Hollywood.bomb, Chapter 17

Chapter 17

The snow started falling early in the morning, just hard enough to give a magical air to the Thanksgiving Day parade.  Stephen had wanted to take Sarah to see it, but all three of the mothers who were currently in his house overruled him.  He settled for sitting on the couch with his daughter, flipping between the New York and Boston parades on TV while she happily chewed on her foot beside him.  From the kitchen, he could hear Jenny’s tired voice alternately translating and refereeing the conversation between the grandmothers, who were trying for the first time to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner together.

"No, Mom, we don’t have a paisley kitchen towel.  No, we don’t need one.  She said to put parsley over the turkey."

"Well, that makes a lot more sense, dear.  For a moment, I thought we were going with semi-formal dressing for the turkey!  Wash your hands before you touch the baby, sweetie.  We have raw poultry here."

"But I haven’t touched anything!  All you’ll let me do is sit here at the kitchen table chopping celery."

"Well, I bought the celery at the same time as the turkey, so some e coli bacteria could have been transferred through the cart.  They never clean those things, you know."

"Your mother’s right, Jenny.  You can’t risk the little one’s health over a dinner."

"There, see?  Especially such a brilliant child as Sarah is.  The world would be a poorer place without her.  Not too much butter and cream in the sweet potatoes, Margaret.  Jacob just got his cholesterol numbers back from the doctor, and, well, they weren’t as good as they could have been.  We’re trying to have a low fat holiday season this year."

"Sweet Mary Mother of God," Margaret exclaimed.  "And that’s not a curse, Jenny, it’s a blessing.  If you can’t eat anything you want on Thanksgiving, when can you?  It’s our sacred duty as Americans to eat until stuffing comes out our ears on this day!  This is the traditional family recipe that I make every year.  And Jenny needs all of the fats she can get, so she can pass those good calories on to the baby.  She’s making cream these days, right dear?"

"Judging from the way Sarah’s filling out, yes."

"So there you go," Stephen heard an emphatic slap as another pat of butter was drilled home in the mixing bowl.  There was a pregnant pause, punctuated by vigorous stirring sounds.

After a few moments, Janice said mildly, "Well, I suppose I could just make a separate dish for Jacob using canola oil and yogurt."

Stephen glanced over at his father-in-law, who had fallen asleep in an easy chair fifteen minutes after arriving at the house.  At the age of 66, he still worked full-time running a wealth management firm in New York.  In order to take the Friday after Thanksgiving off, he worked until the small hours of the morning on Thanksgiving, leaving behind enough emails and requests to keep the rest of the company busy in his absence.  He usually had enough energy to make the four-hour drive through holiday traffic and get through the door to the chair, but that was it.  It was easy to see where Jenny got her business sense, as well as her ability to enforce her will upon others.

Lean and trim, Jacob Weston didn’t look like a man who had to watch his fat intake.  His engine ran fast, burned hot, and left no spare fuel behind.  In fact, Stephen thought, if I’m in that kind of shape when I’m 66, then I’ll consider myself a lucky man. He reminded Stephen of an older Jimmy Stewart, if he had ever played a ruthless baron of industry.  The lifestyle took its toll, though, and ever since he had awakened in the middle of the night with chest pains a few years ago, his diet and habits had been strictly monitored by his doctors and his wife.  He would eat his special dish of sweet potatoes without complaining, and then he would sneak into the kitchen for the real thing when no one was looking.  This, too, had become a family tradition, and Stephen was willing to play the part of accomplice when the time came, in the name of strong paternal relations.

The parades had ended, so Stephen switched over to the football pre-game show.  It felt so good to just sit, without anything bigger to worry about than how many servings of stuffing he was going to eat.  When the first game highlight appeared on the television, Sarah gave a small coo.  Surprised, Stephen glanced down at her.  Maybe she is a prodigy, after all, he thought.  Then he realized that she had just discovered the other foot, which she now began to gnaw vigorously.  Gently, he reached down and wiped the drool from her chin with her ever-present bib.  "That’s OK, kid, you take your time growing up.  You’re my excuse for sitting still, after all.  So you chew your foot, I’ll watch the game, and everyone wins."  Sarah cooed agreement, so he shifted her to his chest and settled deeper into the couch with a contented sigh.

