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Eddie rode the 28-19th Avenue bus to the bridge. He carried with him enough change for a one-way fare. He had no identification. It wouldn’t matter if his death was properly recorded. Nobody would care about it, anyway. Through the wispy morning fog he strolled upon the walkway that linked San Francisco with Marin County. The bridge had opened to foot traffic two hours prior, and few pedestrians were out. The thruway, however, was a logjam of cars. He spent a few minutes watching the commuters as they went about their morning rituals --- sipping coffee, talking on their cell phones, or fiddling with their radios. He burned their images into his mind and savored the voyeurism with the passion a dying man gives his last meal.

He walked to his spot. He knew it well. It was at the 109th light pole. He would face east, toward the city. Few jumped west, as most everyone wanted their final view to be something beautiful, like the elegant curves and hilly rise of the San Francisco skyline.

The fall, he knew, would last no more than four seconds. It was 265 feet down from where he would jump, gravity pulling him down at over seventy-five miles per hour. The water below would be as forgiving as cement. Perhaps a nanosecond of pain, then nothing. He always found it calming to know details. He was all about facts and logic. It was what made him a world-class software engineer. In preparation for the jump he had studied the stories of many of those who had gone before him. He had hundreds of sad tales to choose from. The stories were now his own. He would soon be part of the legacy of death that had been the Golden Gate Bridge since 1937, when WWI vet Harold Wobber said to a stranger, “This is as far as I go”--- and then jumped.

At his mark, Eddie hoisted himself over the four-foot security barrier and lowered his body onto a wide beam he knew from research was called “the chord.” There he paused and stared out at the seabirds catching drafts of warming air off the cool, choppy waters below and took stock of what little life he had left. Lifting his feet ever so slightly, until he was standing on his toes, Eddie began to push against the rail to hoist himself up and over the chord.

He closed his eyes tightly. Thirty-two years of his life darted past his mind’s eye, so vivid that they felt real—vignettes played in rapid succession.

The pony ride at his fifth birthday party. Weeping beside the graves of his parents. Seven years old, still in shock, sitting at the trial next to the sheriff who had apprehended the drunk driver. The orphanage, then the endless chain of foster homes. Studying, alone in his room, so much reading. Then college. His graduation. How he wished his parents had been there to see him. The business. A startup. The energy and hours. The first sale. The euphoria was fleeting; the sting from his partner’s betrayal would never subside.

He took a deep breath and lifted himself even higher. A part of him, the most secret and hidden part, was awash in a terrible, heavy sadness. It was overwhelmingly disappointing to him that he hadn’t had the courage to do what needed to be done. It would be his dying regret.

With an assuredness that seemed born of much practice, he pushed himself up and over the thin railing that ran the length of the chord. The moment his feet left the bridge, Eddie regretted the jump. He hovered for an instant in midair, as though he were suspended above the water by strings. The depth seemed infinite. Sun glinted off the rippling water, shining like thousands of tiny daggers. His eyes widened in horror. Was there still time to turn around and grab hold? He twisted his body hard to the right. And then he fell.

The acceleration took Eddie’s breath away. The pit of his stomach knotted with a sickening combination of gravity and fear. His light wind jacket flapped with the whipping sound of a sail catching a new breeze. The instinct for self-preservation was as powerful as it was futile. His eyes closed, unwilling to bear witness to his death.

Pitching forward, his arms flailed above his head, clawing for something to grab. His legs pumped against the air. Two seconds into the fall. Two more to go. He could no longer see color, shapes, light, or shadow. Mother, please forgive me, he thought. A barge he had seen in the distance before the jump faded from view. The sun vanished, casting everything around him into blackness. He could hear his own terrified scream, and nothing else. Time passed.

Two . . . then ...

His body tensed as he hit, his feet connecting first, then his backside, and last his head. The agony was greater than he had imagined it could be. The sounds of his bones cracking reverberated in his ears. He felt his organs loosen and shift about as though they had been ripped from the cartilage that held them in place. Pain exploded through him.

For a moment he had never felt more alive.

