“Andrew,” Adam leaned over, “how’s the Beta coming?”
Andrew took his eyes off the Sudoku puzzle in front of him and shook his head, full of youthful dark curls. “Like clockwork,” he answered, sneaking looks at his puzzle.
Adam looked at his friend, picturing again Andrew’s meteoric rise of the last three years, amassing a fortune of over fifteen million pounds from the sale of four start-ups.
Adam remembered Adam’s father’s worshiping looks at his son’s successful friend, feeling a dull ache. The two friends stared at each other, trying to discern what each was really thinking.
“You know, Andrew,” Adam continued, “I get the feeling that you’re not really sharing everything with me. I need to know what’s happening. You’ve got to take me seriously.” Andrew hadn’t changed since they were kids – he still thought only of himself, his goals, his successes, even if it meant running over everybody else.
Andrew got up from his magnificent red leather chair and turned his entire body to face Adam, showing his beautiful white teeth in a wide smile. Andrew had his bespoke suits made for him at London’s celebrity tailors, “Dege-Skinner.” Today he was wearing a black three-piece with discreet gray stripes, and a silk tie decorated with small octagons which matched those on his maroon socks. His perfectly arranged hair, with every curl in place, his beautifully manicured hands, his well-cared for skin, completed the picture. Only his too-flashy ring made Adam think that maybe Andrew was trying too hard, that maybe he was merely playing a role, and overdoing it at that.
Over Andrew’s shoulder, Adam could see the gold-plated Montblanc pens, the incredibly thin and wide computer screen, resting on the oversize mahogany desk. The red snakeskin folder on the desk was also embossed with the small octagons.
Andrew picked up the folder, leafed nonchalantly through the pages, and began reporting in a bored tone: “Yesterday, at exactly 2:03 PM, at the busy crossroad of Waterloo Road and the Strand, Number 1001 had his debut performance. He stood without moving, exactly at the intersection, and created in less than one minute a giant traffic jam. Traffic police who were called to the area ordered him to move, but he stood his ground. After three minutes, the cops dragged him to nearby Aldwych Street, ordered him to wait there, and proceeded to undo the traffic jam. We immediately sent another order to Number 1001, and he began to walk swiftly in the direction of Drury Lane. One of the policemen noticed him walking away, and gave chase, but we immediately activated our newest development – and a hologram appeared walking down the street, in impeccable imitation of Number 1001. The policeman of course ran after it, thinking it to be Number 1001, but the hologram vanished just as easily as Number 1001 had. The police were left with nothing, and we in the meanwhile erased all memory of the incident from Number 1001’s mind.”
Andrew smiled. The astonishing brightness of his teeth reminded Adam of a toothpaste commercial. Adam rose from his desk, strode over to Andrew and embraced him in a warm hug, returning Adam to their shared childhood.
“You’re the champ!” Adam shouted with glee. “We’re going to have a huge success with this, but we’ve got to stay focused and keep to the plan.” Adam remembered how Andrew was, even as a child, the directed, driven one, with his love of puzzles and challenges proof of his inquiring mind. Adam would be the one to linger in bed, while Andrew would effortlessly solve brainteasers and puzzles.
Andrew freed himself from Adam’s embrace, holding him at arm’s length to discourage further invasions of his personal space. He answered with dry sarcasm, “Everything is completely clear, no need to worry. Our technology is working perfectly, and there’s no reason for us not to succeed…”
“Just keep me in the loop,” tried Adam, holding out his hand, almost pleading. “After all, why did we set up this company together?”
“We started this company because I believe in the technology, and also because of your inheritance, which allowed you to invest a hundred million pounds in the venture! I’m convinced that we’ll each earn profits of a billion pounds from this. I’ll be able to retire forever and just enjoy life.” Andrew replied. “Adam’s never changed,” he thought to himself. “He’s still the boy I knew, content to be number two, always wanting to be near me.” He returned to his chair and sat down to finish his puzzle, ignoring his friend.
Adam gazed at his friend and tried to imagine how high a pile of notes totaling a billion pounds would reach, but still wondering about his relationship with his friend, which had become strained recently. For a moment, he had doubts about his investment and felt a warning twinge of failure. “But this is finally something that I’m doing on my own!” he thought to himself. He tried to decide what was missing in his life, what else he needed that he did not already own, but he actually could not. He felt safe with Andrew, just as in the old days on their hiking trips, when he would follow Andrew on aching legs as his friend, casually using compass and map, navigated with ease. Andrew was always running ahead and ignoring his friend, trying to keep away from any physical contact, which made Adam want to imitate him even more. He wanted to be Andrew – confident, charismatic, and smart – but he had known for years that he did not have it in him. The only way he could enjoy these qualities was to stay close to Andrew, picking up his crumbs. Andrew was, and remained the center of his world, even today, standing in the managing offices of “Octagon Industries” waiting for his friend to finish his Sudoku.
