Stolen Code
by Patricia Anne Smith

Marcy dropped her pencil and listened to his slightly high voice spit words over her head, listened and lost the words. She couldn't understand how her predecessor had fallen for him, a squat, prematurely bald guy who liked short-sleeved sport shirts and ties displaying teddy bears, marching-band instruments, and cats.

“Now do you get it? That's how it's supposed to work. That's what you'll document,” Jim, the lead software engineer, asserted.

Marcy nodded as Jim walked away from her cubicle, a small private space that didn't shield her from neighbors’ voices and occasional computer-generated tunes. She sat down and looked at the skimpy design specifications she'd printed for Alsace, the code name for the new program. “Alsace will have a user interface, at least we think so. You and Carmen will need to write the online help and the user guide,” Jim had written on a note attached to the specifications.

Now two weeks from beta and no user interface in sight, no screen designs, and no information about how customers would use the new feature, Marcy was getting nervous. In an email message to Shakar, the programmer who tested new features, she wrote, “Help, help, help. What do you know about Alsace? How are you supposed to use it?”

The words “Don’t know much about it” flashed across Marcy’s monitor, followed by another message. “It’s not ready for testing. I’ll tell you when I see it.”


Brad, a junior programmer working with Jim, slipped into the empty chair crammed next to Marcy. “Top secret,” he said. “I'm applying to grad school. For an MBA. Can you edit my essay? I mean, I want it to be perfect, no typos or anything.”

“What?” Marcy asked.

“Not so loud. I don’t want anyone to hear.”

Brad pulled his baseball cap, with its brim in the back, a little tighter over his bushy head. “I kind of decided to do this, go to business school, more or less just so I have the degree. I mean I really want to work to protect the environment and maybe with an MBA I could get a sort of management job with a government agency or something that’s pro-environment. That’s what I tried to explain in my essay.”

“What about the tutorial,” Marcy asked, referring to the repeatedly requested interactive tutorial for Scandinavia, the product released ten months ago. Erwin Lasko, the department manager, had assigned Brad the job of planning and structuring the tasks for the tutorial. Then Brad was supposed to hand the tutorial over to Marcy for formatting and editing.

“It's the next thing I'll do,” Brad replied, a claim Marcy had heard weekly, every time she asked about the tutorial.


Sorin, a lean, long-haired thirty-year-old software engineer who also worked with Jim, sauntered over to Marcy's cubicle. “I just quit,” he whispered to her. “I'm fed up, totally. In fact, I'm outa here right now. Today.”

“I thought this job was okay for you,” Marcy replied. “I mean the money's pretty good and you get to work the hours you want.”

“I know, but it’s really fucking boring here and I just can't take working under that pedantic, I'm-always-right goof ball.”


“Yeah. Plus, I'm sure someone’s inspecting my files and looking at my email. I've noticed a few things—my computer shut down, when I left it on. Stuff like that.”

“I can't imagine anyone cares about what's on your computer.”

“I'm not so sure. A friend of mine got a strange email from me. Sent at 11:50 P.M., and I didn't send it. I'm sure someone sent it from here.”

“Jim's never here that late.”

“I don't think it's him, though he could’ve asked Edsel or someone else to do it.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I might hang out for a while. Or, Linn and I might go to Viet Nam or Thailand for a while.”


Two days later Jim pointed to printouts of large, nude, sprawling women. “Can you believe this? I found this on Sorin's computer. He didn't do a thing. Not a single thing he said he was doing all these months. I checked his computer, looking for his code, and this, this is what I found. I didn't want to print the worst of it because I didn't want to offend anyone. Did you have any idea? I mean I did see you talking with him occasionally? And who would have thought with that little teenage girlfriend of his, that he liked big women.”

“Maybe you should call him, at least to find out what directory his work files were in,” Marcy replied.

“I'm not calling him. I'm sure he just screwed around on the Internet, all those days he said he worked late into the evening. And now Dixon is blaming me. He said I should have checked to verify that everyone on the team was working. I'm a trusting guy and just never thought he would take advantage of us like that.

“I think we'll need to pull Brad off the tutorial, to finish everything Sorin was supposed to do."


A week later, Erwin Dixon, the division vice-president, scheduled an all-office emergency meeting a little too early in the day for most employees to attend. “Dixon said EndOne, our biggest competitor, announced a new product that sounds just like Alsace,” Jim reported to Marcy.

