“Three weeks. Unless we run into a major fault, we’ll have the finished program in three weeks, Harry. If you and your friends would leave me alone, we might have it even faster.”
JD jotted notes across his desk pad while staring at the jargon on the screen. The sleek modern curves of the desk with its sleek computer equipment and the staggering skyline outside a bank of windows formed a cocoon of expensive technology that obliterated any signs of humanity from his surroundings.
Unfortunately, technology couldn’t shield him from his uncle’s Arkansas whine over the telephone. In the electronically controlled coolness that shut out the muggy pollution LA called air, JD made a quick slash beneath one of his notes, then scowled. “No, Harry. Absolutely not. I’m not allowing a single bleeping stranger on this floor until the program is packaged and out of here. No, Harry!”
As his uncle continued, he flung his marker across the desk and didn’t notice as it bounced off a gleaming metal stress toy and skittered to the floor. He ran his hands through his tousled hair and swore violently.
‘To hell with family, Harry. They may be your family, but they ‘re not mine. Stall them, Harry. I don’t want to hear another word about it.” JD slammed the phone down and swore fluently before grabbing the receiver and punching a button. A man couldn’t trust anyone, not even himself sometimes. He’d learned that lesson long ago.
“Dillon,” he growled into the receiver, “what the hell were you doing letting us sign a loan contract that allows a damned financial officer on the premises? Are you out of your mind? Read the blamed thing again. We’ve made every payment promptly. There’s no reason for this.” He listened for about thirty seconds, gnashing his teeth at his lawyer’s weak excuses.
‘They’re threatening to pull the loan if we don’t bring him up here,” JD interrupted. “This is a serious matter, Dillon. Have you ever seen Harry’s damned friends? They all carry Magnums in their underwear and pigstickers in their socks.”
JD suffered the lawyer’s hemming and hawing just long enough to escalate his fury to murderous and slammed the phone down. Impulsiveness did not become a CEO. Before he could punch another button, Jimmy MacTavish bobbed into the office.
“JD, I’ve gotta leave early today. Barbara wants me to attend some function or other, and I’ve gotta rent a monkey suit. Katy about has that ATM debit loop under control. We’re still on schedule.” He loosened his narrow knit tie as he entered.
If anything, Jimmy matched the public’s image of the quintessential computer nerd. Tall and string-bean rangy, he wore wire glasses he’d taped together and forgotten to take in for repair. His lank hair straggled into his eyes, and his entire wardrobe consisted of white shirts, narrow ties, and interchangeable baggy suit pants without the matching jackets. Compared to JD’s more compact, muscular build and his wardrobe of T-shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots, an observer couldn’t be blamed for thinking Jimmy the CEO of Marshall Enterprises.
“We’ve got trouble, Jimmy. That loan contract Dillon let us sign allows a financial officer on the premises. Harry’s friends are threatening to come in on us.”
JD noticed Jimmy seemed more nervous about missing his date with Barbara than about Harry’s threats. No one was afraid of Harry. Anybody in their right mind would be afraid of Jimmy’s bloodsucking girlfriend. JD waited for the day Jimmy came in with two holes in his neck.
“What can bankers do? They’ll look at some printouts, ask a few questions, pull a few invoices. You’re getting paranoid, Marshall. No one knows what we’re doing. No one cares. We’re not exactly Microsoft.”
Maybe he was paranoid. JD worked his shoulders beneath his T-shirt in hopes of releasing some of the tension. What he really needed was time in the gym so he could work off enough steam to keep him from killing somebody.
“Word is out, Jimmy, don’t kid yourself,” JD reminded his partner. “We went to half a dozen banks for that loan. We presented precise plans of what we would accomplish with the money. They know we’re competing with the big boys on this one. That’s why they turned us down. There’s nothing to stop them from spreading the word. They may be laughing, but they’ll be watching.”
“If you’re so worried about Harry’s friends, why don’t you go ahead with your plans and go public? We could make enough off a stock offering to cover the loan on the basis of the game software alone.” Jimmy loosened his tie even more and began to pace, occasionally throwing a glance at the escape hatch of the door.
“We don’t have time for that now. Besides, once we have the banking program copyrighted, the stock will be worth fortunes. We’ll need that money for operating expenses to get the program through production and sales. We discussed all this, Jimmy. We’ve got to find some way of stalling Harry.”
“I still think you’re nuts. If you can’t trust your uncle, who can you trust? Listen, I’ve gotta go. Barbara’s waiting downstairs. I’ll see you later.” He loped off, leaving the office door open behind him.
JD didn’t envy Jimmy’s henpecked state, but he still wished he had the freedom of running out like that. Once upon a time he’d amused himself and released a lot of angry tension by creating video computer games with ghouls crashing down hallways and space aliens zapping dinosaurs. Then he’d developed the biggest video game of them all, Monster House, and sales had slammed through the ceiling. He’d turned into a damned executive with a multimillion-dollar company to run, and his life hadn’t been the same since.
Particularly not after he’d had the brilliant idea of applying that fascinating loop he’d created for Monster House to a program that would facilitate on-line computer banking. The principles were the same; he just used debits and credits instead of gorgons and three-headed dwarves. Once he’d realized that, there had been no going back. He’d sunk all his profits into research and development and hired the best staff available. Then a few months ago he’d discovered that the big software companies were closing in on him. With their huge facilities, they could develop the program fifty times faster once they discovered the key he already possessed. He’d gone out hat in hand, begging for money to speed up his own production.
Only Uncle Harry had come through. JD glared at his secretary as she walked in bearing the ubiquitous phone messages. She didn’t flinch. Miss Hartwell had almost twice JD’s years and a head full of gray hair as thick as his own black locks. Sometimes, he swore she used the same barber.
“You’ve had two calls from Mr. Dillon, another from the stockbroker, one from a Mr. DiFrancesco who says your uncle Harry told you about him, and another from some youngster who wants to know if you came from Tempe, Arizona.” Her usually clipped tones held a quizzical note when she mentioned the last.
Tempe, Arizona. That’s all JD needed on a day like this, to be reminded of Tempe. He didn’t come from anywhere, precisely. He’d lived in Germany, Italy, Alaska, and half the United States at one time or another. Tempe had been one of his father’s last stops. JD had been sixteen at the time. He had no desire whatsoever to recall that disastrous period of his past.
“Tell them all I’ve gone to hell for a vacation and won’t be back until I meet the devil. I’ve got work to do.” Spinning in his chair, JD ignored the messages his secretary dropped on the desk and returned to his computer screen. He had no intention of ever creating a computer program that talked. He much preferred his silent companions to the ceaseless nattering of the people around him. He hadn’t always been that way. These last years he had just gravitated in that direction. On the whole, the people in his life were a major disappointment. Computers, on the other hand, he understood completely, even when they broke down and went haywire on him.
“The guard downstairs said Mr. Marshall is on the way up. Shall I keep him out, too?” she asked without inflection.