Chapter four...The Phantom Retaliates

Preface: Daphne St. James has learned that the strange part number, which resulted in her meeting the Phantom, was part of a discontinued numbering system. This had led to the identification of the phantom as Frank Predum, a Cycle Counter who died on the job about forty years ago. The Phantom’s activities have captured the attention of Louis Smith, the unpleasant Controller who delights in pointing out problems in other departments.

The next day, Daffy and Matt Harris were in Matt’s cubicle by 7am waiting for that day’s cycle count audit report that was usually available by 7:30. Daffy had related to Matt the series of events that had revealed the identity of the phantom.

“So the phantom is really Frank Predum – or was Frank Predum. Why do you suppose he’s waited “til now to cause trouble?”

Daffy was surprised Matt would ask that. “Because he never had a computer until I installed one in the old warehouse. The real question is how does someone who has been dead since the seventies operate a computer today."

Matt leaned back and put his feet up on the desk. “A more important question is, how will we MIS professionals maintain our mystique and outrageous salaries if it gets out that even dead guys can learn our trade.”

Daffy laughed for the first time since this whole thing began. “I promise never to tell,” she said. Then she added seriously, “I wonder if he is trapped her or something. I mean, if there is some form of life after death, why would someone hang around an old warehouse and count parts… if he had a choice I mean?”

“I’m not religious or philosophical enough to speculate on that,” Matt replied. “But whatever the circumstances, he won’t be entering those old part numbers again.”

Matt had added a pre-adjustment edit to Daffy’s program. No part number not in the database could be processed. He had activated this new feature moments after wiping out the phantom’s cycle count adjustments from the previous day.

“I suppose so,” Daffy replied. “But if we are so confident we’ve stopped him, why are we here early waiting for the audit report?”

The phone rang. It was Bernice in IT Operations informing Matt that the daily reports were available. This time, instead of bringing a whole stack of reports, Matt sorted through them in the computer room and returned with just the one they both anxious to see. His expression betrayed the fact that he had already looked at it.

“Oh no. Now what?” Daffy asked taking the report Matt handed her. All the old part numbers were adjusted to zero – Matt had done that. And there were no positive adjustments. The pre-entry edit had worked. But her joy was fleeting. At the bottom of the page were three other numbers – active part numbers – followed by negative adjustments. “Oh my God,” Daffy said. Her voice was flat, emotionless and stunned. “The phantom is now counting active part numbers.”

“Yes,” Matt added in the same expressionless tone. “And that means he is messing with the dollars.”

Daffy’s mind was desperately searching for a way out of this. “Well, he only adjusted three part numbers so Louis Smith won’t be alerted today anyway.” She was grasping for any control at all over the situation. “We have at least on full day to react.”

“And we can always remove the PC from the warehouse,” Matt added with hope creeping into his voice. “Of course, the phantom may reside in the program itself. Then we would have to disconnect the whole program.” The discouragement returned to his voice. “Maybe it resides in the computer instead of the program. If that’s the case, even making cycle count adjustments via the miscellaneous inventory adjustment feature would not stop him.”

“There must be a way around this, “Daffy said. “We are two computer literate people of the twenty first century and he is… was… a computer illiterate of the 1970s. I know we can beat him!” She was trying to pump some enthusiasm into both of them.

“Illiterate of computers?” Matt asked. “Hardly; this guy is a natural hacker. We can probably beat him but can we do it in time to save our jobs?”

“Our jobs?” Daffy thought. Hers was the only job in jeopardy yet Matt embraced the problem as if it were his own. What a wonderful guy. She wondered if he liked children and then forced herself to concentrate on the current predicament. And that brief distraction cleared her mind just enough for a new idea to come forward. It hit her with such impact that Daffy stood straight up, staring forward, with a look of delight on her face.

“What?” Matt asked realizing that Daffy was onto something. ”What is it?”

“Come by my cubicle at two this afternoon, “she said with a smile. “We’re going to the warehouse.”

Daffy worked through lunch doing some simple programming and making a single trip to the shop floor. She finished at 1:40, made a trip to the vending machine, and was happily finishing her lunch of M&Ms when Matt arrived at 2:00. He sat in her visitor’s chair looking apprehensive.

“Look,” he began uneasily. “If this trip is to prove you are braver than me… I acknowledge it right now. I don’t want to go to the warehouse.”

“Daffy leaned over the desk toward him. “If I’m right, we have nothing to fear,” she relied with a smile.

“And if you are wrong?”

“”Oh, a hideous death… damned for eternity to haunt an old warehouse… no possible hope for salvation.” Her smile was broad and confident and Matt found comfort in it.

“Well, as long as it’s nothing serious, I guess its OK.” Matt smiled weakly struggling to find some courage.

Daffy realized Matt was genuinely terrified yet he was going with her anyway. Was he, perhaps, afraid she might think less of him if he refused? Did he, perhaps, feel a desire to protect her? Daffy was independent and self-confident. She would never need a man to protect her but it would be purely wonderful if Matt Harris felt some male instinct along those lines… purely wonderful indeed.

A short time later, Daffy swung open the warehouse’s wooden doors that responded with their familiar creak. The afternoon light illuminated the area near the door. The rest of the warehouse was in shadows only partially dispelled when she turned on the inadequate overhead lights. Daffy and Matt stepped inside cautiously and Daffy felt it immediately. Something was waiting for her.

Convinced a brave demeanor would not impress the phantom, she nevertheless fought her rising fear for Matt’s sake. She walked purposefully to the computer and called up the cycle count adjustment screen.

“I’ll just correct the three part numbers the phantom adjusted yesterday,” she said to both Matt and her unseen observer. Daffy tapped away at the keyboard and again felt it subtly respond as if a living thing… an unhappy thing. She looked around quickly. There was nothing. Was Matt’s presence hindering it?

“Now I’ll go count these same three parts myself since our friend, the Phantom, apparently doesn’t know we keep a four-wall inventory.”

Matt was still standing by the computer as Daffy walked away into an aisle deep in shadows. She could observe him through spaces between the boxes. He was peering fearfully into the surrounding shadows… searching for form… searching for movement. Daffy admitted to herself that she was able to carry-on bravely only because Matt was there with her. She was brave both for him and because of him and she now understood what it meant to draw courage from another person.

“You see, Matt,” she continued loudly. “Any count taken at this warehouse must be added to the quantity on the factory floor. The total is what we compare to the computer’s on-hand balance. And we backflush from that total. That’s how a four-wall inventory system works.”

She saw Matt was now leaning on the computer table with both hands – barely able to stand – numb with fear. Daffy knew that he too could sense the nearing of something. The sense of it was growing steadily.             

“Just as I though!” Daffy said triumphantly as she finished counting the first of the three parts. “Our phantom made the adjustments based on the quantity on hand in just this warehouse. He doesn’t know we keep a four-wall inventory.” She paused. This was the pivotal moment.

“He always was responsible for screwing up the inventory records!” Daffy shouted.

Instantly there was a flicker of light several paces behind Matt. He saw the reflection in the computer screen and whirled around. The form of the Phantom did not consolidate slowly as it had previously. The image of an angry old man snapped into place and moved toward Matt.

“Oh my God,” Daffy blurted out breaking into a full run down the aisle. The aisle was at an angle to Matt’s position so she had to run away from him before she could turn the corner and run toward him.

Matt cried out in terror as the Phantom raised a grey fist and smashed it into his chest. He went down hard to the wooden floor.

“I’m going to be too late,” Daffy said to herself as she ran headlong toward Matt. The Phantom raised his fist to strike Matt again.

Next time --- chapter five: Daffy triumphs

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