“When is the next test?” Adam tried to gain his friend’s attention.
“Tomorrow we’re working on 1002 and 1003.” Andrew was still involved in his puzzle, ignoring his friend’s presence.
“What are their tasks?” Adam continued, slightly embarrassed.
“They will be undergoing a behavioral change that will surprisingly and forever affect their lives.”
“Could I have some more details?” The intercom interrupted Adam’s question.
Adam turned around, picked up the antique brown leather folder that he had inherited from his father, Sir Paul Newton. The familiar smell of faded leather brought up long-forgotten feelings of warmth and intimacy. He left the room, followed by his constant companion Dick, a Dogue de Bourdeaux, whose big eyes looked out admiringly at Andrew from his huge head.
Andrew sat down in front of his computer, tapping expertly on the keys, concentrating on the screen, changing data and calculations, pleased with himself and with the results. “Adam is still a boy,” he thought to himself, “going home to his afternoon nap.”
Adam greeted the beautiful receptionist, Laurie, taking in her tight yellow blouse, bursting at the seams. He softly closed the door to the office, and took a long glance at the sign “Octagon Industries,” and the smaller one underneath “Control – Experimental Communication.” Smiling to himself, he approached the elevator, held open by the temporary guard, Sol Blum, a student at the London Business School. He was pleased with himself and with his offices. The office he shared with Andrew reminded him of his father’s office, decorated with antiques, diffusing an aroma of old wood and creating a homey atmosphere which made it a pleasant place to spend endless hours of work. The reception area of the company, presided over by Laurie, was decorated in a futuristic manner, in shades of blue and green. He thought about the future, about how it is infused with the past. As he stared at the oil paintings hung at the entrance – colorful, loud, modern, and grotesque, even – he felt pleased and proud, his blood pulsing in his veins.
On his way to the elevator he paced with measured steps, in the manner of his father before him. He closed his eyes and pictured Laurie, and saw before him flowers in bloom and shining lights. He imagined that he could smell her presence. Adam opened his eyes and looked at Sol, handsome and at ease, and he remembered Laurie’s short interview for her job. She was chosen first of all because of her looks, which projected just what the management desired (maybe even too much – his wife would say). Her references were also first-rate, from employers in both New York and Manchester. As it turned out, her presence was an important element in the smooth running of the company. Then he remembered that Sol was the one to recommend Laurie for the job. “I must thank him,” he thought as he strode toward the main doors in the lobby, on which was engraved the golden octagon, and a small, almost invisible depiction of a human brain in its center.
Adam did not turn around as he left the elevator. If he had, he would have seen Sol smiling to himself as he thought, “They think they’re so smart, they’re so clever. Yet I managed so easily to plant Laurie as the receptionist, and now they can’t do without her.”
Andrew picked up the telephone and dialed quickly. “I’m worried about the screening process. You have to fix this. Try using the octagon and broadcasting with greater power. This is critical! I must have weekly written updates and a report by telephone every day.” He was showing his superiority over his staff and enjoying his control.
“Yes, sir,” the division manager replied timidly. “I’ll do my best.”
Andrew slammed the receiver, showing his contempt for the manager. He pressed his intercom button and asked Laurie for a cup of tea, one sugar, and a little milk. As usual, he tried to feel at home, given that his office really was his second home. As Laurie entered his office, carrying a tray with his tea and with a slice of his favorite cake, Andrew thought how irreplaceable Laurie had become. He imagined her voluptuous body, how exciting she would be in bed, smiled broadly and thanked her. He wondered if she was affected by his looks and demeanor, as all the others had been, and he decided to try to find out.
As Laurie left, she felt that he was drooling over her, and felt a pleasurable chill rising up her spine. She tried not to arouse suspicion by walking as slowly as she could. She suddenly remembered the repulsive feeling of her older neighbor’s hand on her, when she was a young girl. This was when she first asked Sol to protect her. As she closed the office door, she glanced one last time at Andrew, amazed at how much effort he put into solving Sudoku.