Paranoia (129 of 170)

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129
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Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Part Seven: 69 (Cont'd)

The chief marketing officer, the slick-looking Rick Durant, put in mournfully, "This is a huge embarrassment. We've already launched a huge teaser campaign, placed ads all over the place. 'The digital assistant for the next generation.' " He rolled his eyes.

"Yeah," muttered Goddard. "And it sounds like it won't ship until the next generation." He turned to the lead engineer, Eddie Cabral, a round-faced, swarthy guy with a dated flattop. "Is it a problem with the mask?"

"I wish," Cabral replied. "No, the whole damned chip is going to have to be respun, sir."

"The contract manufacturer's in Malaysia?" said Goddard.

"We've always had good luck with them," said Cabral. "The tolerances and quality have always been pretty good. But this is a complicated ASIC. It's got to drive our own, proprietary Trion LCD screen, and the cookies just aren't coming out of the oven right—"

"What about replacing the LCD?" Goddard interrupted.

"No, sir," said Cabral. "Not without retooling the whole casing, which is another six months easy."

I suddenly sat up. The buzzwords jumped out at me. ASIC ... proprietary Trion LCD ...

"That's the nature of ASICs," Goddard said. "There are always some cookies that get burnt. What's the yield like, forty, fifty percent?"

Cabral looked miserable. "Zero. Some kind of assembly-line flaw."

Goddard tightened his mouth. He looked like he was about to lose it. "How long will it take to respin the ASIC?"

Cabral hesitated. "Three months. If we're lucky."

"If we're lucky," Goddard repeated. "Yep, if we're lucky." His voice was getting steadily louder. "Three months puts the ship date into December. That won't work at all, will it?"

"No, sir," said Cabral.

I tapped Goddard on the arm, but he ignored me. "Mexico can't manufacture this for us quicker?"

The head of manufacturing, a woman named Kathy Gornick, said, "Maybe a week or two faster, which won't help us at all. And then the quality will be substandard at best."

"This is a goddamned mess," Goddard said. I'd never really heard him curse before.

I picked up a product spec sheet, then tapped Goddard's arm again. "Will you please excuse me for a moment?" I said.

---

I rushed out of the room, stepped into the lounge area, flipped open my phone.

Noah Mordden wasn't at his desk, so I tried his cell phone, and he answered on the first ring: "What?"

"It's me, Adam."

"I answered the phone, didn't I?"

"You know that ugly doll you've got in your office? The one that says 'Eat my shorts, Goddard'?"

"Love Me Lucille. You can't have her. Buy your own."

"Doesn't it have an LCD screen on its stomach?"

"What are you up to, Cassidy?"

"Listen, I need to ask you about the LCD driver. The ASIC."

---




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    Paranoia (128 of 170)

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    128
    —of —
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    69

    Goddard was scurrying down the hall to the Executive Briefing Center, and I struggled to keep up with him without breaking into a run. Man, the old guy moved fast, like a tortoise on methamphetamine. "This darned meeting is going to be a circus," he muttered. "I called the Guru team here for a status update as soon as I heard they're going to slip their Christmas ship date. They know I'm royally pissed off, and they're going to be pirouetting like a troupe of Russian ballerinas doing the 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.' You're going to see a side of me here that's not so attractive."

    I didn't say anything—what could I say? I'd seen his flashes of anger, and they didn't even compare to what I'd seen in the only other CEO I'd ever met. Next to Nick Wyatt he was Mister Rogers. And in fact I was still shaken, moved by that intimate little scene in his lake house study—I'd never really seen another human being lay himself so bare. Until that moment there'd been a part of me that was sort of baffled as to why Goddard had singled me out, why he'd been drawn to me. Now I got it, and it rocked my world. I didn't just want to impress the old man anymore, I wanted his approval, maybe something deeper.

    Why, I agonized, did Goddard have to fuck it all up by being such a decent guy? It was unpleasant enough working for Nick Wyatt without this complication. Now I was working against the dad I never had, and it was messing with my head.

