Paranoia (128 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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Goddard was scurrying down the hall to the Executive Briefing Center, and I struggled to keep up with him without breaking into a run. Man, the old guy moved fast, like a tortoise on methamphetamine. "This darned meeting is going to be a circus," he muttered. "I called the Guru team here for a status update as soon as I heard they're going to slip their Christmas ship date. They know I'm royally pissed off, and they're going to be pirouetting like a troupe of Russian ballerinas doing the 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.' You're going to see a side of me here that's not so attractive."

I didn't say anything—what could I say? I'd seen his flashes of anger, and they didn't even compare to what I'd seen in the only other CEO I'd ever met. Next to Nick Wyatt he was Mister Rogers. And in fact I was still shaken, moved by that intimate little scene in his lake house study—I'd never really seen another human being lay himself so bare. Until that moment there'd been a part of me that was sort of baffled as to why Goddard had singled me out, why he'd been drawn to me. Now I got it, and it rocked my world. I didn't just want to impress the old man anymore, I wanted his approval, maybe something deeper.

Why, I agonized, did Goddard have to fuck it all up by being such a decent guy? It was unpleasant enough working for Nick Wyatt without this complication. Now I was working against the dad I never had, and it was messing with my head.

"Guru's prime is a very smart young woman named Audrey Bethune, a real comer," Goddard muttered. "But this disaster may derail her career. I really have no patience for screwups on this scale." As we approached the room, he slowed. "Now, if you have any thoughts, don't hesitate to speak. But be warned—this is a high-powered and very opinionated group, and they're not going to show you any deference just because I brung you to the dance."

The Guru team was assembled around the big conference table, waiting nervously. They looked up as we entered. Some of them smiled, said, "Hi, Jock," or "Hello, Mr. Goddard." They looked like scared rabbits. I remembered sitting around that table not so long ago. There were a few puzzled glances at me, some whispers. Goddard sat down at the head of the table. Next to him was a black woman in her late thirties, the same woman I'd seen talking to Tom Lundgren and his wife at the barbecue. He patted the table next to him to tell me to sit by his side. My cell phone had been vibrating in my pocket for the last ten minutes, so I furtively fished it out and glanced at the caller ID screen. A bunch of calls from a number I didn't recognize. I switched the phone off.

"Afternoon," Goddard said. "This is my assistant, Adam Cassidy." A number of polite smiles, and then I saw that one of the faces belonged to my old friend Nora Sommers. Shit, she was on Guru, too? She wore a black-and-white striped suit and she had her power makeup on. She caught my eye, beamed like I was some long-lost childhood playmate. I smiled back politely, savoring the moment.

Audrey Bethune, the program manager, was beautifully dressed in a navy suit with a white blouse and small gold stud earrings. She had dark skin and wore her hair in a perfectly coifed and shellacked bubble. I'd done some quick background research on her and knew that she came from an upper-middle-class family. Her father was a doctor, as was her grandfather, and she'd spent every summer at the family compound in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. She smiled at me, revealing a gap between her front teeth. She reached behind Jock's back to shake my hand. Her palm was dry and cool. I was impressed. Her career was on the line.

Guru—the project was code-named TSUNAMI—was a supercharged handheld digital assistant, really killer technology and Trion's only convergence device. It was a PDA, a communicator, a mobile phone. It had the power of a laptop in an eight-ounce package. It did e-mail, instant messages, spreadsheets, had a full HTML Internet browser and a great TFT active-matrix color screen.

Goddard cleared his throat. "So I understand we have a little challenge," he said.

"That's one way of putting it, Jock," Audrey said smoothly. "Yesterday we got the results of the in-house audit, which indicated that we've got a faulty component. The LCD is totally dead."

"Ah hah," Goddard said with what I knew was forced calm. "Bad LCD, is it?"

Audrey shook her head. "Apparently the LCD driver is defective."

"In every single one?" asked Goddard.

"That's right."

"A quarter of a million units have a bad LCD driver," Goddard said. "I see. The ship date is in—what is it, now?—three weeks. Hmm. Now, as I recall—and correct me if I'm wrong—your plan was to ship these before the end of the quarter, thus bolstering earnings for the third quarter and giving us all thirteen weeks of the Christmas quarter to rake in some badly needed revenue."

She nodded.

"Audrey, I believe we agreed that Guru is the division's big kahuna. And as we all know, Trion is experiencing some difficulties in the market. Which means that it's all the more crucial that Guru ship on schedule." I noticed that Goddard was speaking in an overly deliberate manner, and I knew he was trying to hold back his great annoyance.

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