COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
In the middle of the night my cell phone rang, ear-splittingly loud, only it wasn't the middle of the night. I could see a shaft of light behind the shades. The clock said five-thirty—A.M.? P.M.? I was so disoriented I had no idea. I grabbed the phone, wished I hadn't left it on.
"You're still asleep?" a voice said, incredulous.
"Who is this?"
"You left the Audi in a tow zone." Arnold Meacham, I realized at once: Wyatt's security Nazi. "It's not your car, it's leased by Wyatt Telecommunications, and the least you can do is take decent care of it—not leave it lying around like a discarded condom."
It came back to me: last night, getting wasted at Alley Cat, somehow getting home, forgetting to set the alarm ... Trion!
"Oh, shit," I said, jolting upright, my stomach doing a flip. My head throbbed, felt enormous, like one of those aliens on Star Trek.
"We set out the rules quite clearly," Meacham said. "No more carousing. No partying. You're expected to function at peak capacity." Was he talking faster and louder than normal? He sure seemed to be. I could barely keep up.
"I know," I croaked lamely.
"This is not an auspicious start."
"It was real—real busy yesterday. My first day, and my father—"
"I really don't give a shit. We have an explicit agreement, which you're expected to abide by. And what have you turned up on the skunkworks?"
"Skunkworks?" I flung my legs around to the floor, sat on the edge of the bed, massaged my temples with my free hand.
"Classified, codeword projects. What the hell do you think you're there for?"
"No, it's too early," I said. "Too soon, I mean." Slowly my brain was starting to function. "I was escorted everywhere yesterday. There wasn't a minute when I was left alone. It would have been far too risky for me to do anything sneaky. You don't want me blowing this assignment on the first day."
Meacham was silent for a few seconds. "Fair enough," he said. "But you should have an opportunity quite soon, and I expect you to take advantage of it. I want a report by close of business today, are we clear?"