I neglected to post about the Ultra-Secret Meeting I attended at work on Friday.
As you may recall, the object of my infatuation, Margo, recruited me for some secret project that she’s working on. (see post Superficial banter and an intriguing offer, 11/23/04) I did some marketing voodoo for her team a few months back when she was the project manager for Delphi, this fancy-ass database management software. I like to think that I helped sell Delphi to Interbionics (I still think those fuckers are supervillains) a few months ago and that my work was appreciated and that’s why they’re offering me this new gig. I have no idea what this new project is; I imagine it’s the QuantumWorks thing that everybody’s been talking about.
Anyway, I have to drag my injured ass into work on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Originally I wanted to go shopping with the rest of America (I’m sick like that) but now I just want to load up on painkillers and sleep.
I pop a few more Aleve and chase it with some Gatorade, then head up to the ninth floor. I don’t know if I dislocated my shoulder in the fight with the Jet Pack Mafia goon or pulled something or what, but it feels like evil little angels are poking my back with red hot crochet needles. That’s the visual I have in my mind.
On a whim, I decide to take my utility belt with me in the car. I activate one of the KOMA probes, the needle-size listening devices that My Guy sent me. (see post The KOMA Probe, 10/1/04) I stick it in my pocket. You never know.
Anyway, the meeting:
I show up at the special wing on the ninth floor and present my pass to the bored looking security guard at the door. They’re expecting me; the guard just nods and buzzes me in.
I enter the security area where they’ve been working on this mystery project for the past few months. This office-within-an-office has a subdued palette of grays and pastels and trippy framed fractal art on the walls and weird potted plants that I don’t recognize. What is that, aloe? Cactus?
Margo pokes her head out of a set of double doors at the end of the hall and waves me in. She’s wearing a pink collared V-neck sweater and black clam diggers.
“Mackenzie!” she says. “Come on in. Everybody’s here.”
“I’m not late, am I?”
“No, no. Things are a little different up here. We actually start meetings on time.”
That is different. I can count on my hand the number of meetings I’ve attended in The Company that actually started when they were supposed to.
I follow Margo’s perfect butt into a big deluxe conference room. Three men rise from the polished black marble table in the center of the room. The floor-to-ceiling windows afford a beautiful view of the Bay and downtown.
“Everybody, this is Connor Mackenzie, our marketing guru,” Margo says.
The three guys step forward, hands extended. They’re all dressed in expensive but casual clothes and they positively reek of money and power. I recognize one of them.
“Connor, hi. Ted Bradbury.” I shake Ted’s hand. He’s The Company’s CFO, a big Aryan looking cat with a firm handshake and Botox good looks. I’ll bet he was captain of the varsity football team back in the day.
“Hey, Connor. Aaron Clarke, I’m on the Board of Directors.” I recognize the name; Clarke is a heavy set older man with retro lamb chop sideburns and bifocals. He looks like an English professor or a John LeCarre spymaster.
The last guy sets off my alarms. He looks familiar; where have I seen him before?
“Welcome, Mr. Mackenzie. I’ve been following your work with great interest. My name is John Quentin.”
Quentin’s handshake is cool and dry. He’s a distinguished gentleman type, wearing a black wool blazer over a crewneck tee. The grey hair at his temples makes him look distinguished. His deep set eyes are the color of ice. He sort of looks like the actor Gabriel Byrne. I bet the chicks dig him.
“Thanks, it’s a pleasure,” I say. I still don’t know what the fuck this is all about.
“Have a seat, please,” Quentin says. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee?”
I sit down a little stiffly. Margo sits down next to me. “I’m good, thanks.”
Quentin arches an eyebrow. “Are you injured?”
“Pulled a muscle in my back last night. Racquetball.”
“None of us are getting any younger, are we?” Bradbury says.
“I guess not.”
“Mr. Mackenzie is probably wondering what this is all about, aren’t you?” Clarke says.
“I’m curious, yes.”
“Margo hasn’t even hinted at what this is about?” Clarke says, glancing over at her.
She holds up her hands. “Not even a hint,” she says, smiling.
Yeah, yeah. Enough chit-chat, let’s just cut to the fucking chase here.
“I’m totally in the dark,” I say. Truer words were never spoken.
John Quentin has been looking at me the whole time, sizing me up. I pretend not to notice. Where do I know this guy from? Have I seen him around the office?
“Mr. Quentin…” I begin, but he holds up a hand, smiling.
“Please,” he says. “Call me John.”
“Forgive me if this is too direct, John, but what exactly do you do in The Company?”
“That’s a valid question. The short answer is I own a controlling interest of the The Company’s stock.”
