Off Limits

Deck the halls...

Deck the halls
Time's Denver bureau had real reason to celebrate at its annual Christmas party Monday night. The big-scoop Columbine issue, with its summary of the Eric Harris/Dylan Klebold videos, was just hitting the stands (a week early, to counter the Rocky Mountain News's three-part series that started Sunday); several local journalists at the bar still looked shell-shocked from the three-hour screening Jeffco had hastily set up that afternoon for news outlets eager to catch up with the magazine. Not in evidence at the party: Jeff Shapiro, the former Globe reporter and current Blockbuster employee who's turned into a major blabber, first in Larry Schiller's book and then in two tabloid-tattling Denver Post op-ed pieces that identified him as a Time freelancer, a credential acquired through a couple of Colorado-based assignments that the magazine must surely regret now. (Shapiro will be appearing again soon -- but not as a reporter -- in Brill's Content, the national media journal that's about to publish its assessment of the JonBenét Ramsey case and coverage.)

Also not in evidence at this or likely any other party this season: alleged political consultant/Isaiah Shoels family spokesman Sam Riddle. Just a year ago, Riddle was riding high on a $10,000-a-month consulting contract with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. That seven-month deal ran out in July -- and the untimely death of Secretary of State Victoria Buckley effectively put an end to any notion of an extension. In late November, Riddle pleaded not guilty to DUI charges leveled in connection with a much-publicized July 16 incident in Denver. Then on Saturday night, Riddle was busted again, this time in Adams County, when he refused to take a Breathalyzer test. Eat, drink and be wary this holiday season.

Making book
Although the case is getting colder by the day in Boulder, references to JonBenét keep popping up in thrillers, including recent bestsellers by James Patterson and Stephen Cannell, usually as suspects and/or law-enforcement types talk about how they don't want their particular fictitious cases to turn out like the all-too-real Ramsey case. Cold Case, the new book by Steven White, includes several Ramsey bits -- but then, White, a clinical psychologist and author of seven previous Alan Gregory novels, used to live in Boulder and now lives in Denver. Here's an exchange between an East Coast character and Lauren Crowder, Gregory's wife and an assistant Boulder DA:

"Did you do JonBenet? Was that yours? And was it as crapped up as everybody says it was?"

"It wasn't mine," she said, smiling insincerely. "I was totally out of the loop on that one."

"You must hear things, though, right? That DA of yours pointing at the camera and saying he's gonna get his man. I loved it. Loved it. I have a friend who started calling him Wyatt Burp."

Also ringing true is this passage, as Gregory wanders toward the Boulder mall: "The downtown bars had just emptied out and there were a few dozen pedestrians still loitering as though something interesting was about to happen. I parked on Ninth in front of where Treats used to be. The building that housed the bakery was now history. I still missed the wonderful breakfast rolls and muffins at Treats.

"And I missed the trifle at Southern Exposure. And the grits at the original Dot's Diner. And the omelets at the Aristocrat. The Irish stew at Shannon's. Fred's wonderful pie. And the brats on brown bread at Don's Cheese and Sausage. When I finished reminiscing about the Boulder that existed before Subway and Starbucks, and before the Gap and Banana Republic..."

He went on to solve the case. Yes, the setting is Boulder -- but the book's fiction, remember?

What, she worry?
Not so fictitious is the threat of Y2K, and as the date approaches, Paloma O'Riley is getting increasingly anxious. That's hardly surprising: As co-founder of the Cassandra Project, the Denver-based Y2K preparedness group that was one of the first to sound the alarm about the potential for a mass computer meltdown, you'd expect her to be wringing her hands right about now.

O'Riley, however, isn't fretting about global terrorism, unintended nuclear launches or even backing up her computer data onto hard disks. Her Y2K problem will be finding a real job -- or at least one that pays real money. Since starting the Cassandra Project -- which she left in September to work on accountability issues (i.e., who gets sued in 2000 for not being compliant) -- O'Riley hasn't seen a regular paycheck. "We figured the only way to remain credible [at Cassandra] was not to take any money," she says. Instead, she relied on her husband, a mechanical engineer, and took out a second mortgage on their house. "We really took it in the shorts."

With twenty years' experience in information technology, O'Riley first encountered the extent of the Y2K problem while working for English SUV manufacturer the Rover Group in 1996. She and Cathy Moyer then took it upon themselves to raise public awareness by starting the Cassandra Project in June 1997. Although O'Riley has written that Y2K is a "temporary bump in the road -- not the end of the world," she realized that most Americans are wholly unprepared for any such emergency, computer-related or not.

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