Infomotions, Inc.Undo, a Novel By Joe Hutsko / Hutsko, Joe, 1963-



Author: Hutsko, Joe, 1963-
Title: Undo, a Novel By Joe Hutsko
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): wallaby; matthew; greta; joey; icp; peter; byron; joey plus; jones; peter jones; william harrell; william; joe hutsko; portable computer; matthew locke
Contributor(s): Schreiber, Charlotte, Lady, 1812-1895 [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 102,350 words (short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 69 (easy)
Identifier: etext480
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"Undo"

a novel by Joe Hutsko

COPYRIGHT 1996, by Joe Hutsko

March, 1996  [Etext #480]
^toms


*The Project Gutenberg Etext of "Undo", a novel by Joe Hutsko*
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*The Project Gutenberg Etext of "Undo", a novel by Joe Hutsko*
COPYRIGHT 1996, by Joe Hutsko





"Undo"
a novel by
Joe Hutsko



COPYRIGHT 1996, by Joe Hutsko



RESTRICTIONS

The author, Joe Hutsko, retains the copyright to this novel.

This novel may be freely distributed as long as there is no
charge for its distribution. You may read this novel, make copies
of it, and distribute it exactly as it is, unchanged, via any
media, as long as you do not receive money for it.

If you wish to include this novel in a CD-ROM collection, please
contact the author to obtain written permission for its
inclusion.

Thank you.

Joe Hutsko
76703.4030@compuserve.com



"UNDO" ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB

The WWW version of "Undo" is located at
http://www.vivid.com/undo.html

(Special thanks to Nathan Shedroff, Drue Miller, and Anita Corona
of San Francisco-based Vivid Studios, for kindly creating and
maintaining the "Undo" WWW page; you folks are a many splendid
thing.)


NOTE TO NEWTON USERS

A Newton Book edition of "Undo" is available in the Newton/PIE
Forum on CompuServe (GO NEWTON), in the Newton Forum on America
Online (KEYWORD: NEWTON), and in the Newton Books Forum on eWorld
(SHORTCUT: NEWTON).

(Special thanks to Patty Tulloch, of Apple Computer, Inc., for
her kindness, her commitment, and most of all, her friendship.
Without her assistance, the Newton Book edition of "Undo" would
not have been possible.)


DOWNLOADING THE ETEXT EDITION OF "UNDO"

The complete Etext edition of "Undo" may be downloaded from the
World Wide Web in the Project Gutenberg library, located at
http://jg.cso.uiuc.edu/PG/welcome.html 

The Etext edition of "Undo" is also available in the Newton/PIE
Forum on CompuServe (GO NEWTON), in the PDA Forum on America
Online (KEYWORD: PDA), and in the Newton Books Forum on eWorld
(SHORTCUT: NEWTON).



TABLE OF CONTENTS

AUTHOR'S NOTE
DEDICATION
INTRODUCTION TO THE ELECTRONIC EDITION
PROLOGUE
PART I
   Chapters 1 - 6
PART II
   Chapters 7 - 11     
PART III
   Chapters 12 - 16
PART IV
   Chapters 17 - 20
PART V
   Chapters 21 - 24
THE END



AUTHOR'S NOTE

 This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, companies,
products, places, and incidents are either the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, companies
and/or products, or locales, is entirely coincidental.



DEDICATION

This novel is dedicated
to the loving memory of my father

Stephen M. Hutsko



INTRODUCTION TO THE ELECTRONIC EDITION

"What a long, strange trip it's been."
-- The Grateful Dead


As nearly as I can remember, I began writing this novel in the
summer of '88, after leaving my job at Apple Computer, Inc.,
where I worked for almost four years for former Apple chairman
John Sculley, as his personal technology advisor. It was a neat
job title and a lot of fun, but somewhere in there I decided I
wanted to become a novelist. Eight years and two title-changes
later, the first novel that I set out to write, known these days
as "Undo," is finally available to readers in this special
electronic edition, free of charge.


Electronic books, or e-texts, have been available for some time
now so this is hardly groundbreaking news. Or is it? For me,
it's a pretty big deal. Primarily because the electronic books
that are available to download from the Internet, the World Wide
Web, and online services such as CompuServe and America Online,
were published previously in hardback or paperback editions, or
both. Bruce Sterling's "The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on
the Electronic Frontier," for example, was first published in
hardback by Bantam in 1992, then in 1993 in paperback, also by
Bantam. Sterling wisely retained the electronic rights to his
book so that he may - electronically speaking - do as he pleases
with his work. To the best of my knowledge, Sterling is the first
author to give away his published, in-print book for free on the
Net.

I don't know how many people who download e-books actually read
them from cover-to-cover, though I suspect the number is rather
low. Mainly because the medium isn't as easy on the eyes as
traditional paper-based books. I would bet that most people who
download e-books - and I'm talking about novels, vs. reference
works - browse them part of the way, then delete them from their
computer or PDA. As for works of non-fiction, such as Sterling's
book, or the enormously serviceable "Elements of Style" (which
has recently appeared in e-book format), readers refer to these
works on a need-to-know basis. But novels, they're another story.
A novel is something you curl up with and, if it's a good one,
lose yourself in, much the way Alice found herself getting lost
in that fantastic looking glass. Perhaps the valuable thing about
publishing a novel as an e-text is that it gives readers a taste
for the story and for the author's style, so that the reader can
then go out and purchase the published edition if they want to.

But let's get back to "Undo," and why making it available for
free in this electronic book version is so important to me. The
reason is simple: I want people to read it, and this is - so
far, anyway - the only way to make that happen. For, despite the
hard-fought efforts of not one, not two, but three very reputable
literary agents, the book, unlike Mr. Sterling's works, has not
found a trade publisher it can call home.

Why? The answer to this question is best summed up by Bantam
editor Brian Tart, in his recent letter of rejection:

- - - - - - - - - - 

Ms. Juliet Nicolson
Juliet Nicolson Ltd. Literary Agency
71 Chester Row
London England SW1W 8JL 


Dear Juliet:



Thank you for dropping off Joe Hutsko's ms. while you were in New
York. I must say that I am impressed with Mr. Hutsko's writing
and believe him to be a talent to watch in the future. His story,
however, seemed to me to be a bit stale - it seems to be about
six or eight years too late in the making - as I could see, and
indeed have seen, this kind of corporate intrigue take place in
the world of non-fiction. Because the plot was not as timely as
it would need to be to succeed in the commercial marketplace, I
will have to pass.

Please do keep me informed of Mr. Hutsko's projects, should he
decide to embark upon writing another ms.

Sincerely,
 [Signed]
Brian Tart
Associate Editor


Enc.

- - - - - - - - - - 



Give or take a few sentiments, the gist of Mr. Tart's
encouraging but ultimately downer letter was repeated by all of
the top trade publishing houses. A number of enthusiastic editors
- in particular a young editor named John Michel, who pleaded
with his senior editors to acquire the novel first at
HarperCollins, then later when he moved to Crown (and who has
since become a friend, so something good has survived those
battles) - tried their best to acquire the book, and in one case
an offer was extended to my then-agent, but then two days later
the publisher backed out, apologizing that the editor who'd made
the offer was in no position to do so, please forgive the error
in our ways.

The really troubling thing for me was that when I set out to
write my novel, another novel called "The Bonfire of the
Vanities," by Tom Wolfe, had taken the reading population by
storm. Was not Mr. Wolfe's novel inspired by real-life, by the
bond trading schemes that at the time were making front page
news? Readers of fiction turned the book into a best-seller, and
as one of those readers, I cannot say that I would have read the
book were Tom Wolfe to have written it as a non-fiction title.
That it was inspired by actual characters and events, and turned
by Wolfe's expert hands into a compelling modern-day tale of
murder and mortality, were enough to convince me that I could
pull off the same sort of magic with my own "what if" scenario,
swapping Silicon Valley for New York, and the personal computer
business for bond trading.

That this was my first attempt at writing a novel goes a long way
toward explaining the earliest rejections of the work, then
titled "Silicon Dreams," by editors unlucky enough to have had it
land with a thud on their desks. Somehow I'd lost sight of Mr.
Wolfe's excellent illustration and found myself mimicking, all at
once, the likes of Sidney Sheldon, Arthur Hailey, Jackie
Collins, and, believe it or not, Stephen King (who happens to be
my favorite mainstream read). With so many influences at play in
the already befuddled head of an aspiring young writer with
dreams of hitting the number one spot on all of the best-seller
lists, you (and of course I, this much later) can understand how
my storytelling ability left something to be desired.

Still, I pressed on, heeding suggestions I believed were valid
(such as: "How dare you kill that character in the middle of the
book just because you don't know what to do with her next!").
More than once I put the whole thing on the shelf to give it, and
myself, a breather; to put a little space between us so that our
respective flaws could be considered the next time around with a
clearer, colder eye. Four rewrites later, including a
no-holds-barred excising, I finally had a book, still known then
as "Silicon Dreams," that I believed was as good as it was going
to get.

And then it happened. A publisher bought it. I had the literary
critic Digby Diehl to thank for this good news. At the time Digby
was a book reviewer for "Playboy," and also a daily book
columnist for the Prodigy online service (where I'd done a brief
stint ghost writing for a highly paid high-tech analyst who will
remain unnamed). Via e-mail I asked Digby if he'd read my novel
and, if he liked it, to suggest editors who may want to take a
look at it. Well, Digby'd read it and liked it - enough to
personally pass it along to the head of a new and
small-but-going-for-the-big-time publisher named Knightsbridge
Publishing, an imprint distributed by the reputable Hearst
Corporation. Knightsbridge was founded around the time of the
Gulf War, and made its killing, so to speak, with a mass market
paperback best-seller, "The Rape of Kuwait."

The deal was for both hardback and paperback rights, and the
publisher himself called me to offer $5000 for the whole package,
which I came close to accepting. However, I knew that money
matters were best handled by my agent - despite the fact that I
had fired her a few months earlier for not having sold the novel
herself. Fortunately she forgave me my actions and signed me back
up, compelling Knightsbridge to increase its offer to $25,000.

Too bad neither of us ever saw most of that money.
Unfortunately, Knightsbridge went out of business - but not
without first boosting my expectations through the exhilarating
prepublication process. I was assigned a marvelous editor named
Lynette Padwa, whose keen suggestions helped me to make the book
a better read. There was even a glossy lavender and gold embossed
book jacket with my photo on back atop Digby Diehl's encouraging
blurb, and two months before the publication date I received my
first bound galley copy, to double-check for typesetting errors
before it went off to the printer. The prepublication buzz
started up, and a Hollywood producer named Andrew Karsch, who'd
just released "The Prince of Tides" with Barbra Streisand, was
considering buying a film option on the novel to adapt for a
possible a feature film or television miniseries. And just when
things couldn't possibly look brighter, they did, when both
Kirkus Review and Publishers Weekly asked to see advance reader's
copies of the book.

And then the impossible dream turned into a nightmare. I should
have known the end was near when instead of receiving the
signing advance in one lump sum, as agreed upon, it was coming in
smaller and smaller portions (and then only after my hounding the
accounting department every day telling them my rent and phone
bill were late). You see, I wanted to believe. It was difficult
enough to accept that this was finally happening to me - that my
first novel was about to be published in hardback to building
fanfare. To think otherwise, that something might stop the novel
from being published, wasn't a "happy thought," and anything but
happy thoughts, my agent advised, would seep disagreeably into
the novel's successful launch. But unhappy did things turn when
Knightsbridge announced that it was closing shop.

But I was not to be put off. Armed with ten bound galleys, my
agent appealed to several hardback publishers...and when they
all said no - in almost every case for the same reasons Brian
Tart at Bantam gave us - we tried paperback publishers, lowering
our expectations and hoping then for a paperback original deal.
Twice we came close. First Ace, then Berkley, however editors at
both houses met resistance from editorial boards who felt that
the novel would find no audience.

Feeling dejected and down on my luck, I had to blame someone for
this conspiracy, so once again I contacted my agent and told her
I would be seeking representation elsewhere. This time she told
me she wouldn't take me back if I changed my mind, and who could
blame her. My next agent, who'd left an old and very successful
New York literary agency to start her own agency, was young and
fresh and building a name for herself as one to watch in the
business, with editors chasing her all over the floor at the
first American Booksellers Association conference she attended on
her own. She had a more focused approach: Talk up the book to a
few editors she knew very well and try to get something of a
rivalry going for it - before any of them even read it.
Brilliant thinking; this was the kind of agent I wanted on my
side. Shooting for freshness, we decided to change the novel's
title from "Silicon Dreams" to "Double Click," and off it went to
the waiting editors. The long and short of it: Neither Random
House nor Viking wanted it. Adding insult to injury, one even
suggested that if I were to write a non-fiction book he would
publish that. What a depressing thought.

Before she'd signed me up, my agent and I had agreed to treat our
relationship as a trial agreement. After the rejection, I decided
that though she was fast becoming a very hot agent, mainstream
fiction wasn't her area of expertise; what I really, really
needed was an agent who represented best-selling mainstream
authors.

My friend Gloria Nagy, a splendid novelist with seven novels
under her belt (one of which, "Looking for Leo," is on its way to
becoming a CBS miniseries), put me in touch with her then-agent,
Ed Victor, who is based in London, and enjoys a long client list
of acclaimed literary and mainstream authors. After Gloria's
introduction, I sent my novel to Ed Victor, and although he'd
rejected the novel six years ago, suggesting it needed a lot of
work (advise I took to heart), this time he responded positively,
saying he had enjoyed it.

Yet, because his client list was so full and active, he was at
the time not taking on new fiction writers. He did however
direct me to an agent named Juliet Nicolson, with whom he had
begun a working alliance, and to whom he would be happy to send
my novel for consideration. A spirited British woman, Juliet had
lived and worked in publishing in the United States for many
years, and had decided to return to London to start her own
agency. Several weeks later she faxed me to say that she
thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and that Ed Victor lends his full
support to her should I decide to have her represent me. I called
her back thirty seconds later and shouted "Yes," and, another
long and short of it, despite their combined efforts, their long
careers of landing huge book deals, the novel "Double Click"
still found no publishing house.

After sending the novel to a long list of hardback publishers,
then trying, as before, to secure a paperback original deal,
Juliet felt it was time to put the book away and concentrate on
my next novel, which I had in fits and starts tried to get off
the ground for the last however many years. She stressed that
someday we would sell "Double Click," possibly after my next
novel or the one after that, and assured me that this was how
first novels sometimes turned out (after all, although John
Grisham's blockbuster "The Firm" made him a household name, his
first novel was the small-press-published "A Time to Kill," which
Doubleday/Dell then rereleased to astonishing success). So I put
"Double Click" away once more and went back to writing the video
game strategy guides I'd found my way into to pay the rent, and
that was the end of that...

For about six months, anyway.

Then I was struck by an idea: To rewrite "Double Click" just one
more time, but this time around, fix the number one complaint
that editors had voiced: That the story was too dated. So instead
of playing out the trials and tribulations of my characters on a
stage set in the by-now commonplace (and therefore, predictable)
personal and mainframe computer market, I decided to shift the
backdrop to a more modern setting: advanced handheld computers
and pocket communicators, also known as PDAs, or personal digital
assistants.

I told my agent none of this, and quietly set to reworking the
plot and backdrop to accommodate my change of heart. To make the
story feel fresh to me I changed most of the characters names,
but other than that each of their stories and struggles remained
the same. To ensure that I didn't date the story before I even
finished it, I wove in a number of not quite ready for prime time
technologies, including practical speech synthesis and voice
recognition. The final rewrite in effect put the novel ever so
slightly into the future, and as far as I could tell squashed
the criticism that the story was too stale.

Taking my agent by complete surprise, I sent her the new
manuscript, which I had retitled "Undo" (a contemporary term,
recognizable to readers, that represents the novel's premise and
the underlying theme at play in each of the primary characters'
lives - and, a little closer to home, sums up my own story in
trying to turn around the mysterious forces that have stood in
the way of getting this novel published). Well, she was shocked,
to say the least, and complimented me on my patience and
perseverance.

While my agent was busy reading and considering what to do with
the new and improved "Undo," I'd begun, and have since
completed, my second novel, "r.g.b." The book's first chapter,
which I'd written a few years ago, was excerpted in a small
literary journal called "Puck," and represents for me my "other"
style of writing, which, for lack of a better word, I can only
describe as more...intricate and challenging to read, less
mainstream.

Which brings us to the present. Because "r.g.b." is not what my
agent - make that, former agent - considers commercially viable,
she has decided to drop me as a client, suggesting with a wish of
good luck that I find myself an agent who wants to represent both
of my "voices" - the mainstream style of "Undo," and the less
mainstream style of "r.g.b."

So, here we are. My old friend John Michel has offered to help me
find a new literary agent, and I'm about to begin writing a
screenplay called "Misguided Angel" that I've wanted to write
for years. Plus, I'm already thinking about the second screenplay
I'll write after that, and the next mainstream novel, and the
next less mainstream novel too. So I'm anything but down for the
final count.

Have I learned anything in all these years? Tons. For one thing,
my first two agents weren't so unfit after all - each did the
best job she could in trying to sell the novel, and in the end
even my third, highly esteemed agent met with the same
resistance that the previous two encountered. Second, the
publishing business is more a mystery to me than ever. That this
book has not found a home has somehow turned in my heart from a
troubling fact of life, to something of a testament to optimism,
a proud eccentricity, a character-building battle scar of sorts.
I suppose that's just how we fragile beings adapt to unrealized
expectations, dashed hopes. Still, having just completed my new
novel, I'm all juiced up and feeling groovy, raring to give it
another go - after all, it's all anyone who decides to try to
make a living telling stories can do...try, try again.

Will "Undo" ever find its way between the sheets of pulpy paper
and glossy covers? Will it ever find its way onto the big
screen, or, if I had my choice, the little screen? And, perhaps
most important of all, does this novel really matter to anyone
besides me? The first two questions I have no way of knowing the
outcomes of - both are in Fate's all-knowing hands and only time
will tell.

As for that last question, whether this novel matters to anyone
besides me, I can only answer by saying I hope so.

What you're about to read is a novel I have labored over for a
very long time. It gives me great pleasure to hand it over, once
and for all, to you, gentle reader, whoever, and wherever you
are. I hope you like it.

Joe Hutsko
76703.4030@compuserve.com
January, 1996


PROLOGUE


It was once a sprawling flatland, dominated by fruit tree
orchards and nestled safely between protective hills.

This tranquil scene slowly vanished as trees were felled,
concrete poured, and new seeds planted, each the size of a large
beetle and filled with thousands of microscopic circuits, sown by
a new breed of farmer, with dreams of growing the future.

The new electronic produce, capable of performing millions of
calculations in the blink of an eye, was harvested.

The new technology farmland: Silicon Valley.

Viewed from high above, the Valley looks like a schematic
drawing of the very seeds from which it has grown, thousands of
technology orchards, connected by the roads and highways etched
into the golden surface of the land.



PART I


Chapter 1


As he guided the black BMW coupe onto Highway 280, Matthew Locke
felt as though his mind was spinning as quickly as the wheels
propelling him onward. Whether the one functioned as precisely as
the other did not occur to him.

Appraising his position, he wondered why there were so few cars
to contend with this afternoon. Having lived in Northern
California for more than two years, he had never headed home on
280 without confronting ricocheting tail lights, jockeying for
position in the fast lane. Bright sunlight and warm air rushed
through the sunroof and windows as he gained speed and activated
the cruise control upon reaching sixty-five miles per hour.

Then Matthew noticed the clock, and he remembered he was two
hours ahead of the commuter traffic that congested the highway
every day. He also remembered why.

He took a few deep breaths to relax his nerves. He had tried one
last time, to no avail, to compromise with Peter Jones, the
stubborn young founder of Wallaby Computer, Incorporated. 

Matthew Locke did not want things to end like this. Not exactly.
But there was no alternative. The confrontation that had just
taken place was more like a vicious counseling session between a
distressed married couple than a meeting between two senior
executives of the decade's most important and innovative high
technology company.

Matthew had informed his secretary Eileen that he was walking
over to Peter Jones's office to try to talk with him one last
time about the upcoming board of directors meeting. As Matthew
neared Peter's building, his anxiety sharpened. He paused for a
moment and thought about his place at that very instant,
standing at the very center of the Peter Jones legacy.
Surrounding Matthew were a number of Spanish-style, single-story
buildings, each painted white and topped with a red tile roof.
What began as a seedling idea in a garage nearly a decade ago had
blossomed into the cluster of buildings stretching a quarter-mile
in either direction from where he stood, and even farther, to a
number of locations throughout the world. And now he was on his
way to the epicenter of this campus-like complex that was Wallaby
Computer. Matthew arrived from his journey west with the feeling
that he had entered a fairy tale, so full of wonder was this
place. But now, as he resumed his step along the gently curving
sidewalk that ran up either side of the block, he felt as though
the set were changing. Full of dread, he approached the end, and
the beginning, of the rainbow, where he would confront the man
"Time" magazine called the "Computer Wizard."

Peter's secretary cut short her phone conversation the moment she
saw Matthew. 

"Peggy, is Peter in?"

Before she could respond, Peter's own voice answered from behind
him. "No!"

Matthew turned just in time to see Peter's office door slam
shut. He knocked gently.

"Nobody's home," said Peter Jones in a calm voice from behind the
closed door. "Please leave a message at the tone. Beep." 

Matthew Locke was not amused. Like a father exercising his right
to open any door in his own home, he entered the office.

He was met with the sound of continuous clicking from Peter's
keyboard. The office was small and sparsely furnished, with
simple overstuffed furniture and gray carpeting. Peter was
sitting before his computer at a black lacquered desk against the
wall, his back turned to Matthew. He closed the door behind him
and waited for Peter to turn around.

 "Nobody's home," Peter repeated over the sound of his staccato
typing.

Matthew eased himself into the chair beside the couch,
remembering the first time he had sat in this very office, more
than two years ago, when Jones had hired him to run the company.
My God, Matthew thought, how he has changed - how everything has
changed. 

All at once, the room was silent. Peter Jones turned around in
his chair.

One thing had not changed: Peter's eyes. Deep and black and
seemingly bottomless, certain and sharply focused, like the eyes
of a young boy determined to win a swimming race. Matthew felt
his toes grip at nothingness inside his dock shoes, felt his feet
slide silently backward a fraction of an inch across the natty
carpet, as if he were taking a step back from the edge of the
board for fear of diving once again into that dark pool. And with
this thought came another...of water, and splashing, thrashing,
losing grip... Loss. Determined, Matthew quickly sobered himself
of the troubling memories that had momentarily distorted his
focus. 

He stood. "Peter, unless you and I can come to some
understanding about how we're going to run the business, I'm
going to suggest some drastic changes at tomorrow's board
meeting." To avoid Peter's eyes he glanced at the computer
screen. 

Peter smoothly turned the screen's dimmer knob and stared at
Matthew. "There'll be some changes, all right," Peter said.

The gravity of the younger man's tone went unnoticed by Matthew.
His attention had been captured by what he'd seen on the screen
before it darkened. It appeared that Peter was working on some
sort of graphic. A drawing with little boxes. Probably a sketch
of a new computer design, Matthew concluded. The pang of pity he
felt changed to frustration when he recognized the root of the
problem: Why can't he understand that this is exactly what he
should be doing, designing new computers, and let me run the
company? 

"It's too late for any more discussion," Peter said, flicking
away the shock of dark brown hair hanging over his brow. "I know
all about your plan to suggest a reorganization, Matthew. What,
you're surprised? I know everything that goes on here." He made a
disgusted noise. Then, as if to signal the end of the
discussion, he took a pen in hand and directed his attention to a
legal pad. With intense concentration, he began drawing a line
spiraling round and round from the middle of the page outward. 

"It's not too late. That's what I'm trying too tell you,"
Matthew said. "I don't think you realize the severity of things
around here. How bad it's gotten."

Peter began humming a tune to himself.

"The board is very disturbed about the schedule slips, and
furthermore, the weak sales - "

Peter's meditation ended. The pen flew within inches of
Matthew's face. He leaped to his feet. "Don't you dare come into
my office and tell me how to run my company." The younger man was
all tensile, his body resonating with indignation. "Now leave me
alone! Just get out of here!"

Matthew held his place. "Peter, please."

"Out!" 

It was hopeless. There was no way Matthew would be able to reach
him. "Okay, Peter," Matthew said with a resigned sigh. "You
win." 

The room was silent. Peter stood there with his eyes closed,
waiting for Matthew to go. 

Matthew turned to leave, then paused, his hand on the door
latch. He waited half a minute, until Peter opened his eyes and
looked at him.

"What?" Peter asked, wearily.

"That's what I want to know."

"What's what you want to know?"

"What went wrong. Why." Prepared for more flailing, Peter's
reaction surprised him.

Without looking at Matthew, Peter came toward him. He picked up
the pen he had moments before used as a missile. He lowered
himself down onto the sofa and casually crossed one leg over the
other. He held the pen bearing the Wallaby logo by each end
between his fingers. Emphatically, yet softly, he explained. "You
don't understand. You just don't get it. You don't know the truth
about inventing products like Wallaby's. In the long run, it's
all that really matters. That the products are true to the
visions that inspire them." He gently placed the pen in his
pocket, shrugged. His glazed eyes drifted across the room to rest
on his docked Joey. "My visions are my products."

He remained there for a few moments with a rapt, slightly
smiling expression lighting his face, gone inside himself to a
place where, the way he saw it, everything was sharp and clear,
where he could see things no one else could see. 

The only thing Matthew saw was a man gone. Gone mad, perhaps.
Although they'd had arguments in the past, Peter had never seemed
so unhinged. In a way, Matthew felt relieved. Having witnessed
Peter's distracted state, he was resolved to proceed with his
plan.

The young founder blinked. He looked at Matthew with clear eyes.
He was back. He bit his lower lip, and with an expression at once
sad and perplexed, he said, "What is it that you see, Matthew?
What is your vision?"

The car phone jingled, snapping Matthew out of his musing.

Was it Peter? If so, he could turn around at the next exit and be
back in just a few minutes. Though he had every intention of
proceeding with his plan as it now stood, Matthew would
nevertheless give Peter until the very last minute to see things
his way.

"Peter?"

"Matthew, it's Eileen." His secretary. "I called Peter's office.
Peggy said you left ten minutes ago. What happened?" 

"I've decided to go home for the rest of the day," he said. "If I
have any calls - "

"You already do. Laurence Maupin."

"Is it urgent?"

"The two of you were scheduled to discuss tomorrow's meeting.
She's in your office now, holding on the line."

"Okay. Put her on."

There was a click, then Laurence's voice. "Hi, Matthew. I've
prepared a short press release to send over the business wire
after tomorrow's board meeting." She spoke quickly, considerate
of his time. "It reads: 'Wallaby Computer, Incorporated today
announced a realignment of executive responsibilities. In
addition to his current position as president and CEO, Matthew
Locke will now assume the responsibilities of chairman of the
board, and vice president of the Joey division...'"

At this last, his heart suddenly quickened. "'Peter Jones,
former chairman and cofounder of Wallaby, will stay on as the
company's leading visionary, focusing on advanced technologies
and future product designs.'

"Still there?" she asked, giving him an opportunity to comment.

"Go on."

She continued immediately. "'Locke has expressed great
confidence in Jones's ability to drive Wallaby to the position of
technology leader in the desktop computer and personal
interactive assistant industry.'" When she finished reading
Matthew's statement, she paused. "Is that suitable?"

"Yes. That's fine. Thank you."

"If you'd like to conduct any phone interviews with key press
constituents, I'll need to know that now so I can make
arrangements."

"No. None. What you've done is fine for all parties."

He waited to be sure she was through, then said, "Thank you,
Laurence." Before taking her call he had been eager to be alone
so he could mentally review his plan, but now he felt oddly
unwilling to end their conversation. Something about her voice,
the words about him spoken so decidedly, was having a softening
effect on his anxious mood. 

"Listen," he said, "when this settles down, let's spend some time
together to work on my strategy for the press and Wallaby's new
PR plans."

"Absolutely."

"Great. And thanks again," he said. With nothing left to discuss,
he said good-bye. As he moved the phone from his ear he heard her
call his name. "Yes?"

"I almost forgot," she said, slightly exasperated. "Where do you
get your car serviced?"

"My car?" Matthew said, a little dumbfounded.

"Yes. My steering is making a terrible noise. It's a BMW, like
yours. Well not exactly like yours. I mean, mine is a lot
smaller."

"Wallaby does mine," Matthew said. "They arrange for its service,
near my house. The place is called Bavaria Motor Systems, in
Woodside. It's just off Woodside Road."

"Right. I know where that is," Laurence said. "It sounds more
like a high tech company than a car shop, doesn't it? I'm finally
getting used to all these sys's and gen's and tech's and mem's,"
she said with a chuckle. 

Her laughter caught Matthew by surprise. Until now, Laurence had
conducted herself in a strictly-business fashion. In light of the
seriousness of the situation he faced with Wallaby, her easy
laughter was a welcome breath of fresh air. He hadn't heard
laughter, or laughed himself, in a long time. He thought of
perhaps thanking her for... But for what? For laughing? Sure.

"Well, again, thank you, Laurence," Matthew.

"No, thank you," she said. "And Matthew, you can call me Lauri if
you like. It makes things less formal."

"All right. Good-bye, Lauri..." And for the second time he heard
her call his name as he went to hang up the phone. "Now what?" he
said, affably.

"I'm sorry, Matthew. There's one more thing. The picture in your
office, of your wife and her horse. Where is that? I mean, where
does she keep her horse?"

"You ride? I had no idea. It's Woodside Ranch. About a half-mile
north of the BMW shop. There's a turnoff, with a sign. You can't
miss it. That it?"

"Yes," she replied.

"You're sure?" He laughed. "Okay, then. Good-bye." He snapped the
phone back onto its cradle and settled into the comfort of the
leather seat. Tomorrow's meeting. The press. The future.
Laurence's certainty and control helped him strengthen his own
hold on the immediacy of tomorrow's meeting, and his overall
plan.

His plan. He'd spent the past six months analyzing and plotting
its current phase. If the vote was successful, Peter Jones would
be removed from his position as Wallaby's chairman and
engineering division vice president. Company-wide responsibility
would be turned over to Matthew.

All the pieces were in place. To begin with, Matthew had gained
tentative agreement from Wallaby's vice chairman, Hank Towers, to
consider "repositioning" Peter within the company. He had then
spent many hours with each member of the executive staff over the
last several months, subtly gaining their confidence as he
explained his strategy for the company's future, one that would
increase Wallaby's profitability and competitive position in the
industry.

Dissolving the executive staff's confidence in Peter Jones as a
leader, while building its trust and gaining its loyalty for
himself as company president, had been an extremely delicate
operation. Resistance from even one member of the executive staff
could have prevented his plan from advancing to its present
place.

The first phase of Matthew's plan, to gain support after his
arrival at Wallaby, had been successful. He had become a credible
and qualified champion of Wallaby's high technology platform of
computer products, a status he would have never reached without
Peter's focused coaching and friendship.

Just a year and a half earlier, "Business Week" had touted Peter
and Matthew as "The Brains and Brawn of Silicon Valley." Gracing
the cover was a jocular photo of the two, an insightful,
undisguised shot whose overall effect was similar to that of a
Hollywood buddy film promotion poster. On the left stood Peter,
wearing jeans and a white Oxford shirt. His shirtsleeves were
rolled to the elbow and his arms were folded nimbly across his
chest. Of slight build and tenuous stance, his physical composure
was that of a lanky high school student, yet his eyes had the
depth of a twenty-coat lacquer finish. They were the eyes of a
man older than his years, whose mind performed at a
cycles-per-second rate equal to that of three men combined. He
was thirty-one.

Beside Peter stood Matthew, one arm hung loosely over the younger
man's shoulder. He wore khaki pants and a chambray work shirt
whose sleeves, like Peter's, were rolled to the elbows. The
sparse, light-brown hair, high, time-worn forehead, and the
creases of his face, especially around the eyes, did not belie
his age. His eyes, more gray than blue, burned with the
determination of a college graduate who, with diploma fresh in
hand, sprints eagerly toward The Challenge. He was forty-two.

Tensions began to surface just six months after that cover shot
appeared on newsstands, when after its introduction, the Joey
personal interactive assistant met with only mild commercial
success. Though the device won accolades from the industry for
Peter and his team of engineers for its breakthrough technology,
buyers were skeptical. The dream that Peter shared with Matthew
in their first meeting was to make the Joey the hottest-selling
portable computer device in the world, displacing market share
completely dominated by Wallaby's biggest competitor,
International Computer Products. 

The dream was never realized. Though users of ICP's own
best-selling portable computer admitted that the Joey was
technically more innovative and expertly designed, there were few
key software applications available for it at the time of its
introduction. At the root of the delay was a frustrating paradox:
While the Joey was by far the easiest to use portable interactive
assistant, it was also the most difficult computer to develop
software programs for. The Joey employed a radical new method of
operation and many of the software developers had trouble
learning the new system. As sales of the Joey dropped off, the
pressure on Peter's team grew more intense. Enhancements that
would make the Joey easier to develop programs for were behind
schedule, and Matthew held Peter responsible for the delays.

During this precarious period, Peter ran for cover. Embarrassed
by his own shortsightedness, he left Matthew to contend with
Wallaby's share-sensitive executives and board members. It wasn't
unnatural for the president of a company to contend with its
board of directors, but it was radically different from the way
things had worked at Wallaby in the past. Peter Jones held a dual
role as chairman of the board and vice president of the Joey
division. Until the development dilemma, Peter had always been
the primary voice in front of the board. So while Peter recovered
from his temporary loss of balance, Matthew soothed board
members' nerves by committing all of his energies to building a
strategy that would move Wallaby back into a secure, high-sales
position. He assured them that Peter was on track and would come
through with the necessary improvements. He produced impressive
development trend studies that described how it often took two
years for a new product to gain market acceptance. His methodical
East Coast style had an interesting effect on the anxious
principals: They believed him. In the past, Peter has wowed them
with his enthusiasm and technological prowess. There had never
been cause to question the young man's business acumen; the
company was less than ten years old and had been profitable for
just as long. But suddenly, Peter's passionate efforts seemed
empty; the numbers were declining. Those numbers needed turning
around, and Matthew was the board's man. Now that he had their
confidence, it was time to give them an ultimatum.

It was really quite simple. Matthew would propose that Peter be
removed as the leader of both Wallaby and the Joey group. Matthew
would personally oversee the accelerated development of the new
Joey Plus, enforcing a strict schedule to complete its design and
production in just three months. Matthew knew Peter that would be
utterly shocked by his proposal at tomorrow's meeting. Though
Peter would be stripped of all his power, Matthew hoped that
after his feelings healed, the executive staff and board of
directors would be able to persuade him to concentrate his
visionary skills in a research capacity, which Matthew could draw
upon when the core Joey technology began showing signs of
obsolescence.

To fulfill his promise to fix the company's stalled position,
Matthew intended to unify the engineering groups, ending the
elitist conditions Peter had created when he began developing the
Joey more than three years ago. Peter had chosen only the
brightest, most proven people and moved his new team to a private
building, which he had surrounded with tight security. Only the
Joey team had been allowed to enter the building, a first in
Wallaby history. Before the Joey project, employees had been free
to enter every building. Most employees had no reason to enter
buildings other than those in which they worked, but the freedom
of being allowed to do so represented the company's trust in its
people. Matthew, of course, was free to roam wherever he pleased,
and he instantly understood the reason for Peter's rule the first
time he entered the off-limits building. Peter had created a
project-team paradise. The Joey engineers were supplied with
exotic and luxurious amenities that Peter felt nurtured their
creativity and rewarded them for their intense work.

Matthew intended to put an end to the Joey team's Club Med work
environment by integrating it with the company's other
engineering divisions. A newly consolidated engineering division
would focus its energies on expediting completion of the Joey
Plus.

In the quiet of his own car, the plan seemed logical and simple.
But as he thought about tomorrow's meeting and about the
confrontation that would ensue, he became aware of the dampness
under his arms and his flush face. 

He changed lanes as he passed the Woodside exit. High golden
hills, peppered every ten or so acres with colossal mansions,
passed on either side as sidled to the right lane. Passing the
auto repair shop, he thought of Laurence Maupin. She had been
hired into the newly created position as his personal public
relations assistant one month ago. The timing was perfect for
positioning her loyalties in his favor. He had revealed to her
his plan for tomorrow's meeting, and asked her to secretly
prepare his press statement under the assumption that everything
would go perfectly. There was no guarantee that tomorrow's board
decision would favor him over Peter, yet he was betting his
career on his plan. He reminded himself of his discussion with
Laurence a few minutes earlier, about the over-and-done-with tone
of her voice as she read Matthew his statement on the other end
of the line, speaking in a nearly conspiratorial tone as she sat
in his office, holding his telephone in her hand. He felt his
spirits lift.

He felt something else lift, too. His mind's eye fixed on an
image of the young and beautiful Laurence sitting at his desk,
her hand clasped around his handset, her lips close to the
mouthpiece, her words forging a new alliance between them. He
focused on his memory of her hands. Was there enough time? He
pressed his palm to his groin and considered opening his trousers
and taking care of himself, as he sometimes did on his way home
from work. Usually the act required about as much time as it took
to reach the Palo Alto exit, but he had passed that turnoff miles
ago and was nearly home. No, he would have to let his desire go
unsatisfied...though instead of letting go, he indulged his
imagination anyway, a little longer, fantasizing. Had she touched
his computer while she sat there talking to him? Had she rested
her soft, pretty hand on his mouse and slipped its pointer across
the screen to his private folders, opened his files? The only
other hands as lovely as hers were those of his wife...

Were.

And with that recollection, his daydream terminated. He had
arrived at the beginning of the road that wound its way up to his
home. The car's transmission automatically down-shifted as it
climbed. And so did his mood. As if commiserating with the
machinery that had helped him reach this point, Matthew let out
an exhausted sigh.

On either side he passed huge concrete gates that fronted the
estates of some of the most powerful entrepreneurs and business
people in Silicon Valley, including Peter, whose home was only a
half-mile from his own. It had been more than six months since he
had been to Peter's home. And ever since Matthew's wife Greta had
told him more than a year ago that she did not want Peter in her
house again, Matthew and Peter spent less and less time together.
Recently they had only seen each other in formal meetings.
Looking back now, Matthew was actually appreciative for his
wife's restriction. After all, had it not been for her, he might
never have distanced himself far enough from Peter to get where
he could realize his own power.

He made a mental note. When all of this was settled, he would do
something nice for her. 


* * *


Reaching for the door handle of the dark blue 500SL convertible,
the parking attendant was momentarily struck with a small
surprise: A rather gaudy but finely tailored purple gloved hand,
wildly flapping at him like some exotic bird. Before he had a
chance to open the door, the woman to whom the gloved hand
belonged was climbing out of the car. She was dressed in black
designer sweats and lavender sport sneakers. Purple sunglasses
shielded her eyes, and a madras scarf protected her hair from the
wind. As she turned and reached inside the car for her purse, the
attendant understood at once, from this angle, that she was not
wearing this outfit to pursue an athletic regimen. Still in his
first two weeks of summer employment, he had begun to regard the
ladies who shopped here with amusement and fascination. He paid
special attention to mannerisms and hair color. The intended
overall look sought by women like this one was, he had come to
believe, that of carefree, understated elegance. Most of them
pulled it off beautifully. But this one? Not quite. The gloves
were definitely a first, and a definite give away. She wasn't the
type, he was certain of it. Too unrefined.

Or so he thought, until she removed her scarf. He observed the
loose chestnut ringlets of hair, which appeared to be her natural
color. Pausing for a moment, she casually shook down the curls,
which were surprisingly long and appeared soft to the touch. At
the same time she pointed her face directly up into the shaft of
sunlight cutting through the rows of large buildings on either
side of the street, and with obvious pleasure basked in the
warmth for an instant. The effect was striking, as though the
rays somehow transformed her into something more attractive,
which imposed a temporary snag in his analysis. Until she spoke.

"I'll be just a few secs," she said, gesturing at the store with
her Chanel wallet. "I have to pick something up."

"Of course, madam," the attendant said, touching his hat. Indeed,
the woman's tone was all wrong, too rough, as was her accent, or
lack thereof. Yes, his initial estimation was correct. Her wealth
was definitely nouveau. The worst wealth of all.

A second attendant smiled as he opened the large glass door that
announced Gump's, in gold leaf lettering. Removing her
sunglasses, she headed straight for the elevator. As she waited
for its arrival, she lifted an antique hand mirror from a
display. Taking in her own reflection, she shook her hair and
checked her teeth. Her brown, Bette Davis eyes grew even more
expansive at the discovery of a pinpoint blemish just above her
eyebrow. She touched it and clucked. Swearing under her breath,
she returned the mirror to the glass counter and replaced her
sunglasses. She had to get out of these bright lights. 

A bell chimed, signaling the arrival of the elevator. Turning
from the counter, she noticed a small, smiling elderly woman.

"Madam, can I show you some of our other fine silver mirrors?"

Greta Locke spun to hold the elevator door open. Wearing an
expression intended to come off as playful, she turned back to
the saleswoman. But when she noticed the woman staring at her
gloved hand holding the jutting elevator door, Greta's response
was anything but playful. "The last thing I need is an expensive
silver mirror to remind me to stop eating chocolate."

She boarded the elevator.

"Why Mrs. Locke, what a pleasant surprise!" said the attractive
salesman, all smiles, as Greta approached. He stood before the
Steuben crystal room situated at the end of the mercifully
subdued second level. Behind him there stood a row of ghostly
illuminated glass cases containing spectacular pieces of some of
the world's finest crystal. His modest platinum name badge said
he was Mr. William Armond.

"Billy," Greta said, pausing one step before proceeding past him,
"there's something I'd like to see in the Houston collection." 

"Of course," Mr. Armond said, trailing her. He glanced at his
associate, Ms. Olson, whose territories were the Lalique and
Baccarat rooms. Reluctant to catch his eye, she pursed her lips
and busied herself at her desk, addressing small, golden
catalogs.

Greta Locke was Mr. Armond's best customer, one of Gump's best
customers, and everyone who worked there knew it. She had spent
several hundred thousand dollars at Gump's in the two years Mr.
Armond had had the good fortune of knowing her. Last year she had
arranged a deal between Gump's and Wallaby, Incorporated, to
purchase corporate gifts at a special quantity discount. A
discount of five percent can be quite sizable, she noted to her
husband, when he purchased eight Steuben flower vases last year
as Christmas presents for the wives of the Wallaby board members,
at four hundred dollars apiece. 

She removed her sunglasses and studied the curves and artwork of
a large bowl displayed in the glass case. She'd had her eye on it
for some time now. It was a James Houston original, engraved with
painstaking detail. Circling the bowl's rim were salmon swimming
against an invisible current, surrounded by tiny air bubbles. The
piece was breathtaking.

"Perhaps a closer inspection?" Mr. Armond said, producing a small
ring of keys. But before he managed to insert the small key into
the case's lock, Greta stopped him.

"Don't bother. I'll take it."

"A splendid piece, Mrs. Locke," he said. "May I have it
gift-wrapped for you?"

"No," she said, "That's not necessary." Without removing her
gloves, she deftly slid her credit card out of her wallet and
handed it to him. "It's a gift to me. For all my hard work." She
lingered behind him as he moved to his clerk's desk. "Anything
new?" she asked, over her shoulder.

"There are some lovely new crystal animals," said Mr. Armond,
indicating one of the other cases. The collection consisted of
exquisite, palm-size creatures. A dog...a cat...a bird...a bear.
All resting peacefully on a black velvet blanket. 

She seemed uninterested; she'd gotten what she came for. However,
as she was exiting the parlor, a little farther along the
display, she saw something, reclining on a green felt pasture,
that captivated her attention. Larger than the other pieces, but
small enough to hold in two hands, there lay a knobby colt, its
translucent mane flared back from its muscular neck, forever
frozen in the wind. She thought of her own horse, a gift from
Matthew when they had moved to California. Wouldn't this crystal
beauty look wonderful beside her bed, on the night stand....

She remembered her car, double-parked out front. Another day
perhaps, she decided, seating herself before Mr. Armond at an
antique table while he called downstairs and instructed one of
the vault attendants to have the piece brought to her. 

"Billy, I've worked so hard," she said, fingering her forehead
above her eyebrow. "This is my reward." 

"Of course you have," Mr. Armond said. "The piece you have
purchased is one of a limited number created by Mr. Houston.
He'll be pleased to know it will be enjoyed by you and Mr.
Locke."

"People just don't know how difficult it is being married to a
successful businessman. It absolutely drains a woman. I swear, I
feel like half the time I do his thinking." She removed her right
glove and inspected her nails, and, as the credit card machine
beeped twice, she casually turned hand over, palm up, to receive
the sales slip.

Mr. Armond transcribed the approval code onto the form and handed
her the pen. As she signed her name, he mentally calculated his
five-percent commission on the sale: $1,200.

Ms. Olson, carrying the small catalogs in a stack that reached
from her midriff to her chin, managed a polite nod as she passed.

"Darling," Greta called, pointing in Ms. Olson's direction with
her index finger. 

As the saleswoman turned, her expressionless face metamorphosed
into a struggled smile. "Yes?"

"Can I please have one of those?"

"Madam, I am certain you will receive one in the mail shortly,"
Ms. Olson said. She blinked delicately, twice. 

"I want it now."

Mr. Armond jumped from his seat. "Of course." He slid one from
the pile. Quickly discarding the little protective jacket, he
handed the booklet to Greta, who immediately began flipping
through it.

"Thank you, dear," she said, without looking up. 

Mr. Armond returned the addressed, empty coverlet to Ms. Olson's
pile and sent her off with a grateful wink. He collected the
cord-wrapped box containing her new bowl from a stock attendant,
and handed it to Greta. "Anything else today, Mrs. Locke?"

"I think this is all for today."

"Always a pleasure, Mrs. Locke."

She strolled out onto Post Street, the pleasantly heavy box
beneath one arm. Her car had been moved several yards up the
block and into a loading zone. She waved her scarf to the parking
attendant, but he was already on his way to the vehicle.

He held the car door for her, and she placed the box on the
passenger seat and secured it with the seat belt. Tying her
scarf, she realized she had forgotten the catalog. She had left
it on the clerk's desk. No fuss. She would receive one in the
mail soon anyway. 

Climbing into the car, she smiled, recalling the day she drove it
off the parking lot. Another little gift to herself, for all her
hard work.


* * *


Now that Matthew Locke was gone from his office, Peter Jones
twisted the brightness knob on his computer monitor and returned
to his work.

Beneath his hand he rolled the mouse and pressed its single
button, causing the screen to scroll. Small connected boxes drawn
on the electronic document rolled from the bottom of the display
to the top. He stopped when he arrived at the top of the chart.
With the pointer he selected the uppermost box and clicked the
mouse twice on the name that currently occupied it. Peter looked
at the highlighted name for a moment, then pressed the Delete
key. MATTHEW LOCKE disappeared instantly.

Peter smiled to himself at the literalness of this small,
effortless action, of deleting from his computer the very man who
threatened to ruin its bright future. He typed in his own name
into the vacant box and, beneath it, added the word ACTING before
the title that was already there, PRESIDENT & CEO. Beneath this
box were others, connected to the uppermost with straight black
lines, each titled with the name of the corresponding division
vice president. His name was titled in one of these other boxes
as, VICE PRESIDENT, JOEY.

The man Peter had hired two years ago to act as his partner had
failed. Matthew Locke's role at Wallaby, defined by Peter and
Hank Towers, Wallaby's cofounder and vice chairman, was to act as
the company's business leader and Peter's assistant. While Peter
understood the power of his own vision and the importance of his
skill at inventing remarkable products, he admitted to himself
that he lacked the business experience to develop the company
from a handful of engineers to a large and profitable
organization. Which was why he had decided to hire Matthew Locke.

But something had gone wrong.

Matthew, for all of his management strength, did not fit in at
Wallaby the way Peter would have liked. Looking back, he
remembered Matthew's suggestion, about a year ago, that perhaps
Wallaby's portable computers could become more compatible with
ICP's systems. That was what had started Peter wondering if, in
the long run, Matthew was right for Wallaby. Dismissing Matthew's
idea as a naive insult, Peter only wished now that he had paid
better attention. How could Matthew think Wallaby should abandon
its founding vision of giving high technology power to the
individual with a personal computer or portable interactive
assistant in favor of creating mere peripherals that connected to
ICP's dictatorial, impersonal desktop and mainframe computers?
What's more, at about this time their friendship began to
deteriorate. Up until the disagreement over the company's
direction, the two had spent nearly every Saturday afternoon
together, going for long walks or drives. Apparently because of
Peter's reaction, Matthew stopped spending Saturday afternoons
with him. When Peter would ring the gate bell at Matthew's
mansion, the housekeeper would divulge that Mr. and Mrs. Locke
had gone out for the day. Peter had felt wounded. Matthew had
been the first person with whom he had experienced any sort of
real friendship. Or so he'd thought. Scolding himself for having
allowed his feelings to become personal, he displaced his hurt by
pouring himself more intensely into his work, in an all-out
effort to substantiate his side of the contention that had cost
him his only friend.

The real challenge now was to get the Joey Plus quickly out the
door and into the user's hands and, put to rest once and for all
the criticism the original Joey had received. The Joey personal
interactive assistant was the product of three years of hard work
and engineering magic. Peter, the inventor of the original
Wallaby Mate personal computer, had created the Joey as a
radically different and intuitively designed portable computer.
Named after the Australian word for baby kangaroo, the Joey was
compact and thin and easy to transport, and it lasted for days on
a single charge. In its simplest configuration, the basic Joey
was about the size of a slender hardback book and almost as
light, and it slipped easily into a briefcase. It worked as
either a traditional notebook computer, or as a keyboard-less
slate computer, and its built-in modem made it easy to access
on-line services and the Internet, or send and receive faxes.
Users interacted with Joey using either a stylus by "drawing"
directly on its color active-matrix screen, or with the full-size
keyboard and trackpad that stealthily slid out from its
underside. Or with a combination of both stylus and keyboard, if
they preferred. That was what made the Joey so unusual and
compelling - its flexibility. Especially when the owner returned
with it to the office, or took the Joey home. There, the Joey
attached easily to a variety of snap-on peripherals that turned
the base unit into a more powerful desktop system. Expanded
keyboards. Mice. Monitors. Printers. Scanners. CD-ROM players.
Stereo speakers. Enhanced network peripherals. And most any other
peripheral device available for ordinary personal computers.

But the machine had its faults. Though it was technically
superior to ICP's portable computers, software developers
hesitated to invest the costly technical and human resources
required to create new programs for it. Because its design was so
new and different, many software developers were fearful of
straying beyond the safe boundaries of developing programs for
anything but ICP's series of computers, regardless of their
plain-vanilla functionality. In the few short years since they
had become players in the portable computer industry, ICP had
attained an installed base of millions of portable systems
worldwide, which dwarfed the few hundred thousand Joey systems
Wallaby had sold since its introduction. To a software developer,
ICP's user base numbers were too great to ignore, regardless of
what the future potential of a device like the Joey might be.

Peter clicked the print button on the computer screen. The laser
printer on his desk hummed. A few moments later the revised
company organization chart rolled out of the printer.

Nowhere in the drawing did Matthew Locke's name appear.

In tomorrow's board meeting, Peter intended to surprise the team
by proposing his newly drawn organization. Peter himself would
temporarily fill the president-and-CEO slot until a qualified
replacement was found. Though Peter had spent little time with
the members of his executive staff over the past few months, he
knew that they had faith in him. He was their leader, the
company's crown jewel. In founding his company he had founded an
industry, one that had made every member of his senior executive
staff a multimillionaire. Without a doubt, their loyalties rested
with him. Any other possibility never occurred to him; he had too
many more significant issues to contend with, like leaky
batteries.

Leaving his office, Peter stopped for a moment to appreciate the
sharp and elegant lines of the Joey prototype resting on the
shelf beside his desk. In just two months, according to his plan,
the world would finally benefit from his original Joey vision:
the new Joey Plus. His plan for providing the Joey engineering
group with more engineers was precisely what was going to move it
off his shelf and onto buyers' desktops.

Peter's secretary Peggy looked past her computer screen as she
heard his office door close.

"I'm leaving for the day," he said.

Peggy had worked for Peter since the company began. She had been
nineteen years old then, a year younger than Peter, and one of
the first employees in the company. Like Peter, she had attained
massive wealth when the company had had its public stock
offering. She wore a colorful Wallaby T-shirt and jeans, and one
would never guess that this young woman, worth slightly more than
one million dollars, was executive assistant to the man who had
started the fastest growing new market in the computer industry.
However, looking at Peter's longish hair, customary faded blue
jeans and Oxford shirt, would anyone guess that he was worth
eight hundred million dollars?

Before heading to his car, Peter decided it wouldn't hurt to
bolster his confidence in his plan by checking the status of a
few key Joey Plus projects.

"How's it coming?" Peter asked, leaning over an engineer's
shoulder.

"Good," Paul Trueblood answered. He blew at the trails of smoke
that rose before him as he lifted a soldering iron.

"I think I've got the battery problem fixed." The engineer
returned his attention to the electronic components scattered
about his worktable.

"Great," Peter said, noticing the pile of tiny batteries beside
the main Joey unit. Each was charred with a caramel-colored
resin. In the original Joey design the battery was located too
close to the power recharger unit, and occasionally the excessive
heat caused the battery to leak and burn.

Peter had tremendous faith in Paul and his work, and he was one
of the first engineers who had started the company with Peter.
The battery problem would be fixed, and thinking about it
reminded Peter of a similar problem that Paul had corrected
several years ago, in the all-in-one Mate personal computer.
Unlike the Joey's battery, which powered the unit away from the
desktop, the Mate's battery was deep inside the computer, and its
sole purpose to keep track of the date and time when the computer
was turned off. During extended use, the Mate's interior would
occasionally reach high temperatures, causing the tiny battery to
leak. The obvious solution was to install a small cooling fan
inside the computer, like every other brand of computer had. But
Peter wouldn't allow it. They said it couldn't be done, that you
couldn't build a computer without putting in a small noisy fan to
keep it cool. "If they say it can't be done, that's because
they're not smart enough to figure out a way to do it," was
Peter's standard reply. That was how Peter Jones challenged his
engineers to do the impossible. After two days of no sleep, and
having sustained himself on soda and popcorn, Paul had revealed
to Peter a design that would cool the machine by natural
convection.

Peter leaned in over Paul's shoulder for a closer look. "I'd sure
hate to see us go back to the drawing board on that sweet little
power recharger..." he said, hanging a mild warning in the
burnt-smelling air of the engineer's office.

"No problem," Paul said, and blew out a breath that hinted mild
frustration. Not catching the drift, Peter stayed right where he
was, perched over the engineer like a hawk. Paul set down the
soldering iron and retrieved a Walkman from his drawer. Loading a
tape into it, he held the headphones just above his ears and
raised his eyebrows at Peter, as if to ask if he had any more
comments.

"All right, all right," Peter said, grinning behind raised palms.
"Just making sure we do it right." He left the engineer with his
head bobbing rhythmically through little smoke clouds. It was
little triumphs like this that excited Peter, doing things people
said couldn't be done. The engineers were the only people in the
company for whom Peter felt any admiration and respect. And,
secretly, awe. They were the conveyers of his visions, the ones
who possessed the power to turn his radical ideas into real
products.

He swung through the software testing lab. Several test
engineers, each seated before a prototype Joey Plus, were running
system software programs through their paces. The inhabitants
were oblivious to his presence as screens rolled and flashed,
styluses scribbled and tapped, speakers chirped, and printers
printed.

Satisfied that all was rolling according to plan, Peter exited
the building and climbed into his BMW coupe. His natural
appreciation for simple and beautifully designed products had
prompted his decision to make BMW the company car for senior
executives. When Matthew had gone out and ordered the exact same
style and color coupe for himself, Peter was flattered. Until
their friendship curdled. Now he'd begun to wonder if Matthew had
only chosen the car because he was trying to prove to the
executive staff that he and Peter were in some way equal.

As he drove down Clyde Avenue he passed the many single-story
stucco buildings that comprised Wallaby's international
headquarters. Eventually he passed the larger and more
corporate-looking three-story sales and marketing building, where
Matthew and the other senior executives resided.

Peter preferred to have his office among his engineers rather
than on the third floor of the larger corporate building. Though
his title was chairman, his job was to create Wallaby's
computers, and to do that, he wanted to be right in the trenches
with his team. Especially lately. The last thing he wanted was to
have to sit near Matthew Locke. If he had been any closer, he
might have taken pity on the man he'd hired, and not gone through
with his new plan to remove him from the company.

Leaving the complex, he headed for Highway 280. Waiting for the
traffic signal to change, he looked in his rear-view mirror at
the main corporate building with its Wallaby banner. The Wallaby
logo featured a sketched pocket with a baby kangaroo, a joey,
poking its head out.

He felt a small gush of pride whenever he looked at the company
logo, at the thought of how many pockets he had filled with
riches, in how many lives. And though tomorrow he would have to
essentially sew shut one of those pockets, he was already
beginning to feel the sense of relief that would come very soon,
when he regained complete control of the company he had built.


Chapter 2
 

She stood and admired the bowl from different angles, marveling
at how the spotlight shining down on it created rainbow effects
and prismatic distortions. She had displayed the object on a
simple, waist-high pedestal finished in black lacquer. Maybe I
should not have rewarded myself so soon, thought Greta, since the
board meeting that would take care of Peter Jones was not until
tomorrow. What if something went wrong?

Of course, nothing would go wrong. She knew that Matthew had no
choice but to pitch Peter from his position at Wallaby, and not
only because she couldn't stand the precocious young founder. She
smirked when she thought about the blow Peter would feel after
the ax dropped at tomorrow's meeting. 

The minute Greta had met him, she knew she was not going to like
Peter Jones. He had taken to Matthew instantly, tugging on his
arm like a child when he was excited about something, or when
Matthew's observations and comments would harmonize with Peter's
own thoughts. He would listen intently when Matthew talked about
business and buying psychology, things she did not understand and
had no desire to know more about. But what she loathed most about
Peter, which led to her involvement in his destiny, was that he
managed to spend more time with Matthew than she did. Matthew
would practically ignore her in Peter's presence, so exhilarated
was he by the young man's company. When Matthew arrived home from
work, especially in the beginning, it was always "Peter said
this," or "Peter did that," so full of marvel was her husband at
young headache's braininess. And every Saturday, like clockwork,
Peter would be at the door before she was out of bed, asking
Matthew to come out and play. One morning, while Peter was
waiting within earshot in the entrance hall, she loudly protested
from their bedroom upstairs that she and Matthew never got to
spend time together on Saturdays, as they used to when they lived
in Connecticut. Afterward, Peter stopped coming to the door and
took to waiting outside the gate, like a mongrel. Not a bad
description, she thought to herself. Greta had once read an
article about Peter that told of his life as an orphan. Obviously
he saw Matthew as a father figure. Well, too bad.

Greta understood early on that Peter's attachment to Matthew
could ruin everything her husband had so carefully planned before
he accepted the job at Wallaby. Time was wasting, she observed;
she knew that the stronger Matthew and Peter's friendship became,
the farther Matthew would stray from the original plan. She had
had to act swiftly, otherwise Matthew might have had a change of
heart altogether.

