Paranoia (097 of 170)

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097
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170
Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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52

My big presentation to Goddard kept getting postponed and postponed. It was supposed to be at eight-thirty, but ten minutes before, I got an InstaMail message from Flo telling me that Jock's E-staff meeting was running over, let's make it nine. Then another instant message from Flo: the meeting shows no sign of breaking up, let's push it back to nine-thirty.

I figured all the top managers were duking it out over who'd get the brunt of the cuts. They were probably all in favor of layoffs, in some general sense, but not in their own division. Trion was no different from any other corporation: the more people under you on the org chart, the more power you had. Nobody wanted to lose bodies.

I was starving, so I scarfed down a protein bar. I was exhausted also, but too wired to do anything but work some more on my PowerPoint presentation, make it even slicker. I put in an animated fade between slides. I stuck in that stick-figure drawing of the head-scratching guy with the question mark over his head, just for comic relief. I kept paring down the text: I'd read somewhere about the Rule of Seven—no more than seven words per line and seven lines or bullets per page. Or was it the Rule of Five? You heard that, too. I figured Jock might be a little short of patience and attention, given what he was going through, so I kept making it shorter, punchier.

The more I waited, the more nervous I got, and the more minimalist my PowerPoint slides became. But the special effects grew cooler and cooler. I'd figured out how to make the bar graphs shrink and grow before your eyes. Goddard would be impressed.

Finally, at eleven-thirty I got a message from Flo saying I could head over to the Executive Briefing Center now, since the meeting was just wrapping up.

People were leaving as I got there. Some I recognized—Jim Colvin, the COO; Tom Lundgren; Jim Sperling, the head of HR; a couple of powerful-looking women. None of them looked very happy. Goddard was surrounded by a gaggle of people who were all taller than him. It hadn't really sunk in before how small the guy was. He also looked terrible—red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes, the pouches under his eyes even bigger than normal. Camilletti stood next to him, and they seemed to be arguing. I heard only snatches.

"... Need to raise the metabolism of this place," Camilletti was saying.

"... All kinds of resistance, demoralization," Goddard muttered.

"The best way to deal with resistance is with a bloody ax," said Camilletti.

"I usually prefer plain old persuasion," Goddard said wearily. The others standing in a circle around them were watching the two go at it.

"It's like Al Capone said, you get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone," said Camilletti. He smiled.

"I suppose next you're going to tell me you've got to break eggs to make an omelet."

"You're always one step ahead of me," Camilletti said, patting Goddard on the back as he walked off.

Meanwhile I busied myself hooking up my laptop to the projector built into the conference table. I pushed the button that lowered the blinds electrically.

Now it was just Goddard and me in the darkened room. "What do we have here—a matinee?"

"Sorry, just a slide show," I said.

"I'm not so sure it's a good idea to turn off the lights. I'm liable to fall fast asleep," said Goddard. "I was up most of the night, agonizing over all this bushwa. I consider these layoffs a personal failure."

"They're not," I said, then cringed inwardly. Who the hell was I to try to reassure the CEO? "Anyway," I added quickly, "I'll keep it brief."

I started with a very cool animated graphic of the Trion Maestro, all the pieces flying in from offscreen and fitting perfectly together. This was followed by the head-scratching guy with the question mark floating above his head.

I said, "The only thing more dangerous than being in today's consumer-electronics market is not to be in the market at all." Now we were in a Formula One–type racecar moving at warp speed. "Because if you're not driving the car, you're liable to get run over." Then a slide came up that said trion consumer electronics—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

"Adam."

I turned around. "Sir?"

"What the hell is this?"

Sweat broke out at the back of my neck. "That was just intro," I said. Obviously too much of it. "Now we get down to business."

"Did you tell Flo you were planning to do, what the hell is this called, Power—PowerPoint?"

"No...."

He stood up, walked over to the light switch, and put the lights on. "She would have told you—I hate that crap."

My face burned. "I'm sorry, no one said anything."

