The three shared a two story house within sight of the beach in Ditch Plains. Ewas and Deirdre lived upstairs. Aidan lived on the ground floor. A few months after moving into the house, the two women hired a contractor to build a staircase to the second story deck. This allowed them to enter and leave the house without passing through Aidan's space.
Ewas, who designed games and wrote science fiction novels, worked at a Macintosh computer on a desk in the women's bedroom. Deirdre and Aidan shared a study on the ground floor. Deirdre was there most of the day, at her PC with the large monitor. Aidan worked the phones from his bedroom and was in the study more rarely.
Every day began with Aidan and Deirdre eating breakfast together at the table in the small first floor kitchen. Ewas, who was awake but did not come down until an hour later, was always enraged that no-one else in the house could be bothered to brew coffee. They would drink the coffee she made readily enough. She also couldn't understand why it wasn't possible to buy a week's supply of muffins in advance. Aidan said it cleared his mind to drive the Jeep into town in the morning. Deirdre said she liked the coffee from the bakery.
In the nice weather, sometimes brother and sister took their breakfast the half block to the beach. Ewas would join them later, her ceramic mug with the scowling witch's face reproaching their paper cups. "I don't understand people who won't have a normal breakfast," she would say. Hers was healthy cereal with fruit cut into it.
She never hung around, though, because breakfast was a business meeting. Deirdre always had new ideas for the product, while Aidan would report on his plans for the day. The product, IdeaPile, was Deirdre's. Aidan's sole employment for almost five years had been selling it. In the past year, their joint income had tripled to almost three hundred thousand dollars. Ewas, who could balance a checkbook and was also good at picking mutual funds and stocks, managed everybody's money.
On a beautiful early June morning in 1987, Deirdre and Aidan took their breakfast to the beach. The sky was entirely blue but the weather was cool and both were wearing thick white sweaters Ewas had bought them. Deirdre was looking at the surf and Aidan was looking at his sister.
"I'm going to spend the day working on the corporate version," she said. "I'll take a glance at integrating it with that version control product, and I'm also going to investigate ways of directly adding features like the check-out of cards and logs of changes. The whole idea is to allow the customer to roll an idea pile back to a prior state of its existence."
"Rick Bauer says he thinks companies would pay twenty or thirty thousand dollars for a really robust feature set." Their most expensive product currently was a five thousand dollar version. "I'm going to drive to Ronkonkoma today for a meeting with Dale Industries. There's a team there using it as a CASE tool--they create cards representing database tables and link them together. They said that it would be a kickass product if we added two features--the ability to import graphics into a card, and to draw a line to connect particular portions of text on two different cards."
"What does that mean?" Deirdre was looking at him now, still smiling. The novelty had never worn off for her of being independent, having their own product and being able to work from home.
Aidan explained that database designers wanted to be able to use the line connecting two cards in an idea pile to represent the relationship of two tables via a key. Currently, the system chose where to draw the line. The Dale Industries people wanted to be able to draw the line from a particular word on the first card to the same word on the second. Deirdre decided she was more intrigued by the two problems--importing graphics into the cards and the line-drawing--than by the version control management. She complained to Aidan for the umpteenth time that they should hire another programmer to do the stuff that didn't really interest her.
"We would probably have to pay someone fifty thousand, if they were any good. You know we only started to make real money recently." He stretched out on the sand, hands behind his head, and watched a little lost cloud go by. Deirdre was looking down the beach and he raised himself up a little; Ewas was prowling towards them with her coffee mug. She and her mug both were scowling at them.
"I don't understand this business of buying coffee in paper cups when we can brew better. I've even been setting up the machine at night. All you have to do is throw the switch in the morning and it will make you coffee."
"How many programmers does it take to turn on a coffee machine?" Aidan asked. "None, its a hardware problem," Deirdre immediately responded.
Ewas sat down next to Aidan, on the other side from Deirdre. She flicked some sand on his face and bared her teeth at her companion.
Aidan brushed himself off.
"I'm going to take some money from the cash reserves," Ewas said, "and buy some shares of Symbol Technologies," but to her enormous irritation the other two started to giggle.
"God bless you, Victoria," Aidan said, "and if I understood it I'd love to discuss it with you."
"I could rob you blind and you'd never know the difference," she said, mad at them. "Both of you."
"I trust you."
"You," Ewas said, "are the most unlikely businessman on Earth," and as she usually did she picked up her mug and stalked away to let them finish their daily meeting.
"Its like living with a jaguar," Aidan said, but this kind of language made Deirdre uncomfortable. Clearly wanting to change the subject, she told Aidan about an idea she planned to discuss with Ewas later in the day.
"I'm actually thinking we might have a child together."
"You and Ewas? Who would be the father?"
"No-one we know--I suppose I'd just get inseminated somewhere."