Marcy considered the implications—that the code the entire eighth floor team was developing for the reporting and processing of clinical-trial data was stolen. According to Jim, Dixon had speculated that one of them left his or her computer on all night just when someone else accidentally opened the door to an EndOne corporate spy. Or, perhaps when working late at home, someone accidentally put confidential design plans in his or her trash can or recycling bin just before an EndOne spy, who happened to know the employee's address, rummaged through the garbage. “Surely it's just coincidence,” said Marcy. “I mean wouldn't it make sense that another company sees the same software needs we do? I think Mr. Dixon is making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“I don't think so,” Jim replied. “And just between you and me, I think I know what happened and it's not a pretty story. I'll bet you anything it's Sorin, that he saw the writing on the wall about his poor performance long before he quit. I bet he sold the code to EndOne.”

“I can't imagine he would have done something like that. Like you, and everyone else here, he never had any information to give me for the nonexistent user guide that I still need to write. He's lazy—that's his problem, but he'd never do anything like sell the code.”

“Don't be so sure. You saw what we found, all those illegally downloaded programs and files on his computer,” Jim argued.

“That’s totally different. I'm sure he wouldn't have sold the code. I know he's very idealistic.”

“Idealistic, my ass. He didn't even vote in the last election. Anyway, I'm going to start investigating. Brad and I already downloaded and installed the new EndOne demo and we'll document all the similarities.”

Marcy shrugged. She had more important things to worry about—like when one of the developers was going to give her the source material for the new features so she could begin to update the user guide and put it out for review, so she wouldn't need to work day and night and all weekend before the release deadline.

And, the evening and weekend work had to stop. She needed to be free to keep an eye on Janey, her 17-year-old daughter, a senior in high school, an honors student, who had inexplicably fallen in love with the most unsuitable boy imaginable, an inarticulate junior college drop-out who seemed to change jobs every few weeks. After Marcy refused to let him move into the small three bedroom house, which they also shared with her youngest daughter Kristin, Marcy learned that Janey had found a room for Roger in a flat with some college kids. She suspected that Janey was footing the bill, with money she earned from an after-school filing job.

“And he's not even good looking,” Marcy had commented to Carmen, before Carmen spread the story to everyone else in the office.


An urgent email message jolted Marcy. “Mandatory Saturday session for analyzing EndOne similarities to our software. This means everyone, even if you didn't work on Alsace. We'll divide up the work so no one has too much to do. Marcy and Carmen will put the information everyone else gathers into a table. And we'll provide pizza.”

Marcy opened her instant messaging program and typed a message to Dixon. “I can’t come in Saturday. I have plans.”

“See what you can do about changing them. If you can't change them, you can come in on Sunday. We must have this completed first thing Monday morning. This whole thing has escalated to the top of the corporate hierarchy. We must identify similarities ASAP.”

“I can't do it either day,” Marcy complained to Carmen.

“Me either,” Carmen said. “I mean like I have a life and they can't just tell me on Thursday that I don't have a life on Saturday and Sunday. I have all this stuff to do.”

“We could just not show up,” Marcy commented.

“Oh sure,” Carmen replied.

“I think if we make a form now, Jim and the rest of the guys can plop their information into the form. They don't need us. I'll ask Jim what he thinks.”

Marcy quickly created a table with the column headings Alsace Software Feature, Similar EndOne Feature, and Comments.

Jim wandered up to her desk, munching half a chocolate donut, dropping crumbs on the carpet near her chair. “I can't come on Saturday either. I think Shakar, Brad and Edsel can do it all themselves. They're big boys.”

“What are you doing Saturday?” Marcy asked.

“Going to Sacramento. To see Emma,” he whispered.

“You're back together again?”

“We're just friends. She got a new computer and I'm helping her set it up.”

Marcy often wondered about Jim and Emma, her predecessor, the woman who had occupied Marcy’s cubicle for the previous five years. One day Marcy found a directory containing Emma's resume, drafts of cover letters to other companies, and text files containing personal messages to and from Jim and, much to Marcy’s surprise, from Sorin. Marcy, who had no qualms about reading anything on her computer, surmised that Emma was sleeping with both of them and Sorin knew about Jim, but Jim didn't know about Sorin.

When Marcy had asked Carmen why Emma wanted to move to Sacramento, Carmen confided, “I think she was ready for a change. Also, she wanted to get away from Jim. She's ten years older than he is and got tired of his adolescent enthusiasms. She said she already had a fifteen year-old, and one teenager in the house was enough.”

“I was just curious. Did she just call you and ask you to help with the computer?” Marcy asked, amazed that the words came out so quickly.

“I hadn't seen her in quite a while,” Jim explained, not noticing Marcy’s qualms. “Then around the time Sorin left, I found something of hers, so I decided to take it up to her.”

“What did you find?”