Water shot up his nose, cold and numbing. He gagged on it as it filled his throat. A violent cough to expel the seawater set off more jolts of agony from his broken ribs.

Facedown, he lay motionless as he began to sink. From the blackness below something glowed brightly, shimmering in the abyss. He couldn’t see it clearly but wanted to swim to it. It rose to meet him.

It was his parents. They smiled up at him, beaming with ghostly white eyes and beckoning for him to join them.

Chapter 2

The morning sun was high and bright in the cloudless sky. Monte made his trademark lunge for the bushes lining the front entrance walkway the moment they stepped outside. Charlie said a quick hello to his five senior managers waiting for him there. Before they were acquired, they were all VPs. But that was a smaller company. In the bloated corporate structure of SoluCent, Charlie was a director and they were senior managers. Sal, Barbara, and Tom were checking e-mail on their mobiles; Harry Wessner and Steve Campbell were stretching in the front parking lot. Everybody wore sneakers; they had grown accustomed to Charlie’s athletic pace. Charlie’s executive assistant, Nancy Lord, was there, too, giving Monte some much appreciated petting.

There had been doubt at first, at least from some, that combining the Monday executive team meeting with Monte’s walk would be an effective use of time. To that Charlie had replied that a clear head from a brisk walk improved not only morale but decision making, too. Soon as Monte’s business in the bushes was done, the five members of Charlie’s Magellan Team set off at what Charlie believed to be about a fifteen-minute-mile pace. He’d keep accelerating that along the way. By the end of the walk they’d be closer to twelve-minute miles and they wouldn’t even know it.

As was routine, Charlie waited until they were on the bike path, which bordered the campus, before starting the agenda. Here they were far enough from the main road to speak at a normal volume without being drowned out by the incessant traffic flow.

“Good morning, team,” Charlie said. “I trust you all had a restful weekend and are ready for the week ahead.”

Nancy Lord was the only one to nod. The rest were bleary-eyed and sweating out their stress. Working for Charlie meant that weekends were nothing more than days of the week. To keep pace with Charlie’s demands and lofty expectations required sacrifices many would not be able to make --- time being the most precious of all. The reward for those sacrifices, however, in bonuses alone, not counting stock, put all on the Magellan Team within an eyelash distance of what most would consider to be obscenely rich.

Monte kept the pace and walked a few yards ahead of the “pack.”

“So,” Charlie began. “Why don’t you tell me about the Arthur Bean situation, Harry?”

Harry quickened his stride until he was walking alongside Charlie. The others fell behind but remained within earshot. They knew what was coming and that it wasn’t going to be good for Harry. After all, Arthur Bean was his guy. He was a senior quality assurance engineer who posted source code on his blog as an invitation to his hacker friends to try and hack the InVision operating system, or OS --- the “code” that made everything work. Bean remained convinced that several generations of the InVision product line had serious security loopholes that made the product susceptible to hackers. He had raised the issue to Harry, and Harry had brought it to Charlie’s attention.

 Charlie felt confident that the code was up to standard. Bean wasn’t as convinced. When his pleas for greater attention had gone unanswered, he’d taken matters into his own hands. Charlie wasn’t against Bean’s commitment to quality. It was his methods he questioned. Authority on major rewrites of the OS was Charlie’s alone. The InVision source code was as precious to Charlie as the eleven secret herbs and spices recipe was to KFC. You just didn’t mess with it, no matter how good your intentions. Bean had done just that and, what was worse, had undermined Charlie’s chain of command in the process. Not acceptable at all.

“Charlie, I know you’re upset about what Bean did,” Harry began.

“Upset doesn’t really begin to cover it, Harry,” Charlie said.

Harry nodded. “I understand,” he said. “I’m just pointing out that Arthur Bean’s friends...”

“You mean his hacker buddies,” Charlie corrected.

The pace of their walk left Harry struggling for breath. The escalating tension only made it worse. “You could say that,” he managed to say.

Monte stopped to relieve himself. Charlie’s team stopped as well, forming a ragged semicircle behind Harry. Charlie’s face, they could now see, was red, and they knew it was from anger, not exertion.