When their guests arrived later that afternoon, the snow was coming down hard and fast.  Stephen could just barely see the three shadowy forms trudging up the walk from the street.  Rising from the couch slowly so as not to wake the baby sleeping on his chest, he gently transferred her to her grandfather and went to open the door.  The mostly cheerful noise from the kitchen continued unabated.

When he opened the door, the three snow-covered figures resolved into Mark and Stu, whom he had been expecting, and Frank, whom he had not.  Noting his questioning glance, Mark explained, "Frank was still in town, so I invited him to come, too.  You said that two or three more wouldn’t matter, so I figured now we were just hitting the upper end of the range."

"No, that’s fine.  We’re glad to have you.  Come on in so I can close the door."  Stephen said, and then added in a whisper, "We’re a little oversensitive to chills these days."

"They know that has no basis in scientific fact, right?" asked Frank as he brushed snow from his shoulders and shook it off of his hat before stepping inside.  He removed his duster to reveal a black silk shirt and black jeans.  "It’s an old wives’ tale that you can get sick from being cold."

"I know, but I’m outnumbered by the old wives.  They just keep saying, ‘There must be some truth to it or they wouldn’t say it.’"

"Hmph.  That’s what they said about the moon being made of cheese until we landed there."

"Assuming we actually did," Stu interjected half-jokingly.

"Don’t start," Frank warned.  "Anyway, thanks for allowing me to crash the party.  I just couldn’t stand another Lasher family holiday.  My family gets into the wine by about noon to make sure that they have room on the table for the bourbon and brandy at dinner.  By the time we get around to carving the turkey, everyone’s arguing over whose turn it is to carve, whose turn it was to bring the pies, and who has to sit at the kids’ table this year.  And then when we have to go to the emergency room, Mom makes everyone go, because it’s a family holiday and we’re supposed to be together."

Stu was aghast.  "It’s like that every year?"

Frank shrugged.  "We’ve been to the hospital so many times, they named a wing after us."

Mark elbowed Frank in the ribs.  "Come on, that’s not true."

"OK, it’s not a wing; more like a waiting room.  When’s dinner?"  Frank turned and went into the living room.

Several hours later, Stephen slipped out of the hot and noisy house and stumped through the snow to their detached garage to get a shovel.  It took a few minutes to find it buried behind the rake and the lawnmower, not yet having completed its annual pilgrimage to the front of the seasonal tool pile.  Pausing for a moment in the middle of the driveway, the fog of his breath wreathing his head, Stephen reveled in the magical silence of the snow-covered neighborhood.  There were three or four inches of snow on the ground, but only a few drifting flakes now came from the sky.  He could hardly believe that only days ago he had been wearing shorts and eating Mexican food in Santa Monica, but it was moments like this that reminded him why he loved New England.

"Can you believe this crap?"  His neighbor’s voice shattered the magical silence.  "All day long I gotta move dirt, and then on my one day off what do I do?  Move snow.  Thank God I quit the plow crew this year.  How was your holiday?"

Richie Salvatti was what Jennifer’s mother politely called "the salt of the earth."  A backhoe operator, he had spent his entire 21-year career working on the Big Dig, Boston’s ill-fated effort to bury Interstate 93 beneath the city, and he had just kept digging after the project was finally complete.  Short and barrel-chested, generous with both his tools and his opinions, he was a good person to have around in a crisis, if not for a dinner party.  Stephen allowed himself a small sigh in mourning for the quiet moment lost, then began digging as he answered Richie.  "Uneventful, really, at least until the baby threw up on my father-in-law.  He’s trying to play the loving grandpappy and shrug it off, but it was one of his best suits.  Even if he gets it cleaned, I doubt it will ever smell quite the same again."  Stephen shrugged as he threw a shovelful of snow over his shoulder.  "I’ll never understand why he insists on dressing for dinner, anyway, when no one else does.  Sarah threw up on me, too, but I just changed my sweater."

"Yeah, what’re you gonna do?"  Richie offered philosophically.

"I’m actually glad that it snowed," Stephen continued.  "It gave me an excuse to get outside for a few minutes without looking like I was escaping.  Did I tell you that we have both families together for the first time this year?"  Richie snorted in disbelief.  "They’re actually behaving themselves pretty well so far, a few recipe-related squabbles aside.  Still, it’s really loud in there.  Better to come out and spend some quiet time with the driveway.  And I get a little workout in the process!"  He threw another shovelful in the air to demonstrate his point.

