COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Chad Pierson was standing at a whiteboard, writing up a meeting agenda with red and blue markers, when I walked into Corvette. This was a conference room like every other conference room I'd ever seen—the big table (only high-tech-designer black instead of walnut), the Polycom speakerphone console sitting in the middle of the table like a geometric black widow spider, a basket of fruit and ice bucket of soft drinks and juice boxes.
He gave me a quick wink as I sat down on one of the long sides of the table. There were a couple of other people already there. Nora Sommers was sitting at the head of the table, wearing black reading glasses on a chain around her neck, reading through a file and occasionally muttering something to Chad, her scribe. She didn't seem to notice me.
Next to me sat a gray-haired guy in a blue Trion polo shirt tapping away on a Maestro, probably doing e-mail. He was thin but had a potbelly, skinny arms and knobby elbows poking out of his short-sleeved shirt, a fringe of gray hair and unexpectedly long gray sideburns, big red ears. He wore bifocals. If he'd had a different kind of shirt on, he'd probably be wearing a plastic shirt-pocket protector. He looked like an old-style nerd engineer from the Hewlett-Packard-calculator days. His teeth were small and brown, like he chewed tobacco.
This had to be Phil Bohjalian, the old-timer, though from the way Mordden talked about him, I half expected him to be using a quill and parchment. He kept sneaking nervous, furtive glances at me.
Noah Mordden slipped quietly into the room, didn't acknowledge me or anyone else for that matter, and opened his notebook computer at the far end of the conference table. More people filed in, laughing and talking. There were maybe a dozen people in the room now. Chad finished at the whiteboard and put his stuff down in the empty seat next to me. He clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Glad you're with us," he said.
Nora Sommers cleared her throat, stood up, walked over to the whiteboard. "Well, why don't we get started? All right, I'd like to introduce our newest team member, to those of you who haven't yet had the privilege of meeting him. Adam Cassidy, welcome."
She fluttered her red fingernails at me, and all heads turned. I smiled modestly, ducked my head.
"We were very fortunate in being able to steal Adam away from Wyatt, where he was one of the key players on Lucid. We're hoping he'll apply some of his magic to Maestro." She smiled beatifically.
Chad spoke up, looking from side to side as if he were sharing a secret. "This bad boy's a genius, I've talked to him, so everything you've heard is true." He turned to me, his baby-blues wide, and shook my hand.
Nora went on, "As we all know far too well, we're getting some serious pushback on Maestro. The knives are out throughout Trion, and I don't have to name names." There was some low chortling. "We have a rather large, looming deadline—a presentation before Mr. Goddard himself, where we will make the case for maintaining the Maestro product line. This is far more than a functional staff update, more than a checkpoint meeting. This is life or death. Our enemies want to put us in the electric chair; we're pleading for a stay of execution. Are we clear about that?"