COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Nick Wyatt's house was in the poshest suburb, a place everyone's heard of, so rich that they make jokes about it. It was easily the biggest, fanciest, most outrageously high-end place in a town known for big, fancy, and outrageously high-end estates. No doubt it was important to Wyatt to live in the house that everyone talked about, that Architectural Digest put on its cover, that the local journalists were always trying to find excuses to get into and write about. They loved doing awestruck, jaw-dropping takes on this Silicon San Simeon. They loved the Japanese thing—the fake Zen serenity and spareness and simplicity clashing so grotesquely with Wyatt's fleet of Bentley convertibles and his totally un-Zen stridency.
In Wyatt Telecommunications' PR department one guy's entire job was handling Nick Wyatt's personal publicity, planting items in People and USA Today or wherever. From time to time he put out stories about the Wyatt estate, which was how I knew it had cost fifty million dollars, that it was way bigger and fancier than Bill Gates's lake house near Seattle, that it was a replica of a fourteenth-century Japanese palace that Wyatt had had built in Osaka and shipped in pieces to the U.S. It was surrounded by forty acres of Japanese gardens full of rare species of flowers, rock gardens, a man-made waterfall, a man-made pond, antique wooden bridges flown in from Japan. Even the irregularly cut stones paving the driveway had been shipped from Japan.
Of course I didn't see any of this as I drove up the endless stone driveway. I saw a stone guardhouse and a tall iron gate that swung open automatically, seemingly miles of bamboo, a carport with six different-colored Bentley convertibles like a roll of Lifesavers (no American muscle cars for this guy), and a huge low-slung wooden house surrounded by a tall stone wall.
I'd gotten the order to report for this meeting from Meacham by secure e-mail—a message to my Hushmail account from "Arthur," sent through the Finnish anonymizer, the remailer that made it untraceable. There was a whole vocabulary of code language that made it look like a confirmation of an order I'd placed with some online merchant, but actually told me when and where and so on.
Meacham had given me precise instructions on where and how to drive. I had to drive to a Denny's parking lot and wait for a dark blue Lincoln, which I then followed to Wyatt's house. I guess the point was to make sure I wasn't being followed there. They were being a little paranoid about it, I thought, but who was I to argue? After all, I was the guy on the hot seat.
As soon as I got out of the car, the Lincoln pulled away. A Filipino man answered the door, told me to take off my shoes. He led me into a waiting room furnished with shoji screens, tatami mats, a low black lacquered table, a low futon-looking squarish white couch. Not very comfortable. I thumbed through the magazines arrayed artistically on the black coffee table—The Robb Report, Architectural Digest (including, naturally, the issue with Wyatt's house on the cover), a catalog from Sotheby's.
Finally, the houseman or whatever you call him reappeared and nodded at me. I followed him down a long hallway and walked toward another almost-empty room where I could see Wyatt seated at the head of a long, low black dining table.
As we approached the entrance to the dining room I suddenly heard a high-pitched alarm go off, incredibly loud. I looked around in bewilderment but before I could figure out what was going on I was grabbed by the Filipino man and another guy who appeared out of nowhere, and the two of them wrestled me to the ground. I said, "What the fuck?" and struggled a little, but these guys were as powerful as sumo wrestlers. The second guy then held me while the Filipino patted me down. What were they looking for, weapons? The Filipino guy found my iPod MP3 music player, yanked it out of my workbag. He looked at it, said something in whatever they speak in the Philippines, handed it to the other guy, who looked at it, turned it over, said something gruff and indecipherable.
I sat up. "This how you welcome all Mr. Wyatt's guests?" I said. The houseman took the iPod and, entering the dining room, handed it to Wyatt, who was watching the action. Wyatt handed it right back to the Filipino without even looking at it.
I got to my feet. "Your guys never seen one of those before? Or is outside music not allowed in here?"
"They're just being thorough," Wyatt said. He was wearing a tight black long-sleeved shirt that looked like it was made of linen, and probably cost more than I made in a month, even now at Trion. He seemed to be more tanned than normal. He must sleep in a tanning bed, I thought.
"Afraid I might be packing?" I said.
"I'm not 'afraid' of anything, Cassidy. I like everyone to play by the rules. If you're smart and don't try to get tricky, everything will go fine. Don't even think about trying to take out an 'insurance policy,' because we're way ahead of you." Funny, the idea had never occurred to me until he mentioned it.
"I don't follow."
"I'm saying that if you plan to do something foolish like try to tape-record our meetings or any phone calls you get from me or anyone else associated with me, things will not go well for you. You don't need insurance, Adam. I'm your insurance."
A beautiful Japanese woman in a kimono appeared with a tray and handed him a rolled hot towel with silver tongs. He wiped his hands and handed it back to her. Up close you could tell that he'd had a facelift. The skin was too tight, gave his eyes an almost Eskimo cast.
"Your home phone isn't secure," he continued. "Neither is your home voice mail or computer or your cell phone. You're to initiate contact with us only in case of emergency, except in response to a request from us. All other times you'll be contacted by secure, encrypted e-mail. Now, may I see what you have?"