tagNovels and NovellasEqual Shares Ch. 08

Equal Shares Ch. 08


On Wednesday morning two things were delivered to The Firm. One was a printout of a picture e-card, sent from her hotel on Ibiza, from Denise to "All at The Firm". Denise had written, "Having a great time, nightlife is wonderful!" and signed it with a kiss. Elaine pinned it up on the notice board, as was usual for holiday postcards. Stan noticed it as he went for a coffee that morning.

He read the card and smiled, thinking, 'So much for spending the nights in bed!' He just hoped Denise was being careful.

- - - - - - - - - -

The other delivery was the first preproduction samples of Anne's chip. These had been assembled quickly and flown to the UK. Anne and her team leapt on them.

The delivery paperwork for the samples came to Harry's desk as the Materials man. He called to Stan from across the office, "Just one day early. Still, it's better than late!"

Stan agreed, but asked if he could see the paperwork that Shucor had sent. Stan said, "Help yourself," and got back to his PC.

Grabbing the paperwork, Stan went back to his desk and began running through it. He was still uneasy, feeling that there was something 'not right' about it all.

Later that afternoon, he went to see Anne in the lab, and asked how things were going. "Fine," she answered, "We can already tell it's fundamentally sound." Still, he had that 'something's wrong' feeling.

- - - - - - - - - -

The next day, the fertilizer hit the impellor blade. Anne came storming in to see Stan.

"There's something wrong. Shucor has made an error. Can we check their data?"

Stan quickly put aside his current, rather routine, work and made a space available on his desk. Anne strode purposefully over and sat next to him.

"I thought the chip worked?" he asked.

"It does. Well, it does, but not quite to the design specification. That means it won't work for our customers, which means we'll have to re-spin it. Which means we'll miss the delivery date in any case. We've got to find what Shucor did, so we can prove their liability!"

Anne was nothing if not completely convinced that it wasn't, and couldn't have been, her fault. Stan, for his part, was not pleased at all that even though his instinct had been right he hadn't been able to track anything down.

So, Stan asked a few questions about the nature of the fault. It was what was known as a parametric error – it all worked fine, but something was in the wrong range. In this case, where the device should have been sending a signal on a particular frequency, it actually sent it out on something else.

"It'll be easy enough to fix, but I want to know what's caused it. We ran check after check on that silicon, I'm sure we didn't miss anything.

Stan said that he'd recheck everything from his end as well, but he was sure that Shucor had fabricated that silicon exactly the same way as usual.

That evening the lights were burning late at The Firm. It was a small fault, but it could cost them thousands and harm their reputation. Anne and her team were trying to do two things at once: to fix the design and to find out what exactly had gone wrong with it.

- - - - - - - - - -

It was almost midnight when Stan, eyes red and puffy, drained yet another cup of coffee. He'd been in touch with Shucor's representative in the UK to ask if there were any unusual circumstances or problems with the chip when it was made, and he'd been instantly assured that no, there was nothing, but they'd check anyway.

"Standard response!" Stan had told Bob, Anne and Percy.

"They never, ever admit to a fault, do they?" said Percy.

"Well, they may not admit it, but they've made an error somewhere!" asserted Anne. They went back to their investigation. Bob and Percy had left about eleven, leaving Anne's hard-pressed team in the lab and Stan alone at his desk in the fluorescent light.

"These are preproduction samples," he told himself. "They are made on the same production facilities as normal parts, but they go to the head of the queue. Otherwise they should be identical to normal full-production units.

"Ok, let's compare the process flow of these versus the process flow of one of our other parts made there."

He found a suitable set of papers, cleared space on his desk for what seemed like the hundredth time, and laid them out side-by-side.

'It all looks okay to me, still...' he thought.

"Wait. They've used a different bonder."

The connections between the silicon chip itself and the outside world were made using gold wire, very thin gold wire. A 'bonder' was a machine that, effectively, "stitched" the wire in the right place, from the edge of the silicon chip itself to the connection on the legs of the part.

Shucor had met a roadblock. The bonder that was normally used for this had a different machine number to the one used on Anne's parts. Well, probably nothing. Stan decided to look closer.

