COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
My big presentation to Goddard kept getting postponed and postponed. It was supposed to be at eight-thirty, but ten minutes before, I got an InstaMail message from Flo telling me that Jock's E-staff meeting was running over, let's make it nine. Then another instant message from Flo: the meeting shows no sign of breaking up, let's push it back to nine-thirty.
I figured all the top managers were duking it out over who'd get the brunt of the cuts. They were probably all in favor of layoffs, in some general sense, but not in their own division. Trion was no different from any other corporation: the more people under you on the org chart, the more power you had. Nobody wanted to lose bodies.
I was starving, so I scarfed down a protein bar. I was exhausted also, but too wired to do anything but work some more on my PowerPoint presentation, make it even slicker. I put in an animated fade between slides. I stuck in that stick-figure drawing of the head-scratching guy with the question mark over his head, just for comic relief. I kept paring down the text: I'd read somewhere about the Rule of Seven—no more than seven words per line and seven lines or bullets per page. Or was it the Rule of Five? You heard that, too. I figured Jock might be a little short of patience and attention, given what he was going through, so I kept making it shorter, punchier.
The more I waited, the more nervous I got, and the more minimalist my PowerPoint slides became. But the special effects grew cooler and cooler. I'd figured out how to make the bar graphs shrink and grow before your eyes. Goddard would be impressed.
Finally, at eleven-thirty I got a message from Flo saying I could head over to the Executive Briefing Center now, since the meeting was just wrapping up.
People were leaving as I got there. Some I recognized—Jim Colvin, the COO; Tom Lundgren; Jim Sperling, the head of HR; a couple of powerful-looking women. None of them looked very happy. Goddard was surrounded by a gaggle of people who were all taller than him. It hadn't really sunk in before how small the guy was. He also looked terrible—red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes, the pouches under his eyes even bigger than normal. Camilletti stood next to him, and they seemed to be arguing. I heard only snatches.
"... Need to raise the metabolism of this place," Camilletti was saying.
"... All kinds of resistance, demoralization," Goddard muttered.
"The best way to deal with resistance is with a bloody ax," said Camilletti.
"I usually prefer plain old persuasion," Goddard said wearily. The others standing in a circle around them were watching the two go at it.
"It's like Al Capone said, you get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone," said Camilletti. He smiled.
"I suppose next you're going to tell me you've got to break eggs to make an omelet."
"You're always one step ahead of me," Camilletti said, patting Goddard on the back as he walked off.
Meanwhile I busied myself hooking up my laptop to the projector built into the conference table. I pushed the button that lowered the blinds electrically.
Now it was just Goddard and me in the darkened room. "What do we have here—a matinee?"
"Sorry, just a slide show," I said.
"I'm not so sure it's a good idea to turn off the lights. I'm liable to fall fast asleep," said Goddard. "I was up most of the night, agonizing over all this bushwa. I consider these layoffs a personal failure."
"They're not," I said, then cringed inwardly. Who the hell was I to try to reassure the CEO? "Anyway," I added quickly, "I'll keep it brief."
I started with a very cool animated graphic of the Trion Maestro, all the pieces flying in from offscreen and fitting perfectly together. This was followed by the head-scratching guy with the question mark floating above his head.
I said, "The only thing more dangerous than being in today's consumer-electronics market is not to be in the market at all." Now we were in a Formula One–type racecar moving at warp speed. "Because if you're not driving the car, you're liable to get run over." Then a slide came up that said trion consumer electronics—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I turned around. "Sir?"
"What the hell is this?"
Sweat broke out at the back of my neck. "That was just intro," I said. Obviously too much of it. "Now we get down to business."
"Did you tell Flo you were planning to do, what the hell is this called, Power—PowerPoint?"
He stood up, walked over to the light switch, and put the lights on. "She would have told you—I hate that crap."
My face burned. "I'm sorry, no one said anything."
"Good Lord, Adam, you're a smart, creative, original-thinking young man. You think I want you wasting your time trying to decide whether to go with Arial eighteen point or Times Roman twenty-four point, for God's sake? How about you just tell me what you think? I'm not a child. I don't need to be spoon-fed this darned cream of wheat."
"I'm sorry—" I began again.
"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you. Low blood sugar, maybe. It's lunchtime, and I'm starved."