"Good Lord, Adam, you're a smart, creative, original-thinking young man. You think I want you wasting your time trying to decide whether to go with Arial eighteen point or Times Roman twenty-four point, for God's sake? How about you just tell me what you think? I'm not a child. I don't need to be spoon-fed this darned cream of wheat."

"I'm sorry—" I began again.

"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you. Low blood sugar, maybe. It's lunchtime, and I'm starved."

"I can go down and get us some sandwiches."

"I have a better idea," Goddard said.




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    Paranoia (096 of 170)

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    096
    —of —
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    51

    Breathing shallowly, I pulled the drawer open. I half expected the drawer to be empty, like the AURORA files in HR. But it wasn't. It was jam-packed with folders, all color-coded in some way I didn't understand, each stamped TRION CONFIDENTIAL. This was clearly the good stuff.

    From what I could tell, these files were on several small startups—two in Silicon Valley, California, and another couple in Cambridge, Massachusetts—that had recently been acquired by Trion in conditions of strictest secrecy. "Stealth mode," the files said.

    I knew this was something big, something important, and my pulse really started pounding. Each page was stamped SECRET or CONFIDENTIAL. Even in these top-secret files kept in the CFO's locked office, the language-was obscure, veiled. There were sentences, phrases, like "Recommend acquire soonest" and "Must be kept below the radar."

    So the secret of AURORA was here.

    I didn't really get it, much as I pored over the files. One company seemed to have developed a way to combine electronic and optical components in one integrated circuit. I didn't know what this meant. A note said that the company had solved the problem of "the low yield of the wafers."

    Another company had figured out a way to mass-produce photonic circuits. Okay, but what did that mean? A couple more were software firms, and I had no idea what they did.

    One company called Delphos Inc.—this one actually seemed interesting—had come up with a process for refining and manufacturing some chemical compound called indium phosphide, made of "binary crystals from metallic and nonmetallic elements," whatever that meant. This stuff had "unique optical absorption and transmission properties," its disclosure statement said. Apparently it was used for building a certain kind of laser. From what I could tell, Delphos Inc. had effectively cornered the market on indium phosphide. I was sure that better minds than mine could figure out what massive quantities of indium phosphide were good for. I mean, how many lasers could anyone need?

    But here was the interesting part: the Delphos file was stamped acquisition pending. So Trion was in negotiations to buy the company. The file was thick with financials, which were just a blur before my eyes. There was a document of ten or twelve pages, a term sheet for the acquisition of Delphos by Trion. The bottom line seemed to be that Trion was offering five hundred million dollars to buy the company. It looked like the company's officers, a bunch of research scientists from Palo Alto, as well as a venture-capital firm based in London that owned most of the company, had agreed to the terms. Yeah, half a billion dollars sure can grease the skids. They were just dotting the i's. An announcement was tentatively scheduled for a week from now.

    But how was I supposed to copy these files? It would take forever—hours of standing at a copy machine. By now it was six o'clock in the morning, and if Jock Goddard got in at seven-thirty, you'd better believe Paul Camilletti got in before that. So I really had to get the hell out of here. I didn't have time to make copies.

    I couldn't think of any other way but to take them. Maybe move some files from somewhere else to fill up the empty space, and then ...

    And then raise all kinds of alarms the second Camilletti or his assistant tried to access the AURORA files.

    No. Bad idea.

    Instead, I took a key page or two from each of the eight company files, switched on the copying machine, and photocopied them. In less than five minutes I replaced the pages into the file folders and put the copies into my bag.

    I was done, and it was time to get the hell out of here. Lifting a single slat in the front office window blinds, I peered out to make sure no one was coming.

    By quarter after six in the morning I was back in my own office. For the rest of the day I was going to have to carry around these top-secret AURORA files, but that was better than leaving them in a desk drawer and risk having Jocelyn discover them. I know it sounds paranoid, but I had to operate on the assumption that she might go through my desk drawers. Maybe she was "my" administrative assistant, but her paycheck came from Trion Systems, not me.

