COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Nicholas Wyatt was one scary dude. I had never met him before, but I'd seen him on TV, on CNBC, and on the corporate Web site, the video messages he'd recorded. I'd even caught a few glimpses of him, live, in my three years working for the company he founded. Up close he was even more intimidating. He had a deep tan, shoe polish–black hair that was gelled and combed straight back. His teeth were perfectly even and Vegas-white.
He was fifty-six but didn't look it, whatever fifty-six is supposed to look like. Anyway, he sure didn't look like my dad at fifty-six, a paunchy, balding old man even in his so-called prime. This was some other fifty-six.
I had no idea why he was here. What could the CEO of the company threaten me with that Meacham hadn't already pulled out? Death by a thousand paper cuts? Being eaten alive by wild boar?
Secretly I had this fleeting fantasy that he was going to high-five me, congratulate me for pulling off a good one, say he liked my spirit, my moxie. But that sad little daydream shriveled as quickly as it popped into my desperate mind. Nicholas Wyatt wasn't some basketball-playing priest. He was a vindictive son of a bitch.
I'd heard stories. I knew that if you had any brains you made a point of avoiding him. You kept your head down, tried not to attract his attention. He was famous for his rages, his tantrums and shouting matches. He was known to fire people on the spot, have Security pack up their desks, have them escorted out of the building. At his executive staff meetings he always picked one person to humiliate the whole time. You didn't go to him with bad news, and you didn't waste a split second of his time. If you were unlucky enough to have to make some PowerPoint presentation to him, you'd rehearse it and rehearse it until it was perfect, but if there was a single glitch in your presentation, he'd interrupt you, shouting, "I don't believe this!"
People said he'd mellowed a lot since the early years, but from what? He was viciously competitive, a weightlifter and triathlete. Guys who worked out in the company gym said he was always challenging the serious jocks to chin-up competitions. He never lost, and when the other guy gave up he'd taunt, "Want me to keep going?" They said he had the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, like a brown condom stuffed with walnuts.
Not only was he insane about winning, for him it wasn't sweet unless he also got to ridicule the loser. At a companywide Christmas party he once wrote the name of his chief competitor, Trion Systems, on a wine bottle, and smashed it against the wall, to a lot of drunken cheering and catcalls.
He ran a high-testosterone shop. His top guys all dressed like he did, in seven-thousand-dollar suits by Armani or Prada or Brioni or Kiton or other designers I hadn't even heard of. And they put up with his shit because they were disgustingly well compensated for it. The joke about him that everybody's heard by now: What's the difference between God and Nicholas Wyatt? God doesn't think he's Nicholas Wyatt.
Nick Wyatt slept three hours a night, seemed to eat nothing but PowerBars for breakfast and lunch, was a nuclear reactor of nervous energy, perspired heavily. People called him "The Exterminator." He managed by fear and never forgot a slight. When an ex-friend of his got fired as CEO of some big tech company, he sent a wreath of black roses—his assistants always knew where to get black roses. The quote he's famous for, the one thing he repeated so often it should have been carved in granite above the main entrance, made into a screen saver on everyone's desktop, was "Of course I'm paranoid. I want everyone who works for me to be paranoid. Success demands paranoia."