Richie spat in the snow.  "It’s all dirt, as far as I’m concerned.  The leaves are tree-dirt, this is sky-dirt.  The seasons change, but the dirt’s still here, and I gotta move it.  Ah, I don’t care!  It could be worse, right?  We could have had a nor’easter and your parents could all be stuck here overnight."

Stephen shivered.  "Bite your tongue."

The two men stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the snowflakes drift down from the gray sky.

“So, how do you think the Sox will do this year?” Stephen asked.

“Either win the Series or break our hearts, same as always.”


The front door banged open and Frank stood there, wearing an apron and carrying a dishtowel.  "Stephen, your mother told me to remind you that we have to leave in about twenty minutes.  Are you going to have the driveway cleared by then?"

"Yeah, I’ll be done in ten.  Will you be done drying the dishes, honey?"

Frank grinned and mimed a curtsy with his apron.  "Yes, dear.  Assuming your mom doesn’t find any more for us to wash, that is.  Mark and Stu have a good assembly line going in there, but she just keeps pulling things out of the oven, the cupboards, and the dining room.  I’m starting to suspect that we’ve washed some things twice, just for good measure."

"Well, I’ll pick up the pace here.  Do me a favor and make sure Jen gets the twenty minute warning, too, OK?  Experience says she’ll need at least that long to find the right pair of shoes."

"Will do."  Frank disappeared inside and Stephen put his back into the shoveling.

Thirty minutes later, Stephen, Jennifer, Frank, Mark, and Stu were crammed into Stephen’s car and driving carefully through the snowy streets toward a small theater in Brookline, destined for they knew not what kind of an experience. 

David had made good on his vow to bring avant-garde theatre to the masses of Boston.  After deep thought, he had decided that normal people didn’t avoid truly daring theatre because it was strange or, God forbid, incomprehensible, but because they didn’t understand it.  Thus came about "Theatre des Normales," or as Frank called it, "Avant-Garde for Idiots."  David’s first show was scheduled to open on Friday, to take advantage of, in David’s words, "the suburban need for post-gluttony entertainment."  David had invited the entire ADD project team to the final dress rehearsal.  Jennifer, seeing her first opportunity in months to leave the house in the company of adults, had cheerfully invited herself along as well.

They arrived late, and the rehearsal had already begun by the time they entered the small basement theater off of Brookline Avenue.  Even before opening the door, they could hear David berating someone in strident tones, anger thickening his accent to near unintelligibility.  As they slipped into the back of the theater, his voice became clearer.  They saw him standing before the stage, dressed in knickers, a vest over a silk shirt, and a beige beret.  He was shouting at a mime and a dejected clown.

"No, no, it is all wrong!  You cannot simply drop the dead flowers down her pants; you must fling them there with joie de vivre and abandon, yet with precision!  If you do not do it correctly, how will the fat lady in the fourth row know that this means you are gay?"  He gestured toward an empty seat, "She has come, wearing her flowered dress and that ridiculous large hat, tired from a day of chauffeuring her fat children from band practice, soccer, and therapy, and she does not have the perception to pierce the fog of your imprecision!  She will never understand!  Minotaur!  You must come and explain it to her.  Yes, sit in the aisle and tell her exactly what is happening.  Answer her questions.  Be her Greek chorus, her guide, her muse.  Help her to keep up with us.  And tell her to remove the hat.  It bothers me!"

A Minotaur who had been attempting to hang itself upstage right set aside its noose and ran down into the theater, seeking the imaginary patron.  It stopped near the fourth row and turned back to look at David.  A muffled voice called, "Here?"

David waved him away irritably, "How should I know where she is?  She could be sitting anywhere.  Find her and make sure she understands.  No one leaves here without achieving a higher level of consciousness."

Stephen caught David before he could go back to berating the mime.  "Sorry we’re late.  Should we just sit back here, out of the way?"

David brightened slightly at the sight of them, and then considerably more when he saw Jennifer.  "Ah, you have brought the beautiful Jenny!  Bon soir, my sweet, I have missed your face at our company soirees these past months.  No, no, you must sit right in the middle to truly benefit from the blocking.  Just move the traffic cones and whipped cream over to one side.  We will not use them until the fourth act, anyway."