"You would have it?"
"Yes-- I don't think Ewas ever wants to have a baby. Not with her body, I mean."
"Where would you keep it?" The house didn't seem large enough for a child. He imagined it crying and keeping him awake at night.
"The study was originally a bedroom."
"You'd keep a baby on my floor?"
"No, I guess we'd swap and you'd live upstairs."
"I don't want to live upstairs." Aidan liked living close to the ground. But he realized he was being childish and shut himself up. He supposed that if the women had a baby he would have to move out--a distressing thought because he was completely comfortable living with his sister and Ewas.
He kissed Deirdre on her broad forehead and walked back up to the house. Ewas was sitting in the armchair with her knees up, nursing her second cup of coffee; her pale hair spilled out from under her baseball cap. She always reminded Aidan of a hawk, watchful and sharp-faced in her roost.
Aidan remembered how he had, in effect, killed her red setter dog Juno, the first day he and the two women had lived together in Montauk. When he had visited them at their home in Hopeworth, he had seen Juno go in and out of the screen door. He did not remember that the dog had access only to an enclosed yard. He had come into the Montauk house as the women were unpacking and it had seemed natural to let Juno out. She wandered up their little street to the highway and was hit by a car. Ewas hadn't cried but it had taken her months to get over it. Aidan didn't suppose she had ever forgiven him. He was sorry she had never gotten another dog.
"Liam has asked me to come into the city tomorrow to discuss a business proposition."
Ewas said with distaste, "Your brother's business propositions never bode any good."
"No, probably not."
"Will you go?"
"Yes. It will be a chance to see Darcy; she's divorced and back from Paris."
"Is Liam with her again?"
"I don't know; he wouldn't say anything."
He went and poured himself a cup of her strong coffee and came back.
"Dale is going to give me a check for three or four business class licenses. I don't think the name IdeaPile is going to go over for the new upgraded business version; companies don't like the image of their things being in a pile."
"What will you call it then?"
"I don't know, maybe Idea Engine."
"That's better," Ewas said, "except that your sister likes IdeaPile so much. She'll be very disappointed."
"We'll keep it for the entry level version."
He sipped the last of the coffee and sighed. Years ago a client had said Aidan was hardworking for a lazy person, and he knew it was true. He enjoyed working from home and talking on the telephone, but didn't relish trips to clients. He had spoken to Ewas, but not to Deirdre, about whether to hire a salesperson before the developer Deirdre wanted.
"Can you drive the Beetle today? I might want to take the Jeep on the beach later." The bluefish had already arrived and Ewas liked to follow the birds in search of a run in the late afternoon. Deirdre was a vegetarian but Aidan would eagerly share the catch.
"That thing is on its last legs. You should trade it in and get another Jeep." Ewas knew he was right but they had only become financially comfortable recently and she wasn't ready to buy another car just yet. She had had the Volkswagen forever, and had only stopped accepting money from her wealthy father late the prior year. Her own income from her writing and game design did not come anywhere near what Aidan and Deirdre were now pulling in jointly.
"I hate you. See if I share the fish next time."
"I love you," he said smiling, and kissed her on the forehead. Ewas pushed him away.
He dressed in tan slacks and a polo shirt and loaded up the Jeep with a few disks and manuals. As he left, their teenaged neighbor Rosa arrived. She came in for a few hours daily to handle mail orders and phone calls while Aidan made sales visits. As she stood talking to him through the car window, she caught sight of Ewas through the bay window.
"On the beach. You're not scared of Ewas, are you?"
"She's spooky. I saw her taking a revolver apart on the kitchen table last week."
"She would never hurt anyone," said Aidan, though he wasn't so sure.
He made the hour's drive to Ronkonkoma with the window open, Debbie Harry on the stereo. Once one got outside the Hamptons, Long Island was all strip malls and industrial parks. Dale Industries was located in a concrete block in the midst of an immense parking lot. The offices inside were as drab as the building itself: modular plastic furniture in muted colors. The software development team he was there to see didn't seem to have been blighted by the surroundings. They were very excited to meet him and took him to a conference room where they projected computer output on a large screen, to demonstrate the use of Ideapile in their software development process. The company manufactured aircraft parts, and they were one of several teams developing a manufacturing management system that was actually quite tricky, as is any software system that operates machine tools. Their particular responsibility was the back-end database which contained the specifications for the parts being manufactured. Their idea pile contained cards with names like "Part" and "Assembly".
Increasingly, Aidan felt like a celebrity when he went on such meetings; developers always were excited to talk to the people who had created IdeaPile. Every coder in corporate America had a product he worked on after eight p.m. on his home P.C., and every one of them dreamed of selling it from home like Aidan.
The men were stereotypical wild-haired developers, but the woman mildly interested him. Her name was Liz; she was a recent college graduate, smart and darkly pretty. One didn't meet all that many young women yet who chose a programming career.
