Home > Disclosure(6)

Author: Michael Crichton

"Call him back." Eddie Larson was the production supervisor in the Austin plant, which made cellular telephones. Cindy placed the call; a moment later he heard the familiar voice with the Texas twang.

"Hey there, Tommy boy."

"Hi, Eddie. What's up?"

"Little problem on the line. You got a minute?"

"Yes, sure."

"Are congratulations on a new job in order?"

"I haven't heard anything yet," Sanders said.

"Uh-huh. But it's going to happen?"

"I haven't heard anything, Eddie."

"Is it true they're going to shut down the Austin plant?"

Sanders was so startled, he burst out laughing. "What?"

"Hey, that's what they're saying down here, Tommy boy. Conley-White is going to buy the company and then shut us down."

"Hell," Sanders said. "Nobody's buying anything, and nobody's selling anything, Eddie. The Austin line is an industry standard. And it's very profitable."

He paused. "You'd tell me if you knew, wouldn't you, Tommy boy?" "Yes, I would," Sanders said. "But it's just a rumor, Eddie. So forget it. Now, what's the line problem?"

"Diddly stuff. The women on the production line are demanding that we clean out the pinups in the men's locker room. They say it's offensive to them. You ask me, I think it's bull," Larson said. "Because women never go into the men's locker room."

"Then how do they know about the pinups?"

"The night cleanup crews have women on 'em. So now the women working the line want the pinups removed."

Sanders sighed. "We don't need any complaints about being unresponsive on sex issues. Get the pinups out."

"Even if the women have pinups in their locker room?"

"Just do it, Eddie."

"You ask me, it's caving in to a lot of feminist bullshit." There was a knock on the door. Sanders looked up and saw Phil Blackburn, the company lawyer, standing there. "Eddie, I have to go." "Okay," Eddie said, "but I'm telling you-" "Eddie, I'm sorry. I have to go. Call me if anything changes." Sanders hung up the phone, and Blackburn came into the room. Sanders's first impression was that the lawyer was smiling too broadly, behaving too cheerfully. It was a bad sign.

Philip Blackburn, the chief legal counsel for DigiCom, was a slender man of forty six wearing a dark green Hugo Boss suit. Like Sanders, Blackburn had been with DigiCom for over a decade, which meant that he was one of the "old guys," one of those who had "gotten in at the beginning." When Sanders first met him, Blackburn was a brash, bearded young civil rights lawyer from Berkeley. But Blackburn had long since abandoned protest for profits, which he pursued with singleminded intensity-while carefully emphasizing the new corporate issues of diversity and equal opportunity. Blackburn's embrace of the latest fashions in clothing and correctness made "PC Phil" a figure of fun in some quarters of the company. As one executive put it, "Phil's finger is chapped from wetting it and holding it to the wind." He was the first with Birkenstocks, the first with bell-bottoms, the first with sideburns off, and the first with diversity.

Many of the jokes focused on his mannerisms. Fussy, preoccupied with appearances, Blackburn was always running his hands over himself, touching his hair, his face, his suit, seeming to caress himself, to smooth out the wrinkles in his suit. This, combined with his unfortunate tendency to rub, touch, and pick his nose, was the source of much humor. But it was humor with an edge: Blackburn was mistrusted as a moralistic hatchet man.

Blackburn could be charismatic in his speeches, and in private could convey a convincing impression of intellectual honesty for short periods. But within the company he was seen for what he was: a gun for hire, a man with no convictions of his own, and hence the perfect person to be Garvin's executioner.

In earlier years, Sanders and Blackburn had been close friends; not only had they grown up with the company, but their lives were intertwined personally as well: when Blackburn went through his bitter divorce in 1982, he lived for a while in Sanders's bachelor apartment in

Sunnyvale. A few years later, Blackburn had been best man at Sanders's own wedding to a young Seattle attorney, Susan Handler.

But when Blackburn remarried in 1989, Sanders was not invited to the wedding, for by then, their relationship had become strained. Some in the company saw it as inevitable: Blackburn was a part of the inner power circle in Cupertino, to which Sanders, based in Seattle, no longer belonged. In addition, the two men had had sharp disputes about setting up the production lines in Ireland and Malaysia. Sanders felt that Blackburn ignored the inevitable realities of production in foreign countries.

Typical was Blackburn's demand that half the workers on the new line in Kuala Lumpur should be women, and that they should be intermingled with the men; the Malay managers wanted the women segregated, allowed to work only on certain parts of the line, away from the men. Phil strenuously objected. Sanders kept telling him, "It's a Muslim country, Phil."

"I don't give a damn," Phil said. "DigiCom stands for equality."

"Phil, it's their country. They're Muslim."

"So what? It's our factory."

Their disagreements went on and on. The Malaysian government didn't want local Chinese hired as supervisors, although they were the best-qualified; it was the policy of the Malaysian government to train Malays for supervisory jobs. Sanders disagreed with this blatantly discriminatory policy, because he wanted the best supervisors he could get for the plant. But Phil, an outspoken opponent of discrimination in America, immediately acquiesced to the Malay government's discriminatory policy, saying that DigiCom should embrace a true multicultural perspective. At the last minute, Sanders had had to fly to Kuala Lumpur and meet with the Sultans of Selangor and Pahang, to agree to their demands. Phil then announced that Sanders had "toadied up to the extremists."

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