Paranoia (170 of 170)

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Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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93

My Porsche, fittingly, had been towed away. I'd parked it illegally last night; what did I expect?

So I walked out of the Trion building and looked around for a cab, but none was anywhere to be found. I suppose I could have used a phone in the lobby to call for one, but I felt an overwhelming, almost physical need to get out of there. Carrying the white cardboard box filled with the few things from my office, I walked along the side of the highway.

A few minutes later a bright red car pulled over to the curb, slowed down next to me. It was an Austin Mini Cooper, about the size of a toaster oven. The passenger's side window rolled down, and I could smell Alana's lush floral scent wafting through the city air.

She called out to me. "Hey, do you like it? I just got it. Isn't it fabulous?"

I nodded and attempted a cryptic smile. "Red's cop bait," I said.

"I never go over the speed limit."

I just nodded.

She said, "Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?"

I nodded, kept walking, unwilling to play.

She inched her car alongside me. "Hey, what happened to your Porsche?"

"Got towed."

"Yuck. Where're you going?"

"Home. Harbor Suites." Not home for long, I realized with a jolt. I didn't own it.

"Well, you're not walking all the way. Not with that box. Come on, get in, I'll give you a ride."

"No thanks."

She followed alongside, driving slowly on the shoulder of the road. "Oh, come on, Adam, don't be mad."

I stopped, went over to the car, set down my box, put my hands on the car's low roof. Don't be mad? All along I'd been torturing myself because I thought I was manipulating her, and she was just doing a goddamned job. "You—they told you to sleep with me, didn't they?"

"Adam," she said sensibly. "Get real. That wasn't part of the job description. That's just what HR calls a fringe benefit, right?" She laughed her swooping laugh, and it chilled me. "They just wanted me to guide you along, pass along leads, that sort of thing. But then you came after me...."

"They just wanted you to guide me along," I echoed. "Oh, man. Oh, man. Makes me ill." I picked up the box and resumed walking.

"Adam, I was just doing what they told me to do. You of all people should understand that."

"Like we'll ever be able to trust each other? Even now—you're just doing what they want you to, aren't you?"

"Oh, please," said Alana. "Adam, darling. Don't be so goddamned paranoid."

"And I actually thought we had a nice relationship going," I said.

"It was fun. I had a great time."

"Did you."

"God, don't take it so seriously, Adam! It's just sex. And business. What's wrong with that? Trust me, I wasn't faking it!"

I kept walking, looking around for a cab, but there was nothing in sight. I didn't even know this part of town. I was lost.

"Come on, Adam," she said, inching the Mini along. "Get in the car."

I kept going.

"Oh, come on," she said, her voice like velvet, suggesting everything, promising nothing. "Will you just get in the car?"

Acknowledgments
http://www.dailylit.com/books/paranoia/acknowledgments




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    Paranoia (169 of 170)

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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Part Nine: 92 (Cont'd)

    I turned away, stepped across the granite floor. The rubber soles of my work boots squeaked. "I'm done being jerked around," I said.

    "Adam," Goddard said. "You're sounding like an embittered loser. Like your father was. And I know you're not—you're a winner, Adam. You're brilliant. You have what it takes."

    I smiled, then laughed quietly. "Meaning I'm a lying scumbag, basically. A bullshitter. A world-class liar."

    "Believe me, you didn't do anything that isn't done every day in corporations the world over. Look, you've got a copy of Sun Tzu in your office—have you read it? All warfare is based on deception, he says. And business is war, everyone knows that. Business, at the highest levels, is deception. No one's going to admit that publicly, but it's the truth." His voice softened. "The game is the same everywhere. You just play it better than anyone else. No, you're not a liar, Adam. You're a goddamned master strategist."

    I rolled my eyes, shook my head in disgust, turned back toward the elevator.

    Very quietly, Goddard said: "Do you know how much money Paul Camilletti made last year?"

    Without looking back, I said: "Twenty-eight million."

    "You could be making that in a few years. You're worth it to me, Adam. You're tough-minded and resourceful, you're fucking brilliant."

