Paranoia (119 of 170)

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

Part Six: 65 (Cont'd)

He said something else, and his audience laughed as if he were Jay Leno and Eddie Murphy and Rodney Dangerfield all rolled into one. To one side of him was Paul Camilletti, in neatly pressed, faded jeans and a white button-down shirt, also with the sleeves rolled up. He'd gotten the appropriate-dress memo, even if I hadn't—I had on a pair of khaki shorts and a polo shirt.

Facing him was Jim Colvin, the COO, his sandpiper legs pasty-white under plain gray Bermuda shorts. A real fashion show this was. Goddard looked up, caught my eye, and beckoned me over.

As I started toward him, someone came out of nowhere and clutched my arm. Nora Sommers, in a pink knit shirt with the collar standing up and oversized khaki shorts, looked thrilled to see me. "Adam!" she exclaimed. "How nice to see you here! Isn't this a marvelous place?"

I nodded, smiled politely. "Is your daughter here?"

She looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Megan's going through a difficult stage, poor thing. She never wants to spend time with me." Funny, I thought, I'm going through the exact same stage. "She'd rather ride horses with her father than waste an afternoon with her mother and her mother's boring work friends."

I nodded. "Excuse me—"

"Have you had a chance to see Jock's car collection? It's in the garage over there." She pointed toward a barnlike building a few hundred feet across the lawn. "You have to see the cars. They're glorious!"

"I will, thanks," I said, and took a step toward Goddard's little gang.

Nora's clutch on my arm tightened. "Adam, I've been meaning to tell you, I am so happy for your success. It really says something about Jock that he was willing to take a chance on you, doesn't it? Place his confidence in you? I'm just so happy for you!" I thanked her warmly and extricated my arm from her claw.

I reached Goddard and stood politely off to one side until he saw me and waved me over. He introduced me to Stuart Lurie, the exec in charge of Enterprise Solutions, who said, "How's it going, guy?" and gave me a soul clasp. He was a very good-looking guy of around forty, prematurely bald and shaved short on the sides so it all looked sort of deliberate and cool.

"Adam's the future of Trion," Goddard said.

"Well, hey, nice to meet the future!" said Lurie with just the slightest hint of sarcasm. "You're not going to pull a coin from his ear, Jock, are you?"

"No need to," Jock said. "Adam's always pulling rabbits out of hats, right, Adam?" Goddard put his arm around my shoulder, an awkward gesture since I was so much taller than him. "Come with me," he said quietly.

He guided me toward the screened porch. "In a little while I'm going to be doing my traditional little ceremony," he said as we climbed the wooden steps. I held the screen door open for him. "I give out little gifts, silly little things—gag gifts, really." I smiled, wondering why he was telling me this.

We passed through the screened porch, with its old wicker furniture, into a mudroom and then into the main part of the house. The floors were old wide-board pine, and they squeaked as we walked over them. The walls were all painted creamy white, and everything seemed bright and cheery and homey. It had that indescribable old-house smell. Everything seemed comfortable and lived-in and real. This was the house of a rich man with no pretensions, I thought. We went down a wide hallway past a sitting room with a big stone fireplace, then turned a corner into a narrow hall with a tile floor. Trophies and stuff were on shelves on either side of the hall. Then we entered a small book-lined room with a long library table in the center, a computer and printer on it and several huge cardboard boxes. This was obviously Goddard's study.

"The old bursitis is acting up," he apologized, indicating the big cartons on the library table, which were heaped with what looked like wrapped gifts. "You're a strapping young man. If you wouldn't mind carrying these out to where the podium's set up, near the bar...."

"Not at all," I said, disappointed, but not showing it. I lifted one of the enormous boxes, which was not only heavy but unwieldy, unevenly weighted and so bulky that I could barely see in front of me as I walked.

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