“Oddly enough, some CDs I'd given her. I found them in Sorin's desk, definite evidence of his sticky fingers. I'm sure he just took them off her desk. By the way, don't let him anywhere near your daughter. He's not the one to divert her from lover boy.”

Janey wouldn't be interested in anyone that old.”

“Don't count on it. Sorin's supposed girlfriend, you know the Vietnamese one who works at the Romano Cafeteria, is only nineteen.”

“Okay,” Marcy replied. “I'm warned.”

“Anyway, don't bother about this weekend. I'll tell Dixon what I think, that I’ll do a preliminary analysis tonight and then it shouldn’t take long for Brad, Shakar, and Edsel to divide things up and do a detailed analysis.”


“What are you doing this weekend?” Carmen asked, as she and Marcy walked out of the building at the end of the day.

“Nothing much. Cleaning, errands, taking Krissy to soccer practice.”

“If you want, you could come with me to a party my cousin is having. She’s single and so are a lot of her friends.”

“No thanks.”

“I mean like this might be an opportunity to meet new people, new guys.”

“I have enough going on in my life now,” Marcy archly replied.

“Okay. Have a good evening,” Carmen concluded as they turned the corner, seconds before Marcy darted across the street, muttering, "fuck, fuck," under her breath.


That night Marcy sat at her kitchen table alone, eating leftover tuna casserole. Kristen was spending the night with a friend and Janey was in her room sulking. “Don't bother me. Leave me alone,” Janey shouted when Marcy knocked on her door to tell her dinner was ready.

“Where's Roger?” Marcy asked.

“I'm not his boss,” Janey hissed.

After eating and washing up, Marcy finished reading the newspaper, completed half the crossword puzzle, and picked up the novel she was reading. Half asleep a few pages later, she heard the front door quietly open and close. She jumped up, trotted to the window, and pulled the curtain far enough back to see Janey get in her car and drive off.

Marcy knew she shouldn't do it, but decided to peek in Janey's room, look for any obvious clues about her state of mind. She tiptoed over to Janey's desk. The computer was off and next to it, atop several spiral-bound notebooks, was a stack of textbooks: world history, economics, English literature. Tuxedo, the twenty-pound black and white cat was curled up like a big lima bean on the bed near the pillow. Then Marcy noticed a mashed up paper ball on the floor. She picked it up, straightened it out, and found a pink-penciled sketch of a heart with the text “Janey loves Roger” and “Roger loves Janey” written some ten times around it, in pale blue and green letters.


“It's exactly the same. When we came in on Saturday, I ended up doing most of the checking myself,” Brad whispered to Jim and Marcy in the coffee room the next Monday morning. “Turns out Shakar had to work on a custom program we’re late in delivering. He had to finish it cuz he’s going to India for six weeks. He hasn’t taken any time off in three years. And Edsel, after having his computer on for only twenty minutes, said he didn’t see that many similarities and then said he had to work on something else. But, like I said, I found some functions that are exactly the same, too many for comfort. So here’s what I think, at least one possible theory, but don't tell anyone I said this. Edsel could have sold it to them. He used to go to school with some guys there.”

“That doesn't prove anything,” Jim said.

“Well, he's the only one who might have a motive, kind of like what you see in detective stories. His wife is this big gambler, always embarrassing him and losing money at the casinos. I heard him tell someone he didn't know what to do about it. Also he spends a lot of money, like on that gas-guzzling SUV that he doesn’t need. He could care less about global warming.”

“I still don't think he'd do such a thing,” Jim said. “Personally, I think it's Sorin. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if he's working at EndOne or trying to get a job there now.”

Sorin's too sloppy to carry off something like that. I sit near Edsel and I know he's sly.”

“Did you tell Dixon what you think?”

“No, I'm not a snitch. I mean, I'm just telling you so you can think about it, since you're the lead developer and everything,” Brad concluded as he left the room seconds before Carmen breezed in.

Jim repeated what Brad thought, reiterating his own belief in Sorin's probable culpability.

“No one here is sweeter than Edsel,” Carmen said. “And, he always works day and night for this company. He would never have done such a thing.”

“I agree,” said Jim, as he filled his dirty coffee mug with fresh coffee.

After Jim left, Carmen commented, “Jim never liked Sorin. He won't admit it, but I think he found out Emma was also seeing Sorin. I mean like Emma hired Sorin to tutor her son in math just when Jim had to go to Minneapolis for a couple of months for some custom development work. Since Sorin kept his clothes here under his desk and shaved here, right at his desk every morning, no one could tell where he spent the night. Remember when you first came and didn't know what that buzzing sound was? And how when I told you, you couldn't believe it?”