The four of them were interrupting each other in their enthusiasm to tell him about features they needed. Some of what they wanted already existed in the product. "Let me drive," Aidan said, and took over the keyboard, demonstrating an interface not yet described in the documentation which would allow them to change the background colors and fonts used in a card. "That's really cool," said the project manager, the oldest of the group, and Aidan told them that Deirdre was responsible for it, as she was for most things. "Bring her next time," the man said. "We'd love to meet her." But Deirdre was too shy to go on such meetings.
Liz offered to walk him out, and he felt a hint of the old excitement. He hadn't been with a woman in almost two years, through lack of motivation, and of opportunity. Montauk was very small, and though his family knew everybody, most of the year round residents were involved with the fishing or tourism industries, and he had little in common with them, nor was it really possible to have casual or short-term relationships with people one had known all one's life. He supposed if he were more drawn to it he could always spend more time in New York City and stay at Liam's. His brother lived alone in the apartment they had shared five years before, and Aidan could use his old bedroom. But he didn't particularly like to go into the city.
As they walked down the hall, Liz talked to him about data normalization; there was no hint of flirtation in her manner, and gradually his pulse subsided as he answered her questions. When they got out to the parking lot, she handed him a folded piece of paper she had been carrying in her notebook. "My resume," she said. "I'd love to come and work for you and Deirdre. I have to get out of this place before soul death occurs." He said he would discuss it with his sister, and she shook hands with him with a firm grip, though not a knuckle-popper like Ewas'.
It was almost one when he arrived home. As he came in the front door, he could hear Rosa on the phone in his bedroom taking an order. Deirdre came out of the study, her eyes and hair wild. "Don't take your coat off. I need you to go and look for Ewas."
"What happened? You guys have an argument?"
"I told her about the baby. She drove away really upset. She's probably gone into the woods." They had a favorite place, a pond in Hither Hills state park, where they often went on weekends with picnic baskets made up by Ewas.
He got back in the Jeep and drove through town to the unmarked dirt road near the Amagansett line. Ewas' Beetle was parked just out of sight in the trees, a few feet off the highway. Her car couldn't handle the pitted dirt, but his could. He put the Jeep in four wheel drive and slowly climbed the hill, veering right and left to ensure that no more than two wheels passed through the deep puddles. It took him twenty minutes to drive back to the nameless pond, first through woods, then through fields of wild-flowers with a view of the train tracks, then more woods. He made a left turn at the shot-up garbage cans, crossed the tracks (the Jeep dropped a foot and bounced on the other side) and then made another left onto the narrow, slanted path that led to the pond. All this time he didn't see another human being.
He pulled the jeep up the incline under the usual tree, and placed two large stones beneath the rear wheels. The pond glittered at him at the end of a narrow, grassy drive-way where people backed their canoe-laden vehicles; he walked to the end and looked to see if Ewas was wading with her flyrod, but didn't see her. He went back in the woods and followed a trail overlooking the banks of the overgrown pond; he went down the second path to the water and found Ewas sitting on her boulder, her knees drawn up, her boots unlaced, and her face even more grim than usual.
"Did Deirdre send you?"
"Yes." He wasn't sure what to do with himself; finally he sat down against a tree trunk a few feet away, though it meant he had to look up at her. The pond glittered and big gusts of fresh air blew off of it. A dark blue kingfisher hovered, then flew to a tree on the other side; a moment later a fish jumped as if taunting the bird.
He remembered that the last time he had fished alone at the pond, a beautiful red fox had come down to the water in a little cove two hundred feet from him. The animal had looked at him for a long time, apparently unafraid.
"Deirdre wants to have a baby," Ewas said.
"That's not so unusual, is it? I've read of gay women raising children before."
"Your sister is heterosexual." He was astonished to see two small tears create furrows down Ewas' stony face. Deirdre cried sometimes, but Ewas had never wept.
"Well," he said reasonably, "I don't think the fact that Deirdre wants to have a baby makes her a heterosexual."
Ewas shook her head irritably, as if to say: You're just not getting it. "Deirdre wanting to have a baby has nothing to do with it. You're sister is straight and I've known it for five years. Imagine my horrendous selfishness in never telling her."
"Deirdre loves you."
Ewas shook her head again. "I know that. That too has nothing to do with it."
"If Deirdre is straight, as you say, why is she still with you? Why hasn't she gone off with a man?"
"Because Deirdre is grateful to me and she is the most loyal human being in the world."
"Then what is the problem? Deirdre will stay with you for the rest of her life. I've heard her say that and mean it. She says because of you her life is the most beautiful story she knows."
"There's a piece of her that isn't mine. I don't expect you to understand it."
"I think there's a piece of everybody that isn't anybody's."