“That’s what they are. They’re nothing more than a bunch of renegade hackers given access by our employee to parts of our source code by your man,” replied Charlie.

Monte started to trot along the bike path again; Charlie followed and the others fell into step behind him.

“Only after Arthur felt he had exhausted all available channels,” Harry offered, again having to quicken his step to keep pace.

“And what did Bean’s collective uncover?” Charlie asked, though he knew the answer.

“A major flaw that we’ve corrected in rev six-point-one.”

“Major flaw? As I understand it, that flaw at most could be used to change InVision’s outside temperature reading,” said Charlie. “Not really what I’d consider a serious shortcoming. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Harry nodded. “I realize that,” he said. “We made a change to the application code on account of Bean’s report. And I did talk with Arthur about his approach.”

“Perhaps talking isn’t enough,” Charlie said.

Harry fell behind Charlie at that one. The blog in itself had done little damage, and in fact a couple PR reports had highlighted the blog as an innovative user-community approach to coding. Charlie could have let it stand. But it meant allowing the Magellan Team’s authority to be undermined. That was something he couldn’t stand for. Process and authority had to be respected. If they weren’t, future digressions were almost certain. It set an unacceptable precedent.

“I’m taking appropriate action,” Harry said.

“Okay. Action, I like action. What kind of action are we talking about here?” Charlie asked.

“I’ve asked HR to reprimand him, and we’ve put him on program. That’s how we’re handling it.”

“Doesn’t feel like we’re really ‘handling it,’ Harry,” Charlie replied. “I agreed to sell our company to SoluCent so we could be better. A start-up company might let that incident go. We’re the real deal now. And I’m sure Leon Yardley would back up that statement.”

“Yes, I understand,” Harry said. “But HR agreed it was negligent on Arthur’s part to use his blog and connections in such a way. They’re the ones who suggested I issue Mr. Bean a formal reprimand and put him on program.”

“A formal reprimand and program doesn’t send much of a message, does it? Every division of SoluCent needs to know how important our product is to the bottom line,” Charlie said. “If that means we take swift and immediate action to correct a problem, then that’s what it means.”

“It’s not that simple. There are some extenuating circumstances.”

Charlie gritted his teeth.

Harry continued, “He and his wife have been, how do I say it . . .”

“With words, Harry. Use words.”

“They’ve been having marital troubles. Financial stress, mostly, from some bad investments. At least that’s how he explained it to me.”

“And that’s my problem how?”

Charlie felt his stomach churn. How many times had people used family and personal issues as an excuse to overlook ineptitude and poor judgment? If he had used his schizophrenic brother and father and his absentee mother as crutches to justify his mistakes, he never would have graduated from high school, let alone earned an academic scholarship to MIT.

“Harry, I don’t care if the bank is ready to take his house tomorrow. He crossed the line, and once is more than enough. His job is to manage software quality. Period. If he felt the only way to do that job effectively was to use our software as a playground for his devious crew of computer hacks, so be it. He can do that for another company. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, Charlie, but I’m sure he thought --- ”

“I don’t care what he thought. I care what he did. He screwed up. As far as SoluCent is concerned, our product is basically out in the market, even though we’re still in the pilot phase. Does that register with anyone? Pilot means test. They’re testing production, testing distribution, testing select retail channels, testing consumer response. If this fails, if our resellers believe the product is severely deficient --- which it isn’t --- SoluCent may lose some enthusiasm to bring InVision to market. Do you know what that means?”

Most now had drifted well behind Charlie and Harry and had to scamper to catch up. Charlie knew that his team respected him and hated to disappoint. Not to mention, they feared his wrath. But fear, Charlie had learned, also meant focus. Fear could be good. A tool even. And if Charlie sometimes had to use fear to inspire action, and that action brought them results, then so be it.

“It means InVision will be shelved. It means most of you will probably be let go. It means that if you want to go back to Silicon Valley, you’ll have to pay your own way to relocate,” he warned. “I was the one who convinced SoluCent that you were the key members of the Magellan Team, and if I was being relocated here, you’d have to come with me. If I’m gone, you’re gone. Who do you care more about, Harry? You and your family, or Mr. Bean and his bad debt?”

