Paranoia (011 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.

Part One: 4 (Cont'd)

He was talking about Wyatt Telecom's flagship product, this all-in-one PDA, sort of a Palm Pilot on steroids. An incredible toy. I had nothing to do with it. I didn't even own one.

"They'd never believe it," I said.

"Listen to me, Adam. I make my biggest business decisions on gut instinct, and my gut tells me you've got the brass balls and the smarts and the talent to do it. You in or out?"

"You want me to report back to you, is that it?"

His eyes bore down on me, steely. "More than that. I want you to get information."

"Like being a spy. A mole or whatever."

He turned his palms open, like, are you a moron or what? "Whatever you want to call it. There's some valuable, uh, intellectual property I want to get my hands on inside Trion, and their security is damned near impenetrable. Only a Trion insider can get what I want, and not just any insider. A major player. Either you recruit one, buy one, or you get one in the front door. Here we got a smart, personable young guy, comes highly recommended—I think we got a pretty decent shot."

"And what if I'm caught?"

"You won't be," Wyatt said.

"But if I am ... ?"

"If you do the job right," Meacham said, "you won't be caught. And if somehow you screw up and you are caught—well, we'll be here to protect you."

Somehow I doubted that. "They'll be totally suspicious."

"Of what?" Wyatt said. "In this business people jump from company to company all the time. The top talent gets poached. Low-hanging fruit. You're fresh off a big win at Wyatt, you maybe don't have the juice you think you should, you're looking for more responsibility, a better opportunity, more money—the usual bullshit."

"They'll see right through me."

"Not if you do your job right," said Wyatt. "You're going to have to learn product marketing, you're going to have to be fucking brilliant, you're going to have to work harder than you've ever worked in your whole sorry life. Really bust your ass. Only a major player's going to get what I want. Try your phone-it-in shit at Trion, you'll either get shot or shoved aside, and then our little experiment is over. And you get door number one."

"I thought new product guys all have to have MBAs."

"Nah, Goddard thinks MBAs are bullshit—one of the few things we agree on. He doesn't have one. Thinks it's limiting. Speaking of limiting." He snapped his fingers, and Meacham handed him something, a small metal box, familiar looking. An Altoids box. He popped it open. Inside were a few white pills that looked like aspirin but weren't. Definitely familiar. "You're going to have to cut out this shit, this Ecstasy or whatever you call it." I kept the Altoids box on my coffee table at home; I wondered when and how they got it, but I was too dazed to be pissed off. He dropped the box into a little black leather trash can next to the couch. It made a thunk sound. "Same with pot, booze, all that shit. You're going to have to straighten up and fly right, guy."

That seemed like the least of my problems. "And what if I don't get hired?"

"Door number one." He gave an ugly smile. "And don't pack your golf shoes. Pack your K-Y."

"Even if I give it my best shot?"

"Your job is not to blow it. With the quals we're giving you, and with a coach like me, you won't have any excuse."

"What kind of money are we talking about?"

"What kind of money? The fuck do I know? Believe me, it'll be a hell of a lot more than you get here. Six figures anyway." I tried not to gulp visibly.

"Plus my salary here."

He turned his tight face over to me and gave me a dead stare. He didn't have any expression in his eyes. Botox? I wondered. "You're shitting me."

"I'm taking an enormous risk."

"Excuse me? I'm the one taking the risk. You're a total fucking black box, a big fat question mark."

"If you really thought so, you wouldn't ask me to do it."

He turned to Meacham. "I don't believe this shit."

Meacham looked like he'd swallowed a turd. "You little prick," he said. "I ought to pick up the phone right now—"

Wyatt held up an imperial hand. "That's okay. He's ballsy. I like ballsy. You get hired, you do your job right, you get to double-dip. But if you fuck up—"

"I know," I said. "Door number one. Let me think it over, get back to you tomorrow."

Wyatt's jaw dropped, his eyes blank. He paused, then said, all icy: "I'll give you till nine A.M. When the U.S. Attorney gets into his office."

"I advise you not to say a word about this to any of your buddies, your father, anybody," Meacham put in. "Or you won't know what hit you."

"I understand," I replied. "No need to threaten me."

"Oh, that's not a threat," said Nicholas Wyatt. "That's a promise."

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