"That's true. But that doesn't make it not hurt."
They sat as if in a daydream while the breeze grew gentler until the pond was enveloped in a vast but momentary silence. Then the dopplering noise of a train burst the silence and blew it away in fragments; the kingfisher screamed and other birds around them, sparrows and warblers and towhees, began to whistle and buzz.
"No," said Ewas, "the only gay member of your family is you."
Aidan didn't think he had heard correctly. "What?"
"Jane is straight and Liam is straight in the most brutal sense of the word. You are the only gay member of the Molloy family."
He felt the familiar injury: if you were kind to Ewas for long enough, she would confront you with a tortuous statement purporting to be an insight. Aidan was not certain if she did it to protect herself, or to be cruel, or from a misguided commitment to truth.
"I'm not gay," he said, and he drew up his knees and crossed his arms around them so that he was sitting the same way she was.
"Its so obvious," Ewas said, "only you don't know it. You don't really like women all that much. Sexually, I mean."
"I don't think that's true. I've had lots of girlfriends. I've never been with a guy or wanted to."
Aidan felt as if some of the silence blown away by the train had enfolded his mind; he was speaking sluggishly. A bird shrieked three times nearby and he thought: "'Humankind cannot bear very much reality'."
"Oh, you've got yourself under very tight control," Ewas said, "but you're gay. I know these things."
"Why are you telling me this?" he asked, hugging his knees.
"I don't know."
His mind crawled slowly through the subject matter. He thought of boys he had admired in high school. The fact that he didn't have any male friends. All his friends now were women: Ewas, his sister, Darcy. Emily Taft had broken up with him blaming a lack of passion. He had failed to ask Liz for a date after she asked him for a job. He thought he veered away from most women because he didn't like muddles, not because he didn't like sex.
"I have an idea."
"What's that?" asked Ewas, looking at him guardedly.
"Let's fish. I have the rods in the car."
Ewas rarely smiled, but now she beamed at him and looked ten years younger. He got the tackle box from the back of the Jeep and the two rods, the five foot two inch spinning rod for her and his own favorite collapsible spincasting rig. Ewas selected a red roostertail spinnerbait, threaded her rod, tied the lure on and projected it forty feet out into the pond with an expert flick of her arm while he was still fumbling with his knot. She was already hauling in a bluegill the size of a plate while he was making his first cast.
It was three-thirty when they got back to the house. Rosa was gone and Deirdre was beside herself. "Thank God you're OK, but why didn't you call me?"
Aidan hadn't thought of it. "I didn't bring the phone," he said lamely. But his sister never held a grudge and within minutes she hugged him and then drew Ewas away for a walk on the beach.
In the evening, they picked up their mother, Alanna Molloy, and took her for dinner at the Blue Parrot Mexican restaurant in Easthampton and then to a forgettable movie. Afterwards, Aidan mused for a few more moments on what Ewas had said; but he had drunk three Heinekins, felt very comfortable in his bed under the cool clean sheets and Ewas' quilt, and was soon asleep.
In the morning, he rose at six-thirty, drove to town, and brought back the muffins and coffee as usual. Compact Deirdre--still broadly built, but twenty pounds lighter and much more muscular than she had been in high school---had forgotten all the emotions of the day before; she was completely absorbed in a new problem. "IdeaPile is two dimensional," she said. "When our customers want to use it, they quit what they're doing and fire up our application. They can only create a pile within our software."
"You've completely lost me." Aidan felt the familiar tinge of jealousy that Deirdre was so much smarter. But he had based his whole life around her intelligence, which had paid for this lifestyle and the Jeep.
"Imagine a user sitting at his computer. He probably has two applications in which he spends eighty percent of his time. For some, its a word processor, and a spreadsheet. For others it may be a database and a programming environment like Mark Williams C. You with me so far?"
" Let's say Joe Botz is working in his word processor. He has an idea he wants to add to an idea pile."
"No problem. If he's using Windows or a Mac, he opens up an idea pile in another window, then cuts and pastes it. Even under Dos, there are work-arounds: for example, he could write it to a file, then import it into an IdeaPile card."
"You're missing my point. Why shouldn't Joe be able to incorporate a text file or a spreadsheet or a code stub into a pile? Not by pasting them to a card."
Aidan was still struggling. "You mean that a spreadsheet could be a card?"
"Not exactly. A card is a plain ASCII file created in a simple editor we built into the product. Its this card metaphor that's confusing you. Think of labels instead. Suppose you could create an object like a word-processing file or a spreadsheet in another application, then stick a label on it."
"You mean a label saying something like, 'This object is part of pile 65.'"
"Now you've got it, but it would say something more like, 'This object is card 196 in pile 65.'"