To start the ball rolling, Greta had told Matthew that she did
not want Peter in their home. How Matthew was to accomplish this
without offending Peter was his problem; if he really cared about
her, he'd spare her the company of the bratty wunderkind. She
followed through by feigning anguish whenever Matthew mentioned
Peter, and by pressuring him to get on with business: When would
he tell Peter about the development strategy? Why was he
stalling? She knew that once Matthew revealed his strategy, the
young man would withdraw from her husband. And perhaps that was
why he had taken his time - he was enjoying too much their
friendship. Matthew's transformation plans were hideously
contrary to Peter's renegade spirit. It had been painful to hound
Matthew constantly, but she had no choice. He would never have
dealt with Peter and put his plan back on track if she had not
intervened. A few weeks was all it had taken to re-focus Matthew.
When he explained to Peter his hopes for the company - a profound
strategy for leading Wallaby into Big Business - the two men had
their first falling-out, which seriously upset their formerly
flawless courtship. Matthew had persisted in attempting to sway
the young founder into understanding his strategy, but each time
he faced argument and resistance. Greta had forced Matthew to
confess that as long as Peter was in control, the secret plan
would never materialize. Finally, Peter expressed doubt in
Matthew's overall vision and qualifications, saying he was
personally hurt that Matthew could even hypothesize such a thing
for Wallaby. That said, Matthew halted his friendship with Peter,
and drew heavily from his wife's support to rebuild his
confidence in the secret plan.

She felt wanted again. However, her expectation of spending more
time with Matthew was unfulfilled. Instead of spending weekends
with her, he spent more time than ever in his little home office,
next to the library. And when he wasn't holed up in there, he was
constantly reading about big computers and the latest
technologies, his face often closer to the pages of a book than
to his wife's face when they were in bed.

After tomorrow, after Peter was truly invalidated, she knew that
Matthew would start spending more time with her. She had to
believe that. After all, it was she he had to thank for
rectifying his temporary shortsightedness. At least that was how
she saw things.

Raising a glass of wine to her lips, she heard the automatic
garage door open. He was home. She twisted the knob of the
recessed ceiling-mounted quartz lamp to full intensity. The
salmon bowl sparkled.

He appeared at the living room entrance, hands at his sides. She
pretended not to notice his arrival.

"Greta."

"Oh, darling," Greta said, pretending to be surprised. 

Without remark, she quickly took in his tired expression. His
eyes seemed half closed, as if the reflection thrown off by the
glittering object were blinding. Studying him, she searched for
the foundation of the man she had married, the man with the
strong and sinewy build, the confident posture, the sharp
aristocratic features. Today his cheeks appeared blanched, his
stance tentative. With her glass of wine in hand, she strolled
casually across the room. 

"What's that?" Matthew said.

She pecked his impassive lips. "That," she said, toasting the
bowl with her glass, "is pure brilliance."

"How much brilliance?"

"A steal, Darling. I got it to celebrate your success. Let me get
you something to drink." She left him alone with "his" present.

He inspected her newest purchase. He had to admit, it was
magnificent, and as he scrutinized it more closely, he began to
forget about his labored day and the impending showdown. He
studied one of the etched salmon that circled the bowl's rim. It
swam against a powerful, unseen force, compelled onward with
inner strength, driven by instinct to fulfill its obligation. It
was that way in business, he reflected, one had to be driven by
instinct and a sense of obligation, plain and simple - 

But that word, simple, was like a hook that snagged his mind and
reeled him from the peaceful waters that were his thoughts. Once
more, his thoughts returned to the damnable Peter Jones, his
excited voice raiding Matthew's mind like an unwelcome visitor.

"'If you get simple beauty and naught else, you get the best
thing God invents,'" Peter would wistfully recite, the poet
Robert Browning's words, during design meetings. Forever
distrusting complexity, Peter made it his utmost priority that
Wallaby's products were unaffected in their design and easy to
use. 

Once more, apprehension washed over Matthew like a shifting tide.
If only he could convince himself that everything would go
exactly according to plan. It would, wouldn't it? He felt as
though his life depended on it. He just didn't feel one-hundred
percent sure.

"Here," Greta said, handing him a small bottle of Perrier. Taking
the drink, he avoided looking at her bare hand...or at the other,
which was concealed inside a silky white glove. He took a sudden
and uncomfortable interest in the tiny bubbles that formed and
rose in the bottle.

Greta sat on the flowery chintz settee and patted the cushion
next to her. "Come."

Before joining her, Matthew twisted off the bright lamp.
Nighttime descended on the salmon, their struggle temporarily
suspended. He sank into the softness of the sofa and rested his
eyes.

"Well? Is everything all set?"

He nodded.

"Good, Matthew," she said. "I can't wait for you to be able to
relax once this all settles down." She thought of the time she
would have with him after tomorrow's meeting and smiled, more at
this thought than to comfort him.

Matthew frowned. "He says I don't know what I'm doing. That I
don't have a clue." He stared into the bottle. "He says I don't
have instinct. No vision, guts. Unless I'm wrong, I don't think
he realizes what's going down tomorrow." He met his wife's eyes.
His expression soured; then half resentfully, he sought her
reassurance. "Have I been wrong? What if I've misread everyone's
loyalties? What if he has his own plan to spring on me tomorrow?"

A voice inside Greta's head roared No! No matter what Peter Jones
had up his sleeve - yes, certainly he had something - her
husband's well thought out plan was more powerful. It was too
late now, anyway, to start worrying about the enemy's strategy.
That she never seriously considered it probably meant that her
instincts about Peter were correct. He was blind to what was
coming.

"No sweetheart. Don't think that way." She gently pushed back
some hair from Matthew's forehead. "You're doing exactly the
right thing. And after tomorrow, everything will be fine."

He offered her a dim smile, then closed his eyes.

For the briefest instant there she had felt his need for her. It
had been so long since he'd called to her for help. However
cursory, she had served him nevertheless. And now it was her
turn, tit for tat. "Let's go for a walk down by the stables. What
do you say?" She grasped his hand as she rose.

Too weary to protest, he rose to his feet and let his wife lead
him off.


* * *


Walking into his home, Peter heard Ivy playing the grand piano in
the drawing room. She was singing softly, a verse he did not
recognize. One of her own? The pleasing sounds bellowed and
echoed through the more or less empty mansion. She did not hear
him enter the room.

Her fingers settled on the last chords of the score. Peter
smelled the sweet fragrance of her long white-blond hair,
brightened and warmed by the sunlight streaming in through the
French windows behind her. Coming closer, his shadow gave him
away and she turned her head to greet him.

"Hello," she said, through the last fading chords of her music.

"That was wonderful. It's as if this entire house is joyful and
alive when you're playing." He casually rested a hand on her
shoulders, a simple expression of admiration.

She turned her cheek to his hand, and he went to move it, but
before he was able to she stood and stretched. He took her seat
then, resting his hands on his lap. Looking past her and through
the windows, toward the hills that rolled beyond his estate, he
could see Hoover Tower in the distance, rising high above the
treetops of the Stanford University campus. Three weeks earlier
he had been there to give the commencement speech to the
graduating class. Afterward, at the reception, a striking young
girl had introduced herself. Her name was Ivy, she said, and she
proceeded to tell him about the speech and language interface
that she was developing for the Wallaby Joey computer. When it
was finished, she promised, the interface would allow people to
interact with the Joey by speaking to it, and it would reply in
kind, in its own "voice." The Joey's intuitive and portable
design, she told him, was what had inspired her to develop the
speech recognition and simulation interface software. When he
asked what were her eventual ambitions for the project, she said
she wasn't sure. She had no agenda for the summer and, for lack
of a more tempting course, had halfheartedly committed herself to
traveling across the country with some friends. He was intrigued
by her knowledge of linguistics, particularly when she revealed
that she had never used a computer until the Joey. That part was
especially touching, and he somehow felt compelled to help her,
so he offered her the opportunity to continue developing the Joey
speech and language component in his home. The next day she
arrived with her duffel bag, a couple of books, a few boxes of
floppy disks, and a backpack. Peter often had guests straying in
and out of his home, usually students to whom he offered the use
of his thoroughly equipped computer lab. In return he asked that
they respect the privilege by picking up after themselves. He let
them come and go for as long as they liked, and his doors were
never locked. Alice, his maid and cook, always kept herself
abreast of the various artists in residence.

She appeared now in the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron.
She was a small, voluminous Spanish woman with pulled-back black
hair and a gorgeous smile. "Hello, Mr. Petey," she said with
plain affection. She turned to the young girl. "I finished
preparing your meat and spices." Peter looked at Alice for an
explanation, and she nodded to Ivy.

"I'm making you a special Mediterranean dish tonight," Ivy said,
taking Peter's hands in hers. "My way of saying thanks, for being
so kind and letting me stay here with you."

 "Great," he said, and casually withdrew his hands.

Usually it started out, as it had a number of times before, as a
rent-free working environment. Peter received both pleasure and
satisfaction from being around artists and other creative types
who crafted amazing things from the technology he had invented.
Except for his work and Kate, when she was in town, his life was
surprisingly spare. Having the students in his home filled the
spacious mansion with the lives and passionate works of others.
And with little effort, he was helpful to them. In several cases
the projects they worked on became marketable products, and
sometimes he nurtured them in getting started as software or
hardware developers by introducing them to the appropriate
managers at Wallaby. But to some of the students, staying at
Peter's became more than just a neat place to crash. Once a
couple of young men had taken off with some of the equipment and
a few of Peter's personal valuables. And then there were the
girls, who often presented their own set of problems. And right
now, Ivy was the mansion's sole no-strings boarder.

"Come on," Ivy said, taking him by the hand once again. "I want
to show you what I've been working on this afternoon."

As they passed, Alice busied herself with a tissue in her apron
pocket. Peter noted the uncertain look on her face; she was all
too familiar with the course that Ivy's stay was taking.


* * *


Dressed in a violet silk camisole, Greta Locke sat on the edge of
their large bed and brushed down her thick chestnut curls. As she
did this she observed herself - her hair, her face, but never the
movement of her hands - in the mirror above her bureau. Though it
was early, she had nonchalantly followed Matthew upstairs to the
bedroom when, after dinner, he had said he was going turning in
early. She had a modest face that she considered robust rather
than pretty. It was satisfactorily oval in shape, though a little
too fleshy in the cheeks. Her nose was sized accordingly, yet if
it had been a little longer, straighter, perhaps she would have
been a real model - but then again, her face had never been her
selling point...

While she scrutinized her complexion, her right hand, as if
guided by its own vision, encountered the crystal lotion
dispenser resting on her bureau. With a light press she dispersed
two long, corpulent worms of Lancome lotion into her hand.
Working one hand over the other with systematic precision, she
performed the evening ritual without ever once looking at them.
On this occasion she focused her vision, through the mirror, on
the lighted bathroom doorway at the opposite end of the bedroom
suite. Finishing up, working again on the familiar motions
without directly needing to - without wanting to - watch what she
was doing, she reached into a drawer and retrieved a pair of
fine, exclusively tailored white silk gloves. Just as she was
pulling on the second glove the bathroom light snapped off.

Matthew appeared, wearing light blue Oxford cloth pajamas made of
the same material used to tailor his business shirts. That was
her husband, she thought with a tinge of malice, all business
both in and out of bed.

Greta snapped off the lighted mirror and climbed beneath the cool
sheets, folded the layers of bedclothes to just below her
breasts. Matthew settled on top of the sheets, sealing her in on
one side, and clamped his hands together behind his head.
Straining her peripheral vision, she saw that he was staring at
the ceiling.

She turned on her pillow to face him. "Darling, don't keep
thinking about tomorrow." Softly: "Try to relax."

Taking her advice, she watched as the puzzled, problem-solving
frown on his face slackened and was replaced by a vague yet
unwavering gaze.

She stretched across him to turn off the antique bedside lamp,
her breasts barely an inch from his chin. As she drew back, she
gently settled herself on his chest.

Through the windows beside the bed, the valley shone brightly.
Orange and yellow pinpoints of light, far in the distance, glowed
and shimmered in the cool summer night. She felt a sudden urgent
desire to get out of bed and close the curtains, shutting out the
view of the damned valley.

Was she rushing things? First the bowl, and now making love. But
it had been so, so long, she thought, in her silent agony.
Matthew had simply shut off where activity between them was
concerned, telling her once, several months ago, that he could
not concentrate on lovemaking, not even their particular style of
it, until things were working again and his plan was firmly on
track. Still, they were so close, just hours away from tomorrow's
big event and the unquestionably victorious outcome that was
rightfully theirs.

Just a kiss. Was that asking too much?

She gently nuzzled his neck and throat, which showed minimally
through the pajama top, tracing her long and delicately gloved
hand, the part of her body to which he had once been most
attracted, most submissive, along his upper body.

He sighed through his nostrils and closed his eyes.

Was he responding? Perhaps he too felt that he deserved to reward
himself a day early, she thought with a private cheer. She
inhaled deeply and pressed his shoulder with her left hand,
careful to keep the sight of it from his peripheral vision. Her
other hand strayed along his biceps. Raising her face, she closed
her eyes and moved her lips to his.

He sniffed, and she opened her eyes just in time to see him turn
his agonized face toward the window. He sneezed, twice, and she
flinched with each burst, but was at the same time enormously
relieved too. For an instant she had had the impression that the
face he'd made had been in response to her. But it was only a
sneeze. Two sneezes. Nothing at all to do with her, and so silly
for her to have thought otherwise.

Or was it. There he was, gazing out the window again, as if he
were counting the individual lights in the valley. She scolded
herself for not having pulled the shade.

"Matthew," she said softly, meaning to apologize or assure him or
- 

"Good night," he said.

Or nothing.

It was useless, and so she retreated to her side of the bed and
lay there in silent deliberation. For the second time today she
worried if perhaps the crystal bowl she had purchased had been a
mistake, her private celebration somehow jinxing the outcome of
tomorrow's meeting.

They lay there like that for a long time, silent and awake but
inexpressive, until, eventually, exhaustion won out and they both
slept, each playing their parts in a dream that did not embody
the other.


* * *

Peter sat on a stool at the island console range while Ivy
prepared her special dinner. She bustled about in what seemed
like a frenzy, but he understood, with some amusement, that she
had the meal under complete control. A fragrant lamb and
vegetable stew bubbled lazily in a large pot on the stove. In the
oven, two small pizzas baked. Peter had enjoyed watching Ivy roll
out the dough with her hands and shape it into little rounds. On
each she had arranged caramelized onions, chopped olives, pine
nuts, grated Parmesan cheese. During the preparation, she
concentrated intensely on each step. A number of times she held
the recipe close to her face and read a line or two aloud. At the
same time she managed to engage him in interesting conversation.
Though she had been a guest in his house for three weeks now,
this was the first opportunity he'd had to spend time with her.
And considering his day at Wallaby, her company tonight was a
welcome relief.

"Pass me that cayenne, would you," she said, reaching out with
one hand.

"Which is it?"

"That's curry. The one next to it. Right."

The rosiness of her face, from all of the bustling about, against
her white-blond hair, gave the effect that she had spent the day
at the beach. She wore tattered old jeans cinched at the waist
with a colorful bandanna, and a white dress shirt with no bra
beneath. He realized suddenly that he was staring. He spoke.

"So do you cook often?"

She gave him an amused look. "You kidding. For who. I've been in
a dorm, chowin' on junk food and studying for the last three
years."

"Then how'd you learn all this stuff?"

"Easy. All you have to do is follow the directions. Besides, I'm
a quick study." She met his eyes and held his stare, as if
challenging him. Until a bell chimed. "Pizzas," she said with a
delighted smile, breaking their link, which had felt to him a
little weird but not exactly unpleasant. Just,
well...significant. Careful, he warned himself.

He watched her slip on an oven mitt and told himself he should
really look away as she bent over to retrieve the appetizer. Her
breasts, he could see, were not large, yet were ample enough to
illustrate gravity. They reminded him of the firm doughy rounds
she had worked beneath her fingers minutes ago. As she reached
inside the oven a little burst of heated air gently raised a few
stray wisps of her hair, and an instant later the delectable
aroma of her creation wafted his way. He swallowed.

Then something about her startled him and he felt his throat
abruptly tighten.

As she was rising, holding the tray in one hand, she swept her
hair aside with the other, and he had the opportunity to see,
just for an instant, inside the collar of her shirt, in back of
her neck.

What he saw was his own name - the code name the dry cleaner used
to label his shirts. Something that felt about the size of a
marble felt as though it had suddenly become lodged in his chest.
A little to the left. Yes, there. In his heart.

"What?" she said, freezing in place.

"Oh," was all he could manage at first. He gave a little laugh.
"Nothing, oh nothing. Sorry. I just zoned out there for a
second." His lungs moved, he was breathing again.

"Hmm," she said, a moment's scrutiny, then she shrugged and
transferred the miniature pizzas to the butcher block counter.
"Where's the cutter thing?"

"I'm sorry?" he said. He had blanked her out for a moment, and
was just beginning to recover from his jolt. The cutter thing. He
wanted to be helpful, to tell her where to find it.

Until he found more: The jeans, with their familiar rips where
his own knees had eventually worn through the denim. She was
wearing his pants, too. The marble thing became a fist.

"You know," she said, making a rolling gesture with her hand,
"The pizza cutter thing."

"No. I mean, I don't know. In one of those drawers, probably."
Had she gone through his closet? Had she helped herself to
anything else?

"Ah. Here we go." She returned with the instrument and cut the
pizza into quarters.

Her feet were bare. She wore no jewelry, no watch. He fabricated
a possible explanation: She was doing her laundry and had asked
Alice if she could borrow some of his old clothes while hers went
around.

"Mmm. Not bad. Here. Eat."

It was probably nothing, he told himself. He was probably
overreacting. He'd ask her about it later, no big deal. Still, it
had given him one hell of a little scare there. Enough, already.
Right now, he was hungry.

"Delicious," he said truthfully. "I can't believe you don't do
this all the time."

"I could," she said, and stopped chewing. He caught her look,
edged with some unknown meaning. "I mean," she went on, waving at
the pot on the stove, "I could eat like this all the time, but
who has the time, right?"

Peter just nodded. He took another bite of pizza. He was thirsty.

"Wine. That's what we need."

"Yes."

"White? Is that good for what you're making?"

"Red's better."

He went to the tall narrow wine rack hidden inside a cabinet. His
fingertips lingered on the neck of a particular reserve, a
special bottle. He deliberated for a moment, then selected a
younger vintage. He opened it and poured them each a glass,
handed one to her. There was an awkward moment, in which both
stood motionless. He didn't know what to say and, gratefully, she
made it easy for him.

"To new friends."

"New friends," he said, slipping in a small emphasis on the
latter.

They touched their glasses together and Peter looked into his own
to avoid her eyes as he sipped the wine.

"Come on," Ivy said, "let's eat." She went about filling two
bowls with stew, while he sliced the crusty loaf of bread she'd
set out on the counter. She carried the bowls into the dining
room, and he followed with the bread and his glass of wine.

"Sit," she said, "I'll get the bottle."

He drank some more, and when she came back in he noticed her
glass. She had filled it.

They ate in silence for a few moments. He told her the stew was
delicious, and she said she was surprised, though she wasn't
really.

"So, what made you choose Stanford?" he said.

"A course they had. It's called VTSS. Values, Technology,
Science, and Society."

"I've never heard of it."

"It's been around for awhile. Interesting mix."

"Sounds like it. What interests you about it most?"

"Well, how they all overlap. One affecting and impacting the
other, and so on. You sure know all about that."

"Me?"

"Sure, you." She snorted. "Come on. You know, the way the
computers you invented have changed our society, that they're
founded on science and technology. How they've affected people's
values." She glanced up from her plate. "I mean, really, you've
democratized computing power among the masses, putting it in the
hands of the people. Giving them a choice, an alternative to
business as usual. No more Big Brother, brother." She resumed
eating. "Anyway, that's what the course was about." She spoke
with the easy, unaffected confidence one acquires with
experience. Yet she was only twenty-one.

He realized that his spoon was halfway between his bowl and
mouth. He did not know how long he'd been sitting there like
that. He set it down and poured himself more wine. He looked at
her over the rim of his glass, and felt as if he were seeing her
for the first time. It was an agreeable feeling, and that in turn
made it an adverse feeling. Thin ice ahead, if he didn't watch
himself. Friends, he repeated to himself, and don't forget it. 

"Did you hear me?"

Had she said something? "I'm sorry - you were saying?"

"I said, that's what the course was about. I dropped it."

"But you sound like an expert. Why the change of heart?"

"Nah. Music. This speech stuff. That's what I told you when I met
you, don't you remember?"

In fact, he did not remember. What's more, he realized, was that
he didn't know her last name either. Before he was aware of what
he was doing, he asked her, "What's your last name?"

She was pouring herself more wine. She stopped. Was she hurt?

She grinned. "You got me."

His expression betrayed his confusion. 

"I never told you my last name!" she said, as if that explained
everything. Whatever everything was. "I see what you're getting
at: How could I ask if you remember that I dropped that course to
get into this linguistics programming stuff when you don't even
know my last name. It's because I never told you."

He went to take another sip of wine, but then decided to hold off
for a bit.

"It's Green. Ivy Green. Can you stand it?"

"It's certainly very Earth conscious."

"Very funny. The only green I think Rick and Jeannette had in
mind when they named me was reefer."

He burst out laughing. "How come?"

"Oh, please. Don't you get it? I'm a Sixties baby, like, 'Make
Love, Not War,' 'Give Peace a Chance,' 'If It Feels Good, Do It.'
Well, they did it. They met at Woodstock, no kidding, and, a few
years later, they did it, made me, and got married and all. How
it felt, I mean, good or not, I never asked. Quit laughing. They
moved to California, lived right at the corner of Haight and
Ashbury, and found peace and all that. Later, when my dad
accidentally started his own herbal tea company - yes, it's the
brand you've got on the shelf there in the kitchen - they moved
to Mill Valley. That's where I grew up, with parents who told me
to call them by their first names, so we'd get closer to where we
visualized ourselves in the universe. Or some shit like that."

"Sorry, I'm not laughing at the circumstances. It's the way you
tell it."

"No problem. I'm still amused by the Rick and Jeannette Show."
From out of nowhere came a pout. Then: "But I'm not goin' to live
my life like they did." She sniffed deeply. "Um, I'll be right
back."

Had he offended her? He'd meant no harm in laughing. He was just
amused by her deadpan delivery. While she excused herself, Peter
got up from the table. Her talk about the Sixties had aroused
some vague sentiment in him. Whatever. All of the sudden the
place seemed too quiet. While she was away from the table he got
up and loaded a compact disc into his stereo system. The first
track was a folksy acoustic number.

Ivy returned to the table smiling. "Want more stew?"

"I'm stuffed," Peter said.

She sat down.

"Here." He poured more wine into her glass, trying for an apology
if it was in fact called for. He had no idea.

The instrumental ended, then a lovely female voice filled the
room with song. It was his absolute favorite. His eyelids lowered
slowly, automatically, and a smile washed across his face. The
artist's sensual voice had an effect on him that was like easing
into a warm bath. He sat there like that for a little bit,
forgetting Ivy and his dinner and everything else.

Ivy turned her head to the source of his evident pleasure. Her
frown went unnoticed.

Peter had met the vocalist one afternoon at a Sierra Club
luncheon thrown in his honor after Wallaby had donated several
computers to the noted environmental organization. Kate
McGreggor, the "softly outspoken" folk-rock star, was the keynote
speaker. He tried to be attentive to her words during her speech,
but he constantly found himself drifting, starting at her warm
green eyes, sighing when she casually brushed aside her hair,
dark brown with sunned highlights and occasional strands of gray.
In just fifteen minutes Kate had made an impression on him like
no other woman ever had. Meanings for her wandered into his mind.
Intelligent. Simple. Pure. True. What you see is what you get, he
surmised. After the meal, she sang. Her voice was enchanting,
perfect, and as she sang about pain and hope and love he knew
that he had to get to know her personally. Immediately after her
performance he introduced himself. At first she seemed
disinterested. He suspected her judgment was influenced by his
involvement in an industry notorious for destroying the
environment. And perhaps also by the eight years difference in
their ages. He invited her to visit Wallaby for a personal tour.
She hesitated, but ultimately he persuaded her to accept after
asking for a chance to prove that he and Wallaby were unlike all
the rest. When she arrived a week later, she surprised him with a
special gift: A bottle of wine from her parents' obscure little
vineyard in Oregon, where she had grown up. It was a Cabernet
Sauvignon, bottled the same year he had founded Wallaby. He was
touched by the thoughtfulness of her gesture, and told her she
had to be the one to share it with him when the company was ten
years old. Her tour was scheduled to last two hours, but as Peter
expressed his own thoughts and concerns about the environment,
the state of education, the future, they engaged in long and
satisfying conversation, and by the end of the day their
attraction for one another was evident. And had remained so to
this day. They were two people comfortable with themselves and
with each other. She maintained a home in Los Angeles, where she
was constantly at work on her music or lending her celebrity
status to political causes about which she felt strongly. She
came to stay with Peter between recordings and projects, and her
independence meshed perfectly with his own like composure,
creating the foundation for what had become a lasting and loving
relationship. They had been together for nearly eight years, and
the distance between them imposed by their careers generated a
constant longing that kept their affection for one another fresh
and alive. Sometimes, like now, it was difficult and he wished
they could be together more often. Especially now, with
everything the way it was at Wallaby...

And with that thought, he opened his eyes and came back around to
the present, and to his guest.

Ivy was lowering a coffee cup from her lips, staring at him. Had
she made a pot? He hadn't even heard her in the kitchen. In front
of him sat a steaming cup of coffee. Perfect, he thought. That
odd sense of dread he'd experienced earlier had returned, just
for an instant, when he'd opened his eyes. He needed to sober up
a little. 

Abruptly she spoke.

"Is it true?"

"What's that?" he asked. He met her azure eyes with a perplexed
smile. She gestured with a nod to where the music was coming
from. "That you two are lovers?"

"Completely."

She nodded, added more coffee to her cup, very slowly, with
considerable concentration. She emptied half a packet of Equal
into her coffee. Addressing her immersed spoon, she said, "In
everything I read, like "People," or that story about you in last
month's "Esquire," they say you'll probably get married. To her."

"I don't know, it's hard to say" Peter said, knowing the right
thing to do would be to agree with the speculation, but choosing
to answer truthfully instead. "We're both very busy. She's always
recording or involved in some cause or another. And I'm at
Wallaby." The feeling of dread inside his heart rolled on its
side. However this time, instead of striking quickly and fading
away, its presence seemed to stretch out and linger as he sat
watching what Ivy was doing with her half-empty packet of Equal.

She had dumped the remainder of the artificial sweetener onto the
black enamel table. Using the straight edge of the little blue
packet, she cut several fine, stark, parallel lines from the
small white pile of grains.

Not very subtle, and not a good sign. He attempted to resume the
conversation.

"Anyway, as far as marriage, we've never really discussed it
seriously."

All of the sudden, he understood the feeling assaulting his
senses. Trepidation.

Something - no, a number of things - were going to happen. It was
as though a crystal ball had bloomed in his mind's eye, giving
him a quick peek into the near future. It all came in a blurry
rush, no single picture or image freezing long enough to grasp
completely. But he caught the gist, just same. He would go
through all the required motions, but in the back of his mind he
knew he was helpless. What was coming, he realized with a
throbbing certainty amplified by the wine, was only natural.
Jesus, how sick that sounded to his private ear. Still, he
wouldn't give in without a fight, for that, too, was only
natural. Quietly he stared at the lines she'd cut, mesmerized by
their orderliness.

Ivy, too, studied the straightness of her lines, her upper lip
hidden beneath the lower. She was the first to notice the
silence, to sense its uneasy drift. With a great gust, she blew
the white lines from the table and looked across the table at him
with a renewed smile.

"Oh, hey. Sorry. I had a little skip down unhappy-memory-lane
there for a second, is all. I hope I didn't upset you."

Peter looked at her. He shook his head, then rose without a word
and carried his coffee cup into the kitchen. 

"Hey, you want to open more wine?" Ivy was at his side, carrying
their empty glasses. "I've been here only three weeks and already
have a prototype of my speech interface working." The trembling
of her hand caused the glasses to steadily clink together, a
fragile ringing sound. She didn't seem to notice. "Come on, let's
celebrate."

He rested his hand over the glasses, silencing them. "We've had
enough."

She narrowed the already small space between them, and he slid
his hands into his pockets, not sure what to do with them. "Thank
you for such a great meal," he said, and made an attempt to get
past her.

She giggled, held her ground.

He let out a frustrated breath. "Please," he said. "I've got to
get to bed." There was no humor in his face.

"All right, then," she said sullenly, and pressed her back
against the doorjamb, making way for him.

Just as he was about to shut off the stereo he changed his mind,
and decided to leave it on. To keep Kate there with him, he
thought, humming along with her voice on his way to his bedroom.

He lit a single candle and placed it on the floor beside his
futon bed. Except for the thick stuffed sleeping mat, some books
piled against the wall, a Tizio lamp and the Zuni Indian
sculpture of a bear that Kate had given him one birthday, his
bedroom was bare, like the rest of the house.

He tossed his clothes onto the floor and sat in the lotus
position on the soft cotton mat. Kate had introduced him to the
basics of meditation when they had first started dating, teaching
him to lead himself into natural, peaceful sleep. He closed his
eyes and concentrated on relaxing the muscles in his neck and
shoulders. Gradually he worked his way down, through the rest of
his body. His breathing slowed, and he imagined whiteness,
weightlessness. The whiteness slashed into a black surface and he
thought of Ivy and the dining room table, her playing with the
little blue packet. He pushed this away and brought back the pure
white. After a short period, the soft whispering snowstorm turned
to warm earth tones, to Kate's lovely hair...

The sound of footsteps broke his concentration. He opened his
eyes.

Ivy stood before him, wearing a lightweight cotton kimono. Her
face glowed warmly in the candlelight. Her voice was a mere
whisper. "I want to be with you."

Peter remained seated in the lotus position, unable, it seemed,
to move. He became sharply aware of her delicate physique, his
nakedness. He felt their vulnerable auras bending toward one
another, reaching. He thought about what he'd come to realize at
the dinner table, the feeling of dread inside him that seemed to
suddenly threaten everything in his life. He thought of telling
her about the few close calls he had had over the past couple of
years, how they had ended in tears and shattered dreams for the
students. He thought of telling her that in all their years
together he had never been unfaithful to Kate. He thought of
telling her that in all their years together, Wallaby had never
been unfaithful to him, and it was the same thing. Was, he wanted
to say aloud and tell her, tell anyone who'd listen, why.

But he told her none of these things. Instead he said to himself,
without uttering a word, I had a lot to drink, it was the wine.
But was he really that drunk, or was it something else? Something
worse? That he even considered this excuse, that he was actually
entertaining a defense for something that had not even happened,
not yet, presaged the guilt that would follow if he were to allow
them to come together. And apart. And it was all the same thing,
he told himself. Today, tomorrow, and the next day and every day
after that. 

He considered her. She was an angel whose mission was to ease him
into the hereafter. He concluded, when he noticed a powdery white
substance encircling the inner edge of her nostrils, that she was
already "there," perhaps even farther, some point beyond
recognition. As if she interpreted this, she brushed her nose
with the back of her hand and sniffled.

"Peter," she pleaded, her voice husky, "You've empowered me.
You've given me a whole new meaning. It's my future."

Somehow her words had breaking effect on him. He was both
repulsed and beholden by her sentiment. By himself. He turned his
face toward the window, fighting the urge to reach out and pull
her down by the waist. It was not as if he were in love with this
young girl. And the way she made it sound, he was acting on her
behalf, like she needed him. Not the other way around. No, not
that at all. He didn't need her. She was nothing to him. Just
another worshipper in a long string of subjects.

And, as if to prove his cruel pretense, she knelt before him. Her
soft knees touched his shins. He smelled the peppery sweetness of
her breath, and his eyes lingered on her radiant golden hair. He
looked into her shining, anticipating eyes.

With a deep, winded sigh that was almost a cry, he finally
acknowledged his fear. It was inevitable, he told himself, as he
felt himself rising. He placed his fingertips about her neck,
traced his thumbs along her delicate lips, her precious ears,
touched her smooth eyelids, and gently pressed them shut. Her
breath hitched, and she waited for his touch to lead them
farther.

He slid the kimono from her lean body, and guided her hands to
his shoulders. He drew her down, guiding her to his hips. Her
smooth buttocks slid along his thighs. He felt her pause as she
settled onto him, over him.

They kissed.

She pulled away her lips and raised her hips.

He moved his mind to another place, into and around and between
Kate's lovely, far-off lyrics. He concentrated, tuned himself to
her rhythm.

Down, then up, then again, she slowly drove herself harder and
harder. He matched her motion with equal urgency, little lunging
lifts, telling himself at the same time that he was not
participating, not really, that she was doing all of the work, it
was all her, not him. Their mouths worked desperately, lunging
for one another, each attempt to kiss more impossible, more
desired than the last...

Spent, he felt a delirious sense of relief, as if it had all been
a bizarre dream from which he had just awakened. He raised his
head from the mat. For a brief, wanting moment he envisioned Kate
resting lightly on top of him.

The music had ended, the silence was palpable. 

His mind collapsed. He felt as if he had taken an enormous plunge
backward from a high altitude, his head dizzy, his thoughts vague
as he fell. He squirmed beneath the full weight the young girl
lying atop him, trying to escape from what they had done. He
wanted tonight to be over. He wanted tomorrow to be over. He
wanted both gone forever. He wanted another chance.

Ivy stirred. She raised her head off Peter's chest and looked at
him. Her face was glistening, content. "Thank you," was all she
said. She raised herself from him and collected her kimono. She
covered him lightly with the comforter, blew out the candle, and
vanished.

He tested his defense. A whisper: "It was the wine - "

But he could not complete the sentence, for it was already done.
And it was not the wine. It was another thing altogether. And he
felt it now.

The little thing in his heart. The little thing that had come and
gone earlier in the evening. It was back again. It lay quietly,
barely perceptible, like the breathing of a tiny creature, and he
had almost not noticed it. But there was no mistaking it now, and
he fought to grasp hold of it, to suffocate it, but his attempts
were futile. It felt as though the thing had established
permanent residency.

For many hours, until his consciousness finally succumbed to
mental depletion, he was disturbed by a queer premonition. That
the dark, throbbing thing in his heart was determined to eat its
way out, ever so slowly, boring straight through the only parts
that Peter had ever loved, the only parts that had ever mattered.


Chapter 3


It was a bright, hazy morning, not yet seven o'clock, but already
hot and humid, which wasn't so unusual for a June day in New York
City. William Harrell braced himself for the cool comfort of the
limousine's air-conditioned interior.

For twenty-five minutes he would relax in a comfortable silent
plushness. He stretched his legs, lengthening his taut body until
his feet touched the facing seatback. His calves responded
wearily. Last evening's workout, the first in more than a week,
had taken its toll. He had skipped several sessions since putting
in longer hours over the past couple of days, working on the
company's portable computer strategy. The break in his routine,
regardless of whatever aches and pains it caused, brought him the
kind of excitement on which he thrived. His regal face had the
precisely aged features of a character actor cast in the role of
judge, or the President of the United States. On occasion he wore
glasses, when he remembered, for seeing things up close. At
sixty-two, his looks suited his job perfectly.

The car briskly pulled away from the brownstone, his course and
destination the same today as it had been each business day for
the past fourteen years. 

He eagerly unfolded the "Wall Street Journal. In the News Brief
column analysts speculated as they did every quarter about
changes at Wallaby, Incorporated. According to the story, sources
close to the company suggested that the company's founder, Peter
Jones, and its president, Matthew Locke, were not getting along
as famously as they once had. There was speculation that a major,
long-overdue reorganization would be announced in today's board
meeting. Matthew Locke's corporate organizational changes at
International Foods were revisited. A Wallaby engineer who had
asked to remain anonymous was quoted: "Jones has created a
rivalry between his division [Joey] and ours [Mate]." The
informant went on, "It's really strange. Jones invented the Mate,
yet he says that anyone who is not associated with the Joey is a
bozo." The article explained that separate product divisions were
precisely what Matthew Locke had earlier in his career put an end
to at International Foods, when he had merged the food and
beverage divisions, as well as several other minor groups, into
one umbrella organization. A brief background story on the Joey
discussed its sparse sales and the fact that few software
programs were available for use with the computer, underscoring
the analysts' predictions of a major overhaul. All of the experts
agreed that the product was revolutionary and proclaimed that if
Wallaby could speed Joey applications to market, it could then
gain major market share and thereby disarm the older, less flashy
technology of its largest competitor, International Computer
Products. The consensus was that Wallaby had to get its act
together if it was to have any hope of remaining at the forefront
of portable computer technology innovation. 

William Harrell smiled. That was exactly what he had hoped to
read. He folded the newspaper and tossed it onto the seat beside
him. 

The car neared its destination, turning for the final stretch
onto a block with the largest buildings in the city.

If everything went as the analysts predicted, William Harrell
would soon begin implementing his new plan. The existing one, a
conservative strategy that the company had followed for two
years, would soon be replaced with one informed by none of the
customary Fortune 500 company protocol. William Harrell's plan
was based on a decision he had made two years ago, around the
same time the press had touted Wallaby's newly appointed
president, Matthew Locke, as "ICP's Nemesis."

The car slowed in front of a massive building with a black marble
facade. William adjusted his tie and tugged at the jacket of his
charcoal pinstriped suit. As the driver opened his door the city
air hit him like a furnace blast. Towering above him were
seventy-six stories of world renowned corporate power, wholly
occupied by the company whose name was carved in stone above the
building's entrance: INTERNATIONAL COMPUTER PRODUCTS.

He entered the building, rode the elevator to its highest level,
greeted his secretary, and entered his office, on whose door a
golden plaque announced: Chairman & Chief Executive Officer.


* * *


Each member of the board and of the senior executive staff filed
into the Wallaby boardroom. Most of them arrived at eight o'clock
sharp, avoiding the usual idle conversation that, in the past,
had always taken place outside the room. 

Matthew's secretary, Eileen, stood in the doorway of his office.
"It's time," she said, then returned to her desk.

Matthew stood. He clipped his pen to the yellow tablet on which
he'd been writing. 

Eileen busied herself at her desk, arranging papers and notes.
She paused and said, "Matthew, good luck."

He gave her a small nod and headed for the boardroom.

The exotic fruits, croissants, pastries, coffee, and bottles of
mineral water on the table set up outside the boardroom had
hardly been touched. Normally the table would be nearly empty by
now, and the executive staff secretaries, disguising their
cravings by pretending to go to the ladies' room, would pick over
the remains once the boardroom door had closed and the meeting
was underway. But today they could enjoy themselves in a
leisurely fashion, for none of the board members seemed to have
appetites.

The room fell from a fuzzy hum to heavy silence when Matthew
entered. Immediately he saw that Peter had not yet arrived. He
seated himself in one of two vacant leather chairs at either end
of the long, black table. The room's amenities and furnishings
were simple and high-tech. Bleached wood paneling on one wall
stood in stark contrast with the deep charcoal rug. On the wall
opposite the windows, a series of segmented panels unfolded to
reveal a massive rear-projection movie screen. At the other end,
audiovisual equipment was stacked behind hinged, smoked-glass
doors. Here, encapsulated multimedia performances, new product
videos, employee interviews, research and development sneak
previews, and live TV spots or teleconferences were viewed with
the touch of a finger. Today, however, the equipment would remain
silent and cool, the master of ceremonies unaided by electronic
wizardry. 

The room offered a panoramic view of the Santa Cruz Mountains,
which rolled northwestward toward San Francisco. The five board
members and a couple of Wallaby's senior executives faced this
view, while the less senior executives sat with their backs to
the windows. Peter Jones had personally selected every person for
his or her position in this room, most of them more than eight
years ago.

Sitting here, waiting, Matthew Locke's confidence began to
falter. The expressions around the table were grim, as all were
aware of the forthcoming conflict. Had Matthew inspected the
trashcan beside the security desk in the building's lobby, he
would have found several discarded copies of the "Wall Street
Journal," each affixed with a small mailing label addressed to
one of the persons seated around the table. Each would have read
the article predicting changes in this very board meeting, and
would know that the speculations were about to be substantiated.
Like the emotionally battered children of distraught and
noncommunicative parents, those in the room would have to choose
to which parent they would commit their trust, to the man who
could best repair Wallaby and lead the company from its stalled
state to a prosperous future. While he had already gained secret
votes of confidence from every person present, he was nonetheless
struck in the pit of his stomach by a gross realization. Here he
sat among men and women expressly chosen by Peter for their
roles, in this room whose design Peter had personally approved,
in this building that was only one of many representing the
company that Peter Jones had founded, in this little town to
which he had brought international recognition. Did Matthew
really believe, as he sat here waiting, that he could actually
unseat Peter from this very room? From this very legend?

With an imperceptible shudder, Matthew flung this thought from
his mind and replaced it with memories of the time and energy he
had invested in preparation for this day. 

Seated to his right and facing the windows was Hank Towers,
assistant chairman, and Wallaby's primary investor. Over the past
several months Matthew had spent a considerable amount of time
with Hank, and he had agreed with most of Matthew's ideas about
how Wallaby should be managed. He had pored over the reports and
strategies that Matthew collected, giving particular attention to
a recent Harvard Business School study that described a
phenomenon with which every successful company must eventually
contend. It stated that by the time a business is ten years old,
its original founders have left. There were exceptions, of
course. The founding pair of Hewlett-Packard, for example, had
remained with the company for several decades and both still held
directorial roles. And, a little closer to the issue at hand was
ICP, which was founded in the 1930s by Jonathan Holmes, who had
stayed on for half a century before turning the business over to
his son, Byron. But in most cases the departure of a founder was
a natural occurrence. Typically, he or she left to begin a new
venture, however the second most prevalent manner of departure
was less amicable; the founder was forced out of the company
because he or she was hampering rather than helping the company.
If anyone could appreciate this it was Hank. Three years ago he
had persuaded Peter to let him begin a worldwide search for a
candidate who could take his place as president of Wallaby,
managing its day-to-day operations. What's more, it was Hank who
had recommended Matthew after reading about him in "Business
Week." The story had commended Matthew's successes at
International Foods, noting that he was one of the youngest and
most effective Fortune 500 presidents, and speculating that he
was being groomed by International's stuffy and conservative
chairman, Rolland Worthy, to take the elder's place when he
retired.

But today his reputation as the once-mighty leader of a large
food and beverage company gave him little faith in his strategy,
which was beginning to taste more and more stale each passing
minute.

The door opened and Peter Jones entered the room. All around the
table the members rearranged themselves, sitting more erect,
seeming to have acquired a sudden intense interest in the figures
and data and notes piled before them - anything to avoid making
eye contact with the newest and final arrival. Dressed in a
faultlessly fitted Armani suit, crisp white shirt and subdued
floral patterned tie, Peter gave the impression of a corporate
messiah, capable of both vision and leadership. He appeared well
rested and cheery as he entered the room, his eyes scanning the
table warmly.

Matthew's stomach flipped. No amount of planning or rehearsing
could have prepared him for the aura of power emanating from his
rival. Even after working with him for more than twenty-four
months, Matthew still felt mildly intimidated in the young man's
presence.

Peter seated himself directly across from Matthew, twenty feet
opposite, and opened his smooth, black leather portfolio. They
exchanged an expressionless stare, which was broken when Martin
Cohn, vice president of corporate development and liaison to the
board of directors, began the meeting.

"We don't have an agenda to hand out today," Martin said with
uncharacteristic seriousness. "Let's begin." He nodded to
Matthew, then diverted his attention out the window, avoiding
Peter's puzzled expression.


* * * 


Greta Locke awoke with no great desire to leave her warm bed. She
had slept fitfully; Matthew had tossed and bucked through the
night, and the few times she tried to soothe or comfort him, he
had turned on his side with an irked sigh.

She wondered if the board meeting at Wallaby had started. It
didn't matter really, everything was going to be just fine.
Stretching, she sat up and adjusted her silk gloves. She leaned
across the bed to the night table and opened its drawer, taking
from it a fine Swiss biscuit that she unwrapped and bit into as
she pulled the sheets from her body and got out of bed. She
didn't feel like taking a shower, not right now, anyway. She took
her silk robe from the door hook as she passed the bathroom. 

Slowly she descended the stairs. With each step her mind turned
over her options for the day ahead. Stanford Mall? Union Square
again? Clothes? Gourmet food? 

Her housekeeper, Marie, appeared at the bottom of the stairway.
She was wearing rubber gloves and carrying a bucket filled with a
strong-smelling ammonia solution. She greeted Greta with an
obedient smile.

"Mrs. Locke, I cleaned the windows on the patio outside."

"Fine, I'll inspect them," Greta said, pivoting from the last
step. 

She strolled into the large black and white tiled kitchen and
opened the refrigerator. As she reached for the pitcher of
fresh-squeezed orange juice, she noticed an open bottle of Mumm
champagne resting on the back shelf. Why not a mimosa, she
decided, to celebrate Matthew's success.

She tugged the elaborate silver stopper from the bottle. It
popped weakly, and the champagne fizzed lightly as she topped off
her half-full glass of orange juice. 

Give yourself a hand, she thought wryly, remembering back to the
first time she and Matthew had toasted with drinks. This came to
mind every time she had a fizzy juice cocktail. They had met at
International Foods' advertising agency. She had been hired as a
hand model. It was what she, Gretchen Bonner, had done before she
had met Matthew. In her lovely hand she had been holding a can of
Orange Fresh, a new, all-natural carbonated orange beverage.
While at the agency for another meeting, Matthew had dropped in
on the shoot. His eyes had locked on the beautiful hand wrapped
around his newest beverage invention. He followed the hand to the
arm to the body to the face. Holding his creation perfectly still
in her hand, the woman glanced at Matthew and smiled. She was
perfect for the part, and when the shoot was over he offered her
a glass of International Foods' own brand of vodka over ice. She
accepted the drink, warning him that she would become woozy if
she drank it straight on the rocks. She poured Orange Fresh into
the glass and took a sip. She said she liked it better that way,
sweet. At that very instant, unknown to either of them, she had
single-handedly invented a multimillion dollar market segment for
International Foods, for which Matthew would later garner
considerable praise.

Marie entered the kitchen. Forgetting discretion, the servant
allowed her critical gaze to rest for a moment too long on the
open bottle of champagne in Greta's hand. Bad move.

Greta placed the bottle on the granite counter, set down her
glass and, walking toward the long, sweeping kitchen windows,
removed the glove from her right hand. "Marie," she called.

Marie, who had gone back to her business, faced her employer. She
brushed her hand across her blinking eyes, which showed the
effects of ammonia vapors.

"I think these need cleaning too," Greta said, running her index
finger along the windows. She smirked.

"Of course, Mrs. Locke."

"And don't forget the outside," Greta added, picking up her
drink. She gulped down half of it, then poured the remainder of
the champagne into her glass. She left the empty bottle on the
counter, and opened the refrigerator again and searched its open
shelves for breakfast. She took a plastic container and opened
it. Inside were two slices of veal left over from last night's
meal. She ate one of the slices. The sauce was congealed and
hardened, but the meat tasted good, and she licked the oily shine
from her fingers. Her mood was returning to normal.

Greta exited the kitchen and stretched out on the couch in the
sitting room. Her hand found the remote control between the
cushions and she pointed the thing at the television and pressed
its buttons, sipping her drink as the screen flipped through
channels. Her mind flipped through its own channels, still
contemplating what to do with her day.

She stopped on a commercial showing a young, laughing couple
running along a beach hand in hand. It was interspersed with
quick, one-second images of cocktails, dancing, dining. It
concluded with the pair on horseback, galloping down the beach
into the sunset, leaving her with the message: "Live again!"

She tucked the device between the pillows and set her empty glass
on the coffee table; she had resolved today's activity dilemma.

In the bedroom she tossed her robe onto the bed. Hesitating, she
considered showering. She decided against it; she'd only get
dirty again in an hour or so. She pulled on jeans, a rugged
cotton shirt, and a scarf. From the closet she collected her
riding boots and a vest. She refreshed her color with a slash of
blush across each cheek. Running a brush through her hair, she
caught the white flash of the remaining silk glove shrouding her
left hand. Casting her glance out the window, she removed it and
took a pair of worn leather riding gloves from her vest pocket.
She put them on, taking extra care with the left one, adjusting
it carefully so that it appeared to fit naturally. There.

She backed her car from the garage and slid her sunglasses on her
face and cruised down the twisting road, feeling a little buzzed
as the convertible gained speed, the wind whipping all around
her.

This area of Woodside was hilly and lush. Either side of the road
occasionally gave way to gated driveways or hedged walls. At
certain bends, off to the right and downhill, she could see the
small, artificial lake resting in the middle of this particular
smart-set valley. It was a short drive, her destination within
walking distance of her home had she chosen to take the footpath
that circled the lake.

She turned onto the long private drive. The hot pavement turned
to dusty road as she approached the ranch. She passed a small
stilted shed that marked the property line of the ranch. To the
right, in a liberally spaced cluster, were two cottages, a ranch
house, a small stable, and a second, larger double-door barn.
Dressage and jumping rings were not far from these buildings,
separated from the lake by a dirt path. In one of the fenced
circles a trainer led a tethered Morgan colt in medium-sized
circles, gently guiding the shining black animal with a long
lunge whip. In another ring a young girl neatly sailed a black
Hanoverian over post-and-rail jumps, under the instruction of a
tall man dressed in mixed hues of indigo. Greta had never seen
the man here before. From this distance he appeared lithe and
attractive, and her curiosity was piqued. As if sensing her
appraisal, he turned and looked in her direction. He leveled his
hand against his brow to shield the sunlight. As he did this, she
noticed that he was wearing an odd white garment over his right
arm; it took her an instant to realize it was a sling.

She raised her sunglasses from her face and settled them in her
hair. Had the man been looking at her or at something else
nearby? He turned back to the rider, signing with a wave, then
turned and jogged out of the ring, disappearing into the smaller
barn.

She climbed out of the car and proceeded to the massive double
doors. Inside, she was surrounded on either side by large
beautiful horses of various breeds. Their heads turned in her
direction as she passed. Occasionally she stopped to pet a
particular animal owned by an acquaintance. She grew excited by
the smell of the horses, the dust, the feed, and the dryness, and
was glad she had decided to come here to ride. When she wasn't
shopping or doing the other things that consumed the hours of her
day, this was her passion, being here at the ranch with these
beautiful, powerful creatures.

Stall 28, at the end of a long row, held Mighty Boy, her
four-year-old thoroughbred stallion. So black he was almost
purple, Mighty Boy had been a gift from Matthew when they had
moved to California. 

"Hi sweetie," Greta said, stroking the animal's head. She nuzzled
her face into his cheek, her chestnut hair mixing and mingling
with his black mane. The horse nodded and whinnied, happy for her
arrival.

"Hello, Mrs. Locke," said Jennifer, the ranch's owner. She was a
solid woman with white-gray hair and eternally sun-squinted eyes.
"What a happy boy he is," Jennifer said. "Everyone who sees him
is in awe of his beauty."

"He is a pretty boy, isn't he?" Greta said. She paused to
appraise the animal for a moment before leading him out of his
stall.

Jennifer slipped Mighty Boy a treat and patted his head.
"Gorgeous day for a ride."

"Truly," Greta agreed. Peripherally, a movement caught her eye.
It was the man she'd seen in the ring, dressed in denim pants and
a worn denim shirt. He was walking toward them. She became
conscious of her tousled hair, and tried to remember whether or
not she had brushed her teeth. Yet she did not fully connect
these concerns with the materialization of this stranger.

"You must be the fortunate owner of this magnificent beast," the
smiling man said. His lean, strong jaw and powerful physique were
matched by a robust, accented voice.

"Yes," Greta said with evident pride.

He was taller than he had first appeared when she spotted him in
the ring, a hair over six feet, she estimated. He had hazel eyes,
and his dark brown hair was long and thick and pulled back into a
neat ponytail. She guessed he was in his mid-thirties.

"Jennifer?" the man said, turning to the ranch's owner.

"Oh! I'm sorry." The older woman placed a casual hand on Greta's
shoulder. "Jean-Pierre Poitras, this is Mrs. Greta Locke." At the
"Mrs." part, her voice had risen ever so slightly.

Greta offered her right hand, then realized her mistake. He
laughed, and with his left hand he gestured at his slung arm.
Staring at it, she saw that there was no cast. "We can use this
hand," Jean-Pierre said. Before she had a chance to realize what
was happening, he had her left hand in his own.

She gasped, recoiling her hand like a viper. She clasped it
protectively in her other hand, as if it had been scalded.

Jean-Pierre's face mirrored her own astonished expression.
Jennifer's too.

Greta attempted to cover the awkwardness. "Oh," she said with a
nervous laugh, "I'm sorry. It's just that you startled me."
Unconsciously she was gently squeezing the hand he'd held, trying
to imagine how it had felt to him. Horrorstricken, she asked
herself, Did he feel it?

There was a long moment of silence in which everyone looked to
everyone else. Finally, Jennifer spoke. "Jean-Pierre is a polo
champion from Deauville, France."

Greta seized on this to move the conversation along. "Really? How
fascinating. Are you playing polo here?"

He laughed at this, and everything seemed to fall back in order.
"There is no polo here. That is why I've come."

Jennifer explained. "We're considering starting a polo club right
here in Woodside, Mrs. Locke. Perhaps Mr. Locke would be
interested in sponsoring a player." This last comment was
directed to Jean-Pierre. He arched his brows, inviting an
explanation.

Instead of responding to this, Greta let go of her hand and
fluttered it uneasily at his arm. "What happened?"

"Oh, this. My nemesis. Chronic dislocation. Shoulder. Worst it
has ever been. I figured it was time to give my pony a rest and
look into the idea of starting a club here. I need some time to
recuperate." His eyes connected with hers, and for the moment
that she held them, she felt as if he were acknowledging some
unspoken confidence that they shared.

Jennifer spoke up. "We're delighted he's going to be staying with
us for awhile." With a click of her tongue she began leading
Mighty Boy along.

Jean-Pierre stopped her and took the horse by the halter. "May
I?" he asked Greta.

"Oh. Why, yes," she replied.

Jennifer patted Mighty Boy's head. "Have a nice ride," she said,
and walked back toward the office.

Greta studied Jean-Pierre as he led the animal from its stall
with a firm but casual hand. Mighty Boy tramped along happily,
unresisting, as they walked the length of the stable in silence.
Outside they stepped aside to allow the young groom to bridle and
saddle the animal.

Jean-Pierre plucked a pair of sunglasses from his shirt pocket.
"Perhaps we can ride together one morning, Mrs. Locke?" He
grinned. Perfect straight white teeth contrasted with his
healthy, tanned complexion. There was something suggestive in his
fixed smile.

She felt herself blush. "Perhaps," she said. She had a
premonition that was not altogether unpleasant. Before she had
time to let the image develop any further, she quickly busied
herself with the saddle's girth and stirrups. She could feel his
eyes observing her. It felt intrusive, yet, at the same time,
exciting. She nullified this indulgence by reminding herself of
today's board meeting at Wallaby; its conclusion would signal a
new beginning for her and Matthew. She pulled her scarf from her
vest pocket, twirled it, and wrapped it lightly around her neck.
The lenses of his sunglasses reflected her motions, but she could
not tell on what exactly his eyes were focused, though they
seemed fixed in the general direction of her upper body. Her
breasts. At this thought she felt a prickling beneath her skin.
First chilly. Then hot.

    Feeling suddenly loony and playful, she stared directly into
his sunglasses, as if she were facing a small display mirror.
With a bold tug she knotted her scarf and laughed, and at the
same time cinched her commitment to Matthew.

His own hearty laughter joined hers, filling her with an
uncharacteristic and powerful sense of triumph.

She placed her booted foot into the stirrup, and his deft
attention was little surprise as his free hand solidly gripped
her other boot. With a quick hoist she was in the saddle. 

He stood before Mighty Boy and stroked the horse's head. "Such a
beautiful creature," he said, removing his sunglasses, "should
certainly be allowed to jump, to learn new things. Yes? Maybe you
would like to try?" He lifted his sunglasses and held them so
that their eyes connected. He held hers for more time than she
should have permitted. She quickly diverted her gaze to the
jumping ring. Could she do that? Wait - why was she even
considering it? She told herself to get going. Besides, she had
not showered, and her hair was all mussed. Hadn't she come here
to ride her horse?

"I don't think I could do that," she said. "I think I prefer
simply riding alone."

He lowered his sunglasses again and bowed, as if to say that was
fine. For now.

"Well, then. See you," she said. She was satisfied with the way
that had come out, a practiced social indifference to her tone.
Pressing her heels into the horse's ribs, she trotted off past
the buildings and toward the hills across the low, golden, grassy
field. She let herself look back. He was still standing there,
watching her ride off. She hastily returned her attention to the
path. 

After Mighty Boy warmed up she pushed him hard, leaning into his
powerful gallop. As if testing her will, yesterday's clear, hard
thoughts of Matthew's secret plan and of her celebration bowl
melted away, and were supplanted by fantasy. Her heart raced, and
her mind ran free with raw and fiery images of the provocative
Jean-Pierre.


* * *


"Thank you, Martin," Matthew Locke said.

Peter turned to Hank Towers for an explanation for this break in
custom; it was he, Peter, who always started the meeting with
opening remarks. But Hank's attention, like that of everyone else
in the room, had shifted to Matthew. Something was wrong, but
before he could speculate, Matthew spoke.

"As we are all aware, Peter and I have been at odds about how
this company should be managed."

Peter threw his pen down on the table. With an audible huff he
pushed himself back in his seat with straightened arms. "What's
going on here?"

Matthew ignored this and continued, his eyes roaming from person
to person in careful, measured doses.

"Peter and I have very different styles and strategies, which is
positioning you, the executive staff and board of directors, in
the middle of our discord. The situation isn't healthy for
Wallaby." He let this sink in for a moment while he got up and
walked toward a pitcher of water. Slowly he poured himself a
glass.

"Peter," he started, resting the glass, "I've decided to ask the
board of directors to accept my resignation - "

Peter could not believe his ears, and before Matthew had even
finished with his explanation Peter was already celebrating
inside. Hallelujah! Here he had thought that Matthew was going to
propose a reorganization, but instead he was resigning. It was
priceless! Maybe, Peter thought, Matthew had realized himself
that he was not cut out for high technology, and would be better
off going back into the potato chip business, with its bright
colored plastic bags, its brainwashing the public on the virtues
of junk food, its pureeing of rotten ingredients - 

" - provided," Matthew continued, "that they don't approve my
recommendation that you relinquish your duties as Wallaby's vice
president of Joey, and chairman of the board."

The room spun. Suddenly, all eyes were fixed on Peter. He
blinked, and tried to focus on a single pair, but those glanced
away, as did the next pair, and the next. He leaned back in his
chair. It squeaked loudly. He looked up at the whiteness of the
ceiling for a moment and let his mind drain. Suddenly he
understood Matthew's little game. He laughed at the ceiling. For
a split second he had actually thought it could somehow be true,
that Matthew was going to resign, that that was what Matthew was
trying to warn him of, threaten him with yesterday. Such was not
the case. Resigning was the farthest thing from Matthew's mind.
The absurdity - proposing that the board give him the boot.
Admittedly, considering the rumors that were flying about a
reorganization, he'd been more than a little apprehensive late
last night. But upon waking this morning, he'd told himself there
was nothing to fear. He was the company's founder, and he wasn't
going anywhere - except where he damn well pleased. This was
preposterous. It was laughable. And he laughed hard and full, his
shoulders pitching a little. None of the others joined in the
fun.

When he managed to get his laughter under control, he
straightened up and placed his clasped hands comfortably in his
lap. "Sorry," he said, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. He
gave himself a little shake, and blew out an exaggerated breath.
"Forgive me for laughing, Matthew," he said with a smile,
flattening his hand over his heart, "You had me going there for a
second. I thought you were going to make my job easy."

His smile vanished. "But I guess you're not. So I'll spell it out
for you." His face was relaxed and smooth, and he spoke coolly.
"Matthew, you're not right for Wallaby anymore," he said. He let
this hang in the air for a few moments. To his way of thinking,
as chairman, his decision was already made. Out of courtesy he
would explain to Matthew the circumstances, as a coach would
after try-outs to the child who doesn't have what it takes to
make the team.

"You did a good job of helping to get the organization in place
for managing us through troubled waters. You created a strong
sales force, and you did some other good things. I can't remember
them all right now, but you did some okay things. However, were
you to remain in your position any longer, this company would
fail because of your weakness. You have no vision."

