Union Square | Sep 11 | 3:13pm
Tinkerbell sat on a different 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 tight blue dress, and I watched the smoke from her cigarette dissolve into the air above her head, matching my breathing to hers.
An old Asian man carrying a picket sign walked past, protesting the Gigentillions of Galaxies and other strange issues.
Harry walked up, his hands in the pockets of the light jacket he wore in the warm afternoon. He was late, like the dick that he is.
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 asked her to set up the meeting so she would have 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 the Sarah 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?” He didn’t know what her real name was either. “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 Oscar.”
Harry sounded disappointed. “Oh, you found out his name.”
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?”
“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.” That couldn’t be true.
“He’s conspiring with more of your employees to contact 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?” 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. “Because the information seems to have some value. That’s what I do, gather information people value. For example, Oscar 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.”
“We’re both professionals here. I think we can respect each other enough to agree that’s not possible.”
Harry chuckled again. “He has no idea what computers are and aren’t capable of, but yes, all the employee schedules have been fully automated for a while now. The power of this thing is that it sees when the schedule isn’t met. I’m taking that over, turning the system into a marketable product. I took over because we were almost completely out of capital. The Dude kept building more detailed personality models without any plans to make money from them. His way would have killed us if he got the chance.”
“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. Sorry about your money troubles, but you still haven’t offered me anything I can use. Maybe a view of the system before it’s announced could be worth something.” She still wanted to get at the system, but not in a way that helped me.
“I’m trying not to repeat the Dude’s mistakes, but keeping you at a distance was never one of them.”
In the distance of the phone call, I heard one of those Chinese one stringed instruments.
Tink’s voice still came in loud and clear. “Who else have you told?”
“Just the venture capitalists. That’s something the Dude never understood. We’re supposed to be working for the investors. They’re the ones providing the funding.” Those investors were Harry’s bosses, the real force behind the system. I finally knew what the next level was.
Tink asked the question I needed to know. “Who are the investors? Big names?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Don’t tease me, Harry.”
He sighed. “I can’t keep track. They’re all over, but there’s one guy I’ve been talking to who keeps in touch with most of them.”
“And they back your leadership?”
“As long as I deliver a product soon.”
“Okay, so market to me. What’s the product?”
“Well, let’s just say it’s going to be one hell of an app.”
“An app? They believe you that’s even possible?”
“It was their idea. Apps are big money. Now we’re figuring out how to do 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 all the articles looking back on the decade since 9/11.
“Harry, this isn’t Angry Birds we’re talking about. Technical problems aside, aren’t you afraid consumers are going to be freaked out when you tell them what this is?” I’ve been writing in this notebook for a long time to expose the company, and that’s exactly the kind of response I hope for.
Harry didn’t seem bothered by that idea. “Everybody out here, everyone we pass, they all want the newest technology. They carry tiny cameras and microphones with them, and they don’t think about it. How many would even notice if those machines were listening and watching all the time?” It looked like he was walking towards me. I ducked behind the newspaper.
Tinkerbell’s voice was my only clue the conversation was still happening. “But you would need each of them to give you their permission.”
“People are suckers if they think something’s going to make their lives easier. They don’t read the fine print. I’m not like that. I’ve been working with this stuff a long time.” I heard his voice through the other ear too, which meant he was really getting close. “I always think about who could be listening in, who might be watching.”
He pulled down my newspaper with a smile. I felt like an idiot.
He sat next to me on the bench. “You could have listened from anywhere.”
I bowed my head. “I guess so.”
Harry laughed. Tinkerbell stood near us with her hands on her hips. “Oh, ha, ha. Were you actually going to give me any information, or were you just using me to play hide and seek with each other?”
Harry waved a hand in her direction “Relax. I’ll find something in the budget to cover your pain and suffering. There’s always some wherever this guy goes.”
I turned to Harry. “What are those investors doing all this for? What’s the real purpose of the system?”
He shrugged. “Money.”
“It can’t be that simple.”
“You wanna ask them? I’ll set you up a meeting.”
“Yeah, let me talk to that guy, your contact with the investors.”
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.