    I snorted softly, but I don't think he heard it.

    "Did I ever tell you how grateful I am that you saved our bacon on the Guru project? That and a dozen other things. Let me be specific about my gratitude. I'm giving you a raise—to a million a year. With stock options thrown in, given the way our stock's started to move, you could pull in a neat five or six million next year. Double that the year after. You'll be a fucking multimillionaire."

    I froze in my tracks. I didn't know what to do, how to react. If I turned around, they'd think I was accepting. If I kept on walking, they'd think I was saying no.

    "This is the solid-gold inner circle," Judith said. "You're being offered something anyone would kill for. But remember: it's not being given to you—you've earned it. You were meant for this line of work. You're as good at this as anybody I've ever met. These last couple of months, you know what you've been selling? Not handheld communicators or cell phones or MP3 players, but yourself. You've been selling Adam Cassidy. And we're buyers."

    "I'm not for sale," I heard myself say, and I was instantly embarrassed.

    "Adam, turn around," Goddard said angrily. "Turn around, now."

    I obeyed, my expression sullen.

    "Are you clear on what happens if you walk away?"

    I smiled. "Sure. You'll turn me in. To the cops, the FBI, or whatever."

    "I'll do no such thing," Goddard said. "I don't want a goddamned word of this ever made public. But without your car, without your apartment, your salary—you'll have no assets. You'll have nothing. What kind of life is that for a talented fellow like you?"

    They own you ... You drive a company car, you live in company housing.... Your whole life ain't yours.... My dad, my stopped-clock father, was right.

    Judith got up from the table, came over very close to me. "Adam, I understand what you're feeling," she said in a hush. Her eyes were moist. "You're hurt, you're angry. You feel betrayed, manipulated. You want to retreat into the comforting, secure, protective anger of a small child. It's totally understandable—we all feel that way sometimes. But now it's time to put away childish things. You see, you haven't fallen into something. You've found yourself. It's all good, Adam. It's all good."

    Goddard was leaning back in his chair, arms folded. I could see shards of his face reflected in the silver coffeepot, the sugar bowl. He smiled benevolently. "Don't throw it all away, son. I know you'll do the right thing."




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    Paranoia (168 of 170)

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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Part Nine: 92 (Cont'd)

    "Nick Wyatt's a very suspicious man," Goddard said. "I understand him—I'm the same way. He's sorta like the CIA—they never believe a single damned scrap of intel unless they've gotten it by subterfuge."

    I took a sip of ice water, which was so cold it made my throat ache. The only sound in this vast space was the splashing and burbling of the waterfall. The bright light hurt my eyes. It felt cheery in here, weirdly so. The waitress approached with a crystal pitcher of water to refill my glass, but Goddard waved a hand. "Muchos gracias. You two can be excused, I think we're all set here. Could you ask our other guest to join us, please?"

    "It's not the first time you've done this, is it?" I said. Who was it who'd told me that whenever Trion was on the brink of failure, a competitor of theirs always made some disastrous miscalculation, and Trion came back stronger than ever?

    Goddard gave me a sidelong glance. "Practice makes perfect."

    My head swam. It was Paul Camilletti's resume and bio that gave it away. Goddard had hired him away from a company called Celadon Data, which was at the time the biggest threat to Trion's existence. Soon after, Celadon made a legendary technological gaffe—a Betamax-over-VHS kind of misstep—and went Chapter Eleven just before Trion scooped them up.

    "Before me, there was Camilletti," I said.

    "And others before him." Goddard took a swig of coffee. "No, you weren't the first. But I'd say you were the best."

    The compliment stung. "I don't understand how you convinced Wyatt the mole idea could work," I said.

    Goddard glanced up as the elevator opened, the same one he'd come up on.

    Judith Bolton. My breath stopped.

    She was wearing a navy suit and white blouse and looked very crisp and corporate. Her lips and fingernails were coral. She came up to Goddard, gave him a quick kiss on the lips. Then she reached over to me, clasped my hand in both of hers. They gave off a faint herbal scent and felt cold.