All this time Matthew had remained on his feet. Peter was
impressed with how well he was taking it. Let's see, Peter
thought, how he handles this part.

Peter opened his leather portfolio, which contained copies of the
organizational chart he had prepared yesterday, listing himself
as the acting president and CEO. "I think we can work out a
respectable severance package, with full relocation, of course,"
he said, graciously, "and - "

"Peter, " Matthew said, cutting him off.

Oh wonderful, Peter thought, just what he had feared. Matthew was
going to beg to stay. Yet he saw no sign of anguish on Matthew's
face. Perhaps he was experiencing shock?

"You're a brilliant young man," Matthew said. "You've made this
industry what it is. Were it not for you, we all know this
company could never have been." His words flowed easily, without
tremor.

"You had a dream to make portable computers for individuals, and
you created this company out of sheer willpower and brains.
Everyone here acknowledges that."

This was worse than Peter had thought. How long would he and his
team have to sit through this, he wondered. Should he stop him
now, and thank him? No, he told himself. Let him finish. After
all, he had hired Matthew, and if anyone was to blame, it was he,
for not realizing that a potato chip man could not be transformed
into a silicon chip man. At this last thought he felt the start
of a giggle in his chest, and he was forced to bow his head and
pinch his lips tightly together to contain his laughter.

Matthew paused. What Peter didn't see were the sympathetic
glances sent his way by the members of his hand-picked team. He
resumed, "I was hired to complement you so that you could
concentrate on developing your product ideas without the burden
of managing a rapidly growing organization..."

Resigned to listening to the rest of Matthew's good-bye speech,
Peter let his mind concentrate on important things. Leaking
batteries, for instance. Longer screen life. Easy-to-service
keyboards. Storage. Faster performance. Yes, that one was
becoming more and more important. Must have faster performance.

Matthew's voice had become a faraway drone. "But I cannot do my
job without having the power to fulfill my responsibilities. You
have managed to create a rivalry with your once-greatest fans..."

What else? Agents. Now there was a subject he had become more and
more interested in. Which reminds me, Peter thought, I've got to
call the guys at MIT and see what they've come up with that we
might use with the - 

"IJoey Plus computer is late for delivery because of your
inability to manage your organization. All that must change."

He sensed that Matthew was winding down, and focused once again
on the here and now. Glad tidings, etcetera.

"So I have decided to ask each member of the board and executive
staff to vote."

Peter looked at Matthew. "And what are we going to vote on,
Matthew?" he asked, his voice pitched a good deal higher than
usual.

"As I said," Matthew went on, planting both of his hands on the
back of his vacant chair, "I cannot do my job as long as you have
the final say in everything. I am asking the board and the
executive staff to decide which of us will run this company. If
they choose you, I will resign."

He looked around the room. Everyone seemed to think their blank
notepads were fascinating.

"Matthew, now I'm getting angry," Peter said, rising from his
seat. Unconsciously he began popping the button of his ball-point
pen up and down with his thumb. "Can we please stop this
desperate little game?"

"This is no game. I am perfectly serious. And as this company's
president, I intend to conduct a vote."

The clicking stopped. "A vote? Then be my guest," he said,
sweeping a hand at the mannequins seated around the table. "Go
ahead, Matthew, ask. Ask everyone in this room who they want to
run my company."

Hands in his pockets, Peter began to pace slowly around the room,
like an impatient father awaiting the inevitable. "Wait," Peter
said. "Better still, Matthew, I'll ask, okay?"

Matthew shrugged deferentially.

Peter stepped behind Alan Parker, general manager of the Mate
division, the first executive Peter had hired when he had founded
Wallaby. 

"Alan," Peter said, resting his hand on Parker's shoulder. "What
do you think about all of this? Pretty awkward, I agree. But
nothing we can't take care of, right? Do I need to repeat the
questions? Who do you think should be in control here at our
company?"

Parker sat upright, his attention focused on his hands, which he
held tightly clasped together on the table. Normally a warm and
friendly person, Parker had worked as Peter's right-hand man
during the early years of Wallaby when they had found themselves
a major force in the Fortune 500. He removed his glasses and
brushed the back of his hand across his forehead. His dread was
palpable.

"Yes, Peter," Parker said, his voice struggling against fond
memories, "we did build Wallaby into a wonderful thing. And if it
weren't for you, this industry would have never become what it is
today. However, you and your Joey team have created a rivalry
with my Mate group. My division, which provides the butter for
our bread, feels that you, the very inventor of our livelihood,
think the Mate, and my people who work on it, are second-class
citizens."

He swiveled in his chair to look at Peter with his complaisant,
pleading eyes. "Because of the way you behave I can't do my job,
either. It's like you've abandoned your roots in favor of Joey,
like you've forgotten all about the millions of people, the
millions of children, who use a Mate computer every day. Mate is
your family, and we feel abandoned."

Peter moved his face closer to Parker's. "Spare me the history,
Al. Okay? I'm sorry if you're sensitive about the way things may
seem, but face it, you know our future lies in Joey. What do you
need to hear? What can I say to make you feel better? I think you
and your group do a great job keeping Mate alive, and you can
tell them I said so. I'll even tell them myself. I'll come over
every other week, if that's what you want, and pat them on the
back. Matthew can't do that. He can't even work a Mate computer.
How the hell is he going to talk to the people who keep it
alive?"

Parker stiffened. "That's not the point. Don't you see? You're
doing it right now. Doing what you always do, changing and
twisting things around to suit you. Only you."

In all their years of working together, Parker had never spoken
to him like this. It was as if the man had suddenly aged and
hardened before his eyes.

"We're not a little start-up company anymore, Peter," Parker
exploded. "We're big business, and we need to be run like a big
business. And that includes taking care of the people who got us
here!"

An unpleasant taste shot up from Peter's throat. He already knew
what Parker's vote would be. And if Parker, who was easily his
least problematic executive, felt his way, what about the others?

Alan Parker narrowed his eyes and slowly shook his head. His face
softened, and for a moment he was once again the kind and
grateful man Peter remembered. "Peter, I believe Matthew has what
it takes to run this company. But I also believe you should lead
our new product development - "

Peter lifted a hand, cutting the executive off. "Save it," he
said, patting Parker stiffly on the shoulder. "So, everyone
thinks I'm a jerk. But it was this hot-shot businessman," he
said, flinging a hand towards Matthew, "who let things get to
this point of confusion and misunderstanding."

Matthew stood. "Peter, I want us to work together, but for me to
be able to manage Wallaby, you need to let me have the power to
do what's right from a business standpoint."

"Well forget it, Matthew," Peter said. "And let's cut all this
crybaby sentimental crap too, okay? Okay. Fine. If this is how
you want to play the game, we'll just go around the room and ask
everyone if they want me out." He leaned against the window
ledge, in the exact section Matthew had just vacated. He squeezed
the ledge on either side with his hands, white-knuckled, as if
this would somehow anchor his place in the room.

"All right, who's next?" Peter said, his voice bordering on
hysteria. "Let's see. Denise. You. Just a simple yes if you think
Matthew should have final power. No drama, please, we've all got
a lot of work to do today."

Denise Campbell had started her career with Wallaby as a
financial analyst. Young and bright and a genius with numbers,
Denise's long record of successes had recently been rewarded by
Peter, who had promoted her to the role of CFO. With anguished
eyes, she faced Peter. "As a publicly held company, our first
obligation is to our shareholders." 

Peter held up his hand again, stopping her before she could go
into a long-winded justification. "No verbosity, please, just a
yes or no." His eyes blazed. 

She looked into her lap. "Yes," she said. "But Peter, you have to
stay on as - "

Eyes closed, he turned away from her with a disgusted expression
and a quick shake of his head.

Paul Crane, executive vice president of sales and marketing, was
regarded by everyone for his no-bullshit manner, which he now
demonstrated with a simple nod of his head. 

Matthew stood off to the side, watching the process without
expression. It went on like this until the entire executive staff
was polled. Then Peter queried each of the visiting directors,
who had flown in from different parts of the country to attend
the meeting. Not a single no was spoken. When Matthew counted all
but the final response, he stiffened, awaiting the finale.

Peter knelt before Hank Towers.

"Hank," Peter said, his voice a desperate croak. "You, more than
anyone else in this room, know what Wallaby means to me." He
drummed his chest with his palm. "You and I, Hank, we made
Wallaby everything it is today. Didn't I agree with you a few
years ago that we needed someone to run the company? And wasn't I
supportive when we hired Matthew? We made a mistake is all, and
no one gets it. But you do. I know you do."

Hank sat perfectly still, but Matthew could see that Peter's
words were having an effect on him. And on some of the others.
Sounds of sniffing and little coughs, throats clearing, filled
the room. 

Matthew's pulse quickened. Although everyone else in the room had
voted in his favor, Hank could essentially persuade them all to
compromise in Peter's favor, dissolving Matthew's ultimatum. If
Hank did that, the plan would be off.

"Hank, you have to trust me on this one," Peter implored.
"Matthew isn't right for Wallaby. If you let him have this, he'll
turn Wallaby into a second-rate company. All I want is for us to
be number one, Hank. It's all we've ever wanted, right?"

Matthew sweated to read Hank's expression. Had he been kidding
himself into thinking he could lure Hank's loyalty away from
Peter.

"Damn it, Hank, look at me. Don't you see what he really wants?
He wants us, the renegades, to connect to IC-fucking-P's
computers! If that's not selling out, man, what is?"

Matthew held his breath, for Peter's assessment was ultimately
the motivation behind his entire secret plan. And if this
revelation, however ridiculous it may have sounded, caused Hank
to waver, to trust Peter's instincts, then Matthew had not a
single grain of hope of ever succeeding with his monumental plan.
He heard the sound of his own heartbeat squishing wildly in his
ears.

Hank looked Peter in the eye, and slowly shook his head.

Peter grunted. It was a wrenching, painful sound.

"Hank, no. No, Hank. No." He spoke very slowly, pausing with
every few words to catch his breath. "We did it before. And we
can do it again." He planted his hands on Hank's shoulders and
gave him the sort of shake one gives a drunkard. "We can run
Wallaby. Until we find someone who can cut it. Hank." 

Hank gently removed Peter's hands from his shoulders. 

"No, Peter," Hank whispered. "No."

"Hank, this is my life we're talking about, here. You will kill
me if you don't save me." Tears spilled down Peter's cheeks.
"You're my only hope."

Hank rested his hand on Peter's shoulder. "Petey, we're a big
company now, at probably the most critical point in all our
history. You are too unfocused to manage Wallaby. Matthew can."
He punctuated this last line with a squeeze. "But you've got to
stay on and be the innovator. We only want you to let Matthew do
his job. You'll think this is all bad for awhile, but then you'll
understand. You'll be a lot happier focusing on future products."
He let out a huge, exasperated sigh. "For Chrissake, Peter, we
love you."

Peter slowly rose to his feet. Matthew was rounding the table,
coming toward him. 

"And if I don't agree to all this?" Peter said to Hank.

"I'm afraid it's the only option you've got."

Peter could think of a few others. For example, he thought with
morbid pleasure, he could pummel Matthew with punches, that was
one option, or he could choke him until he turned red, then blue,
then black and begged for his life while everyone sat there as
they had through the whole meeting, staring at their fucking
yellow pads, just dying to lift their pens, Wallaby logo pens,
and begin calculating what their stock options would be worth
after today's news got out.

And wasn't that what it all came down to in the end, he asked
himself. Wasn't that what he'd used to lure each and every one of
them there? The bottom line. Didn't they understand that for him,
it wasn't the money. His life's happiness was the bottom line.
And he had just lost it. With this thought a deep dread coursed
through his chest. He thought of last night, and he felt a
shudder, as though an ice-cold fear had poked its finger into his
rectum. He felt as if he were about to defecate, right there for
all of them to witness, his grand exit. He was coming apart from
the inside out.

With every last ounce of strength he willed himself to stop
shaking, to compose himself as best he could. He lifted his chin.
"Wallaby is my life," he said, his voice high and distraught.
"But as you've all determined for me, that doesn't matter
anymore."

Matthew came closer. "It doesn't have to end like this," he said.
"I want you to stay with me. I want you to make our future while
I manage the present." He reached out to Peter.

"Don't you come near me!" Peter screamed, flinging his hands into
the air. Several of the people in the room jumped in their seats,
groaning in agony at what they were being forced to witness.

Their eyes linked for the last time. "You've stolen my life,
Matthew." He faced the people seated at he table. But he had
nothing more to say. He turned and charged for the door.

Martin Cohn leapt from his chair and started after him. 

"Leave him," Hank ordered, fixing his eyes sharply on Matthew.

The door slowly and silently swung inward, sealing the new team
together inside the room for the first time without Peter Jones.

Matthew couldn't see Hank's gaze. He was facing the sunlit
window, staring down at his clenched fists. He willed them to
relax. And as he watched them uncurl, he felt his guilt slip
away. And in its place he grasped a new feeling.

Power.


Chapter 4


William Harrell worked through his morning in the usual fashion,
attending three meetings, then moving on to his daily
correspondence.

After eleven o'clock he left the ICP headquarters building for a
ten-block ride to an exclusive men's athletic club whose
clientele consisted entirely of high-level executives. Typically,
the club arranged rotating squash and racquetball matches between
executives in similar positions from different companies and
industries. A president of an insurance company, for example,
might be paired with a CEO from an advertising agency; a TV
executive with a restaurant magnate...or the chairman of the
world's largest computer manufacturer with chairman of the
world's largest food manufacturer.

Waiting for his technical and business advisers to arrive for
their two o'clock meeting, William stretched and considered the
soreness in his arms. They felt now as they had after his match
with Rolland Worthy, chairman and CEO of International Foods, a
little over two years ago. During that match, he mused, he had
felt as though he'd been punched in the stomach midway through
the game.

"What do you know about Wallaby?" Worthy had asked him. 

The hard rubber ball struck the wall with solid force and
rebounded toward William.

His concentration and judgment were wrecked by Rolland's
question; his racquet overextended. The ball hurtled past him.

"What, I hit a nerve?" Worthy laughed, arming his sweating
wrinkled forehead with his shirtsleeve.

William crouched. "Wallaby is a small company in Silicon Valley
that manufactures portable computers and those new small wonders
referred to as PIAs, which stands for personal interactive
assistant," William said flatly. He bounced on the balls of his
feet, anticipating Worthy's serve.

Worthy tossed the ball in the air and pounded it with his
racquet, then dropped to a defensive footing, his actions fluid
and youthful.

William smashed the ball and they played out the serve, and he
ultimately gained the ball after Worthy crashed into the wall.

"You okay?" William huffed.

Worthy gave his shoulder a quick squeeze where it had connected
with the wall. "Serve," he ordered.

William served and the game continued.

Before the match, William had started the day in his
imperturbable business-as-usual mood. He remembered the pleasure
he felt upon reading his business adviser's latest market-share
report, announcing that ICP had nearly doubled its total unit
sales of the BP computer, compared to Wallaby's estimated total
sales of its Mate all-in-one portable computer. But though sales
of the BP were greater than those of the Mate, William Harrell's
consummate business sense counseled against feeling triumphant.
He rationalized that Wallaby was presumably up to something big;
Peter Jones, Wallaby's eminent founder, had been too quiet as far
as the press was concerned. Normally the capricious spokesman of
the portable computer industry, Jones had not granted a public
interview in more than a year, and that concerned William. Jones
had something up his sleeve. Something really big. The only thing
that kept William's fear of Jones and Wallaby from growing beyond
a mild concern to an actual loss of sleep was the fact that Jones
was a poor chief; though he was capable of creating innovative
miniature computers, he was incapable of running the company.
Without proper guidance and leadership, Wallaby would sooner or
later fold.

As they headed from the court to the showers, William wiped his
face with a towel and asked, "All right, Rolland, fess up. Why
all the interest in Wallaby?"

"This is off the record, my friend. They called one of my best
guys, Matthew Locke. They're flying him to California to
interview for a job as president."

William felt the color drain from his face.

"Locke, as you know, is who I'm thinking about advancing into my
slot when I retire in a few years," Worthy said.

"Anyway, he stopped by my house last night and told me that he
had gotten a call from a headhunter and was a candidate to take
the lead at Wallaby, working with some kid named Peter Jones."

William remained silent, praying that Worthy would go on and
spill everything he knew about Wallaby and its interest in Locke.

"I think Matthew wanted me to tell him he was guaranteed my job
when I retire. When I told him I couldn't do that, not yet
anyway, he said then that he was going to fly out there to
California and see what the company was all about.

"I just can't figure it," Worthy remarked. He paused and slung
his towel over his shoulder. "Why would some hippie bantam
computer nerds want to hire the president of a company that makes
soda pop and chips?"

Harrell knew precisely why. What had he been mulling over all
morning? The only factor preventing Wallaby from becoming a bona
fide threat was that Peter Jones lacked the business savvy
necessary to take his small company into big business. His
intuition about Jones had been correct. The young man was looking
to hire an innkeeper to run the shop so he could concentrate on
building the nifty toys.

"You think they're going to start stuffing little computers into
cereal boxes?" Worthy quipped with a chuckle as the two men
headed for the showers.

Despite the hot shower, William Harrell felt washed with a
chilling morbid dread. Not since his wife had begun her slide
into the final stages of cancer had he felt that same feeling of
helplessness that comes when loss seems inevitable.

That day was now long past. Worthy's disclosure about Wallaby had
been enough to give the older man a jarring advantage that
perhaps helped him win the squash game. But in the long run,
William smiled to himself, the aching effects he had felt in his
muscles after that game were a meager price to pay for what would
be felt by the business world, thanks to the data Worthy had
advanced him.

Had it not been for that squash match two years ago, he
reflected, he might still be worrying about Wallaby someday
becoming a serious competitor to ICP, rather than a subsidiary.

What had started as a far-out notion that night following the
squash match was beginning to enter the formative stages of
reality; the brakes would come off and the wheels would begin
turning after Wallaby's board meeting today. His secret
acquisition plan was the first thing to come along since Martha's
death that had totally engrossed him, and he had wholeheartedly
welcomed the diversion as a way to overcome his grieving.

William dreaded the thought of the ensuing two hours during which
his advisors would spew figures and specifications, suggesting
competitive market action and reaction, while all along he had
begun, more than two years ago, his own competitive market plan,
its countdown to liftoff about to commence.


* * * 


Peter sped away from the company parking lot and raced for the
engineering building and the solace of his office.

Turning into the driveway, however, he became suddenly aware of
the tears streaming down his face. Cutting the wheel sharply he
vaulted off the curb, then sped down the street. His outrage
toward Matthew and everyone in the boardroom for what had just
gone down was not coming as intensely as he wished. Instead, he
felt only anguish. The damage was done, and he knew it was
irreparable. Matthew had stolen control of Wallaby right from
under his nose, the ultimate irony being that Peter's plan was to
propose his, Matthew's, elimination. They had all turned against
him.

He raced past the Wallaby buildings and headed for the highway,
his mind frantically searching for answers. How could he not have
seen it coming? Where had he gone wrong? Had he any forewarning
of this? Could he have prevented it from happening, or have
better prepared for Matthew's evil force? Had there been, when he
had first interviewed Matthew two years ago, some clue, some
inkling of what was to come?


"Are you sure you'll make it?" Peter said nervously.

"I'm sure," Rick Boardman said. "But if you don't quit breathing
down my neck, I'll never have it ready by four o'clock!"

Rick was Peter's most prized software engineer. When Peter had
discussed with Hank Towers the possibility of hiring Matthew
Locke, he learned that Matthew was a somewhat reserved person. So
Peter went directly to Rick, who was the programming leader on
the new Joey computer. Peter asked Rick to put together an
eye-popping sight-and-sound exhibition of the prototype computer,
something to really show it off.

"I just hope you can do something incredible, Rick," Peter said.
He turned to leave.

"Wait," Rick said, taking the bait.

The programmer clicked the small button above the trackpad, and
on the screen an image of a bag of International Foods
Crunch-Munch materialized. The bag opened, accompanied by
crinkling sound effects, and popcorn started exploding out of the
bag, followed by animated, high-spirited peanut-people adorned in
tiny colored sunglasses and striped sneakers. Each carried a
little bucket. They chased after the three-dimensional popcorn
puffs, splashing sounds resonating from the attached stereo
speakers as they drenched the popcorn with candy coating. A baby
kangaroo suddenly appeared on the scene, and the little popcorn
people chased after it. The joey appeared to tear open a pocket
right in the middle of the screen, then hopped inside, dropping a
wink before vanishing. The peanut people dove in after the little
fellow, then in the next instant they all came bursting out of
the pocket with a pennant, which they unfurled: "WELCOME,
MATTHEW," A chorus a children's voices screamed the same welcome
and then the screen faded to black. Finally a phantom paintbrush
appeared and painted the screen with the shimmering Wallaby logo.

Peter grinned with extreme satisfaction and pride. Still, he laid
on a little more pressure, a little more challenge. "Hmm. I
wonder if you make the last part, with the paintbrush, a little
faster," he said, tracing the word "Wallaby" on the screen
quickly with his finger. "Maybe you can add that part you showed
me last week, too, with our little Joey pointing out the device's
features with those slick animated flash cards he's got stashed
in that secret pocket of his...."

Rick nodded excitedly. "Yeah, yeah, I can do that."

Peter left to the staccato sound of keystrokes and clicks, and
went to his own office. Taking a folder from his desk, he lowered
himself to his stylish couch, kicked off his dock shoes,
stretched out comfortably, and began sifting through the
collection of articles and clippings about Matthew Locke and
International Foods, which had been mailed to both him and Hank
earlier in the week by the headhunter they had retained for the
search.

In a "Fortune" article entitled "Big Business Chairman Hopefuls,"
Matthew Locke was the first person mentioned, accompanied by a
half-page picture of the young grinning Ivy League executive
posed before a wall of soda bottles in a super market. The
article predicted that Locke was being groomed to succeed
International's long-time chairman and CEO, Rolland Worthy. It
described Locke's career over the past fifteen years at IF,
listing the numerous successful marketing programs he had
developed, all of which Peter recognized: Holy Cow ice cream,
Presto Microwave Popcorn, and one of the most popular beverages
of all time, Orange Fresh carbonated juice. International Foods
had formerly been separated into several divisions, the largest
being food, beverage, subsidiary, and services. The article
explained how Locke had consolidated the food and beverage
divisions into one group, and had the services divisions rolled
out as a subsidiary operating unit. That way, International Foods
was able to concentrate primarily on developing and marketing its
mainstream products; non-retail sales were managed as a separate
business unit. 

Pretty smart, Peter admitted. In his head, he tried to work the
formula on Wallaby's separate product divisions, Mate, and the
new Joey, but did not come to the same conclusion Locke had
reached. Each of Wallaby's divisions was unique from a
technological standpoint, and incompatible, unlike food and
beverages which, as far as Peter was concerned, were all the
same. This type of solution would not work in a company like
Wallaby, Peter concluded, just as he had known it wouldn't when
he started the Joey project a few years ago. To create Joey, he
had taken a number of his top engineers from the Mate division
and moved them into their own building. There were accusations of
special privileges, and the accusations were true. Peter nursed,
stroked, and dined his people in the Joey building. A giant
refrigerator was stocked with exotic foods and beverages,
portable Walkman CD players were free, and in-office massages
were provided by professional masseuses and masseurs.

Dismissing Locke's consolidation concept as impossible at a place
like Wallaby, and therefore an inappropriate measure of the man's
abilities, Peter skimmed more articles. He read interviews with
people who had worked for Locke over the past several years. Most
of them reflected on his no-nonsense business attitude and keen
marketing abilities. One marketing analyst who had worked with
Locke on International's now highly successful line of diet
beverages said that Locke often had several secret projects going
at any given time, and as different market opportunities arose,
he called upon the brewing projects to launch major new products.
The analysts and business community, and the most important group
of all, the consumers, perceived the new products as brilliant
and timely. Most of them, however, had been waiting in the wings,
in some instances, a few years, until the right moment arrived to
move them out of the marketing group and into the supermarket.
One spiteful IF manager revealed anonymously that Locke had never
actually invented any of the products himself. The most
outstanding example was the pull-tab, which back in the early
1970s banished the need for a can opener. While Peter took it for
granted nowadays that all you had to do was pop the top on a can
of soda to sip its contents, he could remember back to when he
was a boy, when you had to use a can opener to get to what was
inside. It was this fact, that Locke was the one to introduce the
pull-tab, that appealed to Peter more than anything else. He
compared the metaphor to the Mate and Joey. The Mate was the
first all-in-one portable computer (though inside the company
they referred to it as a "luggable," rather than a true portable)
that you could easily move from room to room, place to place, but
it was nonetheless difficult to use; you first had to understand
the utility "tool" programs that controlled the machine and its
programs before you could fully employ all of its features.
Getting into the Joey, on the other hand, was easy, intuitive,
like using a pop-top can; all you had to do was to look at it to
understand how to use it, no special tools or knowledge were
required. The built-in address book and calendar and phone dialer
and e-mail program all looked like, and behaved like, their real
world, paper-based counterparts. Plus, it was much smaller than
the Mate and truly portable, able to run on its rechargeable
battery for days at a time. The trackpad interface was so
intuitive that in studies Wallaby conducted with brand new users,
every attendee was naturally drawn to the small black square
without so much as a clue from the study group guides, their
fingers sliding across its surface without any thought at all
about what they were doing. Just like the soda pull-tab.

So as for Locke's reported reputation of taking credit for what
others had invented, Peter felt neither surprised or concerned.
It was a non-issue. He was the primary inventor in the company
and everyone, including the public, knew it. Locke was being
considered because of his abilities to run the business side of
things, and only the business side.

Which was just fine with Peter. But what about Matthew Locke?
Would he be content with a second-place role to Peter?


That question had just been answered in today's board meeting.
The tables had turned, and now Matthew was the star. He had used
Peter as a pawn in his own deceitful, unscrupulous game. How long
had he been planning this coup?

Peter mentally lashed himself for not having taken some sort of
action when, about a year ago, Matthew had suggested that
Wallaby's products should be engineered to be more compatible
with those of ICP. An alarm had gone off in Peter's head, but he
had quieted it, tolerating the fact that Matthew did not fathom
his desire to uphold Wallaby's proprietary-technology direction.
In the long run, that's what it all boiled down to. Matthew
wanted to transform Wallaby into an ancillary concern, its
computers acting as peripherals to ICP's machines, allowing ICP
to remain as the number-one portable and desktop computer
manufacturer.

He felt exhausted and lifeless, disembodied, his foot heavy on
the gas pedal, drawn by gravity as he raced down the highway
pushing seventy-five miles per hour. Even the car was a fucking
prop, Peter thought miserably. When Matthew had gotten one for
himself just like it, he had told Peter it was because he valued
his artistic appreciation for the machine, that he respected his
passion for beautifully designed products. How many other little
games of pretend had there been, when all along Matthew had been
treating him like a child, playing him along and pacifying him
until he could drop the ax?

His throat felt packed with cotton balls when the reality of what
had just happened started to sink in. His stomach turned and
rolled in mini-heaves. All he wanted to do was to make smart
portable computers that made everyone's life easier. Couldn't he
be allowed that simple pleasure? With this question, the weird
feeling in his heart stirred. It had been dormant all morning,
and he had all but forgotten about it. But now it was awake, and
this time it felt a little different. A little larger, a little
livelier. A little more painful.

All of Peter's work on the new and improved Joey Plus was over.
Matthew had taken away the thing that was more important to him
than anything else in the world. Peter could just picture it, how
it would proceed from this day forward - Matthew marching into
the engineering group, armed with a complicated schedule and an
army of bozo project managers, all meant to scare the development
team into finishing the Joey Plus. Then of course he would
re-introduce it and take all the credit for Peter's hard work and
vision.

How? Peter wondered. How could Matthew, the person he had
sanctioned to join him in creating something so exciting and
important, do this?

"Simple," Peter said aloud, at last letting himself acknowledge
the underlying truth of the whole mess. "He used me."

Yes, he'd been used. But for the last time. Enough was enough. As
soon as he got home, he would begin weeding from his life
everyone who was using him.

His car phone jingled, and he punched it, knocking it to the
floor. No more talking. It was too late for that. He gripped the
wheel more tightly and pressed down hard on the gas pedal, eager
to get home and begin undoing his mistakes, ditching the bad
parts, nurturing the good parts. It would be just that easy.

He would start with Ivy.


* * *


"I think he answered, but then he hung up," Eileen said, holding
the telephone to her ear.

"Forget it," Matthew told his secretary. He closed his office
door and seated himself before his computer. He closed his eyes
let out an exhausted sigh. Leave it alone, he told himself. Leave
him alone, you can't get through to him, can't make him
understand. It has to be this way. There is no other way.

His plan had worked. The executive staff and board of directors
had faith in him to run the company after all. Peter could no
longer stand in the way of his taking control of Wallaby. Now he
was free to build momentum and power as he moved into the next
phase of his plan. He felt a dizzying rush of elation as he fully
comprehended what he'd just done. Though he had sincerely cared
for Peter when they'd first met, after awhile he had grown less
enchanted as he was reminded that falling for the young inventor
would prevent him from ever achieving his real goal at Wallaby.
He wholeheartedly wished things could have turned out
differently. But they had not. And it was over. He only wished
Peter had tried harder to understand the real reason everyone in
the boardroom had voted against him, even though they themselves
had not yet admitted it. He had known all along that Peter would
not simply bow out gracefully and accept a non-management role in
the company. If only he had been more receptive to the idea of
connecting to ICP's computers, this would have never happened.
There was no room for being sentimental now, he told himself. Why
revisit the past? But as Matthew rested his eyes, he allowed his
mind to wander back anyway, letting the memory of those
intoxicating early days deepen the resonance of his most recent
triumph. 


The airplane banked left, changing its coastal orientation, and
rose through the hazy grayness surrounding JFK Airport.
Destination: San Jose, California.

When the seat belt sign blinked off, Matthew eased his seat back
into a more comfortable position. Sunlight broke through the
grayness and the cabin was filled with sunlight as the plane
climbed.

"Good morning," a stewardess said. "Can I bring you a glass of
orange juice? Champagne?"

"I'd like Orange Fresh, please," Matthew said. He was certain the
airline carried the soft drink-it had, after all, been his idea
to test-market the all-natural citrus beverage with this very
carrier before it was introduced by International Foods several
years ago.

The stewardess returned with a glass of the sparkling orange
beverage. She placed a napkin on the tray and then set the drink
upon it.

"Do many people drink Orange Fresh?" he asked. 

"It's one of our most-requested soft drinks. Though most folks
don't keep it all that soft," she said with a wink.

He felt a burst of pride and love for Greta. Thanks to her,
Orange Fresh had carved a new and highly profitable market niche
that had earned Matthew kudos from the company's executives.
Though International Foods' marketing of the all-natural
refreshment ("Good for you, and fun to drink!") had created a
markedly successful soft drink, a second, unexpected market had
blossomed, thanks to Greta - the Sassy Screw. One part vodka, two
parts Orange Fresh. The healthy soda had instantly become a
popular cocktail mixer, displacing Mother Nature's own natural
contender, orange juice. In its first month of sales, the product
reached the magic 50 million-case mark, and the company threw a
yacht party for Matthew. That day, however, had ended in tragedy.
And now, as he flew to California, he hoped that maybe, if he
landed this job, the loss that he and Greta had suffered that day
might be amended.

Finishing the beverage, he made room for the materials he had
received from the headhunter who had contacted him two weeks
earlier, expressing Wallaby's interest in him. He pulled his
briefcase from beneath the seat in front of him and opened it on
the vacant seat beside him. The over-stuffed folder inside
contained newspaper clippings, annual reports, and magazine
article reprints, as well as a brochure of Wallaby's computer,
the Mate.

Although Matthew knew of Peter Jones - who in the Fortune 500
didn't? - and the highly publicized invention Jones created in
his bedroom while a senior in high school, he became more and
more intrigued as he browsed through the clippings.

A cover story in "Time" two years earlier touted Jones as
"Silicon Valley's Hottest Kid On The Block."

"Forbes" magazine listed Jones in its directory of America's
richest people. An accompanying article detailed Wallaby's
phenomenal growth and financial milestones, ranking it the
fastest-growing company in America. When Wallaby had gone public
five years ago, Jones's total worth was estimated at more than
250 million dollars, with Wallaby reporting annual sales of just
over 600 million. Holding the second largest share of Wallaby
stock was Hank Towers, who was estimated to be worth close to 200
million dollars. A five-year-old "Fortune" article told the story
of how Towers was the man Jones first approached for start-up
cash with his hackneyed portable computer design. At the time,
Towers had owned a small company that built highly-specialized
computers that were ruggedized for field and medical
applications. Towers had invited Jones to visit him at his
offices after seeing the invention, the first truly all-in-one
portable computer, at a science fair. Towers, unlike some of the
others to whom Peter had shown the product, hadn't balked at its
radical design, nor had he laughed when Jones explained his
vision for manufacturing the computer at very low cost so that
millions of people could have their own portable personal
computer to take with them wherever they went. Not long after
their initial visit, Towers gave Jones a check for 200 thousand
dollars. The rest was history.

Another "Fortune" story was the first among several of the more
recent articles to raise in Matthew a curious caution. According
to Nicholas Whitley, a science teacher at Sunnyvale High School,
"Jones was a rebel. He never wanted to participate in what the
rest of the class was focused on. He wanted to do everything
himself, on his own." Whitley admitted, however, that had Jones
been like the rest of the kids, Sunnyvale High would never have
become, thanks to its simple all-in-one design, one of the
biggest education customers of the Mate computer - or any
computer, for that matter. His main concern was Jones's
leadership skills: "I wonder about Wallaby's long-term success.
He's a bright kid, with a knack for divining opportunity, but as
a company grows, I'm wondering if he'll be able to handle it."

A month-old "Business Week" article crystallized Matthew's
caution. A profile on Jones commented on his biting rivalry with
ICP, the world's largest computer manufacturer. When Jones was
queried about whether Wallaby was developing communications
features in their products that would make them more compatible
with ICP's mainframe, desktop, and portable computers, he had
replied adamantly, "Never. We do it our own way. Though I would
consider letting them license our operating system and hardware
designs." It was that interminable audacity that raised many
eyebrows about the future of Wallaby. When Matthew considered
ICP's size, more than fifty billion dollars in sales, and the
fact that its computers were used for almost every aspect of
worldwide systemization in one way or another, a red flag
unfurled in his mind. Matthew feared that he was probably wasting
his time speaking to Jones about becoming the company's earnestly
sought president. At the same time, though, the lure of being in
a position to influence the future technology tools used by
people all around the world aroused his interest. Perhaps Jones
was working on something new and more powerful than ICP's own
desktop and portable computers, which had quickly overtaken and
then dwarfed Wallaby's market share. Many speculated that that
was the case. Jones, however, had remained tight-lipped over the
past year and would talk to no one about what he was working on.
If the speculation was true and he got in there now, while they
still had a window of opportunity, perhaps he could help Jones
build a strategy that would firmly seat Wallaby as the portable
computer technology and market leader, with a perpetual lead over
ICP.

He loosened his tie and pushed the seat to the fully reclined
position. The stewardess asked him which entree he had selected
from the lunch menu, and he said he was going to pass on the meal
and nap until they arrived.

He had gotten little sleep over the few nights prior to his trip
to Wallaby. Two nights earlier, after work, he had gone to a
local computer dealer and purchased an Wallaby Mate computer. He
had worked with the machine until two o'clock in the morning.
Though he read the manuals and stepped through the tutorial
programs packaged with it, he found the computer difficult to
use, and that made him wonder how long it would take before
Wallaby's sales began to dwindle even further; its last-quarter
numbers had slipped from those of the preceding quarter.
Furthermore, for a portable computer it was considerably heavier,
bigger, and shorter-lived in the battery department than ICP's
and other, smaller companies' portable computers. Although
schools preferred the system because of its rich library of
education programs, the market for the Mate was closing fast. If
Wallaby wanted to be successful in the future it would have to
bring something radically new to the table, something so
compelling people just had to have it.

The Joey came close to fulfilling that tall order, but not close
enough. But it would, soon enough. It was Matthew's plan to make
Wallaby more compatible with ICP's computers. If only Peter had
agreed, things would have worked out better, and he would not
have had to unseat the young man from the company's top position.

As he loaded Joey's e-mail program, any pain he had felt at the
loss of his friendship with Peter was almost fully entombed now.
With e-mail, Matthew had been able to communicate with his secret
partner in Manhattan for the past two years, and he had been
looking forward to this day, to sending this message, for a long
time now.

He typed:

- - - - - - - - - -

TO: wharrell@icp.com
FROM: mlocke@wallaby.com
SUBJECT: STATUS

Today I was granted full support by the board of directors and
executive staff to take over all senior management
responsibilities at Wallaby, including the development of the
Joey Plus computer, which will be complete and ready for release
in three months.

I attempted to persuade Peter Jones to accept a position within
the company to oversee the development of our future products,
but my sense is he will not accept.

We will succeed regardless.

--Matthew

- - - - - - - - - -


He tapped the Send button, and a flashing message appeared
indicating that the e-mail was being transmitted. 

Just then, his office door opened and he spun in his seat. It was
Laurence Maupin.

"Hello, Matthew. How are you holding up?"

Matthew leaned back in his seat, blocking the computer screen
with his upper body. "I think I'm still in shock," he said
wearily, wiping his sleeve across his brow.

"Your statement's out to the press," she said, giving the folder
in her hand a little shake. She looked at him with a genuinely
concerned expression. "Why don't you take the rest of the day
off?"

"I think I will," he said, and offered her a grateful smile. He
turned and shut off the computer, noticing before the screen went
black that his message had been successfully sent. 

"Good. We can catch up later," she said, touching his arm
lightly.

He gathered his notes and briefcase. Exiting the building, he
felt euphoric yet depleted, as if he'd just run a marathon. And
he had won. The race was finished, and he had emerged victorious.
His biggest obstacle had been overcome.

Unlocking his car door, he was struck by a sudden realization,
and he let out a small laugh at the irony of his new position.
He'd really done it. He'd really made it. And farther than he had
ever imagined. To think that soda and crackers were his business
just a few short years ago. It was incredible. Indeed, although
he would not become the chairman of the largest food company in
the world, as he had once dreamed, today's accomplishment set him
up for an even greater eventual success - chairman of the largest
computer company in the world.


Chapter 5


Opening the front door of his home, Peter was suddenly assaulted
by a strange blaring voice and shouts of laughter. The cacophony
grew louder and more vexing as he neared the computer lab.

Charging into the room he found Ivy sitting cross-legged on the
floor and holding a joint to her lips. Her enraptured smile
wavered when she registered Peter's expression. 

Two other young people, both boys, were also in the room, both
seemingly oblivious to Peter's arrival. One of the boys held a
microphone with a thin cable that ran into a small black box,
which was in turn attached to a Joey. The computer and a color
monitor rested on a table in the center of the room, which was
littered with beer cans, bottles, and junk food packages. On the
monitor was a bright yellow smiley face, and as the boy spoke
into the microphone the smiley face became animated and
responded.

"Say cheese," the boy said.

"Say cheese," the smiley face replied, but with an unreal robotic
tone rather than a natural human-sounding tone. Simultaneously,
the words "Say cheese" appeared in a little balloon, like in a
cartoon strip, beside the smiley face's mouth. Nicknamed "Myna
Bird," the program, which Ivy had designed, was a crude
demonstration of speech recognition and synthesis, which enabled
the Joey to hear and speak plain English words. The microphone
fed the sounds directly into the converter box and through the
Joey, which interpreted them into actual text and spoken words,
based on a library of words it had already learned.

"Goo goo," the boy said.

The smiley face did not reply.

"I said, `goo goo,'" the boy said again, breaking into gales of
laughter.

"I said," the smiley face said, unfamiliar with the rest of the
sentence.

"I said `goo' fucking `goo'!" the boy shouted.

"I said...fucking," the smiley face said.

The boy chuckled a trippy chuckle and glanced at the others  -
and saw that none were laughing. He turned around and saw Peter.
Busted.

"What the fuck is going on?" Peter said loudly.

"What the fuck is going on?" the smiley face mimicked, deadpan,
minus the fury.

The others guiltily bowed their heads, mindful of Peter's
palpable anger - all except for Ivy who, turning to avoid looking
at Peter directly, rubbed her nose to stifle a small giggle. In
her attempt to contain her mirth, the situation worsened and her
cheeks puffed and she burst out laughing.

Peter approached her with his hands on his hips.

"What's so fucking funny?"

The boy holding the microphone quickly switched it off, before
the smiley face could say anymore.

"You are," Ivy said, bringing her knuckles to her face,
sputtering out more giggles. "You are, love."

The boys chuckled nervously, like maybe this wasn't so bad after
all.

At the sound of the sharp slap, all laughter ceased.

Peter stood there, eyes blazing at her, his hand still raised in
the air.

With a vacant expression, Ivy absently brushed her cheek and
tried to focus her vision on him.

"Get out," he said, turning to the others.

Ivy remained seated on the floor, stroking her face while the
boys disconnected the equipment from the Joey and gathered their
knapsacks.

"You can keep the beer, man," one of the boys said as he
shouldered his pack. Then the pair was gone.

Alice padded softly into the room and began picking up the
scattered litter. She stepped on an empty potato chip bag, which
crackled noisily underfoot. Peter could see that it was an
International Foods brand, one of Matthew's onetime goodies. Too
bad he hadn't stayed in fucking soda pop. Any temporary remorse
Peter felt for his behavior, for slapping Ivy, vanished, and his
rage returned with greater force.

"Leave it, Alice. Ivy will clean up."

The housekeeper hesitated then returned the empty bottles to the
table, her face flushed as she soundlessly exited the room.

Peter turned and faced Ivy from where he now stood, across the
room.

"I'm sorry," she said, still sitting on the floor and now rocking
back and forth with her arms wrapped around herself. "We were
working on my program, and I wanted to surprise you tonight with
a new dialect module I put together - "

"You have to go."

" - and I wanted to demonstrate it when you walked in, so you
would be happy."

"I said leave."

Tears were dropping from her chin and she remained seated on the
floor in a trance-like state. His eyes settled on the Joey's
silent glowing screen, the smiley face staring at him with its
stupid knowing grin. His jaw quaked as he fought back his hurt,
his longing to run to her and have her hold him, to apologize and
tell her about everything that had happened. He was torn.

No, not her.

Regardless of what had happened last night, he needed Kate. Not
this girl, who, he reminded himself, like everyone else, was
using him.

"Get out!" he shouted.

"But I love you!"

"No!" He turned and raised his hands to his head to subdue the
pounding that was growing angrier the longer he stayed in this
polluted room. "You used me. You even stole my clothes."

"I'm in love with you. Peter, please. I almost died when I heard
you were coming to speak at the commencement. I had to sneak into
the reception, just so I could see you. And then when I met you
and you invited me here, I knew it was because you felt it too,
the way we connected when we saw each other." She came from
behind him and attempted to take him in her arms.

"Don't touch me," he said, shaking her off. He crossed the room
and positioned himself on the other side, a chaise lounge between
them.

She stayed where she was, hands at her sides and face all red and
puffy. "Peter, I need you. I've changed my life because of you." 

He looked in her direction, but his eyes were unseeing. "If you
don't get out of here right now with everything that's yours,
I'll carry you outside myself and throw you down the hill." His
face was unmoving and placid, almost like the smiley face.

She took a step toward him, her hands twisting together,
pleading. "But last night. Peter. What about last night?" 

He closed his eyes and clamped his jaw. Nothing.

"Fuck you, then," she spat. But she made no motion to leave.
Instead, she crossed her arms over her breasts and stood there. A
sound that was both a laugh and a cry burst from her lips. "Don't
you see? I did this for you, because I care about Joey, and you.
Why don't you want to believe that. That's why I changed my
studies, because I knew this was something important." She
smacked the monitor. "You know you care about it." She pointed at
him accusingly. "You said so yesterday, when I showed you how far
I'd come." She made a disgusted face. She fought to hold back her
tears. "But you don't give a damn. Not about anyone but
yourself."

He did not respond. As she collected her things, his attention
remained fixed on the computer's screen. He heard her climb the
stairs and enter the guest room. There were sounds of drawers
opening, the closet door sliding on its tracks. A few minutes
later she came downstairs. He did not look at her.

She crossed the room and ejected a floppy diskette from the Joey,
and picked up a box of floppies sitting on the table. She placed
the items in her knapsack, hoisted the bag onto her shoulder, and
collected her small duffel bag at the doorway. Straightening
herself for a moment with her back to him, she spoke. "You're
gonna regret you did this, Peter." Then she was gone.

He sat down and glared at the smiley face. It returned his gaze,
passive, obedient, waiting for input. Just like everyone else, he
thought morosely, it wanted something from him.

At his side he felt the neck of a bottle protruding from between
the sofa cushions. He lifted it. A nearly empty bottle of wine.
Red wine.

And then it hit him. The bottle was the special Cabernet
Sauvignon Kate had given him on their first date, which they had
vowed to drink together when Wallaby turned ten years old.

"No!" he cried, and hurled the empty bottle at the evil smiley
face with its leering, shit-eating grin.

The monitor exploded in sparks and smoke, the smiley face gone
forever, and the room fell into silence and he was all alone.


* * *


"Greta?" Matthew called, stepping from room to room on the lower
floor of the house. He climbed the stairs. Soft, pleasant music
drifted out from the bedroom. He closed in on the bathroom, and
found his wife in the tub. She raised her face from some sort of
picture book or atlas propped on a silver bath tray table.

He lowered himself to the closed toilet seat. "It's over," he
said.

"Thank God," Greta said. She closed her eyes and stretched her
right arm out of the tub. Bubbles and soapy water dripped from
her perfect hand onto the floor. "Darling, would you pass me the
oil please?" 

He handed her a bottle of spiced bath oil. She held it there, out
of the tub, until she caught his eye. She led his vision to the
bottle's cap and he uncapped it and held it while she squeezed
the red liquid into the water. It spurted from the bottle and he
was suddenly mesmerized by the mixture as it bled into the water.
He studied his wife with sullen fascination as she lay there with
her eyes closed, gently oscillating her shoulders and legs,
mixing up the oil and water. With her eyes still closed, she held
out the bottle to him again. Accepting it, his hand touched hers
for an instant. He shivered, and felt a sudden need to urinate.
He could not remember the last time he had seen her other hand
naked, which was presently hidden somewhere under the water in
the tub. Nor could he remember the last time they had made love,
though he was pretty certain it was the evening before
International Foods had thrown the yacht party for him to
celebrate the success of Orange Fresh. Thinking of these things,
he was momentarily hypnotized by the sight of her there in the
tub, moving in the frothy pink water. His mind roared with the
horrific image of her as she had appeared when the accident had
occurred. Underwater. Stillness. Then her eyes bulging as her
head splashed up out of the sea's redness. The screaming. The
flailing. The blood. Splashing - 

She was flicking bath water at him. "Matthew, are you here? I
said I'm happy for you. Did everything work out okay?"

"Yes. Yes," he said, blinking. A few droplets had landed on his
trousers. He brushed them away and said, "He's gone. It's over.
They all chose me over Peter."

"There," she said, "you see. I told you everything would work out
just fine."

He thought about how she saw things. A few months ago, when he
had felt doubt, she had helped him regain his focus and set the
stage for today's meeting. Her persistent belief in him had
finally won out, and ultimately he had believed in himself enough
to begin the painstaking maneuvers necessary to topple Jones
after he'd balked at Matthew's suggestion to make the Joey more
compatible with ICP's computers. That, he understood now, was
when it must have happened, when he had begun to live in his
wife's presence without really noticing her anymore, focusing
wholly on his work. The first stage of detachment had been after
the accident. The second was after he had gotten his plan
underway. He had finally and completely shut her out, without
ever really meaning to. In both cases he had told himself that it
was temporary, that things would eventually return to the way
they had been. But now he understood that those times would never
return. They couldn't, for it seemed all was lost on that day of
the accident. He thought of the object - that was precisely how
he thought of it, an object of his lost affection - which he kept
hidden in the inside pocket of his briefcase. Lost. What was he
going to do? How would he end up? How would they end up? He knew
what she was thinking, what her own hopes were. That now that
Peter Jones was out of the way, he'd spend more time with her.

Turning his wedding band round and round on his finger in his
lap, hidden from her sight, he spoke. "This is just the
beginning, honey," he said, cautious. "Now, slowly and carefully,
I have to reveal my plan for engineering our products to connect
with ICP's systems to the board and executive staff so that they
believe I'm doing it to increase sales and market share." He
watched her expression.

Sponging her neck, she said, "Well darling, now that that pest is
out of your way, I'm sure you'll have no problem." There was an
edge of warning in her delivery.

"Yes," he paused. "But there are many people in the company who
still carry Peter's belief that ICP is bad and that Wallaby
should concentrate on competing more firmly rather than yield to
them."

"Darling, you've come this far, and you'll make it to the
glorious end of your plan just fine. I just know it. Have you
contacted William yet?"

"I sent him a message," Matthew said. He realized that he needed
to check to see if William had received the memo and replied to
it. His concern asserted itself. "William's not going to be
pleased. He wanted me to exhaust every possibility to keep Peter
onboard. But after seeing the way he reacted I doubt he'll stick
around." Matthew stood. He had to use the toilet...but rather
than use this one he wanted to use the one downstairs. "I better
go check my e-mail," he said, excusing himself.

He hurried downstairs to his library office. He turned on his
computer and hung his jacket over the chair. His Joey was
outfitted with every add-on option, including a color monitor, a
CD-ROM drive, a laser printer, and a mouse. Seeing the mouse
lying there, he abruptly remembered Laurence and the thoughts
he'd had of her yesterday in his car; he recalled too the image
of her lovely hand clutching the manila folder less than an hour
ago in his office. While the computer started up, he went into
the library's small toilet. He stood before the toilet and opened
his fly. At the same time he closed his eyes, concentrating.
There came no flow. Instead, he felt himself hardening in his own
hand. He locked the door, dropped his trousers to the floor, and
seated himself. At the age of ten, Matthew Locke had had the good
fortune of discovering masturbation. It had altered the course of
his life forever. For whenever he became distracted from his
studies, thinking about girls instead of geometry, he had simply
relieved himself. It was to this dedication that he owed his
success. It had enabled him to focus all of his energies on
important things. He had achieved autonomous coupling - a boy and
his hand. Even in college he favored this method. Of course there
had been girls, but none of them ever proved worth the time or
effort. Though this was the price he paid in order to come so far
so fast, he had never seemed to fully grasp its relevance until
the day he'd met Greta. The instant he'd laid eyes on her, her
hands, he determined it was time to think about marrying. It was
important to his career, and if he was going to do it, then why
not with a woman who's hands were more alluring than his own?

Were.

But hers were not the hands he thought of now, holding him,
stroking him. No, the hand he imagined in place of his own
belonged to another woman, a girl, really, who he told himself he
must resist.

He came, and she went.


* * *


It was one o'clock in the afternoon, and Peter was in bed.

He lay there staring at the ceiling. Time didn't matter anymore.
Every now and then he took a gulp of Scotch from the bottle he
had opened after Ivy left. Normally he never drank hard liquor.
But today it seemed like the most natural thing to do. He needed
something to help him escape from his own mind, something that
would inevitably force him into sleep, where he could hide, even
if just for a couple of hours, from his dilemma. It was too soon
to try and think things through. Through? How, he wondered, does
one think through being through? With every swallow from the
bottle the reality of it all slipped a little farther away.

What he wanted to know was, what would they do for the future?
His instinctive reaction to anything that threatened Wallaby - in
this case, his being flung from the company - provoked fear and
anxiety for its future, beyond the potential misery of his
personal fate.

He had given nearly ten years of his life to Wallaby. The time
when it all began seemed like a lifetime ago.

He drifted.


Never socializing with the jocks, pot-heads, or any other group,
Peter Jones was considered an oddball student. He had been an
orphan most of his life, living in a Los Gatos home governed by
an elderly couple. He was used to spending time alone, reading or
going for walks in the nearby woods, imagining he was Henry David
Thoreau, observing nature, lost in his own thoughts. Whenever he
was forced to spend a few trial days with potential foster
parents, he affected a sullen and despondent mood, saving a
tantrum or explosive outburst for the last day of the test
period. He had gotten by just fine on his own, and he didn't need
anyone, or anything, except maybe his science fiction novels.

Clayton and Clara Dodson, the owners of the orphanage, had had
their hands full with Peter. Eventually they stopped sending him
off to potential homes. The youngster pretty much took care of
himself and was always willing to help out around the orphanage.
One day the Dodsons's acceptance of Peter went from resigned to
delighted when he burst into the house and told them he had
invented the world's first truly portable computer. Peter had
recently begun to hang around with the "gear heads," students who
were involved in clubs fostering fans of rockets, automobile
engines, and electronics. At the club meetings he met several
kids like himself - bright, introverted; some of them would
eventually become his first employees at Wallaby, right out of
high school. During his senior year, while checking out some of
the other student projects an hour before the science fair, Peter
met two gawky fellows who had built a device they called the
All-In-One Computer. The invention was primitive at best, but all
the right parts were there: keyboard, screen, disk drive.
Captivated, and without a project of his own, Peter persuaded the
boys to include him in their project which, five minutes before
the show began, he renamed the Portable Personal Computer.

The project won first prize, and after the show an older
gentleman named Mr. Towers introduced himself. He told the boys
that they were on to something and that they should give him a
call sometime if they advanced the design of the box. Peter
shoved the man's business card in his pocket.

Peter became more and more intrigued with the concept of a
computer you could take with you wherever you went. Theirs came
close, but it required a wall socket to power it so the only
place you could really take it was from room to room. During the
summer after his high school graduation he reread all of his
science fiction books featuring robots and computers as their
main characters. In his mind's eye he fashioned a small computer
that could be his friend, like the ones in the books. He imagined
taking his computer with him for walks in the woods, telling the
computer about the things he saw, and what he thought. His
computer would keep these things in its memory, and the more it
learned about him and the world, the more loyal and dependable a
friend it would become. He would make a lot of them,
inexpensively, so that everyone could afford one and use it for
whatever they wanted. He envisioned the computer and how it would
work, how people would approach it and work with it. When he felt
he had realized the computer as clearly as if he already owned
one, he sat down to start designing. But when he picked up his
pen, he could do little more than sketch crude boxes with screens
and keyboards. He realized that he didn't know how to design the
circuits and parts necessary to actually fabricate the machine.
He called the two boys from the science fair, Paul Trueblood and
Rick Boardman, and invited them over to the orphanage one
afternoon. When he described his idea, the boys grew excited.
Pushing his eyeglasses up on his nose, Paul began rambling about
how he could do the hardware part, maybe even squeeze in a modem
for calling up other computers, and Rick described how he could
write a integrated program for the computer so that it could do
real work for people, like keep track of important names and
addresses, right out of the box.

Three months later the three boys stood in front of their first
prototype, the Mate, and ran their first program, an all-in-one
organizer and word processor and communications program that they
dubbed Easy Does It.

When the Mates development was well underway, Peter contacted Mr.
Towers, the man he had met a few months before at the science
fair. Towers invited him to his nearby office. Two hours later,
Towers had become the primary investor in the Mate's development,
and overseer of the startup of a new company.

Within a year the boys were building as many computers as they
could in Peter's garage. Towers remained in the background,
working deals with parts suppliers through his electronic
instrument company to provide the boys with what they needed for
production. Eventually they had so many orders that they had to
relocate to real offices in nearby Sunnyvale. Peter moved out of
the orphanage and created a minimal living space for himself in
one of the building's corner offices. Together, Hank Towers and
Peter, then twenty-two, founded their new company, which Peter
named Wallaby, which everyone knew was an animal that had a
pocket in which it carried its joey...the little friend that
Peter had always dreamed of having, and knew someday he would
create.


He snapped awake to a high-pitched warble. The telephone.
Reaching for it, he knocked over the bottle of Scotch, spilling
its contents onto the hardwood floor.

"Hello?" The voice on the other end was anxious.

"Yeah," Peter said, pressing his fingers to his eyelids.

"Peter? Are you all right? Petey?"

"Kate." This came out as a moan.

She spoke very fast. "What's happened? I caught the tail end of
something about Wallaby on the CNN, something about a
reorganization, and called your office, Peter, and they said they
had not seen you. Peggy put me on hold and called the boardroom
and they told her you had bolted and that something happened but
she wouldn't tell me what. What the hell is going on?"

"It's over," he slurred.

"What's over?"

"Me. Wallaby. Everything."

"Petey, talk to me. Are you there? Petey?"

"I've been fired. From my own company."

"I can hardly hear you. I don't understand. What do you mean
fired?"

"Fired," he shouted, and immediately regretted it. The sting in
his head and heart diverged, spread. As if on cue, the secret
thing in his heart asserted itself again. With its arrival, an
abstraction formed in his drunken mind. He thought of the word
"mate." It represented the start of his life. Because of the
Mate, he had met Kate. She was his soul mate, and with her he had
experienced his coming of age. And wasn't she, in some ways, the
inspiration behind the Joey? Wasn't their nomadic relationship
what had inspired him to design a computer you could take with
you when you went away? Now it had been taken from him. How long,
he wondered, before Kate was gone too? The more aware he was of
this feeling, of losing the things close to his heart, the more
aware he became of his newest mate, the disagreeable feeling that
had burrowed inside him. At this moment it was troubled, like a
tiny caged creature suffering from hunger spasms, nourishment
lying within its line of sight, in its owner's hand, beyond its
reach, so close, yet so far away.

Kate shouted his name into the phone, breaking him out of his
stupor. "Tell me what happened."

"Matthew's in control. They want me to sit in an office. Be a
thinker." He became outraged by his own account. "A fucking
thinker."

"Then you're not fired, right, Peter. Then you're not fired?"

"Good as. Nothin' left for me to do there."

"Baby, I'm in LA at the studio. I'm leaving right now. I'll be
there as fast as I can. No more than a couple hours."

"Okay," he said softly.

"I love you."

"You too." Chest pains. He hung up the phone and picked up the
bottle.

"It was the Scotch," he said to the empty room, then uttered a
painful chuckle that bordered on hysteria and threatened to
overtake him if he didn't get a grip. He busied himself looking
for the bottle's cap, but saw that he wouldn't need it. The
bottle was empty.

And so was he.

Wallaby. Kate. These things came to a man only once in his
lifetime. Had become his lifetime. Once you've lost them, he
reckoned as he began to drift off to sleep, you never again get,
or deserve, anything as good.

Teetering on the edge of consciousness, he struggled to remember
the lyrics of an old song he used to listen to, something about
you can't always get what you want, but if you cry sometimes, you
get what you need.

Not quite, but close enough.

And so he cried.


Chapter 6


William Harrell's meeting with his advisers had been taxing. Both
had recommended that ICP begin the accelerated development of the
prototype BPX ultra-portable computer - a product, were William
to give its development the go-ahead, that they felt could
compete directly with the advanced features of Wallaby's Joey.
And, his technology adviser stressed, the BPX wouldn't suffer
from the problem that currently plagued the Joey, of too few
available third-party software applications. ICP's magnitude
could garner pre-announcement commitment from software
developers, said the adviser, to begin creating BPX programs for
the computer immediately.

If he hadn't had his secret plan in place, William would have
been mad not to heed his advisers' advice and implement exactly
what they had presented. But he'd had it all figured out for a
long time. What he wanted now, more than anything, was for them
to leave his office so that he could go home and check his
e-mail.

When he uttered his response, "We'll continue evolving the
current BP design," he could see in their expressions that they
thought he was crazy. Both stared at him with incredulity. His
business adviser flapped pages of figures and charts that
projected the market penetration Wallaby could achieve if it were
successful in getting the rumored Joey Plus computer to market
within three months. According to one chart, Wallaby could begin
by tapping some of ICP's largest customer accounts, which could
lead to sizable market penetration over the next three years.
Within five years, another chart predicted, the Joey Plus's
superior design could earn half of ICP's portable computer market
share for Wallaby.