“Some of his clothes are still here. We found them in Sorin's file cabinet. I told Jim to just give them to the homeless shelter,” Marcy said. “Also, I meant to tell you, Mr. Dixon wanted to talk to me about the EndOne business. He wanted to know if I had any ideas about what might have happened.”

“Yesterday I heard someone say they thought our marketing guru, Greg, might have sold the information.”

“Greg?” Marcy asked, astounded. “He's as much in the dark as we are.”

“Not quite. I mean he's the one who’s always campaigning for new features, saying he can’t sell a piece of crap like Version 2.0. And, he's like this upscale guy, who plays golf and lives in a fancy townhouse.”


Jim trotted up to Marcy in the hall. “I’m almost finished reviewing the new manual. It looks pretty good. I just have a few things to change. I’ll give you my comments later.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Do you remember when you were so worried about not catching on when we first hired you? Well, you’re doing just great,” Jim said as he continued toward the bank of elevators.


Marcy cringed every time she thought of that interview—Dixon talking at her, uttering the sentence “We need someone to hit the ground running” over and over, while failing to ask her anything about her past experience. Too scared to fully take in Dixon's birdlike features, she mostly recalled his gold watch, the diamond ring on his right little pinkie, and a thick, wide, gold wedding ring. Only after she’d been working for awhile and crossed his path a few times did she notice that he had dull blue eyes and long strands of graying, light brown hair combed over his bald spot.

After talking at her for thirty minutes about how he expected innovation and thinking outside the box, Dixon called Jim, who darted into the office, followed closely by Carmen and Brad. Since the successful job applicant would be working with them, they needed to participate in the interview, Dixon explained.

While Carmen smiled encouragingly, Jim quizzed her. Could she work quickly? Was she okay about working long hours to meet a deadline? And how did she handle deadlines at her previous job, a job that dematerialized when the company manager had laid everyone off just before the company collapsed in a sea of debt. “You were lucky you got your last paycheck,” Marcy’s friends had commented.

Standing up after the interview, Marcy noticed the top two buttons of her six-year-old white blouse—she had bought it for her previous round of job interviews, and thought it went well with her new maroon pant suit—had popped open. She could see part of her bra, part of her breasts. Marcy rushed into the restroom, locked herself in a stall and sat on the lid of a toilet, slowly redoing the buttons, then trying to relax, attempting to recall the words her yoga teacher always repeated during the relaxation period at the end of the class.

When she emerged from the restroom, she found Carmen waiting. “I tried to tell you,” Carmen said, pointing to Marcy’s blouse. “That’s what I was thinking when I asked if you wanted to take a five-minute break before meeting with the three of us.”

Mortified, Marcy cringed. “It was okay this morning when I got dressed,” was all she managed to reply.

“Don’t worry. None of us care about that stuff. Mr. Dixon is the only one here who dresses up.”

Marcy remembered that Jim smiled a lot, really too frequently when questioning her. Much to her surprise, Dixon phoned a week later to tell her the job was hers.


“I’m a slow learner,” Marcy had confessed to Carmen the first day on the job.

“Don’t worry. We all are. Jim and Brad are real patient and laid back. Anyway, today, all you need to do is read the Getting Started book for our core suite of PC products. Also, Brad is going to show you how to use our custom email program, and tomorrow Jim will give you a demo of the stuff you’ll be writing about. And we’re all taking you to lunch today. Even Sorin, who usually gets here so late he doesn’t eat lunch. But Mr. Dixon isn’t coming. It’s beneath him to hang out with us worker bees.”

A few hours later Marcy looked at containers of dal, basmati rice, curried chicken, mixed vegetables, and nan at the nearby Indian buffet restaurant, a favorite place for group lunches. Jim walked behind her in the cafeteria line, commenting on the spiciness of each item, then telling the cashier he was paying for her lunch as well as his.

“Does Emma like her new job?” Brad asked.

“Too soon to tell,” Jim replied, before explaining to Marcy that Emma was who she was replacing.

“I know. Mr. Dixon told me,” Marcy said.

“He was pissed she didn’t give more notice, but hey, a great opportunity came up for her,” Jim said, adding “She’s more or less my girl friend.”

Marcy relaxed. Maybe she’d just imagined Jim was constantly staring at her.


The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Emma copied the code and sold it. Why else would she have left so suddenly. And I think Jim knows it, but is covering for her,” Carmen said.

Marcy stared back blankly.

“And he's so sloppy. Emma could easily have copied everything on his hard drive and sold all the files. Sorin and Brad both told me that sometimes when Jim works late, he plays games, and until recently, never shut his computer down at night. Also, his desk is so messy. All those stacks of papers and those towering piles of CDs he listens to while he works. He’s had an old piece of pizza on a small paper plate on top of one of his piles of paper for weeks.