Three hours later, four dazed men and one bemused woman stumbled out of the theatre, closing the door quickly to cut off another Franco-artistic tirade.  They walked slowly back to the car, all five of them silent as they tried to process the experience they had just shared.  After about five minutes, Jennifer reached behind Stephen’s ear and swiped away some leftover whipped cream.  Licking it off of her finger, she said, "Maybe I’m just starved for entertainment, but I thought it was pretty good."


Stephen’s return to work after the long weekend was like being ambushed with buckets of ice water on the way out of a sauna.  Before he even sat down at his desk, he saw the voicemail light on his phone blinking furiously at him, its display announcing seven messages awaiting his attention.  He decided to get coffee first.  Outside.  When he returned from the Starbucks -- not the one right next door, but the one around the corner, because he liked their scones better -- he decided that he had stalled long enough.  Repressing a sigh, he settled into his chair, took a long pull from his cup, and resolutely pressed the voicemail button.

Fifteen minutes later, two things were clear:
  1. He needed to order his coffee "extra hot" in the winter if he wanted it to survive the walk back to the office.
  2. The advent of the holiday season had done little to improve the moods of his colleagues in LA.
A quick check of his email filled in the details.  Friday had clearly not been an extra day of rest for the crew at CouldBU.  The engineers had worked hard to make progress on their side project, which now appeared to be nearing completion, and Richard had worked equally hard to catch them at it.  All that either group managed to do was get in each other’s way and annoy everyone.  Frank and Kelvin would be relieved to know that the ADD team had not fallen behind in their development race by taking Friday off, but Stephen did not envy them the mood that would greet them when they returned to the office this afternoon.  He fired off quick messages to Frank, Kelvin, and Mark’s phones, warning them of storms ahead in LA.  They wouldn’t receive the messages until they landed, but this would at least give them a chance to brace themselves for the onslaught.  He trusted them to tell Stu, who refused to carry a cell phone even during work hours.

Stephen checked his watch.  He had a couple of hours yet before he could return any phone calls to LA.  It was time to bite the bullet and act like a project manager for a while.  With a sigh, he pulled up the project schedule on his computer and set to work trying to distill the chaos that this project had become into a neat chart of names, dates, and estimated work efforts.  Normally, he enjoyed this part of his responsibilities.  There was something soothing about seeing all the crazed creativity, the dead ends and backtracking, the logjams and breakthroughs of software development fall into nice, neat lines on a page.  It was like personally challenging the entropic forces of the universe to a duel and winning, at least on paper.  In this case, though, the pieces just wouldn’t fall together.  There were too many open questions, too many unknowns for even the grandest of assumptions to cover.  As an exercise -- and possibly a new stall tactic -- Stephen began to list some of them:
Assuming that:
  • We have no more distractions
  • The engineering team learns to work together
  • The entire cadre of Vice Presidents of Impractical Ideas locks the doors to the asylum long enough for us to catch up with everything that they’ve already asked for
  • Sgt. Dick refrains from placing key technical personnel in either the hospital or a special boot camp for engineers
  • Chuck, our latest friend in high places, finds a credible design firm that’s able to quickly produce a visual and user interface design that can be easily integrated with our currently programmed functionality without creating major rework
  • We don’t accidentally meet Rod face-to-face, thus avoiding the risk of being struck stone dead on the spot by his glory
  • LA is not struck by major earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, coastal flooding, tsunamis, or apocalyptic traffic jams that delay our team in getting to work by more than fifteen minutes on any given day
…we have a 50% chance of completing this project on time.
Stephen looked at his list for a moment.  Sadly, it appeared that the last assumption was the most likely to be realized.  Resting his chin in his hand, he took a sip of cold coffee.  "Oh yeah, we’ll be fine."


Two days later, Stephen received the kind of surprise he had ceased to believe in since the summer:  a pleasant one.

"We’re done," Kelvin’s echoing voice stated definitively in Stephen’s ear.

Stephen checked the volume on the headset and then switched ears, just to be safe.  "Say that again.  I think the speakerphone distorted your words."

