Paranoia (078 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.


It was totally out of the question, of course, for me to meet again with Dr. Judith Bolton at Wyatt headquarters, where I might be seen coming or going. But now that I was hunting with the big cats, I needed an in-depth session. Wyatt insisted, and I didn't disagree.

So I met her at a Marriott the next Saturday, in a suite set up for business meetings. They'd e-mailed me the room number to go to. She was already there when I arrived, her laptop hooked up to a video monitor. It's funny, the lady still made me nervous. On the way I stopped for another hundred-dollar haircut, and I wore decent clothes, not my usual weekend junk.

I'd forgotten how intense she was—the ice-blue eyes, the coppery red hair, the glossy red lips and red nail polish—and how hard-looking at the same time. I gave her a firm handshake.

"You're right on time," she said, smiling.

I shrugged, half-smiled back to say I got it but I wasn't really amused.

"You look good. Success seems to agree with you."

We sat at a fancy conference table that looked like it belonged in someone's dining room—mine, maybe—and she asked me how it was going. I filled her in, the good stuff and the bad, including about Chad and Nora.

"You're going to have enemies," she said. "That's to be expected. But these are threats—you've left a cigarette butt smoldering in the woods, and if you don't put them out you may have a forest fire on your hands."

"How do I put them out?"

"We'll talk about that. But right now I want to focus on Jock Goddard. And if you take away nothing else today, I want you to remember this: he's pathologically honest."

I couldn't help smiling. This from the chief consigliere to Nick Wyatt, a guy so crooked he'd cheat on a prostate exam.

Her eyes flashed in annoyance, and she leaned in toward me. "I'm not making a joke. He's singled you out not just because he likes your mind, your ideas—which of course aren't your ideas at all—but because he finds your honesty refreshing. You speak your mind. He likes that."

"That's 'pathological'?"

"Honest is practically a fetish with him. The blunter you are, the less calculating you seem, the better you'll play." I wondered briefly if Judith saw the irony in what she was doing—counseling me in how to pull the wool over Jock Goddard's eyes by feigning honesty. One hundred percent synthetic honesty, no natural fibers. "If he starts to detect anything shifty or obsequious or calculating in your manner—if he thinks you're trying to suck up or game him—he'll cool on you fast. And once you lose that trust, you may never regain it."

"Got it," I said impatiently. "So from now on, no gaming the guy."

"Sweetheart, what planet are you living on?" she shot back. "Of course we game the old geezer. That's lesson two in the art of 'managing up,' come on. You'll mess with his head, but you have to be supremely artful about it. Nothing obvious, nothing he'll sniff out. The way dogs can smell fear, Goddard can smell bullshit. So you've got to come across as the ultimate straight shooter. You tell him the bad news other people try to sugarcoat. You show him a plan he likes—then you be the one to point out the flaws. Integrity's a pretty scarce commodity in our world—once you figure out how to fake it, you'll be on the good ship Lollipop."

"Where I want to be," I said dryly.

She had no time for my sarcasm. "People always say that nobody likes a suckup, but the truth is, the vast majority of senior managers adore suckups, even when they know they're being sucked up to. It makes them feel powerful, reassures them, bolsters their fragile egos. Jock Goddard, on the other hand, has no need for it. Believe me, he thinks quite highly of himself already. He's not blinded by need, by vanity. He's not a Mussolini who needs to be surrounded by yes-men." Like anyone we know? I wanted to say. "Look who he surrounds himself with—bright, quick-witted people who can be abrasive and outspoken."

I nodded. "You're saying he doesn't like flattery."

"No, I'm not saying that. Everyone likes flattery. But it's got to feel real to him. A little story: Napoleon once went hunting in the Bois de Boulogne with Talleyrand, who desperately wanted to impress the great general. The woods were teeming with rabbits, and Napoleon was delighted when he killed fifty of them. But when he found out later that these weren't wild rabbits—that Talleyrand had sent one of his servants to the market to buy dozens of rabbits and then set them loose in the woods—well, Napoleon was enraged. He never trusted Talleyrand again."

"I'll keep that in mind next time Goddard invites me rabbit hunting."

"The point is," she snapped, "that when you flatter, do so indirectly."

"Well, I'm not running with rabbits, Judith. More like wolves."

"There you go. Know much about wolves?"

I sighed. "Bring it on."

"It's all laid bare. There's always an Alpha male, of course, but what's interesting to keep in mind is that the hierarchy's always being tested. It's highly unstable. Sometimes you'll see the Alpha male wolf drop a fresh piece of meat on the ground right in front of the others and then move away a couple of feet and just watch. He's outright daring the other ones to even sniff at it."

"And if they do, they're supper."

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