COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
My Porsche, fittingly, had been towed away. I'd parked it illegally last night; what did I expect?
So I walked out of the Trion building and looked around for a cab, but none was anywhere to be found. I suppose I could have used a phone in the lobby to call for one, but I felt an overwhelming, almost physical need to get out of there. Carrying the white cardboard box filled with the few things from my office, I walked along the side of the highway.
A few minutes later a bright red car pulled over to the curb, slowed down next to me. It was an Austin Mini Cooper, about the size of a toaster oven. The passenger's side window rolled down, and I could smell Alana's lush floral scent wafting through the city air.
She called out to me. "Hey, do you like it? I just got it. Isn't it fabulous?"
I nodded and attempted a cryptic smile. "Red's cop bait," I said.
"I never go over the speed limit."
I just nodded.
She said, "Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?"
I nodded, kept walking, unwilling to play.
She inched her car alongside me. "Hey, what happened to your Porsche?"
"Yuck. Where're you going?"
"Home. Harbor Suites." Not home for long, I realized with a jolt. I didn't own it.
"Well, you're not walking all the way. Not with that box. Come on, get in, I'll give you a ride."
She followed alongside, driving slowly on the shoulder of the road. "Oh, come on, Adam, don't be mad."
I stopped, went over to the car, set down my box, put my hands on the car's low roof. Don't be mad? All along I'd been torturing myself because I thought I was manipulating her, and she was just doing a goddamned job. "You—they told you to sleep with me, didn't they?"
"Adam," she said sensibly. "Get real. That wasn't part of the job description. That's just what HR calls a fringe benefit, right?" She laughed her swooping laugh, and it chilled me. "They just wanted me to guide you along, pass along leads, that sort of thing. But then you came after me...."
"They just wanted you to guide me along," I echoed. "Oh, man. Oh, man. Makes me ill." I picked up the box and resumed walking.
"Adam, I was just doing what they told me to do. You of all people should understand that."
"Like we'll ever be able to trust each other? Even now—you're just doing what they want you to, aren't you?"
"Oh, please," said Alana. "Adam, darling. Don't be so goddamned paranoid."
"And I actually thought we had a nice relationship going," I said.
"It was fun. I had a great time."
"God, don't take it so seriously, Adam! It's just sex. And business. What's wrong with that? Trust me, I wasn't faking it!"
I kept walking, looking around for a cab, but there was nothing in sight. I didn't even know this part of town. I was lost.
"Come on, Adam," she said, inching the Mini along. "Get in the car."
I kept going.
"Oh, come on," she said, her voice like velvet, suggesting everything, promising nothing. "Will you just get in the car?"