Lex was an employee at GreyBox in the late 90s, a PC-repair shop inside of a large electronics chain. He had spent the entire morning handling phone calls from customer after customer. Each of the calls was supposed to go to his co-worker Gerald, but Gerald hadn’t been picking up his phone. Each caller complained that Gerald had taken in their computer for repairs and not actually done the repairs.

An ice-cream cone in a bowl, turned up at an… erect angle.

“I brought my laptop in yesterday,” one caller, a wheezy old man, said, “and the young man behind the counter just took the laptop and said, ‘come back in an hour’. He went into the back room, and when I came back, he looked like he had been drinking. You know, red faced and sweaty. And the laptop smelled funny- like corn chips. And it wasn’t fixed!”

Lex, along with their boss Kyle, had long suspected Gerald’s… habits were interfering with his work performance. To wit, every time he was alone in the back room, he came out red-faced and sweaty. The accounting computer, also in the back room, frequently got infected with malware, despite only officially being used for running Excel. Gerald always covered his tracks, clearing history after he went about his ‘business’, and liberally spraying Febreeze in the back room afterwards, but they knew what he was getting up to.

Unfortunately, Gerald was the son of the owner. It would take something like the Pentagon Papers to get him fired.

“I’ll see to your laptop personally,” Lex told the old man on the phone. “I’ll also give it a thorough cleaning for the trouble you’ve been through.”

The Sting

If Gerald couldn’t be fired, then he had to be convinced to quit. He approached Kyle with an idea.

“So, Gerald basically comes to work to… play on the computers, right?,” Lex said. “Well, I could write an application in Visual Basic that could freeze and un-freeze a computer screen.” At some point, a copy of Visual Basic had ended up on one of their diagnostic machines, and Lex had spent some time learning to use it. “It can disable the mouse and keyboard input, take a screen shot, then place the image over the entire screen. The entire process is reversible, too.”

Kyle nodded, liking the general idea. “How do you trigger it on his machine without him noticing?” Kyle asked.

“You can use another machine running the same process. It sends out a CmdPacket with the computer ID of the machine we want to target, along with a flag to either freeze or unfreeze the computer. When I notice Gerald’s not doing his job, I’ll freeze his computer from my own. Oh, and we’ll hide the process from the Task Manager, so he won’t be able to kill it.”

“I don’t think Gerald’s ashamed of what he’s doing,” Kyle replied. “You could freeze… that stuff on his monitor, but he’d just turn it off if somebody walked in.”

“I’m not talking about catching him red-handed. We just freeze his screen when he’s not doing work, and then unfreeze it when he decides to be useful again.”

Kyle shrugged. “Well, it’s worth a shot.”

The Happy Ending

It was all Lex could do to hide his glee that week. Each day, when Gerald came in to work, he and Kyle would keep tabs on him. When Gerald blew off the cashier station for the back room, Lex would press a key combo and enter the computer ID Gerald was at. Gerald would moan and shout expletives, then mumble something about a “lunch break” before vanishing for an hour.

Gerald never got interested in doing work. Instead, after about a month of this treatment, he just stopped coming in. The owner called Kyle, asking if there was a problem with “malware”.

“Well,” Kyle replied, “Lex and I haven’t seen any problems, but maybe Gerald should come in and remove the malware. It is part of his job, after all.” Gerald’s dad never mentioned it again.

The little VB application that Lex installed remained on the computers at GreyBox for years afterwards. While they never had to punish any future employees for viewing NSFW content on company time, it did make for a fun gag during an after-hours LAN-party.

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