    She sat down on Goddard's other side, unfolded a linen napkin on her lap.

    "Adam's curious how you convinced Wyatt," Goddard said.

    "Oh, I didn't have to twist Nick's arm, exactly," she said with a throaty laugh.

    "You're far more subtle than that," Goddard said.

    I stared at Judith. "Why me?" I said finally.

    "I'm surprised you ask," she said. "Look at what you've done. You're a natural."

    "That and the fact that you had me by the balls because of the money."

    "Plenty of people in corporations color outside the lines, Adam," she said, leaning in toward me. "We had lots of choices. But you stood out from the crowd. You were far and away the most qualified. A pitch-perfect gift of blarney, plus father issues."

    Anger welled up inside me until I couldn't sit there anymore listening. I rose, stood over Goddard, said: "Let me ask you something. What do you think Elijah would think of you now?"

    Goddard looked at me blankly.

    "Elijah," I repeated. "Your son."

    "Oh, gosh, right, Elijah," Goddard said, his puzzlement slowly turning to wry amusement. "That. Right. Well, that was Judith's inspiration." He chuckled.

    The room seemed to be spinning slowly and getting brighter, more washed out. Goddard peered at me with twinkling eyes.

    "Adam," Judith said, all concern and empathy. "Sit down, please."

    I just stood staring.

    "We were concerned," she said, "that you might start to get suspicious if it all seemed to come too easily. You're an extremely bright, intuitive young man. Everything had to make sense, or it would start to unravel. We couldn't risk that."

    I flashed on Goddard's lake-house study, the trophies that I now knew were fakes. Goddard's sleight-of-hand talent, the way the trophy somehow got knocked to the floor....

    "Oh, you know," Goddard said, "the old man's got a soft spot for me, I remind him of his dead son, all that bullshit? Makes sense, right?"

    "Can't leave these things to chance," I said hollowly.

    "Precisely," said Goddard.

    "Very, very few people could have done what you did," Judith said. She smiled. "Most wouldn't have been able to endure the doubleness, straddle the line the way you did. You're a remarkable person, I hope you know that. That's why we singled you out in the first place. And you more than proved us right."

    "I don't believe this," I whispered. My legs felt wobbly, my feet unsteady. I had to get the hell out of there. "I don't fucking believe this."

    "Adam, I know how difficult this must be for you," Judith said gently.

    My head was throbbing like an open wound. "I'll go clear out my office."

    "You'll do no such thing," Goddard cried out. "You're not resigning. I won't allow it. Clever young fellows like you are all too rare. I need you on the seventh floor."

    A shaft of sunlight blinded me; I couldn't see their faces.

    "And you'd trust me?" I said bitterly, shifting to one side to get the sun out of my face.

    Goddard exhaled. "Corporate espionage, my boy, is as American as apple pie and Chevrolet. For fuck's sake, how do you think America became an economic superpower? Back in 1811, a Yankee named Francis Lowell Cabot sailed to Great Britain and stole England's most precious secret—the Cartright loom, cornerstone of the whole damned textile industry. Brought the goddamn Industrial Revolution to America, turned us into a colossus. All thanks to one single act of industrial espionage."




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    Paranoia (167 of 170)

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    Paranoia
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    92

    I'd never seen anything like the penthouse of Trion Building A.

    It didn't look at all like the rest of Trion—no choked offices or cluttered cubicles, no industrial-gray wall-to-wall carpeting or fluorescent lights.

    Instead, it was a huge open space with floor-to-ceiling windows through which the sunlight sparkled. The floors were black granite, oriental rugs here and there, the walls some kind of gleaming tropical wood. The space was broken up by banks of ivy, clusters of designer-looking chairs and sofas, and right in the center of the room, a giant freestanding waterfall—the water rushed from some unseen fountain over rugged pinkish stones.

    The Executive Reception Suite. For receiving important visitors: cabinet secretaries, senators and congressmen, CEOs, heads of state. I'd never seen it before, and I didn't know anyone who had, and no wonder. It didn't look very Trion. Not very democratic. It was dramatic, intimidating, grandiose.