    Exactly at seven, Jocelyn arrived. She stuck her head in my office, eyebrows up, and said, "Good morning," with a surprised, meaningful lilt.

    "Morning, Jocelyn."

    "You're here early."

    "Yeah," I grunted.

    Then she squinted at me. "You—you been here a while?"

    I blew out a lungful of air. "You don't want to know," I said.




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    Paranoia (095 of 170)

    DailyLit  
    095
    —of —
    170
    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    COPYRIGHT
    Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    Part Five: 50 (Cont'd)

    In my workbag I'd brought a couple of tools, including a Mag-Lite flashlight. I immediately drew the Venetian blinds, closed the door, then switched on the powerful beam.

    Camilletti's office was as devoid of personality as everyone else's—the generic collection of framed family photos, the plaques and awards, the same old lineup of business books they all pretended to read. Actually, this office was pretty disappointing. This wasn't a corner office, didn't have floor-to-ceiling windows like at Wyatt Telecom. There was no view at all. I wondered whether Camilletti disliked having important guests visit such a humble office. This might be Goddard's style, but it sure didn't seem to be Camilletti's. Cheapskate or no, he seemed grandiose. I'd heard that there was a fancy visitors' reception suite on the penthouse of the executive building, A Wing, but no one I knew had ever seen it. Maybe that's where Camilletti received bigwigs.

    His computer had been left on, but when I clicked the space bar on the modernistic black keyboard, and the monitor lit up, I could see the ENTER PASSWORD screen, the cursor blinking. Without his password, of course, I couldn't get into his computer files.

    If he'd written down his password somewhere, I sure as hell couldn't find it—in drawers, under the keyboard, taped to the back of the big flat-panel monitor. Nowhere. Just for kicks I entered his user name (PCamilletti@trionsystems.com) and then the same password, PCamilletti.

    Nope. He was more cautious than that, and after a few attempts I gave up.

    I'd have to get his password the old-fashioned way: by stealth. I figured he probably wouldn't notice if I swapped out the cable between his keyboard and CPU with a KeyGhost. So I did.

    I admit I was even more nervous being inside Camilletti's office than I'd been inside Nora's. You'd think by now I'd be an old pro about breaking into offices, but I wasn't, and there was a vibe in Camilletti's office that scared the shit out of me. The guy himself was terrifying, and the consequences of being caught didn't bear thinking about. Plus I had to assume that the security precautions in the executive-level offices were more elaborate than in the rest of Trion. They had to be. Sure, I'd been trained to defeat most standard security measures. But there were always invisible detection systems that didn't set off any alarm bells or lights. That possibility scared me most of all.

    I looked around, groping for inspiration. For some reason the office seemed somehow neater, more spacious than others I'd been in at Trion. Then I realized why: there were no filing cabinets in here. That's why it seemed so uncluttered. Well, so where were all his files?

    When I finally figured out where they had to be, I felt like an idiot. Of course. They weren't in here, because there wasn't any room, and they weren't in his admin's area, because that was too open to the public, not secure enough.

    They had to be in the back room. Like Goddard, every top-level Trion executive had a double office, a back conference room the same size as the front. That was the way Trion got around the equality-of-office-space problem. Hey, everyone's office is the same size; the top guys just get two of them.

    The door to the conference room was unlocked. I shined the Mag-Lite around the room, saw a small copying machine, noticed that each wall was lined with mahogany file cabinets. In the middle was a round table, like Goddard's but smaller. Each drawer was meticulously labeled in what looked like an architect's hand. Most of them seemed to contain financial and accounting records, which probably had good stuff in them if only I knew where to look.

    But when I saw the drawers labeled TRION CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT, I lost all interest in anything else. Corporate development is just a biz buzzword for mergers and acquisitions. Trion was known for gobbling up startups or small and midsize companies. More in the go-go years of the late nineteen-nineties than now, but they still acquired several companies a year. I guessed that the files were here because Camilletti oversaw acquisitions, focusing mainly on cost issues, how good an investment, all that.