Bullshit. He’d be on the board of directors, his name would be public. I would have heard of him. I let it slide, but I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this. I smell a supervillain. I know, I know. I think everybody’s a supervillain. But this Quentin guy, he has white hair around his temples and he’s got a slick Machiavellian vibe to him. I’d bet money he’s a supervillain.
“I see,” I say, letting a note of skepticism creep into my voice. Clarke and Bradbury exchange a look. Are they villains, too? And if they’re bad guys, then that makes Margo…
“Well, let’s get down to it,” Quentin says. “We won’t take up much of your time today, Mr. Mackenzie. I’ll just briefly outline what the project is about.”
He strolls to the full-length window, looking out over Emerald City with his hands in his pockets. “The working title for the project is QuantumWorks. We’re still in the design stage but in essence, it’s a very unique Internet search engine that uses patented technology.”
Quentin turns and smiles. That’s it? That’s the big fucking secret? Am I supposed to say something?
“Uhh, what’s so unique about it?” I ask.
“Our search engine allows the user to search for anything that’s ever been on the Internet, ever,” Quentin says. “Any site or page or message board post or blog entry – any Internet content is searchable, even content that no longer ‘exists.’ QuantumWorks is a comprehensive, exhaustive, historic search engine with total recall.”
Clarke leans over conspiratorially. “We’ve developed a function that searches email. Any email, ever.”
Bradbury holds up a moderating hand. “Of course, that aspect of QuantumWorks would not be made available to the general public. Ethical concerns.”
I look over at Margo. She’s smiling, excited.
“Is this for real?” I ask.
Quentin sits back down. “As real as anything else. The business model is simple: this is a subscription service, and it won’t be cheap. This is where you come in, Mr. Mackenzie.”
“What, with marketing? I don’t know if you need me. You could call this thing Hitler’s Pony and it would still sell.”
They all laugh. The Hitler joke: the hallmark of the true marketing professional!
“We would like your help crafting a brand identity for QuantumWorks,” Quentin says.
“I don’t want to tell you folks how to run your business, but usually a project of this significance would get farmed out to one of the big firms…”
Bradbury shakes his head. “That’s a no-go. We have to keep this under wraps until we’re ready to launch. We can’t afford for this to get out in the open.”
“You seem reluctant to take the assignment on, Mr. Mackenzie,” Clarke says, peering over his bifocals at me.
I feel like I’m on the spot here, like I have to make a decision. Normally anybody in my shoes would be psyched to get offered a gig like this; it’s very flattering. But I’m the Velvet Marauder. Danger is my business. And unless I’m totally high, I’ve stepped in a big stinky pile of supervillain.
“No, no. It’s just… I mean, how does it work? I didn’t know something like that was possible.”
Quentin smiles. “I’m going to have to ask you to have faith that it is indeed possible and that we have the means and resources to make this idea a reality. I know you’ll understand that I can’t tell you anymore unless we know you’re committed to the project. This is not mandatory; if you’re not interested we’ll understand and you can return to your normal duties.”
They’re all looking at me. What can I do? I have to learn more.
Then I remember the bug in my pocket; the needle-sized KOMA probe. I have what is either a cunning or incredibly stupid idea. I grab the bug with my right hand.
“Sounds great, Mr. Quentin,” I say. Hopefully I’m oozing enthusiasm. “Count me in.”
“Super,” he says, which seems sort of out of character. All the others rise, smiling.
As I get up from the chair to shake hands with everybody I pull the KOMA probe out and with one swift and hopefully unnoticed motion, I plant it in the fabric-covered arm of the chair I’m sitting in. There. I have just bugged this office and am now transmitting to my utility belt’s com suite, which will burn everything to an MP3 file.
There’s a round of “welcome aboards” and “we’re happy to have you” and more handshaking, which sends tremors of pain through my shoulder, and then Quentin is guiding me to the door by the elbow, grinning.
“Good choice, Mr. Mackenzie,” he says.
“Please. Connor.” We’re buds now.
“Okay, Connor. Mike at the desk will give you a badge. Why don’t you show up here on Monday morning and we’ll work out the salary details, et cetera. I’ll have my assistant Nancy show you your office.”
“Yes, with a view of the Bay,” he says. “We’ll need you to be close at hand for the next few months.”
“Sounds great.” It does sound great. Too great.
“Fantastic,” he says and claps me on the shoulder. It feels like getting struck with an axe. I nearly faint with pain.
“You should get that shoulder looked at, Connor," he says. "I know these things. I’m a doctor.”
As I walk down the hallways of subdued grays, rigid with pain, I wonder where I have seen John Quentin before. I find my eyes drawn to the odd plants in the corridor – alien desert succulents and colorful cacti. There’s something strange about the plants, and I feel vaguely like if I knew what it was, I could figure out what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.