Union Square | Sep 5 | 2:57pm
Tinkerbell sat on a bench waiting for Harry, reading a battered copy of a paperback called “Contact.” I could see her from my bench, but I held up the wide sheets of the newspaper to stay hidden. She was reason enough to want to have a good view, even without knowing what was about to happen. She wore a slinky red dress under her coat, and I watched the smoke from her cigarette dissolve into the air above her head. I couldn’t wait to bring down the system, ever since Acid Burn told me her plan to unite the programmers.
An old Asian man carrying a picket sign walked past, protesting the Jenterollions of Galaxies and other strange issues.
Harry walked up, his hands in the pockets of the light jacket he wore in the windy afternoon. He was early, like the tool that he was.
Harry and I had a score to settle. Try to manipulate me by waving a blonde in my face? I could play that game.
Tink is more than a spy. She’s a spy with no affiliation. She’s a mercenary, and I had a job she could do better than anyone. I couldn’t pay her with money, but I decided to set up the meeting to give her a chance at what she really wanted all along, access to the Dude’s old computer, which I could use too.
Harry nodded as he walked up to her. “Hi. Nice to see you.” His voice was professional and boring.
From twenty feet away, I heard every word over the phone call coming from Tink’s purse and up through the white headphone wire going into my ear. The phone in my pocket was one of Tinkerbell’s spares. Mike probably already knew about it, probably infiltrated the call and was listening in, but Harry wasn’t watching the screen where Mike showed what was going on, and without Sarah keeping a log, he couldn’t find out about it later.
Tinkerbell smiled. “Nice to see you, Mister Gruber.” That’s funny, because the character’s full name is Hans Gruber. She put the book back in her purse, where it scraped against the microphone I was listening through, making me wince.
Harry smiled and blushed a little, already falling for the flattery. She was good. “What would that make you? Miss Bell?” Was that her real name, or was he playing along? “What information are you trying to get out of me this time?”
“It’s not what I want, it’s what I can give you.” That was a line from Die Hard, but maybe she said it as a coincidence.
“It’s about Winston.”
Harry sounded disappointed. “Oh, you’ve had contact with him.”
She smiled. “Yes. He told me a good amount, promised me more if I help take you down. He’s gathering resources to take control of the company out of your hands, but I think you know more than he does.” That was good, a lie and more flattery.
“What did he promise you?”
“A notebook full of secrets about your organization.”
Harry laughed. “That thing? I’ve read it. The only secret he’s got from you is how much of a piece of shit he is.”
“That’s no secret.” She couldn’t mean that. She knew I could hear them. I wondered where she was taking things.
“Then why are you working with him?” Harry walked off in the direction away from where I was sitting.
Tink walked with him. I would still be able to hear them wherever they went, but I wished they would stay where I could see. “He came to me with an offer. Think you can do better?”
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Harry chuckled at that. “What would he do with control of the company?”
“I don’t think he’s thought that far ahead.”
“I know the feeling.” He was stalling her or something.
“He’s conspiring with more of your employees to find the Dude.” I didn’t want him to know about that. Was she selling me out?
“The Dude is gone.”
“Well, let’s call him both alive and dead for now, but you should know there’s a movement building around getting him back.” I wanted that to be true. Her voice got softer. “Have you got him?”
“You don’t expect me to give that away, do you?”
“What do you care?”
“Because the information seems to have some value. That’s what I do, gather information people value. For example, Winston told me he has evidence that the Dude was never really running things over there, that the software itself was running the company.” I wanted to hear his reaction to that.
“I guess that’s one way to look at it.” There, he admitted it.
“We’re both professionals here. I think we can respect each other enough to agree…”
Shit. They walked past someone playing one of those Chinese one stringed instruments, and their voices got drowned out. I looked over the newspaper and tried to spot them in the crowd, but I didn’t see them. They kept talking, but I wasn’t getting anything.