    A small round dining table was being set in the area between the indoor waterfall and a fireplace with roaring gas flames on ceramic logs. Two young Latinos, a man and a woman in maroon uniforms, were speaking quietly in Spanish as they put out silver coffee- and teapots, baskets of pastries, pitchers of orange juice. Three place settings.

    Baffled, I looked around, but there was no one else. No one waiting for me. All of a sudden there was a bing, and a small set of brushed-steel elevator doors on the other side of the room slid open.

    Jock Goddard and Paul Camilletti.

    They were laughing loudly, both of them giddy, high as kites. Goddard caught a glimpse of me, stopped mid-laugh, and said, "Well, there he is. You'll excuse us, Paul—you understand."

    Camilletti smiled, patted Goddard's shoulder and remained in the elevator as the old man emerged, the doors closing behind him. Goddard strode across the big open space almost at a trot.

    "Walk with me to the john, will you?" he said to me. "Gotta wash off this damned makeup."

    Silently, I followed him over to a glossy black door that was marked with little silver male-and-female silhouettes. The lights went on as we entered. It was a spacious, sleek rest room, all glass and black marble.

    Goddard looked at himself in the mirror. Somehow he seemed a little taller. Maybe it was his posture: he wasn't quite as hunched as usual.

    "Christ, I look like fucking Liberace," he said as he worked up soapsuds in his hands and began splashing his face. "You've never been up here, have you?"

    I shook my head, watching him in the mirror as he ducked his head down toward the basin and then up again. I felt a strange tangle of emotions—fear, anger, shock—that was so complex that I didn't know what to feel.

    "Well, you know the business world," he went on. He seemed almost apologetic. "The importance of theatrics—pageantry, pomp and circumstance, all that crap. I could hardly meet the president of Russia or the crown prince of Saudi Arabia in my shabby little cubbyhole downstairs."

    "Congratulations," I said softly. "It's been a big morning."

    He toweled off his face. "More theatrics," he said dismissively.

    "You knew Wyatt would buy Delphos, no matter what it cost," I said. "Even if it meant going broke."

    "He couldn't resist," Goddard said. He tossed the towel, now stained orange-brown, onto the marble counter.

    "No," I said. I became aware of my heartbeat starting to accelerate. "Not so long as he believed you were about to announce this big exciting breakthrough on the optical chip. But there never was an optical chip, was there?"

    Goddard grinned his little pixie smile. He turned, and I followed him out of the rest room. I kept going: "That's why there were no patents filed, no HR files...."

    "The optical chip," he said, almost lunging across the oriental rugs toward the dining table, "exists only in the fevered minds and blotched notebooks of a handful of third-raters at a tiny, doomed company in Palo Alto. Chasing a fantasy, which may or may not happen in your lifetime. Certainly not in mine." He sat at the table, gestured to the place next to his.

    I sat, and the two uniformed attendants, who'd been standing against the bank of ivy at a discreet distance, came forward, poured us each coffee. I was more than frightened and angry and confused; I was deeply exhausted.

    "They may be third-raters," I said, "but you bought their company more than three years ago."

    It was, I admit, an educated guess—the lead investor in Delphos was, according to the filings I'd come across on the Internet, a venture capital fund based in London whose money was channeled through a Cayman Islands investment vehicle. Which indicated that Delphos was actually owned, at a remove of about five shell companies and fronts, by a major player.

    "You're a smart fellow," Goddard said, grabbing a sweet roll and tucking into it greedily. "The true ownership chain is pretty damned hard to unwind. Help yourself to a pastry, Adam. These raspberry-and-cream-cheese things are killer."

    Now I understood why Paul Camilletti, a man who crossed every T and dotted every I, had conveniently "forgotten" to sign the no-shop clause on the term sheet. Once Wyatt saw that, he knew he had less than twenty-four hours to "steal" the company away from Trion—no time to get board approval, even if his board would have approved it. Which they probably wouldn't have anyway.