    "Guru's prime is a very smart young woman named Audrey Bethune, a real comer," Goddard muttered. "But this disaster may derail her career. I really have no patience for screwups on this scale." As we approached the room, he slowed. "Now, if you have any thoughts, don't hesitate to speak. But be warned—this is a high-powered and very opinionated group, and they're not going to show you any deference just because I brung you to the dance."

    The Guru team was assembled around the big conference table, waiting nervously. They looked up as we entered. Some of them smiled, said, "Hi, Jock," or "Hello, Mr. Goddard." They looked like scared rabbits. I remembered sitting around that table not so long ago. There were a few puzzled glances at me, some whispers. Goddard sat down at the head of the table. Next to him was a black woman in her late thirties, the same woman I'd seen talking to Tom Lundgren and his wife at the barbecue. He patted the table next to him to tell me to sit by his side. My cell phone had been vibrating in my pocket for the last ten minutes, so I furtively fished it out and glanced at the caller ID screen. A bunch of calls from a number I didn't recognize. I switched the phone off.

    "Afternoon," Goddard said. "This is my assistant, Adam Cassidy." A number of polite smiles, and then I saw that one of the faces belonged to my old friend Nora Sommers. Shit, she was on Guru, too? She wore a black-and-white striped suit and she had her power makeup on. She caught my eye, beamed like I was some long-lost childhood playmate. I smiled back politely, savoring the moment.

    Audrey Bethune, the program manager, was beautifully dressed in a navy suit with a white blouse and small gold stud earrings. She had dark skin and wore her hair in a perfectly coifed and shellacked bubble. I'd done some quick background research on her and knew that she came from an upper-middle-class family. Her father was a doctor, as was her grandfather, and she'd spent every summer at the family compound in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. She smiled at me, revealing a gap between her front teeth. She reached behind Jock's back to shake my hand. Her palm was dry and cool. I was impressed. Her career was on the line.

    Guru—the project was code-named TSUNAMI—was a supercharged handheld digital assistant, really killer technology and Trion's only convergence device. It was a PDA, a communicator, a mobile phone. It had the power of a laptop in an eight-ounce package. It did e-mail, instant messages, spreadsheets, had a full HTML Internet browser and a great TFT active-matrix color screen.

    Goddard cleared his throat. "So I understand we have a little challenge," he said.

    "That's one way of putting it, Jock," Audrey said smoothly. "Yesterday we got the results of the in-house audit, which indicated that we've got a faulty component. The LCD is totally dead."

    "Ah hah," Goddard said with what I knew was forced calm. "Bad LCD, is it?"

    Audrey shook her head. "Apparently the LCD driver is defective."

    "In every single one?" asked Goddard.

    "That's right."

    "A quarter of a million units have a bad LCD driver," Goddard said. "I see. The ship date is in—what is it, now?—three weeks. Hmm. Now, as I recall—and correct me if I'm wrong—your plan was to ship these before the end of the quarter, thus bolstering earnings for the third quarter and giving us all thirteen weeks of the Christmas quarter to rake in some badly needed revenue."

    She nodded.

    "Audrey, I believe we agreed that Guru is the division's big kahuna. And as we all know, Trion is experiencing some difficulties in the market. Which means that it's all the more crucial that Guru ship on schedule." I noticed that Goddard was speaking in an overly deliberate manner, and I knew he was trying to hold back his great annoyance.




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    Paranoia (127 of 170)

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    127
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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 Seven: 68 (Cont'd)

    The bedside clock said three thirty-five when I got up. She remained asleep, buzzing softly. I walked across the carpet and noiselessly closed the bedroom door behind me.

    I signed on to my e-mail and saw the usual assortment of spam and junk, some work stuff that didn't look urgent, and one on Hushmail from "Arthur" whose subject line said, "re: consumer devices." Meacham sounded royally pissed off:

    Boss extremely disappointed by your failure to reply. Wants additional presentation materials by 6 pm tomorrow or deal is endangered.

