“Hey, wait up!”
Chelsea jumped at the hand on her shoulder. She turned around to see the marketing intern she’d been sitting beside earlier. A dark-skinned boy in glasses and a button-up shirt stood behind the girl, wearing a bored expression. He was fidgeting with a bunch of small, spherical magnets, forming them into a cube shape.
While the boy’s disinterested frown reminded Chelsea of Lachlan, the girl reminded her of a more clean-cut, blonde version of Angelina; she was beaming, apparently having already recovered from Mr. Clyde rebuffing her question.
“Sorry!” The girl giggled. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Cheslea, right?”
“That’s okay,” said Chelsea, “and yes, I’m Chelsea. What’s your name?”
“I’m Jen! And this is Sam! Say ‘hi’, Sam!”
“Hello.” Sam nodded at Chelsea, then stepped forward and extended a hand. “Are you in marketing with Jen?”
“IT, actually.” Chelsea shook his hand.
“Ah, IT.” Sam smirked. “The poor man’s electrical engineering. Well, it’s a step up from marketing, at least.”
“Sam! You’re being arrogant again. Bad Sam. Bad.” Jen mimed spraying him with a spray bottle as he rolled his eyes.
“It’s not rude if it’s true,” said Sam. “IT is for people who aren’t quite smart enough to be engineers. No offense intended, Chelsea.”
“Um, no offense taken,” Cheslea said, feeling a bit offended. “So, I assume you’re in engineering?”
“Electrical engineering.” Sam gave her a smug smile. “Naturally.”
“We were on our way to the cafe,” said Jen. “We were wondering if you wanted to get coffee with us?”
“Well, I’m getting coffee,” said Sam. “Jen will undoubtedly order some frilly mocha frappe monstrosity.”
Chelsea looked down at her phone. Naomi’s message had been concerning but she had said ‘no rush’ and Chelsea still had almost 45 minutes before she was allowed to clock out. It would be good to get to know some of the other interns and getting coffee would beat sitting at her desk worrying about the message.
“I’d love to,” Chelsea said, “but there’s something I need to do first. You guys go ahead and I’ll be right behind you.”
Jen waved as she and Sam stepped into the elevator. Chelsea waved back, then typed a message to Naomi.
‘What’s going on? Is everything okay?’
Billy Clyde put on his Panama hat as he entered the cafe, stopping to tip it at a pair of men in business suits leaving with their afternoon coffees. His driver was waiting outside to take him away to some tiny run-down air park almost half an hour away and he needed a caffeine boost before the long trip ahead of him.
It was ridiculous, he thought. The CPSI headquarters were so close to Charlotte Douglas Airport the jetliners overhead often made it difficult to hold a conversation outside. It would have been much easier for a private jet to take him home to Georgia, and he would have been able to stop for tacos at the airport, but his wife always insisted on picking him up in one of her silly little propeller planes. She never let him get tacos.
His cell phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket and recognized the number immediately.
“If it isn’t my blushing bride,” he said. “I thought you weren’t supposed to use your cell phone at the air park. Did you miss me so much you couldn’t wait another half hour?”
“We have a problem,” she said, her voice a distorted crackle on the cell phone speakers. Billy sighed. That awful air park had terrible cellular service.
“Well, hi to you too,” said Billy. “What’s this problem that’s so serious you can’t say ‘hello’ to your old husband?”
“I just talked to Gus,” she said.
Billy watched a business jet longingly through the window as it whizzed through the sky. “Remind me who that is.”
“Gus Gibson.” He could hear the eye roll in her voice. “The old overseer in Melbourne.“
“Ah, our old friend Gus. I haven’t talked to the fine folk in Melbourne in a minute,” he said. “Not since that unpleasantness in the data center last year.”
“It’s about the unpleasantness in the data center.“
Billy felt a jolt of anxiety. He looked around to make sure no one was listening, then lowered his voice. “You don’t mean our little situation in Brisbane.”
He heard an unintelligible voice in the background, then heard his wife snap at the voice’s owner. “What do you mean I can’t talk on my cell phone here? This is a goddamn emergency! Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? Do you have any idea how fucking easily I could end your sad little job with just a few phone calls?“
As she continued to berate the poor sap who’d made the mistake of asking her to put her phone away, Billy took the opportunity to order his coffee and a blueberry muffin.