Charlie stopped walking. Sal and Harry had to put their hands on their knees to catch their breath. Monte absently poked his nose into the grass and walked behind a tree. No matter how much he paid these executives, Charlie knew they could never emulate the pride and passion he felt for InVision. After all, could a neighbor love a child as much as its parent did? And InVision was no ordinary child. It was his child --- his golden child. It was the 4.0 student, varsity in three sports, with a long-ball arm capable of bringing college recruiters tears of joy. It was a prodigy violinist, the dazzling head cheerleader. Charlie was aware of the subtle jabs at his devotion from colleague and competitor alike, and he welcomed them. He knew the whispers were no different than those of envious parents, jealous of the accomplishments of the child next door.

For him, InVision represented far more than the major advance in the multibillion-dollar consumer electronics industry that the Magellan Team took it to be. It was his legacy --- his offspring shaped not by blood and bone, but by wires, circuits, and plastic. Most new car stereos had the ability to play digital music files that consumers downloaded off the Web. Many automobiles even came standard with built-in DVD players, so the kids had something to do other than fight during those long car trips to Grandma’s house. And some cars, typically the higher-end luxury lines, came equipped with built-in voice-guided GPS systems. But for the average consumer, getting movies to play in the car meant DVDs scattered about the floor or unreachable between the seats, CDs clattering down from above the visor or wedged in overstuffed storage compartments. Favorite TV shows weren’t even accessible, unless recorded to a DVD. Helping average consumers consolidate their digital entertainment into a single device, making it portable and available in their cars, while expanding in-car entertainment options to include TV shows stored on home digital recorders, was the driving force behind InVision.

And InVision could store more digital content than any product on the market --- thousands of hours of DVD movies, digital music, and TV shows, all in a device so compact, technical wizards from Silicon Valley to Beijing couldn’t figure out how it was done. Battle testing the little wonder during countless focus groups with soccer moms and technophobic dads ensured everyone could use it. Unquestionably they would. Simply put, InVision was a cell phone, satellite radio, an iPod, TiVo, a Web browser, and voice-guided GPS all rolled into a package not much bigger than a deck of playing cards. Head cheerleader, hell! This was the whole squad.

Auto manufacturers from around the globe were lining up to private label the technology and install it as standard-issue equipment in their vehicles. One whiff of InVision’s intoxicating possibilities at the International CES, the largest consumer electronics trade show in the world, was enough to drive the buyers from Best Buy and Wal- Mart into a near frenzy. Guarding the secrets of InVision was job one. He had been betrayed once before. It wouldn’t happen again. Everything Charlie had worked fifteen years to create hinged on a successful production launch. Arthur Bean and his quality standards weren’t going to get in his way. Nobody was.

“Let me put it another way, Harry,” Charlie said.

“Yes?” Harry said.

“If Arthur Bean does something like this again, but this time it blows up big, hurts SoluCent in ways you can’t imagine, are you willing to stake your career and reputation on your decision to keep him around?”

“Charlie, I really don’t think --- ”

“No, Harry. Clearly you don’t, or you would have done something about it already. I’m not joking, people. This is the real deal. Do or die. If you want to make this happen, the way I want to make this happen, then you’ll do the right thing. Agreed?”

Everyone was silent.

“Agreed?” Charlie said again.

Charlie looked around and made sure each Magellan Team member had reaffirmed their commitment to the mission. He kept his gaze focused on Harry the longest, requiring that he make eye contact.

“I’m glad we understand each other,” Charlie said. “Now, let’s move on, shall we?”

Charlie checked his watch. They would have to get to a twelve- minute-mile pace to complete the loop. One by one, the Magellan Team executives gave Charlie their status. Already, the Arthur Bean incident was a thing of the past. Bean had made his own bed. It was his problem now, not theirs. Charlie already knew the status of every project. He kept close watch on all the moving parts of his division. The good news, aside from some minor production issues and Bean’s contempt for authority, was that everything seemed to be on track.

