Hot Chips and Sand
Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
“Exile? Surely you’re going back eventually? Can’t you raise an army, or convince Congress or the U.N. to help, or…?” She wasn’t quite sure what aid a deposed ruler had at his disposal, but there had to be someone who would help.
“Normally I could. But the world at large has more on its mind than a tiny country in the
By the time I could get any viable forces gathered, the protection grid will be
in place and Fahrrad will be immune to attack.”
Vickie stared at him, at first not comprehending. “Cliff is going through with the deal?”
Kulinahr shrugged. “He is a businessman. Since he cannot do business with me, he will do business with Fahrrad. And probably turn a better profit. The man does not know how to bargain.”
Vickie leaped to her feet. “There are more important things than the bottom line!”
“I doubt if Cliff thinks so. Please don’t be upset on my account, Vickie. I owe Cliff my life. And I will avenge my people eventually.”
Vickie felt strangely sick, her head and heart disagreeing violently. Though she understood the business sense she couldn’t shake how wrong it felt. Assisting a cruel dictator in locking up an entire country? Unthinkable.
Power could used, abused, or wasted. Villains abused, idiots wasted.
Heroes used their power for the greater good. She’d thought Cliff was her hero.
Where was her hero’s basic human compassion?
And admit it, Vickie. You thought you found the perfect man. Well, they only exist in fairy tales.
“Vickie? Are you all right?”
She looked up. Kulinahr’s eyes rested on her with warm concern. She coughed, covered [MH1] by picking up and sipping her coffee. “Oh, sure. Just a little worried about you. What will you do now?”
“Writing letters.” He gestured at the desk. “I am not without influence. Perhaps there is still something I can do before the project is complete.”
“Which is how long?”
“Cliff estimated the project could be done in under six months, with some new machine at his disposal. Not long, but still some time.” He shook his head and sighed.
“You’re getting tired. I’d better go.” Immediately she cursed herself. She had never been one for social niceties. She stood awkwardly. “I mean, um, thanks for the coffee.”
He lifted his face to her and smiled. “Thank you, Vickie Johnston. Just talking has helped me. I will see you again.”
Back at her hotel, Vickie was left feeling unusually helpless. She’d offered Kulinahr any assistance he might need, but how much could she reasonably give? She was a project manager and software developer, not a government or even a hero. That was Cliff’s job.
She flung herself onto her bed. When she’d needed rescuing he leaped into the breach, strong, dynamic, heroic. More than that, his intelligence in coping with the situation, his gentle attitude when she had nearly broken down had impressed her to her core.
She shook herself angrily. She’d allowed herself to get carried away with daydreams, and now she was paying for it. Reality sucked.
She got up off the bed, unaware of the wet pillow she had left behind. She phoned the airline and paid an exorbitant fee to shift her departure time, returning immediately. A stiff smile on her face, she headed home.
The phone rang loudly in the empty room, clanging five times before the young blond man ran, cursing, through the doorway. He caught it on the sixth ring.
“I didn’t expect you to call.” He was still panting a little.
The voice at the other end was wry. “I didn’t expect to call. Something’s come up.”
“Not more bad news, I hope.”
There was a silence. The blond man waited patiently until the other voice said, “Good news, rather. I’ve solved that problem we had in staffing.”
The blond threw himself into the chair, grunting as he hit. “That was quick.”
Another pause. “I know. But it’s right.”
“If you say so. One less thing to worry about, at least. Do you want me to make arrangements?”
The line chuckled to itself for a few seconds before the answer came. “No. I’ll take care of it myself.”
After he had hung up, the blond grinned to himself. From the interest in his boss’s voice, it actually looked like two less things to worry about.
Vickie had been back at work for two weeks when the meeting notice came. She read it once, quickly, then to keep her anger from making her do something stupid, she printed it out and read it again.
Nope. Still pissed. She stormed into Phil’s office. “What in the name of all the gods of logic do you think you’re doing?”
Phil Westerby, slightly balding but otherwise showing little of his rapidly‑approaching middle age, turned from the credenza where he was brewing tea. “Shut the door if you’re going to yell at me.”
She slammed the door shut behind her. “I don’t have time for a new account. I just got a handle on the Geocom database, and you know the Delmar conversion is behind because of that little escapade I had—”
“And you are my top analyst and I need you on this assignment.” Phil took his tea and seated himself calmly behind his desk. It was a signal, so, agitated though she was, Vickie sat too.
Her brain started working again. While it was true that the president of Fitzwater Software and Consulting, Jerry Fitzwater, would try to make them work twenty-six/ten if he thought he could suspend the laws of time and space—bless his money‑grubbing soul, he’d be more than happy if she took on another client—Phil usually did a better job of running interference.
Something was up.
Phil set down his tea, removed his high refraction glasses, and started polishing them, slowly and deliberately. “Have you heard of the Hawkesclyffe Computer Company?”
“Before seeing them on my already overfull client list?” She waved the printout of the meeting notice. “I know a little. Hawkesclyffe is a genius and the HCC is his hardware firm.”
“A high‑powered hardware firm. They’re growing at Moore’s law’s rate—Fortune 500 now, and if their latest chip is even close to what the engineers say it is”—Phil leaned forward and tapped his glasses pointedly on his desk blotter—“they will take over the industry.”
“Okay, so they’re important. Give them to someone who has time for them.”
He made a small noise and perched his glasses on his nose. “You don’t understand how important this is. If we become HCC’s software firm, the new HCC300 series will be bundled with our software. It will make our company one of the biggest players in the market.”
“Good, it’s important. Give it to Mel. He’s always belly aching that he can do everything better than me.”
“Can’t.” Phil smiled gently. “He asked specifically for you.”
“No Vickie. Sir Humphrey Hawkesclyffe. He’s got a reputation. Brilliant, egocentric, hard to please. And we want to please him, don’t we?”
Vickie groaned. She supposed geniuses only had to be nice to their loan officers, not their vendors. “Why me? I’m too young to deal with an old fart named Sir Humphrey.”
“First, he may be old but he’s known for his radical ideas. Second, even though he’s a British knight, his company is based in the
She still pictured him like Alec Guiness, slender, white haired, and carrying a walking stick. “Why did he ask for me? Why not you, or Alice, or any of a dozen higher level management?”
Phil shrugged. “Dunno. But he wants you. So you’ll be at that meeting. And your temper won’t. Got it?”