Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 6 of 64

6.

Hospitals operate around the clock, but they still have their own circadians. The noontime staff were still overworked and harried but chipper and efficient, too, without the raccoon-eyed jitters of the night before. Art and Linda were efficiently fed, watered and evacuated, then left to their own devices, blinking in the weak English sunlight that streamed through the windows.

“The lawyers’ve worked it out, I think,” Art said.

“Good. Good news.” She was dopamine-heavy, her words lizard-slow. Art figured her temper was drugged senseless, and it gave him the courage to ask her the question that’d been on his mind since they’d met.

“Can I ask you something? It may be offensive.”

“G’head. I may be offended.”

“Do you do. . .this. . .a lot? I mean, the insurance thing?”

She snorted, then moaned. “It’s the Los Angeles Lottery, dude. I haven’t done it before, but I was starting to feel a little left out, to tell the truth.”

“I thought screenplays were the LA Lotto.”

“Naw. A good lotto is one you can win.”

She favored him with half a smile and he saw that she had a lopsided, left-hand dimple.

“You’re from LA, then?”

“Got it in one. Orange County. I’m a third-generation failed actor. Grandpa once had a line in a Hitchcock film. Mom was the ditzy neighbor on a three-episode Fox sitcom in the 90s. I’m still waiting for my moment in the sun. You live here?”

“For now. Since September. I’m from Toronto.”

“Canadia! Goddamn snowbacks. What are you doing in London?”

His comm rang, giving him a moment to gather his cover story. “Hello?”

“Art! It’s Fede!” Federico was another provocateur in GMT. He wasn’t exactly Art’s superior—the tribes didn’t work like that—but he had seniority.

“Fede—can I call you back?”

“Look, I heard about your accident, and I wouldn’t have called, but it’s urgent.”

Art groaned and rolled his eyes in Linda’s direction to let her know that he, too, was exasperated by the call, then retreated to the other side of his bed and hunched over.

“What is it?”

“We’ve been sniffed. I’m four-fifths positive.”

Art groaned again. Fede lived in perennial terror of being found out and exposed as an ESTribesman, fired, deported, humiliated. He was always at least three-fifths positive, and the extra fifth was hardly an anomaly. “What’s up now?”

“It’s the VP of HR at Virgin/Deutsche Telekom. He’s called me in for a meeting this afternoon. Wants to go over the core hours recommendation.” Fede was a McKinsey consultant offline, producing inflammatory recommendation packages for Fortune 100 companies. He was working the lazy-Euro angle, pushing for extra daycare, time off for sick relatives and spouses. The last policy binder he’d dumped on V/DT had contained enough obscure leave-granting clauses that an employee who was sufficiently lawyer-minded could conceivably claim 450 days of paid leave a year. Now he was pushing for the abolishment of “core hours,” Corporate Eurospeak for the time after lunch but before afternoon naps when everyone showed up at the office, so that they could get some face-time. Enough of this, and GMT would be the laughingstock of the world, and so caught up in internecine struggles that the clear superiority of the stress-feeding EST ethos would sweep them away. That was the theory, anyway. Of course, there were rival Tribalists in every single management consulting firm in the world working against us. Management consultants have always worked on old-boys’ networks, after all—it was a very short step from interning your frat buddy to interning your Tribesman.

“That’s it? A meeting? Jesus, it’s just a meeting. He probably wants you to reassure him before he presents to the CEO, is all.”

“No, I’m sure that’s not it. He’s got us sniffed—both of us. He’s been going through the product-design stuff, too, which is totally outside of his bailiwick. I tried to call him yesterday and his voicemail rolled over to a boardroom in O’Malley House.” O’Malley House was the usability lab, a nice old row of connected Victorian townhouses just off Piccadilly. It was where Art consulted out of. Also, two-hundred-odd usability specialists, product designers, experience engineers, cog-psych cranks and other tinkerers with the mind. They were the hairface hackers of Art’s generation, unmanageable creative darlings—no surprise that the VP of HR would have cause to spend a little face-time with someone there. Try telling Fede that, though.

“All right, Fede, what do you want me to do?”

“Just—Just be careful. Sanitize your storage. I’m pushing a new personal key to you now, too. Here, I’ll read you the fingerprint.” The key would be an unimaginably long string of crypto-gibberish, and just to make sure that it wasn’t intercepted and changed en route, Fede wanted to read him a slightly less long mathematical fingerprint hashed out of it. Once it arrived, Art was supposed to generate a fingerprint from Fede’s new key and compare it to the one that Fede wanted him to jot down.

Art closed his eyes and reclined. “All right, I’ve got a pen,” he said, though he had no such thing.

Fede read him the long, long string of digits and characters and he repeated them back, pretending to be noting them down. Paranoid bastard.

“OK, I got it. I’ll get you a new key later today, all right?”

“Do it quick, man.”

“Whatever, Fede. Back off, OK?”

“Sorry, sorry. Oh, and feel better, all right?”

“Bye, Fede.”

“What was that?” Linda had her neck craned around to watch him.

He slipped into his cover story with a conscious effort. “I’m a user-experience consultant. My coworkers are all paranoid about a deadline.”

She rolled her eyes. “Not another one. God. Look, we go out for dinner, don’t say a word about the kerb design or the waiter or the menu or the presentation, OK? OK? I’m serious.”

Art solemnly crossed his heart. “Who else do you know in the biz?”

“My ex. He wouldn’t or couldn’t shut up about how much everything sucked. He was right, but so what? I wanted to enjoy it, suckitude and all.”

“OK, I promise. We’re going out for dinner, then?”

“The minute I can walk, you’re taking me out for as much flesh and entrails as I can eat.”

“It’s a deal.”

And then they both slept again.

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