William held firmly to his decision. What they were telling him
was precisely what he and his secret partner, Matthew Locke,
already knew. What his advisers didn't know was that their fears
of Wallaby gaining monumental market share would hardly be a
worry to ICP in the not-too-distant future. On the contrary, it
would be cause for celebration. 

Returning to his palatial home, he proceeded straight to his
impressive office. He exhaled an appreciative sigh as he powered
on his Wallaby Joey and sat before it, quite literally on the
edge of his seat. Matthew had sent William the computer when it
was introduced last year. They had made arrangements before
Matthew had moved to California as to how they would communicate
the progress of their secret merger plan, which the men had
originally formulated here in William's home. It would stun the
business world, William reflected for the hundredth time. He'd
experienced so many moments of pleasant anticipation since the
course had been set two years ago.


After the jolting squash match with Rolland Worthy, William had
returned to his office and had his secretary cancel his remaining
meetings. He asked his driver to take him to Central Park. He
intended to force himself to relax and think through the possible
effects that Worthy's news could have on ICP's future portable
computer strategy. During the short trip, William watched the
miniature television in the passenger compartment, hopeful that
the commercials and nonsense soap opera dialogue would lighten
his frame of mind. Just before getting out of the car, he caught
a commercial that froze him in his seat for its duration. A
notion flashed in his mind. An instant later, the breadth of it
nearly bowled him over in its force and irony, and he was
thankful to be sitting down. The spark that ignited the idea was
the infamous Remington electric shaver commercial, in which
Victor Kiam says, "I liked the product so much, I bought the
company." William's heart doubled its cadence, and wave after
wave of adrenaline coursed through his system like gasoline
spurting onto an open flame. His brain was a bonfire. Of course!
That was it! He would buy Wallaby, for the very same reason Kiam
had wanted Remington, because he really did like Wallaby's
product so much. From his car phone he placed a call to Matthew
Locke's office at International Foods. Matthew's secretary
informed him that Matthew was out of the office for two days, but
said that she would have him call when he returned.

In his excitement he had forgotten what Rolland Worthy told him,
that Matthew was in California right now, visiting Wallaby.

William spent the next two days devising a plan. Rarely was there
an occasion in which he had the pleasure of acting on impulse.
Everything at ICP was planned several years in advance. The
jubilation he felt over the merger idea was no less than a gift
from above - the first diversion to come along that was powerful
enough to ease his grieving over the loss of his wife Martha, who
had passed away eight months ago, after a blessedly short battle
with pancreatic cancer.

After losing Martha, William had secluded himself, inviting no
one into his home. His new idea would change all that. He sank
into his idea with pure obsession. 

Matthew Locke accepted William's dinner invitation after
returning from California. The two businessmen sat with drinks in
the library. Perfunctory conversation planted the seeds that they
carried to the dinner table. Once the first two courses were
completed, William got the real discussion underway.

"As I told you on the phone, Rolland mentioned to me that you
were visiting Wallaby in California as a candidate for
president."

Matthew had his own preface: "Rolland has been my mentor at
International Foods for more than ten years. I don't feel any ill
will toward him for telling you, as long as you respect the fact
that my trip was confidential."

"Of course," William said, and took a drink of water. Then he
began. "Matthew, an unusual feeling swept over me when I heard
this." Already his enthusiasm was quickening. "I realized that
Wallaby must be up to something really big if they were calling
on someone of your caliber. It's been a long time since Peter
Jones has made any brash statements about us, the industry, or
anything. Too long.

"I thought it would be interesting to meet you when you returned.
You see, a plan began to unfold in my mind, one that you may find
interesting." A smile lighted William's face, and he leaned
forward a little. In a lowered voice he revealed the heart of the
matter: "I've always had a strong admiration for Wallaby. But of
course it's the sort of thing one must keep in check at ICP.

"Sure, we currently have a great portable computer. But we're not
innovative the way Wallaby is. And I suspect that they're up to
something new. Something exciting."

Matthew saw the purity of William's candor and honesty. His
intuition was waking, and he was beginning to understand where
this conversation would take them. With this sureness, he offered
a teaser.

"I don't think I'm giving away any secrets by saying yes, you're
correct. They're up to something. And yes, it is something very
exciting."

William pushed his untouched plate aside. The two men shared a
moment of heavy silence, each considering his own tactics.
Maintaining a hint of a smile, William was the first to make a
move. "Matthew, I would like to suggest a possible business
arrangement."

Matthew gave an agreeable nod.

"ICP is gigantic. Everything we do is planned many years into the
future. Although our personal computers are outselling Wallaby's
Mate system, I suspect that whatever they have coming down the
pipeline will be completely unexpected and radical."

"Correct."

"Yes," William said. "That's what I figured." He paused
thoughtfully. When he spoke, his voice was casual and revealing,
the way a man's voice becomes when he is dead certain of the
object of his desire.

"I've always envied Peter Jones and his company. But of course
I've got my own company to worry about. For my own entertainment,
I've been looking for some time at Wallaby as a case study. I've
toyed with the idea of spinning out a rebellious group of
engineers and forming a new subsidiary with the charter to build
radical new portable computers. However, members of the board to
whom I've casually mentioned this have not responded positively.
They're focused on bigger systems and desktops, which, along with
service, account for most of our business. I must concede that I
understand their lack of enthusiasm. We are an East Coast
company. We're buttoned-down numbers people. Out west, they do
things differently. Profits follow passions."

Matthew's eyes narrowed. "I think I'm beginning to catch your
drift."

 "I'll get to the point, then. Wallaby's products are not
compatible with our systems. Ours take a lot of time to learn how
to use. Granted, Wallaby's Mate isn't a whole lot better, but
there's something about it that makes it friendlier, and it's
certainly easier to lug around."

"You ain't seen nothing yet," Matthew quipped.

"Right. So I'm not going to beat around the bush. I've got
nothing to lose by sharing my fantasy with you." He took another
gulp of water, then went for it. "Matthew, I really like Wallaby.
I think it has created, and will keep creating, exciting
technologies. Peter Jones has an absolute vision of what small
computers should be. We at ICP can't do that. We are a big
company, with big computers." William's hands unfolded before
him. It was a gesture of offering. "So what if Peter Jones and
Wallaby became a part of ICP, but were left alone in California
to do their thing?"

Matthew was speechless.

"Say you, Matthew, were to go into Wallaby, the strong leader
that you are, and begin bending Jones and the company toward
becoming compatible with ICP's systems? Then, when the company is
oriented in a compatible direction, so that Wallaby's computers
can work with our big systems, ICP and Wallaby merge, but let
Wallaby maintain its freedom as an independently operated
subsidiary."

Matthew's mind raced at the prospect of this outrageous coup. If
it were successful, it could be bigger than anything he ever
dreamed could happen at International Foods. He had a million
questions to ask, and his eagerness was written all over his
face. But before he could utter a word, William raised his hands.


"Wait. Just one more thing to think about. For you it would
eventually mean the opportunity to move into the highest ranks of
ICP." In earnest, he said, "My expiration date isn't too far off
into the future." There, William thought, he'd said his piece. He
felt himself relax a little. There was nothing more he could say.
While respecting Matthew's silent deliberation, he stole a woeful
glance at a portrait of his beloved Martha, smiling from where
she sat framed in silver on the antique china closet. I need
this, my dear, he said to her silently, I need to have this.

Her sanction came out when Matthew spoke: "It's brilliant."

William breathed a silent sigh.

Matthew advanced his own view of the overall premise, and when he
finished he sat back and clasped his hands in his lap, his face
glowing with certainty.

Any concerns William might have had for Matthew's strategic
ability and comprehension now departed. "Bravo," William said.
"Of course, there's much we'd have to discuss." Then, cautiously:
"And this plan must remain a secret between us. You and I will
guide it along privately through its early stages, until we reach
the point where a merger makes perfect sense." He studied
Matthew's expression for any sign of consternation, and was
pleased to find none.

"You know, its funny," Matthew said, with no hint of humor in his
voice, "The big concern I've had about considering this job at
Wallaby was ICP. Now your big concern and my big concern may very
well wind up becoming the computer industry's single biggest
concern ever."

"Quite," said William, raising his glass to toast his new secret
partner.


The touch-tone sound of the computer's modem brought William back
to the present.

As planned, Matthew had sent him an e-mail message that validated
the decision he had voiced earlier to his advisers.

However, when he read the last part of the message, about Peter
Jones's possible departure from the company, he felt a shiver.
Granted, he was relieved now that Matthew had won support, and
that the secret merger plan could proceed. He favored a scenario
whereby Jones stayed with Wallaby and continued to lead the
development of the company's future products.

Pondering this, he studied his finger on the Joey's trackpad.
Sliding his fingertip across the smooth surface felt natural and
intuitive, a genius design. Peter Jones's genius design. Without
the trackpad, the Joey would not function as it did. Elegant.
Silky. Smooth. Right.

Staring at the small flat black space beneath his finger, a dark
thought prodded his sense of certainty. Without Peter Jones,
could Wallaby operate as smoothly and naturally as a peripheral
of ICP?


* * *


Peter blinked awake in the room's gauzy afternoon brightness.

Whiffing a good, familiar smell, he shut his eyes for a little
while, listened to her moving around, moving things around.

"Hi."

He opened his eyes. Kate was crouched before him. He propped
himself up on one elbow.

"Oh," he moaned, touching his fingers to his temple.

"How you doing?"

He shrugged and his eyes met hers, then shifted past her
shoulder. Several pieces of luggage sat by the doorway. "What's
all that for?"

"We're going away for a bit."

He yawned. "We are?"

"Yep. I'm taking you to the Maine house for a little while."

"Okay," he said, offering no argument.

"First, we're going to treat you to a nice hot shower. Come on."
She gently helped him up and out of the room.

In the bathroom she went about undressing him.

He stood before her naked, watching her dip her hand in and out
of the shower, adjusting its temperature.

"Kate," he said, his voice rubbery.

"Hmm?"

"You're an artist."

"Mm-hmm."

 "Well, I was wondering. About when you've created something.
When it's something really good. You know, like a new CD. And
when it's all done, you have it and hold it in your hands. And
there it is. All said and done. You can keep going back to it,
but no matter how great it is, it's past. History. So. What I
want to know is, do you ever feel like you'll never be able to do
it again? Do anything again?"

"All the time, love." She took his chin in her hand and kissed
his forehead. "But no matter how hard it seems at the time, if
you did it once, you can do it again."

"Promise?"

"You know it."

"Good. Will you come in here with me?"

"Yes."



PART II


Chapter 7


Eating breakfast in the cafe had become part of Peter's daily
routine. The waitress greeted him as he sat with his usual pile
of newspapers. She returned with a cup of coffee, a scone, and a
glass of orange juice.

He was grateful for the privacy his vacation home offered. It was
Matthew who had introduced him to the quaint town of Camden,
Maine, a place popular in the summer with executives and their
families from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, and over the
last three months he had been recognized by only a few executives
around town. Today, however, anyone reading the "Wall Street
Journal" would see on the front page of the business section a
small picture of Peter's face, positioned three paragraphs below
one of Matthew Locke's face. Perhaps, after giving it a little
thought, the reader would realize that he or she had seen him
there in the cafe or in one of the town's small shops, or walking
along the inlet. And after reading the story, the next time they
spotted him they might even feel a pang of sympathy.

It read:

- - - - - - - - - -


WALLABY ANNOUNCES IMPROVED PORTABLE COMPUTER

SUNNYVALE, CA - Wallaby, Inc., creators of the first all-in-one
portable computer, announced today an improved and more powerful
version of its Joey computer, introduced just one year ago.
Wallaby's founder, the young and mercurial Peter Jones, was the
inventor of the company's first computer, the Mate, nine years
ago and was the driving force behind both the Joey and the
enhanced version unveiled today, the Joey Plus. The new version
is easier to program, offers a faster processor, and boasts more
built-in memory configuration for running more powerful software
programs, which are now becoming available. It also features a
slim, built-in CD-ROM drive for accessing multimedia titles and
reference works, a faster 14.4K data/fax modem, and a brighter
backlit active-matrix display, all for the same price as the
original Joey, which the new model replaces.

Analysts view the introduction of the Joey Plus as a feather in
the cap of Wallaby Chairman and CEO Matthew Locke, who took the
company reins from Jones after a boardroom showdown three months
ago.

"This demonstrates Locke's ability to manage a new products
company," said Michael Kolohan of Quest Market Research, Inc.

"We're very excited about the Joey Plus computer," Locke said in
a telephone interview. "Now there are no hurdles between
developers and users in offering powerful applications that
compare to those available for ICP computer users, our
value-added being the easier to use design of the Joey Plus, and
its more attractive, more convenient form factor."

In his new role as leader of Wallaby, Locke reorganized the
formerly separate engineering groups, consolidating resources on
the Joey Plus project, which accelerated the device's
introduction to market by three months. To enlist the support of
software developers, Locke took to the road, evangelizing with
prototypes of the powerful new Joey Plus to stimulate new
software development prior to today's announcement.

One developer, PowerBase, Inc. of Cupertino, California, will
soon introduce an program for compound document and forms
processing, and advanced communications abilities. Said Paul
Kupiec, president of PowerBase, "Wallaby really delivered with
the new Joey Plus. We're ecstatic, now that it's got so much room
for bigger applications, which means corporate clients we could
not previously appeal to are now more apt to consider Wallaby
over ICP.

"We were all worried when Jones left the company," Kupiec
continued, "but Locke came to our offices in person with his
engineering managers and offered us an early prototype unit of
the new Plus. We dropped everything and already have ninety-eight
percent of our program completed, which we ported from our ICP BP
version. I think he [Locke] may fare well in his new role."

Jones, on sabbatical in New England, was offered a "visionary at
large" role after being ousted by Locke and the company's board
of directors, according to one source. However, Wallaby officials
declined to comment on Jones's plans for returning in his new
non-management role. "Matthew Locke hopes that Peter will return
to Wallaby soon," said Wallaby spokesperson Laurence Maupin. "We
all miss him and look forward to having him back at work soon."

Jones could not be reached for comment.

- - - - - - - - - -


Peter folded the newspaper and sipped his orange juice. The sun
was hot and the air smelled fresh and clean. All around him,
people in summer dress clothes walked leisurely about the
village, and the news of Silicon Valley felt very, very far away.
He closed his eyes...and a moment later he sensed a shadow
blocking the direct sunlight.

"Think you'll go back?" asked the elderly man standing before
him. Beneath his arm was a folded copy of the "Journal."

Peter eyed the stranger. "I don't know."

The man placed his large, tanned and weathered hand on the back
of the vacant chair beside Peter. "Okay if I join you?"

"Sure," Peter said, leaning back in his own chair.

The man removed his cap and signaled the waitress. He fixed his
gaze on Peter for an instant. "Congratulations on the new
product," he said with a wink. He unfolded his own newspaper and
laid it over Peter's copy. "Your whiskers threw me for a second
or two, but I used to slack off now and then on the shave -
though not because I was masquerading."

"It wasn't my product introduction," Peter said, stroking his
light beard unconsciously.

The man pulled a pen from his pocket, then lifted his thumb and
winked one eye shut like an artist gauging his subject. "Hold
still. I want to get this right." He proceeded to draw a mustache
and beard on Peter's picture in the newspaper.

Peter was beginning to feel amused.

"Well," said the old man, taking up their conversation without
looking up from his artwork, "you weren't there for the show, but
it is your product just the same. Good work, son."

"Thanks."

The waitress arrived. His portrait completed, the man shoved the
paper across the table for the waitress to see. "What do you
think? Look like him?"

She looked at the photo and smiled politely, unaware that it was
really Peter in person and in the newspaper. "A mineral water?"
she said.

"Thank you, my dear. Anything for you, Mr. Jones?"

"No thanks."

The man closed his eyes and turned his smiling face into the sun.
As Peter studied him, he felt a dim glow of recognition. Had he
met him before, perhaps seen a photo of him somewhere? There was
something about the cynicism in the man's eye. No doubt he was a
former businessman well into his retirement, for with his eyes
closed, he looked maybe seventy-five.

"Here you are, Mr. Holmes," the waitress said.

With his eyes open, however, the man suddenly looked ten years
younger. Pouring the mineral water over the ice cubes in the
glass, he fixed his gaze on Peter. "It isn't easy walking away
from something you've given birth to, is it?" He squeezed some
juice from the lime slice floating in the glass.

"No. It sure isn't," Peter said. Except for Kate's weekend trips
away from Los Angeles, Peter had been completely alone for the
past three months in Maine. During this period he had spoken with
hardly anyone, except when necessary - ordering food in
restaurants, paying for goods at the general store, or collecting
his bundles of forwarded mail at the post office. He had
forgotten how good it could feel to talk to someone, even a
stranger. Especially a stranger. But Peter sensed that this
wasn't just any stranger. 

"Yep. Same thing happened to me. Gave them fifty years. Started
when I was twenty, not that different from you. Yes sir, I
remember how it felt."

"How?"

"Like someone ripped my heart out and chopped a chunk off it."
For a few moments the man's gaze turned introspective as he poked
at the lime in his drink. "Sound about right?" His lively blue
eyes revealed sympathy, understanding.

This man knows, Peter thought. He managed a small smile and a
nod.

"Son, you're a bright boy. I know all about you. How old can you
be, thirty?"

"Thirty-two."

"Hell," the man said with a guffaw, "when I was that age I'd just
got going."

Crossing his arms over his chest, Peter considered the man with
curiosity and puzzlement. What had the waitress called him?

"Yes sir. That's how old I was when I invented a new system
design that went on to become our standard for the next many,
many years." He took another sip from his glass. "Still is," he
said, jutting his lower lip out proudly. 

"What design was that?" Peter asked. But before the man answered,
Peter deduced that there was only one computer standard that had
been in existence that long, and that was - 

"The 990."

Peter tossed his head back, and for the first time in months he
let go a huge, cleansing laugh. Of course! Byron Holmes, inventor
of ICP's 990 series, which had become, and still formed the
foundation of, the architecture upon which all of ICP's mainframe
computers were built. Byron Holmes, son of Jonathan Holmes,
founder of ICP.

"What's so damn funny?"

Peter touched the man's arm in apology. "I was just thinking how
funny it is for us to meet. Go on, please. What did you do after
the 990?"

"Revise, revise, revise."

"Things moved more slowly back then, didn't they?"

"Back then? You make it sound like I figured out how to add three
wheels to one, so that families could take kids to the dinosaur
races."

Peter could see that the man was enjoying this as much as he was.
He became wholly attentive and invigorated.

"You kids from the Valley think your teensy computers are going
to replace our Goliath machines someday, don't you?"

"I wouldn't know anymore. I'm out of the business."

"Poppyshit!" Holmes said, rapping his hand down on the table.
"Don't give me that sour-faced hurt-boy story. Doesn't fly with
me."

"I made that company what it is," Peter said, instantly somber.
"And then it was taken away from me."

"That's craziness," Byron said, moving his chair closer. "Boy,
I'll tell you something. After I made the 990 what it is, they
moved me into big management. Sure, it was my dad's company. But
I had the right education for it, so I could have done it anyway
if my heart had been in it. But it wasn't. All I wanted to do was
make those big, beautiful machines. After a short while I stepped
down, moved in another fella, a guy that managed the schedule and
all that stuff. Kept our friendship golden after all these years.
Now he's the big cheese there.

"I stuck around for a long time. I was vice chairman, and spent
years evolving the 990 design into what it is now, which'll
probably see them through to the year 2000. As I was nearing the
age everyone says is the time to leave, I had a heart attack.
Guess I thought I was still a youngster. I retired, and me and my
wife have been enjoying ourselves and playing around like kids
ever since. Not bad for seventy-four years young, eh?"

"But it's not the same. I could have run the company. With all
due respect, you inherited yours. I started mine from scratch.
They just didn't give me a chance," Peter said.

The older man discounted the younger with a wave of his arm.
"Nah. You'll come around eventually. Can't have both, you know."

"I could."

The older man's tone turned serious. "That's just pure,
one-hundred percent poppyshit, is all." He pointed his finger at
Peter with rigid authority. "You need to squeegee all that anger
out of your system so you can get back out there and do
something. Again."

Just then a handsome smiling woman appeared at the table, dressed
in a light, summery outfit. In one hand she held her wide-brimmed
hat, in the other a bag of vegetables and groceries. Byron's face
brightened at her arrival.

"Is this man filling your ear with World War II stories?" She
handed the bag to Byron.

"I haven't even gotten to those yet," Byron said as he stood.
"Another day."

He made introductions. "Gracie, this boy is the one who invented
all those pesky little computers littering everyone's desks out
there," Byron said. "He's also been the best conversation I've
had here in awhile. Mr. Jones, it's been nice talking to you."

"Likewise," said Peter. The two men shook hands.

"Why don't you come by our house for dinner. Saturday night."
Byron said, tapping his shirt pocket for his pen.

"Thank you, that's very kind. But I've been sticking pretty much
to myself, and I'm not much company - "

"Nonsense! Eight o'clock," Byron said, scribbling his address on
a paper napkin.

"All right then, I'll be there. But I have a friend coming. Would
it be okay if I brought her?"

"Can she dance?"

"No, but she can sing."

"Of course," Grace said. "Please bring her along." The couple
said good-bye and then strolled off holding hands.

With some amusement, Peter settled into his chair and thought
about the irony of meeting Byron Holmes here. It wasn't all that
unusual, since Camden was where so many men like Byron spent
their summers. Yet, of all the people in the world, he'd never
guessed he'd shake hands with the man whose surname was
synonymous with the world's first tabulating machines. Small
world, Peter thought. No, he corrected himself, I'm from the
small world, and he's from the big world. But, as he'd just
learned, it didn't seem to matter how big or small your baby.
When it's yours, it's yours. And this man understood that.


* * *


The horses walked side by side, each carrying a rider through the
secluded wooded path.

"I don't believe you, that the only love you have ever felt has
been for horses. Nonsense," Greta said.

"It is true," said Jean-Pierre, crossing his heart with his
finger.

"Ridiculous."

"Greta, I tell no lie when I say that I have been in love only
with horses. Nothing has ever come between us," he said, patting
his beast's neck affectionately. 

"Frenchmen," she said with a dismissing wave of her gloved hand.
"Such talkers." Had he noticed? She took a breath, reminding
herself to keep her left hand on the saddle.

And, she wondered, had he noticed her color when he'd crossed his
heart? Unless he was psychic, she knew that he could not see what
was going on inside her when he spoke of things such as his
country and horses.

"Your husband, he is doing something very important today, no?"

"Yes. It's important. To him. Some new computer."

"Indeed. I read about it in the paper. You must be very proud,
Greta. Yes?"

"Yes, of course. He's done very well since he's been in control.
Very busy," she said. She wished this topic to go no further. She
let herself look at him, into his eyes.

"Yes," Jean-Pierre replied with a nod that said, without words,
that he understood. It was the same look he had given her when
they'd first met after they had shaken hands, when his arm had
been in a sling.

They continued along in silence at a trot, and Greta renewed
their conversation with enthusiasm. "Jean-Pierre, tell me more
about your country. Is the French countryside similar to Northern
California, as everyone here seems to think?"

"Ah, it is beautiful," Jean-Pierre said. "All year is green out
in the countryside where I was born. And clean when you inhale,
and pretty, all fresh and tingling in your nose, in your heart.
You ride on and on and see no one for very long stretches of
time. Here and there, children are playing or doing chores, you
see a woman carrying a basket, a man with an ax. They wave when
they see you." Smiling, he waved to her as if to illustrate, but
all at once his expression changed into a grimace, as though he
were suddenly in great pain.

"What is it?" Greta asked.

"This damned shoulder. If I cannot even lift it to wave, how will
I ever hold a mallet again?"

"Isn't there anything you can do about it?"

"Oh, sure. There are procedures. Surgery."

"Then why don't you get it fixed?"

"It is complicated."

"Yes, but it's worth a try, isn't it? Wouldn't it be better to
try to save it, so you could play again, rather than give up your
livelihood?"

"It's not that simple."

"Why? People get things like that fixed all the time, don't they?
You're a champion. How can you just stop playing?"

"That's not what I mean. I don't want it to be like this."

She persisted. "I still don't understand. What's so complicated
about your case?"

Abruptly he reined his horse to a halt and she brought her horse
around. He was looking off into the hills. For all of his
broadness and strength, his maleness, she saw that she had
unknowingly struck a sensitive chord in him. "Jean-Pierre," she
said, trying to catch his eye, "I didn't mean to upset you. If I
have, I'm sorry."

"No. That's not it. You see," he said with a faint smile, "I am
an independent."

"I'm sorry, really. You don't have to go on if you don't want
to."

"But I do. I do want to go on. Right now, in Deauville, where I
have lived most of my life as a polo player, the tournament is
underway. Eight teams converge to compete for fifteen cups. The
most coveted is the Coupe d'Or. There is money as well. I, of
course, was on the French team. I had a sponsor for the
tournament, but because of this damned thing, I had to drop out."

"But if you get it taken care of, can't you play again, and make
next year's competition?"

"That is the problem, getting it taken care of. It costs money.
And because I am an independent and I had to drop out, I lost my
sponsorship. What I am saying, Greta, is that I cannot afford the
surgery and therapy. That is why I agreed to come here as a
consultant to look into developing a polo club. I need the
money."

"Jean-Pierre," Greta said, "I understand how you feel." She felt
compelled to tell him about her own suffering. However, glancing
down at her gloved left hand, she couldn't bring herself to go
on. Hers was no common ailment. Granted, he was suffering, losing
the use of his shoulder, but her loss, she could not help
feeling, was greater. It was not the same. It was worse. And, she
feared, it might repulse him, and end the acquaintance they had
begun.

They continued along the trails leading back to the stable, back
from her escape.

For the past three months she had gone riding every couple of
days with Jean-Pierre. It had started with his insisting that she
try some jumping, but she dashed that idea at once. However, she
did agree to go riding with him once, and had continued ever
since. The early mornings frequently found her on these paths
with Jean-Pierre, before he began his day. In addition to his
polo club project, he trained a number of students. With each day
they spent together, riding along the lush trails, she acquired
more knowledge of horses and Europe, and of things she had never
imagined before - most of all attraction, for the first time
since her marriage to Matthew, for another man. While she knew he
was here to research the potential for a polo club, he was not
specific about the details of his private life. Whenever she
pressed him for more information, he turned the conversation back
to her, or went into one story or another that was full of
adventure and intrigue. He told her that, like most polo players,
he was a thrill-seeker; his attitude was that all of life was a
game, one big gamble, there for the playing. When she asked him
how long he thought he would stay, he told her he was not really
sure. All she wanted, she reminded herself continually, was to be
able to keep spending a precious hour or two with him each day
riding. But lately, when she left him after their ride, she had
begun to allow herself a little more; she had now and then found
herself thinking about him during her midmorning bath, or just
staring out the bedroom window, across the treetops and off into
the near distance, at the ranch's gable rooftop. And sometimes,
after a morning ride, she would awaken on her bed, not
remembering having lain down, his face the first image to appear
to her, her mind studying and touching him before opening her
eyes and getting on with the day. Although she relished these
moments in his company, she could hardly wait to be away from him
today, to be alone with him in her secret way.

"I have thought how good it would be to go back to France after
my project is through here, taking my meager savings, and my
meager arm, and finding a small ranch in the country."

She tightened her grip on the reins. "Well, if you want it badly
enough, you'll find a way to get back into the game."

"Yes, maybe. But for now I am a slave to this project. It's
paying the bills, as Americans are fond to say."

With mild dread, she knew he would be gone sooner than she wanted
to admit. Of course it would be better if he were gone, she told
herself. She was married to a very successful man, and that meant
security and stability.

Yet as if to discourage her rational thinking, a burst of
enthusiasm whipped through her. "Let's race," she shouted, then
pressed her heels into Mighty Boy's sides. Before Jean-Pierre
could answer, her horse bolted forward.

"Cheater!" he hollered, and gained on her quickly. They rounded a
turn in the path and flew past wild calla lily flowers, the tall
stems batting their horses' legs. She looked over her shoulder,
excited, and pressed Might Boy harder. Jean-Pierre narrowed the
distance between them and his horse fell into a synchronized
gallop with Mighty Boy. She laughed at him and saw that he was
hiding something behind his back. He saw that she saw.

"Not until you slow," he said, reining his horse to a trot.

She obeyed, dropping beside him. He leaned from his saddle and
handed her a single calla lily. She felt touched and overwhelmed,
and closed her eyes for a moment, forgetting he was there riding
right beside her. Then, suddenly aware of her obvious pleasure,
she felt embarrassed. Carefully she tucked the flower between her
leg and the saddle, then raced off for the final stretch, hoping
the distance would allow her a moment to regain her composure.

He called after her, yet, when she turned once, she saw that he
was letting the stretch widen between them, as if he had seen her
flustered condition and had, once again, understood what she was
feeling.

The soft black path turned dusty as she neared the barn. Her car
was parked in the lot. Jennifer's truck, parked in front of her
house, was the only other vehicle there. 

She brought Mighty Boy to a halt before the stable entrance and
wiped her brow with the sleeve of her chambray shirt. Carefully
holding the flower, she lowered herself from the horse.
Jean-Pierre had dismounted by the far ring and was walking toward
the barn. Normally, the horses would be hosed down, to both clean
and cool them, but the groom had not yet arrived, so they allowed
some time for the horses to cool down a little in the chilly
morning air. 

"I'd better be going," Greta said after some time had passed,
taking Might Boy's bridle in her hand.

In silence, they led the horses into the barn. The animal bodies
were lathered with sweat, and the fine layer of dust that covered
their muscles was beginning to dry and crinkle in the shadowed
coolness. She reached behind her head and unclipped her barrette,
allowing her hair to fall loosely over her shoulders. It was as
if everything had changed as they walked through a near-dark
silence, like day into night. Her senses sharpened, like those of
a nocturnal creature. She knew he was looking at her, and she
felt awkwardly exposed. She glanced quickly at him. His eyes
gazed at her with peaceful, deliberate regard. She maintained her
lead into the barn with Mighty Boy, then Jean-Pierre stopped at
his own horse's stall, and she hastened her task at hand, in an
attempt to be done and out of the stall before he had a chance to
come to hers. But as she worked with Mighty Boy's halter, she
felt his presence at the entrance of the stall. He pulled the
double door shut behind him as he entered, closing them in
together in nearly complete darkness. 

Her insides tightened as he slowly approached, the very act of
breathing becoming more difficult the closer he came. She blinked
to adjust her vision, and busied herself with releasing the girth
of Mighty Boy's saddle, but she was clearly having problems; she
had not thought to simply put down the flower for a moment while
she worked with the snaps. And, as always, there was her hand,
which forever burdened even the simplest tasks.

He came to her rescue, and she froze at the touch of his large
strong hands on hers. And before she had to even consider
retracting her flawed hand, he moved her aside and set about
unfastening the girth and removing the saddle, leaving her to
just stand there and watch, holding the flower.

Time stopped. Even Mighty Boy was still. His stare was on her
again, but she willed her gaze to remain fixed on the hay-strewn
floor. If she looked up into his eyes, there was no telling what
would happen. Yet she made no effort to alter what was happening.
Instead she shut her eyes, and tried not to think about how much
time was passing between them without words. What were his
thoughts? Were they the same as her own? What were hers? She
could not focus on any of these blind musings. Unaware of her own
action she had raised her head, as though all of him would become
clearer if she trained her closed lids in his direction. She
opened her eyes. Nothing in her mind could prepare her for what
she faced. The emerald intensity of his eyes pierced through her,
instantly warming her neck, her nipples, her loins.

"Come," he said, motioning to her with one hand, the other flat
against the horse's side. "Feel this."

She allowed him to lift her right hand and pull her closer. He
made her feel the animal's hot, damp flank, flattening his own
hard hand over hers. She focused on his dusty manicured nails,
his long fingers, weathered knuckles, and tanned skin. This was
the hand she had fantasized about, touching her as it was now,
and more.

"The strength of this animal, it can all be felt through his
heartbeat. So strong," he whispered. She felt his breath on her
forehead, and inhaled to try to bring it inside of her.

Mighty Boy stood steady as she experienced the bold breathing and
strong heartbeat drumming beneath her hand. "Yes," she managed,
barely, willing her hand to stop trembling beneath his.

He slowly lifted her hand from the horse and turned her so that
they were facing each other. The flower fell from her free hand.
He removed the glove from the hand he was holding, then he
reached for her other hand.

"No," she said, a little panicked. "Not that one."

He nodded to let her know that he understood, then guided the
ungloved hand beneath his shirt. He pressed her palm to his
chest, over his heart. "It is no different," he said. Then she
had the other, gloved hand in his shirt. She felt his insistent
heartbeat, so powerful in its pounding, the pulse of his life
beneath her hands. She raked her fingers over his muscles. The
wild scent of horses mingled sharply with his spiciness. She
closed her eyes and took a deep, heady breath, and experienced a
wave of pleasant dizziness.

He gripped her wrists and pressed her against Mighty Boy, touched
his lips to her ear. "Perhaps this attraction I feel for you is
the first to come between me and my love for horses," he said
with a little laugh.

She shifted her head back. A bead of sweat jiggled on his chin,
beside a tiny flake of hay. She dabbed the droplet with the back
of her bare hand, touched the hay flake away and pulled it past
his lips, yet did not let herself touch them. He took her hand
from his cheek, then curled her fingers into his own. He inhaled
the fragrance on her wrist, kissed it.

She began trembling as he lowered his arm around her waist and
pressed her harder into Mighty Boy, layering her between the heat
of two powerful bodies. She pulled her fingers free of his grip
and plunged her hands into his long hair and down his neck,
across the hard muscles of his shoulders.

Then, just as their lips drew near, Greta reeled her head away
with a shake, as if snapping awake from frightening dream - he
had taken her gloved hand in his own.

"No," she said, struggling.

He tightened his hold on her. "What are you hiding, Greta? What
is it you are so afraid to show me?" Then suddenly, Matthew's
image appeared in her mind's eye.

An agonized moan escaped her, and she let out a small, frustrated
cry. She had to leave, at once. "I can't," she said, bringing her
lips closer to his. "Do you hear me, I can't."

Or could she? Could she just once, to have him completely in her
memory forever? Yes, just this one time. Quickly, she thought,
before Matthew returns and makes it impossible for her to go any
further.

Lips parting ardently, she hungrily drew in his breath as their
mouths joined.


Chapter 8


"Matthew, this is everything." Eileen said, placing a manila
folder before him on his desk. "You've got about ten minutes
before the meeting begins," she said, then closed his office
door. He opened the folder. Before him was an assortment of
transparencies, his presentation to the board of directors and
executive staff. 

Yesterday's introduction of the new Joey Plus, which was warmly
received by the press and the user community, would certainly
work in his favor this morning when he detailed his plan for ICP
connectivity.

He flipped through the films. They were perfect. He felt armed
and ready to face for the first time all of Wallaby's power
players in the very room from which three months earlier he had
ejected Peter Jones.

His intercom beeped softly, and he looked out of his glass office
at Eileen. She tapped her wristwatch. It was time to start the
meeting. 

He nodded and shuffled the films and his notes together into the
folder and headed for the meeting. Just as he reached for the
boardroom door, it opened. Hank Towers appeared carrying a small
plate.

"Good morning, Matthew," Hank said brightly. "Give me just a
second for seconds," he said, gesturing at the remaining treats
arranged on the long table outside the conference room.

Matthew laughed good-naturedly and went inside. "Good morning,"
he said, addressing everyone seated around the table. He set down
his materials beside the overhead projector. Finishing sentences
or the last bite of a muffin or looking up from their agendas,
the board members and executive staff voiced their good mornings.

"We're just waiting for Hank," Matthew said. Just then Hank
entered the room smiling sheepishly over a plate of fresh fruit
salad. 

"Matthew, congratulations on the Joey Plus," Hank said. The
others followed with congratulations, and someone clapped.
Another pair of hands joined in, and then another, until the
entire room was applauding his success. 

"Thank you," Matthew said. "But the congratulations should go to
all of your people who made the development of the Joey Plus
successful." His smile swept each face at the table.

Martin Cohn stood and announced the agenda, a copy of which
rested before each person. Four items down the list was "The
Whole World In Your Hand: Wallaby's Future - Matthew."

After ninety minutes of standard status reports, discussion, and
voting, it was time for Matthew's presentation, and he stood.
"Should we break for a few minutes before I begin?"

He knew his agenda title had them all intrigued - this would be
the first time anyone but Peter had revealed a major future
strategy for Wallaby. No one stood or motioned departure.

He dimmed the room lights, then switched on the overhead
projector and advanced to the first slide, a modified Wallaby
logo. Normally the logo depicted the baby kangaroo poking its
head out of a pocket, but Matthew's slide showed only the joey
and no pocket.

"At Wallaby," he began, "we've always been intensely focused on
the idea of people using a portable computer for their personal
tasks and needs. This had been a successful strategy, inherent in
our culture because we got our start by giving people the power
to use our portable personal computers for exactly that: very
personal computing.

"But to some degree, we've been in the dark. In the early days we
succeeded because we were the only players. But we lost our
number-one status to our largest competitor, ICP."

He changed to the next slide and paused for a moment, allowing
the visual analogy depicted to sink in. The slide showed the same
lone joey, offset to the bottom left corner of the frame, and a
sketch of the earth with the initials ICP stretching around it.

"International Computer Products is everywhere. They own the
world of mainstream computing. There's hardly any big business,
organization, or function in the world that doesn't in some way
use ICP's products for its information processing."

The next slide showed the Joey Plus screen with little filing
cabinets and documents positioned here and there. "By design,
Wallaby's Joey Plus is the choice method of computing. The user
community has stated that, and we all know that.

"But competition from ICP with its BP system, regardless of its
inferior technology, continues to grow at a steady rate. The ICP
logo on the front of its desktop and portable computers makes
them mentally compatible with its mainframe computers. And for
the past decade at Wallaby, we've all held a resentful attitude
toward ICP. This is due, in part, to the premise upon which the
company was founded. We're a small, free-spirited company,
providing people with personal mobile computing tools contrary to
what ICP has represented throughout its history - people acting
as slaves to headquarters and mainframes." 

He then showed a slide bearing an ICP BP computer graphic with a
circle around it and a slash through it, like the "No Smoking"
signs found in public areas. A few chuckles emerged from the
darkness.

"Consequently - by design, if you will - few of us at Wallaby are
apt to perceive an opportunity that could take advantage of ICP's
Goliath size. Locked into our rivalry with ICP, we're too busy
reacting, competing with our portable computer technology as if
we had a chance to displace its impersonal, worldwide
installed-base of systems." 

He let them absorb this truth for a few moments, then removed the
slide, allowing a pause before asking his next question.

"But what if the Joey Plus were equipped to make a huge leap into
the big game?"

Chairs creaked, and elbows settled on the table as those seated
around the table moved forward to more attentive positions. The
next slide showed the Wallaby Joey Plus computer screen again.
But in this one, the ICP globe logo was orbiting within it, with
the baby kangaroo hopping from the U.S., across the Atlantic, to
Europe.

Matthew heard whispers and low voices. In an instant he
understood his position with profound clarity. Here he stood, in
the place that for the last decade had been occupied by Peter
Jones, with his hand on the lever that, once thrown, would
forever alter the focus of Wallaby. He threw it.

"I believe that Wallaby has the potential to penetrate the
worldwide installed-base of ICP computer users by becoming more
compatible with ICP systems."

Not surprisingly, Hank was the first to protest. Incredulous, he
rose from his seat. "Matthew, are you proposing we build an ICP
clone computer?" His alarm was amplified by the others, and the
room suddenly erupted into a rumble of questioning voices.

"Wait. Listen," Matthew pleaded. "Please."

Hank dropped back in his chair, turning his attention to Matthew.
The others followed his lead and quieted.

"No. Hank. We would not, not ever, develop systems that operated
ICP's system software. First of all, we would continue with our
design to evolve the Joey hardware, adding a simple, inexpensive
port that would provide an easy connection to ICP mainframes and
workgroup networks. Second, we would implement system software
communication hooks in our operating system, which would read and
understand file formats and information from ICP systems. These
hooks are what would enable the user to easily manage the massive
ICP mainframe databases from within Joey software applications,
as well as share data between personal programs like word
processing documents, spreadsheets, and graphics, to name a few."

Hank was slowly nodding. "We're following you, go on."

The room fell silent, and Matthew placed his next graphic on the
overhead.

"We've got a window of opportunity, and if we can act quickly and
bring compatibility products to market in the next quarter,
Wallaby would enjoy the rewards of major penetration within a
year."

The attendees were leaning to one side or the other, whispering
back and forth. What Matthew was able to discern sounded
positive, and, sensing no opposition, he placed the next slide, a
proposed schedule. Midway through the his timeline breakdown,
Graham Stevens, vice president of personnel, spoke up.

"Pardon me for the interruption, Matthew." Stevens removed his
glasses and folded his hands on the table. His face bore the
troubled look of a professor deliberating a complex formula.
"There's one thing that concerns me. Something that does not
appear on the schedule." 

Matthew took a step away from the projector. "Please, go on."

"This company, as you pointed out when you started, was trained
to think of ICP as the enemy. Do you really believe we can get
the employees to support a strategy that slants us toward our
biggest competitor?" His question was supported by contemplative
murmuring throughout the room.

"That's a very important question," Matthew said. He tucked his
hands into his pockets. "Perhaps the most important of all."

In fact, it was. He had asked himself the same question a
thousand times. And he knew he had to be very careful with his
response. Both the reason and the solution had come to him when
he had asked himself why, all along, ICP had never simply
threatened Wallaby with a hostile takeover. The reason was simple
- ICP could not acquire Wallaby and hope for the company to
succeed without support from Wallaby's highest-level executives
and employees. This was precisely where Matthew fit into the
whole plan. He was the horticulturist who would graft the sapling
Wallaby onto the deeply rooted, sky-high tree that was ICP. He
would nurture the company into accepting that this was the right
thing to do, this second phase of providing compatibility with
ICP's systems. He would convince them that while maintaining its
personality, Wallaby would also grow vigorously in size and
sales. Later, in the final phase - the plan's ultimate goal -
after Matthew's compatibility strategy had proven successful and
thereby gained the employees' trust, the process for merging the
two companies would begin.

He seated himself casually on the edge of the table. "When Peter
and Hank started Wallaby," he said, dropping a nod to the
cofounder, "they had a vision of placing into people's hands
their own computing power. Naturally this was perceived as
competition to ICP because it is also a computer company, which
quickly brought to market its own all-in-one computer. But what
I've come to understand is that we have a valuable product that
can make greater headway by coexisting with ICP's computers
rather than try to overtake it directly. And if we carefully
educate our employees that it's our vision to keep building great
portable computers for individuals, which can also connect to
other systems, then yes, we can pull it off." His voice was
piping with conviction and enthusiasm. "Joey, with its innovative
mobile and expandable design, becomes the dynamic key that opens
doors to other systems and other markets around the world."

"It would be tough, Matthew," Graham said, curling his index
finger against his chin, "but if we were to get you out there,
talking to our people about this strategy, I think you're right.
We could pull it off."

Did this first agreement, from the man who raised the most
difficult question of all, presage the entire team's vote? Had he
just persuaded them to place in him their faith to change the
lifeblood vision of the entire company? 

He switched off the projector and brightened the room's lights.
"Before I go on, it may be good to get an idea of how many of us
agree on this strategy."

"Right," Hank said, helping him along. "I think it's smart,
mature. Clearly a direction in which we should consider moving.
However," he cautioned, sweeping the group with his serious eyes,
"only if we can handle the perception aspect of it with the
employees. Only as long as we make them understand that we're not
selling out and building a clone, that we are actually making our
Joey the best choice of portable computer on its own, and in
tandem with ICP's computers. If we can accomplish that, then I
think we could eventually come out ahead of the game." 

Matthew experienced an epiphany. Hank had just explained
Matthew's strategy exactly as he wanted them to see it.
Furthermore, Hank's approval signified a point that was
especially penetrating to the people seated there - higher stock
prices. For each of them, this translated to even greater
personal wealth.

Matthew quickly took advantage of Hank's definition, while the
carrot still hung in the air. "Does anyone disagree with the
concept?"

Heads turned, searching for dissent.

None.

He felt a powerful thrill wash though him like the one he had
experienced at the last quarterly board meeting, when his
organizational design had flexed Peter Jones out of his way. In
the last meeting he had been given the opportunity to prove
himself. Now, with the new strategy revealed, they had become his
followers. They believed in him. That was what it all came down
to. They trusted him with their future.

"Very well," Matthew said. He switched off the overhead lights
again and returned to the projector. With his finger on the
switch, he bade farewell to the old Wallaby, farewell to Peter
Jones. He flicked the machine on, and alighted the screen with
his next slide: "The Whole World In Your Hand: Wallaby's Future."


* * *


"Thanks, Hank," Matthew said, gripping Hank's arm with one hand,
the other locked in a firm handshake.

The board room door silently swung shut, and Matthew dropped
himself heavily into one of the chairs and let out a long
satisfied sigh.

He'd done it. From here on, it would be smooth sailing. With the
executive's support in the bag, he was now free to turn his
secret plan into reality. And what did it translate to for him
personally? The power and the rewards would be astronomical.

"How'd it go?"

He had not heard anyone enter the room and, startled, he turned
to find Laurence Maupin. For the briefest moment he just sat
there and admired her in her finely tailored light linen suit.
Her soft and flowing honey-colored hair framed her fresh
intelligent face, and in her delicate hands she clutched a small
bundle of budding branches, held together by a blue ribbon. 

"It went great," Matthew said, blinking with exultation at the
sound of his own pleased voice. Then, unable to contain his
satisfaction, his smile broke into a broad grin. "Really great,"
he spilled, feeling remarkably comfortable in revealing his joy
in front of her.

"That's wonderful, Matthew. Wonderful!" she said, closing the
space between them. "These are for you," she said, holding out
the bundle.

"Pussy willow," he remarked. He felt a tingling sensation in his
finger, where it had brushed hers. "Where did you get them?"

"Believe it or not, I found a bush of them in Woodside. I stole
some for you," she said with a mischievous chuckle.

"Thank you," he said, able to meet her eyes only for a second.
Her unanticipated arrival and the gift she had brought made him
suddenly feel awkward and boyish. It was as if the room, his
heart, had all at once changed seasons, going from the promise of
spring to the all-out heat of summer. He watched her flip through
his collection of slides, and he felt the light tingle return,
this time in another place, as she keenly examined his
illustrations.

She beamed at him and tapped the topmost slide. "Matthew, it's
brilliant. Just three months, and you're already making important
changes."

"Thank you. But you deserve some of the credit. Your coaching has
been a great help."

"That's my job," she said. "Eileen said you have no other
meetings this afternoon."

"None. I didn't know how long this would take."

She returned the slides to the manila folder, then circled her
hands around the neck of the overhead projector. "Then how about
lunch?"

"Good idea."

"Great. What do you say to San Francisco? I've got to run a few
errands, and you can drop me off at home later in the afternoon
since I don't have my car. It's being serviced."

He hesitated, then shrugged. "Why not. I think I deserve the rest
of the day off. And I haven't been to the city for lunch in a
long time." He had forgotten that she lived in San Francisco.
Lunch, then a ride home.

They gathered his materials and in a few minutes were on the
highway and heading for the city.

He felt relaxed in the car with her. With absurd clarity it
occurred to him that while they had worked together almost
constantly for several months, everything they had discussed
pertained to business. How could he have been so focused on his
work and not gotten to know her better? Now, he decided, was as
good a time as any.

"How are you adjusting? This being your first full-time job and
everything?"

"Excellent. Of course, working with you has made it all worth
it."

He had hired her fresh out of school, graduating with a
communications degree from Villanova. The previous summer she had
been an intern, working in the public relations department as an
apprentice speech writer. On two occasions she had assisted
Matthew in preparing his speeches. The impression she had left
him with was so positive that he had had his secretary contact
Laurence as she neared graduation, to ask if she would be
interested in working for him as his personal press assistant.
Although she was inexperienced, she really had helped him.
Enormously. Not only where his public image was concerned, as
when she had smoothly handled the press for him after Peter
Jones's departure, but also with his self-image, the hours they
spent together in coaching sessions, counseling him on his manner
and style, reinforcing his self-confidence. He felt as though
some transformation was about to happen between them, some new
level of communication.

"...right there," she said, pointing to the high hills and valley
a half-mile in the distance, to the east.

He had been daydreaming. "I'm sorry?" he said.

"My horse. That's where I keep my horse."

"At Woodside Ranch?" 

"Yes."

"That's where my wife keeps hers, too." He remembered Greta for
the first time since leaving the house that morning.

"They have a new trainer who recently came to the States to start
a new polo club. He's fabulous."

"Maybe that's Greta's trainer."

"It is," Laurence said, then, quickly: "I mean, he knows her,
mentions her horse. He said Mighty Boy is the most beautiful
horse he's ever seen."

"He's something, all right," Matthew said, changing lanes.

"I'm happy to be riding again. I've missed it so. In school I
rarely got home to see my parents in Los Angeles. My father
sponsors polo players, did I already mention that? I'm sorry, I'm
rambling."

"Not at all. I want to know more."

"Well, a couple of years ago my father spent a year in North
Carolina, opening a new company. While he was there he got hooked
on polo. That was just when I had gone east for school. I felt
like I needed a break from La-La Land, and Philadelphia seemed
like as good a place as any, and the school was one of the best
for liberal arts. Anyway, I'd fly down to see dad every now and
then while he was in the South. We went to a couple polo
tournaments together. By the time he went back home he was a
member of the Equestrian Center in Griffith Park, in LA. I was
quite taken with the game myself, the valiance."

Her enthusiasm was infectious, and Matthew was enjoying himself
immensely. In the distance the city came into sight. Seeing the
tall buildings, the two magnificent bridges, the bay, he
experienced a sense of newfound being. He thought of Greta, and
how, in all the time they had lived here and she had had her
horse, Matthew had never been the least bit interested in her
hobby. Yet when Laurence spoke of it, he was intrigued. The
Valley felt well behind him now. Before him lay a completely
different world, and his insides stirred with the same excited
nervousness a schoolboy feels on a class trip. "I don't come to
the city often," he said, "so I'm at your mercy."

"Don't worry, you're in good hands. How about Union Square for
lunch? It's near the shop where I have to pick up something."

"Sounds fine," Matthew said.

They pulled off the highway and wound their way through the busy
city streets to Union Square. He pulled up in front of the
Campton Hotel, and the attendant took the car.

"Can we shop first?" Laurence said. "I'll just run in and tell
them we'll have lunch around two o'clock."

With an appraising eye, the formally dressed door attendant held
the door for her. After she vanished into the lobby he stole a
cursory glance at Matthew, the man so lucky to be with such an
exquisite woman. The other man's envy brought a smile to
Matthew's face. A minute later she was back.

"All set," she said, then frowned. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," he said, overshooting his innocence. "I'm just happy.
I feel like I'm playing hooky," he said honestly.

"Come one," she said, tugging playfully on his arm. She led them
into oncoming traffic and, with city-smart agility, navigated
them to the other side of the street. They strolled past the
Hyatt and turned onto Post Street. The sun shone brightly on
Union Square, and a cable car bell rang out on Powell Street. He
fell back a step behind her when they crossed the street to
admire the way her wavy hair bounced on her shoulders with each
determined step. His eyes trailed to her waist, so perfect and
slender, then lower, to the lovely curves of her bottom. She
stopped so suddenly he almost crashed into her.

"This is it," she said, standing before an old shop. "It's like a
toy store for me," she added, pressing through the doors. For an
instant he had the pleasure of seeing the flat of her hand
pressed against the glass. Even after they were inside, this
image lingered bright in his mind's eye like sunspots on the
eyelids.

"Come on," she said, tugging his arm again. She led him to an
open stairway that rose to the second floor. He saw various
equestrian products as they climbed the stairs. Saddles hung over
the rail encircling the upper level, and rows of boots lined the
wall, with riding crops, helmets, and assorted garments displayed
throughout. He trailed after her as she strode to the rear wall
and stopped before a case of leather riding gloves. She spun,
hands at rest behind her on either side of the display case. "Do
you know about Swaine Adeney?" she said, playfully affecting a
British accent. "It was founded in London in 1750. They are the
exclusive suppliers of fine equestrian products to the royal
family."

"May I help you?" asked a young, dark-haired woman wrapped
tightly in a tweed outfit.

Laurence turned serious. "I'd like a pair of these gloves." She
tapped her finger on the glass in front of a simple brown pair.

Matthew swallowed. Gloves. The thought of Laurence hiding her
beautiful hands inside a pair of gloves prickled his skin with a
sensation that was very close to terror. He thought of Greta. Her
gloves, so many gloves. Leather, wool, and cotton. Suede,
cashmere, and silk. Oh, he thought with dread, those especially,
which she had worn to bed every night since the accident...

"Do you like them, Matthew?" Laurence said, flexing ten
delicately gloved fingers before him.

"Yes," he said, forcing a smile. "Very much."

"These are our finest pigskin gloves," the sales clerk informed
them.

"I'll take them."

"Very good," said the woman, accepting the gloves from Laurence.
She closed the cabinet and locked it, and they followed her back
down to the lower level. Before Laurence could withdraw her
charge card from her wallet, Matthew reached for his own.

"Wait, Lauri. I want to buy those for you."

"Don't be silly."

"Please. A small token of my appreciation," he said. "Please?"

The clerk accepted his credit card.

"I'll treasure them," Laurence said with a pleasant smile. "Thank
you."

They strolled back to the hotel, where they were immediately
seated in a booth in the rear of the Campton Place. There were
few other diners; it was late in the afternoon, and most of the
see-and-be-seen crowd was already gone. 

"How about Champagne?" Laurence asked. "A toast your success."

The wine steward uncorked a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and they
toasted, and while they enjoyed an excellent lunch, she spoke
again about horses and polo.

"I would love to go to France. I've never been there. I would
give anything to see the championship tournament that's held
every summer in Deauville."

Hearing her talk about it, he thought that it might be exciting
to go there. With her? Was that why it would be exciting? What
had happened in the last couple of hours? What was it she had
said or done to break down the restraint he had exercised for the
past couple of months, which he now fully acknowledged?

With this thought, and all their talk about horses, he thought
again of his wife, and the realization that this pleasant
afternoon with Laurence would soon be over.

Back outside, the attendant brought him his car.

"Where exactly do you live?" Asking this question, it occurred to
him that he had learned more about her this afternoon than in all
their of previous times together.

"In Pacific Heights. Well, lower Pacific Heights. I can't afford
real Pac Heights yet."

"Is that where you would like to live eventually?"

"Not really. I don't think I'm really a city person at heart."
She directed him up Pine Street to Fillmore, then to a narrow
street called Wilmot. Hidden in the middle of the busy Fillmore
shopping district, it looked more like an alley than a proper
street. He found its concealment unusually exciting.

 "There, the second house."

He braked before one of three houses tucked into he middle of the
block, sandwiched between business establishments.

"Well," he said. "I had a wonderful time."

"Me too," she said, folding over the top of the bag in her lap.

He paused, unsure what to do next. The air in the car felt
charged with possibility, promise. He acknowledged his attraction
to her. She stirred in him feelings he had not felt in years,
which now suddenly gushed free inside him after today's victory.
When she had entered the boardroom, he had felt a potent sense of
longing. How long had it been since he had been satisfied, really
satisfied? Again his thoughts turned to Greta. He gave his senses
a shake. He resolved that after all he had accomplished, which
Lauri had helped him attain, he wanted to experience with her
their own, intimate celebration. He wanted to take her hand, hold
it, and kiss her, to feel her fingers respond in his own hand as
their lips met.

From behind he heard the sound of cars passing on Fillmore
Street, and ahead of them, a group of young boys were playing
basketball in a fenced school-yard. With a sidelong glance he
studied her delicate, childlike hands, the impossible softness of
her skin. She was so much younger than he. She had been silent
all this time, and finally she spoke.

"Do you have any children?"

This startled him a little. Was she too unsure of what to do
next? Stalling, as it were? "No," he said, "no children." He and
Greta had planned to start a family after the successful launch
of Orange Fresh. But after the accident, which happened on the
very day that they planned to begin their journey into
parenthood, the act by which a child is conceived never again
occurred between them.

So that was how long it had been since they had made love, he
thought. How long it had been since he had been with anyone that
way.

Again Laurence broke the silence. "Why don't you come inside for
a moment and see my place?"

He accepted without hesitation, and a moment later they were
inside. "I've made do with my limited decorating skills," she
said with a wave of her hand. "I'd love your opinion." She
excused herself to the kitchen for a moment while Matthew
wandered from room to room.

Her apartment was a recently restored Victorian with black and
white tile at the entrance and hardwood floors throughout.
Dhurrie rugs in light colors covered the floors in the living and
dining rooms, and her furniture was a tasteful mixture of
contemporary and antique. The bedroom was tantalizing. Her bed
was an unusual steel frame design with a dreamy, sheer canopy
draped lightly over the top. Its message was at once powerful and
delicate. So were his feelings for her. He finished his tour and
circled back to the living room, where he found her standing and
holding two glasses filled with dessert wine. "Just a little sip,
before you drive back," she said, handing him a glass.

He inhaled the bright sweet aroma, his eyes lingering on her hand
encircling her own glass. She raised it to his, and he met her
sharp, gray eyes.

"Here's to you." Her voice was quiet.

He touched his glass to hers. They each took a sip and, with his
head still lowered, he let his eyes stray once more to her hand.

"You like my hands, don't you?" she asked simply, revealing her
mindfulness of his regard all along, confirming it.

"Yes," he said, his voice barely a whisper. He swallowed.

"Go on, then," she said.

He knew what she meant. He slowly reached out and traced lightly
along her index finger to her wrist, her thumb, to her glass,
which he took. He had to have her hands.

He settled their glasses on the table in front of the sofa and
folded both of his hands around hers. Never before had he held
hands so supple. But these hands belonged to a whole visage of
uniform loveliness. There was the difference, he understood at
once. He had loved Greta's hands, yes, the power they had had
over him, his pleasure, yet that was all. Just her hands. That
was why, he now understood, that they had had such an unusual sex
life. But Laurence was different. When he looked up from her
hands, his heart quickened at his appreciation for all of her.
That was it, and he let himself go.

He pulled her hard against him, as if it were the first time he
had felt a woman's body against his own. In fact, it was. It was
the first time he was really feeling a woman with all of his
mind. The sensation was overwhelming, this feeling of taking in
her whole image. His mouth came down firmly on hers. He felt a
moan come from her throat as their tongues mingled with the
wine's sweet aftertaste. He tasted her, felt the material of her
dress, smelled her hair, understood that in her shoes were feet
that were no doubt as lovely to look as her hands, as rousing to
touch and kiss. From head to toe, he wanted to feel all of her at
once. Their hips pressed together and she pulled him closer,
kissed him hungrily.

"Matthew, you've done wonderful things for Wallaby and for me. I
want it to keep going this way for you. Is this wrong, what we're
doing?" she said, fingertips touching along the edge of his belt.

"No," he said, and closed his eyes with anticipation. Her
fingertips slipped down an inch into his slacks. "I mean yes. Oh,
yes."

"It's yours for the taking, Matthew. All of it. There's no
stopping you now."

Her words drove him into a frenzy. He gripped the back of her
head and pulled her in close, his tongue darting in her mouth,
over her eyes and around her ears. He coursed his fingers through
her hair, everything coming to him in rushing waves of passion.

Yes, she was correct. There was no stopping him, them. He thought
now only of the bed. He pulled back from her. His trousers were
undone and her blouse was open. He gripped her wrist and led her,
walking backward as he did so, to the bedroom. She grabbed the
bottle of sauterne and raised it to her lips, following with no
resistance. At bedside, she passed the bottle to him. He took a
large swallow of wine, then set the bottle on the night table. He
held the liquid in his mouth and kissed her, then reached for
more, but she beat him to it.

"Wait," she said. She lifted the bottle, and with her free hand,
pulled down her bra and brought the bottle close. Staring into
his eyes, she poured some of the sweet wine over her erect
nipples.

