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   he had sunk into a deep depression. He hadn't eaten properly for days,

   he drifted in and out of a tortured sleep, and he had even lost the

   desire to use his computer. His prized hacking disks, filled with

   highly incriminating stolen computer access codes, were normally

   stored in a secure hiding place. But on the evening of 29 October

   1991, thirteen disks were strewn around his $700 Amiga 500. A

   fourteenth disk was in the computer's disk drive.

  

   Mendax sat on a couch reading Soledad Brother, the prison

   letters from George Jackson's nine-year stint in one of the toughest

   prisons in the US. Convicted for a petty crime, Jackson was supposed

   to be released after a short sentence but was kept in the prison at

   the governor's pleasure. The criminal justice system kept him on a

   merry-go-round of hope and despair as the authorities dragged their

   feet. Later, prison guards shot and killed Jackson. The book was one

   of Mendax's favourites, but it offered little distraction from his

   unhappiness.

  

   The droning sound of a telephone fault signal--like a busy

   signal--filled the house. Mendax had hooked up his stereo speakers to

   his modem and computer, effectively creating a speaker phone so he

   could listen to tones he piped from his computer into the telephone

   line and the ones which came back from the exchange in reply. It was

   perfect for using Trax's MFC phreaking methods.

  

   Mendax also used the system for scanning. Most of the time, he picked

   telephone prefixes in the Melbourne CBD. When his modem hit another,

   Mendax would rush to his computer and note the telephone number for

   future hacking exploration.

  

   By adjusting the device, he could also make it simulate a phreaker's

   black box. The box would confuse the telephone exchange into thinking

   he had not answered his phone, thus allowing Mendax's friends to call

   him for free for 90 seconds.

  

   On this night, however, the only signal Mendax was sending out was

   that he wanted to be left alone. He hadn't been calling any computer

   systems. The abandoned phone, with no connection to a remote modem,

   had timed out and was beeping off the hook.

  

   It was strange behaviour for someone who had spent most of his teenage

   years trying to connect to the outside world through telephone lines

   and computers, but Mendax had listened all day to the hypnotic sound

   of a phone off the hook resonating through each room. BEEEP. Pause.

   BEEEP. Pause. Endlessly.

  

   A loud knock at the door punctured the stereo thrum of the phone.

  

   Mendax looked up from his book to see a shadowy figure through the

   frosted glass panes of the front door. The figure was quite short. It

   looked remarkably like Ratface, an old school friend of Mendax's wife

   and a character known for his practical jokes.

  

   Mendax called out, `Who is it?' without moving from the sofa.

   

   `Police. Open up.'

  

   Yeah, sure. At 11.30 p.m.? Mendax rolled his eyes toward the door.

   Everyone knew that the police only raid your house in the early

   morning, when they know you are asleep and vulnerable.