    I noticed the unoccupied third place setting, and I wondered who the other guest would be. I had no appetite, didn't feel like drinking coffee. "But the only way to make Wyatt swallow the hook," I said, "was to have it come from a spy he thought he'd planted." My voice was trembling, and now I was feeling anger most of all.




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    Paranoia (166 of 170)

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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    91

    On the way up to the penthouse the elevator stopped at the cafeteria, and a man in an aloha shirt with a ponytail got in.

    "Cassidy," Mordden said. He was clutching a cinnamon-swirl bun and a cup of coffee, and he didn't seem surprised to see me. "The Sammy Glick of the microchip. Word has it that Icarus's wings have melted."

    I nodded.

    He bowed his head. "It's true what they say. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it."

    "Yep."

    He pressed a button and was silent while the doors closed and the cabin ascended. It was just me and him. "I see you're going up to the penthouse. The Executive Reception Suite. I take it you're not receiving dignitaries or Japanese businessmen."

    I just looked at him.

    "Now perhaps you finally understand the truth about our fearless leader," he said.

    "No, I don't think I do. As a matter of fact, I don't even understand you. For some reason, you're the one person here who has utter contempt for Goddard, everyone knows it. You're rich. You don't need to work. Yet you're still here."

    He shrugged. "By my choice. I told you, I'm fireproof."

    "What the hell does that mean, already? Look, you're never going to see my ass again. You can tell me now. I'm outta here. I'm fucking dead."

    "Yes, roadkill is, I believe, the term of art around here." He blinked once. "I'll actually miss you. Millions wouldn't." He was making a joke out of it, but I knew he was trying to say something heartfelt. For whatever reason, he'd actually taken a liking to me. Or maybe it was just pity. With a guy like Mordden, it was hard to tell.

    "Enough with the riddles," I said. "Will you please explain what the hell you're talking about?"

    Mordden smirked, did a fairly passable imitation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. "Since you're about to die, Mr. Bond—" He broke off. "Oh, I wish I could lay it all out for you. But I'd never violate the nondisclosure agreement I signed eighteen years ago."

    "Mind putting it in terms my puny earthling mind can comprehend?"

    The elevator stopped, the doors opened, and Mordden got out. He put his hand on one of the doors to hold it open. "That nondisclosure agreement is now worth about ten million dollars to me in Trion stock. Perhaps twice that, at today's share price. It certainly wouldn't be in my interest to jeopardize that arrangement by breaking my contractually obligated silence."

    "What sort of NDA?"

    "As I said, I surely don't wish to jeopardize my lucrative arrangement with Augustine Goddard by telling you that the famous Goddard modem was invented not by Jock Goddard, a rather mediocre engineer if brilliant corporate gamesman, but by yours truly. Why would I want to jeopardize ten million dollars by revealing that the technological breakthrough that transformed this company into a powerhouse of the communications revolution was the brainchild not of the corporate gamesman but of one of his earliest hires, a lowly engineer? Goddard could have had it for free, as my corporate contract stipulated, but he wanted sole credit. That was worth a good deal of money to him. Why should I want to reveal such a thing and thereby tarnish the legend, the sterling reputation of, what was it Newsweek once called him, 'Corporate America's Senior Statesman'? Certainly it would not be politic of me to point out the hollowness of Jock Goddard's whole Will Rogers shtick, that down-to-earth cornpone cracker-barrel image that cloaks such ruthlessness. For heaven's sake, that would be like telling you there's no Santa Claus. Why would I want to disillusion you—and risk my financial bounty?"

    "You're telling me the truth?" was all I could think to say.

    "I'm not telling you anything," Mordden said. "It wouldn't be in my interest. Adieu, Cassidy."




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    90

    The door to the conference room opened. It was one of the security guards from before.

    "Mr. Goddard's downstairs at the press conference," the guard said. He was tall, around forty, wore wire-rim glasses. His blue Trion uniform fit badly. "He said you should go down to the Visitors Center."

    I nodded.