They finished their walk three minutes ahead of schedule. Most left feeling refreshed from the exercise, walking taller and with a renewed sense of purpose, not to mention, from Charlie’s perspective, a healthy dose of fear. Charlie gently caught Harry by the arm as the others made their way to the locker room to change.

“I understand your motives, Harry. Sometimes it’s not easy to do the right thing,” Charlie said.

“Sometimes it’s not. You’re right. Why don’t we just transfer him to another department in SoluCent?”

“You realize I can’t personally endorse a department transfer for him, don’t you? I’m careful about who I give a reference to, Harry. My reputation is very important to me, and I’m not going to tarnish it with Arthur Bean, but he’s more than welcome to try on his own. He can’t stay with us, however. We’ll give him two weeks to try and find another home within SoluCent. Sound good?”

Harry nodded.

“Tell you what else. I’ll personally put Bean in touch with my financial advisor. If anybody could get him out of debt, it’s my man Stanley.”

“Thank you, Charlie. Folks know that you’re demanding, but it’s nice to know that you aren’t cruel.”

Charlie laughed. “Well, Bean messed up bad. I’m sure he’ll land on his feet. Software types tend to do just that.”

Harry thanked him again, and they went inside. As he and Monte made their way back to his office, Charlie thought about something troubling him more than Arthur Bean’s extracurricular activities. It was an e-mail he’d received from a woman named Anne Pedersen the night before. He didn’t know who Anne was. They had never spoken before, never exchanged e-mail, and never been in a meeting together. He’d looked her up in the Outlook directory and seen only that she worked in the consumer electronics marketing division. Although they were strangers, she had e-mailed him, urgently requesting that they meet for lunch. She’d refused to say what it was about, only that the fate of InVision was at stake. Whoever this Anne Pedersen was, she sure knew how to get his attention.

With a few minutes to spare before his next meeting, Charlie decided to clean up some documents that had been on his To Do list a day longer than the date he had given himself to complete the work. Charlie opened a desk drawer and took out an old shoe he kept there. He put it on and immediately felt Monte go to work on it. Charlie smiled. He loved having Monte in the office with him, but his beagle’s chewing habits hadn’t changed much since he first brought him home. Anytime Charlie sat down, he put on the old shoe to keep his new ones from being ravaged.

Charlie opened his laptop and was greeted by a bright yellow sticky note on the dark monitor screen. The penmanship, near perfect script, was clearly his own. Perhaps it was just the pressures from the upcoming product launch testing his nerves, or some late-night misguided attempt at crafting inspirational, team-building messages, but he couldn’t recall when he’d written it, or the reason for jotting down the cryptic affirmation. The note read simply:

If not yourself, then who can you believe?

Chapter 3

If not yourself, then who can you believe? On a normal day Charlie could make more decisions and progress in three hours than most directors at his level could make in a week. Those decisions came to him naturally; if Charlie believed in anything, it was himself. He spent a minute trying to remember when and where he’d written that note, came up blank, then transferred it to the inside flap of his BlackBerry holder.

Recall was his strength, a gift for names, faces, and events that had served him well as his product’s ambassador. But with all that was going on at SoluCent, he wasn’t overly concerned. His meeting with Anne Pedersen was nearing, and he had little time or patience to think of much else.

Monte eventually stopped gnawing on his shoe. Charlie listened a moment, until he heard quiet snoring coming from underneath the desk. He found it comforting. Charlie made sure to change his footwear, having once forgotten to take off Monte’s chew shoe before a meeting with Yardley. He rarely made such thoughtless errors, and certainly never the same one twice. Next, he made a halfhearted attempt to answer e-mail. Most of it was a waste of time to begin with, but today was especially bleak. He shut down Outlook, grabbed a container of Lysol disinfectant wipes, and began to clean around his desk.

Charlie’s office was noticeably sparse. Some had commented that they thought it was empty or occupied by a contractor. Those who found Charlie’s militant commitment to office cleanliness excessive did not know how he had grown up, otherwise, they would have understood.

