COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
On the way up to the penthouse the elevator stopped at the cafeteria, and a man in an aloha shirt with a ponytail got in.
"Cassidy," Mordden said. He was clutching a cinnamon-swirl bun and a cup of coffee, and he didn't seem surprised to see me. "The Sammy Glick of the microchip. Word has it that Icarus's wings have melted."
He bowed his head. "It's true what they say. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it."
He pressed a button and was silent while the doors closed and the cabin ascended. It was just me and him. "I see you're going up to the penthouse. The Executive Reception Suite. I take it you're not receiving dignitaries or Japanese businessmen."
I just looked at him.
"Now perhaps you finally understand the truth about our fearless leader," he said.
"No, I don't think I do. As a matter of fact, I don't even understand you. For some reason, you're the one person here who has utter contempt for Goddard, everyone knows it. You're rich. You don't need to work. Yet you're still here."
He shrugged. "By my choice. I told you, I'm fireproof."
"What the hell does that mean, already? Look, you're never going to see my ass again. You can tell me now. I'm outta here. I'm fucking dead."
"Yes, roadkill is, I believe, the term of art around here." He blinked once. "I'll actually miss you. Millions wouldn't." He was making a joke out of it, but I knew he was trying to say something heartfelt. For whatever reason, he'd actually taken a liking to me. Or maybe it was just pity. With a guy like Mordden, it was hard to tell.
"Enough with the riddles," I said. "Will you please explain what the hell you're talking about?"
Mordden smirked, did a fairly passable imitation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. "Since you're about to die, Mr. Bond—" He broke off. "Oh, I wish I could lay it all out for you. But I'd never violate the nondisclosure agreement I signed eighteen years ago."
"Mind putting it in terms my puny earthling mind can comprehend?"
The elevator stopped, the doors opened, and Mordden got out. He put his hand on one of the doors to hold it open. "That nondisclosure agreement is now worth about ten million dollars to me in Trion stock. Perhaps twice that, at today's share price. It certainly wouldn't be in my interest to jeopardize that arrangement by breaking my contractually obligated silence."
"What sort of NDA?"
"As I said, I surely don't wish to jeopardize my lucrative arrangement with Augustine Goddard by telling you that the famous Goddard modem was invented not by Jock Goddard, a rather mediocre engineer if brilliant corporate gamesman, but by yours truly. Why would I want to jeopardize ten million dollars by revealing that the technological breakthrough that transformed this company into a powerhouse of the communications revolution was the brainchild not of the corporate gamesman but of one of his earliest hires, a lowly engineer? Goddard could have had it for free, as my corporate contract stipulated, but he wanted sole credit. That was worth a good deal of money to him. Why should I want to reveal such a thing and thereby tarnish the legend, the sterling reputation of, what was it Newsweek once called him, 'Corporate America's Senior Statesman'? Certainly it would not be politic of me to point out the hollowness of Jock Goddard's whole Will Rogers shtick, that down-to-earth cornpone cracker-barrel image that cloaks such ruthlessness. For heaven's sake, that would be like telling you there's no Santa Claus. Why would I want to disillusion you—and risk my financial bounty?"
"You're telling me the truth?" was all I could think to say.
"I'm not telling you anything," Mordden said. "It wouldn't be in my interest. Adieu, Cassidy."