Paranoia (059 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


Once you got past the reception area, HR looked like every other damned office at Trion, the same generic cube-farm layout. Only the emergency lights were on, not the overhead fluorescents. From what I could see walking around, all of the cubicles were empty, as were all the offices. It didn't take long to figure out where the records were kept. In the center of the floor was a huge grid made up of long aisles of beige horizontal files.

I'd thought about trying to do my espionage totally online, but that wouldn't work without an HR password. While I was here, though, I figured I'd leave one of those key logger devices. Later on I could come back and get it. Wyatt Telecom was paying for these little toys, not me. I found a cubicle and installed the thing.

For now, though, I had to root around through the file drawers, find the AURORA people. And I'd have to move fast—the longer I stayed here, the greater the chance I'd be caught.

The question was, how were they organized? Alphabetically, by name? In order of employee number? The more I looked over the file drawer labels, the more discouraged I got. What, did I think I was just going to waltz in and slide open a door and pluck out a few choice files? There were rows of drawers titled BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION and PENSION/ANNUITY/RETIREMENT and SICK, ANNUAL AND OTHER LEAVE RECORDS; drawers labeled CLAIMS, WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION and CLAIMS, LITIGATED; one area called IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION RECORDS ... and on and on. Mind-numbing.

For some reason some sappy golden-oldie song was playing in my head—"Band on the Run," by Paul McCartney in his unfortunate Wings period. A song I really detest, worse even than anything by Celine Dion. The tune is annoying but catchy, like pinkeye, and the words make no sense. "A bell was ringing in the village square for the rabbits on the run!" Um, okay.

I tried one of the file drawers, and of course it was locked; they all were. Each file cabinet had a lock at the top, and they had to be all keyed alike. I looked for an admin's desk, and meanwhile that damned song was circling around in my head.... "The county judge ... held a grudge" ... as I looked for an admin's desk, and sure enough, a key to the files was there, on a ring in an unlocked top center drawer. Boy, Meacham was right; the key's always easy to find.

I went for the alphabetized employee files.

Choosing one name from the AURORA list—Yonah Oren—I looked under O. Nothing there. I looked for another name—Sanjay Kumar—and found nothing there either. I tried Peter Daut: nothing. Strange. Just to be thorough, I checked under those names in the INSURANCE POLICIES, ACCIDENT drawers. Nothing. Same with the pension files. In fact, nothing in any of the files, so far as I could see.

"The jailer man and Sailor Sam...." This was like Chinese water torture—what did those insipid lyrics mean anyway? Did anyone know?

What was strange was that in the places where the records should have been, there sometimes seemed to be little gaps, little loose places, as if the files had been removed. Or was I just imagining this? Just when I was about to give up, I took one more circuit around the rows of file cabinets, and then I noticed an alcove—a separate, open room next to the grid of file drawers. A sign posted on the entrance to the alcove said:


I entered the alcove and was relieved to see that things were simple here: the drawers were organized by department number. James Sperling was the director of HR, and Lucy Celano, I knew, was his administrative assistant. It took me a couple of minutes to find Lucy Celano's desk, and maybe thirty seconds to find her key ring (bottom right drawer).

Then I returned to the restricted file cabinets and found the drawer that held the department numbers, including the AURORA project. I unlocked the cabinet, and pulled it open. It made a kind of metallic thunk sound, as if some caster at the back of the drawer had somehow dropped. I wondered how often anyone actually went into these drawers. Did they work with online records mostly, keeping the hard copies just for legal and audit reasons?

And then I saw something truly bizarre: all of the files for the AURORA department were gone. I mean, there was a gap of a foot and a half, maybe two feet, between the number before and the number after. The drawer was half empty.

The AURORA files had been removed.

For a second it felt as if my heart had stopped. I felt light-headed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bright light start to flash. It was one of those xenon emergency strobe lights mounted high on the wall, near the ceiling, just outside the file alcove. What the hell was that for? And a few seconds later there came the unbelievably loud, throaty hoo-ah, hoo-ah of a siren.

Somehow I'd triggered an intrusion-detection system, no doubt protecting the classified files.

The siren was so loud you could probably hear it throughout the whole wing.

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