  His childhood had been chaotic, unpredictable, and far from perfect. Charlie was determined that his future would not compare to the past. As part of that commitment, everything in his life had to have order. For Charlie, order equaled control and control was his secret ingredient for success. But he knew his methods came at a price --- the most obvious being his failed relationship with Gwen. Thinking back on how much more relaxed he’d become since bringing Monte home, it was hard to believe Gwen and he lasted as long as they did.

If one thing hadn’t changed, though, it was his opinion of people who were out of control; those who could not place their hands on a file within seconds of a request were no closer to ascending the tops of the professional ranks than the interns still in college. As a result, he kept his office clean and tidy with religious dedication --- there were no manila file folders tossed about, no pens, coffee cups, or desk toys of any kind.

While most professionals at SoluCent reminded themselves that real life existed outside the cubicle or office walls by adorning their desks with framed pictures of family, Charlie had none. He had dated a few times since moving back east, but instead of a blossoming romance, he’d found distraction and drama. A relationship wasn’t out of the question, but it wasn’t a priority, either. InVision was. Still, it wasn’t all work. His life had been here before moving to California. There were friends he saw on occasion, though less frequently as product development heated up. He made a much more conscious effort to stay in touch with his mother, who lived a few towns away from his Boston apartment. She was delighted to finally have “her boy” and “granddog” back from the West Coast, and they made it a point to have dinner together at least twice a month. He preferred they go out, as visits to her house were purposefully short and always tense. Monte, however, greatly enjoyed going there, but more to harass the neighbor’s poodle than for the change of scenery.

His mother still lived in the same forsaken multifamily house where Charlie grew up, in a not-so-nice section of Waltham. Charlie wasn’t one for grandiose gestures, nor did he easily part with his hard-earned money, but the sight of that house on that decrepit, drug-trafficked street was stomach churning. No matter how much he’d insisted, though, Charlie’s mother would not accept his offer to buy her a new house. For the past several years his brother, Joe, had been immersed in an experimental, intensive cognitive therapy program at Walderman Hospital in Belmont. Charlie’s mother had voiced concern that moving to a new house would upset Joe’s treatment and result in a setback, thus prompting her to decline the generous offer. That didn’t surprise Charlie in the least. His mother’s life had for years revolved around Joe.

Despite the five-year gap in age, Charlie had once felt close to his older brother. Joe’s adolescence had arrived the same year their father left and things changed for the worse. He’d often been moody and quick to anger. Joe would spend hours listening to their father’s favorite jazz albums in what Charlie described to friends as a deep trance. Sometimes Joe would disappear for days on end, with no memory of being gone, and while at home, his severe temper flare- ups worsened, prompting their mother to seek medical help. Months later doctors had diagnosed Joe with and treated him for a rare epileptic condition. A boy in Charlie’s school had had a seizure once, and so Charlie had asked his mother about it.

“Why doesn’t Joe shake?”

“There are different types of seizures,” his mother had explained.

“Is Joe going to die?”


That had been good enough for Charlie. He’d been eight years old at the time.

For a while life in the Giles household returned to normal, albeit without their father around. Then Joe turned eighteen, and that year he was diagnosed with an entirely different ailment --- the same one their father also suffered from --- schizophrenia. Turmoil and heartache became the norm for the Giles family once again. It stayed that way even after Charlie left home to attend college, even during his years out West. It was a blessing the day Joe found the Walderman program. At last life in that beat-up old house in Waltham started to get better.

Since joining Walderman, Joe had shown remarkable progress. When Charlie first moved back to Boston, Joe couldn’t even organize his day, let alone hold down a job. Two years later and after countless hours at Walderman, Joe was working a night security detail for a downtown office high-rise. Those evening hours passed so slowly, Joe complained, but it was --- as he put it --- a paying gig.

From the day Joe was diagnosed, Charlie’s mother had dedicated her every waking minute to his care and well-being. Charlie had been too young to understand exactly what was happening, but in looking back, he understood that her passion had turned into an obsession. There was no blame or anger, but the family lacked closeness. It was simply how he grew up --- his mother so deeply involved with his brother’s care that she had nothing left to give to anybody else. Instead of lamenting a past he could not change, Charlie put all his attention on what mattered most --- how not to become like them.