Mark, Frank, and Stu joined Kelvin in smug chorus, enunciating carefully.  "We.  Are.  Done."

Stephen shook his head in disbelief.  "Now, have we had the conversation on this project about what ‘done’ means?  It doesn’t mean, ‘done except for the twenty components I stubbed in and plan to finish when I’m supposed to be testing,’ or ‘done in the sense that it worked once on my laptop, but no one else could reproduce my results,’ or ‘I’m tired of this feature so it’s done.’  It means ‘done,’ as in ‘I have no more programming to do.’"

"Oh, well, in that case, we’re not ‘DONE done,’" said Kelvin.  "Not in the ‘you can all go home now, and thanks for your time’ done.  The prototype’s complete.  We won the race."

Stephen relaxed.  "Oh, OK… that makes more sense.  And hey!  You’re..." he checked the project calendar, "six hours ahead of schedule."

"We would have been done yesterday," offered Frank, "but Kelvin ‘one more thing’ Tsong had to slip the mimes in."

"Excuse me?  Did you say, ‘mimes’?"

"Yes, mimes.  You know:  skinny guys in white makeup, always walking into the wind or getting trapped in invisible boxes…"

"Ooh!  I like the one where the box starts shrinking and he can’t get out!" Mark jumped in.  "I saw a guy down on the pier who could fold himself smaller than a carry-on.  I gave him a dollar."

Stephen interrupted, "What does this have to do with us?"

"Oh, didn’t you get the memo?" Frank asked innocently.  "The VPs of Marketing have had another brainstorm."

Great: someone left the lock off of the asylum door again.  "No, I haven’t seen any memos yet.  They always seem to ‘forget’ to include me in the distribution list these days.  What’s the damage?"

Frank’s hesitation spoke volumes.  "I’ll, uh, forward it to you."

Stephen found he was actually tugging at the hair on the side of his head.  He carefully relaxed his grip.  "You know, in the jokes, they always open with, ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news.’  You guys ought to try that next time."

"Now where’s the fun in that?"  Stephen heard a faint rustling as Frank spoke, as though several people were pointing and gesturing at each other.  Then Frank added, "Oh, there’s something else…" his voice trailed off again.

Stephen sighed loudly, and he didn’t care who heard.  "Just tell me already."

"They want a demo."

"Who, Thomas and his gang?"

"Oh, no, they don’t know we’re done yet.  We wanted to tell you the good news first."

"Words cannot express my gratitude," Stephen replied dryly.  "Who wants a demo, then?"

"The execs:  Rod, Robert, Brad, and—" Frank’s distaste was audible, "Richard.  Some VPs of something-or-other might also join us if they can be dragged away from whatever it is that they do.  Sarge came into the room right as we decided that everything was complete and heard that we had a prototype ready.  He ran and called Rod, so now we have a demo scheduled for tomorrow afternoon."  Frank perfectly mimicked Richard’s tones, "1600 hours sharp!"

Stephen quickly did the math.  "That’s 1900, er, 7 o’clock here!  Are they trying to cut me out of the picture?"

"I don’t know if you can try to cut someone out of a picture if you don’t see him in it in the first place," Stu observed quietly.  "Out of sight, out of mind.  More and more, Richard acts like he’s running the show here.  To be honest, I think most of the time he forgets that we work for ADD and not him."

 Stephen felt he should be stunned, but honesty compelled otherwise.  For a brief moment, he was tempted to give Richard his wish.  Fine, you want this whole mess on your shoulders?  Go for it, soldier-boy!  The moment passed, though, and he realized that he would never abandon his team to the less than tender mercies of a client that, if it were a person, would have been institutionalized for its own safety some time ago.  Stifling the sigh this time, he asked, "Any way we could reschedule it a little earlier, for the East Coast members of the team?" 

After a surprised pause, Kelvin said, "I’ll ask, but I doubt it.  I think that this was the only time Rod was available.  Apparently, he’s leading a takeover effort in Kuala Lampur.  Of a company, not the city; I confirmed that.  We weren’t scheduled to get his attention for several more days, but he was excited enough to make an exception."

Somehow, the idea of an excited Rod did little for Stephen’s already raw nerves.  "OK, see what you can do.  I’ll call Richard and Thomas and remind them that I’m still being paid to manage this project.  You go break the news to your buddies that they owe you dinner, and we’ll see how things go tomorrow."


