COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
By now I was working insane hours, and I was constantly zonked. In addition to my normal work hours at Trion, I was spending long hours, late into the night, every night, doing Internet research or going over the competitive-intelligence files that Meacham and Wyatt sent over, the ones that made me sound so smart. A couple of times, on the long, traffic-constipated drive home, I almost fell asleep at the wheel. I'd suddenly open my eyes, jolt awake, stop myself at the last second from veering into the lane of oncoming traffic or slamming into the car in front of me. After lunch I'd usually start to fade, and it took massive infusions of caffeine to keep me from folding my arms and passing out in my cubicle. I would fantasize about going home early and getting under the covers in my dark hovel and falling deep asleep in the middle of the afternoon. I was living on coffee and Diet Pepsi and Red Bull. You could see dark circles under my eyes. At least workaholics get some kind of sick buzz out of it; I was just whipped, like a flogged horse in some Russian novel.
But running on fumes wasn't even my biggest problem. The thing was, I was losing track of what my "real" job was and what my "cover" job was. I was so busy just getting by from meeting to meeting, trying to stay on top of things enough that Nora wouldn't smell blood in the water and go after me, that I barely had time to skulk around and gather information on AURORA.
Every once in a while I'd see Mordden, at Maestro meetings or in the employee dining room, and he'd stop to chat. But he never mentioned that night when he either did or didn't see me coming out of Nora's office. Maybe he hadn't seen me in her office. Or maybe he had and he was for some reason not saying anything about it.
And then every couple of nights I'd get an e-mail from "Arthur" asking me where I was with the investigation, how things were going, what the hell was taking me so long.
I stayed late almost every night, and I was hardly ever at home. Seth left a bunch of phone messages for me and after a week or so gave up. Most of my other friends had given up on me, too. I'd try to squeeze in half an hour here or there to drop by Dad's apartment and check in on him, but whenever I'd show up, he was so pissed off at me for avoiding him that he barely looked at me. A sort of truce had settled in between Dad and Antwoine, some kind of a Cold War. At least Atwoine wasn't threatening to quit. Yet.
One night I got back into Nora's office and removed the little key logger thing, quickly and uneventfully. My Mustang-loving-guard friend usually came by on his rounds at between ten o'clock and ten-twenty, so I did it before he showed up. It took less than a minute, and Noah Mordden was nowhere in sight.
That tiny cable now stored hundreds of thousands of Nora's keystrokes, including all her passwords. It was just a matter of plugging the device into my computer and downloading the text. But I didn't dare do it right there at my cubicle. Who knew what kind of detection programs they had running on the Trion network? Not a risk worth taking.
Instead, I logged on to the corporate Web site. In the search box I typed in AURORA, but nothing came up. Surprise, surprise. But I had another thought, and I typed in Alana Jennings's name and pulled up her page. There was no photo there—most people had their pictures up, though some didn't—but there was some basic information like her telephone extension, her job title (Marketing Director, Disruptive Technologies Research Unit), her department number, which was the same as her mailstop.
This little number, I knew, was extremely useful information. At Trion, just like at Wyatt, you were given the same department number as everyone else who worked in your part of the company. All I had to do was to punch that number into the corporate database and I had a list of everyone who worked directly with Alana Jennings—which meant that they all worked in the AURORA Project.
That didn't mean I had the complete list of AURORA employees, who might be in separate departments on the same floor, but at least I had a good chunk of them: forty-seven names. I printed out each person's Web page and slipped the sheets into a folder in my workbag. That, I figured, should keep Wyatt's people happy for a while.
When I got home that night, around ten, intending to sit down at my computer and download all the keystrokes from Nora's computer, something else grabbed my attention. Sitting in the middle of my "kitchen" table—a Formica-topped thing I'd bought at a used furniture place for forty-five bucks—was a crisp-looking, thick, sealed manila envelope.
It hadn't been there in the morning. Once again, someone from Wyatt had slipped into my apartment, almost as if they were trying to make the point that they could get in anywhere. Okay, point made. Maybe they figured this was the safest way to get something to me without being observed. But to me it seemed almost like a threat.
The envelope contained a fat dossier on Alana Jennings, just as Nick Wyatt had promised. I opened it, saw a whole bunch of photos of the woman, and suddenly lost interest in Nora Sommers's keystrokes. This Alana Jennings was, not to put too fine a point on it, a real hottie.