    I hit "reply" and typed, "unable to locate additional materials, sorry" and signed it "Donnie." Then I read through it and deleted my message. Nope. I wasn't going to reply at all. That was simpler. I'd done enough for them.

    I noticed that Alana's little square black handbag was still on the granite bar where she'd left it. She hadn't brought her computer or her workbag, since she'd stopped at home to change.

    In her handbag were her badge, a lipstick, some breath mints, a key ring, and her Trion Maestro. The keys were probably for her apartment and car and maybe her home mailbox and such. The Maestro likely held phone numbers and addresses, but also specific datebook appointments. That could be very useful to Wyatt and Meacham.

    But was I still working for them?

    Maybe not.

    What would happen if I just quit? I'd upheld my side of the bargain, got them just about everything they wanted on AURORA—well, most of it, anyway. Odds were they'd calculate that it wasn't worth hassling me further. It wasn't in their interests to blow my cover, not so long as I could potentially be useful to them. And they weren't going to feed the FBI an anonymous tip, because that would just lead the authorities back to them.

    What could they do to me?

    Then I realized: I'd already quit working for them. I'd made the decision that afternoon in the study at Jock Goddard's lake house. I wasn't going to keep betraying the guy. Meacham and Wyatt could go screw themselves.

    It would have been really easy at that moment for me to slip Alana's handheld into the recharging cradle attached to my desktop computer and hot-link it. Sure, there was a risk of her getting up, since she was in a strange bed, finding me gone, and wandering around the apartment to see where I'd gone. In which case she might see me downloading the contents of her Maestro to my computer. Maybe she wouldn't notice. But she was smart and quick, and she was likely to figure out the truth.

    And no matter how fast I thought, no matter how cleverly I handled it, she'd know what I was up to. And I'd be caught, and the relationship would be over, and all of a sudden that mattered to me. I was smitten with Alana, and after only a couple of dates and one night together. I was just beginning to discover her earthy, expansive, sort of wild side. I loved her loopy, unrestrained laugh, her boldness, her dry sense of humor. I didn't want to lose her because of something the loathsome Nick Wyatt was forcing me to do.

    Already I'd handed over to Wyatt all kinds of valuable information on the AURORA project. I'd done my job. I was finished with those assholes.

    And I couldn't stop seeing Jock Goddard hunched over in that dark corner of his study, his shoulders shaking. That moment of revelation. The trust he'd put in me. And I was going to violate that trust for Nick Fucking Wyatt?

    No, I didn't think so. Not anymore.

    So I put Alana's Maestro back into her pocketbook. I poured myself a glass of cold water from the drinking-water dispenser on the Sub-Zero door, gulped it down, and climbed back into my warm bed with Alana. She muttered something in her sleep, and I snuggled right up next to her and, for the first time in weeks, actually felt good about myself.




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    Paranoia (126 of 170)

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    126
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    68

    I knew from the moment she said she wanted to eat at the restaurant at the Harbor Suites that we'd sleep together that night. I've had dates with women where an erotic charge came from "will she or won't she?" This was different, of course, but the charge was even stronger. It was there all along, that invisible line that we both knew we were going to cross, the line that separated us from friends and something more intimate; the question was when, and how, we were going to cross it, who'd make the first move, what crossing it would feel like. We came back up to my apartment after dinner, both a little unsteady from too much white wine and G & Ts. I had my arm around her narrow waist. I wanted to feel the soft skin on her tummy, underneath her breasts, on her upper buttocks. I wanted to see her most private areas. I wanted to witness the moment when the hard shell around Alana, the impossibly beautiful, sophisticated woman cracked; when she shuddered, gave way, when those clear blue eyes became lost in pleasure.

    We sort of careened around the apartment, enjoying the views of the water, and I made us both martinis, which we definitely didn't need. She said, "I can't believe I have to go to Palo Alto tomorrow morning."

    "What's up in Palo Alto?"

