Paranoia (004 of 170)

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004
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Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


3

When you work at a big corporation, you never know what to believe. There's always a lot of tough, scary macho talk. They're always telling you about "killing the competition," putting "a stake in their heart." They tell you to "kill or be killed," "eat or be eaten," to "eat their lunch" and "eat your own dog food" and "eat your young."

You're a software engineer or a product manager or a sales associate, but after a while you start to think that somehow you got mixed up with one of those aboriginal tribes in Papua New Guinea that wear boars' tusks through their noses and gourds on their dicks. When the reality is that if you e-mail an off-color, politically incorrect joke to your buddy in IT, who then cc's it to a guy a few cubicles over, you can end up locked in a sweaty HR conference room for a grueling week of Diversity Training. Filch paper clips and you get slapped with the splintered ruler of life.

Thing is, of course, I'd done something a little more serious than raiding the office-supply cabinet.

They kept me waiting in an outer office for half an hour, forty-five minutes, but it seemed longer. There was nothing to read—just Security Management, stuff like that. The receptionist wore her ash-blond hair in a helmet, yellow smoker's circles under her eyes. She answered the phone, tapped away at a keyboard, glanced over at me furtively from time to time, the way you might try to catch a glimpse of a grisly car accident while you're trying to keep your eyes on the road.

I sat there so long my confidence began to waver. That might have been the point. The monthly paycheck thing was beginning to look like a good idea. Maybe defiance wasn't the best approach. Maybe I should eat shit. Maybe it was way past that.

Arnold Meacham didn't get up when the receptionist brought me in. He sat behind a giant black desk that looked like polished granite. He was around forty, thin and broad, a Gumby build, with a long square head, long thin nose, no lips. Graying brown hair that was receding. He wore a double-breasted blue blazer and a blue striped tie, like the president of a yacht club. He glared at me through oversized steel aviator glasses. You could tell he was totally humorless. In a chair to the right of his desk sat a woman a few years older than me who seemed to be taking notes. His office was big and spare, lots of framed diplomas on the wall. At one end, a half-opened door let onto a darkened conference room.

"So you're Adam Cassidy," he said. He had a prissy, precise way of speaking. "Party down, dude?" He pressed his lips into a smirk.

Oh, God. This was not going to go well. "What can I do for you?" I said. I tried to look perplexed, concerned.

"What can you do for me? How about start with telling the truth? That's what you can do for me." He had the slightest trace of a Southern accent.

Generally people like me. I'm pretty good at winning them over—the pissed-off math teacher, the enterprise customer whose order is six weeks overdue, you name it. But I could see at once this wasn't a Dale Carnegie moment. The odds of salvaging my odious job were dwindling by the second.

"Sure," I said. "The truth about what?"

He snorted with amusement. "How about last night's catered event?"

I paused, considered. "You're talking about the little retirement party?" I said. I didn't know how much they knew, since I'd been pretty careful about the money trail. I had to watch what I said. The woman with the notebook, a slight woman with frizzy red hair and big green eyes, was probably there as a witness. "It was a much-needed morale boost," I added. "Believe me, sir, it'll do wonders for departmental productivity."

His lipless mouth curled. " 'Morale boost.' Your fingerprints are all over the funding for that 'morale boost.' "

"Funding?"

"Oh, cut the crap, Cassidy."

"I'm not sure I'm understanding you, sir."

"Do you think I'm stupid?" Six feet of fake granite between him and me and I could feel droplets of his spittle.

"I'm guessing ... no, sir." The trace of a smile appeared at the corner of my mouth. I couldn't help it: pride of workmanship. Big mistake.




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    Robin Hood (04 of 79)

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    Robin Hood
    by J. Walker Mcspadden
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    Chapter I: How Robin Hood Became an Outlaw (Cont'd)

    The target was not so far but that twelve out of the twenty contestants reached its inner circle. Rob shot sixth in the line and landed fairly, being rewarded by an approving grunt from the man with the green blinder, who shot seventh, and with apparent carelessness, yet true to the bull's-eye.

    The mob cheered and yelled themselves hoarse at this even marksmanship. The trumpet sounded again, and a new target was set up at forty ells.

    The first three archers again struck true, amid the loud applause of the onlookers; for they were general favorites and expected to win. Indeed 'twas whispered that each was backed by one of the three dignitaries of the day. The fourth and fifth archers barely grazed the center. Rob fitted his arrow quietly and with some confidence sped it unerringly toward the shining circle.

    "The beggar! the beggar!" yelled the crowd; "another bull for the beggar!" In truth his shaft was nearer the center than any of the others. But it was not so near that "Blinder," as the mob had promptly christened his neighbor, did not place his shaft just within the mark. Again the crowd cheered wildly. Such shooting as this was not seen every day in Nottingham town.