His wife finished with the unfortunate employee and returned to the conversation slightly out of breath.
“I do mean the situation in Brisbane,” she said. “Only the situation’s not really in Brisbane anymore. That’s the problem.”
“You mean the resource isn’t there anymore?” he said. “Then where on earth is it?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Gus saw someone bring it to Brisbane Airport, and he hasn’t seen it since. It could be anywhere in Australia by now. Maybe even the world.”
“Well, golly, that is a problem.” Billy took the coffee cup and muffin from the girl at the counter. “Thank you, dear–Do we know who brought it to the airport?”
“Gus said he wasn’t able to see the driver of the van through the window, but I have my suspicions.”
Chelsea checked her phone as she waited for her iced coffee.
“Who’re you texting?” Jen leaned on a bar stool and sipped her frappe.
“Oh, I’m just waiting for a message from a friend.”
“A boy friend?” Jen smiled and quirked her eyebrows.
“No, just my friend Naomi,” said Chelsea. “I got kind of a weird text from her during Mr. Clyde’s presentation and I’m a little worried.”
“Oh no,” said Jen. “I’m sorry. Do you need to go home?”
“I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be allowed to clock out yet anyway.” Chelsea paused to take her drink from the barista and thank her. “She said there wasn’t any rush but something weird happened and she wanted me to come over after work.”
“That is weird. I hope everything’s alright.”
“Is Jen bothering you?” Sam sauntered toward them, sipping from a cardboard coffee cup. He had fashioned his magnets into a bracelet and was wearing them on his wrist.
“Oh, no, no, not at all,” said Chelsea. “We were just talking.”
“Don’t tell me you drink iced coffee.” Sam pointed to her cup. “That’s an abomination. Coffee is meant to be hot.”
“I do prefer hot coffee actually, but I couldn’t possibly drink anything hot in this weather. Especially when I have to wear these long slacks.” Chelsea tugged at her pants leg.
“You could wear a dress.” Jen put her drink down on the counter and twirled, causing her dress to billow out around her. “They’re pretty!”
Sam rolled his eyes.
“I tried that on my first day,” said Chelsea. “They told me I had to cover the tattoo on my leg because it was ‘unprofessional’.”
“Aw,” Jen picked her drink back up and took a long sip. “That’s too bad.”
“Can we see it?” said Sam. “The tattoo?”
Chelsea put her drink on the counter and pulled up her right pants leg to show off her tattoo–a stylized goldfish. Waves of water wound around her calf behind it as though the fish was swimming up her leg.
“It’s real pretty,” said Jen. “A lot of tattoos look trashy, but that’s beautiful.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah, it’s actually quite well done.”
“Thanks,” said Chelsea.
“Does the fish mean anything,” said Jen, “if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Oh, no, I don’t mind at all,” said Chelsea. “I got a goldfish because of my favorite band. They’re called The Goldfish Technique.”
“I’ve never heard of them so they can’t be very good,” said Sam.
“They are good,” Chelsea said, trying to sound less annoyed than she felt. “A lot of great artists start out unknown.”
“Whatever.” Sam shrugged.
“The Goldfish Technique?” said Jen. “As in the sales technique?”
“I don’t know,” said Chelsea. “Probably. I didn’t know it was a sales technique, though. I thought it was just a random name.”
“Yeah, it’s a sales technique where you scare the crap out of your customer and then they buy whatever you’re selling,” said Jen. “I learned about it last week when we had to do this sales training thingy.”
“Why’s it called the goldfish technique?” Sam sipped his coffee.
“Basically, when you give a sales pitch you put a poster of something random like a goldfish behind you.” Jen stirred her drink with her straw. “You tell them a story of what horrible thing will supposedly happen if they don’t buy your product. Then at the end, you tie it into the goldfish somehow.”
“So something like ‘if you don’t buy our product, you’ll go out of business and then you’ll lose all your money and have to subsist eating goldfish out of a pond to survive?” said Sam.
“Yep, something like that,” said Jen.
“Doesn’t sound like a very nice technique,” said Chelsea.
