Paranoia (073 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.


I didn't have to break the news to anyone: the miracle of e-mail and instant messaging had already taken care of that for me. By the time I got back to my cube, the word was all over the department. Obviously Goddard was a man of immediate action.

No sooner had I reached the men's room for a much-needed pee than Chad burst in and unzipped at the urinal next to me. "So, are the rumors true, dude?"

I looked impatiently at the wall tile. I really needed to go. "Which rumors?"

"I take it congratulations are in order."

"Oh, that. No, congratulations would be premature. But thanks, anyway." I stared at the little automatic-flush thing that was attached to the American Standard urinal. I wondered who invented that, whether they got rich and their family made cute jokes about the family fortune being in the toilet. I wanted Chad to just leave already.

"I underestimated you," he said, letting loose a powerful stream. Meanwhile my own internal Colorado River was threatening the Hoover Dam.

"Oh, yeah?"

"Oh, yeah. I knew you were good, but I didn't know how good. I didn't give you credit."

"I'm lucky," I said. "Or maybe I just have a big mouth, and for some reason Goddard likes that."

"No, I don't think so. You've got some kind of Vulcan mind-meld going with the old guy. You, like, know all the right buttons to push. I'll bet you two don't even need to talk. That's how good you are. I'm impressed, big guy. I don't know how you did it, but I'm seriously impressed."

He zipped up, clapped me on the shoulder.

"Let me in on the secret, will ya?" he said, but he didn't wait for a reply.

When I got back to my cubicle, Noah Mordden was standing at my cubicle inspecting the books on top of the file cabinet. He was holding a gift-wrapped package, which looked like a book.

"Cassidy," he said. "Our too-cool-for-school Widmerpool."

"Excuse me?" Man, was the guy into cryptic references.

"I want you to have this," he said.

I thanked him and unwrapped the package. It was a book, an old one that smelled of mildew. Sun Tzu on The Art of War was stamped on the cloth front cover.

"It's the 1910 Lionel Giles translation," he said. "The best, I think. Not a first edition, which is impossible to come by, but an early printing at least."

I was touched. "When did you have time to buy this?"

"Last week, online, actually. I didn't intend it to be a departure gift, but there you are. At least now you'll have no excuse."

"Thank you," I said. "I'll read it."

"Please do. I suspect you'll need it all the more. Recall the Japanese kotowaza, 'The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.' You're fortunate that you're being moved out of Nora's orbit, but there are great perils in rising too quickly in any organization. Hawks may soar, but chipmunks don't get sucked into jet engines."

I nodded. "I'll keep that in mind," I said.

"Ambition is a useful quality, but you must always cover your tracks," he said.

He was definitely hinting at something—he had to have seen me coming out of Nora's office—and it scared the shit out of me. He was toying with me, sadistically, like a cat with a mouse.

Nora summoned me to her office by e-mail, and I braced myself for a shitstorm. "Adam," she called out as I approached. "I just heard the news."

She was smiling. "Sit down, sit down. I am so happy for you. And maybe I shouldn't reveal this, but I'm delighted that they took my enthusiasm about you seriously. Because, you know, they don't always listen."

"I know."

"But I assured them, if you do this, you won't be sorry. Adam's got the right stuff, I told them, he's going to go the extra mile. You've got my word on it. I know him."

Yeah, I thought, you think you know me. You have no idea.

"I could see you were concerned about relocating, so I made a few calls," she said. "I'm so happy things are turning out right for you."

I didn't reply. I was too busy thinking about what Wyatt would say when he heard.

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