"What a wild idea." He thought about it for a while. "Its got a certain beauty to it. But it sounds very difficult. These are applications from all different people. They won't all be equally helpful in supporting this. Wouldn't you need access to the WordStar code, for example, in order to place a label on a WordStar file? I think you're seeking a level of integration that the environment won't support."
"Well, I'm going to play with it."
He kissed his sister on the forehead again. Ewas hadn't come down yet when he got into the Jeep and set out for New York City.
After visiting another manufacturing client in Nassau County, Aidan drove to his brother's neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He parked in a commercial garage nearby and using the key he still had, let himself into the place where he had lived with Liam for two years.
The apartment had not changed much, though he was sure Liam had more money than he and Deirdre did. Liam had closets of expensive suits, but he treated his place as if it were a temporary billet on the way to something better. With the exception of a new desk in Liam's bedroom, the furniture was the same stuff that had been decaying five years before.
He decided not to go to Liam's office; it was already after four, and he was tired. He called his brother and then stretched out on the bed, still wondering about Ewas' verdict on him.
He woke two hours later when the apartment door banged. He heard Liam say, "He's probably sleeping," and then a familiar, liquid voice calling him: "Sleepyhead! Oh, sleepyhead!"
He burst from the bedroom and hugged Darcy, then held her at arms length so he could see her. She was as thin as five years before, and looked slightly older: less of a glow on her skin, a few lines in her face. She must be about twenty-nine, Aidan thought. He hugged and kissed her again until Aidan got jealous and said, "That's enough now. Break it up."
"He's not even wearing pants," Darcy said, laughing beneath the words (He's not even wearing [laugh] pants) in that way he had missed. "Yeah, go get dressed, what's the matter with you," Liam said, and Aidan, embarrassed, ran for the bedroom.
They went for dinner at the Golden Luck restaurant a few blocks away and while Liam was making a phone call, Aidan asked if they were seeing each other.
"God, no," Darcy said. "My divorce just came through a month ago. I've sworn off men for a little while. I'm finding out if Liam can be friends with me--he never was before."
He invited her out to Montauk and she accepted on the spot, so that Liam came back to the table to discover a conspiracy in full bloom between his younger brother and former girlfriend. They teased him a little while, and he got irritated, which satisfied them both no end. Finally, Aidan said, "Darcy is coming back to Montauk with me--sorry, Jones."
"Don't call me that." But Aidan knew Liam had no fear his brother would do anything to hurt him. Liam relaxed and ordered another round of Tsing Tao for the table. Darcy asked after their sister, and Aidan explained that she called herself by her middle name, Deirdre, now.
"Jones failed to tell me that."
"Don't call me Jones," Liam said. "To me she'll always be Jane--strange Jane."
At nine o'clock Darcy left and Liam said: "I've been approached by a guy from Galacticorp who's interested in IdeaPile."
Liam was looking at him intently, and had lost all ease and humor (not that he ever had much). Aidan had been so focused on Darcy that he looked at his brother, whom he had not seen since Christmas, for the first time. Liam's black hair seemed to be thinning almost imperceptibly away from his forehead. My brother looks tired and frustrated, Aidan thought.
Aidan had a trusting soul but he had learned by experience that one had to be careful with Liam. A mystery, which he set aside to think about later, was why his brother was involved in an approach from the software monolith at all.
Still, it was an appealing idea that they might continue to sell IdeaPile themselves, especially the corporate version, while Galacticorp bundled the entry level version with the operating system or with its word processor. "What do they want?"
"The guy wants to talk to you. He says he would offer one hundred thousand dollars to license the product. I've heard that every discussion starts with a hundred thou on the table, no matter what the target. You can certainly do much better than that if you negotiate hard."
The target, Aidan thought. He reviewed everything in his mind he had heard about Galacticorp: that they licensed your product until they had reverse-engineered it; then they canceled the license and distributed their own version. Seven years before, they had been another tiny software company, with a version of Basic, an adventure game and a few other products. They had since leveraged the operating system to almost complete domination of the software world. Aidan had heard that if you received 1,000 Galacticorp stock options in 1981, you were a millionaire today.
"I'm not sure I like the thought the Galactic Overlord is interested in us."
"My friend says he heard about you personally through that write-up in P.C. Magazine last December."
Now the Galacticorp guy is his friend, Aidan thought.
"Will you see him?"
"Yes, I want to hear what he has to say."
"Good," Liam said, "because he's dropping by the office tomorrow."
Liam went off to one of his late night meetings with Rick Bauer, his attorney. Aidan went back to the apartment and called Deirdre. His sister was absent-minded and he could hear her typing.
"Thing, what's the name of that lawyer on CompuServe, the one all the computer consultants are going to?"
"I don't remember, Jonathan something. Wait, let me log on." She clicked away and found the man's name and phone number in a file on the law forum. As he remembered, the attorney was located in Manhattan. "Why do you want to know?"