    And if Wyatt was right that Project AURORA was made up of a bunch of companies Trion had secretly acquired, then the solution to the mystery of AURORA had to be here.

    These cabinets were unlocked, too, another stroke of luck. I guess the idea was that if you couldn't get into Camilletti's back office, you weren't going to even get near the file cabinets, so to lock them would be a pointless annoyance.

    There were a bunch of files here, on companies Trion had either acquired outright or bought a chunk of or looked at closely and decided not to get involved. Some of the company names I recognized, but most I didn't. I dipped into a folder on each company to try to figure out what it did. This was pretty slow work, and I didn't even know what I was looking for, really. How the hell was I supposed to know if some small startup was part of AURORA, when I didn't even know what AURORA was? It seemed totally impossible.

    But then my problems were solved.

    One of the corporate development drawers was labeled PROJECT AURORA.

    And there it was. Simple as that.




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    Paranoia (094 of 170)

    DailyLit  
    094
    —of —
    170
    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Macmillan: Paranoia

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


    50

    Yet the key to Camilletti's office was nowhere to be found.

    I checked all the usual places—every drawer in his admin's desk, inside the plants and paper-clip holder, even the filing cabinets. Her desk was open to the hallway, totally exposed, and I began to feel nervous poking around there, where I so clearly didn't belong. I looked behind the phone. Under the keyboard, under her computer. Was it hidden on the underside of the desk drawers? No. Underneath the desk? Also no. There was a small waiting-room area next to her desk—really just a couch, coffee table, and a couple of chairs. I looked around there, but nothing. There was no key.

    So maybe it wasn't exactly unreasonable that the company's chief financial officer might actually take a security precaution or two, make it hard for someone to break into his office. You had to admire that, right?

    After a nerve-wracking ten minutes of looking everywhere, I decided it wasn't meant to be, when suddenly I remembered an odd little detail about my own new office. Like all the offices on the executive floor, it was equipped with a motion detector, which is not as high-security as it sounds. It's actually a common safety feature in the higher-end offices—a way to make sure that no one ever gets locked inside his own office. As long as there's motion inside an office, the doors won't lock. (More proof that the offices on the seventh floor really were a little more equal.)

    If I moved quickly I could take advantage of this....

    The door to Camilletti's office was solid mahogany, highly polished, heavy. There was no gap between the door and the deep pile carpet; I couldn't even slide a piece of paper under it. That would make things a bit more complicated—but not impossible.

    I needed a chair to stand on, not his admin's chair, which rolled on casters and wouldn't be steady. I found a ladderback chair in the sitting area and brought it next to the glass wall of Camilletti's office. Then I went back to the sitting area. Fanned out on the coffee table were all of the usual magazines and newspapers—the Financial Times, Institutional Investor, CFO, Forbes, Fortune, Business 2.0, Barron's....

    Barron's. Yes. That would do. It was the size and shape and heft of a tabloid newspaper. I grabbed it, then—looking around once again to make sure I wasn't caught doing something I couldn't even begin to explain—I climbed up on the chair and pushed up one of the square acoustic ceiling panels.

    I reached up into the empty space above the suspended ceiling, into that dark dusty place choked with wires and cables and stuff, felt for the next ceiling panel, the one directly over Camilletti's office, and lifted that one too, propped it up on the metal grid thing.

    Taking the Barron's, I reached over, lowered it slowly, waving it around. I lowered it as far as I could reach, waved it around some more—but nothing happened. Maybe the motion detectors didn't reach high enough. Finally I stood up on tiptoe, crooked my elbow as sharply as I could, and managed to lower the newspaper another foot or so, waving it around wildly until I really began to strain some muscles.

    And I heard a click.

    A faint, unmistakable click.

    Pulling the Barron's back through, I put the acoustic ceiling panel back, sat it snugly in place. Then I got down from the chair, moved it back where it belonged.

    And tried Camilletti's doorknob.

    The door came open.

