COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
I started my first official day of working for Jock Goddard having been up all night.
I'd gone from the hospital to my new apartment around four in the morning, considered trying to grab an hour of sleep, then rejected the idea because I knew I'd oversleep. That might not be the best way to start off with Goddard. So I took a shower, shaved, and spent some time on the Internet reading about Trion's competitors, poring over News.com and Slashdot for the latest tech news. I dressed, in a lightweight black pullover (the closest thing I had to one of Jock Goddard's trademark black mock turtlenecks), a pair of dress khakis, and a brown houndstooth jacket, one of the few "casual" items of clothing Wyatt's exotic admin had picked out for me. Now I looked like a full-fledged member of Goddard's inner posse. Then I called down to the valet and asked them to have my Porsche brought around.
The doorman who seemed to be on in the early morning and evening, when I most often came and went, was a Hispanic guy in his mid-forties named Carlos Avila. He had a strange, strangled voice as if he'd swallowed a sharp object and couldn't get it all the way down. He liked me—mostly, I think, because I didn't ignore him like everybody else who lived there.
"Workin' hard, Carlos?" I said as I passed by. Normally this was the line he used on me, when I came home ridiculously late, looking wiped out.
"Hardly workin', Mr. Cassidy," he said with a grin and turned back to the TV news.
I drove it a couple of blocks away to the Starbucks, which was just opening, and bought a triple grande latte, and while I was waiting for the Seattle-grunge-wannabe multiple-piercing-victim kid to steam a quart of two-percent milk, I picked up a Wall Street Journal, and my stomach seized up.
There, right on the front page, was an article about Trion. Or, as they put it, "Trion's woes." There was an engraved-looking, stippled drawing of Goddard, looking inappropriately chipper, as if he were totally out of it, didn't get it. One of the smaller headlines said, "Are Founder Augustine Goddard's Days Numbered?" I had to read that twice. My brain wasn't functioning at peak capacity, and I needed my triple grande latte, which the grunge kid seemed to be struggling over. The article was a hard-hitting and smart piece of reporting by a Journal regular named William Bulkeley, who obviously had good contacts at Trion. The gist of it seemed to be that Trion's stock price was slipping, its products were long in the tooth, the company ("generally deemed the leader in telecommunications-based consumer electronics") was in trouble, and Jock Goddard, Trion's founder, seemed to be out of touch. His heart wasn't in it anymore. There was a whole riff about the "long tradition" of founders of high-technology companies who got replaced when their company reached a certain size. It asked whether he was the wrong person to preside over the period of stability that followed a period of explosive growth. There was a lot of stuff in there about Goddard's philanthropy, his charitable efforts, his hobby of collecting and repairing vintage American cars, how he'd completely rebuilt his prize 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible. Goddard, the article said, seemed to be headed for a fall.
Great, I thought. If Goddard falls, guess who falls with him.
Then I remembered: Wait a second, Goddard's not my real employer. He's the target. My real employer is Nick Wyatt. It was easy to forget where my true loyalties were supposed to lie, with the excitement of the first day and all.
Finally my latte was ready, and I stirred in a couple of Turbinado sugar packets, took a big gulp, which scalded the back of my throat, and pressed on the plastic top. I sat down at a table to finish the rest of the article. The journalist seemed to have the goods on Goddard. Trion people were talking to him. The knives were out for the old guy.
On the drive in, I tried to listen to an Ani DiFranco CD I'd picked up at Tower as part of my Alana research project, but after a few cuts I ejected the thing. I couldn't stand it. A couple of songs weren't songs at all but just spoken pieces. If I wanted that, I'd listen to Jay-Z or Eminem. No thanks.
I thought about the Journal piece and tried to come up with a spin in case anyone asked me about it. Should I say it was a piece of crap planted by one of our competitors to undermine us? Should I say the reporter had missed the real story (whatever that was)? Or that he'd raised some good questions that had to be dealt with? I decided to go with a modified version of this last one—that whatever the truth of the allegations, what counted was what our shareholders thought, and they almost all read the Wall Street Journal, so we'd have to take the piece seriously, truth or not.
And privately I wondered who Goddard's enemies were who might be stirring up trouble—whether Jock Goddard really was in trouble, and I was boarding a sinking ship. Or, to be accurate about it, whether Nick Wyatt had put me on a sinking ship. I thought: The guy must be in bad shape—he hired me, didn't he?
I took a sip of coffee, and the lid wasn't quite on tight, and the warm milky brown liquid doused my lap. It looked like I'd had an "accident." What a way to start the new job. I should have taken it as a warning.