Home > Disclosure(15)

Author: Michael Crichton

Sanders said, "Well, she certainly looks great."

Lewyn turned away. "We'll see," he said. "We'll see."

A twenty past twelve, Sanders left his office on the fourth floor and headed toward the stairs to go down to the main conference room for lunch. He passed a nurse in a starched white uniform. She was looking in one office after another. "Where is he? He was just here a minute ago." She shook her head.

"Who?" Sanders said.

"The professor," she replied, blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I can't leave him alone for a minute."

"What professor?" Sanders said. But by then he heard the female giggles coming from a room farther down the hall, and he already knew the answer. "Professor Dorfman?"

"Yes. Professor Dorfman," the nurse said, nodding grimly, and she headed toward the source of the giggles.

Sanders trailed after her. Max Dorfman was a German management consultant, now very elderly. At one time or another, he had been a visiting professor at every major business school in America, and he had gained a particular reputation as a guru to high-tech companies. During most of the 1980s, he had served on the board of directors of DigiCom, lending prestige to Garvin's upstart company. And during that time, he had been a mentor to Sanders. In fact, it was Dorfman who had convinced Sanders to leave Cupertino eight years earlier and take the job in Seattle.

Sanders said, "I didn't know he was still alive."

"Very much so," the nurse said.

"He must be ninety."

"Well, he doesn't act a day over eighty-five."

As they approached the room, he saw Mary Anne Hunter coming out. She had changed into a skirt and blouse, and she was smiling broadly, as if she had just left her lover. "Tom, you'll never guess who's here."

"Max," he said.

"That's right. Oh, Tom, you should see him: he's exactly the same." "I'll bet he is," Sanders said. Even from outside the room, he could smell the cigarette smoke.

The nurse said, "Now, Professor," in a severe tone, and strode into the room. Sanders looked in; it was one of the employee lounges. Max Dorfman's wheelchair was pulled up to the table in the center of the room. He was surrounded by pretty assistants. The women were making a fuss over him, and in their midst Dorfman, with his shock of white hair, was grinning happily, smoking a cigarette in a long holder.

"What's he doing here?" Sanders said.

"Garvin brought him in, to consult on the merger. Aren't you going to say hello?" Hunter said.

"Oh, Christ," Sanders said. "You know Max. He can drive you crazy." Dorfman liked to challenge conventional wisdom, but his method was indirect. He had an ironic way of speaking that was provocative and mocking at the same moment. He was fond of contradictions, and he did not hesitate to lie. If you caught him in a lie, he would immediately say, "Yes, that's true. I don't know what I was thinking of," and then resume talking in the same maddening, elliptical way. He never really said what he meant; he left it for you to put it together. His rambling sessions left executives confused and exhausted.

"But you were such friends," Hunter said, looking at him. "I'm sure he'd like you to say hello."

"He's busy now. Maybe later." Sanders looked at his watch. "Anyway, we're going to be late for lunch."

He started back down the hallway. Hunter fell into step with him, frowning. "He always got under your skin, didn't he?"

"He got under everybody's skin. It was what he did best."

She looked at him in a puzzled way, and seemed about to say more, then shrugged. "It's okay with me."

"I'm just not in the mood for one of those conversations," Sanders said. "Maybe later. But not right now." They headed down the stairs to the ground floor.

In keeping with the stripped-down functionality of modern high-tech firms, DigiCom maintained no corporate dining room. Instead, lunches and dinners were held at local restaurants, most often at the nearby 11 Terrazzo. But the need for secrecy about the merger obliged DigiCom to cater a lunch in the large, wood-paneled conference room on the ground floor. At twelve-thirty, with the principal managers of the DigiCom technical divisions, the Conley-White executives, and the Goldman, Sachs bankers all present, the room was crowded. The egalitarian ethos of the company meant that there was no assigned seating, but the principal C-W executives ended up at one side of the table near the front of the room, clustered around Garvin. The power end of the table.

Sanders took a seat farther down on the opposite side, and was surprised when Stephanie Kaplan slid into the chair to his right. Kaplan usually sat much closer to Garvin; Sanders was distinctly further down the pecking order. To Sanders's left was Bill Everts, the head of Human Resourcesa nice, slightly dull guy. As white-coated waiters served the meal, Sanders talked about fishing on Orcas Island, which was Everts's passion. As usual, Kaplan was quiet during most of the lunch, seeming to withdraw into herself.

Sanders began to feel he was neglecting her. Toward the end of the meal, he turned to her and said, "I notice you've been up here in Seattle more often the last few months, Stephanie. Is that because of the merger?"

"No." She smiled. "My son's a freshman at the university, so I like to come up because I get to see him."

"What's he studying?"

"Chemistry. He wants to go into materials chemistry. Apparently it's going to be a big field."

"I've heard that."

Chapter 4

"Half the time I don't know what he's talking about. It's funny, when your child knows more than you do."

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