“Emma was always so neat and clean. I don’t know how she could have stood him for so long. In her house, everything has its place. Last year she started a book club. I went once. She asked someone there not to put her purse and books on her super-clean Oriental carpet, that she liked to look at it, unadulterated without anything on it. She makes everyone who comes over take off their shoes.”

Marcy laughed. “I can just picture Jim coming in out of the rain, dripping, and dropping his take-out food packages.”

“Nobody here could understand why he was so crazy about her,” Carmen said.


Later, in the coffee room, Edsel, wearing a short-sleeved black sports shirt that matched his black Mohawk-styled hair, smiled at Marcy and Carmen as he poured coffee into his clear glass mug. “It’s nothing. I’m sure there’s nothing to this.”

He’s a real sweetie,” Carmen whispered to Marcy as soon as left the room. “And, if I was a bit younger and single, I’d be drooling over him or maybe even Brad. And that reminds me. Some of the guys here were wondering if you have a boyfriend. I mean like you never say anything about it or about going out.”

Stunned, Marcy looked up, then walked to the coffee pot and poured a little more coffee into her souvenir Yosemite mug.

“I was just curious. I hope you don’t think I’m prying or anything,” Carmen continued.

“No,” Marcy finally replied. “It’s just this isn’t the right time. I mean this is a relatively new career for me and I still have a lot to learn and I have the girls at home.”


Marcy read her instant message from Brad. “Sorry to bother you, but do you have a couple of minutes?”

“Maybe later,” Marcy typed.

“This will be really short. I promise. Could I meet you in the conference room?”


Marcy followed Brad into the conference room and shut the door. “I’ve been thinking about my essay and am totally redoing it,” Brad explained.

“I’m pretty busy now,” Marcy replied.

“I’ll just have a few new paragraphs to give you. You know I really appreciate your help. In fact, I'm planning to take you to lunch when we're finished. Maybe next week. Money is no object.

“Also, someone told me some people here think I either sold information to EndOne, or let them in. Not so. Definitely not true. As you know, I could care less about Alsace, but I certainly would never do anything like sell code or let strangers in.”

“I haven’t heard anyone say they thought it was you,” Marcy interjected.

“I think it's awfully peculiar that Jim is so quick to blame Sorin,” Brad continued. "Sorin was like me. He didn't care that much about anything here. Jim thinks Sorin is working at EndOne. I doubt it. Someone told me Sorin went to Spain, to hang out at a beach for a while. I heard he and Linn broke up.”


Two weeks later Sorin slipped into the empty chair between Marcy and Carmen and opposite Brad at Crepe Louis, a few blocks from the office. “Spain was great, but a little more expensive than I thought. Luckily, I don't spend much, and I saved quite a bit before I left. I met some really cool people and might go back next year.”

“You should see what's happened since you left,” Carmen commented.

“I'm happy not thinking about that place.”

Carmen told Sorin the saga of the stolen software, being careful to omit Jim's suspicions, but concluding, “There are all kinds of theories about who might have let in an EndOne spy or who might have sold the code to someone at EndOne.”

“Sounds like a television comedy,” Sorin laughed. “I think I'll get into a different kind of business altogether.”

“Like what?” Marcy asked.

“Oh, anything,” Sorin shrugged. “I talked to Emma and she knows of a few jobs, but I don't know. I'm not quite ready to work yet. I've gotten used to sleeping late.”

“You always did,” Brad replied.

“Yeah. But now I don't have to get up and go anywhere.”

“What about money?” Carmen asked.

“I moved out of my apartment before I left. My things are with different friends, so I don't need that much money.”

“Someone at the office, not one of us here, thought you sold the code,” Carmen said.

Sorin laughed heartily. “I bet I know who. Ever since that little weasel found me in Emma's bed when he returned a day early from Minneapolis, he's been on my case.”

“He what?” Carmen asked.

“It was great. It was a Saturday morning. Mike, Emma's son, was with his father, so we were sleeping late and suddenly there was all this banging on the door. Emma thought Mike was back and needed something. When she opened the door, Jim just flew in, right into the bedroom. Said he took a red-eye flight so he could see her for a day before going back to work. Emma was pissed and said he should have called first and not barged in.

“Me and Emma have an understanding,” Sorin added. “I'm like a friend to her, spending time, but not getting in her way. We're kind of alike, even if we’re in different generations. Not that you could tell Jim anything like that.”

“What did you do then?” Carmen asked.

“Nothing. He stormed out of the house just after he saw me. I heard that he once asked Shakar to check files on my computer one weekend and not tell anyone what he was doing. So, do you think he's going to subpoena me?”