Finally, I picked out Harry’s voice. “…killed us if he got the chance.” What the hell was he talking about? Me? Did he think I was that dangerous?
Tink was back too. “Hans, I’ve seen your system at work. You have that, and you’re still running out of money? You have to figure out how to use what you’ve got to your advantage.” Now she was giving him advice? All she really needed to get was the password.
“Blackmail’s not really my area. Maybe you should come work for us.”
“Work for you? You don’t know me very well, do you?”
“Alright, I’ll outbid his offer. To fix the company’s money problems, I’m setting up an IPO. Share that around. You know our product is ready for demonstration, but the Dude was ready to use up the last resources available and let the project fall apart rather than announce what it really is. He was too obsessed with secrecy.” Interesting.
“And you aren’t obsessed enough. Information is only valuable if I’m the only one who knows it. Going public means every blog in the world is gonna know what you’ve got. You still haven’t offered me anything I can use. How about an early peek?” She still wanted to get at the system, but not in a way that helped me.
“Haven’t we been through this before? I guess if there’s some value in it…”
I saw the two of them on the other side of the courtyard, walking in a big loop, a loop back to me. I held up the newspaper and pretended to be interested in the one small news story about unions they threw in for Labor Day.
Tink’s voice broke the silence. “Who else have you told?”
“Just the VCs. You know, I thought it would be simple once I was in charge, I thought I could turn things around, make the company profitable enough that they couldn’t tell us what to do, but the Dude’s way of doing things was weird. There’s all this stuff I still don’t understand, and he won’t talk.”
“So the Dude is with you.”
I heard Harry take a deep breath, saw him look up at the sky. “Shit.” His voice was a little quieter through the phone, but I could still make it out. “I can’t get rid of him. None of the programmers understood the big picture of what they were working on. The Dude was the only one who could make sure all their stuff would work together. He has to put all the pieces together, and I have to keep him somewhere he won’t make me look weak.”
“How’s the Dude handling all the changes you’re making to the structure of his project?”
Harry looked at her for a long pause. “Someone else is taking care of that.” That didn’t sound good.
[Editor’s note: actually, I worked on that job.]
“Why don’t you give each of the programmers the ability to commit their own changes?” That sounded like it would help get Ivan up and running. I wondered if she was still on the job I gave her.
“No, I have to keep control of the system.”
Her voice took on a softness I would fall for, easy. “I could help you, maybe take a look.”
“You wouldn’t have much time to sell what you learn. We’re unveiling soon.”
“I can work pretty fast.”
Harry shook his head. “It’s still too sensitive. I can’t do that.”
She giggled. “Sensitive can be good.” That would work on me too, but he shrugged her off. It wasn’t working. Her voice got serious as she switched tactics. “You know, having stockholders will get you money, but it won’t make things any simpler. It won’t just be your VCs you need to impress. There could be thousands of people out there with an influence on the direction you take, with the power to overrule you if enough of them act as one. Why not sell the system to a bigger company?”
“I won’t. It has to be the stock market.” So that was the market he meant, and he still wanted total control of the thing.
“Well, if I can’t get those bids going, and you won’t show it to me, I can still solve your Dude problem. It sounds like what you would need is some kind of open communications subroutine.” There it was. “Make the Dude put that in, and you might be able to get rid of him for real.”
“Hm.” Harry thought about that for a long time. “Don’t think this means I owe you anything.” We were in.
Tink tried one more thing. “I’ve still got Winston’s offer. You’re sure you don’t want to outbid him?”
Harry shook his head. “That guy, he’s an old friend of mine. He thinks he’s so clever, writing things down in that little notebook of his. Everything you say, he writes down the conversation so he can refer to it later. He’s starting to act just like the system.”
I don’t know how to react to that.
It is kind of true — and useful. Thank you for that, Winston, but there’s also a scribbled note after that.
Tinkerbell really came through.
It’s good to know I can count on her.
Something strange about it, though. I don’t think it’s quite Winston’s handwriting.