COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
The Maestro marketing group met once again in Corvette, everyone sitting pretty much in the same place, as if we had assigned seats.
But this time Tom Lundgren was in the room, sitting in a chair against the wall in the back, not at the conference table. Then, just before Nora called the meeting to order, in walked Paul Camilletti, Trion's CFO, looking spiffy, like a matinee idol out of Love Italian Style, wearing a nubby dark-gray houndstooth jacket over a black mock turtleneck. He took a seat next to Tom Lundgren, and you could feel the entire room go still, electrically charged, as if someone had flipped a power switch.
Even Nora looked a little rattled. "Well," she said, "why don't we get started? I'm pleased to welcome Paul Camilletti, our chief financial officer—welcome, Paul."
He ducked his head, the kind of acknowledgment that said, Don't pay any attention to me—I'm just going to sit here incognito, anonymous, like an elephant in the room.
"Who else is with us today? Who's teleconning in?"
A voice came over the intercom speaker: "Ken Hsiao, Singapore."
Then: "Mike Matera, Brussels."
"All right," she said, "so the gang's all here." She looked excited, jazzed, but it was hard to tell how much of that was a show of enthusiasm she was putting on for Tom Lundgren and Paul Camilletti. "This seems as good a time as any to take a look at forecasts, drill down, get a sense of where we stand. None of us wants to hear that old cliché, 'dying brand,' am I right? Maestro is no dying brand. We are not going to torpedo the brand equity that Trion has built up in this product line just for the sake of novelty. I think we're all on board on that."
"Nora, this is Ken in Singapore."
"Uh, we're feeling some pressure here, I have to say, from Palm and Sony and BlackBerry, especially in the Enterprise space. Advance orders for Maestro Gold in Asia Pacific are looking a little soft."
"Thank you, Ken," she said hastily, cutting him off. "Kimberly, what's your sense of the channel community?"
Kimberly Ziegler, wan and nervous-looking with a head of wild curls and horn-rimmed glasses, looked up. "My take is quite different from Ken's, I have to say."
"Really? In what way?"
"I'm seeing product differentiation that's benefiting us, actually. We've got a better price point than either BlackBerry or Sony's advanced text-paging devices. It's true there's a little wear-and-tear on the brand, but the upgrade in the processor and the flash memory are really going to add value. So I think we're hanging in there, especially in the vertical markets."
Suckup, I thought.
"Excellent," Nora beamed. "Good to hear. I'd also be quite interested to hear whatever feedback that's come in on GoldDust—" She saw Chad holding his index finger in the air. "Yes, Chad?"
"I thought maybe Adam might have a thought or two about GoldDust."
She turned to me. "Terrific, let's hear it," she said as if I'd just volunteered to sit down and play the piano.
"GoldDust?" I said with a knowing smirk. "Like, how 1999 is that? The Betamax of wireless. It's up there with New Coke, cold fusion, XFL football, and the Yugo."
There were some appreciative titters. Nora was watching me closely.
I went on, "The compatibility problems are so massive, we don't even want to go there—I mean, the way GoldDust-enabled devices work only with devices from the same manufacturer, the lack of any standardized code. Philips keeps saying they're going to come out with a new, standardized version of GoldDust—yeah, right, maybe when we're all speaking Esperanto."
Some more laughter, though I noticed in passing that maybe half the people in the room were stone-faced. Tom Lundgren was looking at me with a funny crooked smile, his right leg jackhammering.
I was really grooving now, getting into it. "I mean, the transfer rate is, what, less than one megabit per second? Really pathetic. Less than a tenth of Wi-Fi. This is horse-and-buggy stuff. And let's not even talk about how easy it is to intercept—no security whatsoever."
"Right on," someone said in a low voice, though I didn't catch who it was. Mordden was downright beaming. Phil Bohjalian was watching me through narrowed eyes, his expression cryptic, unreadable. Then I looked over and saw Nora. Her face was flushing. I mean, you could see a wave of red rising from her neck to her wide-set eyes.
"Are you finished?" she snapped.
I felt queasy all of a sudden. This was not the reaction I expected. What, had I gone on too long? "Sure," I said warily.
An Indian-looking guy sitting across from me said, "Why are we revisiting this? I thought you made a final decision on this last week, Nora. You seemed to feel very strongly that the added functionality was worth the cost. So why are you marketing people going back to this old debate? Isn't the matter settled?"
Chad, who'd been studying the table, said, "Hey, come on, guys, give the newbie a break, huh? You can't expect him to know everything—the guy doesn't even know where the cappuccino machine is yet, come on."
"I think we don't need to waste any more time here," said Nora. "The matter's decided. We're adding GoldDust." She gave me a look of the darkest fury.
When the meeting ended, a stomach-churning twenty minutes later, and people began filing out of the room, Mordden gave my shoulder a quick, furtive pat, which should have told me everything. I'd fucked up, big time. People were giving me all sorts of curious looks.
"Uh, Nora," said Paul Camilletti, holding up a finger, "you mind staying behind a sec? I want to go over a few things."
As I walked out, Chad came up to me and spoke in a low voice. "Sounds like she didn't take it well," he said, "but that was really valuable input, guy."