They'd used thinner bond wire!

Still probably nothing, he told himself. Had it been thicker it would be likely to cause trouble, but thinner... well, he'd better tell Anne anyway.

He got up and walked over into the lab.

- - - - - - - - - -

Anne's team looked very stressed indeed. He took a look at Anne's face and reversed, walking instead to the coffee machine. He poured a cup, black, added extra sugar and took it to her.

"Thanks, Stan," she said a little absently. Anne looked tired out and not a little frayed around the edges. She made a face at the old, scorched coffee, but sipped it gratefully anyway.

"I noticed something," began Stan, "They've used thinner bond wire. Does that help?"

Anne looked at him blankly for a moment. She felt exhausted. Then she looked intently at Stan again.

"How much thinner?" she asked.

"Twenty percent," replied Stan. "It's a low power device, but I wondered whether the thinner wire might have an effect due to its higher impedance."

The two discussed the finding for a while, with Anne growing increasingly animated. Finally she grabbed Stan's hand and dragged him over to her computer.

"Do you know, we've had a collective intellectual failure in here. We've been considering what had gone wrong with the chip, not with the whole package. I think you've found it!" Now she was getting excited.

She called her team together and gave rapid, terse instructions. "It should be easy enough to test now that we know what to look for. Let's go!"

Stan stayed around in the lab, fetching coffee and water and generally trying to be supportive. Finally, around half past one in the morning, Anne gathered her tired troops together for a final discussion before going home. They talked quietly, and then Anne sent them home, saying, "Thanks everyone. We're all tired, there's no more to be done tonight in any case. I think we now know what's happened; we can prove it to our satisfaction tomorrow and get in touch with Shucor. Go home. Shoo!"

She approached Stan and said, tiredly, "You found it. Congratulations. Now help me to my car before I fall over!"

On the way to her car in the darkened car park, Stan said, "I thought you young things had more stamina. It's not even two o'clock yet."

She punched his arm tiredly. "You try concentrating for that long. I ought to have taken a break earlier, but I was so frustrated."

They came to Anne's sports car car, an electric-blue Mazda MX-5.

"Are you okay to drive?" he asked the beautiful, but exhausted, designer.

"I might have to crawl into my bed, but I'll be fine. I'll see you tomorrow, Stan. Well... later today I guess. Good night."

- - - - - - - - - -

Friday morning, well, later Friday morning, Stan was woken by his alarm. He groaned, hauled his weary self out of bed and shuffled through his morning routine.

"Christ, it was easier getting out of bed when I was in my twenties," he complained. There was no reply.

Still, Stan felt pretty pleased with himself. Now that Anne's team knew what had happened and that it wasn't their fault, their morale would be sky-high this morning. Perhaps the preproduction samples were no good, but even then they'd be able to get a lot of the work done.

The main production lot was due in a couple of weeks. So the delay, while serious, wouldn't be fatal, even if the samples they had were not good enough to provide as 'alpha' test devices to certain important customers. Actually, Stan had a feeling that they'd be fine for the purpose, especially if said customers were kept properly informed.

- - - - - - - - - -

Stan's arrival at work was greeted by a call of "Well done!" from Bob. The Managing Director, who was away on a business trip, would be checking in later by phone to check up on progress, and there was already a pile of emails making inquiries, demanding reports and so on. Having an answer made fending him off much easier for Bob!

Stan and Bob made a good team themselves, and with Elizabeth dealing with routine matters the two men fell into their normal dovetailed roles. Bob was much better at dealing with people than Stan was, so while Stan was completing his report on Anne's chip Bob was arranging a video-conference with Shucor. Stan would feed information to Bob while the negotiations went on.

At lunchtime Anne found Stan, and thanked him once again. She looked tired but happy, and told him that calculation and simulation showed that the actual production devices would be "just about spot on!"

Around three o'clock, Stan received an email from Percy. It invited him to a 'success' party that Anne and her team were having that evening. Percy told him that it was his insight that led to them being able to declare the chip a success, saving them thousands of pounds and weeks of time, and he was pleased to invite Stan along with the team.

