Paranoia (025 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

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

Part Two: 12 (Cont'd)

The night before I started at Trion, I got to bed early. Seth had left a phone message inviting me to go out with him and some friends of ours, since he wasn't working that night, but I said no.

The alarm clock went off at five-thirty, and it was like something was wrong with the clock: it was still nighttime. When I remembered, I felt a jolt of adrenaline, a weird combination of terror and excitement. I was going into the big game, this was it, practice time was over. I showered and shaved with a brand-new blade, went slow so I didn't cut myself. I'd actually laid out my clothes before I went to sleep, picked out my suit and tie, gave my shoes a glossy shine. I figured I'd better show up on the first day in a suit no matter how out-of-it I looked; I could always take off the jacket and tie.

It was bizarre—for the first time in my life I was making a six-figure salary, even though I hadn't actually gotten any of the paychecks yet, and I was still living in the rat hole. Well, that would change soon enough.

When I got into the silver Audi A6, which still had that new-car smell, I felt more high-end, and to celebrate my new station in life I stopped at a Starbucks and got a triple grande latte. Almost four dollars for a goddamned cup of coffee, but hey, I was making the big bucks now. I cranked up the volume on Rage Against the Machine all the way to the Trion campus so that by the time I got there Zack de la Rocha was screaming "Bullet in the Head" and I was screaming, "No escape from the mass mind rape!" along with him, wearing my perfect corporate Zegna suit and tie and Cole Haan shoes. I was pumped.

Amazingly, there were a fair number of cars in the underground garage, even at seven-thirty. I parked two levels down.

The lobby ambassador in B Wing couldn't find my name on any list of visitors or new employees. I was a nobody. I asked her to call Stephanie, Tom Lundgren's admin, but Stephanie wasn't in yet. Finally she reached someone in HR, who told her to send me up to the third floor of E Wing, a long walk.

For the next two hours I sat in the Human Resources reception area with a clipboard, filling out form after form: W-4, W-9, credit union account, insurance, automatic deposit to my bank account, stock options, retirement accounts, nondisclosure agreements.... They took my picture and gave me an ID badge and a couple of other little plastic cards that attached to my badge holder. They said things like TRION—CHANGE YOUR WORLD and OPEN COMMUNICATION and FUN and FRUGALITY. It was kind of Soviet, but it didn't really bother me.

One of the HR people took me on a quickie tour of Trion, which was pretty impressive. A great fitness center, ATM cash machines, a place to drop off your laundry and dry cleaning, break rooms with free sodas, bottles of water, popcorn, cappuccino machines.

In the break rooms they had big glossy color posters up that showed a group of square-shouldered men and women (Asian, black, white) posed triumphantly on top of planet Earth under the words DRINK RESPONSIBLY! DRINK FRUGALLY! "The typical Trion employee consumes five beverages a day," it said. "Simply by taking one less cold beverage per day, Trion could save $2.4 million a year!"

You could get your car washed and detailed; you could get discount tickets to movies, concerts, and baseball games; they had a baby gift program ("one gift per household, per occurrence"). I noticed that the elevator in D Wing didn't stop on the fifth floor—"Special Projects," she explained. "No access." I tried not to register any particular interest. I wondered if this was the "skunkworks" Wyatt was so interested in.

Finally, Stephanie came by to take me up to the sixth floor of B Wing. Tom was on the phone but waved me in. His office was lined with photos of his kids—five boys, I noticed—individually and in groups, and drawings they'd done, stuff like that. The books on the shelf behind him were all the usual suspects—Who Moved My Cheese?; First, Break All the Rules; How to Think Like a CEO. His legs were pistoning away like crazy, and his face looked like it had been scrubbed raw with a Brillo pad. "Steph," he said, "can you ask Nora to come by?"

A few minutes later he slammed down the phone and sprang to his feet, shook my hand. His wedding band was wide and shiny.

"Hey, Adam, welcome to the team!" he said. "Man, am I glad we bagged you! Sit down, sit down." I did. "We need you, buddy. Bad. We're all stretched thin here, really raked. We're covering twenty-three products, we've lost some key staff, and we're stretched way thin. The gal you're replacing got transferred. You're going to be joining Nora's team, working on the refresh of the Maestro line which, as you'll find out, is running into some heavy weather. There are some serious fires to put out, and—here she is!"

Nora Sommers was standing at the doorway, one hand on the doorjamb, posing like a diva. She extended the other hand coyly. "Hi, Adam, welcome! So glad you're with us."

"Nice to be here."

"It was not an easy hire, I'll tell you frankly. We had a lot of really strong candidates. But as they say, cream rises to the top. Well, shall we get right to it?"

Her voice, which had almost had a girlish lilt to it, seemed to deepen instantly as soon as we walked away from Tom Lundgren's office. She spoke faster, almost spitting out her words. "Your cubicle's right over here," she said, jabbing the air with her index finger. "We use Web phones here—I assume you know how?"

"No worries."

"Computer, phone—you should be all set. Anything else, just call Facility Services. All right, Adam, I should warn you, we don't hold hands around here. It's a pretty steep learning curve, but I have no doubt you're up to it. We throw you right in the pool, sink or swim." She looked at me challengingly.

"I'd rather swim," I said with a sly smile.

"Good to hear it," she said. "I like your attitude."

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