tagLoving WivesHands on the Wheel Ch. 04

Hands on the Wheel Ch. 04

byA_Bierce©

Ivan walked into Golkonda Monday morning and went straight to Brian's office. They started to shake hands, then threw their arms around each other in a heartfelt, yet manly hug.

"Welcome back, dipshit. Ready to get back to work?"

"Yeah. Brian, I'm sor—"

"Shut the fuck up, Ivan. You're here, we need you, and that's all that matters." He closed the door to his office and they spent the next two and a half hours talking about the projects that needed attention. The most critical was the need for continuous upgrades to Kimberly's security features. Their experience with the beta test had made them borderline paranoid, especially since Kimberly relied so much on the cloud for storage and pre-processing, and the cloud was proving to be hardly impregnable.

Brian IM'd two other engineers from the Kimberly development team, and they all adjourned to a small conference room to brainstorm ways to play better defense. At 11:30, Brian looked at his watch and call an end to the meeting. When the others had left, he told Ivan that Jeremy was expecting them for lunch in a few minutes.

As they entered Jeremy's office suite, Ivan eagerly looked to Woodley's desk, but a young black woman was sitting there. He turned to Brian and started to speak, but Brian cut him off. "Wait 'til we're in Jeremy's office. He's having lunch delivered; he remembered that you like pastrami on rye and—" He wrinkled his nose. "Coke Zero. Ick."

They walked into Jeremy's office; he wasn't there. "Have I ever questioned your bizarre preference for that runny cough medicine called Dr. Pepper? I don't think so, so save your culinary criticism for someone who cares. Now what's the story with Woodley?"

Before Brian could reply, Jeremy walked in carrying a tray of sandwiches and sodas; he kicked the door shut and put the tray on his desk. Like Brian, he greeted Ivan with a bear hug, then stepped back and looked him straight in the eye. "She resigned Friday morning, Ivan. Cashed in all her vacation and sick leave, waited around for payroll to cut her final check, then hugged everybody goodbye and left. She didn't tell anyone why she was leaving or where she was going. She didn't answer her phone all weekend, and this morning I got a recording saying her number was disconnected or out of service."

Ivan took a few bites of his sandwich, then excused himself and went back to his apartment. He never got a chance to thank her.

______________

The next two years proved productive for both Golkonda and Ivan. Wolfram lived up to the buzz and hype initially inspired by Kimberly, establishing itself as the premier data-mining system. Jean FitzHenry—she took back her maiden name—resigned a few months after her divorce and moved back somewhere on the East Coast. As the first Golkonda Fellow, and fully functional for the first time in a year, Ivan was given a discretionary budget to explore alternative ways to improve the performance of Golkonda's products.

He chose to look for ways to eliminate the need for using the cloud because of increasing concerns about security, and tinkered with several possible approaches, including a strictly hardware-based solution: replace the two- or three-server cluster with a single monster system like his HP Omen, and replace its hard disk with a recently available eight-terabyte Solid State Disk (SSD). When his benchmark tests showed a significant improvement over the latest Wolfram release with no need for cloud services, he invited Jeremy to watch a demo. It was the first time he'd said anything about his project to anyone other than Brian.

Jeremy was excited; he asked for more detailed analyses, which determined that the improvements were due primarily to the greater read and write speeds and lower latency of the SSD compared to more conventional hard disks, not to any increase in processor power. He huddled with one of his gamer buddies in the QA section; in two days they came up with a somewhat unauthorized operating system mod that enabled the Intel processor to offload much of the computational-heavy workload onto the blazing-fast Radeon graphics processor. Performance increased yet again.

Pleased with the result, they took another week to put together a prototype of an external storage unit that combined six eight-terabyte SSDs, with the option of adding a second unit to mirror the first for greater data reliability. The result was even greater performance, providing the genesis of Golkonda's next product, Rhodium, destined to be their most profitable product. The vulture capitalists were delighted, and began planning for the IPO that would fulfill their goal of cashing out another unicorn.

One afternoon, taking a break from the last-minute frenzy of getting ready for the beta-test release, Ivan was scrolling through a roundup of Bay Area tech news. One teaser caught his eye, a blurb about the annual conference of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Chasing a memory, he clicked on the link and started reading about the conference that opened the following day at the San José Convention Center.