    The other archers in this round were disconcerted by the preceding shots, or unable to keep the pace. They missed one after another and dropped moodily back, while the trumpet sounded for the third round, and the target was set up fifty ells distant.

    "By my halidom you draw a good bow, young master," said Rob's queer comrade to him in the interval allowed for rest. "Do you wish me to shoot first on this trial?"

    "Nay," said Rob, "but you are a good fellow by this token, and if I win not, I hope you may keep the prize from yon strutters." And he nodded scornfully to the three other archers who were surrounded by their admirers, and were being made much of by retainers of the Sheriff, the Bishop, and the Earl. From them his eye wandered toward Maid Marian's booth. She had been watching him, it seemed, for their eyes met; then hers were hastily averted.

    "Blinder's" quick eye followed those of Rob. "A fair maid, that," he said smilingly, "and one more worthy the golden arrow than the Sheriff's haughty miss."

    Rob looked at him swiftly, and saw naught but kindliness in his glance.

    "You are a shrewd fellow and I like you well," was his only comment.

    Now the archers prepared to shoot again, each with some little care. The target seemed hardly larger than the inner ring had looked, at the first trial. The first three sped their shafts, and while they were fair shots they did not more than graze the inner circle.

    Rob took his stand with some misgiving. Some flecking clouds overhead made the light uncertain, and a handful of wind frolicked across the range in a way quite disturbing to a bowman's nerves. His eyes wandered for a brief moment to the box wherein sat the dark-eyed girl. His heart leaped! she met his glance and smiled at him reassuringly. And in that moment he felt that she knew him despite his disguise and looked to him to keep the honor of old Sherwood. He drew his bow firmly and, taking advantage of a momentary lull in the breeze, launched the arrow straight and true-singing across the range to the center of the target.

    "The beggar! the beggar! a bull! a bull!" yelled the fickle mob, who from jeering him were now his warm friends. "Can you beat that, Blinder?"

    The last archer smiled scornfully and made ready. He drew his bow with ease and grace and, without seeming to study the course, released the winged arrow. Forward it leaped toward the target, and all eyes followed its flight. A loud uproar broke forth when it alighted, just without the center and grazing the shaft sent by Rob. The stranger made a gesture of surprise when his own eyes announced the result to him, but saw his error. He had not allowed for the fickle gust of wind which seized the arrow and carried it to one side. But for all that he was the first to congratulate the victor.

    "I hope we may shoot again," quoth he. "In truth I care not for the golden bauble and wished to win it in despite of the Sheriff for whom I have no love. Now crown the lady of your choice." And turning suddenly he was lost in the crowd, before Rob could utter what it was upon his lips to say, that he would shoot again with him.

    And now the herald summoned Rob to the Sheriff's box to receive the prize.

    "You are a curious fellow enough," said the Sheriff, biting his lip coldly; "yet you shoot well. What name go you by?"

    Marian sat near and was listening intently.

    "I am called Rob the Stroller, my Lord Sheriff," said the archer.

    Marian leaned back and smiled.

    "Well, Rob the Stroller, with a little attention to your skin and clothes you would not be so bad a man," said the Sheriff. "How like you the idea of entering my service.

    "Rob the Stroller has ever been a free man, my Lord, and desires no service."

    The Sheriff's brow darkened, yet for the sake of his daughter and the golden arrow, he dissembled.

    "Rob the Stroller," said he, "here is the golden arrow which has been offered to the best of archers this day. You are awarded the prize. See that you bestow it worthily."

    At this point the herald nudged Rob and half inclined his head toward the Sheriff's daughter, who sat with a thin smile upon her lips. But Rob heeded him not. He took the arrow and strode to the next box where sat Maid Marian.

    "Lady," he said, "pray accept this little pledge from a poor stroller who would devote the best shafts in his quiver to serve you."

    "My thanks to you, Rob in the Hood," replied she with a roguish twinkle in her eye; and she placed the gleaming arrow in her hair, while the people shouted, "The Queen! the Queen!"

    The Sheriff glowered furiously upon this ragged archer who had refused his service, taken his prize without a word of thanks, and snubbed his daughter. He would have spoken, but his proud daughter restrained him. He called to his guard and bade them watch the beggar. But Rob had already turned swiftly, lost himself in the throng, and headed straight for the town gate.




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    Poem-a-Day Collection (4)

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    Poem-a-Day Collection
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    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    Like Giving to a Blind Man Eyes

    by Ruth Padel

    He's standing in Elysium. Palm feathers, a green

    dream of fountain against blue sky. Banana fronds,
    slack rubber rivulets, a canopy of waterproof tearstain
    over his head. Pods and racemes of tamarind.
    Follicle, pinnacle; whorl, bole and thorn.