"Something I can't trust Rick Bauer for. I'll let you know tomorrow." Deirdre wasn't listening; she might code until three or four in the morning if the problem really interested her.
It was after ten but he called the number anyway and was surprised when the lawyer answered.
"What are you doing at work this late?" Liam asked the stranger, who replied as if they were old friends, "Writing a brief I have to file tomorrow, damn it."
Liam explained why he was calling and Jonathan said, "I've seen this before. Its not good news. Once you're on the Galactic Overlord's radar screen, he doesn't give up." Liam arranged to meet him at his office at eight o'clock the next morning.
He brought bagels and coffee up to the modest office on lower Broadway near Wall Street. A mustached, stoop-shouldered, balding man of about thirty-three admitted him. "Just move in?" Aidan asked, looking at the inexpensive desk and chairs, the lack of art on the walls.
"About six months ago, actually." Jonathan had already had breakfast but accepted a cup of coffee and a bagel. They chatted for a few minutes about Jonathan's background; Aidan decided the lawyer was easy to talk to, and obviously enjoyed working with software people.
"I use your product," Jonathan said, and on the P.C. on a cart behind his desk he demonstrated a pile of cards each of which described a computer law case.
Jonathan said: "I have a client who wrote some utilities that did some stuff Galactic OS doesn't do. The G.O. decided he wanted my client's software in the OS. We checked around and everyone told us that if you license software to Galacticorp, they develop their own and then drop the license."
"I heard that, but what's the choice? If you refuse, what happens?"
"They develop their own and kill you, without having licensed yours. The Galactic Overlord carries a big stick."
Aidan knew that if Galacticorp's word processor or office suite contained all of IdeaPile's functionality, he and Deirdre would have nothing left to sell.
"So what do I do?"
"I have two answers to that question."
"Answer number one: You tell the G.O. to go fuck himself, and you sell your product just as hard as you can until Galacticorp releases its 'IdeaPile' killer. By that time, in a secret effort taking place in the back room, you've developed something else Galacticorp doesn't have, and you sell the shit out of that until you get on the G.O.'s radar screen again. That's where my personal sympathies lie."
"What's answer number two?" Aidan felt somewhat helpless. Perhaps Deirdre had another idea up her sleeve; maybe this business of labels instead of cards was the secret product.
"You sell. You don't license, you sell the product or your company to Galacticorp, lock stock and barrel. That's what my client did, and they paid him six hundred thousand dollars. And all he had was some utilities. I suspect you could get more for IdeaPile."
It was time to walk a few blocks up Broadway to Liam's office. "How much do I owe you?"
"First consult is free," Jonathan said.
"All right. I'll call you when we decide what we're doing. This has been very helpful."
Broadway was crowded, the air was stifling and full of exhaust fumes. You only noticed how bad New York smelled when you visited as rarely as Aidan did. Walking, he wondered if this would pass like a bad dream or if such mundane events really signaled the end of a lifestyle he had enjoyed for five years. He supposed if the money was good enough, he'd get over it, but he wasn't sure Deirdre would.
Molloy Data had expanded substantially from the tiny room with two desks Aidan remembered from midtown. Liam had a floor of five thousand square feet. He still favored cheap furniture and carpeting, but he had built himself a nice office and conference room situated near reception, so that he could bring clients in without showing them the rest of the facility.
He seemed to have forty or fifty employees, most of them recruiters. In the most forgotten corner of the space, Aidan saw a few tousle-headed types in casual clothing, throwing a nerf football around: developers. When Liam introduced him, one of them said, "You're the IdeaPile guy? That software rocks, man."
They went back to Liam's office and Aidan asked why he had developers working for him. His contract programming employees--Aidan had been the first one--never saw the inside of the Molloy office; they sat at client sites.
"I'm cherry-picking the best of the contractors," Liam said, nervously spinning a letter opener on his desk blotter. "I want to start a software development firm and convince my contract programming clients to out-source work to me."
"Do you have any projects?"
"Not yet," Liam said, spinning the letter opener, "but I will."
The Galacticorp guy, Tom Truant, was so well-groomed and expensive-looking that he made Aidan ashamed of his wrinkled chinos and Docksiders. Tom was in his mid-thirties, with an elegant streak of premature grey in his dark hair. He was tanned and wasn't any kind of animal Aidan had met before: he wasn't an aggressive New York business animal like Liam, nor was he a known kind of software animal. Aidan later figured out that Tom was a California business animal, like the New York kind but a bit more easy-going and softer in manner.
Aidan asked what job Tom did for Galacticorp and he replied that he was their New York City client partner. Aidan had never heard the title before. It seemed that Tom was a sort of sales and client relations guy, working with New York banks and brokerages as they spent millions on Galacticorp software. Aidan had a dim vision of huge creatures in a swamp, sucking up tons of vegetation at a snort. He compared this with the effort involved in assembling three hundred thousand in revenue one license at a time. He sighed.