Sometimes Charlie wondered what would have happened if his brother hadn’t gotten sick. Perhaps he, Charlie, never would have been as driven and successful. Perhaps he owed his brother a debt of gratitude. As for brotherly love, however, those years had proved deeply scarring and had left an indelible chasm between them.

Growing up, neither brother knew their father was schizophrenic until after he left them. His mother justified the deceit by explaining it was at their father’s insistence --- he believed the less the children knew about his disease, the better.

After Joe was diagnosed, Charlie was understandably interested in the role genetics played in schizophrenia. Much that he found on that subject was unnervingly speculative. One disturbing fact Alison Giles shared was that Charlie’s father had stopped taking his medicine. It was probably the reason he’d abandoned the family without warning one rainy October so many years ago. No one had heard from him since.

Charlie sat back down after giving his desk a thorough wipe-down and tried to guess what Anne Pedersen had to say that could possibly jeopardize InVision. The thought that something threatened In- Vision was both troublesome and puzzling. It angered him that he couldn’t come up with an answer, and pride begged him to believe she was mistaken without even knowing what she had to say.

InVision, Charlie had been led to believe, was essential to SoluCent’s growth strategy and a key factor in sales forecasts and revenue projections. It was why the A-team from the strategic acquisition committee had been so relentless in their pursuit of Charlie’s start up, and had paid handsomely for it, too. There was no possible explanation for why these senior executives would have misled him.

Charlie had made almost fifteen million in cash from the transaction and stood to make millions more in stock and incentive bonuses, based on performance and product success. The decision to sell his company had been a no-brainer. It had been the fastest way to go from good money to the big leagues. Yet here he was, wondering if his dream was now being second-guessed by the very people who had convinced him to sell. He silently berated himself. When would the fear that everything would vanish go away? he wondered. When women like Anne Pedersen stopped insinuating that it might.

Charlie reached for his BlackBerry to check his calendar, not waiting for Outlook to restart. There he saw the note again.

If not yourself, then who can you believe?

A mentor from his MIT days had warned him that when you reached the top, plenty of people were always waiting below to pull you back down. He’d brushed it off as a cliché. It now seemed prophetic.

People were always hungry to pull him down. He wasn’t there to win any popularity contests. He was there to make it happen, and that meant having a work ethic that few could stand. He had no patience or interest in anything that wasn’t going to advance his cause.

Since coming to SoluCent over two years ago, Charlie had never set foot in any of the five campus cafeterias. Lunchtime was reserved for Monte’s afternoon walk, not eating. With his fourteen-hour workday, he needed those walks to help keep the pounds off in an industry notorious for overweight, sedentary workers.

Today would be an exception. Today he would meet Anne Pedersen at 12:00 p.m. in the Omni Way cafeteria. Only then would he find out what was so important that it had to be confided in person.

Charlie brought Monte over to Nancy, whose cubicle was just outside his office. She agreed, and would agree to do so every day if he asked, to take Monte for his afternoon walk. He couldn’t tell who was more excited to see the other.

“He’s still your dog, Charlie,” Nancy said as Monte rolled onto his back to expose her hands to his warm belly.

“But with you in the picture, I don’t think it would take long for him to get over me,” Charlie offered.

Charlie went back inside his office and locked his computer using the Task Manager. He changed his log-on password weekly, months before corporate IT demanded it be changed. It was his private defense against hackers and unauthorized access. Nobody ever touched his files. He made sure of it. He closed and locked his office door and kept his head down as he walked the carpeted corridor toward the stairwell. He wanted to seem preoccupied and unavailable for a quick sidebar chat on some problem that wasn’t his in the first place.

He said a brief hello to Tom Connors, who was senior VP and division head for the electronic solutions consulting group, but ignored the rest of the rank and file. Tom expected Charlie to address him. Charlie didn’t much care what the others thought.

Excerpted from DELIRIOUS © Copyright 2011 by Daniel Palmer. Reprinted with permission by Kensington. All rights reserved.

by by D.J. Palmer

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • ISBN-10: 0758246641
  • ISBN-13: 9780758246646