    'I expected a good deal. I had read Humboldt
    and was afraid of disappointment.'
    What if he'd stayed at home? 'How utterly vain
    such fear is, none can tell but those who have seen
    what I have today.' A small rock off Africa –

    alone with his enchantment. So much and so unknown.
    Like taking a newborn baby in your arms. 'Not only the grace
    of forms and rich new colours: it's the numberless –
    & confusing – associations rushing on the mind!'
    He walks through hot damp air

    and tastes it like the breath of earth, like blood.
    He is possessed by chlorophyll. By the calls of unknown birds.
    He wades into sea and scares an octopus. It puffs black hair
    at him, turns red – as hyacinth – and darts for cover.
    He sees it watching him. He's discovered

    something wonderful! He tests it against coloured card
    and the sailors laugh. They know that girly blush!
    He feels a fool – but look, he's touched tropical Volcanic rock
    for the first time. And Coral on its native stone.
    'Often at Edinburgh have I gazed at little pools

    of water left by tide. From tiny Corals of our shores
    I pictured larger ones. Little did I know how exquisite,
    still less expect my hope of seeing them to come true.
    Never, in my wildest castles of the air, did I imagine this.'
    Lava must once have streamed on the sea-floor here,

    baking shells to white hard rock. Then a subterranean force
    pushed everything up to make an island.
    Vegetation he's never seen, and every step a new surprise.
    'New insects, fluttering about still newer flowers. It has been
    for me a glorious day, like giving to a blind man eyes.'

    --

    Buy Ruth Padel Darwin: A Life In Poems from Amazon here.

    Buy Ruth Padel Darwin: A Life in Poems from IndieBound here.

    Visit poem-a-day.knopfdoubleday.com for more about this poem and to sign up for Knopf's 2010 Poem-a-Day email.

    Excerpt from DARWIN: A LIFE IN POEMS. Copyright © 2009 by Ruth Padel. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.




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    Paranoia (003 of 170)

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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    Part One: 2 (Cont'd)

    Besides, it wasn't like I was about to get shot; I'd already been shot, I figured. Now it was just a matter of disposing of the body and swabbing up the blood. I remember once in college reading about the guillotine in French history, and how one executioner, a medical doctor, tried this gruesome experiment (you get your kicks wherever you can, I guess). A few seconds after the head was lopped off he watched the eyes and lips twitch and spasm until the eyelids closed and everything stopped. Then he called out the dead man's name, and the eyes on the decapitated head popped open and stared right at the executioner. A few seconds more and the eyes closed, then the doctor called the man's name again, and the eyes came open again, staring. Cute. So thirty seconds after being separated from the body, the head's still reacting. This was how I felt. The blade had already dropped, and they're calling my name.

    I picked up the phone and called Arnold Meacham's office, told his assistant that I was on my way, and asked how to get there.

    My throat was dry, so I stopped at the break room to get one of the formerly-free-but-now-fifty-cent sodas. The break room was all the way back in the middle of the floor near the bank of elevators, and as I walked, in a weird sort of fugue state, a couple more colleagues caught sight of me and turned away quickly, embarrassed.

    I surveyed the sweaty glass case of sodas, decided against my usual Diet Pepsi—I really didn't need more caffeine right now—and pulled out a Sprite. Just to be a rebel I didn't leave any money in the jar. Whoa, that'll show them. I popped it open and headed for the elevator.

    I hated my job, truly despised it, so the thought of losing it wasn't exactly bumming me out. On the other hand, it wasn't as if I had a trust fund, and I sure did need the money. That was the whole point, wasn't it? I had moved back here essentially to help with my dad's medical care—my dad, who considered me a fuckup. In Manhattan, bartending, I made half the money but lived better. We're talking Manhattan! Here I was living in a ratty street-level studio apartment on Pearl Street that reeked of traffic exhaust, and whose windows rattled when the trucks rumbled by at five in the morning. Granted, I was able to go out a couple of nights a week with friends, but I usually ended up dipping into my checking account's credit line a week or so before my paycheck magically appeared on the fifteenth of the month.

    Not that I was exactly busting my ass either. I coasted. I put in the minimum required hours, got in late and left early, but I got my work done. My performance review numbers weren't so good—I was a "core contributor," a two band, just one step up from "lowest contributor," when you should start packing your stuff.

    I got into the elevator, looked down at what I was wearing—black jeans and a gray polo shirt, sneakers—and wished I'd put on a tie.