    She shook her head. "Nothing interesting." She had her arm around my waist too, but she accidentally-on-purpose let her hand slip down to my butt, squeezing rhythmically, and she made a joke about whether I'd finished unpacking the bed.

    The next minute I had my lips on hers, my groping fingertips gently stroking her tits, and she snaked a very warm hand down to my groin. Both of us were quickly aroused, and we stumbled over to the couch, the one that didn't have plastic wrap still on it. We kissed and ground our hips together. She moaned. She fished me greedily out of my pants. She was wearing a white silk teddy under her black shirt. Her breasts were ample, round, perfect.

    She came loudly, with surprising abandon.

    I knocked over my martini glass. We made our way down the long corridor to my bedroom and did it again, this time more slowly.

    "Alana," I said when we were snuggling.

    "Hmm?"

    "Alana," I repeated. "That means 'beautiful' in Gaelic or something, right?"

    "Celtic, I think." She was scratching my chest. I was stroking one of her breasts.

    "Alana, I have to confess something."

    She groaned. "You're married."

    "No—"

    She turned to me, a flash of annoyance in her eyes. "You're involved with someone."

    "No, definitely not. I have to confess—I hate Ani DiFranco."

    "But didn't you—you quoted her...." She looked puzzled.

    "I had an old girlfriend who used to listen to her a lot, and now it's got bad associations."

    "So why do you have one of her CDs out?"

    She'd seen the damned thing next to the CD player. "I was trying to make myself like her."

    "Why?"

    "For you."

    She thought for a moment, furrowed her dark brow. "You don't have to like everything I like. I don't like Porsches."

    "You don't?" I turned to her, surprised.

    "They're dicks on wheels."

    "That's true."

    "Maybe some guys need that, but you definitely don't."

    "No one 'needs' a Porsche. I just thought it was cool."

    "I'm surprised you didn't get a red one."

    "Nah. Red's cop bait—cops see red Porsches and they switch on their radar."

    "Did your dad have a Porsche? My dad had one." She rolled her eyes. "Ridiculous. Like, his male-menopause, midlife-crisis car."

    "Actually, for most of my childhood we didn't even have a car."

    "You didn't have a car?"

    "We took public transportation."

    "Oh." Now she looked uncomfortable. After a minute she said, "So all this must be pretty heady stuff." She waved her hand around to indicate the apartment and everything.

    "Yeah."

    "Hmm."

    Another minute went by. "Can I visit you at work some time?" I said.

    "You can't. Access to the fifth floor is pretty restricted. Anyway, I think it's better if people at work don't know, don't you agree?"

    "Yeah, you're right."

    I was surprised when she curled up next to me and drifted off to sleep: I thought she was going to take right off, go home, wake up in her own bed, but she seemed to want to spend the night.

    ---




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    Paranoia (125 of 170)

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    125
    —of —
    170
    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    Part Seven: 67 (Cont'd)

    "You know, I thought Trion wasn't really hiring from outside," she said, looking over the menu. "They must have really wanted you, to bend the rules like that."

    "I think they thought they were stealing me away. I was nothing special." We'd switched from gin-and-tonics to Sancerre, which I'd ordered because I saw from her liquor bills that that was her favorite wine. She looked surprised and pleased when I'd asked for it. It was a reaction I was getting used to.

    "I doubt that," she said. "What'd you do at Wyatt?"

    I gave her the job-interview version I'd memorized, but that wasn't enough for her. She wanted details about the Lucid project. "I'm really not supposed to talk about what I did at Wyatt, if you don't mind," I said. I tried not to sound too priggish about it.

    She looked embarrassed. "Oh, God, sure, I totally understand," she said.

    The waiter appeared. "Are you ready to order?"

    Alana said, "You go first," and studied the menu some more while I ordered the paella.

    "I was thinking of getting that," she said. Okay, so she wasn't a vegetarian.

    "We're allowed to get the same thing, you know," I said.

    "I'll have the paella, too," she told the waiter. "But if there's any meat in it, like sausage, can you leave it out?"