He skimmed the list of speakers, then froze at the entry for one of the opening day's afternoon sessions: Advantages of Conference-Specific Glossaries of Technical Terms or Other Jargon, presented by Fumiko Hayashi. Clicking her name brought up a biography (freelance conference interpreter from Osaka, Japan, 10 years experience) and a picture. Yes, it was that Fumiko. Who could have been his Fumiko. Who should have been his Fumiko. Who, for a brief, joyous time, in fact, was his Fumiko, until he screwed the pooch. Royally.

The next afternoon he was walking rapidly—virtually jogging—toward the room where her session was scheduled. He was much later than he had intended, traffic on 101 had slowed to a crawl. Just before he got to the room, the doors opened and people began streaming out. He pressed against the wall and waited for the flood to ebb, then went in. Fumiko was still at the front, answering questions for half a dozen people gathered around her.

She was, if anything, prettier than he remembered. She had filled out a bit, but her face was slightly narrower, her full cheeks giving way to more prominent cheekbones. Her hair was longer, she held herself with more poise and confidence. He watched for a few minutes, then her cell phone chirped. She excused herself and looked at her phone, then her face fell; she apologized and said she would have to take the call.

As she walked away for privacy, the onlookers thanked her and drifted off toward the door. Ivan waited until they were gone, then walked toward Fumiko. She looked up at the movement; her brows wrinkled in puzzlement, then she gasped in recognition. She hurriedly said something into the phone and ended the call.

"Ivan?" He couldn't read her expression; startled, certainly, but...something else. He started to try to explain why he hadn't contacted her.

"Fumiko, I didn't call you from—" Her phone chirped again. She looked at her screen, then again turned for privacy without saying anything to him. She slowly walked a few steps away, speaking soothing words in a low voice. Ivan was frustrated and starting to wish he hadn't come when she ended the call and returned.

But before he could say anything, her phone played a brief tune; she looked down at the screen, then began thumbing a text response. She looked up briefly, apologetically, then continued to enter her message. She looked up as she finished. "I'm sorry, Ivan, this doesn't usually—" Her phone chirped again. She held up one finger, then turned and walked to the other side of the room.

After a two- or three-minute exchange, she raised her voice. "Please don't call again for a little while, I really must talk with someone here." Ivan could hear that there was a shrill response but couldn't make out the words. Fumiko sighed, then responded in a quieter, conciliatory tone. Finally she ended the call and returned to Ivan.

"I'm sorry, Ivan, but that was unavoidable. I'm sure you want to talk; so do I, but I don't have much time. I have an important job interview at 7:00 and my plane to Tokyo leaves San Francisco at midnight. I must go to my room in the Hilton for a moment. Would you meet me in half an hour in the restaurant there? I'll make a reservation in your name."

While she was saying that, she unplugged the cables from her laptop and slid everything into its case. Looping her purse around her head and right shoulder and slinging the laptop case on her left, she left at a brisk walk without saying goodbye. So much for a hearts-and-flowers reunion.

Ivan wondered whether he should even bother to meet her at the restaurant; she seemed nothing like the shy Japanese girl who said she loved him. It was already almost 5:00; If she had a job interview at 7 (who interviews at night?) they wouldn't have much time to talk.

But half an hour later he was sitting at a table for two in the restaurant at the Hilton. Ten minutes later Fumiko quickly walked up to the table and sat, placing her phone next to her napkin. "I'm sorry, things took longer than I expected. We should order soon." Ivan felt himself getting angry, but worked to control it.

"I understand, too many things happen when you want to hurry." He tried to sound understanding and not upset.

"Yes, it seems that way. Ivan, please don't think—" Yet again, her phone signaled a call. She looked at it, mouthed "Oh no," and answered the call. She listened for a moment and her face fell. "Oh no, sweetie, don't think that." She got up with another apologetic look, walked to the women's bathroom, and didn't return until almost 6:00. She started to apologize again, but Ivan interrupted her.

"I know, you're sorry again. Maybe we should try another time, say in another eight years?"

"No, Ivan, no! You don't understand. Those calls were important, I had to take them. I can explain—"

"You don't have to explain anything to me, Fumiko. It's pretty clear that I came down here with unrealistic expectations. After all, it's been eight years, and a lot can happen in that time. God knows it did to me."