    ---




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    Paranoia (093 of 170)

    DailyLit  
    093
    —of —
    170
    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    49

    At a little after five in the morning the Trion garage was just about empty. It felt strange being there when it was all but deserted. The fluorescent lights buzzed and washed everything in a kind of greenish haze, and the place smelled of gasoline and motor oil and whatever else dripped from cars: brake fluid and coolant and probably spilled Mountain Dew. My footsteps echoed.

    I took the back elevator to the seventh floor, which was also deserted, and walked down the dark executive corridor to my office, past Colvin's office, Camilletti's office, other offices of people I hadn't met yet, until I came to mine. All the offices were dark and closed; no one was in yet.

    My office was all potential—not much more than a bare desk and chairs and a computer, a Trion-logo mousepad, a filing cabinet with nothing in it, a credenza with a couple of books. It looked like the office of an itinerant, a drifter, someone who could up and leave in the middle of the night. It was badly in need of some personality—framed photographs, some sporting-goods collectibles, something jokey and funny, something serious and inspirational. It needed an imprint. Maybe, once I caught up on my sleep, I'd do something about it.

    I entered my password, logged in, checked my e-mail again. Sometime in the last few post-midnight hours a company-wide e-mail had gone out to all Trion employees worldwide asking them to watch the company Web site later on today, at five o'clock Eastern Standard Time, for "an important announcement from CEO Augustine Goddard." That should set off the rumor mills. The e-mails would be flying. I wondered how many people at the top—a group that now included me, bizarrely enough—knew the truth. Not many, I bet.

    Goddard had mentioned that AURORA, the mind-blowing project he wouldn't talk about, was Paul Camilletti's turf. I wondered if there was anything in Camilletti's official bio that might shed some light on AURORA, so I entered his name in the company directory.

    His photo was there, stern and forbidding and yet more handsome than in person. A thumbnail biography: born in Geneseo, New York, educated in public schools in upstate New York—translation, probably didn't grow up with money—Swarthmore, Harvard Business School, meteoric rise in some consumer-electronics company that was once a big rival to Trion but was later acquired by Trion. Senior VP at Trion for less than a year before being named CFO. A man on the move. I clicked on the hyperlinks for his reporting chain, and a little tree chart popped up, showing all the divisions and units that were under him.

    One of the units was the Disruptive Technologies Research Unit, which reported directly to him. Alana Jennings was marketing director.

    Paul Camilletti directly oversaw the AURORA project. Suddenly, he was very, very important.

    ---

    I walked by his office, my heart hammering away, and saw, of course, no sign of him. Not at quarter after five in the morning. I also noticed that the cleaning crew had already been by: there was a fresh liner in his admin's trash can, you could see the undisturbed vacuuming lines on the carpet, and the place still smelled like cleaning fluid.

    And there was no one in the corridor, likely no one on the entire floor.

    I was about to cross a line, do something risky at a whole new level.

    I wasn't worried so much about a security guard coming by. I'd say I was Camilletti's new assistant—what the hell did they know?

    But what if Camilletti's admin came in really early, to get a jump on the day? Or, more likely, what if Camilletti himself wanted to get an early start? Given the big announcement, he might well have to start placing calls, writing e-mails, making faxes to Trion's European offices, which were six or seven hours ahead. At five-thirty in the morning, it was noon in Europe. Sure, he could e-mail from home, but I couldn't put it past him to get in to his office unusually early today.

    So to break into his office today, I realized, was insanely risky.

    But for some reason I decided to do it anyway.




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    Paranoia (092 of 170)

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    092
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    48

    I was up most of the night: unfortunately, I was starting to get used to this.

    The odious Nick Wyatt had spent more than an hour giving me his whole take on the Trion product line, including all sorts of inside information, stuff very few other people would know. It was like getting Rommel's take on Montgomery. Obviously he knew a hell of a lot about the market, since he was one of Trion's principal competitors, and he had all sorts of valuable information, which he was willing to give up for the sole purpose of making Goddard impressed with me. His short-term strategic loss would be his long-term strategic gain.