Truant explained that part of his job was to spot partners for Galacticorp. Much of the time he sent stuff up the tree to Galactic headquarters, but sometimes he got a phone call directly from the G.O. This was one of those cases. "He read about you guys in P.C. Magazine last winter. Then he played with the software and loved it."
"We never sold an IdeaPile license to the G.O.," Aidan said. "I would remember. In fact, I don't remember anyone at Galacticorp buying a license."
He couldn't tell if Truant was more amused at his naivete or embarrassed. "We don't buy software in the G.O.'s name," he said. "We got it another way."
"How do you know my brother?"
"His attorney, Rick Bauer, is a college friend of mine."
Truant offered him $100,000.00 for an exclusive license to IdeaPile. That meant that he and Deirdre couldn't continue to sell any version of it themselves.
Aidan wondered if he should retain Jonathan and tell Truant to talk only to him, but he was too curious and impatient. He said, "I've been told not to license anything to Galacticorp but only to sell it."
"That is possible."
"What kind of an offer would you make us for ownership of IdeaPile?"
"I'd have to consider that," Truant said, "and then I'd need more information. I'd probably want to visit you, and get some more information about sales."
"All right," said Aidan. He felt listless; the short conversation had unnerved him. He exchanged phone numbers with Truant and agreed to talk in a day or so.
Liam seemed wildly interested and wanted every detail of the conversation. He made Aidan go over it with him twice, and kept asking for nuances of Truant's wording which Aidan hadn't even observed. Aidan figured out his brother was jealous; he wished he were the one haggling with Galacticorp.
"If you sell them IdeaPile, I'd like you to consider an idea. Come back to work for me, lead the software development team and help me grow the business. There's no reason why we couldn't be integrators for Galacticorp. We could do consulting gigs setting up IdeaPile at financial companies. Who better to hire than the guy who created the product?"
"Would we set it up as a separate company from Molloy, and would you give me stock in it?"
"It already is a separate company, and we'd work something out."
"There's only one problem: I don't want to work in New York." And I wouldn't work for you again.
Liam's response was an irritated swing of his shoulders. "Then why waste my time asking questions?"
In order to get away to meet Jonathan, Aidan had to tell his brother he was engaging an attorney. Liam was upset he wouldn't use Rick Bauer.
"Rick is a friend of Truant's."
"So? Rick is a good lawyer. He could represent you against a friend." But Liam knew he was being outrageous and didn't push it.
Aidan went back to Jonathan's office. "I called a few people," the lawyer said, "and I got you some information. I've turned up situations in which Galacticorp paid up to two million dollars for a small product like yours. I may be able to get hold of a couple of the contracts so I can see what kind of terms we might get."
Aidan thanked him and went back to spend the night at Liam's.
In the morning, he picked up Darcy at her West Side apartment. She was dressed in jeans and a windbreaker and carrying a large blue duffel bag.
On the way out, after deciding not to, he told her what Ewas had said about him, and asked her: "Do you think I'm gay?"
"Definitely," she said. "You're too sweet and gentle to be heterosexual. And too pretty."
"You're laughing at me." And she was.
He couldn't let it go. "Why do you think you and I never got together? Liam dated an ex-girlfriend of mine. We like each other and there were plenty of times you broke up with Liam."
"You're not Liam and neither am I. Just because he can do something vile doesn't mean we can."
"Forget Liam. If he didn't exist and you and I met, would we go out?"
Darcy was serious now, and hesitating.
"You don't think so," he said, "but why not?"
"I can't explain it. First, you're asking me an impossible question, like saying, 'If antigravity buffers were installed in cars, would you drive 1000 miles an hour?' How can I know what I'd think if I met you and Liam didn't exist? Second, every man I've ever been with has been abusive to me, and you're not like that. Do I seek them out? I don't want to think too far down those lines right now. Finally," and she almost sounded angry, "you talk too much. The first time I met Liam, he kissed me. He didn't ask me if I would consider going out with him."
"I'm sorry if I'm making you uneasy."
They got to the house in early afternoon. Ewas was out marketing; Deirdre took Darcy down to the beach. Aidan fell asleep on the living room couch, waking when Ewas came in. He told her about Galacticorp and saw her face shut up so as to become unreadable. "What do you want to do?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"Have you told Deirdre?"
"Suppose they paid us 1.5 million," Ewas said. "A big chunk of taxes would come out of that. It would net to under one million. Still, even with a conservative investment approach--mostly mutual funds, not stocks--we could draw out eighty to ninety thousand a year if we wanted. More than enough to live on, especially with my income added to it."
"So we wouldn't have to work for a living?"
"Can you imagine Deirdre not working? Your sister's always working," Ewas said, making him feel ashamed.