"Oh Ivan, you don't understand, it isn't what it looks like. I really do want to talk with you, but—"

And her phone rang again. She looked at it, her face fell, and she reached for her phone. "I have to, I just have to." She answered, listened for a moment, her face showing even more distress. "I understand. Of course. I'll be right there." She ended the call and stood up.

"This is awful. I have to go right now. The vice president who is going to interview me has been called back to Vancouver for a family emergency and is leaving on a flight from San Jose in less than two hours. They have to interview me right now. I've got to go up to their suite." She picked up her phone and purse. "I'm so sorry, Ivan. I wish—" Her voice broke, she teared up, then turned and almost dashed from the restaurant.

Ivan watched her hurry off, and wondered if maybe it had been a good thing he never could find the time to reach out to her before Jean reeled him in. But seeing her, even for such a short and frustrating time, had kindled some of the feelings they shared in Tokyo. Get a grip, dipshit. It's pretty obvious she wasn't very thrilled to see you again.

He walked back to his car and drove to his apartment, kicking himself for wasting his time and wondering if it was too late to become a monk. Or gay. At least the traffic wasn't so bad on the way home.

______________

With the Kimberly/Wolfram beta test sabotage perp on staff as Director of Security, the beta test of Rhodium was only slightly more secure than Fort Knox. A larger cohort of prospective customers—20 this time, plus a few anonymous three-letter government agencies—signed the obligatory non-disclosure agreements and bought the specified minimum hardware configuration (from a list of vetted suppliers).

Developers and security staff were sent to the beta sites to oversee software installation, train their staff if needed, and observe the first half-dozen trial runs. Three days after his fruitless attempt to talk with Fumiko, Jeremy asked Ivan to do the final installation by himself for a think tank in Oxnard.

"Oxnard? Who the hell puts a think tank in Oxnard? And why me? I'm not a developer or security whiz." Good God! If first prize was a one-week all-paid vacation in Oxnard, second prize would be two weeks.

"A non-profit research outfit that consults with public-interest law firms and needs cheap rent, that's who. And because they asked specifically for you, I've got no idea why. You've got an oceanfront suite at the Hilton for two nights, more if you need it. Rent a car and drive down. It's probably almost as fast as flying to LAX, and you won't have to deal with the hassles of luggage or a flying cattle car."

Or fucking TSA...Jesus, I'm beginning to sound like Brian. "Okay, but seems pretty unnecessary."

He drove down 101 to Oxnard the next day, making a leisurely day-trip out of it by sidetracking to Morro Bay from San Luis Obispo and indulging in a bowl of clam chowder with too many slices of warm sourdough slathered in butter and a Bohemia at Tognazzini's. After cursing his way through the traffic in Santa Barbara, he checked in to the Hilton Embassy Suites just before 6:00. The sound of the waves lulled him as he washed down a room-service ham sandwich with two more Bohemias; he was asleep by 9:30.

Promptly at 8:00 the next morning, he walked into the lobby of Empath Research. After signing in and pinning on his Visitor's badge, the systems analyst who was paged led him through the cubicle maze to the IT department. After introductions and some barely passable coffee, he asked to see the system that would run the beta test. They had the required hardware—including the 48T SSD array, which he figured would give them some impressive performance numbers. He took the USB drives and documentation package from his messenger bag and began installing Rhodium, pausing every so often to explain what was going on.

Because he also had to copy the near-10-terabyte package of sample databases in addition to the software and sample test projects, which required yet more pauses for explanations, the installation took most of the morning. The IT director invited him to lunch with the staff—there were five analysts and software engineers—at a nearby Thai restaurant. They came back shortly after 1:00, and spent the rest of the afternoon running half a dozen test projects and going over the steps involved in writing their own projects. He gave them a copy of the documentation and written authorization to make as many copies as they needed.

After calling Brian and Jeremy to tell them how the day went, it was well after 5:00 and most of the employees had left. He walked down the hall to one of the one-person unisex bathrooms; just as he reached for the door handle, the door opened and a woman started to walk out. They were both startled. She was medium height, wearing a business-casual skirt and blouse with a cardigan, and glasses. Ivan thought she looked familiar, but she spoke before he could say anything.