“No,” Brad replied. “There's no proof of anything, and we've all heard accusations about other people.”

“Well, I'd recommend investigating Jim. Maybe he did it deliberately to try to get back at me. Emma said he's still crazy about her, even though she's now getting back together with her ex-husband.”

“Doesn’t he work at EndOne?” Carmen asked.

“He used to," Sorin replied nonchalantly. "Whether he still does, I couldn't say."


Marcy looked up at an instant message from Brad. “Jim’s snoring. He’s driving me crazy.”

“I guess he’s tired,” Marcy typed in response. “He said he’s been working late.”

“I never believe what he says and couldn’t care less.”

“I’m working on something. Bye,” Marcy typed.

“Actually, I’ve been thinking more about my essay, the one for graduate school.” Brad replied. “Maybe I shouldn’t include my real feelings. Maybe they’ll think I’m too liberal. What do you think?”

“I don’t have a clue. I’ve never been to business school and have no desire to do so. But now that you’re asking, I think you probably are more liberal than the MBA stereotype.”

“I want to get there and shake things up. But maybe my essay isn’t quite right and I won’t get in. I think we might need to tone it down some.”

“Don’t forget the tutorial. We need to have it ready for the sales team to take to the user conference next month.”

“I was temporarily pulled off that. Remember? To compare our software to EndOne’s purloined product.”

“I thought you finished that last week?”

“Mostly. Then I had other stuff to do. Also, and don’t tell anyone I told you this.”


“I heard rumors that this company is for sale. So, why get stressed out finishing something that might not be needed.”


Late the next day, Jim stretched out on the old, cat-clawed, lime green couch he once bought for the break room. Lying on his back, he looked up as Marcy walked in. “I’ve been tired lately,” he commented.

“Working too much?” Marcy asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t taken any time off in two years, not since I went to France with Emma and that was hardly a vacation. I spent the whole time following her around expensive stores, where she spent hours trying on overpriced outfits that looked like Halloween costumes.”

“I heard rumors that this company might be sold,” Marcy said.

“Someone’s always starting those rumors, just to stir things up and make us nervous or make us think we have to work twice as hard as we usually do in order to keep our jobs.”


After a design-review meeting a few days later, Brad accompanied Marcy to her desk. “Someone searched my desk last night,” he whispered. “The copy of my essay that you edited was moved from under a pile to the middle of my desk.”

“Are you sure you didn’t mistakenly move it?” Marcy asked.

“No way. I always keep stuff like that hidden. And I think it was Edsel. He doesn’t like me, and he’s pissed that we’re paid the same, but he has harder assignments and has to work a lot more. I heard him tell someone on the phone that he didn’t think it was fair.”

“You should just take it home and work on it there.”

“I never have time at home and I usually have extra time here. I think I’ll just stay here late tonight and definitely finish it.”


That night, Marcy woke up in the middle of the night, startled, then relieved as she realized she was in her slightly lumpy bed, surrounded by her two mahogany dressers, photos of her daughters, and a framed painting of tall, majestic golden aspens on a Colorado Rocky Mountain slope, her best-ever thrift-store purchase.

She tried to recall the details of her dream, that she was running around an enormous white building trying to find a door, a way back in. And before that, someone who seemed to be Dixon, but didn’t really resemble him or anyone else she knew, was yelling at her, accusing her of selling the software code.

“I need to ask Jim if anyone thinks I sold the code or gave it away,” she told herself, vowing to write the thought down.

Now wide awake, Marcy pushed herself out from under her sheets and blankets, slipped on her faded terrycloth bathrobe and walked into the living room. “Do you think they’d fire me?” she asked her curled-up, sound-asleep tomcat. “They need a scapegoat.” Marcy watched Tuxedo, his ears twitching in his sleep.


Marcy sat cross-legged on the coffee-colored carpet under her desk, took a cheese sandwich out of her black Museum of Modern Art tote bag, and started eating, ignoring her ringing phone.

Jim approached her desk, initially not seeing her, then looking down at her in amazement. “Hiding?” he asked.

“It’s lunch time,” Marcy replied. “I wanted a change of scenery.”

“Okay. I’ll come back later.”

“Actually, there’s something I wanted to ask you,” Marcy said.

“Should I sit in your chair?”

“If you want,” Marcy replied, as Jim dropped into her chair.

“Okay. Shoot.”

“I’ve been wondering. I mean you think Sorin sold the code, Brad thinks Edsel sold it. I don’t think I’ll say what Carmen thinks, but it’s like everyone thinks someone else sold it or left the door unlocked. Does anyone think anyone else might have done it?”