    The main lobby of Building A was hectic with people, loud voices, photographers and reporters swarming all over the place. I stepped out of the elevator into the chaos, feeling disoriented. I couldn't really make out what anyone was saying in the hubbub; it was all background noise to me. One of the doors that led to the huge futuristic auditorium kept opening and closing. I caught glimpses of a giant image of Jock Goddard projected on a screen, heard his amplified voice.

    I elbowed my way through the crowd. I thought I heard someone call my name, but I kept going, moving slowly, zombielike.

    The auditorium's floor sloped down to a glittering pod of a stage, where Goddard was standing in a spotlight, wearing his black mock turtleneck and brown tweed jacket. He looked like a professor of classics at a small New England college, except for the orange TV makeup on his face. Behind him was a huge screen on which his talking head was projected five or six feet high.

    The place was packed with journalists, glaringly bright with TV camera lights.

    "... This acquisition," he was saying, "will double the size of our sales force, and it will double and in some sectors even triple our market penetration." I didn't know what he was talking about. I stood in the back of the theater, listening.

    "By bringing together two great companies, we're creating one world-class technology leader. Trion Systems is now without question one of the world's leading consumer electronics companies.

    "And I'd like to make one more announcement," Goddard went on. He gave a twinkle-eyed pixie smile. "I've always believed in the importance of giving back. So this morning Trion is pleased to announce the establishment of an exciting new charitable foundation. Beginning with seed money of five million dollars, this new foundation hopes, over the course of the next several years, to put a computer into thousands of public schools in America, in school districts that don't have the resources to provide computers for their students. We think this is the best way to bridge the digital divide. This is a venture that's long been in the works at Trion. We call it the AURORA Project—for Aurora, the Greek goddess of the dawn. We believe the AURORA Project will welcome the dawn of a bright new future for all of us in this great country."

    There was a smattering of polite applause.

    "Finally, let me extend a warm welcome to the nearly thirty thousand talented and hardworking employees of Wyatt Telecommunications to the Trion family. Thank you very much." Goddard bowed his head slightly and stepped off the stage. More applause, which gradually swelled into an enthusiastic ovation.

    The giant projection of Jock Goddard's face dissolved into a TV news broadcast—CNBC's morning financial program, Squawk Box.

    On half the screen, Maria Bartiromo was broadcasting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. On the other half of the screen was the Trion logo and a graph of its share price over the last few minutes—a line that went straight up.

    "—as trading in Trion Systems hit record volume," she was saying. "Trion shares have already almost doubled and show no sign of slowing down, after the announcement before the bell this morning by Trion founder and chief executive officer Augustine Goddard that it's acquiring one of its main competitors, the troubled Wyatt Telecommunications."

    I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Flo, elegant, a grave expression on her face. She was wearing a wireless headset. "Adam, can you please come to the Penthouse Executive Reception Suite? Jock wants to see you."

    I nodded but kept watching. I wasn't really able to think clearly.

    Now the picture on the big screen showed Nick Wyatt being hustled out of Wyatt headquarters by a couple of guards. The wide-angle shot took in the building's reflecting glass, the emerald turf outside, grazing flocks of journalists. You could tell that he was both furious and humiliated as he did the perp walk.

    "Wyatt Telecommunications was a debt-plagued company, nearly three billion dollars in debt, when the stunning news leaked out late yesterday that the company's flamboyant founder, Nicholas Wyatt, had signed a secret and unauthorized agreement, without the vote or even the knowledge of his board of directors, to acquire a small California-based startup called Delphos, a tiny company without any revenue, for five hundred million dollars in cash," Maria Bartiromo was saying.

    The camera zoomed in closer on the man. Tall and burly, hair gleaming like black enamel, coppery tan. Nick Wyatt in the flesh. The camera moved in even closer. His formfitting dove-gray silk shirt was dappled with flop sweat. He was being trundled into a town car. He had this "What the fuck did they do to me?" expression on his face. I knew the feeling.

