This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 1474 words.
Benny knew Noddy from school. He lived in Robert Street, a ten minute brisk walk away. Carrying the laptop in an old sports bag so it didn’t attract any attention, he was on his way there just after ten the next morning. Noddy’s name was really Darren Hall, but since the age of eleven, he had taken to wearing a blue woolly hat. It was floppy, and unstructured, adopting a cone shape as it covered most of Darren’s head. That had earned him a nickname that had stuck, based on the character from the Enid Blyton books. At least he didn’t have a bell at the top of his hat, like the real Noddy. He had been a nerdy kid, but his natural aptitude for anything to do with technology had ensured he never got picked on. He knew more about computers and phones than anyone, even the teachers who were supposed to teach them how to use them.
Everyone thought Noddy would go on to become the next Steve Jobs, or Zuckerberg, but he had little interest in academic results, and even less in being famous. He was so shy, he never went outside unless he had to, and his main interest was hacking, seeing if he could get into protected systems and company records. Maybe he could have sold the results to someone, but that wasn’t his motivation. He was happy in the housing trust maisonette above the shops in Robert Street. His Mum and Dad let him do his own thing, and his older sister had got married, and moved out to Milton Keynes. Although nobody else knew, Noddy was classed as being too Autistic to work, and though he managed to function at a very high level when it came to machines, his social skills were non-existent. He had left school as soon as he could, retiring to the sanctuary of his bedroom at home. There he sat, working online until the early hours, rarely sleeping. He also didn’t bother to wash that much, or shave. That had left him resembling an English version of Osama Bin Laden, wearing a blue hat.
Mrs Hall answered the door. A friendly, stout woman, her face and appearance betrayed her roots in the countryside of Gloucestershire. She seemed out of place here. “Benedict? I haven’t seen you in years, boy. Have you come to see Darren? You must have. Come in.” She was happy to see any visitors for her reclusive son. “Hang on, I’ll let him know you’re here”. She walked upstairs, and he could hear her knock loudly on a door. “Darren, Benny’s here to see you. You know, that Benny from school”. She returned to the living room, smiling. “Go on up, love. The door straight in front of you, it’s open. Do you want a tea or coffee? Maybe you prefer a Coke or something?” As he mounted the stairs, Benny shook his head. “No thanks, Mrs Hall. I’m fine thank you”.
In the small bedroom, Benny caught his breath. The smell was overwhelming, a combination of unwashed feet, stale clothes, and air that had never been recycled through an open window. Despite his lack of personal hygiene, Noddy had the room arranged just so. Something that people with his problem were prone to do. He was sat at a desk, perched on a stool. Everywhere you looked were screens, there must have been seven or eight of them. You could feel the heat generated by half a dozen computer towers, and a couple of laptops. He greeted Benny as if he had seen him yesterday, but didn’t turn away from what he was doing on a keyboard. “Alright, Ben? You can sit on the bed, but don’t mess it up”. The small single bed looked like something in an Army barracks, the sheets and blanket drawn tight, the single pillow showing no creases. Benny wondered if it was ever slept in. He looked at the back of the frail young man typing away like he was possessed. As well as the blue hat, he was wearing a white t-shirt that had faded grey, and similar tight underpants. Benny was reminded of photos he had seen of Howard Hughes in later life.
“I was hoping for some help and advice with my laptop, Noddy. You’re the only man to see for that”. The flattering tone was laid on heavily, and worked. Noddy stopped typing, and turned on the stool, immediately interested. “Show me the laptop then, and your phone, if you’ve got one”. Benny explained that he need to get online with a dongle, but would never get the contract. He also couldn’t afford to put enough credit on his mobile to access the Internet for more than a few minutes a day. Noddy listened, continuing to inspect the devices, pulling bits off, and fiddling with the connectors. After a while, he laid them both on his desk, and smiled. It was what passed for a smile from him, but seemed more like he was about to throw up. “The phone is crap. Cheap and nasty, but it works OK. The laptop is running an operating system that’s out of date, and it needs more RAM, and a bigger hard drive. But otherwise, it’s good enough. What do you need to do with it?”
“Well my girlfriend reckons I need to get online, and explore the job opportunities. I thought maybe I could get a website; even sell stuff, or do one of those scams you read about. What do you think?” Noddy looked serious. “The big money online is in advertising. Get a good website up and running, or a very popular blog, even a You Tube site with millions of hits. Once that starts to get noticed, then the advertisers will flood in. Trouble is, they usually have contracts and stuff, you know, legitimate payments. That means accountants, tax people getting involved, and all sorts of exposure. But I can help sort all that out for you, and nobody will ever really know who you are. But first, I need to upgrade your stuff, so we can make a start”. Benny exaggerated his genuine admiration. “Wow, Noddy. That sounds fantastic. But I am obviously going to need lots of help. Are you up for that? Should I come back tomorrow and get the laptop”. Noddy chuckled. “No, just sit there, it will all be done in under an hour”.
Noddy plugged cables into the laptop, then removed the SIM card from the phone, and slid it into another device which he connected to something else. Benny soon lost track of the cables, switches, and boxes being plugged and unplugged, and watched as red and green lights flickered, Noddy typing like he had four hands. Rows of incomprehensible numbers and characters appeared on the biggest screen at the back of the desk, scrolling so fast, they made him feel dizzy. Twenty minutes later, Noddy spoke. “What do you want to call your website, Benny?” Taken aback, he tried to think quick, but had no idea. “OK, I will call it anything for now, we can change that later, when I update it with some photos.”
Less than two hours after he had entered Mrs Hall’s, Benny was leaving with more than he could ever have imagined. Noddy had worked miracles indeed, asking less than ten questions as he typed frantically. The mobile phone had been updated, and he had an unlimited minutes contract with full Internet access. It was all in a fake name and location, but he wouldn’t even have to change the number. Noddy said it was good for at least a month, then if he got cut off, it could be changed easily. He had produced a broadband dongle from a drawer in the desk, and worked his magic with that too. “This will dial into any available connection, Ben. Unlimited use, and no one will have a clue that you are even connected”. There was a website under construction, the origin also hidden from view, and he had a Paypal account based on one of two new email addresses, as well as a new current account with an online bank. Noddy had written down all the usernames and passwords that he needed on a post-it note, telling him to keep them safe.
When it was all finished, Benny felt he had to offer some payment. “What do I owe you, mate? I’m not flush right now, but I can bring some money back later”. Noddy shook his head, and looked surprised. “Money? I don’t want money. I just do it because I can. It’s what I do”. Benny left the flat, and walked slowly back to Nan’s. He was excited, and couldn’t wait to tell Linda.
To be continued…