"Ivan?" Then she quickly backed up and closed the door. He figured out why she looked familiar: it was Woodley, except she was dressed like most other women in offices dress, had on a little makeup, and her hair was...different. She was even wearing glasses.

The door opened again, slowly. She peered out at him, looking puzzled and a little bit afraid. "What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"I came down to install a beta...find you? Have you been hiding? What's—" She cut him off.

"We need to talk, but not here. Are you staying somewhere tonight or leaving?"

"I'm at the Embassy Suites; I drove down, leaving tomorrow morning."

"I've got to take care of a few things. Can you meet me in the restaurant in your hotel at..." She looked at her watch. "Seven?"

"Of course. But—"

"Good. I'll see you then." She darted out of the bathroom and almost ran down the hall, then turned right out of sight. Why won't women let me finish a sentence, and always walk away from me?

______________

For the second time in less than a week, Ivan found himself at a table in a hotel restaurant waiting for a woman to show up at 7:00. Last time Fumiko was 20 minutes late; it was already 7:02, and he was starting to think he had made yet another mistake. But before he could even think about leaving, Woodley walked in; she was wearing the same clothes, but she had put on a little more makeup and brushed her hair out. He stood up, but she didn't make a move to sit down.

"Ivan, we're going to have a lot to talk about and I can't stay very late. I'm not really hungry, let's just go in the bar and talk."

Without waiting for a response, she started off toward the exit. Ivan got up and chased after her; she turned right and walked the short distance to the bar entrance, then stopped until he was beside her.

"I'm sorry, that was rude, but I want so badly to talk with you and didn't want to waste time fussing with a menu and ordering something and eating. Please don't think ill of me."

He wanted to hug her and tell her he could never think of her as rude, but decided it wouldn't be a good idea. He nodded and walked in to the bar. Pointing to the table farthest from the door, she nodded and they both went over and sat. The cocktail waitress arrived a couple of steps after they did, and Ivan spoke before she had a chance to ask what they wanted.

"We probably aren't going to drink much, but we'd like some time to talk." He handed her two $20 bills and looked at Woodley, gesturing as if he was drinking from a glass.

"Soda, with a twist."

"Make it two." The waitress smiled and walked back to the bar. They sat quietly until she returned with their drinks a couple of minutes later. Instead of putting them on the table, she gestured at a booth.

"Why don't you move over there? It's more private. Let me know when you want something else." They moved to the booth and sat opposite each other.

Woodley picked up her glass and extended it toward him. "To good conversation and lots of answers." They touched glasses and smiled.

"Woodley—" She shook her head.

"Woodley was an avenging angel who tried to kill Sarah Elizabeth Morrison. That last night of your...um, therapy, you chased Woodley back to wherever she had spawned and resurrected Sarah. I'm Sarah now, thanks to you, forever and ever." Her eyes filled with tears. "Don't you ever forget it, mister, because I never will, either."

He smiled and assured her he never would forget. They sipped their soda, then she got a devilish look in her eye. "Embassy Suites is a pretty spendy place. Golkonda must be doing pretty well."

"Well, yeah, but we don't usually put this type of place on expense accounts. Jeremy's PA made the reservations." He grinned. "She doesn't run a tight ship the way Woodley did." She grinned back, sharing a bond hardly anyone else would understand.

They spent a few minutes in small talk about business and their jobs, but both were eager to move on to more important subjects. Ivan took the first step. "How's life been treating you since you left us?"

She paused a moment, then smiled. "Better than I ever hoped. I think maybe I've found someone, or been found by someone, doesn't matter which. His name's Tim Johansson, he teaches high school math at Rio Mesa, is divorced and raising a six-year-old daughter, Hattie. We met at the farmer's market in Camarillo. We're taking ballroom dancing lessons." She looked happier and more at peace than Ivan could remember ever seeing her.

"His wife cheated on him, left one day when Hattie was two years old and never came back. He finally filed for divorce for abandonment. That left him with pretty serious trust issues, but for some reason he's apparently decided that I'm worth a calculated risk. He's kind, intelligent, gentle, and a great father. Kind of a hunk, too, but that's more worry than attraction, I'm not sure I could deal with competition. I think he loves me, and I'm pretty sure I'm in love with him."

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