Paranoia (168 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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Part Nine: 92 (Cont'd)

"Nick Wyatt's a very suspicious man," Goddard said. "I understand him—I'm the same way. He's sorta like the CIA—they never believe a single damned scrap of intel unless they've gotten it by subterfuge."

I took a sip of ice water, which was so cold it made my throat ache. The only sound in this vast space was the splashing and burbling of the waterfall. The bright light hurt my eyes. It felt cheery in here, weirdly so. The waitress approached with a crystal pitcher of water to refill my glass, but Goddard waved a hand. "Muchos gracias. You two can be excused, I think we're all set here. Could you ask our other guest to join us, please?"

"It's not the first time you've done this, is it?" I said. Who was it who'd told me that whenever Trion was on the brink of failure, a competitor of theirs always made some disastrous miscalculation, and Trion came back stronger than ever?

Goddard gave me a sidelong glance. "Practice makes perfect."

My head swam. It was Paul Camilletti's resume and bio that gave it away. Goddard had hired him away from a company called Celadon Data, which was at the time the biggest threat to Trion's existence. Soon after, Celadon made a legendary technological gaffe—a Betamax-over-VHS kind of misstep—and went Chapter Eleven just before Trion scooped them up.

"Before me, there was Camilletti," I said.

"And others before him." Goddard took a swig of coffee. "No, you weren't the first. But I'd say you were the best."

The compliment stung. "I don't understand how you convinced Wyatt the mole idea could work," I said.

Goddard glanced up as the elevator opened, the same one he'd come up on.

Judith Bolton. My breath stopped.

She was wearing a navy suit and white blouse and looked very crisp and corporate. Her lips and fingernails were coral. She came up to Goddard, gave him a quick kiss on the lips. Then she reached over to me, clasped my hand in both of hers. They gave off a faint herbal scent and felt cold.

She sat down on Goddard's other side, unfolded a linen napkin on her lap.

"Adam's curious how you convinced Wyatt," Goddard said.

"Oh, I didn't have to twist Nick's arm, exactly," she said with a throaty laugh.

"You're far more subtle than that," Goddard said.

I stared at Judith. "Why me?" I said finally.

"I'm surprised you ask," she said. "Look at what you've done. You're a natural."

"That and the fact that you had me by the balls because of the money."

"Plenty of people in corporations color outside the lines, Adam," she said, leaning in toward me. "We had lots of choices. But you stood out from the crowd. You were far and away the most qualified. A pitch-perfect gift of blarney, plus father issues."

Anger welled up inside me until I couldn't sit there anymore listening. I rose, stood over Goddard, said: "Let me ask you something. What do you think Elijah would think of you now?"

Goddard looked at me blankly.

"Elijah," I repeated. "Your son."

"Oh, gosh, right, Elijah," Goddard said, his puzzlement slowly turning to wry amusement. "That. Right. Well, that was Judith's inspiration." He chuckled.

The room seemed to be spinning slowly and getting brighter, more washed out. Goddard peered at me with twinkling eyes.

"Adam," Judith said, all concern and empathy. "Sit down, please."

I just stood staring.

"We were concerned," she said, "that you might start to get suspicious if it all seemed to come too easily. You're an extremely bright, intuitive young man. Everything had to make sense, or it would start to unravel. We couldn't risk that."

I flashed on Goddard's lake-house study, the trophies that I now knew were fakes. Goddard's sleight-of-hand talent, the way the trophy somehow got knocked to the floor....

"Oh, you know," Goddard said, "the old man's got a soft spot for me, I remind him of his dead son, all that bullshit? Makes sense, right?"

"Can't leave these things to chance," I said hollowly.

"Precisely," said Goddard.

"Very, very few people could have done what you did," Judith said. She smiled. "Most wouldn't have been able to endure the doubleness, straddle the line the way you did. You're a remarkable person, I hope you know that. That's why we singled you out in the first place. And you more than proved us right."

"I don't believe this," I whispered. My legs felt wobbly, my feet unsteady. I had to get the hell out of there. "I don't fucking believe this."

"Adam, I know how difficult this must be for you," Judith said gently.

My head was throbbing like an open wound. "I'll go clear out my office."

"You'll do no such thing," Goddard cried out. "You're not resigning. I won't allow it. Clever young fellows like you are all too rare. I need you on the seventh floor."

A shaft of sunlight blinded me; I couldn't see their faces.

"And you'd trust me?" I said bitterly, shifting to one side to get the sun out of my face.

Goddard exhaled. "Corporate espionage, my boy, is as American as apple pie and Chevrolet. For fuck's sake, how do you think America became an economic superpower? Back in 1811, a Yankee named Francis Lowell Cabot sailed to Great Britain and stole England's most precious secret—the Cartright loom, cornerstone of the whole damned textile industry. Brought the goddamn Industrial Revolution to America, turned us into a colossus. All thanks to one single act of industrial espionage."

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