Since it was Kurt's first day on the job, I offered to take him out to lunch to celebrate. But he was tied up with all sorts of paperwork and orientation sessions and the like. When Trevor Allard returned to the office from Fidelity, around noon --- earlier than I'd expected --- I strolled over to his cubicle, and said, as casually as I could, "How'd it go?"
We didn't like each other very much, but we were good at reading each other, the way a couple of wolves size each other up in a few seconds. There was nothing outwardly competitive about the way I asked, but he got what I was really asking: Did you land the deal? You going to be my boss now?
He looked at me blankly.
"The demo," I reminded him. "This morning. At Fidelity."
"Yeah," he said.
"You were demo'ing the sixty-one-inch, right?"
He nodded, watching me the whole while, his nostrils flaring. "The demo flopped."
"Mm-hmm. The monitor wouldn't even turn on. Total dud."
"No, Jason, I'm not kidding." His voice was cold and hard. "I'm not kidding at all."
"Of course. Jeez, I'm sorry. So what happened-you lose Fidelity?"
He nodded again, watching my face closely. "Naturally. No one wants to spend ten thousand bucks per unit on a bunch of plasmas that are questionable. So, yep, I lost 'em."
"Crap. And you forecast Fidelity as a 'commit,'right."That meant as close to a sure thing as you could get in this world.
He compressed his lips. "So here's the thing, Jason. Me and Brett, we've had a run of real bad luck recently. My car gets a flat tire, then some kind of electrical problem. Brett's computer gets wiped out. Now I somehow get a bad monitor, after having it tested. Both of us lose major deals as a result."
"What do Brett and I have in common? We're both in the running for Crawford's job. Against you. And nothing happens to you. So I can't help but wonder how and why this is all happening."
"You're looking for a reason? An explanation? I mean, it sucks, and I'm sorry about it, but you guys have both been unlucky lately. That's all."
Maybe it wasn't just a matter of bad luck. Two competitive guys, Gleason and Allard. Rivals for a job that paid a lot more and put them on the management track. Was it possible that they'd been sabotaging each other? Guys could be like that. Even buddies like those two. Scorpions in a bottle. Maybe it was like a frat hazing? Stranger things happened in high-pressure companies like ours. I made a mental note to start backing everything up, all my files, and taking copies home.
"Unlucky," he repeated. His nostrils flared again. "See, I've always been the kind of guy who has great luck."
"Oh, I get it now. You've been dropping deals all over the place, but it's my fault. That's sad. Listen to me, Trevor. You make your own luck."
I was about to let loose --- I was really fed up --- when there was a scream from down the hall. We looked at each other in puzzlement.
Another scream, female, and then someone else shouted, and we both went to see what the matter was.
A small crowd had gathered outside the Plasma Lab. The woman who'd screamed, a young admin, was screaming even louder and clutching the doorjamb as if to keep from sinking to the floor.
"What is it?" I said. "What happened?"
"Meryl kept knocking and knocking, and Phil didn't answer, so she opened the door to see if he was in," said Kevin Taminek, the manager for inside sales. "I mean, he's always there, and it's late morning. And Jesus."
Gordy came up, short of breath, shouted, "What goes on here?"
"Somebody call Security," said another guy, who did inside sales with Taminek. "Or the police. Or both."
"Oh, good God almighty," Gordy said, his voice loud and trembling.
I came a few feet closer so I could see what they were all looking at, and I gasped. Philip Rifkin was dangling in midair, hanging from the ceiling.
His eyes were open, bulging. He wasn't wearing his glasses. His mouth was partly open, and the tip of his tongue protruded. His face was dark, bluish. A black cord cut deeply into his neck, knotted at the back of his head. I recognized it as component cable, which he kept in giant spools. A chair was tipped over a few feet away. I could see that he'd removed one of the drop ceiling panels and had tied the other end of the cable around a steel joist.
"My God!"Trevor said, turning away, gagging.
"Jesus," I breathed, "he hanged himself."
"Call Security!" Gordy shouted. He grabbed the door handle and pulled it shut. "And get the hell out of here, all of you. Back to work."
Excerpted from KILLER INSTINCT © Copyright 2011 by Joseph Finder. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.