    "Of course," the waiter said, making a note.

    "I love paella," she said. "I almost never have fish or seafood at home. This is a treat."

    "Wanna stick with the Sancerre?" I said to her.

    "Sure."

    As the waiter turned to go, I suddenly remembered Alana was allergic to shrimp and said, "Wait a second, is there shrimp in the paella?"

    "Uh, yes, there is," said the waiter.

    "That could be a problem," I said.

    Alana stared at me. "How did you know ... ?" she began, her eyes narrowing.

    There was this long, long moment of excruciating tension while I wracked my brain. I couldn't believe I'd screwed up like this. I swallowed hard, and the blood drained from my face. Finally I said, "You mean, you're allergic to it, too?"

    A pause. "I am. Sorry. How funny." The cloud of suspicion seemed to have lifted. We both switched to the seared scallops.

    "Anyway," I said, "enough talking about me. I want to hear about AURORA."

    "Well, it's supposed to be kept under wraps," she apologized.

    I grinned at her.

    "No, this isn't tit-for-tat, I swear," she protested. "Really!"

    "Okay," I said skeptically. "But now that you've aroused my curiosity, are you really going to make me poke around and find out on my own?"

    "It's not that interesting."

    "I don't believe it. Can't you at least give me the thumbnail?"

    She looked skyward, heaved a sigh. "Well, it's like this. You ever hear of the Haloid Company?"

    "No," I said slowly.

    "Of course not. No reason you should have heard of it. But the Haloid Company was this small photographic-paper company that, in the late nineteen-forties, bought the rights to this new technology that had been turned down by all the big companies—IBM, RCA, GE. The invention was something called xerography, okay? So in ten, fifteen years the Haloid Company became the Xerox Corporation, and it went from a small family-run company to a gigantic corporation. All because they took a chance on a technology that no one else was interested in."

    "Okay."

    "Or the way the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation in Chicago, which made Motorola brand car radios, eventually got into semiconductors and cell phones. Or a small oil exploration company called Geophysical Service started branching out and getting into transistors and then the integrated circuit and became Texas Instruments. So you get my point. The history of technology is filled with examples of companies that transformed themselves by grabbing hold of the right technology at the right time, and leaving their competitors in the dust. That's what Jock Goddard is trying to do with AURORA. He thinks AURORA is going to change the world, and the face of American business, the way transistors or semiconductors or photocopying technology once did."

    "Disruptive technology."

    "Exactly."

    "But the Wall Street Journal seems to think Jock's washed up."

    "We both know better than that. He's just way ahead of the curve. Look at the history of the company. There were three or four points when everyone thought Trion was on the ropes, on the verge of bankruptcy, and then all of a sudden it surprised everyone and came back stronger than ever."

    "You think this is one of those turning points, huh?"

    "When AURORA's ready to announce, he'll announce it. And then let's see what the Wall Street Journal says. AURORA makes all these latest problems practically irrelevant."

    "Amazing." I peered into my wineglass and said oh-so-casually, "So what's the technology?"

    She smiled, shook her head. "I probably shouldn't have said even this much." Tilting her head to one side she said playfully, "Are you doing some sort of security check on me?"




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    Paranoia (124 of 170)

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    124
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    67

    "So you really work for Jock Goddard himself, huh?" Alana said. "God, I hope I didn't ever say anything negative to you about Goddard. Did I?"

    We were riding the elevator up to my apartment. She'd stopped at her own place after work to change, and she looked great—black boat-neck top, black leggings, chunky black shoes. She also had on that same delicious floral scent she wore on our last date. Her black hair was long and glossy, and it contrasted nicely with her brilliant blue eyes.

    "Yeah, you really trashed him, which I immediately reported."

    She smiled, a glint of perfect teeth. "This elevator is about the same size as my apartment."

    I knew that wasn't true, but I laughed anyway. "The elevator really is bigger than my last place," I said. When I'd mentioned that I'd just moved into the Harbor Suites she said she'd heard about the condos there and seemed intrigued, so I'd invited her to stop by to check it out. We could have dinner at the hotel restaurant downstairs, where I hadn't had a chance to eat.