Never before had he felt so avid. In his urgency, he pushed her
back on the bed and crossed his leg over her smooth firm belly.
He hungrily licked her breasts, sucking wine from one, then the
other, struggling to work off her bra and blouse.

He raised her farther up on the bed, her head settling into the
soft, feather pillows. This was the part he had envisioned from
the moment he had laid eyes on the striking bed.

He led her hands to the steel head bar, and she understood at
once how he wanted her. She gripped tightly, her knuckles turning
pale. She lunged for his lips with her own. He met them and
forced her down with his head, urgently reaching between her
legs.

He worked his erect penis out of his pants. Gripping his hands
beside hers on the bar, he entered her. He tuned into her every
response, licking her eyelids, feeling the movement of her eyes
beneath. He felt her teeth with his tongue, at the same moment
aware of her ankles against his calves, and he wasn't sure he
would be able to hold back very long. The feeling of the cold
steel in his hands welded in his mind the image of their
position, both gripping tightly to this linen-draped frame. He
drove into her forcefully, with unfamiliar awkwardness. It was
better than he remembered, he thought, gnawing at her neck
ravenously as he quickened.

He climaxed almost immediately, shouting hoarsely with each
burst. Once his tremors stopped he felt drained of all energy. He
was so, so tired. Barely pressing off the bed with his arms as
her hips thrust upward, he tried to help her finish. She managed
to lift much of his weight, but not without effort. Her moans
were coming in quick, strained gasps. For one trembling instant,
before succumbing to his weight, she moaned. He collapsed on her,
forcing her breath away.

He rolled away, onto his back, his legs twisted around hers, too
tired to move them. Almost instantly, his breathing slackened and
he lay there depleted. He became oblivious to her, to them, to
where they were, and to what they had done. He felt pleasantly
used up, yet at the same time, in another part of his being, he
felt very full, larger than life.

Far away now, a dreamy smile alighting his face, he heard
Laurence's words once more in his mind as he dozed off.

No stopping you now...


Chapter 9 
    

"Hey, you ready yet?" Kate said, appearing in the bathroom
doorway.

Peter stood leaning over the sink, cautiously dragging a razor
across his face.

"Hallelujah!" Kate shouted, watching as the beard that had grown
long and scraggy over the past few months disappear into the
sink. Peter paused for a moment and winked at her in the mirror,
his face white and foamy, then returned his concentration to the
razor.

She leaned a shoulder against the edge of the door frame and
stood watching him. "I like your face smooth, it feels better on
me."

"Ouch!" Peter said, jerking the razor from his face. A dot of red
instantly formed on his chin.

"So, Lancelot," Kate said, hanging her robe on the door hook,
"what do I wear?"

"Whatever you want , it's just a neighborly thing." Peter rinsed
his face, then pulled the skin on his neck taut and inspected his
work. He saw that she was still watching him, and he took in her
full naked reflection before turning to face her.

"I think it's more than that," she said.

"What's more?"

"The dinner. I think this Mr. Holmes is probably excited that
he's met you, and wants to get to know your better."

"Well, me too. I could use a friend here. I only see you for two
or three days at a time." He crossed his arms, resting his rear
against the sink, and studied her up and down with a playful,
approving grin. "You know, for a forty-year-old lady, you're
still quite a knockout."

"Oh yeah? Well for a thirty-something boy, you're not so bad
yourself." She came over to him and slid her fingertips beneath
the waistband of his jockey shorts at the small of his back,
rubbed her cheek softly against his. "Mmm, this does feel
better." They stood there for a while, holding one another.

He pulled away from her a little so he could look into her eyes.
"What is it about us?" he said. "What makes it work?"

She considered for a moment. "Well, we're a lot alike," she said,
lightly kissing his nose. "And a lot unalike."

He nodded and bowed his head, focusing on their touching hips.
"Do you think maybe we should be together more?"

"Maybe."

"More permanently?"

"Maybe."

"Maybe?" His eyes widened a little as they sought hers.

"Petey, we work because we both have things in our lives that we
believe in."

"Had," he mumbled.

"Have," she said, lifting his chin with her hand. "You're just a
little dry right now. You have to give yourself some time to let
things happen inside here." She knocked his head lightly with her
knuckles. "It doesn't all just suddenly change overnight, Petey."

"I know. But I've been thinking." He hesitated for an instant.
"What about maybe if I were to settle down a little, split some
time between here and California, take it easy."

Her expression was full of attention and love, but not without a
small and knowing frown. They had had the conversation before,
usually when he was feeling depressed, and they both knew that
neither was fully ready to settle down.

"And what if you and I, you know..." he said, his voice trailing
off, his hands brushing her shoulders.

"No."

"But - "

"Petey," she said, pressing her fingertips to his lips. "You know
that once you get something zipping around in that carnival-quick
head of yours, you're going to be flying at a million miles an
hour."

He smirked. "Okay, maybe not marriage, but how about...I don't
know. I've been thinking more and more about the feeling I get
when I remember back to the first time I saw a kid use a Mate
computer." His voice became a whisper. "Maybe a child in my life,
a baby, our baby." He stressed his grip on her waist and pulled
her closer.

"You know I can't have a baby," she said. Her eyes were
glistening. "I'm too old, and I told you I tried long before we
met," she said. "You know that. And yet you suggest it." Taking
his index finger, she lightly poked her taut belly in an attempt
to make light of the situation. "Closed for business. Sorry." She
trembled.

He pressed her head against his chest and rubbed the back of her
neck. "Hey, I'm sorry." He kissed her eyelids. "That wasn't nice
of me to bring up again. I'm really sorry. Okay?"

She nodded and he wiped his thumb under her eyes.

"Petey, trust me. You just need a little time to think. You're
thinking right now about what is today, and you're not giving
yourself a chance to just take it easy."

Now it was he who nodded and lowered his head to hers, and she
hugged him. "It'll come, Petey, I know it will. It will come
again."

"Promise?"

"Cross my heart. Now put some clothes on," she said, slapping his
rear. "I'm getting cold and hungry, and we don't want to be late
for your new friend." She turned and strolled to the bedroom.

Suddenly his underwear whizzed past her head, grazing her hair
before landing on the bed. She stopped in place and set her hands
on her hips and turned around with a playful grin on her face.

"Isn't it fashionable to be late?"


* * *


"Dinner is ready," Greta said from Matthew's office door, just
off the library.

"I'll just be a minute," he said, turning to acknowledge her, but
she was already gone.

He finished typing his e-mail message to William Harrell, then
clicked the send button. Piled on his desk were notes, charts,
and schedules, each a vital facet of the overall ICP Strategic
Alliance report he had been working on all day. Another Saturday
devoted to work, but that was nothing new. Glancing at his watch
he figured he could probably finish most of the outline by
morning, so long as he hurried through dinner.

Leaving the light of his library office, he strolled through the
uncharacteristically dark house. He padded down the long hallway
and passed the closed dining room door, crossed the foyer, and
rounded the corner to the family room and kitchen area. The room
was dark and there were no plates, glasses or utensils on the
table where they usually ate, just outside the kitchen and facing
the family room with its big-screen television. Only the day's
mail rested on the table, where he had left it several hours
earlier.

"Greta?" he called, turning toward the kitchen. In the minimal
illumination of the dimmed track lights he saw pots and pans
resting with their lids ajar, a few gooey spoons. Having had a
moment to adjust to the darkness, he caught the flickering glow
coming from the dining room, which was accessed either by the
foyer or through the doorway in the kitchen.

"In here," came his wife's voice softly.

He rounded the turn and was a little surprised to see Greta
seated at the formal dining table, facing him. The room was dark
except for the gentle radiance from two candles. Silverware
shimmered and crystal glasses sparkled in the soft light. Poached
vegetables and steaming new red potatoes in delicate china bowls
sat beside a covered serving dish. Between the candles, in a
large vase in the center of the table, were pussy willow
branches, fuzzy and in full bloom. When he had walked in the door
with them yesterday, she had thought for a moment that he had
remembered. But then he explained that someone from the office
had brought in bunches for everyone.

"Oh," was all he managed to say before he seated himself.

"I gave Marie the rest of the afternoon off," Greta said. "I
fixed it myself."

"It smells wonderful," Matthew said, smiling but puzzled. They
only ate in the dining room when entertaining guests. Why so
formal all of the sudden?

She poured him a glass of wine and handed it to him, then lifted
her own glass and held it out to him. But he had already taken a
sip and was lifting the lid off of the covered dish. She
hesitated, almost said something, and sighed instead. She tasted
her wine and watched him for any sign of recollection, any hint
of awareness.

Matthew placed the covered lid aside. "Wow, my favorite dinner,"
he said.

"I know," she said, clearing her throat.

He gestured for her plate and selected one delicate hen for her,
two for himself. He ladled sauce over his birds and vegetables,
took another sip of his wine, and dug in. Barely ten seconds into
his meal, and Greta could see that his mind was already somewhere
else.

No, she admitted to herself, he had not remembered. And with this
knowledge came a strange aching feeling, a throbbing, in her left
hand, where what had once symbolized their marriage used to be.
The doctors had told her that that would sometimes happen. That
at odd times it would feel as though everything were in its right
place, like normal. The same was true, she thought in silent
agony, of her marriage. At odd times it had felt as though it was
all still there. But not now. Plain and painfully simple, he had
forgotten.

After a minute or two, as if remembering that she was there,
Matthew looked up from his dinner.

She sat staring at him with shimmering eyes, her utensils still
resting untouched beside her plate. Before he could say anything,
she spoke.

"Happy anniversary, Matthew," she said. A weighty tear dropped
down her face.

His body slackened. He set down his utensils. All at once he saw
the brightness of her lips, the accents around her eyes, the
fine, glimmering pattern in the silk dress. He became acutely
aware of her perfume lingering among the aromas of the meal. Her
tears were painting dark trails down her cheeks. He gazed down
into his plate, their anniversary dinner, and let loose a guilty
sigh.

"Greta, I'm sorry. I'm, so, so sorry. With all the work and
everything..." He lifted his hands a bit. "I just, well, I just
forgot."

She reached her gloved hand across the table and touched his
wrist. "It's all right, Matthew," she said with a resigned smile.
She wiped her cheek with her napkin and lifted her fork.

"It is delicious," Matthew said enthusiastically.

She speared a few vegetables, chewed slowly, put down her fork,
and took a long drink of wine, all the while watching her
husband's hurried consumption.

"Matthew, can you slow down? Please, can't we enjoy our dinner
together tonight?"

"I'm sorry, honey. It's just that, you see, I've got more work to
do," he said, then tentatively added, "for the trip."

"What trip?"

"Tomorrow. New York. I told you I was meeting with Harrell on
Monday, didn't I?"

"No, Matthew, you did not."

"Hmm. Funny, I thought I said something. Sorry. See what I mean.
I'm so overwhelmed these days."

"Matthew, you're changing in unpleasant ways. And there's nothing
funny about it."

"I beg your pardon?"

"However selfish you were before getting rid of Peter Jones, you
were at least considerate and apologetic. Genuinely. Or so you
seemed."

"I said I was sorry about forgetting. You're upset, and you're
basing your criticism on that."

"No, Matthew. That's exactly what I'm talking about. This new way
you're behaving. You say you are meeting with 'Harrell' -
whatever happened to 'William,' your friend?"

"He's not my friend, Greta. He's a business partner."

"Oh, of course. Pardon me. And is that what we are too, Matthew?
Business partners?"

He shook his head as if to say he'd had enough. In fact, she
thought, that was what was wrong, that he'd had enough of them,
of the dead end that their marriage had turned into.

With an disgusted huff she poured herself more of the good French
wine, held the glass beneath her nose and she gazed out the
window at the reflecting pond beyond the foot of their estate.

"Maybe, Matthew, we should talk. Don't you think, especially
since tonight is our anniversary, that we should talk? What's
happened to us?"

"Dear, I can't," he said, pausing to wash down a mouthful of food
with a swallow of wine. "I'm going to be up until six in the
morning as it is. And I've got an early flight. I'll just be able
to jog and shower."

He ate and she drank in silence for a few minutes, until she
could stand it no more.

"Matthew, is it going to stop? Is it going to change? Ever?"

"What, honey? Will what stop?"

Any remorse he may have felt for forgetting their anniversary was
obviously gone now she could see, forgotten with everything else,
as if a switch had been thrown, his mind saturated once again
with his work. "Matthew, do you understand that you are obsessed
with Wallaby? Really, you are worse than Peter ever was."

"It's not an easy job," he said, wiping a piece of bread in the
last smear of sauce on his plate. "Replacing him."

"We never see each other anymore. Even when you two had your
falling-out, you saw him more than you see me now. Every morning
you're up at five-thirty, then you're at work all day, and I
never talk to you - "

"Meetings."

"Then you come home and gobble down your dinner, barely a word
between us, or if you do have anything to say it's about that
damn company, then you're off into your library until late at
night until you come to bed and fall asleep." Her breathing had
become panicky.

"Look, I've got to do my job," he said, irritated now.

She leaned forward with her hands flattened on either side of her
full plate. She didn't care that her gloved left hand was there
for him to contend with. Maybe that was the problem, that she had
never really forced him to deal with it.

"Matthew, I'm all alone. You're all I've got. It's not that I
mind being here all day, but when you come home, it's worse
because then you're here but we're still not together, and on the
weekends, like today, you work all day in the library."

She intended to force him into battle if that was what it took.
But what he did next completely disarmed her: He placed a hand
over hers, the left one, and met her eyes with compassion. She
felt suddenly hopeful. She had finally gotten through to him.

"Greta," he said gently, "everything I'm doing is for us. The
things I'm making happen at work are very complex and important,
and these things will change our lives forever." He patted her
hand and smiled. "Soon it will slow down a little," he said,
tossing down the rest of his wine.

But his words sounded shallow and condescending. Her hopes of
understanding disintegrated and the throb in her left hand
returned with renewed force. She snatched her glass and finished
her wine in one quick swallow. She poured another. Was there no
way to get through to him? To make him see how close he was
coming to destroying them? "Matthew, it's ruining us, and you're
letting it happen." Nothing. She went for broke. "Don't you see,
I'm trying not to let anything bad happen to us."

He seemed undaunted by her warning. Wiping his lips with his
napkin, he got up, walked around behind her chair and placed his
hands on her shoulders.

"Darling," he said, "I have to get back to work now. Nothing bad
will happen to us. I won't let it." Then he kissed the top of her
head and left the room.

She turned her head and looked out at the pond again, and
whispered to her reflection in the window.

"Then I will."


* * *


"Poppyshit!" Byron shouted, waving his glass at Peter, who sat
across the table. "The problem with kids today is their parents!"
He set his glass down firmly as if challenging anyone to dispute
his opinion.

"Dear," Grace interrupted, gently touching her napkin to her
upper lip with raised eyebrows at her husband.

"What? Huh?" he mumbled, confused. "Oh," he exclaimed, dabbing
his lips with his napkin, wiping away a small piece of
sauerkraut.

Grace smiled and shook her head, her grin spreading wider when
Kate smiled back.

Peter had chosen the subject of children to start the table
discussion. "I don't think that's a fair judgment, Byron," Peter
said. "I think it's more than just what goes on in the home. It's
everything, all of society. Kids are hardly given a good example
by their parents, their friends. Movies. Television," he said.
"It's like they've turned into MTV lemmings."

The foursome ate at an antique Shaker table, situated near the
living room hearth. The home was decorated in simple and warm
country style. A charming, homey combination. Like Byron and
Grace Holmes themselves.

Kate and Peter had both felt instantly comfortable when they
arrived a few minutes late wearing jeans and sweaters, which fit
in nicely with Byron's work shirt and khakis, and Grace's simple
cable-knit sweater and flannel slacks. Dock lamps dotted the
inlet outside, and boats bobbed silently in the bay, glowing with
a fuzzy luminescence in the moonlight. Peter and Kate's own
vacation home was situated a few hundred yards down the inlet.
Their dock was similar to the Holmes's, though they did not own a
boat.

"We had primarily invented the Mate computer with no one in mind
but ourselves, computer guys," Peter said. "But within a short
time, parents were buying them like crazy for their kids.

"We want," he started, then paused for an instant to correct
himself, "wanted computers to be especially great for kids, to
lure them away from the TV set. When some of the software
developers created really great learning games, it all took off
from there." His eyes were shining with the clarity that comes
when you talk about something you deeply care about.

They were silent for a moment then Byron looked up from his plate
with a frown. "That's all well and good. And you're right about
it, that children especially benefit from computers, and not by
television. Now," he said, pointing to Peter's plate with his
mustard-smeared knife, "how about you eat that bratwurst before
it gets cold."

Grace broke the silence. "They have a computer at the foster home
where I volunteer a few hours a week, one of yours I think," she
said, smiling at Peter. "Those little kids, and the bigger ones
too, they sit there for hours and play games on it, and do
homework, and talk about all sorts of things I don't understand,
in a language all their own. It's lovely how such a thing could
bring these children together and give them a family of sorts."

The discussion carried on some more. Peter had not resumed
eating, so Grace got up and began to clear the table.

"Let me help you," Kate said.

"You get no dessert if you don't finish your meal, boy," Byron
said. He rubbed his hands across his chest in post-Thanksgiving
dinner fashion.

"Everything was delicious, Grace," Peter said. "It's just that I
haven't had a very good appetite lately."

"That's all right. You can take home leftovers if you'd like."

"Too late," Byron said, spearing the remaining half of sausage
from Peter's plate.

When Kate and Grace were out of earshot, Byron leaned across the
table. "You're a lucky fellow," he whispered. "She's a pretty
lady." He dropped a big wink.

"I know it," Peter agreed, looking out at the water. There was a
stirring in his chest, and he quickly turned his thoughts to
other things.

"Come on," Byron said, pushing away from the table. "Let's get
some air while the ladies fuss and giggle."

Peter had to laugh at that one. The thought of Kate "fussing"
about with Grace in the kitchen made Peter both happy and sad at
the same time. It was what he wanted now, yet it was what she
would not be for him. How could she be so sure they weren't ready
to settle down? As far as children were concerned, they could
adopt. Talking about kids, and knowing that there were none in
his and Kate's near future, had turned his dark mood of late even
darker.

As they headed out onto the deck, Byron pulled a small pouch from
his pants pocket, and from his shirt pocket he produced a briar
pipe. He filled the pipe in silence as they strolled along the
dock. When they reached the end, Byron lit up. The glow of his
match reflected back in the black water. That is just what I
need, Peter thought, a spark to go off inside my head.

"You know, boy," Byron said, shaking out the match, "I like you."
He inhaled on the pipe, regarding Peter for a moment.

"Thanks," Peter said. "You're a good guy, too."

"That's what my wife tells me," Byron said, exhaling a cloud of
blue smoke. "You and I ought to take a float out on this baby,"
he said, poking his pipe at his boat, the "Net Work." He sat
down, dangling his feet above the low tide, and Peter sat down
beside him. "Listen, I'm gonna tell you something, and I want you
to promise me you'll think about it. Okay?"

"Sure."

"You're a bright fella. But you're walking around like a little
boy who lost his old dog and hates the world for it," he said.

Peter exhaled, his breath forming a faint mist in the cool air,
and looked down into the water.

"Son, everything dies. It's how life goes on. Your pooch, he's
gone. It's time to go pick a new puppy, and train it, and love
it, and make it great."

"That's easy for you to say. You've done it all and it lasted
longer for you, most of your life, and you have a wife now and
you're happy."

"Poppyshit!" Byron said. "Do you think the 990 was the only thing
I ever did with ICP? No way. I did all sorts of things with them,
but the difference is that I stayed on board, and times were
different then. I was trained to do the things I did. You're
different."

"How so?"

"You're a rebel. I was too, but in a different sort of way.
You're a real risk-taker, but not for the sake of taking risks.
You do it because it's the only way you know how to be."

Peter nodded.

"You've got to understand and accept that it just takes a little
healing, over time. Time. I can tell you this because I've been
through it myself. I almost died once, had that heart attack I
mentioned to you the other day. Got it from not letting go.
Almost lost my life. But worse, after I got out of the hospital,
I almost lost my wife. Ah, I don't want to get into all that.
Just understand something mister, that this isn't the last time
it's going to happen to you. You have to know that now, while
things are germinating up here." He tapped a finger to his head.
"When the next thing comes, when you start out all clumsy and
getting into it all over again, even if it's way back in the back
of your heart, you have to accept that someday it's going to
change, end, and then you start all over again. And again and
again. You keep doing it. Over and over. And it gets better and
better with age. Just like they say."

Peter felt choked up listening to Byron so candidly share his
experience. "But," Peter started with a little more than a quiet
puff from his lips. "But it hurts."

"Of course it hurts," Byron said. "But you pick up, dust yourself
off, and go at it again. Where do you think all this age-old
advice comes from? It's truth, friend, that's why you're hearing
it from me. Sure thing."

"I don't know. It's not all the same, you've got more that
matters," Peter said, hitching his thumb absently in the
direction of Byron's home.

"Hah, boy's blind, too. I see a lady in there who looks at you
with real fancy in her eye. She's standing by you strong, I know
it."

Byron took his pipe from his mouth and looked thoughtfully into
its bowl. "I'll give you something to think about, and you let it
roll around in your head a bit." He sniffed. "Thing is, is I've
been bored lately. Yeah, I love it here, and our home in
Connecticut, and Gracie, and we've been talking about maybe
traveling again this winter," he said, waving his pipe in the
general direction of everywhere in the world, "but I've been
feeling sort of itchy. Like I gotta do something. You ask me, I
think there was a reason for us running into each other the way
we did."

"How's that?"

"I don't know why. Not yet, anyway. I suspect it has something to
do with our difference in thinking. I mean that in a good way. We
come from different worlds, yet we we're not such different
beings. If you and I put our heads together, I bet we could
really show the rest of 'em a thing or two."

"Think so?"

Byron winked. "I know so," he said, patting Peter on the leg.
"Now come on," he said, rising to his feet. "Let's go get us a
slice of that apple pie."


* * *


She set the dirty dishes in the sink, wrapped the leftovers in
foil. On the counter, there sat a cranberry and apple crumble she
had made for dessert. The bourbon sauce, which was to be warmed
and drizzled over the piping dessert, sat in a saucepan on the
stove, a gloppy mess. She dumped it down the drain and left the
dishes in the sink for Marie to deal with in the morning.

Matthew was back in his office working, and Greta stood with the
last of the wine in her glass gazing out the kitchen window at
the valley beyond.

When was it going to end, she had asked him. But she knew the
answer to that question. There were two answers, really. The
first was that it was never going to end, and the second was that
it already had. She had tried - for the last time? - to break
through the wall he had over the years erected between them. But
she knew now, after tonight's dinner, that the wall would only
grow higher, thicker. After Matthew turned Wallaby into what he
wanted, then sold it to ICP, it would be no different when he was
promoted to a higher rank within ICP, perched atop his
ever-growing blockade. Maybe they would stay in California, but
probably they would have to go back to New York, to ICP's
headquarters. Though she sometimes missed New York, the thought
or returning held little appeal. There her friends were all wives
of the other International Foods executives, and out here,
regardless of all she had heard about the nice people in
California, the women were still the same, robots who yessed
their husbands at social occasions and dinner parties, while
behind their backs they, and their husbands, engaged in
extramarital affairs.

That wasn't how Greta wanted to end up living her life. But would
she?

She finished her wine and set the glass on the counter - a little
too firmly. The crystal base shattered into little bits with a
high resonating tinkle, yet the bowl of the glass remained intact
in her hand.

"Shit," she cried, the sound breaking a dam in her, releasing a
flood of tears. She tossed the unbroken half into the sink, which
echoed the same tinkling sounds, even louder this time. She held
her breath, wondering if he had heard, wondering if would come to
see if she had injured herself. She waited, holding on to this
fragile hope with all of her breath.

If he had heard, he wasn't letting her know. She let out a great
sigh. Jesus, was that her life with Matthew? Shattered, broken
beyond repair? It was too much to consider at this moment. She
needed to get out of the house for a little while, to go for a
walk in the pretty night and clear her head.

She snatched her windbreaker from the coat hook beside the door
to the garage and stepped outside into the evening's coolness.
She wandered down the sloping hill to the high, solid gate. She
stepped through the gateway and hiked down the trail to the edge
of the pond with its narrow dirt path.

Eventually, if she followed it, the path would lead her to the
horse stables. Sometimes she rode Mighty Boy along here, circling
the entire pond and back around to the stable, passing her own
home on the way. Quickly and steadfastly she strode through the
twisted, tree-lined path in the moonlight. The stables lay a
half-mile ahead.

It was supposed to have been her night to celebrate the memories
of her marriage, but now she found herself thinking about the
scene that had taken place in Mighty Boy's stall the other day.
For better or worse, she had stopped him. She had admitted to him
that she and Matthew were having problems, but they were still
married, and even though she had desperately wanted him to go on,
she said she could not let herself be with him. He had released
her, and assured her that it would not happen again. Unless, he
said, she came to him. Since that day she had not gone back to
the ranch.

She slowed for a moment, then stopped. She absently stroked her
left hand with her right hand as she examined her present state
of mind. What was she going to do, just knock on the door of his
cottage? She turned and looked back up the hill to her home. A
few lights glowed - Matthew's office. She swallowed, and her left
hand throbbed some more.

Yes, she decided, that was exactly what she was going to do.

She moved on, her pace quickening, her heart pumping. Shortly the
stables came into view, illuminated by both the light of the moon
and by the floodlights surrounding the property. Trailing along
the border of light, just beyond its edge, she grew excited and
reckless, like an inexperienced burglar. Her brisk walk had
warmed her and she unzipped her jacket as she stealthily slipped
around the stable.

She passed the main house, where the ranch's owner lived alone.
Purple-blue light flickered from an upstairs window. About fifty
yards from where she stood were two small cottages. She had
passed them many times while riding. Jean-Pierre lived in one of
those cottages, and though she had never been invited inside, she
knew which one was his because he had mentioned once that it
afforded a beautiful view of the pond from his bedroom window,
through which he could see her home and its rear upstairs light
glowing late at night. Though her home was too high and far away
for him to see inside, she was excited by the thought of him
lying in his dark bedroom, fixated on her bedroom window. Had he
ever glimpsed her passing the window, closing the curtains?

The sound of a car engine starting suddenly broke through the
quiet evening. A second later a swath of light beamed just a foot
beside her and beyond, as far as she could see, into the woods.
She ducked behind a small wooden utility shed stationed alongside
the drive. White light pierced through the tiny cracks and seams
of the shed. Cautiously she peeked around its edge. A car
appeared from between the cottages, its light sweeping past the
shed as it steered onto the drive. Greta flattened herself
against the side of the small building and crept around the
corner once the car had completely passed.

Was he going out for the night? The sound of the engine grew
distant, then came a high squealing noise when the car reached
the end and turned onto the main road. Once more, the sounds of
the night and her own pulse were all she could hear. She left her
cover and pressed on.

No, she saw at once, it hadn't been Jean-Pierre because his MG
was parked in front of the cottage. Avoiding the light cast by
the lamp outside the front door, she circled around to the back
of the small house. She peered into the bedroom window. The room
was lit by a small lamp beside an empty bed with twisted sheets.
The sight caused her breath to catch. She rushed to the back
stoop and halted before the door, flexed her hands a few times.
Feeling the night's coolness breezing through the silken material
of her gloves, she absently wiped them on her dress and turned
and faced the pond for a moment to collect her thoughts.

Could she really go through with this? Her eyes searched across
the small shining lake, along to the narrow shore and the trail's
edge, up the hill. Her home. She could see the very window where
she had stood just minutes earlier, and she could see too the
damned glow coming from Matthew's office, where, on their
anniversary night, he was fondling his true love, Wallaby.

Yes, she could go through with this, and would. She turned and
knocked three times on the Dutch door, so loudly that she
startled herself. She heard the short, hollow tamp of footsteps,
the clacking sound of the door latch. For an instant it felt as
if her wedding band had tightened around her finger. Irrational.

The top half of the door swung open, and there he stood, wearing
only jeans and wire-framed reading glasses. His expression bore
no surprise. A knowing smile formed on his full lips. She started
breathing again. Plumes of mist danced around her head as the
warmth of the cottage bled outside into the chilly air. He
removed his glasses and closed the top door for a moment, then
the entire door opened and he stepped back, his arm extended. She
quickly and nervously glanced around the room as she went inside,
taking in at once its simple furnishings and his things. There
were boots beside the front door, a black T-shirt tossed over the
back of the couch, a beer bottle beneath the shaded lamp, a
wineglass beside the bottle, a pair of brown leather gloves
beside the glass. She heard her own blood pulse in her ears, felt
dizzy and a little buzzed by the wine, the rush of activity, and
now the stillness.

Following her gaze, Jean-Pierre quickly stepped into the tiny
living room. He picked up the gloves. They were women's gloves,
she could see that now. Everything was happening so fast.

His shoulders sagged. "You saw them," he said.

Her eyes quickly jumped to the bottle, to the glass, to the
gloves, back to the glass. She thought of the car that had just
gone. She looked into his eyes. "What?" she said, her voice not
sounding like her own.

He held the gloves out to her. "I wanted to wrap them and
surprise you."

She blinked. "For me?" 

"Of course."

She accepted the gloves in her right hand. There were a few
small, barely noticeable scratches on them, but the stitching was
clean and new. She wanted to say something, but when she looked
into his eyes again, whatever she had thought she wanted to say
vanished, and in its place was desire, like what she had felt
when he kissed her in the stall.

"Thank you," she managed as she absently watched him take back
the gloves and carefully fold them over, then tuck them into her
jacket pocket.

He took her by the shoulders and kissed her. Her eyes were still
closed and lips slightly parted when he pulled his face away. She
had come to him, and now she needed him to guide her.

He stepped aside and indicated the way to the bedroom. She moved
and he trailed her holding one of her hands in his, the one she
would let him hold. Had he figured it out yet, she wondered,
about the other one. She stopped beside the bed, facing the pond.
He switched off the lamp and placed his hands on her shoulders.
She struggled to see clearly, but could not. He pressed his hard
body against her back. The air was all made of his scent,  musky,
sexy, alive. She wanted to be tumbled and spun in the tangled
sheets that lay before her, to move her hands between their
softness and his firmness, to flop into the pillows, his weight
hard on her, his mouth on hers. She closed her eyes. Yes, his
mouth, which was now gently kissing the back of her neck, his
lips pulling the small hairs at the base of her skull. She
twisted her head into the warmth of his hot and chilling breath.
A small sound escaped her as he slid her windbreaker from her
shoulders. It fell to the ground with a soft rustle. She closed
her eyes and reached her good hand to her left shoulder, placing
it over his hand. She leaned back into his hardness and he
pressed himself against her more firmly. The wine had helped to
numb her feelings, and now the charged atmosphere of his bedroom
melted her into yielding. Even her left hand felt normal.

I tried, God as my witness, I tried, she thought with a shudder
as he wrapped his arms around her and across her breasts. He held
her until her trembling subsided, then he began to unzip her
dress, very slowly. She opened her eyes. Her vision had adjusted
to the silvery light, which now sharpened the edges of everything
and cast ambiguous shadows.

And there, across the pond, she saw Matthew's lamp.

"No," she said, reaching behind for her zipper.

He gripped her wrist.

"Yes," he breathed hotly in her ear.

She challenged his hold. Unable to resist, she yielded, spun
fiercely, and sought his lips. He held her head between his hands
and kissed her, pushing against her so intensely she felt she
would burst into flames. Her hands slid up his chest and across
his shoulders, his broad back. This hardness, I want this on me,
was all she could think, I have to have this in me.

But again, as if burning into her back, Matthew's library lamp
broke her, mocked her. With a cry, she twisted around. "No. I
can't. Not with him right there."

"We'll pull the shade," Jean-Pierre said. He nuzzled his nose in
her hair.

"No," she said, planting herself firmly. "Not now. Not with him
this close."

"Then when, Greta? When?"

This had been a mistake. She had to get away. "Tomorrow," she
said, pulling away from him. "Tomorrow, Jean-Pierre." She tugged
at her dress, putting some more distance between them as she
rearranged herself. Her expression was final, forbidding. She
wanted to remember him just like this, standing before her with
his arms at his sides, his bright white teeth and eyes, the
silvery sharp edges of his muscled chest.

"Where?" he asked, taking her by the elbows.

"Matthew is going to New York. I'll call you." Afraid that the
gentle yet firm and alluring touch of his powerful hands would
stall her, she forced herself to pull away.

He handed her her jacket, and followed her into the light of the
living room. She opened the door, turned around, and slipped on
her jacket, zipping it firmly.

He clasped one hand on the door's edge. With the other he gripped
her wrist and pulled her close. She gasped. He kissed her long
and deeply. The cold night air chilled her back, while the heat
of his mouth warmed her insides. She drew away with a frustrated
moan.

He raised her good hand to his lips and brushed it lightly. The
stubble of his beard on the silken material caused a sound that
had an extraordinary effect on her lower regions. She pressed her
upper thighs together.

"Tomorrow," he said, and released her.

She nodded, then was off and back into the night, back to her
home.

Running through the chilly night she remembered the gloves in her
pocket. She stopped and removed her silk gloves and put on the
pair he had given her. They made her feel secure and warm, but
not all the way. Perhaps they would feel right once she had the
left one tailored to accommodate her shortcoming.

Whatever it takes, she solemnly vowed, whatever it takes.


Chapter 10 


"Mr. Harrell, Mr. Locke has arrived."

"Send him in, please," came William Harrell's voice thinly from
the intercom on his secretary's desk.

Matthew was surrounded by the kind of opulence afforded only by
companies at the highest reaches of the Fortune 500. Plush
carpets, deep, rich wooden desks, fine art originals, and people
referring to one another as Mr., Ms., Mrs., and "sir." It was a
sobering contrast to Wallaby's compact, Herman-Miller modular
partition offices, open-air buildings, and first-name protocols.
Had it been only three years since Matthew had occupied an office
at International Foods very much like this one, so expansive it
was more like a penthouse apartment than an office? Matthew's own
office at Wallaby was no larger than the standard manager's
office, just big enough to move around comfortably in. He felt
queerly out of place entering the ICP building, surrounded by
such abundance, such magnitude. He had even forgotten how long it
took for elevators to climb tall buildings; Wallaby's tallest
building was only three stories high, and almost everyone used
the central atrium stairs to travel between floors.

He shrugged his shoulders to straighten his suit - yet another
difference between casual West Coast wizardry and starchy East
Coast Big Business. He had felt uncomfortable walking through the
city, unable to see more than a few blocks in any direction,
surrounded by noise, exhaust, and serious faces. Indeed,
California, with its rolling hills and vistas, mild weather, and
no-hurry attitude had affected him more deeply than he had
realized.

In one hand he carried his briefcase, in the other a large binder
containing all of Wallaby's product plans, financial summaries,
and forecasts, as well as the strategy he had worked on two
nights ago. He had finalized the strategy on the plane yesterday
and printed the finished copy in his hotel suite last night with
his Joey Plus and portable printer.

He had come to think of the binder as his clay, molded into the
shape of a new Wallaby, a grassroots company deemed a serious
player by the most important counsel of all, based in this very
city: Wall Street. Since last week's introduction of the new Joey
Plus, Wallaby's stock had climbed four points, and reviews were
glowing.

It was all very exciting. So much so it had affected him in his
sleeping hours. Last night he had had a shadowy, romantic dream,
that he was as a gemologist transporting precious jewels for
Sotheby's of London...then it shifted, and the gems had changed
to secret documents for the CIA...then it turned out that he was
working not for the CIA, but for them...the other side. When he
left the hotel this morning for his meeting, he felt as if he
were holding in his hands his fate, his life. Many lives. And
then a macabre thought entered his mind, left over from his
exotic dream: Where was the cyanide pill? He had no cyanide pill
if he was caught. It was a preposterous notion of course, his
imagination getting the better of him. Nevertheless, still a
little intrigued by the role his dream had cast him in, he strode
into William's office with his life in his hands and a feeling of
pure elation, and just a little fear. Good fear.

"Hello, Matthew," William said heartily, rounding his wide desk
with his hand extended. He wore a perfectly tailored charcoal
business suit, a crisp white shirt, and a burgundy tie. The man's
entire appearance exuded sharpness, Big Business. In other words,
ICP.

Matthew set his briefcase on the thickly carpeted floor,
clutching the binder in his left hand. He noticed William's
impeccable manicure as they shook hands. Matthew's own
fingernails were chewed and dry, and he could not remember the
last time he had had a manicure himself. He was beginning to feel
as if he were underdressed, as if he had underestimated the
importance of this date. Gripping the binder with both hands, he
grasped all at once that it was not his costume that should match
William's incomparability; it was the binder's contents: Wallaby.
This was not just his life in his hands, it was his love. And it
was perfect.

William's secretary returned with a tray of coffee, tea, and
pastries. She placed the tray on the table, and Matthew asked her
for a glass water.

"What's the matter? No more city fuel?" William said as he poured
himself a cup of steaming coffee.

"Haven't touched the stuff in over two years."

"Next thing you'll tell me is that you're into flotation tanks
and sushi."

"The sushi part, yes," Matthew said with a light laugh.

"How's Greta?" William asked, sipping his coffee.

"Oh, she's fine, thank you." Matthew accepted the glass of water
and finished half of it in one drink.

"And how does she like California living?"

"She likes it. She keeps quite busy."

"Sounds nice."

"Yes," Matthew said, setting the glass down. He placed his
briefcase on the table. With the mention of his wife, he thought
for an instant of what he had hidden inside his briefcase. Since
he had placed it there, he had never once taken it out again and
looked at it. Would he ever?

"Let's get started," William said. "I got your e-mail, and I'm
pleased to hear everything went well with your executives and
board. It hasn't been easy on my end. My advisers keep scratching
their heads, thinking their boss has gone crazy, especially after
your introduction last week. They want us to build something to
'blow the doors off the Joey Plus,' as my technology adviser puts
it. But, to his dismay, I've not approved any new development,
other than revisions and enhancements, since you and I had our
first meeting."

Matthew was pleased with this confirmation of the Joey Plus's
success. It meant that to William and ICP, Wallaby, and he,
Matthew, were even more valuable now than when they had first met
to discuss their secretive pact.

"I'll tell you," William said, indicating the binder with his
eyes, "I'm glad I can finally reveal our plan to my board of
directors and the executive staff. As I've assured you already,
they will vote unanimously in favor of our plan. They'll have no
choice."

"Here it is. The complete strategy, as outlined." Matthew handed
the binder to William, who opened it in his lap and was silent
for a few moments as he browsed through the various sections.

"Oh yes," he said, "this is a trade after all." He lifted a
folder from the table and handed it to Matthew. "Here are all the
connectivity specifications for the 990 series, as well as the
file compatibility specs for the BP series."

Matthew took the slim nearly weightless folder in his hands and
all of the sudden felt a bit let down. The folder felt like
nothing compared to the binder he had just turned over. No girth.
No satisfaction. No substance between his fingers. This
information would go to Alan Parker and his engineering
organization, and perhaps to them it was attractive, but Matthew
already missed the extensive, intricately organized volumes in
the thick binder now in William's possession. The exchange felt
uneven, unbalanced. Unfair.

"I especially like your idea of calling our plan a 'strategic
alliance,' " William said. "Tell me more about how you plan to
handle the announcement."

Matthew stood up and removed his jacket. "I think what we should
do is announce our relationship in three months, when we have a
working prototype of the Joey II, which will be the first Wallaby
portable computer that's compatible with your computers."

William nodded, crossed his legs, and continued to browse through
the lengthy document, glancing now and then at Matthew.

"We'll announce that we're working together on strategic
connectivity products from an engineering, marketing, sales, and
customer service standpoint. We'll reveal that you and I met,
several months ago - and by the way, my executive staff and board
are aware of today's meeting - and you will explain ICP's
election for Wallaby Joey II systems as an alternative to your
own portable computer, and that you will continue to support the
older ICP BP computer, as well as facilitate co-sales with our
people for Joey II computers. And finally, once you begin the
merger process, we'll determine Wallaby's value, and you'll
follow up about a year later with the acquisition announcement."

William snapped the binder closed. "Excellent."

"Yes," Matthew agreed under his breath as he seated himself. He
felt a little dizzy. Perhaps the building's height and the change
in environment were getting to him. He wanted to finish this
meeting and get back down on the ground as soon as possible.

"It's exactly how I had envisioned it, but better," William said.
"You've managed to smooth the transition with the alliance
aspect, so we're careful to unveil our deal a little at a time."

"That's the idea."

"Very good." William placed his cup and saucer on the table.
Rubbing his hands together he sat a little more upright. "Now,
there is one small detail that I'm curious about. Have you spoken
with Peter Jones?" His eyes locked on Matthew's.

"No," Matthew said, barely able to contain his surprise.

"I see," William said. "Has there been any communication between
the two of you? A letter? An e-mail?"

"None."

"Hmm."

"Why do you ask? Is there a concern?"

"Well, it's more a curiosity than a concern really. Nothing to
worry about. What's he doing now?"

"He's been in seclusion in Maine, at his vacation home. He still
owns a large amount of Wallaby stock," Matthew added in an
attempt to reassure the other man.

"Yes, well, that's no guarantee, is it." William said. It was not
a question. He removed his glasses and lightly massaged his
eyelids. "What I'm wondering about is the same thing I was
curious about when I first contacted you, proposing this
venture."

"Which is?" Matthew asked, fully knowing the reason before
William delivered the words.

"My biggest - " William started, but then paused abruptly to
select his choice of words. "My initial motivation for wanting
Wallaby was, of course, Jones's product in the pipeline, the
Joey. And what is the Joey, really, but the physical evidence of
Jones's vision? So naturally, I'm curious about what he's up to,
now that he's not spending his time at Wallaby."

This concern had never occurred to Matthew, and apparently his
expression said as much.

"Matthew, don't worry, it's not going to change our arrangement,"
William said. "We want Wallaby, and especially the Joey
technology."

Joey technology. Peter's invention. Matthew was at once overcome
by a wave of jealousy and loathing. When would Wallaby be
considered his? Once Wallaby was merged with ICP, would people
still call it "the company founded by Peter Jones?" Would he,
Matthew, be forgotten, like some sort of middle man?

William poured Matthew another glass of water. As he accepted it,
William said, "There's no way you can persuade Jones to return to
Wallaby?"

"That seems unlikely," Matthew said calmly, but what he really
wanted to say, to shout, was that Wallaby was his now, and Peter
Jones was gone for good.

"I see." William nodded and closed the binder, shutting with it
any further discussion of Peter Jones. "When do you fly back?"

"Tomorrow."

William tapped the binder. "I'm going to have to spend some time
with this before I'll have any questions for you." He glanced at
his watch. "Do you have any other meetings while you're here?"

"None. I allotted a full day for us, and intended to go back
tomorrow. However, if we're through, I'll go back tonight, and
you can contact me when you're ready."

"Fine," William said, rising. He offered a few words of
reassurance. "It's all coming along well, Matthew." They shook
hands outside William's office, and Matthew exited the suite.

Pressing the down elevator button, he noticed his hand was a
little unsteady. Now that their meeting was through, he was
grateful to be leaving New York City a day sooner than planned.
"Come on," Matthew whispered, pressing the button again and
again.

As he stood brooding over William's surprise concern for Peter
Jones, waiting for what felt like an eternity for the elevator to
arrive, he absently chewed his thumbnail, wishing in earnest for
things to move more quickly.


* * *


"Hey, where're you off to so early?" Kate said, lifting her head
from the pillow.

Climbing into his jeans, Peter nearly tripped himself in his
pants legs as he turned to face her.

"Oops, sorry," he whispered, "I was trying to be quiet." He knelt
next to the bed and kissed her. Her eyelids fluttered,
wakefulness coming slowly. "Would you mind if we took a rain
check on our trip to Boston today?" Her hair lay spread around
the pillow, and he combed it with his fingers, smoothing it
around her head.

She opened her eyes and shook her head, then smiled slowly,
joyfully.

"Why the big grin?"

She lifted a hand from beneath the comforter and gently knocked
her knuckles on his head. "Circus is in town," she said, cupping
his chin.

"Well, I've been thinking," Peter said, running fingers through
his hair.

"Mm hmm."

"When Byron and I talked the other night, you know, outside, I
started thinking about some things."

"You don't say?" she said, with mock surprise. "Like when I kept
trying to talk to you yesterday at the park and you were in
another zone?"

"Yeah," he said, nodding, "then too. I started coming up with a
concept I think he could help me work through. There's something
missing, a link I guess, and if I talk to him about it he'll
probably be able to help me come up with some ideas."

"Hey, you're going to be busy, it sounds like. Maybe I should
just go down to Boston myself, then home. That okay?"

"If it's okay with you. I mean, if you want. I'm sorry," he said,
planting his hands on either side of her head and looking into
her eyes. "I just have to talk to him about this."

"Petey, I'm ecstatic you want to see Byron this morning. I'll be
back next weekend. If, that is, you'll still want to see me."

"You're a goof sometimes." He thanked her with a kiss, then went
back to getting dressed.

"Hey," she said, propping up on one elbow as he slipped on his
dock shoes.

"Hmm?"

"Who's calling who a goof?" She tossed a pillow at him. "You're
inside-out, Einstein."

He looked down at his shirt, pulled it over his head, reversed
it, and put it back on. "Thanks," he said, then leaned over and
kissed her good-bye.

"Don't mention it."

On his way out of the house he stopped in the kitchen and wrote
"I'm a lucky guy," on a little yellow Post-it note. He signed it
with a tiny heart and pressed it onto the coffee machine.

He walked the short distance to the Holmes house quickly, his
thoughts turning round and round. With the tourist season over,
the town was somber and cool. Here and there a car occupied the
driveway of one of the homes along the inlet, and even fewer
boats remained docked. He arrived at the Holmes place just as
Grace was coming around from the side of the house carrying a
potted plant in her hands. "This one isn't going to make it," she
said, holding the sickly plant up for him to see.

"Sure isn't," Peter said. "Is Byron here?"

"He's in back," she said. Then, with a smile, she confided, "I'm
glad you came by. Yesterday he was mumbling about some idea he
said he's got to talk to you about. He was going to head over to
your house in a little bit. He'll be glad you're here."

Peter rounded the house and trotted down the dock. He could see
the top of Byron's white-haired head. "Hey," he said, leaping
from the dock to the boat.

"I see you got your boat shoes on," Byron said, looking up from
his work, as he finished oiling the boat's teakwood bulwarks.
"Good," he said, making a few last wipes. "You're ready to sail."

"If you say so."

"I say so. You saved me a short walk, you know, 'cause I was
going to come over and talk to you today after I took a little
sail." He replaced the lid on the can of oil and tossed the
sodden rags in a plastic bag, stuffed both into a canvas sack.
"Here, stow this, son," he said, pointing to an open bin just
inside the cabin. Peter caught the small sack and put it away.
The boat's teakwood and brass cabin was clean, classy, elegant,
and sharp - much like its captain, Peter thought.

"Cast off," Byron told him, indicating the boat's mooring lines.

Peter jumped to the dock and unwrapped the lines from the cleats.
The engine churned alive. "Now give us a good shove," Byron
ordered.

Once Peter was back on board, Byron applied power and the boat
lurched once, then smoothed, and they motored for the inlet, the
water ahead rolling in small swells, the day clear and crisp.

"Is it going to be windy enough?" Peter asked, shading his eyes
and squinting out at the ocean that lay a half-mile ahead.

"Here," Byron said. He tossed Peter a spare pair of sunglasses.
Peter put them on and looked again. He could see a few boats in
the distance whipping along at a respectable clip, their sails
puffed fully. 

"Sail much?" Byron said.

Peter shook his head. He gripped the rail behind him with both
hands, anchoring himself in a leaning position as he watched
Byron work the wheel.

The older man smiled and pulled his pipe from his shirt. Holding
the wheel steady with his elbows, he expertly applied his lighter
to the pipe's bowl. "You'll get used to it," he said, pointing
his pipe at Peter's rigid knees. "Just gotta go with the flow."

When they reached the ocean, Byron began yelling orders to Peter,
who followed them with colt-like shakiness. Within minutes the
mainsail and jib were swollen fully in the eastern wind.

Byron shut off the engine, and Peter observed the silence, the
power of the wind as it pushed the sleek vessel along quickly and
quietly, as if by magic.

"Here," Byron said, stepping back from the wheel. "Hold it where
my hands are."

Peter placed his hands over Byron's, ready. When Byron let go,
Peter's body gave a slight jerk. "Just keep her steady," Byron
said, returning his hands. He held them there until Peter
adjusted to the boat's pull.

Byron disappeared inside the cabin for a moment, then returned
with two cans of beer. He popped the lids and handed one to
Peter. "Top of the morning to ya," he said, tipping his can to
Peter.

The two men shared a couple of minutes of silence between them as
they sailed some distance. Peter was the first to speak up. "I've
got an idea," he said simply.

"Me too," Byron said. His gaze was focused behind Peter, at the
distant shoreline. He took a sip from his beer and gave Peter a
nod. "You first," he said.

"Okay. I was thinking about what you said the other night. You
know, about our differences, good ones."

Byron took a thoughtful suck of his pipe and nodded, then
expelled a plume of aromatic smoke.

"So I started thinking," Peter went on, his speech coming
quickly, "that with your experience in big system stuff, and with
what I know about little system stuff, what if we put our heads
together?"

Byron made a gesture with his pipe for Peter to go on.

"Okay. See, I've been thinking about portable computers, and PIAs
- you know, personal information managers. And as much as I think
they are helpful, like the Joey, they're not really as helpful as
the could be. They don't so much help you, not directly anyway,
as serve you, so to speak. I mean, they're really just smaller,
more tightly-integrated computers than real helpers."

"Mm hmm."

"So, what if there was a way to make a portable computer really
help you? To really assist you, by anticipating your next move.
By knowing you better and better the more you work with it?"

Byron took the small metal wind cap off the bowl of his pipe and
checked the tobacco. He leaned over the side of the rail and
tapped it carefully against his weathered palm, spilling the
black ashes into the ocean. Then he leaned against the cabin,
took a long swallow of his beer, and pushed his sunglasses higher
on his nose.

"What you're talking about is agents. Agent technology. Little
'intelligent' software buddies that run on your computer in the
background and pay attention to what you're doing, and what
you're not doing, and then act on their own, on your behalf, to
help you by anticipating your next move. Sound about right?"

"That's exactly right. We were just starting to play around with
the concept before I left. But my lead programmer was really into
them, and he had a bunch of friends at MIT who were studying them
in a big way."

"Right. And what I was thinking about fits in nice with what's
got you all juiced. See, all this poppyshit everyone's going on
about, the world wide web and the Internet, it's got me a little
ticked off. It's supposed to be the world's greatest 'new'
information source, yet getting connected is a bitch. And what
with those snappy little computers you make, well, a person
should be able to hook up to the net and web by just plugging in
the phone. It's too damn complicated the way it is now. It needs
to be simpler."

Peter jumped in excitedly. "You know, that's incredible, I was
thinking that that would be my next step at Wallaby, to make net
stuff easier for people. And now that you mention it, think about
the two. I mean, combining both the net stuff and the agent
stuff. I've seen demonstrations of net-savvy agents that go off
and find information and articles you are looking for, seeking
out news that you know you are interested in, and news that you
didn't know you were interested in, but based on your previous
interests, the agent finds related items for you. That's what I
call a real information assistant."

"Yep, that's a damn good idea," Byron agreed . "And that net
stuff, you know, is what this old geezer knows best. Hell, I was
cruising the net while you were doo-dooing in your diapers. That
was when the government was the biggest Internet user and text
and numbers ruled the world. Now I log-in and whew, it's like
walking into a virtual playhouse, all the stuff that's on there
these days. Just the other day I took Gracie for a 'tour' of
Prague, thanks to that city's new web page, created by this group
of expatriates who just up and moved there. It was all there:
snapshots, video clips, restaurant and hotel guides, travel
information, the whole works."

"Wow. Sounds like you've really kept up on all this stuff."

"You better believe it. What, you think a guy like me retires and
then just unplugs? No siree. And as for those snazzy little
agents you're all worked up over, I've got a recent report on
them back at my office in New York. In particular, the ones with
net smarts."

Peter smiled and gave an amused shake of his head. "You know, it
looks like you were right. I mean, that you and I have more in
common than I thought."

Byron shrugged and looked off into the distance for a few
moments, then looked Peter in the eye.

"Guess it's time I fess up," Byron said. "See, I'd been watching
you sit in that cafe for a couple of months. I knew who you were.
I saw the way you looked. I saw the way you didn't look, too, at
anything around you. It was in your face, that you wanted to be
left alone. I knew I couldn't introduce myself to you, not for a
while, anyway. So I waited. Until the other day, when that new
Joey Plus was introduced. Hell, I figured it was as good a time
as any to throw a line to a fellow sea dog. All along I've been
hoping since I saw you the first time that we'd get it on in the
brain, like we are now. You know?"

A beaming grin peeled across Peter's face. "Yes. I know. And so
what I was really wondering is, do you think maybe we could work
on some of this stuff together?"

Byron scratched his head. "Sounds like I've got a new hobby," he
said. He raised his can of beer. "Partners?"

Peter felt a little sting in his eyes. It was the briny ocean
mist, he told himself, blinking behind his sunglasses to rid his
eyes of the moisture that had abruptly formed there as he touched
his beer can to Byron's.

    "Partners."


Chapter 11 


Her tears had caused her mascara to run all over the pillow in
black streaks. Applied two nights ago, the night of their
anniversary, her makeup was all gone now from her puffy red eyes.
She turned the pillow over, revealing more smears, then reached
across the bed for one of Matthew's pillows, which she punched it
into shape and stuffed under her head.

After rushing home from Jean-Pierre's cottage Saturday night,
Matthew had noticed neither her absence nor her return. He had
been in his office the whole time, and was still working when she
went to bed, where she spent several restless hours alone.
Finally, unable to lie still, she had gotten up and sat gazing
out the window, across the pond, to the cottage. A few times she
had actually considered going back to him, but she told herself
that maybe Matthew would come to bed. Her imagination had
ultimately forced her back to the welcoming pillows, and in a few
moments Jean-Pierre had magically come to her, by way of her own
sleight of hand, stroking her, yes, like that, then sweetness,
and finally she was satisfied, and then sad, and then guilty. She
had cried herself to sleep. A few hours later she was awakened by
Matthew rustling with his jogging things and again, a little
later, by the shower. She had pretended to be asleep while he
dressed and packed for his trip to New York. She had heard the
gate bell, indicating the arrival of the limousine that would
take him to San Francisco International Airport. She waited, half
expecting at any moment to smell his clean scent wafting near, a
light kiss on her cheek. But there came no scent, no kiss. Just
more of the same indifference, more hurt.

She had slept until noon, then gone downstairs, in her robe, and
eaten the remainder of last night's dinner for lunch. She put her
dish in the sink and pulled a clean champagne glass down from the
shelf and snatched a bottle from the refrigerator. By two in the
afternoon she was drunk in bed, and crying. She could not bring
herself to call Jean-Pierre as she had promised, could not bring
herself to dial the number she had by now committed to memory.
She could only cry and doze, cry and doze, all through the
afternoon. Once more, when it was dark outside, she ventured
downstairs for something to eat. She found lasagna in the
freezer, which she reheated in the microwave. Afterwards she
washed down three Extra Strength Tylenol with champagne from the
second bottle she opened. Retreating once more to her bed, she
pulled the shades on her windows and climbed under the covers.

She had slept through most of Sunday night in drunken illness,
and except for using the toilet and descending to the kitchen,
had been in bed from Saturday night until now, early Monday
evening. She wondered if she should get out of bed, or just go
through the night again. Marie had knocked cautiously on her
bedroom door earlier in the day, asking her if she was feeling
ill. She had told her yes, and told her not to make dinner, that
she would find something in the freezer.

She felt exhausted from thinking and dreaming and worrying about
her predicament, which only seemed to tighten its hold on her
heart.

How could she face Jean-Pierre? She wanted him, yes, but she had
felt awful after Saturday night, struggling to understand her
motivation, her fantasy of having him. Was she only reacting
selfishly to Matthew's rejection? Perhaps. But that was what hurt
the most, facing the fact that she had lost Matthew.

And every time she thought about this, she thought about her own
very personal loss, and the irony of it all. It had been her
upper hand, she mused, with which she had originally attracted
Matthew, the young marketing manager on the rise among the ranks
of International Foods.

After their initial meeting at ICP's Orange Fresh advertising
photo shoot, Matthew had asked Greta to dinner, where he
excitedly told her there was talk of his promotion. Yet, during
dinner, his confidence seemed to weaken. When he told her about
some of his ideas, she expressed genuine interest and
fascination, to which he brightened. She could plainly see that
he was a rising star, yet his mood had vacillated wildly between
confidence and insecurity in the span of time between the first
course and the dessert. After their first dinner date, a pattern
then developed. As often as possible they would dine together,
and sometimes he would invite her to spend the night with him.
What she never seemed to notice was that he only asked her to
stay during periods in his career when he was lacking in
confidence about a particular campaign or promotion. It was
during their evenings together that he had first introduced her
to his unusual sexual tastes. Almost every time she would end up
masturbating them at the same time, him with her left hand, and
herself with her right. He always complained that he was too
tired for intercourse, but if she wanted, they could do it that
way, his way. He was a young, busy executive on the fast track,
who had spent all of his prime years working hard at his career.
Clearly he was going to be very successful, and if this was the
price she had to pay, she concluded, then for the time being it
was worth it. She wanted him.

A year later they married. She continued to pull him from the
emotional fluxes that arose whenever he started to lose his
nerve, especially when he was deciding whether or not to go to
Wallaby, and then later, when he faced his first confrontation
with Peter Jones. In the few of months that had followed Peter's
ouster, Matthew had come to her less and less with his dilemmas,
suddenly, miraculously confident in all aspects of his work.

As much as she wanted to deny it, she had finally, in the last
twenty-four hours, forced herself to admit that the essential
separation had happened the day of her accident onboard the yacht
when they were celebrating the success of Orange Fresh.

And after last week's introduction of the new Joey thing, she had
sensed the last of her power of persuasion slipping from her
grasp. This past Friday night was the worst. He had gotten home
later than usual, and when she had asked him how his day had
gone, hoping for a hint of something special for their
anniversary the following day, he had told her all about his
meeting with his executive staff, that they had granted their
support to work closely with ICP. This was just the beginning, he
told her excitedly. How many times had she heard that? When the
truth was that their marriage had ended long ago, when, drunk on
the very potion that had earned him esteem, she had gone
overboard, landing in the lagoon with a bloody splash. Yes, that
was when she had lost him, lost them.

And that, she knew, was the real reason why she could not bring
herself to call Jean-Pierre. Now, for probably the twentieth
time, she picked up the telephone and merely stared morosely at
the green digits glowing enticingly before her. She had memorized
the phone number, not by digits, but by the pattern of tones that
she played over and over with her index finger. Each time she
pressed every digit in his phone number except the last, the
six-note Touch Tone song deepening her dilemma because it
reminded her of one of International Foods' stupid little
commercial jingles for soda pop or corn chips. And, of course,
the real reason was that when she dialed, she had to look at her
hands, which, since the accident, had never been seen or held by
another person unless they were gloved, and even then she would
only offered the right one. She too had learned how to avoid
seeing the left one. By diverting her eyes she only ever caught a
flesh-colored flash, nothing more.

She tossed her head into the pillows. Maybe he would understand.
Maybe it was not as grotesque as she imagined. Should she simply
go to him, as she had the other night, and try to explain her
problem to him?

No. She could not, not now. She was too drunk and tired, and had
not showered in two days. But she could be with her fantasy of
him, she thought with painful longing.

She turned off the bedside lamp and reached inside her robe,
touched her breast. If she was going to consider herself
grotesque, she thought drunkenly, she might was well begin to
associate the act with the cause. That way, perhaps she would
eventually banish him from her mind out of sheer disgust. As if
to punctuate this point, she removed the gloves upon her retreat
to bed on Saturday night, and for the first time she could
remember, she had skipped her nightly ritual of creaming her
hands with moisturizing lotion. Already, she told herself, she
could feel them drying out. She switched hands and used the left.

