Chapter Nine

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By the time we make it to the conference room, Paul guiding my woozy steps, I'm better. My eyes have cleared. The slosh has morphed into manageable disorientation. I sit beside Paul at one end of a table and find myself able to touch the chair-arm, to process its sponginess with my finger. I can even smell.

McGriddle.

Paul hunches over our knees. "That's quite a bruise. Does it hurt?"

I shrug. "Not half as bad as Carter and that wannabe drill sergeant after I finish with them."

"That's the wrong approach," my supervisor says. "Don't let anger be your driver."

But I'm not really going to fight them. Not like that. I scan the conference room, considering possibilities. The projector-computer will be blocked from the outside world ... the phone is not going to reach 911 ... the window has potential—maybe I could sprawl, "SEND HELP, FASCIST CORPORATE TRAINERS ARE HOLDING US HOSTAGE!" across several sheets of copy paper—except that we're on the second floor and the adjacent building is windowless.

Through the door, Carter watches us. Jim Davis is frowning at one of his doomsday countdown timers and hassling people back to work.

Paul asks what happened in the garage. I tell him.

"It was savage," I say.

"But you did try to leave?"

"Yeah I tried to leave. So? So what, you're taking their side?"

He kneads the bridge of his nose. "I know it feels good to follow our impulses. But as adults, sometimes—"

"Think they blocked Bluetooth? If not we might get an SOS through there."

"You're not listening, Deb. You're not being rational."

"Oh I think I'm being extraordinarily rational."

"No. You aren't. Look I realize you disdain protocol— you've succeeded largely in spite of it. You have the kind of talent people accommodate. But there is a limit. There are times when compliance is required."

"Says you."

"Yes, says me!" His eyes bulge like Mr. Magoo if he stopped squinting. "Carter and Susan want Blackquest 40 to happen. They wouldn't have brought these guys in if they didn't see a concrete financial benefit."

"What, this FPP-1 junk?"

Paul wheezes. "I suppose. These executives ... the logic can be circuitous I admit. They have a plan. We need more revenue, and they have a plan to achieve that. Our job is to execute."

"Are you sure they have a plan? Because I'm not."

"I have worked sixteen years in this industry: I know how these business types operate." He fixes me with his thickest gaze. "You don't."

"What? You are these business types. You co-founded Codewise with Susan and Carter— you're rich and white, and you married your Asian secretary."

Paul falls silent, taking sudden interest in the table's woodgrain. As soon as the words are out, I feel terrible. What do I know about him and Li Wei? Paul doesn't throw my personal life back in my face. In fact, he once called out the whole team after a racy ad featuring lesbians entangled with Armani ties found its way to the kitchen corkboard. (It didn't bother me, but his concern was sweet.)

"I am white. I did marry my secretary," he says into the table. "But the rich part ..."

"Huh?"

"I have three kids, and Sunnyvale's expensive. Not much left after the mortgage payment."

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