COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part One: 4 (Cont'd)
I'm almost never speechless, but this time I couldn't think of anything clever to say. Meacham was watching me too, a nasty, sadistic little smile on his knife-blade face. I was thinking that I knew guys in the company, in my business unit, who were always scheming how to get thirty seconds with Wyatt, in an elevator or at a product launch or whatever. They'd even prepared an "elevator pitch." Here I was in the big guy's office and I was silent as a mannequin.
"You an actor or something in your spare time?"
I shook my head.
"Well, you're good, anyway. A regular Marlon fucking Brando. You may suck at marketing routers to enterprise customers, but you are a fucking Olympic-level bullshit artist."
"If that's a compliment, sir, thank you."
"I hear you do a damned good Nick Wyatt—that true? Let's see it."
I blushed, shook my head.
"Anyway, bottom line, you ripped me off and you seem to think you're going to get away with it."
I looked appalled. "No, sir, I don't think I'm going to 'get away with it.' "
"Spare me. I don't need another demonstration. You had me at hello." He flicked his hand like a Roman emperor, and Meacham handed him a folder. He glanced at it. "Your aptitude scores are in the top percentile. You were an engineering major in college, what kind?"
"You wanted to be an engineer when you grew up?"
"My dad wanted me to major in something I could get a real job with. I wanted to play lead guitar with Pearl Jam."
"No," I admitted.
He half-smiled. "You did college on the five-year-plan. What happened?"
"I got kicked out for a year."
"I appreciate your honesty. At least you're not trying that 'junior year abroad' shit. What happened?"
"I pulled a stupid prank. I had a bad semester, so I hacked into the college computer system and changed my transcript. My roommate's too."
"So it's an old trick." He looked at his watch, glanced at Meacham, then back at me. "I've got an idea for you, Adam." I didn't like the way he said my first name; it was creepy. "A very good idea. An extremely generous offer, in fact."
"Thank you, sir." I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew it couldn't be good or generous.
"What I'm about to say to you I'm going to deny I ever said. In fact, I won't just deny it, I'll fucking sue you for defamation if you ever repeat it, are we clear? I will fucking crush you." Whatever he was talking about, he had the resources. He was a billionaire, like the third or fourth richest man in America, but he had once been number two before our share price collapsed. He wanted to be the richest—he was gunning for Bill Gates—but that didn't seem likely.
My heart thudded. "Sure."
"Are you clear on your situation? Behind door number one you've got the certainty—the fucking certainty—of at least twenty years in prison. So it's that, or else whatever's behind the curtain. You want to play Let's Make a Deal?"
I swallowed. "Sure."
"Let me tell you what's behind the curtain, Adam. It's a very nice future for a smart engineering major like you, only you have to play by the rules. My rules."
My face was prickly-hot.
"I want you to take on a special project for me."
"I want you to take a job at Trion."
"At ... Trion Systems?" I didn't understand.
"In new product marketing. They've got a couple of openings in strategic places in the company."
"They'd never hire me."
"No, you're right, they'd never hire you. Not a lazy fuckup like you. But a Wyatt superstar, a young hotshot who's on the verge of going supernova, they'd hire you in a nanosecond."
"I don't follow."
"Street-smart guy like you? You just lost a couple of IQ points. Come on, dipshit. The Lucid—that was your baby, right?"