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Volume 8, Issue 2: Pictura

Easy Lies

Douglas Jones

Look, I want your agreement in writing. Fax it over within the half hour, or you can forget it." Ken rubs his eyes and leans back from his desk. There is a moment of silence.

"That's not possible. I think you are way out of line here," says the young woman's voice through the phone.
"We've been through this before. You're not to be trusted except in writing," says Ken in monotone.
"But it's good for you," she tries hollowly.
Ken explains slowly. "If you mix spinach in my lasagne tonight, I'll be forced to take legal action."
"Okay, daddy," she holds back a laugh, "how about I don't mix them, but I place the spinach in a side bowl?"
Silence. Ken speaks, "That'll do. I hate negotiating with you, doll. Your mother would've been proud of you though. Love ya . See you around eight." Spinach on the side was her goal all along, he realizes as he turns off the phone.
Ken glances at the new company logo proofs his secretary just dropped on this desk. These look horrible. They all look like lame, early-seventies, retro garbage. The designers will have to try again, he decides.

"Yes, Mr. Baden," says Scott, "Ken assured me about eight months ago that no parts of your software include work from Phillip Daniels."
"Daniels sued us before over his software, you know," says Baden. "I can't take risks like that again."
"I understand, Mr. Baden. Phillip turned me off of business partners forever. I'm still paying legal fees."
"One other thing," says Baden. "I'm flying out on Tuesday for a month. I have to make the final software choice by Monday. Your final competitor has rearranged his schedule to demonstrate his program on Monday. Can you come in then instead of Wednesday?"

"Trent!" shouts Ken. And after some shuffling, in walks the computer programmer, eyes lazy from very little sleep.
"How close are we?" asks Ken.
Trent looks everywhere but at Ken. "Those lines of code I imported for the call-timing device are all buggy. They didn't know what they were doing. It's going to slow me down a few days."
"Nope, we don't have any extra days. You always think bugs are worse than they are. If you fix that import by Friday, I'll work with you all weekend in fixing those last two bugs on the list. I have to give the final program to Scott by next Wednesday."
"No problem." Get real. "You bet," Trent slurred.
Ken shouts out his door to Trent. "Also make a note to double-check everything to make sure we aren't using any of Phillip Daniel's code anywhere in the program. Scott was really worried about that a while back."
Yeah, and then I'll walk on water, Trent thinks, staring at unending lines of glowing code on his monitor.

"Janice!" calls Scott. "Get me Ken on line one." Scott rapidly removes his tie, as he searches for his appointment book hidden in a mass of Baden files. Don't let me down now, Ken.
Ken dials Phillip Daniels. There's no way Trent can search the program code in time, he thinks, as Phillip's phone rings. Pick up, pick up.
Phillip finally answers. After preliminaries, Ken asks, "Do you remember that managerial software I've been writing for Baden-Allison Financial?
"Yeah. That's Scott's client right?"
"Yeah. I know I asked before, but I have to be sure. None of that version 1.3 you sold me for my communication bridges was your work, was it?"
"Has Scott got you jumpy again?" asks Phillip. "That extortionist is a maniac. You should never have gotten involved in that project. He'll sucker you any chance he gets. During one month he . . .
"Look, Phillip, I don't want any part of your conflict with Scott. The less I know, the better. You both have been good to me. I don't want to let Scott down on this thing."

Ken's secretary, Ellen, receives Scott's phone call. "Oh, hi, Scott . . . I'm sorry, but he's on the other line; actually, he's talking to your old partner at the moment. I can have him call you right back."
Oh great. Why are they talking now? "No, Ellen, I'll call back."

"So, Phillip, did you write any part of 1.3?" asks Ken.
"No. My answer hasn't changed. I'll take another look though. Baden-Allison stole code from me. Your project is different. I wouldn't go after them on this anyway."
"I believe you, but Baden-Allison may not."

Ken works feverishly at his computer, checking and rechecking the program features. We can pull this off after all. He walks into Trent's darkened office and watches over Trent's shoulder for a while. Trent shifts in his seat and grunts; Why don't you come try this yourself, big boss. Ken sits at the computer next to Trent's and starts working on the remaining simple program bugs. After toying with the easiest for an hour, Ken realizes he needs technical counsel from a programmer across town. It's beyond Trent. He calls the programmer, but he is out at a client's site.