    "Boy, quite the view," she said as soon as she entered the apartment. An Alanis Morissette CD was playing softly. "This is fantastic." She looked around, saw the plastic wrap still on one of the couches and a chair, said archly, "So when do you move in?"

    "As soon as I have a spare hour or two. Can I get you a drink?"

    "Hmm. Sure, that would be nice."

    "Cosmopolitan? I also do a terrific gin-and-tonic."

    "Gin-and-tonic sounds perfect, thanks. So you've just started working for him, right?"

    She'd looked me up, of course. I went over to the newly stocked liquor cabinet, in the alcove next to the kitchen, and reached for a bottle of Tanqueray Malacca gin.

    "Just this week." She followed me into the kitchen. I grabbed a handful of limes from the almost-empty refrigerator and began cutting them in half.

    "But you've been at Trion for like a month." She cocked her head to one side, trying to make sense of my sudden promotion. "Nice kitchen. Do you cook?"

    "The appliances are just for show," I said. I began pressing the lime halves into the electric juicer. "Anyway, right, I was hired into new-products marketing, but then Goddard was sort of involved in a project I was working on, and I guess he liked my approach, my ideas, whatever."

    "Talk about a lucky break," she said, raising her voice above the electric whine of the juicer.

    I shrugged. "We'll see if it's lucky." I filled two French bistro–style tumblers with ice, a shot of gin, a good splash of cold tonic water from the refrigerator, and a healthy helping of lime juice. I handed her her drink.

    "So Tom Lundgren must have hired you for Nora Sommers's team. Hey, this is delicious. All that lime makes a difference."

    "Thank you. That's right, Tom Lundgren hired me," I said, pretending to be surprised she knew.

    "Do you know you were hired to fill my position?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "The position that opened up when I was moved to AURORA."

    "Is that right?" I looked amazed.

    She nodded. "Unbelievable."

    "Wow, small world. But what's 'AURORA'?"

    "Oh, I figured you knew." She glanced at me over the rim of her glass, a look that seemed just a bit too casual.

    I shook my head innocently. "No ... ?"

    "I figured you probably looked me up too. I got assigned to marketing for the Disruptive Technologies group."

    "That's called AURORA?"

    "No, AURORA's the specific project I'm assigned to." She hesitated a second. "I guess I thought that working for Goddard you'd sort of have your fingers into everything."

    A tactical slip on my part. I wanted her to think we could talk freely about whatever she did. "Theoretically I have access to everything. But I'm still figuring out where the copying machine is."

    She nodded. "You like Goddard?"

    What was I going to say, no? "He's an impressive guy."

    "At his barbecue you two seemed to be pretty close. I saw he called you over to meet his buddies, and you were like carrying things for him and all that."

    "Yeah, real close," I said, sarcastic. "I'm his gofer. I'm his muscle. You enjoy the barbecue?"

    "It was a little strange, hanging with all the powers, but after a couple of beers it got easier. That was my first time there." Because she'd been assigned to his pet project, AURORA, I thought. But I wanted to be subtle about it, so I let it drop for the time being. "Let me call down to the restaurant and have them get our table ready."

    ---




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    Paranoia (123 of 170)

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    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 Seven: 66 (Cont'd)

    "Actually, Dad, I happen to know a little something about CEOs. I just got a huge promotion—I was just made executive assistant to the CEO of Trion."

    There was just silence. I thought he hadn't been listening. He was staring at the TV. I thought that might have sounded a little arrogant, so I softened it a bit: "It's really a big deal, Dad."

    More silence.

    I was about to repeat it when he said, "Executive assistant? What's that, like a secretary?"

    "No, no. It's, like, high-level stuff. Brainstorming and everything."

    "So what exactly do you do all day?"

