COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Meacham and his goons hustled me out of my apartment, down the elevator to the garage, then out a service entrance to the street. I was scared out of my mind. A black Suburban with tinted windows was parked by the entrance. Meacham led the way, the three guys staying close to me, surrounding me, probably to make sure I didn't run, or try to jump Meacham, or anything. One of the guys was carrying my laptop; another had my desktop computer.
My head throbbed, and my lower back and chest were in agony. I must have looked like a mess, all bruised and beaten up.
"We're going for a drive" usually means, at least in Mafia movies, cement boots and a dunk in the East River. But if they'd wanted to kill me, why didn't they do it back in my apartment?
The thugs were ex-cops, I figured out after a while, employed by Wyatt Corporate Security. They seem to have been hired purely for their brute strength. They were blunt instruments.
One of the guys drove, and Meacham sat in the front seat, separated from me by a bulletproof glass enclosure, talking on a phone the whole way.
He'd done his job, apparently. He'd scared the shit out of me, and he and his guys had found the evidence I was keeping on Wyatt.
Forty-five minutes later, the Suburban pulled into Nick Wyatt's long stone driveway.
Two of the guys searched me for weapons or whatever, as if somehow between my apartment and here I could have picked up a Glock. They took my cell phone and shoved me into the house. I passed through the metal detector, which went off. They took my watch, belt, and keys.
Wyatt was sitting in front of a huge flat-panel TV in a spacious, sparely furnished room, watching CNBC with the sound muted, and talking on a cell phone. I glanced at myself in a mirror as I entered with my crew-cut escorts. I looked pretty bad.
We all stood there.
After a few minutes Wyatt ended his call, put the phone down, looked over at me. "Long time no see," he said.
"Yeah, well," I said.
"Look at you. Walk into a door? Fall down a flight of stairs?"
"Something like that."
"Sorry to hear about your dad. But Christ, breathing through a tube, oxygen tanks, all that shit—I mean, shoot me if I ever get like that."
"Be my pleasure," I murmured, but I don't think he heard me.
"Just as well he's dead, huh? Put him out of his fucking misery?"
I wanted to lunge at him, throttle him. "Thanks for your concern," I said.
"I want to thank you," he said, "for the information on Delphos."
"Sounds like you had to empty your piggy bank to buy it."
"Always gotta think three moves ahead. How do you think I got to where I am now? When we announce we've got the optical chip, our stock's gonna go into orbit."
"Nice," I said. "You've got it all figured out. You don't need me anymore."
"Oh, you're far from done, friend. Not until you get me the specs on the chip itself. And the prototype."
"No," I said, very quietly. "I'm done now."
"You think you're done? Man, are you hallucinating." He laughed.
I took a deep breath. I could feel my pulse throbbing at the base of my throat. My head ached. "The law's clear on this," I said, clearing my throat. I'd looked at a bunch of legal Web sites. "You're actually in a lot deeper than me, because you oversaw this whole scheme. I was just the pawn. You ran it."
"The law," Wyatt said with an incredulous smile. "You're talking to me about the fucking law? That's why you've been saving up e-mails and memos and shit, trying to build a legal case against me? Oh, man, I almost feel sorry for you. I think you truly don't get it, do you? You think I'm going to let you walk away before you're finished?"
"You got all sorts of valuable intelligence from me," I said. "Your plan worked. It's over. From now on, you don't contact me anymore. End of transaction. As far as anyone's concerned, this never happened."
Sheer terror gave way to a kind of delirious confidence: I'd finally crossed the line. I'd jumped off the cliff and I was soaring in the air, and I was going to enjoy the ride until I hit ground.
"Think about it," I went on. "You've got a whole lot more to lose than I do. Your company. And your fortune. Me, I'm diddlyshit. I'm a small fish. No, I'm plankton."
His smile broadened. "What are you going to do, go to 'Jock' Goddard and tell him you're nothing but a shitty little snoop whose brilliant 'ideas' were spoon-fed him by his chief competitor? And then what do you think he's going to do? Thank you, take you to lunch at his little diner and toast you with a glass of Ovaltine? I don't think so."