Going to California

Life By The Valley — 2.8

“When do we start?” I asked my new boss.

“Week or two. Need to get some people back in town, need to get some things sorted out, then we hit it hard.” He puffed his cheeks with air, thinking. “Did Mary talk to you?” he asked.

“Yeah, she said she’d have an assignment for me first thing tomorrow morning, said she’d tell me then what it’d be.”

“Don’t fuck it up,” he said with a smile.

I laughed. Then I realized he was only half joking, before realizing he wasn’t joking at all.

“I’ll do what I can,” I said, getting up to leave his office.

“Oh, don’t do that, mate,” he said with a deeper smile. Then he turned back to his computer and I walked back upstairs to my little cube.

There I found Doug. “Lunch?” he asked.

(If you started reading from the beginning, you may remember a story about a guy who’d been picketing in front of the Scientology headquarters in Silicon Valley. If this were, for example, a book, I would move that story here. I’ve already removed it from its place among the earliest posts. But instead, of simply slipping it in here for the online readers, I’m going to bring it back in as the following post, as a sidebar. If you’ve already read it, you can safely skip it.)

On the other side of a late lunch, there wasn’t much to do. I felt the slight pressure of the money I was being paid, a fantastic sum to me at the time and to many people still today, and wanted to be productive enough to feel I was earning it.

“What can I do?” I asked Doug.

“Well, there’s not a lot going on right now. We have a number of consultants in New York right now — that’s where the corporate office is.” He took a sharp breath through his nostrils. “Have you heard about what’s going on with the company at large?”

I hadn’t.

The company’s full name was Kroll-O’Gara, formed by two companies which had only recently gotten married. Their individual businesses were booming, and there had never been a single, massive, well-rounded security company. Kroll was an old-school detective agency and O’Gara was an old-school armored car company, and between them they bought up some of the major players in other security industries. They purchased Background America to do the basic background checks, they bought a major corporate drug-testing lab, and a couple of other smaller joints. Then they started looking around for what to do for information security. They met up with a little consulting company called Securify—

“Really?” I asked Doug. “They called it ‘Securify’?”

He shrugged. Kroll-O’Gara had bought Securify eight months back, and were busily directing all inquiries about information security to the consulting arm of the Securify body, of which Doug was vice-president. I had been hired into the tiny but growing engineering organization. But the ultimate end-game, I was told, was to spin the information security group, where I worked — the former Securify — back out as a start-up, given that start-ups were hot.

“So,” I asked, “we’re going to use our computer security consulting practice to figure out what people need, and then grow a company around whatever we build?”

“Basically,” Doug said. “Though at this point, the real trick will be getting the board to agree on everything.” He sighed. “The company’s been on such a buying spree, trying to be the big security behemoth where there’s never really been one, that they’re letting themselves be a little distracted at the moment. Kroll was a global detective agency that had been around for something like thirty years, very well-entrenched with a lot of good customers, and O’Gara was an armored car company that traced its history back to the Nineteenth Century. The Kroll-O’Gara board is split between them, so you can imagine how conversations go sometimes.”

A tiny, dark pebble dropped into the pool of my new joy. The ripples it made would echo in my head for nearly a year before I would finally come to terms with how much trouble I was in. I give myself credit for understanding almost immediately what was wrong with the situation, and I forgive myself for not running full-tilt in the opposite direction. My life would simply become too exciting to walk away from.

“Hey, Doug,” I said. “Remember in Cryptonomicon, when one of the guys is comparing the kinds of people you get in tech start-ups to the different races from Lord of the Rings?”

Doug nodded. I went on. “You have Dwarves, who go down into the mines everyday doing the hard work and making the cool tools, occasionally digging out some magical thing that can change the world.”

“Or burn it down,” he said.

“Then you have Elves, who are the sort of snobby, elitist, high-minded architects of grace and beauty. You have Men—” I looked around. “—and occasionally a couple of women, who are the social creatures, making all the deals and organizing the armies. Occasionally you’ll come across a Wizard, who sweeps in looking like a homeless person, draws something on a whiteboard that blows everyone away, and then vanishes into the night. You’ll end up with a couple of Hobbits, who’ve never been out of Hobbiton and have no idea how things actually work and who’ll only survive if they can learn how to roll up their sleeves and dig with the dwarves, deal with the men, and communicate with the elves.” I paused to take a breath.

“Yes,” said Doug. “And your point?”

“Sorry,” I said. “Just got carried away. My point is — first, is that true?”

He coughed a laugh. “Absolutely.”

“So what we have is a company that’s half controlled by a bunch of debonair spy people in pressed suits, smoking cigarettes and thinking abstractly about problems, and you have a bunch of gritty, hammering out armor and chomping on cigars and talking about how much blowing-up their cars can take before getting blown up.”

“I don’t see what you’re—”

“It’s elves and dwarves. The spy people are elves, and the armor people are dwarves. That’s…that’s a gigantic problem.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“Elves and dwarves do not get along,” I said, “never ever. Never will.”

Doug was unperturbed. “We shall see,” he said. “Right now, what do you think about dinner? Jim can join us.”

“Definitely.” I’d been looking forward to catching up with Jim. “How is he?”

“Jim is doing well.” Then with great deliberation, he said, “We have something we have been working on. Would you like to hear about it?”

“Very definitely,” I said.

We met up at the only micro-brewery in Mountain View, Tied House, where Jim and Doug told me what they were up to — what they had been plotting between themselves for years, since way back in what by that point felt like the distant, fog-enshrouded past when we’d been working together at the game company. You won’t believe it. I didn’t.

Wait: I need to back up a step. I haven’t even told you exactly where I’d found myself.

 

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