    The guy had emphysema, but he knew just how to take the wind out of me. "Never mind, Dad," I said. "I'm sorry I brought it up." I was, too. Why the hell did I care what he thought?

    "No, really. I'm curious what you did to get that slick new set of wheels out there."

    So he had noticed, after all. I smiled. "Pretty nice, huh?"

    "How much that vehicle cost you?"

    "Well, actually—"

    "Per month, I'm talking." He took a long suck of oxygen.

    "Nothing."

    "Nothing," he repeated, as if he didn't get it.

    "Nada. Trion covers the lease totally. It's a perk of my new job."

    He breathed in again. "A perk."

    "Same with my new apartment."

    "You moved?"

    "I thought I told you. Two thousand square feet in that new Harbor Suites building. And Trion pays for it."

    Another intake of breath. "You proud?" he said.

    I was stunned. I'd never heard him say that word before, I didn't think. "Yeah," I said, blushing.

    "Proud of the fact that they own you now?"

    I should have seen the razor blade in the apple. "Nobody owns me, Dad," I said curtly. "I believe it's called 'making it.' Look it up. You'll find it in the thesaurus next to 'life at the top,' 'executive suite,' and 'high net-worth individuals.' " I couldn't believe what was coming out of my mouth. And all this time I'd been railing about being a monkey on a stick. Now I was actually boasting about the bling bling. See what you made me do?

    Antwoine put down his newspaper and excused himself, tactfully, pretending to do something in the kitchen.

    Dad laughed harshly, turned to look at me. "So lemme get this straight." He sucked in some more oxygen. "You don't own the car or the apartment, that right? You call that a perk?" A breath. "I'll tell you what that means. Everything they give you they can take away, and they will, too. You drive a goddamn company car, you live in company housing, you wear a company uniform, and none of it's yours. Your whole life ain't yours."

    I bit my lip. It wasn't going to do me any good to let loose. The old guy was dying, I told myself for the millionth time. He's on steroids. He's an unhappy, caustic guy. But it just came out: "You know, Dad, some fathers would actually be proud of their son's success, you know?"

    He sucked in, his tiny eyes glittering. "Success, that what you call it, huh? See, Adam, you remind me of your mother more and more."

    "Oh, yeah?" I told myself: keep it in, keep the anger in check, don't lose it, or else he's won.

    "That's right. You look like her. Got the same social-type personality—everyone liked her, she fit in anywhere, she coulda married a richer guy, she coulda done a lot better. And don't think she didn't let me know it. All those parent nights at Bartholomew Browning, you could see her getting all friendly with those rich bastards, getting all dressed up, practically pushing her tits in their faces. Think I didn't notice?"

    "Oh, that's good, Dad. That's real good. Too bad I'm not more like you, you know?"

    He just looked at me.

    "You know—bitter, nasty. Pissed off at the world. You want me to grow up to be just like you, that it?"

    He puffed, his face growing redder.

    I kept going. My heart was going a hundred beats a minute, my voice growing louder and louder, and I was almost shouting. "When I was broke and partying all the time you considered me a fuckup. Okay, so now I'm a success by just about anyone's definition, and you've got nothing but contempt. Maybe there's a reason you can't be proud of me no matter what I do, Dad."

    He glared and puffed, said, "Oh yeah?"

    "Look at you. Look at your life." There was like this runaway freight train inside me, unstoppable, out of control. "You're always saying the world's divided up into winners and losers. So let me ask you something, Dad. What are you, Dad? What are you?"

    He sucked in oxygen, his eyes bloodshot and looking like they were going to pop out of his head. He seemed to be muttering to himself. I heard "Goddamn" and "fuck" and "shit."

    "Yeah, Dad," I said, turning away from him. "I want to be just like you." I headed for the door in a slipstream of my own pent-up anger. The words were out and couldn't be unsaid, and I felt more miserable than ever. I left his apartment before I could wreak any more destruction. The last thing I saw, my parting image of the guy, was his big red face, puffing and muttering, his eyes glassy and staring in disbelief or fury or pain, I didn't know which.




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