“I didn’t think so either.” Jen frowned. “I was like ‘what happened to catching more flies with honey than vinegar?’ and the training lady just laughed at me.”
“Wait.” Sam laughed. “You said that? You actually raised your hand and said that in the training session? What, were you channeling the spirit of my grandma?”
Jen swatted his arm lightly. “Don’t you laugh at me too! And your grandma’s alive. I’ve met her.”
“I’ve never heard that expression but I think I agree with it,” said Chelsea. “I don’t know anything about sales, but I wouldn’t want to buy from someone who tried to scare me.”
“Me neither,” said Sam. “Corny old lady expressions aside, only a sucker would fall for something like that.”
“That technique is a really big thing in this company apparently,” said Jen. “The training lady said you don’t make any sales by being nice and friendly.”
“That’s silly,” said Chelsea. “What are you supposed to be, mean and unfriendly? I can’t imagine you’d get many sales like that either.”
“I don’t know. If you haven’t noticed, this company’s not real big on being nice.” Jen shrugged. “Especially if their founder and CEO is any indication.”
“Yeah, that really wasn’t very nice of him to dismiss your question like that,” said Chelsea. “I thought it was a good question.”
“If you think he’s mean, you should meet his wife,” the barista chimed in. “There was a guy who worked with me in the cafe last year who got her coffee order wrong. She gathered all the cafe employees together so she could fire him in front of us.”
“Wow,” said Jen. “Is she even allowed to do that? She doesn’t actually work here, does she?”
“As far as anyone’s concerned, she has as much power as Mr. Clyde. Maybe more,” said the barista. “Lily van Vleet Clyde is pretty notorious among the dining staff now.”
“Wait,” said Chelsea. “Her name is Lily?”
“Yeah,” said Sam. “So?”
“And her husband’s name is Billy? They’re Lily and Billy? Seriously?” said Chelsea. “Is that on purpose? That’s got to be on purpose.”
“No, they went by Lily and Billy before they got married.” The barista sprayed something on the counter, then wiped it with a cloth. “My manager worked here back when they were both married to other people and messing around on their spouses. She said they weren’t exactly subtle about it because they knew no one would dare say anything.”
“What happened to their spouses?” said Sam.
“Lily’s late husband died in a mysterious light aircraft accident. Or so-called accident, anyway,” the barista said. “Her stepdaughter was on the plane too.”
Jen covered her mouth with her hand. “You mean she…?”
“Killed them?” The barista shrugged. “I wouldn’t be surprised. The guy was an experienced pilot and apparently they never figured out why he crashed or even found the wreckage. He left her a whole bunch of money too. I’m not saying she did it but it is suspicious.”
“If I were Mr. Clyde, I’d be pretty nervous,” said Sam.
“Nah, I think Mr. Clyde was in on it too. He divorced his then-wife and married Lily right after it happened.”
“How do you know all this?” said Jen.
“Us dining staff are basically invisible to executives,” said the barista. “We overhear some wild shit.”
Sam leaned both his elbows on the counter. “Like what?”
The barista adjusted her glasses. “I just told you the wildest thing I’ve heard. I hear other stuff I’m not supposed to but none of it is as… interesting as what I just told you.”
“Well, it is a pretty high bar,” said Sam.
“I wouldn’t call that interesting so much as horrible,” said Jen.
“It can be both.” Sam tilted his head back to take a final sip of his coffee, then tossed the cup into a trash can.
“Mr. Clyde was in here talking on the phone just before you three showed up, actually,” said the barista. “I don’t know what he was talking about but he kept lowering his voice and looking around like he didn’t want anyone listening in.”
“What was he saying?” said Sam.
“Sam!” Jen nudged him with her elbow. “That’s none of our business.”
Sam shrugged. “As an engineer, I have a natural curiosity.”
“He was saying someone took something from the company in Australia and sent it somewhere on a plane.” The barista leaned down to shoo a fly out of the pastry display case. “He said something about goldfish too; maybe it was that technique you were talking about. I didn’t really understand it.”
“Did he say what was taken?” said Sam.
“No, but he mentioned the guy he thought took it. Someone called Dominic… Davis, I think?”