Paranoia (169 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)

I turned away, stepped across the granite floor. The rubber soles of my work boots squeaked. "I'm done being jerked around," I said.

"Adam," Goddard said. "You're sounding like an embittered loser. Like your father was. And I know you're not—you're a winner, Adam. You're brilliant. You have what it takes."

I smiled, then laughed quietly. "Meaning I'm a lying scumbag, basically. A bullshitter. A world-class liar."

"Believe me, you didn't do anything that isn't done every day in corporations the world over. Look, you've got a copy of Sun Tzu in your office—have you read it? All warfare is based on deception, he says. And business is war, everyone knows that. Business, at the highest levels, is deception. No one's going to admit that publicly, but it's the truth." His voice softened. "The game is the same everywhere. You just play it better than anyone else. No, you're not a liar, Adam. You're a goddamned master strategist."

I rolled my eyes, shook my head in disgust, turned back toward the elevator.

Very quietly, Goddard said: "Do you know how much money Paul Camilletti made last year?"

Without looking back, I said: "Twenty-eight million."

"You could be making that in a few years. You're worth it to me, Adam. You're tough-minded and resourceful, you're fucking brilliant."

I snorted softly, but I don't think he heard it.

"Did I ever tell you how grateful I am that you saved our bacon on the Guru project? That and a dozen other things. Let me be specific about my gratitude. I'm giving you a raise—to a million a year. With stock options thrown in, given the way our stock's started to move, you could pull in a neat five or six million next year. Double that the year after. You'll be a fucking multimillionaire."

I froze in my tracks. I didn't know what to do, how to react. If I turned around, they'd think I was accepting. If I kept on walking, they'd think I was saying no.

"This is the solid-gold inner circle," Judith said. "You're being offered something anyone would kill for. But remember: it's not being given to you—you've earned it. You were meant for this line of work. You're as good at this as anybody I've ever met. These last couple of months, you know what you've been selling? Not handheld communicators or cell phones or MP3 players, but yourself. You've been selling Adam Cassidy. And we're buyers."

"I'm not for sale," I heard myself say, and I was instantly embarrassed.

"Adam, turn around," Goddard said angrily. "Turn around, now."

I obeyed, my expression sullen.

"Are you clear on what happens if you walk away?"

I smiled. "Sure. You'll turn me in. To the cops, the FBI, or whatever."

"I'll do no such thing," Goddard said. "I don't want a goddamned word of this ever made public. But without your car, without your apartment, your salary—you'll have no assets. You'll have nothing. What kind of life is that for a talented fellow like you?"

They own you ... You drive a company car, you live in company housing.... Your whole life ain't yours.... My dad, my stopped-clock father, was right.

Judith got up from the table, came over very close to me. "Adam, I understand what you're feeling," she said in a hush. Her eyes were moist. "You're hurt, you're angry. You feel betrayed, manipulated. You want to retreat into the comforting, secure, protective anger of a small child. It's totally understandable—we all feel that way sometimes. But now it's time to put away childish things. You see, you haven't fallen into something. You've found yourself. It's all good, Adam. It's all good."

Goddard was leaning back in his chair, arms folded. I could see shards of his face reflected in the silver coffeepot, the sugar bowl. He smiled benevolently. "Don't throw it all away, son. I know you'll do the right thing."

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