To Stephen’s surprise, the demo actually went well.  Rod even started the meeting by apologizing to Stephen for the lateness of the hour.  This was astonishing not only because this required Rod to realize that he was inconveniencing someone else, but also to acknowledge that there were time zones other than whichever one he was in, what Stephen had come to think of as Rod Standard Time.  Considering this an auspicious omen, Stephen actually relaxed enough to eat the slice of pizza that he had picked up from his favorite Boyston Street pizzeria while Kelvin ran the presentation.  

His computer screen flickered in the half-light of the near-empty office, showing images transmitted from the other side of the country, many of which he was seeing for the first time right along with the CouldBU executives, all 20 of them.  While he had reviewed the development plans and the technical architecture of the product with Kelvin and Frank, the team had simply been moving too quickly for him to see the finished prototype.  Even today, despite being "done," the developers had made several last-minute tweaks that they thought would improve the demonstration.  As he watched Kelvin run it through its paces, Stephen was impressed.  He expected a lot of his team, but they had outdone themselves this time.  

The interface was stripped down and simple, typical of an engineering prototype, with few graphics and only hints of a color palette, but this only served to emphasize the powerful functionality of the application.  Stephen hoped that the crowd of faceless vice presidents who had joined the call could see that as well.  They were evidently well coached.  Before the demo had even begun, Stephen had explained the current situation with the visual design of the application, and they seemed to accept his explanation at face value.  One woman named Marie-Claire suggested alternate color schemes for every separate user group, insisting that dancers would be more comfortable with strawberry blonde rather than a simple light pink, and that musicians required cornflower blue as their dominant color, but after reassurances that her notes would be taken under advisement she settled down also.

Kelvin finished with the latest addition to the application.  "As you can see, the newest customer segment, mimes, has also been added.  We included database entries for both formal education and apprenticeships, as well as an option for listing mime styles, sub-styles, and which school of thought they subscribe to, based upon Jean-Claude’s recommendations.  The trickiest part for this section was muting all sound on video clips so as not to offend our clientele.  I figured out a way to do it, though," someone gently cleared his throat, "with Mark’s help.  That concludes the demo.  Does anyone have any questions or comments?"

Stephen found he was holding his breath as he waited for the ceiling to cave in on them again.  He almost wished that Kelvin hadn’t opened the floor, but his rational side realized that it wouldn’t have made any difference.  After a few moments’ silence, Rod spoke.

"Well, boys, this looks great, just great.  I can hardly wait to see it out there on the World Wide Whatchamacallit."  Stephen would have sworn he could hear Rod rubbing his hands together.  "So you figure it’ll be ready to launch in a week or two, just as soon as we slap the pretty pictures on?  Hell, we might even be able to offer gift subscriptions for Christmas!"

"No," replied Kelvin.

Rod’s gloating was drawn up short.  "What d’you mean, ‘No’?"

"We have months of work yet to do before this is production-ready," Kelvin explained.  "This is just a prototype:  there’s nothing behind it.  No database, no search engine, no credit card processing or fulfillment.  The code works, but it’s an empty shell.  Now that we know that we’re on the right track, we can start the real work of turning this into a product."

"The real work?  What the hell have you been doing the last three months?  Rod told me you said you were done!"

Stephen tried to break in, "Well, you see, there’s ‘done,’ and there’s ‘done.’  We’ve been trying to work on our definitions…"

"Screw your goddamn definitions!  When you tell me you’re done, then you goddamn well better be done!" Rod yelled.

Robert spoke up, "See, this is why you can’t trust engineers.  They’re tricky!"

"Shut up, Robbie!" said Craig.  "You’re one to talk about tricky, the man who makes his living off of other people’s talent and ideas!"

"Now, that’s not fair, Greg," said Brad, obviously calling in from a different room.



"This is Craig, not Greg."

"Oh.  You two really are starting to sound alike, you know that?  You should consider introducing yourself before we talk when we’re on a conference call.  It’s only polite."

"Stick it, Brad."

"Well, that was uncalled for.  Anyway, Craig, Robert contributed to the business plan as much as anyone.  When I took my idea to him—"

"Our idea, you twit.  It was our idea, not yours, and we asked you for help finding an investor.  You were so high at the time, I’m surprised you could even remember the idea long enough to steal it."