Before she got any further, she froze.

A sound, outside.

She strained to listen...heard the wind through the trees, but
nothing else.

Just when she was ready to discount the noise as her mind playing
tricks on her, she heard it again. Closer this time, as though
just outside on the ground level, below the terrace.

Except for the faint light from the downstairs foyer lamp that
bled up through the open bedroom doorway, she was in nearly
complete darkness. The lamp, she thought, turn on the lamp.
Shakily, she stretched to her night table, and, unmindful of the
champagne bottles, her hand blindly knocked one to the floor. It
landed with a solid thud.

Silence.

She hunkered down onto her hands and knees beside the bed to
retrieve the bottle. It was the empty one, and it gave her an
idea. She hefted it in her hand, considered its weight. Could she
use it to protect herself?

She heard the sound again, louder. Closer. A scratching noise,
along on the side of the wall where the ivy clung to the trellis
and covered the huge stone pillars supporting the terrace.

It was probably nothing, she tried to assure herself. A cat. Or
just the wind, she ventured. But then why if it was only a cat,
she asked herself, was she holding her breath and the neck of a
champagne bottle so tightly in her fist? She crouched beside the
bed and stared hard at the drawn cotton curtain hanging before
the French doors. Silver blue moonlight shone through the sheer
fabric, picking up the shadows from nearby trees that swayed to
and fro in the easy breeze.

What to do, what to do, she wondered with growing panic. Run
downstairs and get a knife from the kitchen? Call the police? Why
didn't they have a gun?

Deciding on the second option, she reached for the phone. The
number. What was the phone number? Drunk and scared, she
struggled to remember the something-something-one number in her
head, but no rhyme came. Instead, Jean-Pierre's phone jingle
bleep-bleeped over and over in her mind.

The scraping sound again, much closer. As close as the edge of
the concrete terrace wall.

The dial tone questioned loudly. She pressed the zero button and
waited a moment before realizing her error. She remembered the
number: 411. She smashed her thumb down on the disconnect button
and redialed.

A large form settled heavily on the platform just beyond the
door, a human form silhouetted against the curtain.

A voice from the handset: "What city please?"

Greta gasped and swallowed a dry lump in her throat as she
realized her second error. Dear God, she had dialed wrong again.
No, she had remembered wrong. Not 411!

 "What city please?" the voice repeated.

Nine! 911! Yes! That was it, ask her to connect you - 

But before she could speak the line click-clicked, disconnected.

"Wait!" she hissed, straining to be both heard and quiet at once.

Dial tone.

A soft knock on the French doors.

She punched the correct sequence into the phone.

The knock again, more loudly now.

She looked outside. The silhouette crouched.

"Woodside Police emergency services. Can I help you?"

"Greta?" His raspy French accent from the terrace.

"Oh," she murmured into the phone, snapping her eyes shut for a
moment.

"Hello? Can I help you?" the phone voice repeated.

She placed the phone back on its cradle and breathed a fatigued
sigh. She would have to make no decision now. He had decided for
her. And it was the right decision. Clutching her robe tightly
around her, she got to her feet and went to the closed door. All
at once she halted, remembering that she had not showered or even
brushed her hair. But her greatest negligence during her
temporary invalidation was that she had even let her hands go
unconditioned. And ungloved. She leaned closer to the drawn
curtains.

"Jean-Pierre?"

"Greta. Yes." The shadow of his head leaned closer, just inches
away. "Open the door."

"Jean-Pierre. I can't. I look just awful," she said. "You can't
see me like this. I've been so upset. In bed for two days."

"Greta," he crooned softly. "You did not call me yesterday. Nor
today. I have been waiting, but could wait no longer. I thought
Matthew may have come home early, so I sat nearby and watched for
a while. I know he is not here. Let me in, Greta."

The thought of Jean-Pierre sitting in his bedroom, or just
outside the gate, watching for signs of Matthew being home made
her feel suddenly roguish and sexy. Desired.

"Jean-Pierre, it's been so awful staying here. I wanted to come
see you, but I could not bring myself to do it."

"I am here. I brought you something. Now let me in," he
commanded, his voice much louder.

"Yes," she said and unlatched the door.

He stepped inside the room and gripped her shoulders. Night air
and animal and maleness flooded her senses. She gasped all of it
in, then her breath was cut off by his lips. He kissed her, hard,
and snapped his head away. "Matthew. When?"

"He won't be back until tomorrow."

"Good."

"Yes." She looked past his shoulder, outside the doors, and began
to cry softly.

He frowned and pulled her down beside him on the bed. "Greta,
what is it?" He wiped her cheeks with his thumbs.

"I've been so upset and confused by everything. This is so hard
for me." She closed her eyes and dropped her forehead against his
shoulder. Her mind flashed with images of the first time he had
kissed her, in the horse stall.

"You mustn't cry." He kissed her again. His hands touched just
inside her soft robe. Lightly, down to her belly. Gooseflesh
prickled her forearms, spread to her stomach, her loins. Her
nipples felt pinched and hard, needed pinching.

"Wait," she said, squeezing his strong forearms. "I've been in
bed for two days. I really must take a shower."

"Mmm," he hummed. "Never mind that." In one quick motion he slid
the robe from her shoulders and undid the belt, parting the
garment at her waist. Pushing her down, he crouched over her,
facing her, supporting his weight on either side with his knees.
His jeans-clad thighs rubbed lightly against her own. She had
imagined and wanted this moment for so long. However she could
not be with him here like this until she had a quick shower.

"Please," she said, squirming from beneath him. "I'll just be a
few minutes," she said, and darted from his lunging grasp to the
bathroom.

There, she looked at herself in the mirror. With horror, she
remembered that her hands were ungloved. She let her eyes go
first to her right hand, then the left. She forced her vision to
stay there until she could breathe again. Yes, she would have to
tell him. And show him.

A few minutes later she emerged from the bathroom wearing a towel
around her midsection. Jean-Pierre was lying on the bed propped
on one elbow, naked. Timidly, she proceeded to the bedside. He
raised himself to his knees and placed his hands on her hips.
Before she could take in the shape and size of his nakedness, he
had her on the bed in one quick movement, the towel discarded
with a flick of his wrist.

He breathed a lusty sigh and lowered his lips to hers. She felt
his hard, blazing length along her entire body. She wanted to
look at him next to her like this, but before she could take in
their togetherness, he kissed her again, gently this time,
teasingly. She expected that in any second he would enter her,
have her.

But instead he gently clasped her hands in his own. "Your hands,
Greta, this is the first time I have felt them."

"Feel them. Both of them. Go on."

It took him a moment to register. "Oh, Greta. Is this why you
have been afraid?"

She began to cry again. "It's so horrible. I was once a hand
model, and then that happened. And everything ended."

He said nothing. He kissed her, told her softly to cry and let it
out. "What happened, Greta? You must tell me. There is nothing
bad about it to me."

When she stopped crying she wiped her eyes and sat up, allowing
his hands to remain on hers through the entire story, which she
recounted in a quiet monotone.

"We were on a yacht anchored in a windy lagoon, celebrating a new
soda of Matthew's that was a huge success. I'd had a lot to
drink. At one point I was standing off to the side all by myself.
I was poking my ring finger in the little hole of an empty can,
thinking about how Matthew and I were going to start a family.
Apparently we were getting ready to sail some more. It was dark.
I remember they were taking Matthew's picture just a few feet
away. The flashes popped and at the same time a strong wind
rocked the boat. I lost my balance and reached out to grab the
rail but I was blinded by flashes and couldn't see. My finger was
still in the can and I had no time to shake it off before
grabbing on to stop myself from falling. I felt rope and metal
and pain all at once. I had grabbed between the support line and
the rail, and the can was caught between that and my hand. I
think that was when I started to scream. I was leaning forward
trying to free my hand when the boat lurched. I fell overboard.
My finger didn't come with me. Matthew was standing at the rail
of the boat, screaming hysterically. Someone jumped in. It was
dark, but I saw the blood then, and when I reached for the life
preserver I saw what had happened. The little white nub of bone.
The rest of it gone. I passed out and woke up in the hospital.
They said that the can with my finger and my wedding band had
fallen overboard with me. They never found it. It's still out
there in the ocean, lost, Matthew and I with it."

They were silent for a very long time. She did not cry anymore,
she only lay there with her head turned on the pillow, eyes
closed, waiting for him to let go of her hand. But he did not let
go. Instead he kissed her right hand, then the left one, each
knuckle. She was frozen in place as he did this, as he kissed
between her pinkie and the middle finger, at the space where her
ring finger once was. She gasped when she felt his tongue there.

Holding the hand, he leisurely traced along her breasts with her
own fingertips. He trailed their course with his lips and tongue,
taking tiny nips at one breast, then the other. He squatted over
her, his knees on either side. His ponytail fell forward into her
face and she let some of the gathered hair enter her mouth as he
sucked her breasts with growing urgency. Her hips responded. She
lifted herself against him, pressed his head harder into her
chest. He held both of her breasts, licked beneath them. She felt
a chilling tingle along the back of her neck each time the fine
hairs of his buttocks brushed against her thighs. Gripping him
beneath his armpits, she squeezed his strong chest between her
hands and pulled him fully down onto her with all of her might.

"Slowly," he whispered, resisting her insistence. "There is no
hurry."

"Yes," she moaned, nearly in tears. "Yes, hurry, I want you so
bad." Never before had she been kept on edge like this, all of
her energy wriggling beneath him, wanting him. It had always been
Matthew wanting her when he needed, and she had always been there
to service him. But this was not like that.

And then she felt a new emotion that was both exciting and
frightening. "I need you," she mouthed without a sound into the
pillow. Her inhibitions lifted and, as if beyond her control, she
felt her entire self slacken, acceptance at last releasing her
anxiety.

Sensing her sacrifice, he pressed his whole hard body against
her, claiming her entirely from head to toe. His hot sex lay
rigid between them, ready to consummate their bond.

With a lustful moan of anticipation he lay on his side and took
her hand again. He kissed her wrists, her lips, her throat,
traced her fingers along his ample sex, beneath his scrotum,
which lay swollen over her hotness. She attempted to wrap her
hand around it entirely, attempted to gently cup and fondle his
testicles, but his control was beyond her own, and so she let him
lead her maddeningly, pleasurably, on an erotic discovery of
their bodies.

With his penis in both their hands, he played its tip along her
folds, as far up to her navel, back again, and down and around
the edge of her anus. In an instant he was inside her with his
fingers. Then he removed his and encouraged hers in. At first she
pulled away, her entire arm taut in his grip. He eased her
resistance with a kiss that was both tender and probing, secure.
"Shhh," he whispered, gently pressing her fingers inside her. She
yielded, pressed a breast to his mouth as they alternated their
exploration of her innermost region. Gently he withdrew his hand
entirely, and watched her as she continued by herself, tuning in
to her own rhythm.

"Yes," he said encouragingly, caressing between her buttocks with
his hand. He changed position so that he could work his tongue
between her fingers. She quickened her rhythm, squeezing his
tongue with each press and flick. He followed her fingers inside
with his tongue and she cried out his name when she felt it slide
in the gap created by her missing finger. Her free hand flew to
his hair and with a moan she freed his ponytail, wanting all of
him inside her. His hands rolled and pinched her nipples in time
with each lunge of his tongue, propelling her on mercilessly. She
moaned deeply, and he pulled back when she drew close.

She pulled his head up by the hair and crushed his lips with a
kiss. She opened her legs and slid them up, pressing her knees
into his flanks. Then she led him in, pulling her hand from
between them. He alternately kissed her and her hand, the stubby
knuckle. With each of his thrusts he kissed her, and it felt
marvelously good and wicked at the same time, feeling him inside
her and holding her hand and kissing her. With each lunge he
squeezed more tightly, as they inched closer, until his
unflagging rhythm suddenly altered to forceful, jutting bursts.
With each hot gush inside her, she cried out his name, her hand
twitching spasmodically in his as she was overcome by wave after
wave of irrepressible pleasure.

After their breathing returned to almost normal he took her in
his arms, their steaming bodies sticking together as they lay
entangled, too exhausted to move. Her head was spinning from the
champagne and from their intoxicating lovemaking.

Never before had she felt like this, she thought, feeling him
still inside her, softening. Matthew had always been the one to
want, and she had always given to him, but now she understood all
at once her desire to be given to.

Their hands remained clasped together as she drifted away from
her thoughts, the tingling inside her turning to numbness as she
cooled, cooled, then felt chilled, as though she were shaking.

Being shaken.

"Greta!" Jean-Pierre whispered.

"Mmm?" she moaned, disoriented.

"Matthew!"

Not Matthew, she thought half-consciously. No, not Matthew. Not
for a while. Only Jean-Pierre now.

"Matthew!" Jean-Pierre hissed again, leaping from the bed.

She sat up, wide-eyed. It was dark in the room. She turned on the
beside lamp. Jean-Pierre was hastily gathering his strewn
clothes. No, he didn't understand. They were safe. Touching her
hand to her head for an instant, she relaxed a little, felt a
little laugh begin in her chest at the comedy of his panic. He
must have heard Marie, because Matthew wouldn't be home from his
New York trip until tomorrow afternoon.

But then she heard his voice, "Greta?," faintly, coming from
downstairs.

Judging by the echo she guessed that he was in the kitchen - and
only one minute away from making his way through the foyer, up
the stairs, and into their bedroom. "My God!" she gasped,
struggling with her robe. "Hurry! Leave!"

Jean-Pierre had managed to pull on his pants, shirt, jacket.
Snatching up his shoes and socks and wristwatch, he stepped
outside, onto the terrace. She gathered her robe and tied it
closed as she rushed from the room.

"Matthew?" she called from the top of the stairs. "I'm up here,"
she said, composing herself as she descended quickly.

"There you are," Matthew said, his garment bag and briefcase in
tow. He set down the briefcase at the bottom of the stairs and
flipped through a few pieces of mail. Yes, she thought
thankfully, take your time and read your mail, all of it. "I came
back tonight instead. My meeting was shorter than I'd expected."
He glanced at her.

As if sensing her scrutiny, he stopped going through the mail. He
dropped it next to his briefcase and began climbing the steps.
"Why is it so dark in the house? Are you in bed already?"

She stopped and raised her wrist to her head, fumbling with her
words. "I'm not feeling very well," she said. She pulled a
tattered tissue from her pocket, dabbed it beneath her dry nose,
coughed. "Darling," she said, blocking his way, "could you please
get me a glass of water?"

He stopped, eyed her with subdued curiosity. Then he let out an
impatient sign and turned and started back down the steps. Just
another minute, she thought, and Jean-Pierre would be safely
gone.

But then Matthew stopped, turned around, and climbed toward her
again. "There are cups in the bathroom," he recalled aloud as he
passed her. She clutched the hem of her robe and lifted it and
chased after him in hopes of getting to the bedroom before he
did.

She didn't.

He flipped on the light switch, which lit up several lamps in the
room all at once, and tripled its brightness. Now everything was
fully illuminated, exposed.

She tried to see what Matthew was seeing: The bed was a shambles.
Sheets, pillows, and the comforter strewn across the mattress and
onto the floor. The two empty champagne bottles. One on its side.
The bath towel beside the bed. The unlocked terrace door.

He strode past the bed to his walk-in closet and hung up his
garment bag, acting as though he did not notice the mess. Pulling
his tie from his collar, he caught her earnest reflection in the
full-length closet mirror. He turned around to take a closer look
at her disheveled appearance, and for a moment his eyes fixed on
the empty champagne bottle resting atop the night table. He
graced her with a brief, condescending glance, then went back to
undressing.

A chilly gust of wind blew open the terrace doors and lifted the
curtains. He clucked his tongue as he crossed the room to close
the doors.

"Oh" Greta said sharply, coming up quickly behind him. "I was so
hot. I think I have a fever."

Ignoring her, he pulled the doors shut.

She angled her head to see outside. Jean-Pierre seemed to have
gotten away safely.

Matthew twisted the lock and grabbed the curtains and started to
slide them together. Suddenly he stopped and crouched a little.
"What's that?" he said, squinting outside.

"What's what, darling?" Greta said, hearing her own voice crack
as she rushed to his side.

Matthew stepped out onto the terrace.

"This." He bent over and picked something up. "It caught my eye
in the light," he said. From his fingers he dangled a fine gold
chain, with a sparkling gold object dangling from it. A charm of
some sort.

She scrutinized the object for an instant, then broke into a wide
smile. "Oh, there it is," she said, taking the chain in her hand
and holding it up with a glad smile on her face. "I've been
looking for this for days."

"Hmm. I've never seen that one before," Matthew said
indifferently before disappearing into the bathroom.

And neither had she. Her heart was galloping in her chest. She
sat on the bed and took a quick peek at the charm necklace in her
palm. Then all at once she remembered Jean-Pierre saying, when
he'd arrived, that he had brought her something.

The bathroom light went out, and she carefully tucked the object
into her robe pocket. Assembling the bedclothes as best she
could, she pulled the comforter over her legs, then shut off her
night lamp.

Dressed in his pajamas, Matthew stood at the foot of the bed.
"Since you're not feeling well," he said, glancing at the
mascara-streaked pillows, "I'll sleep in the guest room." He shut
off the remaining lamps as he left the room. When she heard his
door close down the hall, she switched her night lamp on again
and pulled the necklace from her pocket. She inspected it more
closely under the light.

It was a tiny horseshoe charm. She squeezed the charm tightly
between her palms, feeling him again. Then she clasped the
necklace around her neck and turned off the lamp. She pulled the
comforter over her body. "Good night, Jean-Pierre," she
whispered. She kissed the charm, then squeezed it tightly in her
left fist and held it against her breast.

As her thoughts swirled into pleasant dreams, her grip relaxed,
then gently unrolled, and the symbol of Jean-Pierre's love
slipped through her fingers, and she slept like never before.


* * *


After William finished reading through the binder Matthew had
given him earlier in the day, he got up from his reading chair
and stretched.

The strategy was perfect. Matthew had put together a plan that,
after they announced the Joey II computer in about a year, would
demonstrate that Wallaby had grown up and was venturing into the
big-business world by working a strategic deal with ICP. Soon
after that, before the stock had too much time to climb, Wallaby
would be acquired by ICP and become a subsidiary of the huge
computer giant.

William thought for a moment about Matthew and his manner. He
seemed high-strung and edgy when they had met earlier in the day.
When he had asked about Peter Jones, Matthew had turned
defensive. Though William had every intention of following
through with his plans to acquire Wallaby, he wondered if maybe
his inquiry had caused Matthew to fear that he was losing
confidence in him, and in Wallaby.

William was in fact more than mildly curious about what Jones had
been up to over the past few months. Even though he was still on
the payroll at Wallaby and officially an employee, after what
Matthew had told him, William felt certain that there was little
hope of Jones ever going back to Wallaby.

An unhappy thought, for, after all, it was Jones who had invented
the Joey, and the older Mate, which was the reason he had even
started formulating the secret acquisition plan a few years ago
in the first place.

He wondered: Could Jones be a threat to ICP and Wallaby if he
decided to resign and go it alone, perhaps competing head-on with
his "old" company with a newer product, something more compelling
than the Joey?

William knew that Jones had substantial financial reserves, and
combined with the venture capital he could gather by simply
picking up the telephone, he would easily gain the resources
necessary to do something big. But in an industry dominated by
only a few major players, even Silicon Valley's wunderkind would
face obstacles at this stage of the game. And of course, William
reminded himself, suddenly taking down his fear a few notches,
the largest obstacle Jones would confront was Jones himself.
Wasn't that why he had originally hired Matthew Locke? He was not
an organization man, incapable of managing a large company. And
that would hurt him. Thank goodness for small wonders.

With some amusement at the irony of this last thought, William
placed the binder beside his Joey, with which tomorrow morning he
would compose an e-mail message to Matthew, congratulating him on
his work. He was too tired now, and his elation had turned to
exhaustion. He needed a good night's sleep. He glanced at
Martha's picture for a moment, then shut off his desk lamp.

The ring of the telephone startled him. He reached across his
desk to answer it before the second ring, noticing the time on
his wall clock. Quarter past midnight.

"Hello?"

"Billy, did I wake you?" a croaky voice asked.

"Who's calling, please?"

"I knew it! Working late as usual. How's the ol' boss?"

"Byron! I'm fine. How are you and Grace?" 

"A-okay. We're staying for an extra while here in Maine.
Sailing's been good. Few more weeks left."

"Great to hear."

"I'm calling for a favor," Byron said.

"Shoot."

"I need some of my old stuff from my office there in New York."

As the most prominent inventor in ICP's history, Byron was
granted lifelong privileges that included an office that was
cleaned every day and kept in a ready state, should he ever
decide to drop by and sit in, for whatever reason.

"Sure. What kind of stuff?" William said and smiled to himself.
His honorable former partner was experiencing post-retirement
pangs. He probably wanted to browse through his old journals,
notes, take a trip down memory lane, as it were.

"On my shelf, right behind my desk, there's a binder called
'Advanced Network Agent Design.'"

William snapped on the desk lamp and wrote himself a note.

"I'll have Barbara send it to you. Anything else?"

"No. I mean, no, I don't want you to send it to me. I want you to
send it to this address," Byron said.

William heard some papers shuffling.

"Here it is: 42 Inlet Drive, Camden, Maine, 04288."

"You got it, Byron. I'll have Barbara fetch it tomorrow and
express it to you so you get it by Wednesday. Oh, wait a second,
who's the addressee?"

"Peter Jones."

William's eyes shot to Martha's photo. He blinked rapidly and his
lips parted. But no words would come out. He shut his mouth, took
a deep swallow. Heard himself repeat the addressee's name, then
for a few beats he heard his own blood pounding in his ears.

"Yep, new buddy of mine. You know who he is, right?"

William took a few seconds to answer. "Of course," he said,
staring at his Joey. Then, struggling to sound as matter-of-fact
as possible: "Why are you sending him this?"

"We're kicking around an idea we've come up with," said Byron,
all snappy and playful.

"I see," William managed. "Byron, are the two of you thinking of
starting up something new?"

"Hell, I don't know. It may be nothing. But it may be something,
too. Listen, I don't want to talk your ear off. It's late, and
you've got a real job to go to in the morning."

"It's okay. I was just reading."

"Well, if you've got a few minutes."

    "I do. Really. The time doesn't matter," William said, and
shakily seated himself in his chair. He reached over to the
bookshelf and lifted Martha's photo. He placed it in his lap.

"Please, go on," he said, and for the next forty-five minutes, he
listened.



PART III


Chapter 12 


Four months had passed since William Harrell and Matthew Locke
had traded secrets in New York...and since Matthew and Laurence
Maupin had met on her bed.

They were together again now, backstage at Lincoln Center in New
York City, preparing for the announcement of ICP and Wallaby's
strategic alliance before an audience of executives from both
companies, and industry partners, customers, and the press.

"Matthew, you seem a little nervous, and that will show to the
audience," Laurence said, standing before Matthew, who sat
backstage in a dressing room. A makeup attendant patted his
forehead and cheeks with flesh-tone powder.

"I'm just excited," he said.

"Smile. Make sure you smile," Laurence urged, trailing Matthew as
they moved along the rear hallway to the stage area. They stopped
behind the curtain's edge, and Matthew checked his watch.

"Hello, Matthew," William Harrell said warmly, joining them.
Though they were dressed similarly, William appeared very cool,
very calm, very much in control, the very opposite of how Matthew
was feeling.

A man appeared wearing a microphone and earpiece headset. He
nodded to Laurence then faced Matthew. "Mr. Locke, you're on in
one minute, as soon as the music stops."

"Good luck," William said, shaking Matthew's hand. He stepped
aside, opening a clear path to the stage.

The auditorium grew silent as the overhead lights dimmed and the
piped-in classical music dissolved. An announcer's voice greeted
the audience and a large screen unrolled, on which a slide
projector beamed the Wallaby logo.

"Good luck," Laurence whispered, squeezing his hands. A spotlight
focused on the podium gaped wide and bright.

The announcer boomed: "Please welcome the Chairman, President,
and Chief Executive Officer of Wallaby, Incorporated, Matthew
Locke."

Applause sounded when Matthew appeared. He traversed the distance
to the podium with clear composure and stood before the audience
a few moments, allowing them to take in his dark gray suit, his
confident air. He graced the audience with a sweeping smile, then
focused his attention at the center of the auditorium, just above
the heads of his audience, as his mistress and tutor had taught
him.

"Thank you, and good morning. Today will mark a very important
day in Wallaby's history. As you know, Wallaby is a company that
has always been focused on empowering individuals with portable
computer technology. Many of you today, stowing your own Joey or
Joey Plus in your briefcases and folios, have first hand
experience with Wallaby's products, and today we'd like to take
that experience to the next level."

In sync with his speech, the slides Matthew had shown the
executive staff just four months ago, when he first proposed the
strategic alliance with ICP, flashed behind him on the high
screen.

"What we are about to show you will enable Wallaby to continue to
deliver on its original vision of powerful portable computing,
but with more flexibility than ever. That means customers who
were previously locked out of the Joey platform because of its
incompatibility with other systems can finally hop on the
bandwagon and benefit from the Joey's advanced technology, and
continue to access files and documents created on those other
systems, simply and easily."

At this the crowd stirred. It was exactly the kind of reaction
Matthew had hoped for. Barely able to contain his smile, he
pressed on.

"Today, Wallaby announces a new and friendly personality in
compatible computing." The spotlight on Matthew faded to a dim
glow, and a second circle of light appeared, center stage.

"But rather than standing here and telling you about our exciting
news, why don't I let the new Joey II show you."

The excited audience silenced. On drum roll cue a shrouded,
remote-controlled box about the size of a shopping cart glided
from stage right to center stage, into the spotlight. The drum
roll intensified.

The entire auditorium went black for a few seconds, then cymbals
crashed loudly. The shroud was gone, and there, bathed in intense
light, was a dark gray prototype Joey II computer.

Matthew himself joined in the thunderous applause. He felt as
though an intense wave of heat had just washed over him. For the
first time in Wallaby's history, someone other than Peter Jones
was revealing a new product before a cheering audience.

Seconds later the computer's screen, controlled by an automated
script, came to life, and its image was projected, via video
output, to the overhead screen for all the audience to watch.

The screen cleared and then the Joey II went into a six-minute
animated presentation demonstrating the system's new features,
including a new slot for plugging in a local area network card, a
larger hard disk, faster fax sending and receiving, and built-in
file translation software for reading documents and other files
directly from ICP's formerly incompatible BP desktop and portable
computers.

When it was over, cymbals crashed and the audience applauded
wildly, thrilling Matthew to the bone. He stole a quick glance to
his left, offstage and behind the curtains. Laurence signaled
with a thumbs-up gesture.

He turned back to the audience and waited for the applause to
finish.

"Today you just saw a prototype of the new Joey II computer, the
first engineering collaboration between International Computer
Products and Wallaby.

"When the Joey II is available in six months, Wallaby and ICP
will begin a co-selling relationship. For the first time in
history, two former rivals, Wallaby salespeople and ICP
salespeople will share and support the same customers.

"This is a non-financial arrangement, and represents a first-ever
strategic alliance between our companies, enabling Wallaby to
continue to develop exciting and powerful portable computers, now
with built-in ICP compatibility that makes the Joey II the
perfect companion to ICP's line of BP desktop computers."

The presentation continued, and Matthew detailed the specific
markets and technologies that each of the companies had agreed to
develop together. Afterward, as Matthew and Laurence were
collecting their notes and briefcases, William strolled into the
press room.

"Well done, Matthew," William said, smiling politely to Laurence.

"Thank you."

"May I have a word with you?" William said. "It will only take a
minute."

"Sure," Matthew said, shutting his briefcase. "I'll be right
back, Lauri," he said, and followed William from the room.

"In here," William said, pushing into an empty dressing room. The
light from the hallway fanned into the room and aided their
search for the wall switch.

Finding none, Matthew switched on one of the makeup tables
mirrors. Twenty light bulbs lit up around the mirror's rim, and
he turned around the chair facing it and seated himself. William
pulled up a small stool and sat down.

"It all went very well, Matthew," William said. "I just wanted a
moment alone with you to tell you how happy I am, especially
after the shakiness we've experienced over the past few months."

"Thank you. And I understand. We've both had our own concerns,
you on one side, me on the other."

"Yes," William agreed. "I sometimes didn't believe we would make
it to this day, but we did, and now we're ready to move into the
final phase." The final phase: ICP acquires Wallaby, and Matthew
comes under William's command. "And they bought your response
with nary a doubt," William said. "That was good. Because they're
going to have a big surprise in a couple of months."

He was referring to the reporter's question that had been
directed to Matthew minutes ago: "With this 'strategic
alliance,'" the reporter had said, affecting a difficulty with
the definition of the agreement, "aren't you afraid, Mr. Locke,
of a possible ICP takeover of Wallaby in the future? Or is this
perhaps something you may want?"

Despite the dead-on accuracy of the reporter's speculation,
Matthew had not wavered in his response, explaining, with a
discernible hint of Peter Jones's once-infamous arrogance, that
today's strategic alliance announcement was as close as Wallaby
intended to get to ICP. To further squash the theory, he threw in
a nugget about takeovers, and how FTC regulations would prevent
ICP from subsuming Wallaby as long as Wallaby continued to build
portable computers.

However the reason his response had sounded so believable to
everyone, and to himself especially, because it was the truth.

Was.

Right then, as he had answered the reporter's question, a new
plan, a revised plan, had crystallized in Matthew's mind: There
would be no eventual merger between ICP and Wallaby.

"It's back to the office for me," William said, checking his
watch.

Matthew said good-bye and turned to face himself in the mirror.
He felt different, felt he looked different. Younger. More alive
than ever. He pinched back a smile as he whispered the words he
would say if it were Peter rather than himself looking him in the
eye right now: "I told you so." He said it again, and this time
broke into a huge self-satisfied grin, his laughing eyes piercing
back from the mirror into his own.

"Matthew?" Laurence stepped into the room. "Who are you talking
to? Is everything okay?"

This somehow stuck him as funny and he let out a burst of
laughter. "Fine. Great. Super," he said. He whisked his fingers
through his hair and inhaled a deep breath.

Ironically, he at once understood that Wallaby -  no, that he -
now had ICP in a precarious position. William himself had told
Matthew that he had not approved any new portable computer
designs, banking everything on today's announcement, so that
ultimately he could acquire Wallaby with its now-compatible
technology. The way Matthew saw it, Wallaby - delightfully modest
and manageable, both in size and volume compared to ICP - now
held at least a two-year technology advantage over the world's
biggest computer company. And the thought of having them by the
tail delighted Matthew beyond any dream he ever had of merging
the companies as one.

"Good," Laurence said. "Come on, let's go play in the city." She
shook her rental car keys at him. "I've got the keys."

"Wrong," Matthew said, and with a playful look in his eye
produced his hotel room key and twirled it on his finger. "It
looks like I'm holding the only key we'll need."


Chapter 13 


It was on days like this, bright and sunny with a slight morning
chill, that she felt happier than ever. With Matthew in New York
on business, Greta had given the housekeeper the past three days
off, letting her know that she could handle her own meals. But
that was hardly the reason why it was better for Marie to be out
of the house.

She gripped the handlebars firmly, admiring her own hands without
ill feelings. The gears of her exercise cycle spun quietly, crisp
air breezing in through the open balcony doors. Her breathing was
heavy but controlled, just as he had taught her.

She heard the shower stop and checked the cycle's timer. Another
quarter mile before she was through. That would work out almost
perfectly, giving her a few minutes to cool down before he was
all finished in the bathroom.

The cool winter air whispered across her face, and with each
misty exhale puffing from her nostrils she imagined the sensual
air of France, of Europe, so much there for them to see and do
together, an afternoon ride in dewy green hills, pedaling along
right behind him with his strong back in view, the bobbing of the
red and white checkered tablecloth peeking out from the picnic
basket strapped to his bicycle...

"Darling, are you going to pedal all the way to Alaska?"
Jean-Pierre said, glancing at the accumulated mileage on the
cycle's odometer.

Greta laughed heartily. "I stopped looking and...I guess...I
just...kept...going."

"To the hospital is where I'll be going," Jean-Pierre said.
Hitching his towel around his waist, he went to the balcony doors
and closed them. "With pneumonia!"

"Oh, darling, I'm sorry," she said, lifting her feet from the
pedals. She dropped her head into her crossed arms over the
handlebars and regulated her breathing as she cooled down. The
machine's flywheel slowed to a stop and she shook herself
briskly. "I feel so good!" she shouted.

For the past four months, since the beginning of their affair,
she had exercised every day. Though Jean-Pierre had been the one
to suggest the calisthenics, she had become obsessed with her
daily workout and needed no encouragement to get on her cycle and
go every morning. With each strained breath she pictured herself
becoming more slender, more youthful, more attractive and
beautiful and sexy for him.

Clad in undershorts, Jean-Pierre stood combing his long hair
before Matthew's bureau mirror. He swung his head back, collected
his mane with both hands behind his head, and worked an elastic
band over the ponytail.

Greta tugged off her headband and playfully pulled it over his
head. "Now you look like an Indian."

He smiled and tugged the band off. As he reached for his shirt
hanging on the bedpost, she grabbed his wrist and roughly pulled
him beside her on the bed. She flattened his hand against her
chest, his middle finger settled over the horseshoe charm he had
given her. "Are you an Indian giver?" she said suggestively,
moving his hand from the charm to her breast.

He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. When her grip
loosened he stepped back and stood before her with his hands on
her hips. "Greta," he warned her, "I must get ready. I have a
nine o'clock lesson, and already I am going to be late."

She stretched, "Okay, okay, no pow-wow for now."

"Besides, darling," he said to her reflection in the mirror, "you
too have a busy day ahead of you."

"Yes, yes, I know," she said with an unpleasant expression. "I'll
call as soon as I get out of the shower."

He sat beside her, boots in hand. "Maybe you should call now," he
said, "so I can be here with you."

"After the shower. I promise." She stood and unzipped her
athletic top.

He tugged on his second boot. "It is just that they can be so
pushy and overwhelming."

"He is a friend of ours, Jean-Pierre. Well, of Matthew's anyway.
But I trust he'll be straight with me," she said, sounding not
totally certain.

"I am just trying to help," Jean-Pierre said, tucking in his
shirt.

She slid her little horseshoe charm back and forth on its chain.
Should she call now? Perhaps with Jean-Pierre here it would be
easier. And if she really was going to go through with this, she
might as well do it with him here. He was, after all, the reason
why she had made up her mind in the first place.

"Wait," she said, as he was zipping his suede jacket. "Pass me my
little address book. It's over there next to my wallet." She
flipped through the book and found the number she wanted and
dialed the telephone.

Jean-Pierre stood with his arms crossed, broad shoulders pressed
squarely against the wall. He gave her an encouraging look.

She turned her attention to her free hand, the left, which she
had kept ungloved since she and Jean-Pierre had made love the
first time. Somehow it seemed only fitting that she stare at
where her finger once was while making this call. On the second
ring a young woman's voice greeted her.

 "This is Greta Locke," she said, and after a moment's
hesitation, "Matthew Locke's wife." She met Jean-Pierre's intense
stare. "I'd like to speak with Mitchell, please." A pause, then:
"Mitchell, hello. Yes, he's fine, thank you." Her expression
turned serious as she smiled through the last of the lawyer's
greeting.

"Actually, Mitchell, things aren't exactly perfect," she said,
twisting the phone cord in her hand. Her eyes went to Jean-Pierre
for a moment, taking him in from head to toe, his boots. The
ranch, she reminded herself, boosting her courage. This was all
for their ranch. She took a deep breath and plunged on. "I'm
calling you, Mitchell, because I want a divorce." Pinpoint dots
of sweat had formed on her upper lip.

"I'm sorry?" she said, shaking her gaze from Jean-Pierre. "No,
Matthew and I have not talked about it yet." Another pause. "No,
I don't know if it's what Matthew wants. It's what I want." She
swallowed a deluge of conflicting emotions, her eyes pleading
with her lover for support.

Jean-Pierre dropped before her and rested his head in her lap.

"Yes, I will," she said, and placed her hand on Jean-Pierre's
head. "Yes, as soon as he gets home from New York, yes."

Jean-Pierre lifted his face. He was silently mouthing a word, but
she could not understand him.

"No, I can't think of anything. I'm sure by the time I call you
back I'll have - oh, wait." She cupped her hand over the
mouthpiece.

"Property," Jean-Pierre whispered.

"Oh yes, Mitchell, I do have one question." She held the phone
with both hands and looked out the window. "Mitchell, I'm not
clear on a few things in these matters. The property. The house.
Assets. Those sorts of things."

Jean-Pierre held her around the waist with both arms. In the
distance she could see his small cottage, the ranch, a few horses
being led from the stable.

"It is half, then," she said softly. Her hand dropped to
Jean-Pierre's head and slid down to his shoulder. She held on
tight. "Half of everything," she uttered, feeling as if her lips
were suddenly anesthetized.

"Okay," she said, her voice different now, smaller. "Thank you,
Mitchell. I'll contact you soon." She placed the handset on its
cradle and closed her eyes.

Jean-Pierre seated himself beside her and wrapped his arms around
her and held her tight. He whispered to her soothingly, to
breathe slowly, relax.

She opened her mouth, tried to form words, but they would not
come. After a minute she regained some control. "My God,
Jean-Pierre," she managed, hiding her face in her trembling
hands. "That amounts to millions."

"Greta," he said, pulling her from him, "You have earned your
share. You have worked for it."

"Yes," she said. "Yes," an emphatic whisper. "I have worked hard
for it, haven't I?"

"Yes," Jean-Pierre assured her, petting her hair. He smiled. "You
have indeed."


* * *


"That's right, as much of it as I can sell," Peter said into the
telephone. With a disbelieving expression he shook his head at
Byron, who crossed his arms and shot him a mildly disturbed look.

"Okay, Peggy, thanks," Peter said, then hung up the phone.

"You sure you want to do that?" Byron said carefully, turning his
coffee cup in his palm.

"You bet I am! Byron, I can't believe this! I can't believe
Matthew has formed an alliance with them!" Peter said, batting
his hand at the "Wall Street Journal," whose headline announced,
"ICP, Wallaby Announce Strategic Venture."

"Petey, don't forget that 'them' is where this old timer comes
from."

"I know, I know. I'm sorry. I don't mean to disparage you, or
where you're from. I'm just astonished Matthew has actually done
what he was trying to get me to agree to do. To sell out Wallaby
to ICP."

"He's not selling out, boy. He's upping Wallaby's market.
Probably triple it in a few years because of that two-step he
pulled today."

Peter folded his arms. "All the more reason for me to sell my
share in Wallaby and invest it in what we're working on. You
know, I'm in the mood for a little shopping spree. I think my
mind is made up about those couple of acquisitions we've been
talking about. The net browser. The compression routines. And
definitely that knock-out handwriting recognition kernel. Yes
indeed, it's time to do a little spending."

The two men had turned the extra bedroom in Byron's Maine home
into a lab and workroom. Scattered all around were diagrams of
circuit boards, tools, and assorted computer and electronic
parts. A flowchart of the software that Byron was engineering,
based on the design the two men had come up with in the last four
months, was spread out on the table before them.

"Well, that's settled then," Byron said. "Good. Now what do you
say you wipe that little snarl off your face and we get back to
work. Come on." He patted the stool beside him and Peter, still
plainly agitated by the news, returned to his seat beside his
partner.

"This is what I changed last night," Byron said, pointing at a
series of boxes indicating the user interface portion of the
code. "It's what's going to make this baby different from every
other portable doohickey out there."

Peter leaned over the table, following Byron's finger. He shook
his head. "No."

"No? No what?"

Peter roughly took Byron's hand in his. "This!" he said,
encircling the entire drawing with the other man's finger and, in
doing so, pulling Byron from his stool and practically stretching
him across the table.

"Hey!" Byron yelled. "If you want to dance, just say so, but be
careful, boy, I prefer the floor to tables!"

"I'm sorry," Peter said. He let go of Byron's hand, and gently
patted it.

Byron tugged at his sweater sleeve and flexed his arm.

"But look at this," Peter said. "All of this!" he continued,
gesturing in a frenzy now with both hands at the entire table,
the scattered parts, the room.

Byron casually fished his tobacco pouch from his shirt pocket.

"Don't you see what's wrong with all this stuff you're talking
about?"

"Why don't you tell me," Byron said. He crossed his legs and
began packing his pipe.

"First, with all respect to your history," Peter started, "it's
too complicated."

Byron took a few glowing tokes from his pipe than shook out the
wooden match. His motions were slow, unruffled. He exhaled a
plume of smoke, then strolled slowly around the table, eyeing the
diagram from over the rim of his glasses. "Well, now that you
mention it, she is kind of a little monster, ain't she?"

"Little? Hah! If we were to code this thing as it is we'd need an
army of programmers. We need to break it down into smaller,
smarter chunks. Objects. Maybe we should snap up that little
object system those kids from Cal Poly showed us last week. Hell,
looking at this, two million doesn't sound like that much
anymore."

"Mmm, that would definitely let us break her down to a more
manageable size. And adding features would be trivial. Okay,
let's call them back and have another look, make sure it'll do
what we want," Byron said.

"There's something else."

"Such as?" Byron said, squinting through the rising smoke trails.

"I'm not sure what it is, though. I mean, everything we've got
worked out with the agent software is right on. All the
cross-referencing between the applications, the net-savvy
look-ups and updates and all. But when I step back and look at
this, at how it's going to actually look and operate when it's
done, I feel like it's missing something. Under the hood we're
doing things no one has done before. But on the surface, as nice
as it will look, it doesn't seem, well, new enough to me.
Different enough. What can we do to make ours really different
from the others that are cropping up out there. They've all got
styluses now. And there's that Sony slate computer that came out
last week with a track pad almost exactly like the Joey's, so
that's caught on too. All of it has. The add-on keyboards.
CD-ROMs. Modems. PC Cards. The whole works. I don't know. Other
than the smart software agents we're putting in, what can we do
to make ours the all-out winner. The really intelligent
assistant."

"Mmm," Byron hummed.

"What we need is a new paradigm. A bigger-picture metaphor that
goes beyond what's already out there, taking this whole business
to not just the next possible step, but two or three steps ahead.
Something that really get the juices flowing. I mean, this is all
well and good, but is it good enough?" He knocked his fist gently
on the flowchart and stared intently at Byron.

"I'm with you."

Staring intensely at the drawing, Peter let out an exasperated
sigh. "I just don't know what it should be. And that's the
frustrating part."

Grace appeared at the doorway with a tray in her hands, holding
sandwiches, French fries, two glasses of milk. "Time for a break,
boys." 

"Ah, relief," Byron said, rubbing his hands together. "Honey, we
got any vinegar for those fries?"

"Coming right up," Grace said, handing the tray to her husband.

"Now, while we eat," Byron said, blowing on a hot French fry,
"you can give your head a rest for a few minutes, and I promise
you, while your stomach is doing some work of its own, your
brain'll be busy too."

"I'm not so sure," Peter said. He took a sip of his milk.

The telephone rang.

"I'll get it," Grace said, returning from the kitchen with a
bottle of cider vinegar. Byron made a beckoning gesture for the
bottle.

"I got it," Peter said. "Holmes residence," he said, wiping his
lips on his sleeve. "Hi, Peggy. What's up? Wait, let me guess, a
problem with my stock sale already," Peter said with a smirk and
a roll of his eyes at Byron.

"His secretary," Byron said, identifying the caller to his wife.

"What?" Peter shouted, eyes suddenly wide with panic.

"What is it?" Byron asked, coming to Peter's side.

"Hello?" a voice called softly, from inside the house.

"All right, yes," Peter said. "I'll get there as soon as I can."
He hung up the phone and stared at the handset.

"Hi," Kate said, bounding cheerfully into the room. "I let myself
in." She froze in place when she took in Peter's aghast
expression as he turned away and faced the wall. He locked his
hands behind his neck and looked up at the ceiling.

"What the hell's wrong?" Byron said.

"What's going on?" Kate asked Grace, who replied with upturned
palms. "Peter?" Kate gripped his arm. "What is it?"

"Something back home," Peter said, avoiding every set of staring
eyes.

"Is it the stock sale, boy?"

He shook his head.

"Then what?" Kate asked, tugging his arm to make him face her.

He turned around and took her hands. "Something happened. I have
to go home." He studied their interlocked fingers. "I can't tell
you about it right now." He looked her straight in the eye. It
was the wine, he thought grimly.

He let go of her hands. "I need to get to the airport right
away," he said to Byron.

"Okay," Kate said, "let's go," taking his arm.

Peter's feet remained planted.

"Peter?"

"I have to go alone," he said, leaving no room for disagreement.

Grace discreetly nudged her husband.

"Okay," Byron said, settling his hands on both Kate's and Peter's
shoulders. "Put your coat on. I'll take you to the airport." He
gave Kate a reassuring look and a wink.

"Don't you want to pack some things?" Kate said.

"There isn't time," Peter said. "I'll call," he said, unable to
look her in the eye again, then turned and left the room.

"Be back in a bit," Byron said, kissing his wife on the cheek.
"Keep those fries in the oven please, dearest." He turned to Kate
and gently squeezed her arm. "It's going to be okay." Then he
turned and went after Peter.

Hearing Byron's words of reassurance as he waited outside the
workroom, Peter felt the thing in his heart come fully awake. It
had been hibernating all through the winter and he had forgotten
about it. But now it was time to for it to reemerge.

A knot of contradiction swelled in his throat when he remembered
back to the premonition he'd had on that fateful night, more than
half a year ago, that he was going to lose everything close to
his heart, everything that ever mattered. It was starting, he
reasoned, and by the looks of it, Kate would be the first piece
to fall away.


Chapter 14 


William Harrell flipped through the folder of reports his
technical adviser had left him, a pleased expression on his face.

His plan was approaching its final stages. Yesterday's strategic
alliance announcement had been deemed an enormous success by the
press, and in just a few short months the plan's final phase
would reach its climax.

He felt at ease and at peace now as he awaited the completion of
his original plan. Though he had a real scare when Byron Holmes
had called him four months earlier, asking for some of his notes
and documentation, his former partner had ultimately assured him
that what he and Peter Jones were working on would not become a
"real" product anytime soon.

Even so, he still felt more than a little concern for what the
two were up to, but after finishing his conversation with Byron,
William realized he had initially overreacted to his old friend's
new hobby, as Byron himself had referred to it.

And now, with the strategic alliance phase complete, William felt
for the first time like he could lift his feet from the pedals
and coast through the final stretch as he advanced to the finish
line.

With regard to the merger, the FTC would never allow ICP to
acquire Wallaby under the two companies' current modes of
operation. To counter this regulation, ICP would halt production
of its BP portable computer, thereby avoiding a monopoly by
pulling its own entry from the market-the Joey line would become
ICP's new standard. In doing so, an even greater battle would
cease. The clone makers, companies that manufactured computers
that operated the same software as ICP's, would be nearly shut
down once ICP announced Joey as their new portable computing
standard. Unlike the BP, which used a third-party source
operating system, the Joey was built upon Wallaby's proprietary
hardware and software technologies, and was therefore illegal for
other manufacturers to replicate it.

William's desktop now proudly displayed his prototype Joey II
system, which he used for all of his office work. He'd had his
technical adviser move his "old" BP to a shelf against the wall.
As far as he was concerned, he would no longer need it.

The irony of his plan was beginning to hit home. Here he sat, the
chairman of the largest computer company in the world, with his
"competitor's" product on his desk. William's dream was nearly
reality. "I liked the product so much, I bought the company," he
quipped to himself as he activated the e-mail program.

The machine's modem dialed the phone and connected to the host
computer. There was only one message, and as it was being written
to his screen, scrolling quickly from the bottom of the screen to
the top, he saw that it was from Matthew Locke. The action was
too quick for his eyes, so as he waited for the message to finish
downloading, he pulled a tissue from his drawer and cleaned the
computer's monitor.

Matthew's message was now unfolded on the display, complete, and
as he wiped, the e-mail's subject caught his eye. He quickly
scanned the screen for the gist of the message-and he froze.

His throat constricted and his mind slammed on the brakes,
chucking him from his exhilarating joyride. He felt his insides
rumble as if he were about to lose control of his system, not
unlike the feeling, the lack of feeling, that he had experienced
as Martha's hand let go of his when she had slipped away.

He forced his hands to be still on the desk and read the message
from the beginning.

- - - - - - - - - -

TO:  wharrell@icp.com
FROM: mlocke@wallaby.com
SUBJECT:  REVISED PLAN

William, I'll get right to the point: Yesterday's introduction of
the Joey II was phenomenal.

Therefore, Wallaby and ICP will maintain a strategic alliance
relationship, as we disclosed to the press: Wallaby will work
with ICP to develop powerful Joey products which are compatible
with ICP systems.

We will not go through with our private original plan of merging
the two companies into one.

I am satisfied with my role at Wallaby as chairman, president,
and CEO, and I look forward to our two companies working
together.

--Matthew

- - - - - - - - - -


"No," William declared breathlessly as he sank heavily into his
chair. He raised the tissue to his brow, blotted the sweat that
had instantly formed there.

In one fell swoop, Matthew Locke had just changed William's
entire plan-and the future of ICP. He felt his heart racing, and
he began to hyperventilate. He wondered if he was experiencing
the onset of a stroke. He held his palm over his heart and willed
it to slow while he attempted to breathe evenly, all the while
staring at the message spilled across his-no, Matthew's!-screen.

When he eventually calmed down enough to think a little more
clearly, his panic was replaced by shallow emptiness. Then,
vaguely at first, a strange feeling of grief and mourning numbed
his senses, resurfacing for the first time since he had begun his
plan to acquire Wallaby.

His mind started racing, and his immediate reaction was to
quickly counter Matthew's scheme by unveiling ICP's own
competitive product, showing him that no one pushed the
number-one computer maker around. Thinking this through, however,
William could hardly bring himself to ask the question, What can
I do? He already knew the answer. Nothing. Hadn't he himself
halted any new designs of ICP's BP series, or for that matter,
any new portable design, after reaching the "Jones" phase of the
original plan, when Matthew had moved into power?

No backup plan, he thought and shook his head sadly. The
funeral...the rebound to Wallaby...through these events he had
lost the foresight to build a backup plan in case something like
this should happen. And, he realized, taking the final blow,
there could be no going back. While he could simply pick up the
phone and call his development heads in and put together a team
to begin accelerated development of his technical and market
advisors' proposed concepts, a real product would not surface for
at least twelve to eighteen months, probably more. He had no
immediate backup plan, no product of his own to augment ICP's new
strategic dependence and commitment to Wallaby and the Joey. He
could not cancel the strategic alliance.

His gaze lingered painfully over the Joey II stationed before
him. Its beautiful compact design, its crisp high-resolution
screen, its ergonomic keyboard, its slick trackpad. Gently,
William touched the trackpad, slid his fingertip across its
smooth black surface.

Suddenly, strangely, his thoughts turned sympathetically to Peter
Jones. Matthew Locke had just pulled on William the same surprise
he had inflicted on Peter Jones.

Then all at once he felt charged as if by a synaptic tingle, a
stirring in his fingertip that shot up to his brain. At first he
feared he was completely losing control, but then he let out a
little laugh, realizing, yes, he had crossed a fine line, and
suddenly it all made complete and wonderfully perfect sense to
him.

The call. Of course. It had been there all along, a hibernating
backup plan, but William had simply ignored it. There had been no
reason to notice it. His old friend calling just to say hello, to
ask for a few notes, all along up to his old playful tricks.

Could it be possible? Were they really onto something? Something
that William could perhaps enlist to save ICP from the switch
Matthew Locke had just thrown?

Jones. That was the mistake he had allowed Matthew to make. A
mistake that would now work in his favor.

Perhaps you were right, Matthew, William mused, sliding his
fingertip to an appended e-mail file. He opened it and searched
for Matthew's very first message to him after the board meeting
in which Jones had been voted out of Wallaby. There it was.
Though Matthew had tried to persuade Jones to stay on at Wallaby,
his exact words in the message were, "We'll succeed regardless."

You may be right, Matthew, William thought silently. He slid his
fingertip over to a tiny card-file icon on the screen, typed
"Holmes" on the keyboard and tapped the find icon.

He tapped the phone icon and the Joey's modem dialed Byron
Holmes's telephone number. As he waited for his old friend to
answer, he stared at his fingertip resting comfortably on the
trackpad. A sudden awareness hit him as if somehow he had just
solved a puzzle that had been silently challenging him for a long
time, that Wallaby without Peter Jones was as unsound as a the
Joey without its sleek intuitive trackpad.

Grace answered, and they exchanged a few moments of courteous
conversation then William asked for Byron.

"He's in his play room. I'll tell him to pick up."

A moment later, Byron came on the line. "Hi, Billy."

"Byron, how are things coming along?" William asked.

"Oh, not bad. You know, too cold to fish, mostly sitting around
the house, stoking a fire."

"Right," William said, knowing he couldn't just pop Byron's cap
open without a little playing. "And in your spare time, how's
your hobby coming along?"

"Well, now, Billy, is there something you're curious about?"

"Yes, there is." He decided to come right to the point with his
old friend, to simply ask for his help. "I'm very interested in
what you and Peter Jones are working on."

"It's good stuff, Billy, though we've had a little bit of a
pause."

"What kind of pause?"

"Petey had to go back to California. Had some business to deal
with."

California: Wallaby. Was there more to Matthew Locke's scheming?
Had he persuaded Jones to come back to Wallaby, to rejoin him in
leading the company? That would explain Matthew's newfound
resolution to go it alone, without ICP. After all, wasn't Jones
the one who had been so resistant to ICP all these years?

"Back to Wallaby?"

"Hell, no. Quite the contrary. Petey started selling off his
Wallaby stock yesterday to fund our project."

William knew that Jones's stock sale would yield millions of
dollars, many digits, the sort of lengthy figures required for
serious development. Things were coming along, then. Which meant
that they were probably well on their way to a real product
design after all.

"He's selling the stock because he was disgusted that you and
Wallaby are in a deal together," Byron said. "He predicts that
you're going to buy them in less than a year, and he doesn't want
any of his money going to that. Nothing personal, Billy. It's
Locke he's angry with."

Touche, William thought, ironically pleased that Jones's
speculation was right on target. He dabbed his forehead with a
fresh tissue. "Byron, I'd like to make a proposition."

"Shoot."

"I'd like to have a look at what you are working on. When you are
ready, of course."

"Hmm. I like that idea, Billy, but I don't know if Petey would
feel the same way."

"Byron, listen to me," William plunged on, pulling out all stops.
"The Wallaby announcement is meant as a temporary solution. We
want to come out with our own system that will do everything the
Joey can, but more."

"Billy, you don't sound so good. Are you all right?"

"No, Byron. I'm not. I'm asking you for a favor, from one old
friend to another. Let me have a look at what you're working on."

"Well, since you put it that way, let me see what I can do. I
think I can get Petey to agree to let you have a peek."

"When?"

"That I don't know. A little while. He needs some time to himself
to take care of some personal business."

"Fair enough," William said, and said good-bye.

He glanced out the window at the World Trade Center. This may be
the best way, he reasoned. After all, the portable system
stationed before him had been invented by Jones. And even if his
plan to acquire Wallaby had worked, wouldn't he have been plagued
with worry over Jones's next step?

Perhaps this time, he pondered as he gazed out the window, he
would get the strategic ally he had been after all along. Peter
Jones.


* * *


Peter stared absently at the clock mounted high on the yellow
cinderblock wall. Following the second hand's ride around the
dial, he mused at how as a boy he used to watch the clock in
school, the thin red line sliding silently past the bold black
numerals, inching painfully closer with each agonizing second
toward the end of the school day. Would this baby ever have the
opportunity to watch the second hand sweep the dial in a
schoolroom?

He had been sitting at Stanford Hospital for hours. His neck and
back were sore from sleeping on the hard plastic furniture, and
now, staring at the clock once more, he willed the thin red line
to go slower, for each precious second offered more hope, life,
for this unborn baby.

His baby.

At first Peter had not wanted to believe the doctor, insisting
that there had been a mistake, a mix-up, that he was just a
friend of Ivy's, and it couldn't possibly be his baby. But the
doctor relayed to Peter, from Ivy, that she had been with no one
else in more than a year before Peter, and no one after. The
doctor offered to conduct a simple blood test that would settle
the matter, but Peter decided against it.

He knew Ivy was telling the truth. It was his baby, and he prayed
that it not be delivered. Not just yet. It needed more time.

Dr. Chen, the resident physician caring for Ivy, said the chances
of survival for the twenty-eight-week infant were roughly ninety
to ninety-five percent.

Peter could not believe this was happening to him. It was not
something he asked for or wanted. Not like this, anyway. He had
assumed (hadn't he?) that she had used some sort of protection.
In the past, he and Kate had never worried about birth-control.
With Kate it was neither an issue or a possibility.

He thought back to their night together, her desperation. He also
recalled the indications of her drug usage. The doctor warned him
that she was very weak, and had admitted to taking drugs during
the pregnancy. The birth would be difficult and extremely
dangerous for her, considering her overall poor health. Presently
the physician was attempting to prevent the premature birth by
administering medication that could retard labor, to allow the
baby its final eight weeks of development in the womb.

Now, waiting to find out if the drugs would take effect, Peter
sat alone, wondering what he would do if the baby was born today,
or next week...or whenever, for that matter. Even if they
successfully postponed the birth, there was no running away from
the fact that it was his child. And what about Ivy? Would she ask
him to marry her? Who was the faulty party? Hadn't he known that
he had done the wrong thing? Hadn't he known afterwards that
things would never be the same again with Kate?

Kate. Their talk, before they had gone to dinner at the Holmeses'
for the first time, about wanting a baby. About wanting to settle
down, to marry. What would happen to him and Kate?

"Good morning, Mr. Jones," Dr. Chen said, snapping Peter's gaze
from the clock.

"How is she?"

"There's been a change. After her first round of medication the
contractions were less frequent, indicating that the pregnancy
would not proceed," the doctor explained.

"That's good news, right?"

"It was good. But Ivy has passed fluid. The amniotic sac is
leaking. Her labor has resumed. We have no choice but to see it
through."

"But the baby?"

"We don't know how much damage Ivy's drug abuse may have caused
the baby, or herself. Any baby coming into the world early runs
the risk of respiratory distress syndrome."

Peter shook his head impatiently to indicate that he didn't
understand, and Dr. Chen explained.

"A vital substance that coats the lining of the baby's lungs and
its small interior cavities, called alveoli, is not fully
advanced at this stage of development. The air sacs in the lungs
tend to stay collapsed. We'll have the baby on a respirator, of
course, but there may be other complications."

Peter closed his eyes, images of tiny pink, deflated balloons
streaking across his mind. So fragile. So vulnerable and
helpless.

The doctor placed a hand on Peter's shoulder. "This isn't going
to be easy," he said. "We'll do our best."

And then the doctor was gone, leaving Peter to stare once more at
the clock and wait, all by himself.


Chapter 15


"Hello, Matthew," Greta said coolly, settling her coffee cup onto
its saucer.

"Hi," Matthew said brightly. He dropped his garment bag and
briefcase in the doorway, strolled past her without so much as a
glance, and went to the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass
of orange juice, drank it in one gulp, and set the glass on the
countertop.

"Has Marie been sick or something?" he said, striking up
conversation as he strolled into the breakfast area, peeling the
paper wrapper off a muffin.

"I gave her a few days off," Greta said. "She'll be back this
afternoon."

"How come the time off?" Matthew said, without much interest. He
ate his muffin and pulled apart the newspaper, folded it on the
table, scanned the page, then glanced across it to his wife.

"I didn't want her around. I wanted to be alone."

He nodded, as if respecting her wish for privacy, then started
reading yet another article reporting yesterday's Wallaby and ICP
New York City announcement.