Stan phoned Percy.

"Thanks for the invite," said Stan.

"You're welcome," Percy replied. "Oh, I forgot to say, we'll be going to Apricots so you'll need to wear a jacket and tie. I hope that's all right?

"Going all-out, then? No problem."

"Good," said Percy, continuing "We'll go in the company minibus and my car, picking up here at eight tonight. See you then."

"Goody, I don't have to worry about drinking!" said Stan. He'd get a cab to The Firm tonight.

- - - - - - - - - -

Stan decided to wear his 'dancing outfit', so he pressed his suit and white shirt, got out a suitable tie and polished those old shoes. To help along with the ironing he put on some music.

He was going to play some Meatloaf, but then realized what listening to those songs would probably do to him, so instead he played Paul Young's excellent No Parlez. It was fun pressing his shirt along to Iron Out The Rough Spots!

After the ironing he showered, shaved and ran a comb through his hair. A glance in the mirror made him smile; there was no way he was going to get the part of the next James Bond! But he decided he was presentable. He felt Caron's agreement, and told her 'You're Biased!' but in truth he felt good, he knew he'd done a good job this week and everyone likes a little recognition for their efforts.

It was half-past seven by the time he was ready. The cab arrived, and took him off to The Firm. He could see the Mercedes Viano minibus and Percy's black BMW 320iES by the main door as the cab pulled up in front of it.

A couple of the engineers were already there along with Percy so he chatted idly with them while waiting. Before long Anne's blue Mazda swept through the front gates and into the car park, coming to a stop scant feet from the minibus.

Anne emerged from the car and Stan's eyes went wide. She looked stunning in a blue sparkling cocktail dress with spaghetti straps, which showed a lot of décolletage. The slim blonde's cleavage was certainly noticeable! The dress ended at mid-calf, showing some wonderful leg finished by a lovely pair of open-toed gold shoes, and dark glittery blue painted toenails.

Stan hadn't really thought about it, but now he realized that since he'd been asked to dress up, Anne would've had to as well. She'd certainly dressed to impress. As he was watching, Anne reached back into her car and pulled out a warm looking coat that she slipped over her shoulders.

Stan found himself caught between wanting to go over and congratulate Anne on her look, and wanting to hide from the devastatingly beautiful blonde. Before he could jog himself in to action one way or another Percy made an announcement,

"Well, we're all here. I'll take my car with Rick, Joseph and Phil, and the rest of you, could you please go in the minibus? Graham's offered to drive."

Graham, one of the engineers in a different group, was a tolerant, likeable guy who often drove the minibus for various functions, as he was a teetotaller. It got him many more invites to these than would otherwise have been the case, and Graham could "enjoy himself without recourse to alcohol" as he liked to put it, so everyone was happy.

- - - - - - - - - -

Stan spent the journey in the Viano trying not to stare at Anne. This wasn't easy, as he was sitting next to her. Anne was upbeat, almost high, while Stan's eyes were continually drawn to her beauty. He hoped he wasn't making a fool of himself and embarrassing Anne.

Apricots was a restaurant set just outside the town, which had a deserved reputation for good food, good wine and great atmosphere. It had taken a call from the Managing Director of The Firm to get tables for them at such short notice.

Approaching from the main road, you turned left into a gravel driveway, which led into a sort of courtyard. The main restaurant building was to the right, while to the left was an old stable used as offices. There were a limited number of motel style rooms on the third side, directly in front of the minibus as Graham pulled into the courtyard.

As they entered the restaurant they were relieved of their coats and the hostess greeted them,

"Good evening ladies, gentlemen. I assume you're the party from The Firm?" On being assured by Percy that yes, they were, she told them, "Your tables will be ready in a few minutes, in the meantime the bar is over here," conducting the group to some chairs and stools over to their left.

Stan meekly followed the others as they headed for the bar. He hadn't been here for a while and he looked to see if anything had changed. He noticed a cleared area just beyond the bar, about ten feet square, and thought it might have been a small dance area. The only other thing he noted was that the last time he'd been here it had been Christmastime, and the place looked very different without all those decorations.