Scott's secretary smiles broadly as she stands in Scott's office doorway and waves a check through the air like its a regimental banner. "It came," she croons.
Scott smiles. "So which slothful company finally choked up our money?"
"Karmel National," she whispers.
Scott tips sideways out of his chair onto his hands, finally gathering himself to hold the Karmel check flat across his outstretched hands. "I never thought I'd see this. They're six months late, but when they pay, they really pay. And only a quarter of it will have to go to Ken. Then I'm going to buy a new car."
Janice stands silently, tapping her fingers on her folded arms, smiling forcefully.
"And, of course," he laughs, "Yes, you will get a raise . . . and a bonus."
She nods and walks away. Scott remembers to call Ken about the change of day and makes several spirited gazelle leaps toward his phone. Before he gets there, the phone rings.
"It's Ken," calls Janice.
Scott picks up. "Hi Ken. I was just about to call you. Baden moved the software meeting forward a few days."
A pause. "That won't work, Scott. I miscalculated the time needed to fix these last three bugs. The communications bridge is giving me a problem, and I need outside input."
Scott holds back a scream. He speaks unnaturally and slowly. "Ken, you've delayed this project three times already. I can't go to Baden with another. He leaves Tuesday for a month. I need to demonstrate the program by Monday, or we'll lose the job. Ken, that's a year of your work gone." Janice listens just outside Scott's doorway.
"You're right, of course, Scott," says Ken, "but I've got no way around this one; even if we work constantly twenty-four hours a day, we couldn't get it done until next Saturday."
Scott breaks a pencil lead on his desk. "The communication bridge is the problem, you say?" asks Scott. I can't believe you're doing this to me. Turn the screw a bit. "You know, Ken, Phillip Daniels has worked on those sorts of bridges. Perhaps you could call him," says Scott. "Have you talked to that jerk lately?"
Ken pauses. These guys are obsessed with each other. I'm not going down that path. "No, you warned me well, I've stayed away from Phillip. I haven't spoken with him for months."
Liar. What's going on here? Scott runs his hand through his hair. "Don't do this to me, Ken. I'm really sunk without this contract. Finances are tight here. You had better find some fixes by Monday. I don't care who you have to call."

Phillip sits up in his chair. "Well, looky there. I forgot about that one." Chuckling, he reads from a program window hidden deep inside Ken's program: Interfax bridge copyright Phillip Daniels, 1994. They're so paranoid. I don't even think I wrote this section. Better call Ken.

Scott storms out of his office swearing. Ken better find some help. Janice doesn't speak as he passes outside. She ponders the phone call, communication bridge? She turns to her computer and opens the working prototype of Ken's software program and starts searching around in the program.
An hour later, Scott returns. Janice's movements are quick and active. "Ah, Scott, I think you'd better see something in Ken's program." He stares at a window on her screen: Interfax bridge copyright Phillip Daniels, 1994.
"Get me Ken." What have I got to lose now?

Ken picks up. "Yeah, Scott."
"I know your game, Ken. You must think I'm some backwater idiot."
"Are you talking about the program bugs?" asks Ken.
"Shut up and listen," says Scott.
Ken keeps going. "Phillip just called about the rights notice. That's a quick fix."
"Just shut up. You and Phillip have been trying to ruin me on this deal from the beginning. First, you lied about talking to Phillip. Don't deny it. Then right afterward you call and tell me about another delay. And now I find Phillip's name splashed across the program. What else am I supposed to think? Get Scott, right? Let me open that window right in front of Baden's face and get laughed out of the deal. Some friend you are! To think of all the money I paid you so far! Forget it! Forget the whole thing now! Go . . ."
Ken hangs up slowly over the torrent of expletives. He stares out his window. A conspiracy? Where did that come from? The cars below move steadily. Where do you start? A plane passes through thin clouds. What's the use? . . . His sights are set now. I bet he didn't even have the money to pay me. He realizes his window needs cleaning. Me and Phillip conspire? What a kook. Ken sits in silence until the sun sets. He walks out, and Ellen is getting ready to go home.
Ken sighs. "Well, it looks like old Scott didn't really have any money to pay us after all. So he's made up some excuse to get out of the Baden project."
"What do you mean?" she asks. He explains.
"Before you go, would you mind getting me the Fontel Industries file. I'd better get started on the next one."

"Hi dad! You're late." She hugs her father. "Look, the lasagne is quartered in its own plate. The evil spinach is sequestered firmly in its own abode. So what happened today?"
"Oh, not much. Just the usual." He hangs his jacket and sits silently at the dining table, while she sets everything before him just right. "Oh, there was something." He pulls an envelope from his pocket and unfolds the contents. "What do you think of these company logo options?"
"Hmmm," she stares at them. "They've got that nasty retro feel to them. I like them all."

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