“Your wife is quite the bulldog,” said Peter Zavod.
“Ex,” said Justin.
They were meeting in Zavod’s business office: modern, clean, sterile. It made Justin nervous.
Zavod smiled. “I hear that intern of yours–”
“Stacey. She’s my assistant project Manager.”
“Stacey. She is digging up old invoices?”
“Because I told her too.”
Justin leaned forward. “You hired me to make sure your HQ was open within six months. Part of that is figuring out what the last six managers fucked up.” Justin leaned back. “That’s a lot of managers, by the way.”
“Yes it is,” said Zavod.
It happened in what would be Spain, about 430,000 years ago. One early neanderthal picked up a rock and slammed it into the face of another. The victim bleated and swayed, so the attacker brought the hand axe down again. The other collapsed, quivered, and died. The victim ended up at the bottom of a deep natural chimney, to be buried in silt and preserved. What became of the aggressor can never be known, but if history is any guide the answer is likely, “Nothing.”
It probably wasn’t the first murder but It absolutely, certainly was not the last.
Sammy tapped rapidly on the calculator — the one that had gotten him through university — while he scanned the incoming telemetry data. The numbers did not match. Not by much, but it was there. He said so into his mic.
“Rounding error?” asked Chira.
Sammy grunted and calculated again. “No. It’s just not right.”
Omar broke in. “Something is definitely running in the background, but I can’t see what.”
“Hackers?” asked Chira.
“You have to tell Phillips,” said Chira.
“What?” asked Chira.
He couldn’t articulate the squirming feeling in his chest, so he just said, “Nothing. I will.”
“He’s a billionaire. Of course he’s hiding something,” said Bernard.
Nichelle felt her frustration bloom in her face. “No, something specific. Something big.”
“And you know this because he didn’t say anything?”
“He was evasive.” She took a breath. “Look, even Justin thinks–”
She glared. Bernard raised his hands in surrender.
“Justin is managing the construction of Zavod’s new headquarters.”
“Zavod’s company has a hundred employees. This place is like the Chrysler Building. Underground.”
Bernard said, “It’s weird, but it’s not a story, Nichelle. Move on to something else.”
Nichelle left his office fuming.
Jutin pulled into the work site, still feeling Honor’s last goodbye hug. He exhaled and put on his hard hat.
The exterior structure foundation was complete, despite the extraordinary specs. The mechanicals were all hardened with built-in redundancies. The job resembled the Pentagon more than a corporate HQ.
Stacey appeared next to him and handed him a cup of coffee and his tablet.
He asked, “Anything back from the audit?”
She shook her head. “Nope,” then asked, “What did Zavod say?”
“He said he’s too rich to worry about it.”
He added, “Keep digging.”
She beamed. “Yes, sir.”
“I’m telling you, man, there’s no latency problem,” Omar growled.
Sammy felt his own frustration rise. He took a breath then a pull from his beer. “That’s not what I’m seeing on my end,” he said tryings to sound less accusatory.
Chira rolled their eyes audibly, said, “Stop talking shop. Drink.” Then, “I’m going to sing,” and left for the karaoke line.
Omar emptied his beer and signaled for another round. “So it’s your end,” he said thoughtfully. “What would that mean?”
Sammy frowned. “Maybe it’s not a connection problem but a processing one?” His gut knotted. “Virus?”
Peter Zavod said, “Aren’t pre-interviews a producer’s job?”
“I prefer exploring my own leads,” Nichelle replied.
They were sitting on a marble terrace overlooking Zavod’s backyard golf course in the late morning.
Nichelle said, “I am most interested in–”
“The breakup?” laughed Zavod. “Of course. But there are no details that haven’t already been reported.”
“The timing seems significant.”
Zavod sobered. “Oh?”
“It was right before the Platinum Galactic announcement, which drove your stock–”
“Into the stratosphere?” His grin was back.
“You could have made a lot more money.”
Zavod gestured broadly. “Do I look like I need more money?”
Justin opened his arms and Honor ran into them. “Missed you too, HoHo,” he said hugging her. He smiled at Nichelle halfway across baggage claim.
Later, Honor was asleep in her room in his apartment. He and Nichelle sat at his kitchen table.
“I’m glad you brought her,” he said.
“Sorry you’re stuck here instead of the Ritz.”
“She’s hard to say ‘no’ to.”
He retrieved two glasses and a bottle from a cabinet. He poured and said, “We should get tipsy and make bad decisions.”
“No we shouldn’t,” she said but took a long swallow anyway.
Sammy watched the data flow across his primary screen. His other three showed more information in charts, graphs and diagrams. He prefered raw data. He read it like other people read poetry, teasing out rhythm and meaning.
“Heard you got called into the principal’s office,” said Chira, suddenly behind him.
Not taking his attention from his screen, Sammy said, “Mr. Phillips just wanted to know how I was getting on.”
“How are you getting on?”
Sammy turned to Chira. They smiled warmly at him. “I’m okay,” he said genuinely.
“Good,” Chira said. “Let’s get lunch. Omar’s waiting.”
Honor Galvonsen crossed her arms and set her jaw. She looked to Nichelle like the spitting image of her father, aside from her dark skin and unruly hair.
“You’re not going to see Dad without me.”
“I am not going to see your father,” said Nichelle. “I am interviewing your father’s new boss.”
“But Dad is going to be there.”
Nichelle took a calming breath. “Honor, honey, this is work.”
“This is bullshit.”
Nichelle exhaled and prayed for the strength to survive her daughter’s teenage years. “You are staying with Gram just like always. End of discussion.”