Paranoia (020 of 170)

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


The headquarters of Trion Systems looked like a brushed-chrome Pentagon. Each of the five sides was a seven-story "wing." It had been designed by some famous architect. Underneath was a parking garage filled with BMWs and Range Rovers and a lot of VW bugs and you name it, but no reserved spaces, so far as I could see.

I gave my name to the B Wing "lobby ambassador," which was their fancy name for the receptionist. She printed out an ID sticker that said VISITOR. I pasted it onto the breast pocket of my gray Armani suit and waited in the lobby for a woman named Stephanie to come get me.

She was the assistant to the hiring VP, Tom Lundgren. I tried to zone out, meditate, relax. I reminded myself that I couldn't ask for a better setup. Trion was looking to fill a product marketing manager slot—a guy had left suddenly, and I'd been custom-tooled for the job, genetically engineered, digitally remastered. In the last few weeks a few selected headhunters had been told about this amazing young guy at Wyatt who was just ripe for the picking. Low-hanging fruit. The word was spread, casually, at an industry convention, on the grapevine. I began to get all sorts of calls from recruiters on my voice mail.

Plus I'd done my homework on Trion Systems. I'd learned it was a consumer-electronics giant founded in the early 1970s by the legendary Augustine Goddard, whose nickname was not Gus but Jock. He was almost a cult figure. He graduated from Cal Tech, served in the navy, went to work for Fairchild Semiconductor and then Lockheed, and invented some kind of breakthrough technology for manufacturing color TV picture tubes. He was generally considered to be a genius, but unlike some of the tyrant geniuses who found huge multinational corporations, he apparently wasn't an asshole. People liked him, were fiercely loyal to him. He was kind of a distant, paternal presence. The rare glimpses of Jock Goddard were called "sightings," as if he were a UFO.

Even though Trion didn't make color TV tubes anymore, the Goddard tube had been licensed to Sony and Mitsubishi and all the other Japanese companies that make America's TVs. Later Trion moved into electronic communications—catapulted by the famous Goddard modem. These days Trion made cell phones and pagers, computer components, color laser printers, personal digital assistants, all that kind of stuff.

A wiry woman with frizzy brown hair emerged from a door into the lobby. "You must be Adam."

I gave her a nice firm handshake. "Nice to meet you."

"I'm Stephanie," she said. "I'm Tom Lundgren's assistant." She took me to the elevator and up to the sixth floor. We made small talk. I was trying to sound enthusiastic but not geeky, and she seemed distracted. The sixth floor was your typical cube farm, cubicles spread out as far as the eye could see, high as an elephant's eye. The route she led me down was a maze; I couldn't retrace my steps to the elevator bank if I dropped bread crumbs. Everything here was standard-issue corporate, except for the computer monitor I passed by whose screen saver was a 3-D image of Jock Goddard's head grinning and spinning like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. Do that at Wyatt—with Nick Wyatt's head, I mean—and Wyatt's corporate goons would probably break your knees.

We came to a conference room with a plaque on the door that said STUDEBAKER.

"Studebaker, huh?" I said.

"Yeah, all the conference rooms are named after classic American cars. Mustang, Thunderbird, Corvette, Camaro. Jock loves American cars." She said Jock with a little twist, almost with quotation marks around it, seemingly indicating that she wasn't really on a first-name basis with the CEO but that's what everyone called him. "Can I get you something to drink?"

Judith Bolton had told me to always say yes, because people like doing favors, and everyone, even the admins, would be giving feedback on what they thought of me. "Coke, Pepsi, whatever," I said. I didn't want to sound too fussy. "Thanks."

I sat down at one side of the table, the side facing the door, not at the head of the table. A couple of minutes later a compact guy wearing khakis and a navy-blue golf shirt with the Trion logo on it came bounding into the room. Tom Lundgren: I recognized him instantly from the dossier that Dr. Bolton had prepared for me. The VP of the Personal Communications Sector business unit. Forty-three, five kids, an avid golfer. Right behind him followed Stephanie, holding a can of Coke and a bottle of Aquafina water.

He gave me a crusher handshake. "Adam, I'm Tom Lundgren."

"Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you. I hear great things about you."

I smiled, shrugged modestly. Lundgren wasn't even wearing a tie, I thought, and I looked like a funeral director. Judith Bolton warned me that might happen, but said it was better for me to overdress for the interviews than to go too casual. Sign of respect and all that.

He sat down next to me, turned to face me. Stephanie shut the door behind her quietly as she left.

"So working at Wyatt's pretty intense, I bet." He had thin, thin lips and a quick smile that clicked on and off. His face was chafed, reddened, like either he played too much golf or had rosacea or something. His right leg pistoned up and down. He was a bundle of nervous energy, a ganglion; he seemed overcaffeinated, and he made me talk fast. Then I remembered he was a Mormon and didn't drink caffeine. I'd hate to see him after a pot of coffee. He'd probably go into intergalactic orbit.

"Intense is how I like it," I said.

"Good to hear it. So do we." His smile clicked on, then off. "I think there's more type A people here than anywhere else. Everyone's got a faster clock speed." He unscrewed the top of his water bottle and took a sip. "I always say Trion's a great place to work—when you're on vacation. You can return e-mails, voice mails, get all kinds of stuff done, but man, you pay a price for taking off time. You come back, your voice mailbox is full, you get crushed like a grape."

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