COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Maybe fifteen minutes after the meeting broke up, Mordden stopped by my cubicle.
"Well, I'm impressed," he said.
"Really," I said without much enthusiasm.
"Absolutely. You've got more spine than I'd have given you credit for. Taking on your manager, the dread Nora, on her pet project...." He shook his head. "Talk about creative tension. But you should be made aware of the consequences of your actions. Nora does not forget slights. Bear in mind that the most ruthless of the guards in the Nazi concentration camps were women."
"Thanks for the advice," I said.
"You should be on the alert for subtle signs of Nora's displeasure. For instance, empty boxes stacked up next to your cubicle. Or suddenly being unable to log on to your computer. Or HR demanding your badge back. But fear not, they'll give you a strong recommendation, and Trion outplacement services are provided gratis."
"I see. Thanks."
I noticed that I had a voice mail. When Mordden left, I picked up the phone.
It was a message from Nora Sommers, asking me—no, ordering me—to come to her office at once.
She was tapping away at her keyboard when I got there. She gave a quick, sidelong, lizardlike glance and went back to her computer. She ignored me like that for a good two minutes. I stood there awkwardly. Her face had started flushing again—I felt sort of bad that her own skin gave her away so easily.
Finally she looked up again, wheeled around in her chair to face me. Her eyes glistened, but not with sadness. Something different, something almost feral.
"Listen, Nora," I said gently. "I want to apologize for my—"
She spoke so quietly I could barely hear her. "I suggest you listen, Adam. You've done quite enough talking today."
"I was an idiot—" I began.
"And to make such a remark in the presence of Camilletti, Mister Bottom Line, Mister Profit Margin.... I've got some serious damage control to do with him, thanks to you."
"I should have kept my mouth—"
"You try to undermine me," she said, "you don't know what you've taken on."
"If I'd known—" I tried to get in.
"Don't even go there. Phil Bohjalian told me he passed by your cube and saw you feverishly doing research on GoldDust before the meeting, before your 'casual,' 'offhand' dismissal of this vital technology. Let me assure you of this, Mr. Cassidy. You may think you're some hot shit because of your track record at Wyatt, but I wouldn't get too comfortable here at Trion. If you don't get on the bus, you're going to get run over. And mark my words: I'm going to be behind the wheel."
I stood there for a few seconds while she bore down on me with those wide-set predator eyes. I looked down at the floor, then back up again. "I blew it big-time," I said, "and I really owe you a huge apology. Obviously I misjudged the situation, and I probably brought with me my old Wyatt Telecom biases, but that's no excuse. It won't happen again."
"There won't be an opportunity for it to happen again," she said quietly. She was tougher than any jackbooted state trooper who'd ever flagged me over to the side of the road.
"I understand," I said. "And if anyone had told me the decision had been made, I certainly would have kept my big mouth shut. I guess I was going on the assumption that folks here at Trion had heard about Sony, that's all. My bad."
"Sony?" she said. "What do you mean, 'heard about Sony'?"
Wyatt's competitive-intelligence people had sold him this tidbit, which he'd given me to use at a strategic moment. I figured that saving my ass counted as a strategic moment. "You know, just that they're scrapping their plans to incorporate GoldDust in all their new handhelds."
"Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"The latest release of Microsoft Office isn't going to support it. Sony figures if they incorporate GoldDust, they lose out on millions of dollars of enterprise sales, so they're going with BlackHawk, the local-wireless protocol that Office will support."
"And you're sure about this? Your sources are completely reliable?"
"Completely, one hundred percent. I'd stake my life on it."
"You'd stake your career on it as well?" Her eyes drilled into me.
"I think I just did."
"Very interesting," she said. "Extremely interesting, Adam. Thank you."