    I raced back to the Harbor Suites by midnight and got to work on PowerPoint, putting the slides together for my presentation to Goddard. To be honest, I was pretty amped up about it. I knew I couldn't coast; I had to keep performing at peak. As long as I had the benefit of inside information from Wyatt, I'd impress Goddard, but what would happen when I didn't? What if he asked my opinion on something, and I revealed my true, ignorant self? Then what?

    When I couldn't work on the presentation anymore, I took a break and checked my personal e-mail on Yahoo and Hotmail and Hushmail. The usual junk-mail spam—"Viagra Online BUY IT HERE VIAGRA NO PRESCRIPTION" and "BEST XXX SITE!" and "Mortgage Approval!" Nothing more from "Arthur." Then I signed on to the Trion Web site.

    One e-mail leaped out at me: It was from KGriffin@trionsystems.com. I clicked on it.

    SUBJ: You
    FROM: KGriffin
    TO: ACassidy

    Dude! Great seeing you! Nice to see you looking so slick & doing so well—way to go! Very impressed by your career here. Is it something in the water? Give ME some!

    I'm getting to know people around Trion & would love to take you to lunch or whatever. Let me know!

    Kev

    I didn't reply—I had to figure out how to handle it. The guy had obviously looked me up, saw my new title, couldn't figure it out. Whether he wanted to get together out of curiosity, or to brownnose, this was big trouble. Meacham and Wyatt had said they'd "nuke" him, whatever that meant, but until they did whatever they were going to do, I'd have to be extra careful. Kevin Griffin was a loaded gun lying around, waiting to go off. I didn't want to go near it.

    Then I signed off, and signed back on using Nora's user ID and password. It was two in the morning, and I figured she had to be offline. It would be a good time to try to get into her archived e-mail, go through it all, download anything that had to do with AURORA, if there was anything.

    All I got was INVALID PASSWORD, PLEASE RE-ENTER.

    I re-entered her password, this time more carefully, and got INVALID PASSWORD again. This time I was certain I hadn't made a mistake.

    Her password had been changed.

    Why?

    When I finally crashed for the night, my mind was racing, running through all the possibilities as to why Nora had changed her password. Maybe the security guard, Luther, had come by one night when Nora happened to be staying a little later than usual, and he was expecting to see me, engage in a conversation about Mustangs or whatever, but he saw Nora instead. He might wonder what she was doing there in that office, might even—it wasn't totally unlikely—confront her. And then he'd give her a description and she'd figure it out; it wouldn't take her long at all.

    But if that's what had happened, she wouldn't just change her password, would she? She'd do more than that. She'd want to know why I was in her office, when she hadn't given me permission to be there. Where that could lead, I didn't want to think about....

    Or maybe it was all innocent. Maybe she'd just changed her password routinely, the way every Trion employee was supposed to do every sixty days.

    Probably that's all it was.

    I didn't sleep well at all, and after a couple of hours of tossing and turning I decided to just get up, take a shower and get dressed, and head into work. My Goddard work was done; it was my Wyatt work, my espionage, that was way behind. If I got into work early enough, maybe I could try to find out something about AURORA.

    I glanced in the mirror as I walked out. I looked—like shit.

    "You up already?" Carlos the concierge said as my Porsche pulled up to the front curb. "Man, you can't keep hours like this, Mr. Cassidy. You get sick."

    "Nah," I said. "Keeps me honest."




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    Paranoia (091 of 170)

    DailyLit  
    091
    —of —
    170
    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Macmillan: Paranoia

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


    47

    I arrived at Wyatt's house at the same time as Meacham, who made some crack about my Porsche. We were shown in to Wyatt's elaborate gym, in the basement level but, because of the landscaping, it wasn't below ground. Wyatt was lifting weights at a reclining bench—a hundred fifty pounds. He wore only a skimpy pair of gym shorts, no shirt, and looked more bulked-up than ever. This guy was Quadzilla.