"That’s not how I remember it," Brad huffed.

A general hubbub of accusations, maledictions, condemnation, and confusion broke out, with Marie-Claire’s voice briefly rising above it to ask if paisley could be a color option for folk musicians.   

"ENOUGH!" Rod bellowed.  "Everyone shut up and get off the phone except Richard, Stephen, and me!"  A flurry of clicks followed, accompanied by several mutters of "good-bye" and "thanks," and one "good meeting, everyone."  When they stopped, Rod spoke again.  "Who’s left?"

"I’m here, sir," Richard barked.

"I know.  I can still see you standing next to my chair.  Stephen, are you still on the line?"

"I’m here," Stephen replied tiredly.  He looked at his watch: 8:45.  He needed to be in bed soon.

"Son, this just won’t do.  I have a company -- well, several companies, actually -- to run here, and I can’t be getting people all excited about a launch just to tell them it’s off for a couple of months.  It looks bad, you understand?"

"I apologize for the confusion, Rod, but this has been on the project schedule for months, and it hasn’t changed.  I just sent you an updated schedule yesterday.  Did you see it?"

"Aw, I hate those things:  all those lines and bars and diamonds and lists of details that I don’t need to know.  I never look at them."

Glad I spent three hours on that yesterday, Stephen thought, but he said, "Well, let me summarize for you:  we’re still on schedule to launch at the end of February, in time for the Oscars, as you and I discussed.  Any confusion from other quarters," here he sent a psychic jab at Richard, hoping that he would feel it but realizing that it would probably never get through the thick skull, "while unfortunate, hasn’t affected that plan."

"I appreciate your confidence, my boy, but I don’t know if I share it.  This incident has shown me that we need better communication between the development team and upper management.  I’m going to ask Richard to take a stronger hand in the day-to-day management of the team while you’re away in Boston.  You can still manage the team’s general direction as well as the integration with the design team in New York, since you’re out there.  Richard will own the relationship between all of the engineers and the rest of the company and make sure that they all work at top efficiency.  We need to steer into the skid here and start showing some real progress."

"I’m not sure how that will help—" Stephen began, but Rod cut him off.

"Gotta go:  they need me here too.  You and Richard can work out the details later.  And tell Chuck I said hi when you see him.  We go way back."  He hung up.

After a moment of silence, Richard said, "I apologize if there was a miscommunication, Mr. Connelly.  In the field, you can sometimes be at a tactical disadvantage, especially when trying to run a squad remotely."  Stephen sensed a hint of triumph in his voice.  "I am sure we will straighten it out."

I’m sure we could, if you would stop running to Poppy every time you think you have a bit of news.  "We’ll find a way to make this work, though I would ask that you check with me before making too many more changes.  Engineers are highly logical creatures, but they have to be creative as well.  If you screw with their environment too much, you could see the exact opposite of the results you were hoping for."

"I think I know which buttons to push, Mr. Connelly.  You may know engineers, but I know men.  I know how to get the most from them, and now I will.  My way.  I’ll take it slow, but I still intend to turn these boys into the highest-performing team that the software world has ever seen.  And we will have no more miscommunications.  Everything will be crystal clear and in regulation order from now on.  Trust me on that."

Stephen ran his hand through his hair and fought the urge to lay his head down on his desk.  He was too worn out to fight this any further today.  "OK, why don’t you write up your ideas for changes and we can discuss them tomorrow by phone."

"I have a better idea:  I have several new regulations to put in place, so I will share them with the team over the next few days.  You and I can discuss them in New York next week, after your crew has had time to settle into the new routine."

"New York?  You’ll be coming out here?"

"Yes, I will be standing in for Rod at the visual design meeting next week.  Chuck’s new design firm has already created a new conceptual design for CouldBU and they are ready to present next week.  I assumed someone had already notified you."  Richard almost sounded genuinely puzzled.

Stephen pressed his lips together in a grim smile.  "No, no one has notified me.  I’m glad to hear that things are moving so quickly on that front.  OK, I’ll keep in touch with my team this week and see you next week in New York.  I don’t suppose you could send me the information about where and when we’ll be meeting?"

"I will be glad to.  See you in New York."

"I can hardly wait."

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