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    Robin Hood (03 of 79)

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    Robin Hood
    by J. Walker Mcspadden
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    Chapter I: How Robin Hood Became an Outlaw (Cont'd)

    Toward the close of the same day, Rob paused hungry and weary at the cottage of a poor widow who dwelt upon the outskirts of the forest. Now this widow had often greeted him kindly in his boyhood days, giving him to eat and drink. So he boldly entered her door. The old dame was right glad to see him, and baked him cakes in the ashes, and had him rest and tell her his story. Then she shook her head.

    "'Tis an evil wind that blows through Sherwood," she said. "The poor are despoiled and the rich ride over their bodies. My three sons have been outlawed for shooting King's deer to keep us from starving, and now hide in the wood. And they tell me that twoscore of as good men as ever drew bow are in hiding with them."

    "Where are they, good mother?" cried Rob. "By my faith, I will join them."

    "Nay, nay," replied the old woman at first. But when she saw that there was no other way, she said: "My sons will visit me to-night. Stay you here and see them if you must."

    So Rob stayed willingly to see the widow's sons that night, for they were men after his own heart. And when they found that his mood was with them, they made him swear an oath of fealty, and told him the haunt of the band—a place he knew right well. Finally one of them said:

    "But the band lacks a leader—one who can use his head as well as his hand. So we have agreed that he who has skill enough to go to Nottingham, an outlaw, and win the prize at archery, shall be our chief."

    Rob sprang to his feet. "Said in good time!" cried he, "for I had started to that self-same Fair, and all the Foresters, and all the Sheriff's men in Christendom shall not stand between me and the center of their target!"

    And though he was but barely grown he stood so straight and his eye flashed with such fire that the three brothers seized his hand and shouted:

    "A Lockesley! a Lockesley! if you win the golden arrow you shall be chief of outlaws in Sherwood Forest!"

    So Rob fell to planning how he could disguise himself to go to Nottingham town; for he knew that the Foresters had even then set a price on his head in the market-place.

    It was even as Rob had surmised. The Sheriff of Nottingham posted a reward of two hundred pounds for the capture, dead or alive, of one Robert Fitzooth, outlaw. And the crowds thronging the streets upon that busy Fair day often paused to read the notice and talk together about the death of the Head Forester.

    But what with wrestling bouts and bouts with quarter-staves, and wandering minstrels, there came up so many other things to talk about, that the reward was forgotten for the nonce, and only the Foresters and Sheriff's men watched the gates with diligence, the Sheriff indeed spurring them to effort by offers of largess. His hatred of the father had descended to the son.

    The great event of the day came in the afternoon. It was the archer's contest for the golden arrow, and twenty men stepped forth to shoot. Among them was a beggar-man, a sorry looking fellow with leggings of different colors, and brown scratched face and hands. Over a tawny shock of hair he had a hood drawn, much like that of a monk. Slowly he limped to his place in the line, while the mob shouted in derision. But the contest was open to all comers, so no man said him nay.

    Side by side with Rob—for it was he—stood a muscular fellow of swarthy visage and with one eye hid by a green bandage. Him also the crowd jeered, but he passed them by with indifference while he tried his bow with practiced hand.

    A great crowd had assembled in the amphitheater enclosing the lists. All the gentry and populace of the surrounding country were gathered there in eager expectancy. The central box contained the lean but pompous Sheriff, his bejeweled wife, and their daughter, a supercilious young woman enough, who, it was openly hinted, was hoping to receive the golden arrow from the victor and thus be crowned queen of the day.

    Next to the Sheriff's box was one occupied by the fat Bishop of Hereford; while in the other side was a box wherein sat a girl whose dark hair, dark eyes, and fair features caused Rob's heart to leap. 'Twas Maid Marian! She had come up for a visit from the Queen's court at London town, and now sat demurely by her father the Earl of Huntingdon. If Rob had been grimly resolved to win the arrow before, the sight of her sweet face multiplied his determination an hundredfold. He felt his muscles tightening into bands of steel, tense and true. Yet withal his heart would throb, making him quake in a most unaccountable way.

    Then the trumpet sounded, and the crowd became silent while the herald announced the terms of the contest. The lists were open to all comers. The first target was to be placed at thirty ells distance, and all those who hit its center were allowed to shoot at the second target, placed ten ells farther off. The third target was to be removed yet farther, until the winner was proved. The winner was to receive the golden arrow, and a place with the King's Foresters. He it was also who crowned the queen of the day.

    The trumpet sounded again, and the archers prepared to shoot. Rob looked to his string, while the crowd smiled and whispered at the odd figure he cut, with his vari-colored legs and little cape. But as the first man shot, they grew silent.




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