    He finished his set before he said a word, then got up and toweled himself off.

    "So you get fired yet?" he said.

    "Not yet."

    "No, Goddard's got things on his mind. Like the fact that his company's falling apart." He looked at Meacham, and the two men chortled. "What'd Saint Augustine have to say about that?"

    The question wasn't unexpected, but it came so abruptly I wasn't quite prepared. "Not that much," I said.

    "Bullshit," Wyatt said, coming closer to me and staring, trying to intimidate me with his physical presence. Hot damp air rose from his body, smelling unpleasantly like ammonia: the odor of weight lifters who ingest too much protein.

    "Not that much that I was around for," I amended. "I mean, I think the article really spooked them—there was a flurry of activity. Crazier than usual."

    "What do you know about 'usual'?" said Meacham. "It's your first day on the seventh floor."

    "Just my perception," I said lamely.

    "How much of the article's true?" said Wyatt.

    "You mean, you didn't plant it?" I said.

    Wyatt gave me a look. "Are they going to miss the quarter or not?"

    "I have no idea," I lied. "It's not like I was in Goddard's office all day." I don't know why I was so stubborn about not revealing the disastrous quarter numbers, or the news about the impending layoffs. Maybe I felt like I'd been entrusted with a secret by Goddard, and it would be wrong to break that confidence. Christ, I was a goddamned mole, a spy—where did I get off being so high and mighty? Why was I suddenly drawing lines: this much I'll tell you, this much I won't? When the news about the layoffs came out tomorrow, Wyatt would go medieval on me for holding back. He wouldn't believe I hadn't heard. So I fudged a little. "But there's something going on," I said. "Something big. Some kind of announcement coming."

    I handed Wyatt a folder containing a copy of the strategic plan Goddard had given me to review.

    "What's this?" Wyatt said. He set it down on the weight bench, pulled a tank top over his head, and then started leafing through the document.

    "Trion's strategic plan for the next eighteen months. Including detailed descriptions of all the new products in the pipeline."

    "Including AURORA?"

    I shook my head. "Goddard did mention it, though."

    "How?"

    "He just said there was this big project codenamed AURORA that would turn the company around. Said he'd given it to Camilletti to run."

    "Huh. Camilletti's in charge of all acquisitions, and my sources say Project AURORA was put together from a collection of companies Trion's secretly bought over the last few years. Did Goddard say what it was?"

    "No."

    "You didn't ask?"

    "Of course I asked. I told him I'd be interested in taking part in something so significant."

    Wyatt, paging through the strategic plan, was silent. His eyes were scanning the pages rapidly, excitedly.

    Meanwhile, I handed Meacham a scrap of paper. "Jock's personal cell number."

    "Jock?" said Meacham in disgust.

    "Everyone calls him that. It doesn't mean we're asshole buddies. Anyway, this should help you trace a lot of his most important calls."

    Meacham took it without thanks.

    "One more thing," I said to Meacham as Wyatt continued reading, fascinated. "There's a problem."

    Meacham stared at me. "Don't fuck with us."

    "There's a new hire at Trion, a kid named Kevin Griffin, in Sales. They hired him away from you—from Wyatt."

    "So?"

    "We were sort of friends."

    "Friends?"

    "Sort of. We played hoops together."

    "He knew you at the company?"

    "Yep."

    "Shit," Meacham said. "That is a problem."

    Wyatt looked up from the document. "Nuke him," he said.

    Meacham nodded.

    "What does that mean?" I said.

    "It means we'll take care of him," Meacham said.

    "This is valuable information," Wyatt said at last. "Very, very useful. What does he want you to do with it?"

    "He wants my overall take on the product portfolio. What's promising, what isn't, what might run into trouble. Whatever."

    "That's not very specific."

    "He told me he wants a helicopter ride over the terrain."

    "Piloted by Adam Cassidy, marketing genius," Wyatt said, amused. "Well, get out a notepad and a pen and start taking notes. I'm going to make you a star."




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