COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
I got the news from Nick Wyatt himself. When I was shown into his office by Yvette, I found him on his Precor elliptical trainer in a corner of his office. He was wearing a sweat-soaked tank top and red gym shorts and looked buff. I wondered if he did steroids. He had a wireless phone headset on and was barking orders.
More than a week had gone by since the Trion interviews, and nothing but radio silence. I knew they'd gone well, and I had no doubt that my references were spectacular, but who knows, anything could happen.
I figured, wrongly, that once I'd done my interviews I'd be given time off from KGB school, but no such luck. The training went on, including what they called "tradecraft"—how to steal stuff without getting caught, copy documents and computer files, how to search the Trion databases, how to contact them if something came up that couldn't wait for a scheduled rendezvous. Meacham and another veteran of Wyatt's corporate security staff, who'd spent two decades in the FBI, taught me how to contact them by e-mail, using an "anonymizer," a remailer based in Finland that buries your real name and address; how to encrypt my e-mail with this super-strong 1,024-bit software developed, against U.S. law, somewhere offshore. They taught me about traditional spy stuff like dead drops and signals, how to let them know I had documents to pass to them. They taught me how to make copies of the ID badges most corporations use these days, the ones that unlock a door when you wave them at a sensor. Some of this stuff was pretty cool. I was beginning to feel like a real spy. At the time, anyway, I was into it. I didn't know any better.
But after a few days of waiting and waiting for some word from Trion, I was scared shitless. Meacham and Wyatt had been pretty clear about what would happen if I didn't land the job.
Nick Wyatt didn't even look at me.
"Congratulations," he said. "I got the word from the headhunter. You just got parole."
"I got an offer?"
"A hundred seventy-five thousand to start, stock options, the whole deal. You're being hired in as an individual contributor at the manager level but without any direct reports, grade ten."
I was relieved, and amazed by the amount. That was about three times what I was making now. Adding in my Wyatt salary took me to two hundred and thirty-five thousand. Jesus.
"Sweet," I said. "Now what do we do, negotiate?"
"The fuck you talking about? They interviewed eight other guys for the job. Who knows who's got a favorite candidate, a crony, whatever? Don't risk it, not yet. Get in the door, show 'em your stuff."
"Show 'em how amazing you are. You've already whetted their appetites with a few hors d'oeuvres. Now you blow 'em away. If you can't blow 'em away after graduating our little charm school here, and with me and Judith whispering in your ear, then you're an even bigger fucking loser than I thought."
"Right." I realized I was mentally rehearsing this sick fantasy of telling Wyatt off as I walked out the door to go work for Trion, until I remembered that not only was Wyatt still my boss, he pretty much had me by the balls.
Wyatt stepped off the machine, drenched with sweat, grabbed a white towel off the handlebars, and blotted his face, his arms, his armpits. He stood so close to me I could smell the musk of his perspiration, his sour breath. "Now, listen carefully," he said with an unmistakable note of menace. "About sixteen months ago Trion's board of directors approved an extraordinary expenditure of almost five hundred million dollars to fund some kind of skunkworks."
He snorted. "A top-secret in-house project. Anyway, it's highly unusual for a board to approve an expenditure that large without a lot of information. In this case they approved it blind, based solely on assurances from the CEO. Goddard's the founder, so they trust him. Also, he assured them the technology they were developing, whatever the hell it is, was a monumental breakthrough. I mean huge, paradigm-shifting, a quantum leap. Disruptive beyond disruptive. He assured them that it's the biggest thing since the transistor, and anyone who's not a part of this gets left behind."
"What is it?"
"If I knew, you wouldn't be here, idiot. My sources assure me that it's going to transform the telecommunications industry, turn everything upside down. And I don't intend to get left behind, you follow me?"
I didn't, but I nodded.
"I've invested far too much in this firm to let it go the way of the mastodon and the dodo. So your assignment, my friend, is to find out everything you can about this skunkworks, what it's up to, what they're developing. I don't care whether they're developing some fucking electronic pogo stick, point is, I'm not taking any chances. Clear?"
"That's your job." He turned, walked across the vast expanse of office toward an exit I hadn't noticed before. He opened the door, revealing a gleaming marble bathroom with a shower. I stood there awkwardly, not sure whether I was supposed to wait for him, or leave, or what.
"You'll get the call later on this morning," Wyatt said without turning around. "Act surprised."