"Matthew," Greta said abruptly.

"Hmm?" he replied, his eyes never leaving the article.

"We need to talk."

He looked up distractedly for a moment at his wife, then returned
his attention to the newspaper. "Okay. Do we have yesterday's
'Examiner'?" He looked around the room. "I couldn't find one in
New York."

"Over there. Next to the sofa," she said, indicating the pile of
papers in the sitting room. He went to the stack and picked up
the topmost issue and sat down on the sofa. "What were you
saying?"

She studied him, instantly oblivious to her again as he read
about himself and yesterday's news. In an odd way she was glad
that he was behaving like this, poring over himself in the
newspaper, for it solidified her determination and kicked up the
heat of her anger a few more notches. There he sat, holding in
his hands the cause for their breakup, smiling proudly at his own
picture of himself and his damned machine. Should she feel any
guilt or remorse for having taken a lover, for calling the lawyer
yesterday to inform him that she wanted to divorce Matthew, when
there he sat beaming at his engagement announcement to a stupid
little computer?

Well then, let's see how he liked her newsbreak announcement. She
stood up from the table walked over to where he sat, crossed her
arms and waited for him to acknowledge her.

"I'm sorry," he said, folding the newspaper and tossing it to the
floor, "I just wanted to see what they said locally." Rubbing his
hands together, he settled back comfortably into the sofa. "Now,
what was it you were saying?"

It was plain to see that he was being perfunctory, that he
couldn't wait to be done with whatever it was she wanted to talk
about so he could rush off to the office, where, having just
flown in from New York, he'd squeeze in a few more hours of work.
She pictured him on the plane, skipping the meal so he wouldn't
have to sacrifice the workspace of his tray table. It was just
the sort of image she needed to complete her anger and loathing.

She said, "I want a divorce." The words rolled off her tongue
easily and she nearly smiled to herself. So simple. She tucked
her fist in her robe pockets as he stood, hands open at his
sides.

"Honey? What do you mean?"

"Shall I get you a dictionary?"

"Greta," he said cautiously, clasping his hands together. "I know
I've been busy, but it's all been for this." He tapped the pile
of newspapers with his foot.

"My oh my, the papers are right, you are smart. Yes, it has all
been for that," she agreed, stamping her foot over the picture of
his face.

"But honey," he said, wrongfully interpreting her sarcasm, "I've
changed my mind. I sent a message to William before leaving New
York calling the whole thing off! I don't want Wallaby and ICP to
merge as we had originally planned. This way I - I mean, Wallaby
- will have more power because now we're going to grow at a
phenomenal rate, all because of yesterday's announcement." His
eyes were shining. "The plan is off!" he said, and gripped her
shoulders.

"And so are we!" she spat, shrugging from his touch.

"But Greta, wait. I mean, I know we've had our problems, but that
doesn't mean we should just throw away our lives together."

"Together?" she said, astonished. "What lives, Matthew? What
together?" She shook her head sadly at his photograph smiling up
at her from the newspaper. "There's your together."

"Greta? What is it? What have I done? What can I do? Is there
something you want?"

"No, Matthew, not from you." She touched her finger to her
horseshoe charm, slid it from side to side. "This time, I've
gotten what I want all by myself."

This seemed funny to him. "Oh?" he said grandly. "And what's
that, honey?"

"Love."

That wasn't what he'd had in mind. He blinked several times
rapidly. His eyes locked on a point in the ceiling. All the
clowning was gone from his face. He had expected something
amusing, like a new hobby or craft, but this took him by complete
surprise. "An affair?" he asked, catching her eye. She looked
away. He tugged the cuffs of his shirtsleeves, composed himself,
all business. "An affair," he repeated. "I see."

"It's your fault."

He was thoughtful for a moment, then cleared his throat. "Yes. I
suppose it is."

Matthew's first reaction was to tell her about Laurence. He cared
very much for the girl, and telling his wife so would at least
give him the satisfaction of equally offending the fidelity they
had promised one another when they married. He wanted to tell his
wife how Lauri had helped him build his confidence the way she
once had, and too how the girl brought him pleasure in ways she,
his wife, never had. But what would that accomplish? She was
having an affair, he thought absently as he perused the room,
eyes stopping here and there. He might be having an affair with
Laurence, but he was not in love with her, and he certainly had
no desire to marry her. He was not in love with his own wife
either, but, he quickly calculated in his mind, he could not bear
a divorce. It was a matter of economics. Quite simply, if he
agreed, she would be entitled to at least half of his assets,
over fifteen million dollars, give or take a million. His
alternative: appease her, make her feel better, no matter what
the investment. A weekend cottage in Monterey? A trip around the
world? Whatever she wanted, he would give it to her - he would
think of it as an insurance policy.

"Darling, I'm so sorry," he said with pleading eyes. "It really
is my fault. What with my obsession over Wallaby all this time,
letting things get this far away from me. From us. However, I
don't think divorce is the right answer. We should try to work
this out."

She smiled. "Do you think I don't know what you're thinking? Oh
yes, half of this is mine. And that's the law. Darling."

He swallowed. She knew him too well, could read him so easily. He
couldn't hide from her his fear of losing half of his wealth. He
had to try a different angle.

"But you're the one having an affair. You admitted it. How do you
think that will hold up?"

"It doesn't matter. California still splits the pot."

"This is bullshit."

"You should know, you're so full of it."

"Don't challenge me on this, Greta."

"Too late. I called Mitchell yesterday, and told him - "

Matthew cut her short. "You what?" His voice was a disbelieving
rasp. "You called my friend and told him we wanted a divorce?"

"No. I said I wanted it. But yes," she said with a shrug,
unafraid, "that's what I did."

"How dare you contact my lawyer when I knew nothing of this! Are
you crazy?"

"Why, yes, darling. That's exactly what I am, crazy. Driven mad
by Mr. Chips. At least that's what I'm ready to tell the court,
if I decide I'd like more than half. In fact, I think I need to
lie down, I'm feeling sort of suicidal again. All the stress I've
been under since this happened." She stuck her four-fingered hand
out at him.

He smacked it away. "I'll fight you on this, Greta."

"Try. You'll only make matters worse for yourself," she said,
kicking the newspapers. "It doesn't matter what they might say
about me in the papers. But you, my dear - you better think twice
before you make your next move, or it's going to cost you a hell
of a lot more than you can afford."

It was true. The press would turn this kind of thing into a
circus. He had seen this expression on her face before, this same
expression he had once found so alluring, so sure and empowering,
so certain of his success, their success. When working on his
behalf, this look had once charged him with excitement,
confidence. Now he saw the face of his opponent from across the
ring, and she looked fanatical in the way she said she was - in
the way she would convince the court she was, and possibly all
but wipe him out.

He needed time. This was too much to handle right now, especially
in light of his change of heart with ICP. He had to make a deal
with her, come to some sort of understanding, at least for a
short while until he could deal with this properly.

"What about a trial period?" he said. "Just give me a little
time, and we'll work out some sort of settlement between us. In
the meantime, I'll leave you alone. You can have whatever you
need to go away on your own if you'd like. Let's just not do
anything hasty. Please, Greta. I'm asking nicely. Just give me
some breathing room to sort through this."

She thought for a moment about what Jean-Pierre had told her.
First, he was going to travel to France to look at properties for
them. That would take some time. And once he found something, she
would have to pack, and with all the logistics involved in
moving, especially to another country, that too would take
awhile. Either way, she would be in California for at least a few
more months while she and Jean-Pierre made their plans. There was
no real hurry, and, she suddenly realized, they had not even
discussed marriage. Would they marry? She felt an unexpected
chill along her neck. Perhaps it was best to play it cool, she
told herself, while the arrangements for France were being made.

She said, "I may choose to travel, get away for while. Maybe even
stay somewhere else."

What could that cost? Matthew asked himself. Compared to what she
might get if they were to proceed with a divorce, setting her up
in her own place amounted to a pinch of salt. For now.

"Fine. Whatever you need. Let's see what happens when things
settle down in a few months."

"Ha ha, that's what you think. Please, take a good look at
yourself. With you it will never settle down, Matthew. You're
married to Wallaby, not me. You think you've replaced Peter Jones
as some sort of hotshot smart aleck, but now you're as sickly
attached to that company as he ever was. You didn't want him out
of your way so you could run the business - no, you were after
more. You were after his lover. And you got it." She shot him a
mean laugh and turned her head in disgust. And began to cry.

If only right now he would come to her and hold her, and tell her
everything would be all right, and kiss her, really kiss her, the
way he once had, full of need and desire, then she would go back
to him, make their marriage work again. Somehow. As happy as
Jean-Pierre made her feel, she understood that she had only begun
her affair with him because Matthew had rejected her. If he
wanted her back, he could have her. But it was now or never.

Matthew turned away. "Fine," he said flatly, then lifted his
briefcase and walked out of the house, got in his car, and drove
away.

And along with him went all of her hopes of ever realizing the
plan for happiness they had made before moving to California. It
was really over. She was now in control of her own plan. She was
scared, but she was determined. To hell with him. With her share
of the money, she could live the rest of her life without a care.
She hugged herself tightly inside the sleeves of her robe, and an
eerie thought entered her mind. She shivered, and the hairs on
her arms stood up. Glancing around the room, at their things, she
understood for the very first time that everything she ever
associated with Matthew - money, power, luxury - all of a sudden
didn't matter anymore. She was angry with herself for thinking
she should go back to him. Was she going mad? Had he really made
her crazy? How could she in one instant wish to go back to him,
and in the next wonder if he had ever really mattered? Had he
been an instrument to her, just as she had been to him? It sure
looked that way now. She had used him to acquire more and more
things, but she no longer needed these tokens of power and
prestige. There was only one thing she needed now, the love of
her attractive Frenchman. Nothing else mattered anymore.

Feeling free for the first time of the man to whom she had felt
so dependent, Greta calmly sat down on the sofa. Yes, it would be
worth waiting a little longer while Jean-Pierre created their new
world.

After all, she told herself, she had nothing to lose.


Chapter 16


"Mr. Jones," Dr. Chen said, lightly shaking Peter's shoulder.

Peter snapped awake. "What time is it?" he asked as he shakily
rose to his feet. Dr. Chen gently steadied him. Daylight shone
through the windows at the end of the hall. He glanced at the
wall clock. Half past noon. He had been asleep for little more
than an hour.

"It's time for you to see Ivy," Dr. Chen said. He led Peter by
the arm through swinging double doors. "And your baby girl."

Peter stopped in his tracks. He felt flushed and his throat felt
swollen. "She's all right? And the baby too? They both made it
though okay?"

Dr. Chen carefully guided Peter to the wall, out of the way of
the busy corridor traffic. "Not entirely," he said. "There were
complications. Both Ivy and the baby are very fragile. The baby
weighs only two and three-quarter pounds. She's in neonatal care
right now, hooked up to life-support equipment."

"But she's alive."

"Yes. She's alive," the doctor said. "The outlook is fair, but we
don't know yet if there is other damage. Damage we can't see from
the drugs."

Peter felt a sudden wave of revulsion. Images of strangely
twisted limbs and gnarled faces flashed in his mind. He himself
and asked,  "Is she retarded?"

"There is no disfiguration," the doctor said. "But it's too early
to judge her overall condition. She appears to be a normal, if
premature baby."

Peter allowed himself a tight smile. "Thank you, doctor," he
said.

They ambled down the hall. "Ivy's not doing well," the doctor
added, "but she insisted on seeing you now. She's very weak, so
you'll only have a few minutes."

Peter nodded. "Then can I see...?" he said and left the question
unfinished, wondering what was the baby's name.

"Yes. But that must be brief too," the doctor said, bringing him
up to a closed door. "Wait, Mr. Jones," Dr. Chen said, gripping
Peter's wrist as he reached for the door latch. "Her condition is
not very good, physically or mentally. Don't upset her. Try to
encourage her. I don't know what your plans are with her, but try
to reinforce her with some positive thoughts. Do you understand?"

Peter nodded, then gingerly opened the door and went into the
room. The shades were drawn, and strange electronic sounds
emanated from machines stationed beside the bed. He went to her.

A dim lamp spread yellow light over the bed, and through the
blankets covering her Peter could see that Ivy was very thin. Her
head was tilted toward the window and her closed eyelids seemed
dark and bluish. She looked so different from when he had thrown
her out of his home. He remembered her pure adoration, her desire
to please him with her project. He braced himself against the bed
rail and leaned his face closer to hers. She smelled medicinal,
sterile. Her delicate bone structure, her pert nose, were masked
by thin, nearly transparent skin. He felt responsible. Guilty. He
must take care of her.

And Kate...? No. He couldn't let himself think about that right
now. He had to let Ivy know everything would be all right, that
he would take care of her.

He whispered her name and she stirred, eyelids fluttering. A thin
smile touched her lips, then she blinked a few times and her eyes
filled with tears. She let out a long breath through pressed
lips, closed her eyes, and made an anguished face. "I told myself
I wouldn't get like this when I saw you." She looked away.

"Hey," he said, touching her cheek. She pulled her hand from
beneath the blankets and wrapped her thin fingers around his. His
body stiffened at her chilly, tenuous touch. At once he felt pity
and fear. He was afraid for her life. She looked as if she were a
breath away from dying. She had all but destroyed herself. And
the baby? What had she done to the baby? He wanted to hold her,
tell her she was forgiven, yet he was the one who should be
asking for forgiveness. It was all so twisted.

"Don't," she said, pulling her hand away. "Just don't. I don't
know what I'm more disgusted about. Me, or you? I wanted you, and
you took me and then you threw me away." Her words were thick and
slurred. She was bombed on painkillers and tranquilizers and
whatever else they were feeding her through the intravenous tube.
"I threw myself away, too, after you made me go. I think I wanted
to make the baby go away. I think I did what I did, the drugs and
all, to hurt it. I'm sick Peter. I'm very sick now, and I have to
get all this poison out of me. Including you."

"Ivy, don't talk this way. I'm sorry. You're sorry. We're both
sorry for the mistake we made. But we've got to deal with it.
It's my responsibility."

She winced. "Now you come to my rescue," a pause, then, "I'm
sorry. I don't want to be like this. I just hate you right now.
So much. Christ, that ride from LA up here."

She was making no sense at all. "What are you talking about?"
Maybe, he thought, it would be better to leave and come back
later, after she had rested.

"Yes. The ride. To see Kate McGreggor. She was the one I wanted
to meet, more than you. She was who I wanted to be like. Her
guards, or whatever they are, never let me in to see her. I tried
to find out more about her, where she lived and all. That was
when I found that article about you, with her in it. I didn't
even know who you were. And then I read about what you'd done,
and that you were why the Joey was what it was, I don't know, I
wanted to do that instead. I hated her then. I didn't want to be
a musician anymore. I wanted to be a techno-artist or something.
It's my parent's fuckin' fault, my liberal upbringing. I don't
know. Or maybe something else. They're here now. Better late than
never, right? Hey, lucky me, I can call them by their first
names, but I could never call them Mom and Dad. That's what I
wanted. Rick and Jeannette. No. It's not their fault. What am I
saying? I don't even know who I am."

She turned her head away from him and rested. She lay still for a
while, and when he thought she was asleep he turned to go.

"Stop," she said in a rasp. "We're not done." She was sitting up.
Her eyes were dry now, awake yet unalive. "We're gonna make a
deal. You've got a baby to take care of now, Peter. I can't do
it. Not right now, at least. I can't even piss on my own. I have
to push a button to get one of them to help me. How the hell'm I
gonna take care of a baby? I can't even name the thing. That's
your call, too. You get to call all the shots, Peter. Shoot,
bang, bang, I'm almost dead. You're holding the gun, man. Don't
go shootin' your own head, though. Oh, don't worry, I'll get
better - it's the only way I'll get you. Get back at you is what
I mean. You got a cigarette?"

He shook his head.

She made a disgusted face at him and waved her hand, scratching
her fingers through her hair. "Then there's the other thing. I
can't do any more about it. Not for a while. You might as well
take a look at it."

"What other thing?"

Like a drunkard at a bar, signaling for a particular brand, she
gestured to the corner of the room. "In there. In my pack. Get
it."

He opened a narrow cabinet door and pulled her blue knapsack from
the shelf. He held it to her. She smacked it with her hand. "Open
it yourself."

Inside he found several notebooks and pens.

"The disks, dick."

And he found a large stack of diskettes, bound together by rubber
bands.

"What is it?" he said.

Once more she turned her head on the pillow so that she was
facing away from him. "What's it say on the label?"

"ISLE."

"You can read."

"Ivy," he started, but then held his tongue. She had every right
to be treating him this way. But she was saying things he didn't
want to hear her say. She was heavily drugged and needed rest.
They could deal with all this in a few days. "Why don't we do all
this later?"

"There is no 'later.' I don't want to see you again. Not for a
long time, till I'm able to look at you without all this shit in
me and coming out of me."

"Then what? What is this? What do you want me to do with it?"

"That ride I told you about, from LA back up here with the idea
of somehow meeting you? I heard 'Teach the Children' on the radio
on the way up. It hit me like a cyclone. I had to stop in Fresno
to find the tape. I played it over and over. I thought, yeah,
teach them well, and do it with computers. I mean, it's what I
knew I had to do, with what I was thinking about language, the
idea of it applied to Joeys and letting kids learn with them. And
somehow my hormones and whatever else was in me when I met you
thought, 'Do it with your own kid, like with him, you, make a
baby out of it all and the program will write itself.' I waited
until it was the right time of the month to make you that dinner
I made, so we'd do it, and get it all going the way I saw it."

"You did this on purpose? This baby?"

"Yes. But stop it. I mean, we're talking about the other now.
We're on that, what's in your hands."

"What's it got to do with what you said?"

"It means Intelligent Speech and Language Environment. There's a
little box in there too, synthesizer and recognizer all in one.
But it's not just for kids, or learning. It's whatever you want
it to be. You'll see what I mean. Go ahead, take it, the notes
and code lists and everything, it's all in there. See if it's
worth anything to you. Hell knows, I'm gonna have a shit load of
bills when I'm through with this rinse cycle."

"Okay."

"'Okay' is all you say. No thanks? Jesus. That's just like you."

"Thanks. I mean, we'll figure this all out. We will."

"Blah, blah, blah."

The door opened behind him. He turned. The nurse and a
middle-aged couple entered the room. "Mr. Jones, Ivy's parents
would like to be with her now."

He looked at Ivy. He could not see her face.

"Get better," he said to her and she responded with a huffing
sound.

The man came before Peter. His face was tanned and pleasant, and
the woman at his side was attractive. Her hair was bright, like
Ivy's. She looked at Peter sadly, and pressed her husband forward
an inch.

He spoke. "Mr. Jones, we'd like to know how you intend to take
care of this."

"Dad," Ivy said to the window, "lay off. We're dealing with it."

"We had hoped you wouldn't come," Mrs. Green said. "We would be
the child's guardians if you hadn't. We'll gladly take care of
her."

"Get out," Ivy said, poking Peter in the ribs. "Just get out with
it all."

"This child's an enormous responsibility," the father said.
"Please let us take her."

"Right, Dad. Like you know all about it. Got a joint on you?"

"I can take care of her," Peter said, clutching the knapsack with
both hands. "And I will provide for Ivy."

"You sure will," Ivy piped in. "I'll send you the tab." She
snorted and laughed, then she started crying. Her father glanced
her way, then looked at Peter. He shook his head in
disappointment and went to his daughter's side.

"I'm so sorry," Peter said to Mrs. Green.

"To say the least," she said, joining her husband and daughter.

Peter exited the room carrying the knapsack. From the hallway he
took one last look at Ivy and her parents before the door closed,
shutting out the image huddled behind it. He was dazed by the
events of the last forty-eight hours. He slowly made his way down
the corridor, turning once to look back at the closed door to her
room. The first thought to surface through his haze of emotions
was of the baby. He had promised these people that he would care
for her.

He paused before the nurses' station and asked how to reach the
neonatal care unit. He tramped down the corridor, rounded the
corner, and pushed through a set of swinging double doors. To the
nurse sitting at a small desk, he said, "Pardon me, which baby is
the Jones-Green baby? I'm her father."

The nurse led him into a clean room and instructed him to put on
a sterile gown and a face mask. He followed her orders in
silence. Dressed in the sanitary outfit, he followed the nurse 
into a room containing a row of clear plastic bubble-like
incubators, one of which held his baby's fragile baby. It was a
strange setting, surreal, like something out of a science fiction
film.

"Here she is," the nurse said.

Encased in the hygienic shell lay his baby girl. She was tiny,
and he could see thin, pulsing veins through her skin and bruises
all over her body. Her head! It looked so huge and unnatural, he
thought with alarm. He leaned closer, panicked.

The nurse saw his aghast expression and touched a gloved hand to
his arm. "Oh, don't worry. That's normal," she said. "All the
rest of her will catch up in the next couple of weeks. The head
develops a little faster at this stage. It's perfectly ordinary."

"What is all this?" he asked, studying the clear tubes entering
her nostrils and poking into her arms and belly, the wires and
probes taped to her impossible little body.

"Respiratory, protein, waste, heart," the nurse said, indicating
the various points, all of which appeared crudely connected and
held in place by swatches of white tape.

"How is she?"

"We're keeping a close eye on her. It was a difficult birth, but
she seems like a fighter."

"Hang in there, little girl," Peter whispered.

"I'm afraid we have to leave now. We need to be extremely careful
about exposure."

Peter and nodded, and through his paper face mask he kissed his
gloved fingers and touched the plastic shell. He straightened and
followed the nurse out of the room. Pulling himself free of the
green scrub outfit, he glanced one last time back through the
glass window into the neonatal room. He collected the knapsack
and pushed through the doors.

Sitting outside the room in one of the hard plastic waiting
chairs, was Kate.

Without a word she stood and caught him in her arms. She held him
for a moment, stiffly, then guided him to the seat beside her.

"Jesus, Kate. How did you - ?"

"I called Peggy. She told me you were here."

Peter looked at the silver doors. "She's so tiny. "

"I heard," Kate said. She pressed her folded hands into her lap
and cleared her throat. "Peter, why? Why didn't you tell me?"

He closed his eyes. He felt precariously close to throwing up,
surrounded by riddles and agony. Ivy. The baby. Kate.

"Kate," he said, "I didn't think this would happen." He opened
his eyes and looked at her. "You have to believe me."

"How many does this make?" Kate said, bitterly. "We could have
adopted."

He tried to put his arm around her, but she pulled away and
stood, hugging her arms tightly around herself.

"Kate, none," he said, moving closer. "There have never been any
others. I didn't plan this to happen."

"And she did?"

"No. Yes! I don't know," he said. "She was desperate. It just
happened. I didn't want it to, but it just did. We'd had too much
to drink. It was the wine - "

She slapped him hard across the face.

Without a word, he dropped his chin to his chest. He knew that
the blow he had struck her, this whole situation, had cut deep.
The damage would take a very long time to heal. But he had to
have her forgiveness, because without her he would never get
through this.

"Kate, please. I don't know what we'll do," he said. "But please
don't leave me. I need you."

Dr. Chen appeared from around the corner. "Mr. Jones?" he said.
He looked at Kate and gestured politely for her to sit down. Then
he led Peter away, around the bend in the corridor. They sat
down.

"Mr. Jones, we need for you to name your daughter."

No name. Their baby girl had no name. This thought seemed to be
the final blow to drain him of his last ounce of energy. It was
real, and final. His life was changed now and forever. Somehow
the knapsack fell from his hands, its contents spilling onto the
floor. Kate. He had to ask her.

"Wait," he said to the doctor. He jumped to his feet and ran
around the corner, calling out her name. But she was gone.

His shoulders slackened and he went back to the doctor, who was
collecting the contents that had spilled out of the knapsack.
Peter bent down to take over. He was overcome by a wave of
dizziness and the nausea. Then, just as abruptly, the spinning
halted and the sickness retreated, forced back by a keening sound
that arose in his throat.

There, among the clutter of notes and pens and the little black
box with its exposed circuits and wires, he found, written in her
mother's own hand across the label of the topmost disk, their
baby's name.

"Isle," he whispered.

"Mr. Jones?" the doctor said, not sure he had heard correctly.

"I said, Isle," Peter said, louder this time, taking the disks in
his hand. "My daughter's name is Isle."



PART IV


Chapter 17 


"That's a good girl," Peter said, cradling the tiny Isle in his
arms. He checked her bottle. "Almost done."

For one and a half months she had been home with Peter, deemed
well enough leave the hospital after a touch-and-go stay for the
same length of time. She weighed a scant six and a quarter
pounds. Her eyes were curious and alert, just like her mother's.
Peter longed for her eyes to keep the clear sapphire color, a
glittering reflection of Ivy. Isle's hair was beginning to
outcrop in satiny brown whorls, the same color as her father's.

"Your little jewel," Grace said all smiles as she came into the
living room. "Go ahead, I'll finish up with her."

"Okay, shrimp, over to Grace," Peter said, handing over the
little pink bundle.

Peter stood beaming at his infant in Grace's lap, her tiny mouth
puckering the nipple of the bottle, tiny hands clutching and
uncurling, tiny stocking feet kicking. So fragile, yet strong.

"Petey!" Byron boomed from elsewhere in the house. "Let's go!"

"Better hurry before the bear comes out of his cave looking for
you."

"Coming," Peter called, and hurriedly kissed Isle's fuzzy head.

Having temporarily moved into Peter's California mansion since
they had come back from Maine after Isle's birth, the Holmeses
had been a godsend. Grace was all too happy to help out with
Isle, and Byron and Peter had resumed their project. He had still
not seen or heard from Ivy, and she had refused his calls at the
detoxification clinic where she was recovering.

Byron and Peter and their small team worked all hours of the day
on the design they had settled on. The day Isle was born, Ivy had
provided him with the missing link, the distinct component that
he had been seeking. With the ISLE interface, they now had a
model from which to refine the hardware, honing its design to
provide the ultimate platform, the perfect stage upon which Ivy's
invention could perform.

"Come here," Byron said enthusiastically, "Get a look at this."
He was standing before a Joey Plus computer. It was connected to
a small, open black box filled with a convolution of wires,
circuits, and components. Peter stood beside his mentor in the
makeshift partitioned lab they had set up in one of the large
bedrooms.

"We've got the agent tied in to the speech recognizer and it's
working like a charm. Here," Byron said, handing Peter a small
microphone, "tell it you want to make a date."

Peter cleared his throat. "Computer," he said, the keyword that
the ISLE speech recognizer listened for to carry out spoken
commands, "lunch with Byron on Friday."

On the screen, a small month-view calendar opened and the
upcoming Friday flashed. A moment later "12:00PM Byron Holmes /
Lunch" appeared in the date box.

The Joey Plus's built-in speaker came to life with a robotic
voice. "Lunch with Byron Holmes, noon, confirmed. Is there an
agenda?"

Peter grinned and looked at Byron, who lowered his voice. "A
little something we threw in this morning."

Peter spoke into the microphone. "Yes. Discuss computer
enhancements and - "

"Computer," the Joey said, interrupting Peter, "is unrecognized."

Peter gave Byron a puzzled look. "What happened?"

Byron was scratching his head. "Well how do you like that. We
never considered that. I mean, that if we call the computer
'computer,' then we can't use that word once it's listening to
whatever we tell it."

"Ah," Peter said. "Right. Hmm." He thought about this for a
second, then sat down before the Joey and started typing.

"What are you doing?" Byron said.

"Well," Peter said, lifting the microphone, "since the word
computer won't compute, all we need to do is give it a unique
name that we wouldn't normally use in an everyday context."

"Of course," Byron said. "Good thinking."

Peter pressed a key and the Joey spoke: "Please say my name so
that I know who I am."

"Pip," Peter said, loud and clear.

"Please repeat my name again, faster this time."

Peter said the name faster. The Joey Plus asked him to repeat it
once more, slowly this time, so that it knew three slight
variations on of its own name, thereby making recognition more
accurate.

"Pip?" Byron asked.

"Sure," Peter said. "Pip. Like in Dicken's "Great Expectations."
One of my all-time favorite characters."

"Then Pip it is," Byron laughed. "Let's give it a try."

Peter repeated the test and the Joey Plus, a.k.a. Pip, pulled off
the scheduling task without a hitch.

"Well done," Peter said, congratulating Byron.

"That's nothing. We got the net lookup voice stuff working too."

"Hey, come look at this," Paul Trueblood said, appearing from
behind one of the partitions used to divide the huge room.

Peter had contacted his two favorite engineers, Paul Trueblood
and Rick Boardman, after he and Byron had relocated the project
to California. During a dinner Peter had arranged, Byron had
talked about the ISLE vision, providing the engineers the
opportunity to get to know him. Both were excited by what they
heard, and the very next day both engineers resigned from Wallaby
and returned to Peter's home, ready to dive into the project.

In one hand Paul held a short stylus pen, and in the other a flat
display unit that connected to another Joey Plus portable
computer. With the stylus he began "writing" directly on the
display. As he scribbled, the computer converted his script
handwriting into clear text.

"Looking good," Peter said, watching the software do its thing
quickly and accurately. "Hey, no mistakes," he said when Paul
finished jotting down several lines. It took him a moment to
realize that what Paul had written were the lyrics to a song. A
Kate McGreggor song.

Byron applauded and, noticing Peter's ruminating, elbowed him.

"Good stuff, Paul," Peter said quietly.

"Hey, Ricky," Byron called, "how'd you manage to speed up the
recognition so much?"

A smiling Rick peered over the edge of another nearby partition.
"You can thank my pals at MIT. They were kind enough to slip me
some new algorithms at that conference I went to last week," Rick
said. "It zips up the language translation stuff, too. Watch." He
punched a few keys and the text on the display suddenly changed
to Spanish, accents and all, then, a keystroke later, Cyrillic.

"Okay, come on now," Peter said with a clap, putting an end to
the show. "We've only got another forty-five minutes," he said,
checking the clock on the wall. "I want you guys to run through
it once more to make sure there aren't any glitches."

"It's all working," Paul assured him, a little defensively. Just
like old times.

Peter smiled. "Okay, okay."

Byron said, "We've got the whole works all ready to show him.
It's gonna knock his socks off."

Peter had been skeptical about meeting Byron's old friend, who
was due to arrive shortly. However, trusting Byron's judgment, he
had ultimately given in.

"I hope so," Peter said, then, "I'm going to check on Isle." He
excused himself.

 "She's asleep," Grace whispered, glancing up from her book. Isle
slept peacefully beside her on the sofa.

"Any calls?" Peter said. The house and lab phones were on
separate lines, so that the men were not distracted while
working.

Grace gave a sympathetic shake of her head.

Peter had not heard from Kate since Isle's birth. He had called
her the night she'd departed, and tried to persuade her to
return. She had declined, and that was the last time they had
spoken.

He now had Isle, and Byron and Grace, a family of sorts, and
ISLE. The project had crystallized into a wondrous thing. This
afternoon's meeting could signal the beginning of something
great, something bigger than anything he had ever done at
Wallaby. Yet, if he could, Peter would trade all of it to have
Kate back. If only he could undo his mistake...

As if reading his mind, the older woman laid a hand on his wrist.
"Petey, you can call her, you know."

He shrugged. "I told her I would leave it up to her. That she's
eternally welcome, and we want her back. But I think I've lost
her for good, Grace."

"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure. You know, after Byron had his heart
attack, I almost left him."

"Really? How come?"

"His pride. He felt so incapacitated by the fact that he couldn't
help himself, and that he was nearing retirement, that he sort of
turned against me. When he was bedridden, I set up a room in the
house with all his favorite things, maps and model ships, books
he loved. But all he could do was reject my help, hurt me."

"But it's not the same."

"Isn't it? Didn't what happened between you and Ivy happen
because you knew, in the back of your mind, that you were losing
control at Wallaby? And maybe you thought Kate would not want you
once that happened?"

Peter stared at her. What she said had never occurred to him, but
when he considered it, it rang true.

"Petey, I know my husband better than anyone. And I know when I
see someone who's like him. I made a decision many years ago to
be his partner, till death do us part. We came close to breaking
that promise, until he told me one simple thing."

"I think I know what he said."

"Then why don't you say it?"

He hesitated, then it. "I was scared."

"And so was he. But when he told me, when he came right out and
said it, I understood. Yes, it's different. Infidelity is harder
to forgive. But if you tell her why, as you just told me, maybe
she'll give you a second chance."

"It's all so mixed up. There's the baby, and the project and
everything going on today. I'm not sure now is the right time.
Everything is so up in the air."

"But if she were back in your life, Peter, wouldn't these things
seem a little more tolerable?"

He looked at his baby. "Yes," he said. "You're right. I'll do it.
I'll call her."


* * *


Greta walked into the bank and faced the long line of customers.
"Ugh," she sneered, settling her sunglasses in her hair.

Resigned, she labored to the end of the line, a dozen or so
people between her and the front. She fished through her purse,
looking for a stray form left over from a past visit. She found
none, and besides, she wasn't sure which form she needed anyway.
There has to be a better way, she thought, glancing anxiously at
the multitude of forms stacked on the podium beside the line.
Just then, the branch manager appeared from a small room behind
the main counter, carrying a handful of papers in his hands. Ah!
There it was, a better way. She managed to catch his eye.

"Bruce! How are you?" Greta said affectionately, catching him
lightly by the arm.

"Well hello, Mrs. Locke. How are you?" he said, patting her hand.

She leaned close to his ear. "I was fine, until I walked into
this. It's becoming so difficult to bank."

Taking advantage of her impairment, which, before falling in love
with Jean-Pierre, she would have never considered, she fluttered
her four-fingered hand in the air. She sighed. "Oh well."

Managing to restrain his surprise, he glanced pensively at the
papers in his hand, then at the woman who stood in front of
Greta. Like the others in line, the woman's attention was fixed
on the front of the line. Greta read the young manager's mind
with delicious knowing: She is Matthew Locke's wife, with a
history of enormous deposits. And very large balances. And, she
knew, he had never before seen her disfigured hand. Pity.

He leaned closer. "Wait over at my desk. I'll be finished with
this transaction in just a minute, then I'll take care of you."

She graced him with a thankful smile and casually strolled over
to the manager's desk and seated herself. She opened her purse,
busied herself emptying old receipts and gum wrappers. A few
minutes later the manager returned and seated himself opposite
her. He collected her litter and, all business, discarded it in
the wastebasket beneath his desk. Clasping his hand together atop
the desk blotter, he beamed with anticipation, plainly expecting
a big deposit. "Now, what is it I can do for you, Mrs. Locke?"

She produced her checkbook and flattened it on the desk before
her. "I'd like to withdraw some of my funds," she said.

His expression seemed to flatten a little. "How much would you
like to withdraw?"

She looked from side to side, then leaned forward, her chin an
inch above her poised pen. "A quarter-million dollars," she
whispered.

"I see," he said, blinking, looking personally offended. "Is
there something wrong with our service?"

She gave a little laugh. "Oh, no. No, no. You're always so kind
and friendly. It's really not that much money - relatively
speaking," she said with a shake of her shoulders, a subtle
reminder of their overall balance.

"From which account will you draw the funds?" he asked, his
fingers working quickly over the keyboard of the computer
terminal beside the desk. "Your personal checking account balance
here doesn't total that amount."

"I know. I'd like you to arrange to collect it from the market
fund account, and then deposit it into this," she said,
indicating the account number in her open checkbook. She unfolded
the small slip of paper Jean-Pierre had given her and showed it
to the manager. "Then I'll write a check, which I'd like wired to
this Swiss account."

"Very well, Mrs. Locke." He opened one of the desk drawers.
"We'll just need to fill out this form," he said, tearing off a
small pink sheet. "Are you and Mr. Locke traveling?" he asked
casually as he transcribed her account number onto the form.

"Nope. Just me. It's to help set up affairs in Europe before I
depart for an extended trip."

He tapped the account number into the computer terminal and a
moment later the account activity unrolled on the display. "Oh,"
he said, frowning. "Mrs. Locke, this is a joint account. I'm
afraid we're going to need Mr. Locke's signature on this form
before we can provide wire authorization."

She straightened. "But the account is in my name," she said,
puzzled.

"Yes, Mrs. Locke," he said patiently, "your checking account is
in your name, but the funds are coming from your joint account
with Mr. Locke."

"But they are leaving from my account," she insisted, as if this
made a difference.

"Yes, they are, but to get into your account they must first come
out of the market fund, which is in both names."

"Is there any other way?" she said, distressed. "I mean, It's
really such a small amount. Couldn't we just this once make it
work somehow?"

"I'm afraid not, Mrs. Locke. We must have Mr. Locke's signature
on this form before we can proceed with the transaction. I'm
sorry."

The manager wrote an X beside the line that needed Matthew's
signature. "Normally, Mr. Locke would have to appear in person.
But if you can just have him sign this and then come back with it
before three o'clock, we can complete the transaction today."

Pulling out of the bank's parking lot she decided to drive to
Wallaby and have Matthew sign the form immediately. It was best
to just get the whole transfer done and over with.

When she had asked Jean-Pierre why he couldn't first go over to
France and open a joint account in both their names, he had told
her that this was the best way, something to do with interest
rates and international rules and regulations and other things
she didn't understand, or care to know more about. The long and
short of it, according to Jean-Pierre, was that a delay would
cause them to lose thousands of dollars in interest. He obviously
knew what he was talking about, and she had agreed to do it his
way. After all, she rationalized, it was for their future. And
besides, he had promised he would make no decisions without first
consulting her. This way, if he found something that they liked,
he would be able to act fast, securing the property quickly,
without having to wait for signatures to arrive via slow,
international means.

She pressed hard on the accelerator, hoping to catch Matthew
while he ate lunch in his office, as he customarily did this time
of day.


Chapter 18


"Matthew, it's all so positive," Laurence Maupin said with
smiling allegiance as she closed the copy of the "Wall Street
Journal" resting on his desk. "You've got the press in the palm
of your hand these days."

"I'd say you've had more than a little to do with that."

"Just doing my job."

"And more," he said with a mischievous grin.

His secretary opened his office door and leaned in. "Matthew,
your meeting with the executive staff has been moved to
one-thirty."

He thanked her and she returned to her desk. He closed the issue
of "Business Week" he had been reading, which featured an article
Laurence had pitched. He appraised his young assistant
appreciatively as she flipped through a manila file folder. She
looked at him.

"How about some lunch?" she asked, closing the folder.

"Sure. What are you up for?"

"You pick."

"I haven't had sushi in a while."

Laurence wrinkled her nose. "Hmm. I've somehow managed to avoid
sushi all these years. Well, I guess it's time I tried it."

"You'll love it," he said, escorting her out of his office. To
his secretary Eileen, he said, "We're going next door for lunch."

They boarded the elevator. "I'm curious as to why the executive
staff pulled together for a meeting this afternoon," Matthew
said. "No one has indicated a problem or situation of any sort to
me."

"Perhaps it's to congratulate you on the fact that the Joey II is
shipping two months ahead of schedule, with thousands of orders
waiting to be filled."

"Maybe," he said, without conviction. "But we usually don't call
together an executive staff meeting without some prior notice.
And I'm usually the one to call them."

They crossed the Wallaby parking lot and walked along the
sidewalk. "Who did call this one?" she asked.

He stopped in his tracks, and looked at her. "You know, I don't
know," he said with mild astonishment. "I hadn't thought about it
until you just asked. I suppose it was Hank Towers."

"Well, I can't imagine it being anything but good. Things have
gone up, up, up since you've taken control."

"Yes, and I can thank you for that too," he quipped, shifting the
topic from business to pleasure.

She touched her fingers to her lips to stifle a laugh as he
opened the restaurant door for her. The Japanese hostess greeted
them with a bow, and indicated for them to follow her. She led
them into the dining area.

"I'd prefer a room in back," Matthew said when the hostess
presented a table in the crowded general dining area, occupied
mostly by Wallaby employees.

She nodded kindly and led them to the rear of the restaurant, to
one of the more private rooms, screened off from the rest of the
place with sliding rice paper and teakwood partitions.

"This is much better," Matthew said, stepping up to the low
platform. He and Laurence kicked off their shoes and handed them
to the hostess, who placed them outside the private room. They
seated themselves side by side in the sunken pit, facing the
sliding door.

The door slid closed and they opened their menus. A moment later
Matthew felt Laurence's stocking feet resting on top of his own.

He scanned the menu briefly then folded it. "How about I order?"
he said, noticing she was having some difficulty choosing among
the unusual dishes. "Trust me," he said, and kissed her forehead.

He felt like a man on top of the world. This was how things
should be. In the past couple of months his wife had calmed down,
just as he had known she would, and was off again doing her
projects and things. Whatever it was she was occupying her time
with he did not care, so long as she remained placated. As for
her affair, he supposed she was still carrying on with it, but
with whom, and where, he could not say. Nor did he care.

The rice paper screen silently slid open, and the waitress
entered carrying a tray. She handed them each a moist hot towel
and filled their mugs with green tea, and Matthew recited their
order.

The waitress exited, and he gave Laurence's knee a little
squeeze. "Don't worry, I picked a nice variety. No appalling
surprises, I promise."


* * *


"Amazing!" William Harrell said excitedly as the ISLE system
looked up a name he asked it to find in its sample phone
directory. "And what did you say ISLE stands for?"

"Intelligent Speech and Language Environment."

"Right," William said. "Tell me more about the recognition
interface."

"It was what really shifted our focus on this whole new design,"
Peter began. Byron, Paul, and Rick sat at the table also,
listening as Peter explained their design. "We had already
decided that intelligent agents were the next big step in
portable computers and devices, but it didn't seem like enough to
us. We wanted more. And when we encountered the ISLE hardware and
software, the pieces just sort of fell in place."

He paused for a moment, picked up the small black box sitting on
the table before them. "In its final configuration, this
circuitry will fit on one single PC card, that slides into one of
the portable's available slots. It contains the core recognition
software, speech synthesizer, and 74,000 word English language
library. The card's extra RAM stores up to 5,000 additional words,
such as last names or companies or terms you commonly refer to.
Additional libraries, ones that are industry-specific, for
example, medical libraries, can be stored on another PC card, or
on the hard disk."

"Incredible," William said. "But really, do people want this sort
of interface? Will they really use it? In tests we conducted in
our labs, we found that while users often asked for speech
recognition, few actually used it once we installed it on
prototype systems. What makes this any different?"

Peter nodded in agreement. "You're right. It's true. While people
think they want to be able to talk to a computer, have it take
dictation, we believe what they really want is to give it simple
commands to make certain small tasks simpler. But listen, instead
of telling you all of this, why don't we show you instead. Guys?"

Paul and Rick arranged the hackneyed Joey Plus computer in front
of William and Peter handed him a microphone.

"In a final product," Peter said, "we'll of course build-in a
microphone for hand's free operation." He hit a few keys. "Now,
say you are driving in your car and you remember that you need to
send an e-mail or fax to an associate to confirm an upcoming
appointment."

"Okay," William said. "How do I start."

"Do what comes naturally."

William thought about this for a second then spoke into the
microphone. "Pip, create an e-mail."

The Joey's hard disk was busy for an instant and then a blank
e-mail form popped up on the screen. The Joey said, "To whom?"

William turned to Byron with wide eyes. Byron nodded and
whispered, "Go on, give the little fella what he's asking for."

William said: "Peter."

Joey: "Peter Jones? Or Peter Smith?"

"Peter Jones," William said, then he covered the microphone and
was about to say something, but Peter anticipated his question
before he could ask it.

"That's the agent at work, behind the scenes. It found two Peters
in the address book and didn't know which one you wanted, so it
asked you to decide."

The Joey filled in the 'To:' field and skipped to the next line.
It had already filled in the 'From:' and 'Date:' fields
automatically.

"Subject?" the Joey said.

"Meeting confirmation."

The Joey considered this for a few seconds and then the monthly
calendar view appeared on the screen, layered above the e-mail
form.

"Do you mean your meeting scheduled for this Friday?"

"Yes."

The Joey automatically keyed in the subject field with: "Meeting
Confirmation, July sixth."

"Dear Peter," the Joey said, then "Please begin your message,
William."

William recited a brief note, saying that he was looking forward
to the upcoming meeting. When he was done, he covered the
microphone with his hand again and turned to Byron. "How do I
tell it I'm done?"

"Just say it's name first, and it will know that you want to give
it a command. That's why we named this one Pip. It's a word it
would probably never encounter in your normal correspondence and
so it knows that you are talking to it, rather than giving it
text to put on the screen."

"Pip," William said into the mic, "That's all."

The Joey did not respond.

"Pip," William tried again, "Thank you."

Nothing.

William looked at Peter, who looked at Rick.

"What's the word for done," Peter said.

"Done," Rick said. "Looks like we'd better put in a few more ways
of saying done," he said, scribbling a note to himself.

William said, "Pip: done."

"Thank you," the Joey said. "Shall I send this fax now or later?"

"Now," William said. He looked at Peter. "Is that okay."

Peter nodded.

"Sending," the Joey said. A few moments later the portable's
built-in modem dialed the phone line plugged into it. They heard
the line ring through the computer's speaker, and a half-second
later the fax machine in the workroom rang. It picked up on the
next ring, and William got up and went over to it. The fax he had
just dictated, properly dated and addressed, whispered out of the
fax machine and lay in the tray, complete. William picked it up
and let out a pleased whistle. He heard two beeps behind him and
he turned around.

"Fax transmission complete," the Joey said.

"Pip," William said, "thank you."

"You're welcome, William," the Joey said.

William laughed and shook his head. "Incredible," he said. He
switched off the microphone and laid it down on the table. "Well,
I guess that proves your point. You're right. For simple
busy-work like sending a fax or creating an e-mail, being able to
speak to the computer directly does make the job easier."

"Right," Peter said. "And some people will use it for longer
documents, like a traditional dictation system, but without the
need to transcribe it. And in order to avoid being interrupted in
the middle of your brainstorm it will wait until you are done to
ask you to clarify any words it did not understand." 

"What about the handwriting stuff," William said.

"That's another enhancement," Peter said, ready to explain how it
fit in with the rest of the product. But just then, Grace came
into the room.

 "Come on, boys, lunch is ready."

The men stood and stretched, and Peter went on as they headed out
of the room. "Like the speech interface, we think the handwriting
recognition, which we've vastly improved over the standard Joey
version, will be used for smaller tasks, jotting down notes and
contact information, that sort of thing. But not necessarily for
writing long letters. For that, they can use the keyboard.
However, for editing an existing document, using the stylus like
a red pen to mark up the page and scribble in corrections or move
text around, we've put in standard editor pen-strokes to make
revisions a snap."

William removed his glasses. "It's amazing. The way these
enhancements - the agent technology, and the speech and improved
handwriting recognition - have upped the ante, making an already
pretty smart portable system truly intelligent."

"Right," Peter said. "And the vertical application possibilities
are endless. Publishing, using the editorial mark-up features I
described. And any business that relies on forms. We're already
collaborating with a doctor friend of mine at Stanford," Peter
said enthusiastically. "She's building a system that lets doctors
and nurses track patients' vital signs and prescription orders on
a prototype system we've hacked together for her."

The group seated themselves around the dining table, with Peter
and William sitting side by side.

William said, "But what about the computer itself? I see you've
cracked open a few Joeys in there and put in your own custom
hardware. Is that how you intend to deliver the product? As a
Joey peripheral?"

Peter let out a big sigh on this one. "That's a good question.
One I tend to get a little too worked up over. See, I want to do
our own thing. It would take longer, but it would be ours, and
not a part of Wallaby's. Let's just say I'm still a little
sensitive on the subject. Byron, why don't you handle that one."
Grace handed Isle to Peter and he gently rocked her in his arms.

"She's precious," William said. "I didn't know you were a
father."

"Yep," Peter said. "Her name is Isle. She's the little jewel
behind everything you just saw." He kissed her fuzzy head.

Byron took a sip of his water and addressed William's question.
"That's not a bad idea, Billy. Petey and I have been talking
about it between us, and we're not exactly sure how we're going
to deliver the final product. We could do it as a Joey add-on. Or
we could create our own new computer. That Joey in there that you
were playing with is only the basic guts. For more reliable net
and web access, we've slipped in a faster, 28.8 KB modem with a
wireless option so you can send and receive e-mails or do paging
through the airwaves, without plugging into a phone line. And
we've come up with a sharper, lower-power thin-film transistor
display, a longer-life battery pack, and an infrared port too,
that lets you beam information to your desktop system or to other
Joeys and IR devices, like printers, or hell, to your TV even,
when we get the home-entertainment interface software we're
kicking around up and running."

William put down his fork and took a sip of his water. "Well,
there is another option that you have not mentioned." He paused.
"You could integrate the ISLE design into a next-generation ICP
product."

Everyone around the table stopped and looked at him. Then they
looked at Peter.

Peter, gently rocking Isle in his lap, looked at Byron. Then he
turned to William, and he smiled.

"Now there's an interesting idea."


* * *


She pulled into a handicapped parking space beside Matthew's car,
then flashed her Wallaby VIP badge to the security guard sitting
behind the lobby desk. Matthew had gotten the pass for her a few
years ago, after she had once been accosted by security when she
had arrived and marched right past the desk carrying a basket of
flowers, a surprise for her husband. As far as she was concerned,
she was still the boss's wife, and she could go anywhere she damn
well pleased. She ignored the guard's pleasantries and boarded
the elevator. A moment later the door parted, and she was on the
top floor.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Locke," a handsome receptionist said
cheerfully.

"Hello, Sheldon," Greta said with an effusive smile. Such a
charming young man. He knew how to treat a distinguished woman.
As she headed away, her peripheral vision caught the young man
lifting the telephone handset, warning the executive secretaries
that she was on her way.

So well trained, she thought, a sudden hush falling over the
executive area. As she marched along the row of offices, each of
the secretaries graced her with a smile and a greeting.

"Greta," Matthew's secretary Eileen said with deliberate
flatness.

Greta marched past her desk without so much as a glance and went
straight into her husband's office. 

Eileen came in behind her. "He's gone to lunch next door," she
said. "Can I help you with something?"

Lingering for a few moments, she examined several documents on
Matthew's desk with feigned interest. Satisfied, she cleared her
throat and walked out of the office. Neither of the two women
wished the other any sort of day, good, bad or otherwise.

She made her way back to the elevators.

The elevator rang, and someone ran past her and boarded it.
"Please hold that," she called out. Taking her time to reach the
elevator, a pleasurable knowledge swept through her; whoever the
person in the elevator was, he or she would hold the door for
her.

"Thank you, dear," she said to the young man aboard the elevator.
Because she had participated in all of Wallaby's major functions,
whether on stage with Matthew as he wished the employees season's
greetings, or during congratulatory speeches and celebration
events, everyone in the company recognized Greta Locke - the
head-honcho's wife.

Reveling in this notoriety, she strolled into the sushi
restaurant and searched among the tables for her husband.
Conversations quieted among the diners as they noticed her. Mrs.
Matthew Locke pretended indifference to the attention she drew as
she started through the dining area and headed for the back room,
where on past occasions she and Matthew had dined with some of
the other Wallaby executives and their wives.

"May I help you?" the hostess inquired politely, treading
alongside Greta.

"I know my way around," Greta said. She went in back and stopped
before the group of private partitioned rooms. The doors to three
of the intimate little rooms were open, and she could see they
were empty. She went for the first closed door, but just before
sliding it open she noticed Matthew's shoes, as well as a pair of
heels, sitting on the floor by the last room, which overlooked
the carp pond at the restaurant's atrium center.

As she neared the room, she heard Matthew's voice. "Here, try
this one," then a foolish giggle, presumably belonging to whoever
it was who fit into such tiny heels.

Greta stepped up to the platform and slid the door open, just in
time to see Matthew, chopsticks in hand, placing a dripping pink
piece of raw fish into the mouth of a young pretty thing. The
girl sat with her eyes closed and head titled back slightly,
wriggled her tongue in anticipation. Matthew's other hand was
hidden beneath the girl's hair, supporting her neck.

Looking up and encountering his wife's stunned expression,
Matthew jerked impulsively, and in doing so plunged the chunk of
raw fish into the girl's mouth. Her eyes snapped open, and she
made a revolting sound. Her hands flew to her throat. She was
choking.

Matthew struck the girl sharply on the back, and with a great
popping cough, the pink thing flew from her mouth into her cupped
hand.

Seeing that the girl's airway was free, Matthew turned to his
wife. Getting up, his napkin fell into the tray of sushi. As he
reached for it, his feet encountered an obstacle, and in an
effort to prevent himself from crashing through the window, he
caught the edge of the table, managing to tip over their mugs of
tea, as well as knock most of the remaining sushi onto the floor.

"Sit down, Matthew," Greta said with a disgusted flap of her
hand. She gave him a look. "I must say, darling, I'm very
impressed with your technique. I would have thought you'd need a
hook to catch this sort of fish."

The girl sucked deep gulps of air, alternating her wide,
watery-eyed gape between husband and wife.

"Poor thing, so sorry you don't care for the selection," Greta
said with a pout. "I think there's some more on the floor. Go
fetch, dearie."

"Greta," Matthew snapped, "close that door!"

"Oh, relax, Matthew. This will only take a minute. However," she
said, seating herself in the pit across from them, "I'm not
leaving until I see this live one swim through a hoop and catch a
chunk of that bait in the air."

Matthew glared at his wife as she opened her purse and withdrew
the pink bank form. 

"This is Laurence Maupin," Matthew said, attempting to explain
himself. "She's my public relations assistant."

Ignoring the girl's flawless extended hand, Greta slid aside the
tray and dropped the form on the table before Matthew. She made
sure to use her left hand.

The door slid open and the hostess poked her head in. "Would you
like a menu?" she asked graciously.

"Go away," Greta snapped. The door slid closed.

"We were just going over some notes," Matthew said, still
indulging in his farce. "For a speech I'll be giving in a few
weeks."

"Is that so?" Greta said. "And where will you be speaking,
Matthew, Sea World?

More composed now, Laurence eyed her tormentor with plain
contempt. "This is not what you think, Mrs. Locke," she said.

"Butt out. This business is between my husband and I." She
flicked the form into Matthew's lap, then slapped a gold pen down
on the table. "Sign it."

"Greta! This is for a quarter-million dollars," he said, his
voice disbelieving. "What the hell are you doing?"

She gave her husband an impatient look. "Matthew, either you shut
up and sign that, or I walk out there and announce your fishy
little affair with Flipper here."

He considered this, looked down at the form. "I hope you know
what you're doing," he said, and picked up the pen.

"What the hell is so funny?" Greta asked, noticing Laurence's
apparently merry expression as she watched Matthew's hand
squiggling across the form. For the briefest instant, Laurence's
smile intensified when she met Greta's eyes. At this stare-down,
Greta lost.

Matthew shoved the pen and the transfer document across the
table, then crossed his arms and stared down at the ruined lunch
like an angry child.

Greta collected the form and folded it neatly, a triumphant smile
on her face. Matthew shook his head in disgust as the slip
disappeared into her purse with a snap. His anger was complete.
At this point he was only thankful she was leaving immediately,
without causing him any further embarrassment.

"I'm so sorry I can't stay to see the rest of the show - " Greta
started, calmly.

Or so he thought.

"I'll especially hate missing the part where you balance his
balls on your nose."

Matthew lunged for her, but she escaped his grasp with a titter
and left the room, not bothering to close the door. She swept
past the mute diners, her victory plain for everyone to see. She
even paused at the door for a moment to take a few mints at the
hostess desk.

But when she pressed through the doors, leaving her stunned
audience behind, she felt strangely unmasked in the bright
sunlight. Something inside her shifted, and her elation quickly
drained.

She was overcome by a sudden panic. And then it hit her. Was this
her last hurrah? Would that young girl take over her reign as
Mrs. Matthew Locke? she wondered covetously.

She pressed her fist to her mouth and forced herself to
concentrate on her task at hand. She had to get to the bank with
the signed transfer. Then she would feel better. Yes, she told
herself, catching Matthew with his little tart would strengthen
her decision, would reassure her. She couldn't wait to tell
Jean-Pierre she had caught him, red-handed.

But this small euphoria was as short-lived as the last. As she
raced up the highway, a disturbing realization mocked her,
prodding obscenely at her sensibility. That all this time,
contrary to her reasoning, Matthew had had the capacity to love
more than Wallaby, and he had chosen to share it not with her,
but with another woman.


Chapter 19 


"Then we have a tentative agreement," William said with plain
satisfaction in his voice. Isle lay slanted across his knees, her
tiny hand now and then batting his tie.

Peter and Byron, seated on a sofa, both nodded in agreement.

"Wonderful," William said. "You hear that, young lady? Your name
is going to be famous!" As if on cue the baby yawned, and
everyone laughed.

"Speaking of tired, you men must be working yourselves to the
bone with all the progress you've made," William said, handling
Isle to Peter. "When do you expect to have a final design?"

Byron considered for a moment. "The hardware design is nearly
complete. We've got a lot of software work to do. Six months?"
Byron ventured, turning to Peter.

"If you say so, chief," Peter said. "We'll need some engineers,
administrative support, that kind of stuff."

William assured the men that he would get them whatever they
needed to see their project through to completion as quickly as
possible.

Peter was nearly satisfied, but there was one last thing he
wanted to clarify. "What about the strategic alliance?"

"That stays, for now." William said, then: "But when the ISLE
system is ready for production, we'll be less dependent on
Wallaby. There's an important difference between what we've got
with Wallaby, and what we are proposing for ISLE. With this, ICP
will have invested hard cash in your baby. So don't worry, we'll
see to it that she's a success."

 "Then we're on," Byron said.

William beamed. "Excellent," he said. He checked his watch. "I'd
better get moving if I'm going to catch my plane." The trio
walked to the door together. They shook hands, and William
departed.

"You see, Petey," Byron said after closing the door, "the big
guys aren't all so bad after all, eh?"

"I like him," Peter admitted.

"Man, we've sure got our work cut out for us. I just hope we
don't have any setbacks."

"How did it go?" Grace asked.

Byron kissed her on the cheek. "Like a charm."

"Congratulations," she said. "Peter, this man called while you
guys were out in the yard." She traded a Post-it note for Isle.
There was a name written on it that Peter did not recognize, and
a phone number. "Thanks. I'll call him later. Let's go tell the
guys the good news."


* * *


"Did Greta find you?" Eileen asked, rising from her chair as
Matthew returned from lunch.

"She found me, all right," Matthew said, winded, rushing past her
and into his office. He gathered his pen and notepad and hurried
to the boardroom. There was only a minute to spare before the
meeting began.

The entire Wallaby executive staff was seated around the table.
"Good afternoon," Matthew said, sweeping the group with a smile.
For an instant their inexpressive faces reminded him of the day
they had voted Peter Jones from the company, and the hairs on the
back of his neck tingled as he seated himself at the head of the
table.

All eyes drifted to the assistant chairman, Hank Towers.

"Matthew," he started affably, "we're all pleased with the large
volume of sales orders for the new Joey II."

A few heads nodded. A smile here, another there. The room seemed
to loosen a little, and Matthew smiled broadly. Laurence had been
correct. The meeting had been called to applaud his success with
the Joey II, and the strategic alliance with ICP.

"Thank you," Matthew said modestly. Then he became serious,
scanning the room expertly, locking briefly on each person's
eyes. "But I couldn't have done it without all of you."

Nods. A few brief smiles of genuine affection. Then all eyes
gravitated once more to Hank Towers. There was an unsettling air
of deference, protocol.

"Matthew, you've been very busy with the ICP alliance," Hank
said, "which is perfectly understandable. So the executives and I
have been working on our three-year plan."

Matthew nodded.

"However," Hank said, "there is some concern among us,
particularly in the area of future product engineering."

Matthew glanced at Alan Parker, who had been Matthew's assistant
in getting the Joey division back on track after Peter's
ejection. Alan had directed the reorganization of the Mate and
Joey divisions, and managed the day-to-day development
operations, while Matthew had championed the project's overall
mission of delivering the new Joey Plus, then the Joey II, to the
public. At present, Parker seemed to be very interested in his
disposable pen.