“I’m sure someone thinks I sold it, since I’m the one who started developing it, but no one has said that to me. It’s really kind of silly to worry about it when you’re eating your lunch.”

“I suppose.”

“I never thought of this, but a lot could go on under a desk. I guess you could even spend the night there,” Jim commented.

“Not me. No way I’d want to breathe carpet fumes and the same old stale air all night. It’s not healthy to be in a building like this, where the windows don’t open.”

“I’ve worked in buildings like this for years and it hasn’t affected me.”

“How do you know?” Marcy asked.

“If it has, I don’t know the difference. Why are you eating there instead of outside or in the break room?”

“I guess I’m just crazy.”

“Are you going to Edsel’s barbeque on Sunday?”

“I doubt it,” Marcy replied. “I mean I don’t want to spend Sunday listening to the same old things everyone talks about all week.”

Jim laughed a slightly nervous laugh as he leaned back in the chair. “Do you like working here?”

Marcy shrugged. She didn’t know if Carmen, who sat in the cubicle just beyond her, separated from her by a six-foot gray flannel divider, was back from lunch, and, if so, if she could hear every word of this conversation. “It’s okay, I guess, though a little more stressful than I expected,” Marcy said in a low voice.


Lying on the sofa, in front of the television, aware of images and words zipping past her and hearing Kristen’s occasional comments about a not-very-interesting teenage romance/adventure story, Marcy suddenly jolted up.

“What, mom?”

“Nothing. I just need to call someone at work.”

“Can’t you think about anything else?”

“Sometimes I do try,” Marcy said, before rushing into the bedroom, shutting the door, and dialing Jim’s number.

“I hate to bother you at home.”

“You’re not bothering me. I was just sitting here doing something stupid, video games, kid’s stuff, by myself.”

“This whole EndOne business is really bugging me. Everyone's suspicious about someone else. I mean I think it’s really gotten out-of-hand. Like I said this afternoon, I’ve heard suspicions about everyone. And, well, I imagine someone probably thinks I sold the code or left the door open. I guess that’s what I meant to ask you today.”

“You’re too new. No one suspects you.”

“I wasn’t so sure when I talked with Mr. Dixon. I mean, like why did he want to talk to me and not Carmen. I know my six-month review is coming up, but he seemed to have a need to spend twenty minutes reminding me about it. So after talking about that and also reminding me to make a list of my accomplishments, he just talked on and on about company confidentiality and EndOne’s gaining the market edge because of someone’s sloppiness. And he wanted to know what I thought of different people in the company. It was really creepy.”

“Maybe he thought someone confided in you and he could get you to blurt out something new. No one around here would confide in Carmen.”

“I left feeling that someone might have blamed me. I mean he really was looking at me in a funny way.”

“Don’t worry. If anyone blames you, they’ll have me to contend with. I’ll quit and go somewhere else, even EndOne, if they attempt to fire you or anyone else unjustly.”

“Still, the whole atmosphere is just too weird. I was thinking since you’re lead engineer and sort of in the middle between us and management, maybe you could let them know that some people are bugged by all the negativity, and it’s affecting productivity.”

“The truth is the accusations are flying around so freely, I just don’t remember who said what. Isn’t this fun? I love little conspiracies.”

“Not me,” Marcy replied. “I like things to be stable and organized. I need to know where I’m at and where everyone else is at.”

“Are you home alone?”

Krissy’s here, watching a video. I’m getting sick of all of those too. Anyway, I don’t want to keep you.”

“You can call me any time you want. And, don’t worry. Unlike some people, I never tell anyone else anything I think is confidential.”

“Yeah, I sort of figured that. Maybe that’s why I called you.”

Marcy returned to the living room, sat in her comfortable, old blue armchair and watched Kristin stretch languorously. Tall and slim like her father, the charming, but penniless actor who had left Marcy years ago, Kristen was still content staying home and watching movies. Marcy sighed and picked up the Elizabeth George mystery she had started reading the previous evening.


On Friday, Marcy agreed to have a drink with Jim after work, at Omaha Joe’s, a bar a block away.

As they walked, Jim mentioned several movies he wanted to see, then remarked, “Actually, there’s something I’ve been thinking about. I was kind of wondering if you might want to go to a movie or do something, maybe on Sunday or next weekend.”

Marcy hesitated, then said, “Just as a friend. I mean, we work together and I prefer just being friends with people at work.”

“Yeah. I understand.”

As soon as they entered the dark, crowded bar, Marcy and Jim spotted Greg sitting alone at the counter, talking on his cell-phone, a drink in from of him. “Oh shit. I hope he doesn’t see us,” Jim said, seconds before Greg waved and motioned them over.

