Paranoia (147 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

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

Part Eight: 80 (Cont'd)

A roaring fire was going in the dining room when we came down for dinner. There were maybe ten or twelve other couples already seated at the tables, mostly older than us.

I ordered an expensive red Bordeaux, and I could hear Jock Goddard's words echoing in my head: You used to drink Budweiser, now you're sipping some first-growth Pauillac.

The service was slow—there seemed to be one waiter for the whole dining room, a Middle Eastern guy who barely spoke English—but it didn't bother me. We were both sort of blissed-out, floating on a postcoital high.

"I noticed you brought your computer," I said. "In the trunk of your car."

She grinned sheepishly. "I don't go anywhere without it."

"Are you sort of tethered to the office?" I asked. "Pager, cell phone, e-mail, all that?"

"Aren't you?"

"The good thing about having only one boss," I said, "is that it cuts down on some of that."

"Well, you're lucky. I've got six direct reports and a bunch of really arrogant engineers I have to deal with. Plus a huge deadline."

"What kind of deadline?"

She paused, but for just a moment. "The rollout's next week."

"You're shipping a product?"

She shook her head. "It's a demo—a big public announcement, demonstration of a working prototype of the thing we're developing. I mean, it's a really big deal. Goddard hasn't told you about it?"

"He might have, I don't know. He tells me about all kinds of stuff."

"Not the kind of thing you'd forget. Anyway, it's taking up all my time. A real time suck. Night and day."

"Not totally," I said. "You've had time for two dates with me, and you're taking tonight off."

"And I'll pay for it tomorrow and Sunday."

The overworked waiter finally showed up with a bottle of white wine. I pointed out his error, and he apologized profusely and went off to get the right one.

"Why didn't you want to talk to me at Goddard's barbecue?" I asked.

She looked at me incredulously, her sapphire-blue eyes wide. "I was serious about the HR manual, you know. I mean, workplace romances really are discouraged, so we've got to be discreet. People talk. People especially love gossiping about who's screwing who. And then if something happens ..."

"Like a breakup or something."

"Whatever. Then it becomes awkward for everyone."

The conversation was starting to spin in the wrong direction. I tried to bring it back on course. "So I guess I can't just pop in on you one day at work. Show up on the fifth floor unannounced with a bouquet of lilies."

"I told you, they'd never let you in."

"I thought my badge lets me in anywhere in the building."

"Maybe most places, but not the fifth floor."

"Meaning you can get onto the executive floor, but I can't get onto yours?"

She shrugged.

"You have your badge with you?"

"They've trained me not to go to the bathroom without it." She pulled it out of her little black purse and flashed it at me. It was attached to a key ring with a bunch of other keys.

I grabbed it playfully. "Not as bad as a passport picture, but I wouldn't submit this head shot to a modeling agency," I said.

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Macmillan: Paranoia
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