He got his drink – he settled for a Gin and Tonic as an aperitif – and tried to join in the general conversation. However, he couldn't keep from stealing surreptitious glances at Anne. Somehow she managed to subdue her beauty while in the office. Here she was radiantly flaunting it.

- - - - - - - - - -

After a few minutes the hostess approached and told them that their tables were ready. They all obediently followed as she led them over to a pair of tables set in a relatively quiet part of the restaurant.

Stan managed, in an uncharacteristic act of self-assertion, to get a seat at the same table as Anne. The others seated at the table were Percy and Rick. Rick was virtually Percy's second in command and normally would have been expecting to run a project of his own. It was he who'd made the 'gofer' comment that Stan had overheard a while ago.

By the time they'd settled into their main courses Stan had thoroughly relaxed into the evening. Percy was acting as host, telling stories about "When I was in General Instruments ... " that they'd heard before, but still the tales entertained. Stan was sitting opposite Percy, with Rick to his right. The two senior engineers eventually got into a discussion about who had said what during a visit to a visit to Hamburg recently, interrupting each other loudly and with much mirth.

Stan was paying little attention, for not only had he heard the stories before but there was the delightful and extremely distracting Anne to his left. He kept stealing looks at her, her beautiful blonde hair curling sweetly up around her face. Sometimes a lock of hair would fall across one eye. That drew his gaze to her eyes: intelligent, hazel, considering. He tried to look away before she caught him making eye contact, failed, and wrenched his gaze away and back to Rick and Percy for a while.

When he looked back at Anne she was sipping her drink, not looking at Stan, but with a slight smile on her face.

Her dress was a deep blue colour. Now that he was closer, Stan could see that there was a metallic thread woven into the fabric that gave it its sparkle. But from looking at the dress it was but a short step to looking at what lay between the top of the fabric and her chin. Again, Stan looked away, joining in the tale being told by Percy for a moment.

Stan couldn't think of a way to bring Anne into their conversation, but could see that she was paying no attention to the other two. At a complete loss, he leaned over to his left and blurted, "You look wonderful tonight."

She dimpled at the compliment. Stan couldn't stop himself, he continued, "That dress is a revelation – meant literally. You've revealed something of yourself, and I don't just mean those," he said, indicating Anne's breasts with an incline of his head. Stan didn't know what had just happened to him, he couldn't believe it was him saying this. He looked across for a moment to see if Percy and Rick had heard, but they were both off in their own world of reminiscence.

Anne joined Stan in a deep blush. She said quietly "Alex and Annika, my tiny twins. I gave them names when I was at school in Bournemouth. I was the only one who noticed them then, so I named them." She shook her head a little, pausing slightly before continuing,

"I was on such a high today, I wanted to celebrate a little. God, I've been tense for such a long time. I tried so hard to ensure that this damn thing would work, but there's always that little core of uncertainty. Then when it came back not working, I couldn't even see what I'd done wrong. When you came to me and told me about the bond wires, it was like I'd held my breath for ages and I could suddenly let it all out. All the tension went away!

"I don't often get all dressed up. I don't really want everyone at work to think I use my looks to get ahead there, nor do I want everyone drooling when they look at me, so I normally dress down a bit. But tonight I just felt so good!"

Stan glanced at the rest of the team at the other table.

"I'd say you'd counted the wrong number of crows."

Anne looked at him quizzically.

"Oh, come on. Didn't you learn the old counting crows thing when you were a kid?" When Anne didn't show any idea what he was talking about, Stan began to recite,

"One for sorrow, two for joy,

Three for a girl and four for a boy.

Five for sorrow, six for joy,

Seven for a secret never to be told."

"I don't think there were seven crows around tonight. You're secret's out!" he concluded with a grin.

Anne looked a little downcast for a moment. Then she looked at Stan and grinned.

"Oh dear. Should I wear a mask next week?" she said. Stan watched as she grew thoughtful again.

"Is there any more of that rhyme?"

"Um. Let's see if I remember," Stan said.

"Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss,
ten for a time of joyous bliss

"Why?" he asked.

"I want to know how many crows to look out for!"

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