They approached Greg, then scooted up onto stools next to him, as he covered his phone with his hand. “Hey, it’s on me,” Greg said before returning to his conversation. “. . . Let me address that one. We’ve been asked the same question many times.”

Marcy, sitting between Greg and Jim, turned to Jim. “Let’s talk about something else. Not work.”

“Suits me fine,” Jim replied.

“They withdrew the other offer,” Greg continued. “The four sixty-three is all that’s available. . . I do hear what you’re after. . . Hey, I see I have an appointment now. I’ll send you the information and call you back next week.”

Greg looked toward Marcy and Jim, then concluded his call. “Great. And have a good weekend.”

“Don’t get me started on what that’s about,” he said to Marcy, before motioning to the bartender. “Like I said, it’s on me. How about if we get a pitcher?”

“Sure,” Jim replied. Marcy nodded in agreement.

Greg placed his cell phone near the wrap-around sunglasses on the counter in front of him, as Jim asked, “Have you heard what’s gone on?”

“What about?”

“The EndOne stuff,” Jim said.

“Of course. It was my idea. I knew EndOne was working on something that would more fully automate the reporting process and our customers kept asking if we were going to do that. I don’t have a clue why their product looks like ours, but it’s out already. So if ours comes out exactly the same, it’ll look like we stole it from them. I’ve been telling you customers wanted this for several years. It doesn’t take a genius to see we’re behind in the marketplace.”

“How did you know EndOne was working on something?” Marcy asked.

“Hell, I knew it two years ago. Once, at a party at Emma’s, when she and her ex-husband Randy were once again attempting to get back together, Randy alluded to it. Remember when I suggested that someone look into it?" Jim nodded vaguely and Greg continued, "Personally, I don’t care who got what, where. We just need to make sure what we sell works. If things don’t pick up and I can’t make a good living selling this stuff, I’m bolting.”


Marcy sat opposite Jim at a window table in a hotel restaurant a few blocks from the beach. “I don’t know why I came. I really shouldn’t have,” she said.

“You said Janey was practically living with Roger and you never see her any more and Kristin was with her dad,” Jim replied.

“I know. But it’s always been my policy not to get involved with people at work.”

“Don’t worry. I’m discrete. No one will know.”

Marcy sipped her latte, calculating the number of vacation days she had remaining in the year, an amount diminished by three, coincidentally taken at the same time Jim had scheduled his time off.

“It’s not exactly romantic. Construction next door. Guys drilling on the sidewalk, noise, dust in the air,” Marcy said, before spreading orange marmalade on her slightly warm croissant.

“The guys working in here all speak French,” Jim said. “Just pretend you’re in France, not 40 miles from home.”

“Only one seems to speak French and he must be the owner or manager.” Marcy paused, then asked, “Do you think we’ll all be fired if Alsace is cancelled?”

“I doubt it. But, let’s talk about something more pleasant. I don’t want to think about work when I’m on vacation.”

“Okay. Then, here’s something I’ve been wondering. Well, no, never mind.”

“You mean you want to know about me and Emma?”

Marcy nodded.

“She was this amazing ball of energy and could do all kinds of things at once, really too many: work, raise kids, constantly clean her house, run marathons, juggle guys. I didn’t like that. I want to be with someone just interested in me. And I shouldn’t have listened to her about the EndOne stuff.”

“What?” Marcy asked.

“Greg was right. EndOne developed their code first. Emma was always telling me what they were doing. One day I was flipping through some magazines of hers and I found a summary design document Randy wrote about their product. It was supposed to be a top-secret document, but I read it while Emma was taking a bath. Anyway, I thought about it and could see how really clunky and ugly their design was and came up with some ideas for something similar, but different, with a much better architecture. Then I asked Edsel and Sorin to help develop my ideas and do some preliminary coding.”

“And you didn’t check carefully enough to make sure it really was different?”

“I thought what I designed was quite different, and also much better. What EndOne came out with, to my shock, was pretty close to what I designed. It didn’t at all resemble what was in the summary I read. I swear that’s true.”

“Why did you blame Sorin?”

Sorin seemed the most likely guy to have let someone in or to have left plans somewhere. He was never very careful. Plus I didn’t want Dixon bugging the other guys, who work really hard and are pretty stressed out. I figured since Sorin was gone anyway, the matter would eventually drop from everyone’s mind. I’ve already started planning a redesign of Alsace, combining it with a web-reporting tool, so it will have a completely new interface, a totally new architecture.”

The drilling stopped. Marcy picked up her latte and continued sipping it, looking at Jim.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Jim said as he reached for her hand. “Next year at this time, we’ll all be working on something else and no one will remember this.”