Paranoia (099 of 170)

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Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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Part Five: 53 (Cont'd)

We sat at a booth that was upholstered in red Naugahyde. The table was gray fake-marble Formica with a stainless steel edge, and there was a tabletop jukebox. There was a long counter with swiveling stools bolted to the floor, cakes and pies in glass domes. No 1950s memorabilia, fortunately; no Sha-Na-Na playing on the jukeboxes. There was a cigarette vending machine, the kind where you pull on the handles to make the pack drop down. They served breakfast all day (Country Breakfast—two eggs, home fries, sausage or bacon or ham, and hotcakes, for $4.85), but Goddard ordered a sloppy joe on a bun from a waitress who knew him, called him Jock. I ordered a cheeseburger and fries and a Diet Coke.

The food was a little greasy, but decent. I'd had better, though I made all the right ecstatic sounds. Next to me on the Naugahyde seat was my workbag with the pilfered files in it from Paul Camilletti's office. Just their presence made me nervous, as if they were emanating gamma waves through the leather.

"So let's hear your thoughts," Goddard said through a mouthful of food. "Don't tell me you can't think without a computer and an overhead projector."

I smiled, took a gulp of Coke. "Well, to begin with, I think we're shipping way too few of the large flat-screen TVs," I said.

"Too few? In this economy?"

"A buddy of mine works for Sony, and he tells me they're having serious problems. Basically, NEC, which makes the plasma display panels for Sony, is having some kind of production glitch. We've got a sizeable lead on them. Six to eight months easy."

He put down his sloppy joe and gave me his complete attention. "You trust this buddy of yours?"

"Totally."

"I won't make a major production decision on rumor."

"Can't blame you," I said. "Though the news'll be public in a week or so. But we might want to secure a deal with another OEM before the price on those plasma display panels jumps. And it sure will."

His eyebrows shot up.

"Also," I continued, "Guru looks huge to me."

He shook his head, turned his attention back to his sloppy joe. "Ah, well, we're not the only ones coming out with a hot new communicator. Nokia's planning to wipe the floor with us."

"Forget Nokia," I said. "That's all smoke and mirrors. Their device is so tangled up in turf battles—we won't see anything new from them for eighteen months or more, if they're lucky."

"And you know this—from this same buddy of yours? Or a different buddy?" He looked skeptical.

"Competitive intelligence," I lied. Nick Wyatt, where else? But he'd given me cover: "I can show you the report, if you want."

"Not now. You should know that Guru's run into a production problem so serious the thing might not even ship."

"What kind of problem?"

He sighed. "Too complicated to go into right now. Though you might want to start going to some of the Guru team meetings, see if you can help."

"Sure." I thought about volunteering again for AURORA, but decided against it—too suspicious.

"Oh, and listen. Saturday's my annual barbecue at the lake house. It's not the whole company, obviously—just seventy-five, a hundred people tops. In the old days we used to have everyone out to the lake, but we can't do that anymore. So we have some of the old-timers, the top officers and their spouses. Think you can spare some time away from your competitive intelligence?"

"Love to." I tried to act blasé, but this was a big deal. Goddard's barbecue was really the inner circle. Given how few got invited, the Goddard lake-house party was the subject of major one-upsmanship around the company, I'd heard: "Gosh, Fred, sorry, I can't make it Saturday, I've got a ... sort of barbecue thing that day. You know."

"No salt-crusted sea bass or Pauillac, alas," Goddard said. "More like burgers, hot dogs, macaroni salad—nothing fancy. Bring your swim trunks. Now, on to more important matters. They have the best raisin pie here you've ever tasted. Their apple is great, too. It's all homemade. Though my favorite is the chocolate meringue pie." He caught the eye of the waitress, who'd been hovering nearby. "Debby," he said, "bring this young man a slice of the apple, and I'll have the usual."

He turned to me. "If you don't mind, don't tell your friends about this place. It'll be our little secret." He arched a brow. "You can keep a secret, can't you?"




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