"What kind of concerns?" Matthew said, relieved to hear that his
own voice sounded authoritative.

Hank said, "With the work we've all done, focusing on the Joey
Plus, and especially the II, none of us had much time to think
about the future. Now that you've gotten the Joey II out the
door, we've come to an important realization. Matthew, the truth
of the matter is we have no realistic three-year plan."

 "What do you mean no plan?" Matthew said, his voice splintering
in mid-sentence. It was as if he were being shaken awake while in
the midst of a pleasurable dream, suddenly confronted with the
bafflement that comes with the knowledge that it was just that, a
dream. Because he had spent all his time securing the alliance
with ICP, he had never considered what Wallaby would think about
after the relationship was announced.

Actually, he thought in the silence of the room, that was not
altogether correct. In truth, he had not cared about what Wallaby
would face after the ICP strategic alliance, because after that,
according to the original plan, ICP would have bought Wallaby,
and the future strategy would have become their concern. At that
stage he would have been protected behind his big desk in his
luxurious, apartment-sized office. How could he have made such a
simple oversight? After contacting William to cancel the final
stage of the eventual merger, hadn't he realized that following
the Joey II, there would have to come new, future products from
the innovative Wallaby?

Sometime during his reverie, the meeting had resumed.

"...among us is an awareness that we're all but succumbing to ICP
as a maker of compatible systems. Our days as a radical portable
computer company, a company for the people, may be over."

As Matthew considered this implication, that he had crumbled
their fairy-tale company by moving them successfully into big
business, he felt as though he were somehow slipping back in
time, to the meeting in which he had forced out Peter Jones. Only
this time, he was playing the part of Peter. Wasn't that what he
had always wanted?

"Each one of you," he charged, sweeping his index finger around
the table, "approved our plan to build systems that could tie-in
to ICP's computers and share the same information!" He stood up,
shoved his hands into his pockets.

"We did," Hank said calmly, speaking on the group's behalf. "As
well as granting you the authority to run the shop. And all this
room wants to hear is that you've got a product strategy, a
vision, that goes beyond where we are today."

"Of course I have a plan," Matthew said indignantly. "We will
evolve the Joey II, incorporating more powerful features." His
voice turned shrill. "ICP is at our mercy. Think about it! The
orders indicate that we are now the maker on the rise, that Joey
is the one that people want for doing their work and accessing
other systems, if even those systems are ICP's!"

"Matthew, be realistic," Hank said. "ICP could drop our
arrangement at a moment's notice and introduce their own system."
His manner became grave. "Or worse."

Matthew pressed his hands flat on the table, ready to challenge
the group's faithlessness. "Worse? What worse?"

"Denise?" Hank said with a deferential nod to Denise Campbell,
Wallaby's chief financial officer.

"There's a rumor circulating" Denise said. "Supposedly one of our
engineers heard from his former colleague, Paul Trueblood, that
Jones was demonstrating some new product to an official from ICP
today."

Matthew paled. ICP? William Harrell? Was it possible that William
had teamed with Peter in the few short months since Matthew had
pulled the plug on the acquisition plan?

"That's what could be worse," Hank said. "In my estimation, it's
possibly the worst thing that could happen to Wallaby. Our own
founder leaves and builds a product that directly competes with
his own invention."

They all stared at him, waiting. If he didn't think quickly,
there was going to be another vote. "But the ICP alliance is our
vision," Matthew said, groping for a solution.

Hank met this revelation with a gentle shake of his head. He
looked down at his leather portfolio, at some notes. "Matthew,"
he started, sounding very tired.

If he didn't come up with something in the next few seconds,
Matthew knew they would be asked to place their ballots.
Resorting to the thing that had brought him to Wallaby in the
first place, he decided his only chance was to resurrect his
original secret plan.

"Wait," he blurted, cutting off Hank before he could continue. "I
have a solution," he said, trying to sound confident. "I propose
that we merge with ICP."

Their faces around the table disclosed either total confusion or
total shock. Hank gave an astonished chuckle. "What on earth
makes you think we would do a crazy thing like that? Or that they
would?"

"They would, and they will," Matthew said firmly. "When we
announced the strategic alliance, William Harrell had expressed
ICP's interest in possibly merging our companies. I told him we
weren't interested," he said, shifting the details to accommodate
his story. A funny feeling hit him just then. That regardless of
today's outcome, the act of finally revealing his compulsion felt
like a great weight off his shoulders. At least his original plan
was no longer a secret.

"Why weren't we told of this?" Hank demanded.

"I didn't seriously think it would be something any of us would
want," Matthew said. "Harrell knew he couldn't acquire us without
our consent, so I never feared a hostile takeover. An attempt to
create a monopoly would be prevented by the FTC, and more
seriously, the employees would rally against it, and our culture
would be lost."

"But that's just it, Matthew," Hank said. "Without any real
future products in the pipeline our culture is essentially
doomed. You've succeeded in convincing the employees that
coexisting with ICP was the right thing to do. No one has given
back their profit-sharing checks, for crying out loud."

"Hank, this is business, not a fraternity. Business is sales, and
we're finally making them, big time. Why not go all the way with
it? We're a grown-up company now, in with the big boys."

If Wallaby were to merge with ICP, no one seated around the table
would have a financial care in the world. Their stock options
would stack additional millions upon the millions most of them
had already accrued. And looking around the room, at the
calculating faces, he knew that that was exactly what each was
thinking. All except Hank.

"Now then," Matthew said, "I propose we vote. How many people
would agree to the initiation of a merger with ICP?"

"It would mean the end of Wallaby," Hank said gravely.

"No, Hank," Matthew countered, turning to face him. "It's just
the beginning. ICP would sell millions more Joeys then we ever
could."

"Agreed," Hank said. "You just said it yourself. ICP would sell.
No more Wallaby."

As far as Matthew was concerned, it was all the same. He would
assuredly be named president of the Wallaby subsidiary, just as
he and William had planned almost three years ago. And the
thought of eventually taking over William's role at ICP held
enormous appeal again, as it once had. He locked onto this as his
new goal.

"All in favor of me contacting William Harrell and proposing the
merger of ICP and Wallaby, please raise your hands." His own hand
stretched so high it hurt his side.

"We'll have to get full board approval," Hank warned, one last
effort to counter Matthew's proposition.

Matthew said, "When they find out that Peter has been talking to
ICP, I don't see how they can object. Now, all in favor, please
raise your hands."

The room teetered on the edge of absolute stillness.

Then, slowly at first, hands rose. One after another, every
person in the room raised his or her hand - except Hank Towers.

Once more, all eyes were on him.

Slowly, he lifted his open palm, held it there briefly, then
stood and left the room.

"Very well," Matthew said and lowered his hand. The others
followed suit then silently gathered their things and left the
room.

All alone now, he lowered himself to a chair with an exhausted
sigh. He had done it again. First Peter. Then the strategic
alliance. Now the merger. An agreeable sensation of vengeance
washed through him when he thought about Peter Jones and whatever
plan he had up his own sleeve. For the second time he had voted
Peter out, crushing whatever his secret scheme with ICP might
have been.

But then he was hit by a sudden troubling thought. What if
Peter's new project actually was superior to Joey? What if
William no longer wanted Wallaby? What if the two had already
decided to do business together?

He bolted from his chair and raced from the board room. He had to
hurry and try to reach William after he was through with Peter
Jones, even if that meant intercepting him at the airport.


* * *


She had considered driving straight to Jean-Pierre's after
finishing her business with the bank, but decided instead to drop
the car at home first and walk to his cottage. The stroll and the
fresh air would calm her.

In her tight fist she carried the receipt from the funds
transferred to Jean-Pierre's Swiss account. Transaction complete.
Very soon she would find herself strolling to their own stable on
their own ranch, with as many horses as she wanted. She
envisioned a large property with a simple, stately home, the
stable not far from her own back door, nestled among the rolling
hills where she and Jean-Pierre would ride.

She rounded the bend of the path that opened onto the ranch.
There were a few riders tramping out to the hills, a trainer in
the ring was instructing a young student. Jennifer spotted her
and waved from her doorstep just before going inside. Greta
returned the greeting with a wide, happy sweep of her arm.

She doesn't even know, Greta thought. For that matter, no one
knew about her and Jean-Pierre. They had been discreet with the
affair, seeing each other when Matthew was out of town, which had
been often in the past months. She still rode almost every
morning, and often Jean-Pierre joined her. Together they would
hunt out a secluded spot in the hills with a beautiful view,
dismount from their horses, and make love.

Yes, that was how it would be almost every day in her new life
with Jean-Pierre. As she approached the rear of his cottage, she
noticed the drawn curtains on his bedroom window. Was he napping?
She knocked, but there was only silence.

She twisted the doorknob. It was unlocked, and she decided to let
herself in - just as the door was jerked from her hand as it
swung inward.

The girl from the sushi restaurant stood there, shocked.

"You!" Greta screeched.

Laurence took a terrified step backward and attempted to swing
the door shut in Greta's face.

Greta charged and trapped the girl between herself and the
kitchen table. "What are you doing here?" she screamed.

Laurence lifted her hands to protect herself, just as Jean-Pierre
rushed in from the other room and stepped between them.

"Greta, wait," he pleaded, grabbing Greta by the shoulder.
"Laurence is one of my students."

"What?" Greta said, turning to him with a confused and
exasperated expression, the girl temporarily forgotten.

"Yes," he said. "In fact, it was your husband who referred her to
the ranch, knowing that you kept your horse here. Please, let go
of her darling. Come inside. Let me get you something? He spoke
as if he were entertaining guests, three old friends gathering
for lunch.

Laurence had managed to extricate herself from the threesome, and
was presently collecting her bag.

"She" Greta said, "is having an affair with my husband."

"I know," Jean-Pierre said indifferently.

"You knew?"

"No, I said I know. She just told me now. She was so upset that
she stopped off to tell me she wasn't going to take her lesson
this evening, because of what happened at the restaurant."

"And she'll be leaving, right now," Greta said.

"I was just going," Laurence said with a show of dignity.

"I've had enough of your face for one day," Greta said, edging
toward her.

"The feeling is mutual, Mrs. Locke," Laurence replied with a
smirk. Then, "I must say, after finally meeting you in person, I
can stop feeling guilty about my relationship with Matthew." She
brushed a long wayward lock of hair from her face. "You, madam,
and I use the term generously, are a quintessential bitch."

Greta's mouth gaped. "You little tramp!" She lunged for
Laurence's throat.

"Stop," Jean-Pierre commanded, catching Greta by the waist just
in time. "Go," he said to Laurence.

"I don't ever want to see you again!" Greta shouted after the
girl.

Laurence climbed into her car and slammed the door shut, started
the engine, and rolled down the window. She look as though she
were about to shout a retort, but then she thought the better of
it. Or so it seemed, until she lifted her closed fist and ever so
slowly raised her middle finger at Greta.

Greta made another lunge for the girl but Jean-Pierre's hold on
her was too strong to break away.

Laurence laughed heartily at this little show of helplessness,
then gunned the engine and she raced away in her BMW, kicking up
a great cloud of dust in her wake.

Jean-Pierre pulled Greta inside and closed the door. Before she
could say anything, his mouth was on hers. She struggled out of
his grip and fixed her shoulders squarely against the door.

"What is this - what the hell is going on here, Jean-Pierre? I
don't like the way this looks."

He considered her with some amusement, gave her his sexy look.

"What the hell's so funny?" she said. He touched his finger to
her little horseshoe charm and her breath caught and held, and
she felt at once like she wanted to hit him and kiss him.

"You are, Greta. You are overreacting," he said, leaning closer.
He kissed the charm, his breath hot on her throat, then lower.

His touch was distorting whatever semblance of perspective she
had - she was so confused. She shook herself from him and pressed
him back with both fists. "Wait. Stop. Just what do you expect me
to think? One minute that little bitch is sucking tuna fish off
my husband's fingers, the next she's traipsing out your front
door!"

"I don't expect you to think what you're thinking," he said
calmly. Too calm, she was beginning to see, to be guilty.

"But Jean-Pierre," Greta said, still not sure, "why haven't you
told me about her?"

He shrugged. "What is there to tell?" He took her wrists in his
hands. "Do you really think she and I are something?"

"She's very pretty," Greta said. "And very young."

"Not as beautiful as you are to me," he said, kissing away the
creases on her forehead. "Greta. I live here, and I make love to
you. Ms. Maupin, who, as you are now aware, is your husband's
lover, lives in San Francisco. How many times, Greta, has he told
you he's working late at the office? Do you ever check on him
when he goes away? Are you so certain he isn't just fifty miles
from home and at her place, not where he says he's going." He
touched his finger to her chin. "Need I go on?"

She met his eyes. "No," she said quietly, and he kissed her.
Well, Matthew, she thought, tit for tat, and told herself to let
it go. Then she remembered how this whole crazy afternoon had
started.

She held up the receipt.

"When do I start packing?" she said and gave the form a little
shake.

He took it and opened it and smiled and wrapped his arms around
her waist and kissed her chest and lifted her off the ground.
"We're going home!" he hooted.

Then he grimaced and made a pained sound and nearly dropped her.

"Darling! What is it? Your shoulder?"

He nodded, closed his eyes to fight off the pain.

"Oh, you poor thing. When we go we've got to get that fixed for
you, first thing. I don't care what it costs."

He shook his head. "It's very expensive," he said.

"I don't care. Now I want you to promise me you'll let me do that
for you. Promise?"

"Yes," he said, "I promise."

"Good," Greta said, and began unbuttoning her blouse.


Chapter 20


After bolting from the boardroom, Matthew called William
Harrell's secretary at ICP in New York, and she confirmed what he
already knew: William was out of town, and was due back into New
York this evening. He asked her for the flight number and
departure time from San Francisco, then took off for the airport.

He raced down the corridor of the United terminal, checked his
watch as he slowed to pass through the metal detectors. He found
William's flight on one of the departure screens, and to his
great relief, the flight had been delayed fifteen minutes. He
collected himself and walked quickly to the correct gate.

He spotted William in the gate waiting area, flipping through
some notes, a leather garment bag beside him on the floor.

Matthew walked up to him, and William glanced up from his
notebook. "Matthew," he said, surprised. He snapped his notebook
closed and stood, shook Matthew's extended hand with a mixture of
curiosity and indifference. "Are you on this flight?"

"No. I need to talk to you," Matthew said. He motioned for
William to sit, then sat down beside him.

"I know you met with Peter Jones today," Matthew said, glancing
at the binder in William's lap.

"I did," William said.

Matthew hadn't expected William to deny that he had met with
Peter, though now, hearing him admit it, he feared that they had
already formed some sort of deal, and that he was possibly too
late.

"Look, I'll get right to the point. Today I proposed to the
executive staff that I contact you with Wallaby's proposition of
merging our two companies, as you originally planned."

"Really. And why, may I ask, the sudden change of heart?"

Matthew cleared his throat and tried for an open confiding tone.
"Simple. We decided that a merger would be the best thing for
Wallaby because of how well the strategic alliance was received,
and how well the Joey II is selling already. The orders are
phenomenal."

The gate attendant announced that flight was about to begin
boarding. Matthew's heart quickened, but William's expression
remained cool and unchanged.

"The best thing?" William repeated, barely able to conceal his
sarcasm. "I see."

"I want us to go through with the rest of our plan," Matthew
said. "With my support, the merger would be smooth and friendly.
I guarantee it."

"And the board of directors?"

"I've already put a call in to each, and have spoken with two
members on my way here. Both approved the prospect. And with
their votes, as well as mine and Hank's, we've already got a
majority, in addition to the entire executive staff's full
support."

"Hmm. Interesting. Let me think about this, Matthew." William
rose to his feet and reached for his garment bag.

"Wait," Matthew said, gripping the other man's arm desperately.
"I know the original plan wavered a little, but I fully
understand now that you were right all along." Matthew had to get
William's assurance, his word, that they would go back to their
original plan.

Hoisting his garment bag over his shoulder, William seemed
nonplused. The gate attendant announced final boarding.

"I know it's asking a lot," Matthew said, stepping between
William and his path to the gate. "But I'd like your word that
you'll recommend to your board that ICP reinstate its plan to
acquire Wallaby."

William glanced down at the notebook tucked under his arm.
Matthew fancied that he was perhaps sizing up the second of two
opportunities that had been presented to him today, silently
judging which of the two rivals he would choose.

William looked Matthew in the eye, nodded. "Very well," he said,
"I'll make the recommendation, as we had originally planned.
You've got my word."

Matthew let out a sound that was at once a great sigh of relief
and a slightly hysterical chuckle. "Thank you," Matthew said,
slapping William on the back. "Thank you, thank you." He ambled
alongside William to the gate and quickly ran down his immediate
course of action.

"Matthew, relax," William said. "I said you have my word. Now, go
home. We'll talk in the morning." William handed the flight
attendant his boarding pass, and she removed the ticket and
handed him the receipt stub.

"Good-bye, Matthew," William said, then turned and proceeded down
the jetway.

It was done.


* * *


Peter picked up the phone to call Kate at her studio, but then he
remembered the message Grace had given him. He dialed the number.

"Good afternoon, Phillips and Phillips," a receptionist
announced.

"Arnold Phillips, please," Peter said.

The man came on the line a moment later.

"This is Peter Jones. You called me?"

"Mr. Jones, thank you for returning my call so promptly. I'm
representing Ms. Ivy Green. She has hired our firm to reclaim her
rights to Isle, which I believe is currently in your possession."

The room spun. Peter dropped down onto the sofa. "Wait a minute.
I thought she was still in detox? She's not fit to be a mother.
Not yet."

"Oh, Mr. Jones, no, no. There seems to be a misunderstanding. I
apologize for not making the purpose of my call clear from the
start. My client has not retained me to reclaim her child. It's
the hardware and software I'm referring to. However, I believe my
partner does in fact need to talk to you also, about another
case."

Peter listened to what Mr. Phillips had to say, then, a half hour
later, he was transferred to another Mr. Phillips, who, for
forty-five minutes, discussed the child-custody case he had been
hired by Ivy to handle. A hell of a one-two punch.

By the time he hung up the phone he was numb all over. In just
over an hour, his whole life, which he had managed to somehow get
back on track, however shakily, had once again come undone. He
felt like he was at the end of his rope, like he was cracking up.
And the only person who could ever help him through the really
tough times was Kate. That was who he needed to talk to right
now.

But how? How could he call her, when the reason he needed her was
the very reason she had left him?

So instead of calling her he sat there alone, wondering if this
was it, if this was the last of his punishment for his mistakes,
or was there still more to undo?


* * *


"What are you doing?" Matthew said, finding Greta in the den,
crouched among a scattering of cardboard boxes.

 "What does it look like I'm doing?"

"Packing."

"Bingo."

"Why?"

"Why?" she repeated, taking in his goofy expression. "Why do
people usually pack, Matthew? Because I'm moving." She returned
to her task of carefully settling a vase into a box.

He placed his hands on the box flaps, holding them down as she
stretched a length of tape from a spool. "When?"

"Soon. And I can do this, thank you," she said curtly, holding
the strip of tape over the box. He let go and dropped his hands
to his sides.

"Greta, I'm sorry about today," he said, watching her work. "It's
not what you think, though."

She stopped what she was doing for a moment and shot him a
warning look. He had come to understand that look very well in
the last few months. She went back to her business, placing the
box atop a few others.

He shifted on his feet and then all at once his face brightened.
"Hey, guess what! We're back to our original plan!"

She settled an antique serving dish inside a new box. "Good for
you."

"Didn't you hear me?"

She poured foam puffs into the box.

"Greta?" he said, gripping her wrists.

"Get your hands off me," she said calmly, wriggling from his
grasp. The box between them trembled dangerously. She quickly
righted it.

"Greta, please," he said. "What you saw today was just lunch."

"Horseshit," she said, getting worked up. Then she checked
herself. She had no intention of getting into an argument with
him after the shit she had been through today. "Matthew, listen
to me. I'm only going to spell this out once. I gave you the time
you asked for. Now you've pushed me too far. Besides, it doesn't
matter."

"It does," he insisted. "What I'm saying is, it's all over. ICP's
going to buy Wallaby after all. And I'll become president of the
subsidiary, just like we planned. And we can go back to New York
if that's what you want. Or we can stay here. Or whatever.
Whatever you want."

"Ah, of course. You'll need a wife if you're going to be a big
shot at ICP. Might as well stick with the one you've got, save
yourself some money that way, and keep the young thing in an
apartment." She offered a scornful chuckle. "Christ, Matthew. You
still don't want to face it?" She shook her head sadly. "It's too
late. We're through. Broken."

"But it's going to be easy from here on in," he pleaded, trailing
her to a black lacquer display pedestal. "My job at ICP will be a
cake walk."

"Cake? Darling, the only cake walk I see is the one between you
and your little girlfriend." Enough of this nonsense. She had
work to do. She wanted to have her most prized possessions safely
packed, to give her a sense of assurance that she was getting
closer to her future with her lover.

Gingerly, she raised her crystal salmon bowl off its pedestal.

"Greta," Matthew cried, gripping the bowl.

She gasped in surprise, then shrieked, "What's gotten into you -
let go!" The quartz ceiling lamp accentuated the bowl's
precarious plight.

"Wait. Oh, Greta. Don't you remember the day you brought this
home?" he said.

Her eyes fixed on his thumbs squashed white, firm and unyielding.
The piece was too valuable to risk losing. She gave in, and he
carefully settled it back onto the pedestal. She stared at him
with a resigned frown, catching her breath. He had nearly ruined
it.

Matthew bent over, set his hands on his knees. "Look at it," he
said, mesmerized by the engraved salmon fish swimming their
final, predestined course.

"All right, Matthew, you've your look. Enough now. Please" She
reached for the bowl.

He gripped too. "It's over," he said, his voice cracking. "Don't
you understand? The struggle's over, Greta. Do you remember when
you came home with this bowl, to celebrate our plans coming
together? That was when it started. And now it's over. So you
see? It all worked out. Everything is fine now. Fine."

She glared at him. "Let go of my bowl."

"Greta, please. It means so much to me. To us," he urged, tugging
forcefully.

"No, damn you. It's mine and I'm taking it with me."

"Where?" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "Just where the hell
do you think you're going?" His neck was straining, and his
knuckles were white around the bowl's rim.

"To France!" she cried. Her eyes glistened in the bright white
light. "With Jean-Pierre."

He burst with laughter, and shot his face closer to hers, over
the bowl. "The horse trainer? Oh, that's good, Greta. That's real
good! The horse trainer! So I'm not the only one sleeping with
the staff, am I?"

Her fingers hurt, and she could barely hold on any longer.

"Matthew, please," she begged, afraid. She was painfully close to
letting go, and with this awareness came another, deeper
understanding. That were it not for her missing finger, she would
have possessed the strength to hold on tighter and harder and
longer -  No, that was not it, she realized with a cry, her
understanding now complete. The truth was, was were it not for
her missing finger, none of this would have ever happened. Tears
streamed down her face and she begged him to please let her have
her bowl.

"Oh Greta," Matthew said with disgust, "you're so pathetic."

He released his grip on the bowl...and the misfortune that
directly followed his letting go lasted only seconds.

With great force the bowl crashed into Greta's chest and
propelled her backward.

Instantly seeing what his letting go would cause, Matthew dove
forward with outstretched hands. His fingers grazed the bowl's
surface.

Flying backward, Greta let go of the bowl and thrust her hands
behind her to try and break her fall. However, it was her not her
bottom that crashed first, but her head, into the wall behind
her.

Her body dropped to the floor in a lifeless heap, legs splayed at
an awkward angle.

Matthew, in midair, felt the bowl's cool underside brush his
fingertips and he squeezed his hands together. But it was too
late.

The base of the object struck the hardwood floor. It shattered
with a resonant ring, and shards of glass blasted in every
direction.

He closed his eyes as he sailed to the ground and landed in a
pile of glass between his wife's unmoving legs.

Then, perfect silence.

He lay there for a moment before opening his eyes, grateful at
once that his vision had escaped the shrapnel. The first thing he
saw was blood. He panicked, and glass crunched beneath his arms
as he raised himself up on his elbows. He was aware of many stabs
along the undersides of his arms and blood started gushing from
his palms.

Then he saw her. He quickly brushed the largest broken pieces
away with a folded box. He leaned close to her face, squeezed her
cheeks between his bloody fingers. "Greta," he shouted. "Wake
up!" He looked from her face to her chest for evidence of life,
pressed her stomach, tried to make her breathe. He squeezed her
lips between her fingers and put his lips on hers and blew, felt
nothing in return. Had he killed her? He let out an agonized
groan, how could this be happening when everything was back to
the way they had planned?

He crawled up between her legs. He pulled her head to his chest,
and with his other hand he searched for her pulse.

"Oh Greta," he moaned, gazing with disbelief at the fragments.

Where was her pulse?

"I'll fix it," he whispered, probing for her heartbeat with his
bloody fingertips, all the while staring with bedazzled eyes at
the brilliant shards twinkling in the light, searching in vain
for one that might contain the etchings of the salmon fish.

But he found none, for their arduous journey had come to its
fated end, lost forever in the frozen crystal bits.


* * *


Once the plane reached cruising altitude, William reclined his
seat and closed his eyes, musing over an idea that had flashed in
his mind the instant Matthew had asked for his promise.

Now, after dozing on and off through half the flight,
half-consciously dreaming up the specifics of his new plan, he
was ready to put down the particulars. He opened his notebook on
the tray table and went to work. He drew various boxes and
connected them together. He penciled his name in the uppermost
box, and filled in the others.

A flight attendant appeared at his seat. "Sir, you slept through
the meal. Can I bring you a snack or a beverage?"

He looked up from the chart. This was cause for celebration.

"How about a Sassy Screw?" he said, a little embarrassed saying
the cocktail's name, but in want of one just the same. He
continued drawing, completely filling the page with little
squares and lines.

The flight attendant returned and placed the drink on a napkin
beside his notebook. As he put the finishing touches on his work,
a few bubbles fizzed from his drink and settled on the page,
staining it with tiny dots.

As he stared at the little dots speckling his work, an awfully
funny thought entered his mind. A short laugh burst from his
lips, and a few passengers in nearby seats glanced curiously his
way.

There, on the page, was the cause for William's amusement. The
little orange dots, speckling the paper. Matthew's one-time soda
pop success, now a mere stain on William's organization chart.

Pop, pop, fizzle, he mused, and sipped his cocktail.


* * *


Peter stood beneath Hoover Tower on the Stanford Campus, not far
from the very place where he had first met Ivy. He had agreed to
meet her here, to discuss the terms of her cases against him.

In the time he had to wait for her, he considered his life as it
was at this moment. He had long ago gotten over the hurt and
anger he had felt from being ousted from Wallaby. He missed Kate,
but the work he was doing with Byron went a long way to keeping
his mind off his loss of her. Not all the way, but enough to
help. Isle was healthy, and Ivy's lawyers had said that she was
deemed stable enough to mother her baby. But it was his baby,
too. And had he not felt something for her, that night they were
together? To be honest, he was not sure. That night was long past
now, lost in mixed up events and complicated circumstances. All
that remained of it was the unusual feeling he still carried in
his heart, about everything that had been affected by his actions
that evening. He knew he was not in love with Ivy. But he loved
his baby, their baby, and the three of them formed a kind of
family, didn't they? He had never been part of a real family, and
the thought of his daughter going through life without two
parents deeply disturbed him. Would Ivy consider marriage?

"No lawyers?"

He spun around...and was stunned by her transformation.

She looked as youthful and vibrant as when they had first met.
Her bright white-blond hair was pulled up into a smart bun, and
her delicate face was tanned. Her blue eyes sparkled with the
iridescence of tropical water.

He wanted to touch her, her belly, the place where Isle had come
from. She smiled, and he experienced a stirring for her that was
unlike any he had felt before, a connection of some kind, between
her and himself and their child. It was all light and strangely
uplifting, and he let out a breath and wet his lips and formed in
his head the words he would say to her, for at this instant he
knew, yes, that he could love her and that they belonged
together. That they were a family.

But her smile was changing, right before his eyes. It became a
smile that betrayed not her happiness to see him, but her
happiness to see him looking at her this way. Looking at her with
real attraction. Desire. Her smile was the smile of pure
self-satisfaction.

"Amazing, isn't it," she said. "What a little time can do?"

"Oh, Ivy," he said, turning his hands helplessly. "I'm sorry.
About all of it."

"Ha," she said. "Please. I've been in the desert learning how to
stop apologizing. Take my advice, save it."

"But we don't have to be like this. Can't we try to be, I don't
know, nice?"

"Um, no. Not now, anyway. This is business, Peter. Maybe in a
while, after we close our agreement."

"But I don't want you to be angry forever."

"Sit down," she said, and he did. She remained standing however,
looking down at him. "Poor Peter. Just a lost little boy. Look,
I'm not pissed off anymore. Well, not too angry. I'm not sorry,
either. What's done is done. I am definitely not having an easy
time of it, coming off the drugs and all. But I will get there.
All I want is to see my Isle, and my Isle, and how they've grown
in your care." She seated herself on the concrete beside him. "I
thought for sure you'd have ten lawyers here with you," she said.

"Nope," he said. "Where are yours?"

"Don't need them for this. They told you what I want." She
withdrew a single folded sheet document from inside her light
jacket. "It's all here. Plain and simple."

He accepted her pen and the contract, spread the page down on the
concrete.

But he didn't sign it.

Instead he put the pen down, looked her in the eye. "What do you
feel?"

"Feel? About this? Excellent."

"No. I mean about me."

"You?" She looked away for a second. He could see her expression
soften. "I'm not sure." She met his eyes. "But it's not anger
anymore. Really it isn't."

"No, I don't mean that."

"Guilt? Nah, I'm done with that."

"No," he said. "No, not that." He looked at her forehead.
Unwrinkled and smooth, pure. Eyes so sharp, intense, curious.
Cautious. He remembered what it had been like to touch her neck,
her breasts. Back to her eyes.

"Is there anything else?" he said. "I don't know. I mean - love?"

She blinked her eyes closed for a few moments, and when she
opened them again they were glistening. But from what emotion he
could not tell.

"Peter, just sign it."



PART V


Chapter 21 


He had not slept all night.

It was not because he missed sleeping in the same bed with Greta.
That, of course, had ended. Nor was it because he missed sleeping
with Laurence. At almost exactly the same time Wallaby started
its merger negotiations with ICP, Laurence had taken a temporary
leave of absence to, she said, care for her ill father. It was
just as well, considering what had happened to Greta and
everything that had followed. Besides, the majority of his
speaking engagements had been postponed or canceled, and he spent
his time attending meeting after meeting, and putting together
piece of the business plan, which consumed most of his waking and
sleeping hours. Relentlessly, he studied ICP's complex corporate
structure and product line. Once more his favorite bed partner
was paperwork - binders, reports, analyses, and technical
documents, a courtship that all led up to today.

Today. The reason he had not been able to sleep all night. He
climbed out of the bed and strolled leisurely through the dark
house, crossing through the living room. A few months ago, after
Greta's accident, he had moved the sofa and furniture against the
wall, among the many stacked boxes that occupied the room.

Today was the most important day of his life. After more than
three long and arduous years of cultivation, he was about to
harvest his greatest achievement. The merger of ICP and Wallaby.
Finally his monumental plan would reach its climax. And afterward
he would begin his new plan -  But not so fast, he warned
himself. One step at a time.

The emerging dawn lit up the kitchen with a dull gray. He opened
the refrigerator, considered making breakfast, then decided
against it. He had no appetite. Instead he poured himself a glass
of milk and gazed out the kitchen window while he sipped,
pondering his new and exciting future.

His presence would be required in both New York and California.
Maybe he would set up his primary residence in New York, and find
something smaller in California, perhaps even in San Francisco.
Such a commute would be trivial, for with ICP's takeover, the
issue of highway miles would disappear and he would do his work
on his rides between office and residence in the chauffeured
limousine he would be entitled to.

A rush of elation coursed through him, and he decided to go for a
run. Besides, it was too early to leave, and a run would pass the
time until he had to get ready and meet William Harrell at the
announcement.

He placed his glass in the sink and left the kitchen, changed
into sweats. He needed to be at the hall by nine o'clock. He tied
his sneaker and stretched through a few warm-up exercises, then
collected his house keys.

Just as he was about to leave, the telephone rang.

He checked his jogging watch and picked up the handset. It was
William Harrell. They exchanged greetings, and William asked
Matthew if they could meet for breakfast before the announcement.

"I was just going to go out for a run, but sure."

"Go for your run," William told him. "I'll meet you at the Good
Earth restaurant at seven-fifteen."

"Will do," Matthew said, and asked William what was so pressing
that they needed to meet before the event.

But William had already hung up, leaving Matthew do presume that
his business partner probably wanted to go over a few last-minute
details before the big show.

Although he had no way of knowing it, he had presumed correctly.
There was indeed one minor detail left to go over.


* * *


When she heard him leave the second time, after his run, Greta
climbed out of bed.

She too had not slept very well. She was too excited. She
stretched and considered climbing onto her exercise cycle for a
quick workout. Checking the clock however, she decided to skip
it. She would rather use whatever spare time she had to make sure
she had not forgotten to pack anything that the shipping company
would later send to France.

Standing at the window, she gazed out at the dawning day. Across
the lake she could see Jean-Pierre's cottage. The lights were
off. She pictured him in her mind, sleeping peacefully. No more
would she sleep alone, she thought to herself, letting go of the
curtain.

She took eggs and ham from the refrigerator and set to making
herself breakfast. Marie didn't usually arrive until eight
o'clock, and besides, she thought dreamily as she cracked the
eggs into a bowl, it was good practice for the big country
breakfasts she would make for Jean-Pierre and herself.

While she prepared her eggs, the pictures he had shown her when
he returned from France last week flashed through her mind. It
had taken him a while, but he had finally found them the ranch of
her dreams. How she had missed him! It had been a long and
painful two months, she reflected, but today would finally signal
the end of her suffering with Matthew.

After what he had done to her, nearly killing her that day they
had fought over her bowl, he ended his resistance to her request
for a divorce. On the contrary, because of what he had done, her
case against him was even stronger, and he had no choice but to
agree to her lawyer's terms. The final papers would be drawn up
any day.

She seated herself at the breakfast table. While she ate she
checked the list she had been keeping. Everything she wanted
shipped was checked on the list. Her clothes were already packed,
and their plane tickets were the only unchecked item on the list.
Jean-Pierre had taken care of them. Still, she would ask him to
show her the tickets when she arrived at his cottage in the
limousine. Just to be safe.

She looked at the clock again and saw that it was a good thing
she had gotten out of bed early. Somehow she had managed to spend
nearly a half hour sitting just there dawdling, daydreaming. The
car was due to arrive at eight o'clock sharp, and now she would
have to hurry.

She left her dirty dishes for the housekeeper and trotted briskly
to her room, noticing outside the clouds darkening the sky. It
had rained all week but last night's weather report for today had
promised a possible break in the showers. She prayed they
wouldn't have to take off under stormy conditions, for it would
be a miserable way to start off on their new life together.


Chapter 22


"Ladies and gentlemen, please find your seats," the announcer's
voice boomed through the bustling auditorium.

The seating was already jammed to nearly full capacity as
thousands of Wallaby employees filled the auditorium. A few front
rows remained vacant, reserved for VIPs and the press. The stage
was illuminated with a bright circle of light focused on an empty
podium.

Backstage, William Harrell parted the curtain an inch and peered
out at the gabby crowd. Hank Towers squeezed in beside him and
also surveyed the crowd.

"I've never given a speech to so many people dressed like that,"
William remarked.

Beyond the first few dark rows, wave after wave of bodies clad in
T-shirts and jeans stretched all the way to the back of the
auditorium.

William stepped away from the curtain and rearranged his tie.

Hank patted him on the shoulder and laughed. "You look like
you've gained twenty pounds," he joked privately.

"They're going to witness the world's fastest weight-loss
program," William said with a cunning grin, referring to the
surprise he had prepared for today's announcement.

"Get ready, William," Martin Cohn said, gesturing for everyone to
move away from the curtains.

The announcer's voice filled the auditorium: "Ladies and
gentlemen, vice president and general counsel, Martin Cohn."

Amid quick applause and murmurs, Martin greeted the audience. The
Wallaby logo appeared, projected brightly behind him on a huge
screen hanging above center stage.

"This day will mark an important juncture in Wallaby's history,"
Martin said. "A few months ago we announced a strategic alliance
with International Computer Products, the world's largest
manufacturer of computer products."

The ICP initials materialized beside the Wallaby logo.

"As a result of our announcement, sales of the Joey II computer
have skyrocketed, exceeding in just two months the previous
year's total sales."

The audience applauded, and the screen changed to a picture of
the Joey II sitting beside an ICP desktop computer.

"Today we have an announcement that will ensure that both Wallaby
and ICP continue to grow and profit together."

There was a dead silence, and a photo of William Harrell's
smiling face filled the overhead screen. "Now it's my pleasure to
introduce William Harrell, chairman of International Computer
Products."

A murmur ensued throughout the audience. Though Martin Cohn
usually started off the meetings, it was always to introduce
Matthew Locke.

Martin stepped aside, and William crossed the stage. The audience
applauded mildly and stopped once William arrived at the podium.

"Thank you, Martin. And thank you," William said, sweeping the
audience with a heartfelt smile. "I've always been envious of you
guys out here in California. I look out there and all I see are
T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers."

There was some mild laughter, and William knew the crowd was
probably a little thrown off by his being up here and not Matthew
Locke. He went right into his presentation.

"Maybe it's this kind of environment in which you work at Wallaby
that lets you create products as spectacular as the Joey
computer."

On the screen an older picture of the original Joey team
appeared, a younger Peter Jones kneeling in the center of the
group, his arms wrapped around a Joey poised on his knee. The
audience applauded with pride and appreciation.

"A few months ago, your company and ICP joined forces to work
together to offer our customers powerful hybrid systems. On that
day a dream came true for me. Finally, users of ICP's line of
computers had an easy way to access our difficult operating
systems, actually working smarter because of the Joey. Now,
that's a big deal to us starched shirts at ICP," he confided,
"because we've been playing catch-up with Wallaby, trying to
figure out how to build portable computers and personal
information assistant software as great as the Joey.

"You see, the truth is is I've always been envious of the Joey
and Wallaby. Jealous that we, the biggies, hadn't been the one to
invent an equally breakthrough design."

It was time for him to pull his prank, which he hoped would act
as the perfect segue to the real announcement. Pulling off his
tie, he stepped away from the podium and strolled to center
stage.

A strip-tease song started playing on the big speakers throughout
the auditorium, and the audience was mute with wonder as William
began unbuttoning his shirt. Next he unzipped his pants, and
dropped them to the floor. Underneath, he wore faded jeans. He
pulled off his shirt and flung it aside. He raised his arms, and
turned around so the audience could see the graphic on his back.
It showed the joey kangaroo as always, but this time the pocket
it climbed out of was embroidered with the ICP logo.

The audience applauded and cheered as he sauntered back to the
podium. 

"Oh, wait a minute, I forgot something," he said, then crouched
behind the podium. A moment later his black wingtip shoes clunked
hollowly out onto the stage, and he produced a pair of worn-out
sneakers. Encouraged by cheers and laughter, he fumbled comically
with the running shoes and laced them up.

"Now, dressed like this, you'd think I could probably do some of
the thinking you guys do to make amazing computers, right?"

"Right!" the audience echoed, playing along with his skit.

"Wrong," he said. "To have the systems you folks have, guys like
me have to leave it to you, the experts."

Here goes. He felt his heart pounding wildly, and he took a deep
breath.

"What I'm about to announce may at first come as a shock to you,"
he warned, serious now, "but please," he said emphasizing with
his hands, "before you throw your chairs, give me a moment to
explain."

As he had feared, an anxious murmur started up in the crowd. He
had to act fast.

"Today," he said, raising his voice, "I'm very excited and proud
to announce the merger of Wallaby and International Computer
Products.

Mayhem exploded throughout the audience.

"Wait, please!" William shouted with raised palms, his voice
barely audible in the angry cacophony. "Wait. Please, let me
explain..." he said, moving across the stage, closer to the
incensed crowd.


* * *


The limousine driver collected Greta's Louis Vuitton suitcases
and boxes and bags and carried them to the car. He set them at
the rear for a moment then ran to open her door. She jumped in
and wiped the light drizzle from her face with a scarf.

The trunk slammed shut and the driver climbed in and started the
car. As they drove through the gate she looked over her shoulder
at the house. She thought of her house keys, which she had left
behind on the breakfast table. She would never need them again.
It was really ending. With her things packed and ready to be
shipped to France, there was no reason to ever come back. She
chased away any leftover sentiments, and thought only of
Jean-Pierre and their new ranch, their new lives.

Glancing out the window as they turned from the driveway onto the
road, she spotted Matthew's approaching car. What was he doing
back so soon? She turned her head away from the window and shut
her eyes. She did not want his face to be her last memory of her
life in California.

The driver switched on the radio, just as a news brief was being
announced. "...and in Silicon Valley this morning, in a coup that
has stunned the business world, International Computer Products,
the world's largest computer company, and Wallaby Computer, have
announced the merger of their two companies, as well as - "

"Shut it off!" Greta snapped, pressing her hands to her ears.
"Please!"

The looked at her in the rearview mirror and apologized. A minute
later they were bouncing along the ranch's bumpy dirt driveway,
and she directed the driver past the main house, to the cottages.
She smoothed her lavender Chanel dress over her legs and touched
the lapel of her Gucci raincoat.

Her heart stopped for an instant. Jean-Pierre's car was gone.

Of course, she rationalized, scolding herself for being so
anxious. He's probably arranged to have it shipped back to
France. Or did he say he was going to sell it? She couldn't
remember.

The driver stopped the car.

"We'll only be a minute," Greta said, pulling on her gloves as
she climbed out before the driver could reach her door. Ducking
in the light drizzle, she shrouded her scarf over her head and
went up the steps to his front door. She rang the bell, then
glanced back to the limousine for a moment.

Silence.

She pressed the bell again, once, twice, and at the same time
scanned the barn and the training ring for any sign of him. The
stable doors were shut. Could he have overslept? She checked her
watch then pounded the door, growing more worried with each
moment that passed without his answering the door. She had
planned for them to get to the airport early, and even if he was
asleep they could still certainly make their flight as long as
they hurried.

She turned and raised her hand at the driver, signaling for him
to wait. She hurried off the small porch and ran around to the
back of the house. She looked into his bedroom window. The bed
was made, and rising on her toes, she could see through the
bedroom door into the living room. He wasn't inside.

She climbed the small rear steps and frantically pounded her fist
against the door, oblivious to the pain she was causing herself.

"Jean-Pierre!" she called. "Open up! Jean-Pierre!"

She held her breath and listened.

More of nothing.

She felt a chilling wave of nausea and told herself not to panic,
that he was around here somewhere and tending to some last-minute
things.

Rounding the house, she wagged her finger at the driver again and
bolted for the barn, her raincoat whipping in the wind.

Maybe he was at Jennifer's house, she considered, saying good-bye
to his former employer. She would check that after she searched
the stable. Or was he with Mighty Boy? Yes, that was probably it.
He was probably saying good-bye to Mighty Boy for her, so kind of
him, because he knew that she could not face saying good-bye
herself because they were unable to transfer the animal to their
ranch.

She heaved the stable door open with a grunt and raced down the
center of the long and dark dirt throughway, shouting out
Jean-Pierre's name. As she neared the end, Mighty Boy whinnied.
She pushed the horse's head to one side and went inside the
stall, encountering only the animal. Did she really think he
would be in here with her horse? No, he had to be outside
somewhere. Her stomach tightened at the thought of missing their
flight.

She turned and started to run back up the throughway, when
suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks. There!

"Jean-Pierre," she cried, laughing now as she hurled herself
toward the shadowy, darkly-clad figure looming just inside the
stable.

She froze in her tracks when she realized her error.

"Oh!" she moaned.

Jennifer, the ranch's owner, pulled back the hood of her raincoat
and approached her cautiously. A bewildered expression creased
her face as she took in Greta's disheveled appearance.

"Mrs. Locke, my goodness," she said with a wary smile. "It's a
bit wet for a ride today, don't you think?"

"Where is he?" Greta demanded, her chest heaving. "Where is
Jean-Pierre?"

"Jean-Pierre? Why, he's gone." Jennifer wiped her brow with the
back of her hand. "Oh, it's getting ugly out there," she said,
wincing at the sound of the building downpour rattling down on
the metal roof.

Greta grabbed the older woman's raincoat sleeve and roughly spun
her around, screaming: "What do you mean he's gone?"

Jennifer leaped back with astonishment. "He's gone. He left, Mrs.
Locke. For France."

"No! That's wrong," Greta cried. That's not possible, I'm going
with him! Do you hear me? He can't be gone!"

Jennifer was mortified and hastily tried to explain. "Mrs. Locke,
I gave him a ride to the airport myself. Last night. He informed
me at the very last moment, yesterday afternoon, that he was
returning to France. With her."

"Her? Her who?"

"Why, his fiancee, Ms. Maupin."

Dear God, she thought, suddenly comprehending what Jennifer was
saying. He was gone. Gone without her. He had lied to her. Had
tricked her. It had all been a game. A scam. The girl had
probably been in on it all along. A double seduction. And they
had gotten away with the money. And with more than the money.
They had gotten away with the only happiness she had known in a
very long time. It was all coming too quickly, and she felt
suddenly faint.

Jennifer caught her by the arm just before she collapsed. "Mrs.
Locke, come inside with me. You're trembling. I'll make you some
tea and - "

"No!" Greta cried, shaking free. She stumbled in the dirt,
landing on her gloved hands. She unsteadily got to her feet and
fled from the barn. The driver leaped out of the car and rushed
to open her door. She had soiled her dress, and her face was
wild.

She dove into the back of the car and stumbled to the floor. She
managed to struggle up onto the seat and the driver closed the
door and climbed in up front.

"Ma'am?" he called gently through the open partition. She did not
reply, and he turned around in his seat to look at her.

She sat huddled with her knees drawn up, elbows pressed into her
stomach. Her face was hidden behind muddy gloves, and she made
noises like she was injured.

He started the car. "To the airport, ma'am?"

She began rocking back and forth against the door, facing away
from the ranch.

"Ma'am?" the driver asked again, braking as he came to the end of
the ranch driveway.

"Home," she whispered, and burst into tears.


* * *


William shouted into the microphone again, "Wait! Please! Listen,
please!"

The cacophony of protest continued. A pen flew by dangerously
close to his head. It was useless. There was no way he could get
them to settle down so he could explain the announcement. After
ducking another flying object, William turned and made for the
curtains. In just a moment the thing would fix itself.

The house lights went out and then a spotlight illuminated center
stage. The curtains parted.

And Peter Jones emerged.

The audience went wild.

Peter took a few steps to the edge of the stage, grinning from
ear to ear. The crowd whistled and cheered and rose all at once,
welcoming their champion with a standing ovation that lasted and
lasted, earsplitting in its intensity.

"Thank you," Peter said fanning his hands at the audience. "And
thank you, William," he said, looking offstage.

The audience returned to their seats, some still applauding, but
low enough so that he could be heard.

"It's good to be back," he said. This lifted the applauding
audience from their seats once more. He strolled to the podium,
wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, and waited. When
the audience settled down he continued.

"Today," he said, his voice a little shaky, "I've become ICP's
newest employee, in their new subsidiary, Wallaby. I have to
admit," he said with a laugh, "it's kind of weird being re-hired
by the company you started!"

There was quick laughter, then rapt attention.

"When I left Wallaby, I had a lot of time to do some thinking. I
found a new friend, and we started working on a new portable
computer, one that stretched our imaginations to the limits.
Then, a few months ago, we were contacted by William Harrell. He
had heard that we were up to something really neat. We decided to
let him have a look at what we had come up with, and he loved it.

"At that point ICP became a silent investor in our computer,
which is called ISLE. We finalized our design and developed a
prototype. Now I'd like to show you your newest computer."

Peter stepped into the middle of the stage. A large, shrouded
table rolled before him, controlled remotely from backstage.

The lights intensified and the tabletop was projected on the
overhead screen, for all to see.

"This," said Peter, whisking the shroud from the bumpy shapes on
the table, "is ISLE." The prototype model was sleek and black, as
thin as a notebook.

The audience applauded wildly, then hushed when the computer's
screen came to life.

"Now I'd like to let ISLE show you what she's made of," he said.

The auditorium darkened. Two large projection screens, mirroring
the ISLE's screen on stage, lowered from the ceiling. Peter
picked up the prototype and gave a demonstration like the one he
had given to William several months ago. When the demonstration
was over the audience stood and cheered with thunderous applause.

"Thank you," Peter said. "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm
very happy about this merger of Wallaby and ICP," he said. "I'll
be working in the engineering and development labs, finalizing
the ISLE design, and overseeing its integration with the Joey and
BP systems.

"Earlier I mentioned a new friend, my partner, the man who helped
design the ISLE computer. Some of you may recognize his name
because he is the father of ICP's first mainframe computer. I've
also made two other very important friends. One is the inventor
of ISLE, and the other is its future.

"Please give a warm welcome to my friends Byron Holmes and Ivy
Green." Peter stepped away from the podium, and Byron and a
beaming Ivy emerged, cradling the baby Isle in her arms. Peter
shook Byron's hand and kissed Ivy on the cheek.

Byron took the microphone and greeted the audience. A chart
appeared on the overhead screen, and Byron explained the new
organization. When he finished, William Harrell returned to the
stage and conducted the remainder of the session - he also
announced Matthew Locke's decision to resign, for personal
reasons.

Backstage, Byron hugged his wife and Peter and Ivy and Isle all
in one cluster. "We did it!"

Isle yawned.

"You can say that again," Ivy said with a chuckle and kissed her
baby on the nose.

"Come on," Peter laughed. "Let's go home."


Chapter 23


The cyanide pill.

It was all Matthew could think of as he sat at the breakfast
table with his head in his hands. It was over. His work. His
love. His life. All gone.

Everything had been going according to plan. Or so he had
thought.

But in the final plan, Matthew had not been included. Once more
he replayed the scene that had taken place just an hour before.


Pulling into the Good Earth restaurant's parking lot, Matthew was
surprised to see an exact duplicate of his own car. Of course it
could be anyone's, but Matthew could not help but think that it
was Peter's black BMW coupe parked beside the limousine. What
were the chances of Peter happening to be here at the same time?
One in a thousand. And Peter Jones was the last person he needed
to see today. Matthew would simply ask the host to find William's
table, and ask him to come outside. They would take their
breakfast meeting elsewhere.

He parked his car at the other end of the lot and walked around
the back of the building. He went inside, looking around
cautiously. At first he had not really noticed the two Wallaby
security guards standing near the hostess station. Seeing him,
guards left the station and went into the restaurant.

Positioning himself out of sight of the dining room, he motioned
for the hostess

"I'd like to ask a favor, please," he said. "There's a man I'm
meeting here. His name is Mr. Harrell, and he's - "

Just then William appeared, the two guards flanking him on either
side.

"We can't stay here," Matthew said. "Peter Jones is in there
somewhere."

"Yes, I know."

"But I'd rather not see him. Today especially. I haven't seen him
since he left the company."

 "Matthew," William said calmly, "please come inside."

Bewildered, Matthew followed.

"William, I'd much rather we go elsewhere," he said, then halted
abruptly when he saw Peter, dressed in an oxford shirt and jeans
and sitting in one of the booths. Seated beside him was an older
man wearing dark slacks and a tie.

William pressed him onward, directing him right toward Peter.

Peter looked up, and for the first time since the boardroom
showdown, their eyes met. His face bore no surprise, no
expression whatsoever.

To Matthew's astonishment, William led him right up to the booth
that Peter occupied. The older man rose and seated himself on the
other side of the table.

"Matthew, sit down please," William said, indicating the vacant
seat beside Byron.

Matthew looked at Peter uneasily, but Peter said nothing, he just
sat there quietly and watched Matthew.

Adding yet another element to Matthew's confusion, Hank Towers
materialized and joined the surprise party. Positively
astonished, Matthew turned to William for an explanation. "What's
going on? What the hell is the meaning of all this?"

"I'll get right to the point," William said. "Matthew, the
Wallaby board and the executive staff decided to vote on whether
you are suited to maintain your position at Wallaby."

Matthew struggled to keep his voice down. "What? This is absurd.
How could you do this?"

"Matthew, I did it," Hank said.

Matthew stared at Hank with disbelieving eyes.

"I initiated the vote," Hank said, "after several of the
executives and board members came to me with their concerns."

"Why?" Matthew said breathlessly.

"Because in your effort to make the company successful, you acted
with negligence and selfishness. What's more, you have no
long-term strategy for our product line. And in order for us to
survive and continue innovating our company must have a plan."

Instantly, Matthew put the pieces together in his mind. He turned
his blanched face to Peter and met the dark, unwavering eyes of
his nemesis with hateful resignation.

"So that's it. Now, after I've turned the company around, you
come back to run the show?"

Peter kept quiet.

"Not exactly," William said. "Byron Holmes here," he said,
indicating the man seated beside Matthew, "will temporarily take
over as Wallaby's president."

Matthew was deeply shocked.

William said, "Peter has decided to rejoin Wallaby in an at-large
position, working on our future products. However he'll only come
back if you leave." William produced a folded document from his
coat pocket. "I'm sorry, Matthew, but I have to ask you to
resign."

"I will not," Matthew protested loudly.

Several diners, most of them Wallaby employees, turned their
heads in the group's direction.

"Matthew," William said, his voice empathetic now, "I'm afraid
you have no choice." He unfolded the document and placed it
before Matthew. "We've put together a first-rate severance
package for you."

For what felt like a long time, Matthew was unable to do anything
but sit there and stare down at the document that spelled out the
rewards of his terrific failure. His brain sizzled as he
attempted to focus on the details. He saw numbers and lots of
parenthesized paragraphs. There was a long line at the bottom,
with his name printed beneath it.

He raised his head and looked across the table at Peter. "Why?
Why didn't you just agree with me when I suggested all this? It
would have had the same outcome."

"Sorry, Matthew, but it was never that simple."


But it could be now, Matthew thought, sitting there at the
breakfast table, clutching tightly in his fist the little
circular thing he had been hiding in his briefcase for so many
years.

He was completely spent, used up. Alone. There was no one for him
now. No one he could call on. William had informed him that
Laurence had arranged for a transfer to an ICP office in France.
And, effective immediately, Eileen, his former secretary, was
Byron Holmes's personal assistant.

And then there was Greta.

He opened his fist and looked at the gold object in his palm. It
rolled out of his hand onto the tabletop.

He twirled Greta's wedding band round and round with his
fingertip. On that awful day years ago, he had retrieved the ring
from the boat deck before kicking her severed finger into the
ocean. Unable to face the horror of what had happened to her, to
her hand, he had hidden the ring in his briefcase ever since.

She was the only person in the world who had ever truly supported
him, the only person who would know just what to say right now.
And she was gone. He had destroyed her, too, with his damnable,
selfish dream. A dream that had become a nightmare. One from
which there would be no waking. It was all over. Really and truly
through.

Ah, but the cyanide pill. It was his grandest plan ever. He wiped
his nose on his shirtsleeve and straightened, contemplating the
details of his new plan. Had Greta left anything in the medicine
cabinet? Sleeping pills? What about the garage, in that damned
car? He lowered his head to his folded arms again, considered his
options.

He was awakened by the sound of the doorbell.

As everything came back to him all at once, his first reaction
was paranoia. The press. Reporters and photographers. They had
scaled the gate, and they were coming for him, coming to mock
him.

"Go away," he shouted.

But instead of leaving him alone, they resorted to pounding,
screaming his name. They rang again, more pounding.

He called for Marie and ordered her to send them away. The
housekeeper came back a moment later and told him who it was at
the door.

He grabbed the ring and leaped up from his chair, tears finally
coming as he staggered down the foyer.

He twisted the lock and swung open the door.

And there she stood. A sobbing Greta, wearing, he noticed at once
and unmistakably, the very gloves he had bought for Laurence.
Pigskin, and fit for a queen. His queen.

Yes, she was wearing them now, and didn't that then mean that he
had bought them for her, really? That they belonged together?


Chapter 24


Peter sat on the rug with his legs crossed, Isle in a bundle
beside him, and together they listened to Kate's soothing voice
mingle with the sound of the light rainfall outside.

Ivy came into the room, humming softly.

"Is she asleep?"

"Not quite. I think she's sorta wired. She's had a tough day. You
too."

"You three," Ivy said.

Peter stood up. "Thanks for letting her stay here tonight. I'll
bring her over tomorrow afternoon, if that's okay."

"Sure," Ivy said. "A deal's a deal."

"Thanks."

Peter had offered to marry Ivy, but she had declined. In their
out of court settlement, Peter had agreed to child-support
payments, and Ivy had granted him visitation rights.

For the rights to her ISLE hardware and software design, ICP paid
Ivy six million dollars.

They hugged, and then she was gone.

He sat back down beside Isle and she stirred. He took her in his
arms.

"You miss Grandma Gracie and Grandpa Byron already?" he said,
pretending she understood every word. "Me too," he said.

Byron and Grace had left a few hours ago for Maine, to take care
of some things and plan their move west. They intended to find a
vacation home in California, where they would reside for however
long Byron managed Wallaby.

Peter's own home now felt like it used to, before Isle. Quiet,
empty. Yet at this moment, it was more full of life than ever.
But this, he had to keep reminding himself, was temporary. That
was the deal. But it was better than nothing at all. Better than
being completely alone.

The next song started playing on the disc player. Kate's voice
chased away the silence, replaced it with the missing element.

"When you're a little older," he told Isle, "I'm going to teach
you how to sing just like that."

"And who's going to teach you?"

Peter spun around.

Kate stood there in the doorway, smiling, wearing a raincoat and
carrying a garment bag.

"I let myself in," she said as he jumped to his feet.

"Hello, babies," she said, shrugging off of her wet coat. She
dropped her bag on the floor and set her purse on the coffee
table.

"I can't believe it's you," Peter said excitedly. "What are you
doing here?"

She bent, hands on her knees, and smiled brightly at Isle.

"Look at you, little girl. This is the first time I've seen you
in person." She looked up at Peter. "Hey, what kind of welcome is
that? I thought you'd be happy to see me."

"I am, I am!" he said touching her arm. "I just can't believe
you're really here."

"Congratulations," she said, retrieving a copy of the "Los
Angeles Times" from her purse. "And to you, too," she said waving
the front page of the business section at Isle. Beneath the
headline was a picture of Peter holding Isle, flanked by Byron
and Ivy.

"Back to Wallaby," Kate said. "Sure surprised me." She opened her
hands before Isle. "May I?"

"Of course," he said, placing Isle gently in Kate's arms. "Be
careful, you have to support her head. Like this," he said,
taking Kate's hand and carefully cradling it beneath Isle's neck.
"That's right."

For a few precious moments he let his hand remain beneath Kate's
before pulling away. Watching her holding the infant Peter felt a
swell in his throat, wishing it could be like this between them
again, always.

Kate sat down on the sofa.

"So, is it true?"

"Is what true?"

Freeing a hand, she picked up the newspaper and scanned the
article. "Here it is," she said. "Quote: 'I'm not going to work
as much as I used to. There are more important things in my life
now.' End quote."

"True," he said. "Totally."

"What about Ivy?"

He explained the arrangement they had made and the deal with ICP.

"Good for her. She's earned it."

Peter agreed, then sat quiet for a few moments, unsure how to say
what he wanted to say.

"What about us? You. I mean, is there any way I can earn you
back?"

Kate looked at him and smiled. She took his hand and held it in
her own, beneath Isle.

They sat there in silence for a while, adjusting to feeling one
another again after so long apart. After a minute or so it felt
to Peter as though they were breathing as one, the way they used
to, and along with this feeling his heart stirred, declaring
itself in an unfamiliar way, and he tensed.

"What is it?" she said.

"I'm scared," he said.

They kissed.





End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of "Undo", a novel by Joe Hutsko
COPYRIGHT 1996, by Joe Hutsko


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