Paranoia (165 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.


The door to the conference room opened. It was one of the security guards from before.

"Mr. Goddard's downstairs at the press conference," the guard said. He was tall, around forty, wore wire-rim glasses. His blue Trion uniform fit badly. "He said you should go down to the Visitors Center."

I nodded.

The main lobby of Building A was hectic with people, loud voices, photographers and reporters swarming all over the place. I stepped out of the elevator into the chaos, feeling disoriented. I couldn't really make out what anyone was saying in the hubbub; it was all background noise to me. One of the doors that led to the huge futuristic auditorium kept opening and closing. I caught glimpses of a giant image of Jock Goddard projected on a screen, heard his amplified voice.

I elbowed my way through the crowd. I thought I heard someone call my name, but I kept going, moving slowly, zombielike.

The auditorium's floor sloped down to a glittering pod of a stage, where Goddard was standing in a spotlight, wearing his black mock turtleneck and brown tweed jacket. He looked like a professor of classics at a small New England college, except for the orange TV makeup on his face. Behind him was a huge screen on which his talking head was projected five or six feet high.

The place was packed with journalists, glaringly bright with TV camera lights.

"... This acquisition," he was saying, "will double the size of our sales force, and it will double and in some sectors even triple our market penetration." I didn't know what he was talking about. I stood in the back of the theater, listening.

"By bringing together two great companies, we're creating one world-class technology leader. Trion Systems is now without question one of the world's leading consumer electronics companies.

"And I'd like to make one more announcement," Goddard went on. He gave a twinkle-eyed pixie smile. "I've always believed in the importance of giving back. So this morning Trion is pleased to announce the establishment of an exciting new charitable foundation. Beginning with seed money of five million dollars, this new foundation hopes, over the course of the next several years, to put a computer into thousands of public schools in America, in school districts that don't have the resources to provide computers for their students. We think this is the best way to bridge the digital divide. This is a venture that's long been in the works at Trion. We call it the AURORA Project—for Aurora, the Greek goddess of the dawn. We believe the AURORA Project will welcome the dawn of a bright new future for all of us in this great country."

There was a smattering of polite applause.

"Finally, let me extend a warm welcome to the nearly thirty thousand talented and hardworking employees of Wyatt Telecommunications to the Trion family. Thank you very much." Goddard bowed his head slightly and stepped off the stage. More applause, which gradually swelled into an enthusiastic ovation.

The giant projection of Jock Goddard's face dissolved into a TV news broadcast—CNBC's morning financial program, Squawk Box.

On half the screen, Maria Bartiromo was broadcasting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. On the other half of the screen was the Trion logo and a graph of its share price over the last few minutes—a line that went straight up.

"—as trading in Trion Systems hit record volume," she was saying. "Trion shares have already almost doubled and show no sign of slowing down, after the announcement before the bell this morning by Trion founder and chief executive officer Augustine Goddard that it's acquiring one of its main competitors, the troubled Wyatt Telecommunications."

I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Flo, elegant, a grave expression on her face. She was wearing a wireless headset. "Adam, can you please come to the Penthouse Executive Reception Suite? Jock wants to see you."

I nodded but kept watching. I wasn't really able to think clearly.

Now the picture on the big screen showed Nick Wyatt being hustled out of Wyatt headquarters by a couple of guards. The wide-angle shot took in the building's reflecting glass, the emerald turf outside, grazing flocks of journalists. You could tell that he was both furious and humiliated as he did the perp walk.

"Wyatt Telecommunications was a debt-plagued company, nearly three billion dollars in debt, when the stunning news leaked out late yesterday that the company's flamboyant founder, Nicholas Wyatt, had signed a secret and unauthorized agreement, without the vote or even the knowledge of his board of directors, to acquire a small California-based startup called Delphos, a tiny company without any revenue, for five hundred million dollars in cash," Maria Bartiromo was saying.

The camera zoomed in closer on the man. Tall and burly, hair gleaming like black enamel, coppery tan. Nick Wyatt in the flesh. The camera moved in even closer. His formfitting dove-gray silk shirt was dappled with flop sweat. He was being trundled into a town car. He had this "What the fuck did they do to me?" expression on his face. I knew the feeling.

"That left Wyatt without enough to cover its debt payments. The company's board met yesterday afternoon and announced the firing of Mr. Wyatt for gross violations of corporate governance, just moments before bondholders forced the sale of the company to Trion Systems at a fire-sale price of ten cents on the dollar. Mr. Wyatt was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman said he was resigning to spend more time with his family. Nick Wyatt is unmarried and has no children. David?"

Another tap on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Adam, but he wants to see you right now," Flo said.

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