    "That left Wyatt without enough to cover its debt payments. The company's board met yesterday afternoon and announced the firing of Mr. Wyatt for gross violations of corporate governance, just moments before bondholders forced the sale of the company to Trion Systems at a fire-sale price of ten cents on the dollar. Mr. Wyatt was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman said he was resigning to spend more time with his family. Nick Wyatt is unmarried and has no children. David?"

    Another tap on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Adam, but he wants to see you right now," Flo said.




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    Paranoia (164 of 170)

    DailyLit  
    164
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    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 Nine:
    Active Measures

    Active Measures: Russian term for intelligence operations that will affect another nation's policies or actions. These can be either covert or open and can include a wide variety of activities, including assassination.
    —Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage

    89

    It was close to six in the morning when the security guards put me in a locked conference room on the fifth floor—no windows, only one door. The table was littered with scrawl-covered notepads, empty Snapple bottles. There was an overhead projector, a whiteboard that hadn't been erased, and, fortunately, a computer.

    I wasn't a prisoner, exactly. I was being "detained." It was made clear to me that if I didn't cooperate, I'd be turned right over to the police, and that didn't seem to be a very good idea.

    And Goddard—sounding weirdly calm—had told me that he wanted to speak with me when he got in. He didn't want to hear anything else, which was good, because I didn't know what to say.

    Later I learned that Seth had just made it out of the building, though without the truck. I tried e-mailing Jock. I still didn't know how I could explain myself, so I just wrote:

    Jock—

    Need to talk. I want to explain.

    Adam

    But there was no reply.

    I remembered, suddenly, that I still had my cell phone with me—I'd tucked it into one of my pockets, and they hadn't found it. I switched it on. There were five messages, but before I could check my voice mail, the phone rang.

    "Yeah," I said.

    "Adam. Oh, shit, man." It was Antwoine. He sounded desperate, almost hysterical. "Oh, man. Oh, shit. I don't want to go back in. Shit, I don't want to go back inside."

    "Antwoine, what are you talking about? Start from the beginning."

    "These guys tried to break in your dad's apartment. They must've thought it was empty."

    I felt a surge of irritation. Hadn't the neighborhood kids figured out yet that there was nothing in my dad's shithole apartment worth breaking in for?

    "Jesus, are you okay?" I said.

    "Oh, I'm okay. Two of 'em got away, but I grabbed the slower guy—oh, shit! Oh, man, I don't want to get in trouble now! You gotta help me."

    This was a conversation I really didn't feel like having, not now. I could hear some kind of animal noise in the background, some sort of moaning or scuffling or something. "Calm down, man," I said. "Take a deep breath and sit down."

    "I'm sittin' on the motherfucker right now. What's freaking me out is this fucker says he knows you."

    "Knows me?" Suddenly I got a funny feeling. "Describe the guy, could you?"

    "I don't know, he's a white guy—"

    "His face, I mean."

    Antwoine sounded sheepish. "Right now? Kinda red and mushy. My bad. I think I broke his nose."

    I sighed. "Oh, Jesus, Antwoine, ask him what his name is."

    Antwoine put down the phone. I heard the low rumble of Antwoine's voice, followed immediately by a yelp. Antwoine came back on. "He says his name is Meacham."

    I flashed on an image of Arnold Meacham, broken and bleeding, lying on my dad's kitchen floor under three hundred pounds of Antwoine Leonard, and I felt a brief, blessed spasm of pleasure. Maybe I had been watched when I'd dropped by my dad's apartment. Maybe Meacham and his goons figured I'd hidden something there.

    "Oh, I wouldn't worry about it," I said. "I promise you that asshole's not going to cause you any more trouble." If I were Meacham, I thought, I'd go into the witness protection program.

    Antwoine now sounded relieved. "Look, I'm really sorry about this, man."

    "Sorry? Hey, don't apologize. Believe me, that's the first piece of good news I've heard in a long time."

    And it would probably be the last.

    I figured I had a few hours to kill before Goddard would show up, and I couldn't just sit there anguishing over what I'd done, or what would be done to me. So I did what I always do to pass the time: I went on the Internet.

    That was how I began to put some things together.




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