seed. I got guys chopping trees, some laying rock and sod, and two newbies painting trim. Nothing too extensive, just enough to give it curb appeal."
"Curb appeal. Check."
Other legit contract labor -- electricians, plumbers and interior designers -- lined the picturesque suburban street with their obnoxious vehicular advertisements. The split-level colonial had certainly seen better days, but hadn't reached the Addams Family level.
After greetings with Martin's crew I knew, I met the new guys. Gabe, a small Hispanic twenty-something free of visible tattoos, had done a short stint for hot-wiring a Maserati. James, the other, an IT wiz, did five of ten for embezzlement. His smooth charm, better-than-average looks and immaculate blonde widow's peak set him apart from Gate's normal crew.
Martin commented on the nearly done paint job. "You guys must've beaten the early bird. Good work."
I found the electric hedge trimmer and unwound an extension from the garage. The unruly juniper bushes that lined the driveway taunted me so I started there. Martin fired up the gas-powered leaf blower and began clearing years' worth of detritus from around the house.
An electrician in overalls and goggles called out to me, but Martin's proximity made it impossible to hear. Through universal hand signals, I gathered he wanted to cut the power. Not knowing how long he would take, I sped up in an attempt to get as much done as possible. However, the power only went brown for a second, slowing, but not cutting off the trimmer.
Shouts of alarm came over the sound of Martin's blower. I whistled for him to stop. As he did, Gabe ran up to us.
"You're not gonna believe this. Electrician-dude just got fried good. All crispy like."
Martin followed Gabe into the house while I hurried into the garage. Finding the breaker box, anyone could see the mains were cleanly flipped off. My trimmer shouldn't have had power. The brown out I experienced must've been the electrician's death dance.
While not an expert on house wiring, I knew a bit about tampering with it. Pulling open the faceplate, I discovered a bypass over the main breaker, rendering the switch useless.
The power couldn't be shut off.
My work gloves kept me from leaving prints and, with everyone inside ogling the dead body, I managed to slip out of the garage before Martin joined me out front.
"Darwin, man. You stupid enough to work with live wires, you're going to get burned."
"No," I shook my head. "Mains were rigged."
Martin took off his cap and wiped his wrinkled brow. "Damn. Six ex-cons in sight of a murder? You guys don't need this. Want to split?"
"It'll look worse. Tell me about the new guys. Either been a 187 suspect?"
"Murder? Nah. Warren's picky about who he hires. No hard timers, just hard luckers."
It didn't change my thoughts. They arrived early, which meant opportunity. Both had experience with wiring; Gabe with cars, James with electronics. I needed a motive.
I ducked into the dead electrician's truck. Martin kept an eye out. Inside the console, a ring with a dozen different security badges rested. Scanning the companies, I noticed quite a few high-tech firms, the places where an IT geek might work.
"What's the deal behind James's stint?"
Martin pulled at his thick white beard. "Heard something like he attached a data switch under the flooring of a server farm and siphoned off credit cards numbers."
"Data switch? Could that create a power flux?"
"Maybe. I guess. I was a Santa. I delivered computers, not built them."
If a data switch caused a drain or spike in the power, the company might send for an electrician to seek out the problem.
"Call Warren. As our parole officer, he should hear this first."
Detective Lopez bee-lined it to me as soon as he arrived. "Really, Walker? Why am I not surprised to find you near my crime scene... again?"
"For the same reason you won't be surprised I did your job... again."
Two officers stepped out of the house, James the hacker, in cuffs.
I smirked. "Jimmy here was sent up for ten years on credit card fraud. The victim, an electrician, discovered an unauthorized tap into his employer's server farm. My guess is, upon release, Jimmy planned some payback. Tracked his vic to this project."
"So then, how'd he got on your crew?"
"The owner says Jimmy connected with him over an online RPG and recommended our team. Since the work came as a reference, our P.O. had no problem putting Jimmy on the detail. Jimmy shows up early and jury-rigs the mains."
But Lopez still wasn't happy. "Now wait a minute, Walker! That's some quick deducing."
"In electrical work, it's called bottom-up testing, Lopez. When you've worked the convict circuit as long as I have, you can always tell when one's blown."