Darcy and Deirdre came back. Ewas had met Darcy just once before, right after her marriage, and had no use for her, but displayed the forced cordiality she showed all Deirdre's friends. It was an awkward situation, as they clearly had to have a meeting, and Darcy was in the way. Deirdre had figured out that something was amiss with Ewas and Aidan, and kept asking what was going on. Finally, even Darcy became aware that there was something the others needed to discuss, and she offered to go for a walk. Aidan said, "There's no reason you shouldn't be here," and Deirdre agreed. Darcy sat on the couch, her long legs stretched out, while the three of them pulled chairs up around the glass coffee table. Aidan briefed Deirdre on the day's events, and then sat immobile for minutes, looking at Deirdre as she thought. The others' eyes were also on her: Darcy's blue eyes and Ewas' hazel eyes.
Finally Deirdre said, "Aidan must make the decision."
Aidan didn't want the responsibility. "We have to decide this together. Why are you saying its up to me?"
"I just write code," Deirdre said. "You sell it. You're the guy who has to worry about Galacticorp if we go on."
"We both do. We all do."
"Its not the same."
Darcy was agitated and Deirdre, who seemed unusually calm, invited her to speak.
"Liam approached you with this?"
Darcy was obviously unsettled by this information: Liam hadn't told her about it, but he told her so little about his business. "But what's in it for him?"
"He asked me if I'd come back and work for him," Aidan said, and all three women were startled. Ewas said very reproachfully, "You didn't tell me that."
"It didn't seem important."
"Amazing what the Molloy men find important," Darcy said, and Deirdre laughed, then asked, "Did he say anything about me?"
"Nothing....I said no. I'm not going to live in the city or work for Liam again."
"If we sold IdeaPile, would we go to work for Galacticorp?" Deirdre asked.
"I didn't think to ask Truant that, but Jonathan said that consulting contracts for some period of time are possible."
Deirdre was grave. "It wouldn't be the same, though, would it?"
"What's that, Thing?"
"Figuring out how to import graphics, or put a label on a WordStar file. If IdeaPile wasn't ours."
"Well," Aidan said, stretching. He hated to talk about one thing for too long. He was like Liam in that way. "There's no decision to be made tonight. We'll invite Truant out here and we'll see what kind of offer he makes."
He kissed all three women goodnight, slyly kissing Darcy last so he could carry her perfume away on his face. He lay in bed thinking about her, and about what Ewas had said, and his conversation with Darcy about it. He touched himself and imagined that Darcy entered unbidden and climbed into bed with him; then he thought about going out to the living room, where Darcy was bunked on the couch under another of Ewas' quilts, and leaning over her and kissing her. Now he was almost asleep, and he thought of Liam, Darcy, Ewas, Deirdre and himself as an idea pile. When you created the cards, you could put them up on the screen and draw lines to connect them. You could erase and redraw those lines any way you wanted, but Aidan never changed the connections in his own idea piles, once drawn. Walking out to Darcy now would involve rearranging everyone's order in the pile, and he knew he would not do it. He was a body at rest and would remain at rest.
Darcy stayed three days, during which she went walking in the back woods with Aidan and ran on the beach with Deirdre and Ewas. In the late afternoon, she swam, then sunned herself in a lime-green one-piece bathing suit beside Aidan, who did not go in the surf, while the two other women jumped and played in the waves like a pair of sea otters. Aidan still imagined kissing her as she lay a foot from him in the sand, but the same inertia prevented him, and besides, he had thought about it for so long the act could not be spontaneous. Finally he relinquished it and concentrated on the conversation, which mainly concerned Liam as a human being and as a possible friend to Darcy. He concluded that Darcy was still in love with Liam and subjecting him to some kind of test.
After dinner, they put her on the train to New York City and were silent for a while, at a loss without Darcy as a buffer to their thoughts about Galacticorp. Aidan had put off calling Truant, and half-hoped that if he procrastinated long enough Galacticorp would forget about them, but when they returned to the house, there was a message from Truant asking if he could come out to see them on Saturday.
Truant arrived in his BMW just before lunch and a moment later, as Aidan chatted with him in the driveway, Liam and Rick Bauer pulled up in the former's old Mercedes. For the first time, Aidan saw the extent to which he had lost control of the situation: Liam had never before shown up at the house without calling ahead. He didn't call, Aidan thought, because I wouldn't have let him come. He saw Ewas looking out the bay window, ready to rush out and throw all four men to the ground. Deirdre came down the steps bewildered and shook hands with everybody. During the general chatter, he was able to whisper to Deirdre that he hadn't invited Liam and Rick.
First they sat around in the living room for an hour. Aidan got the little spiral bound notebook in which he wrote the monthly results and read off some numbers, then answered questions about their clients and future marketing plans. He told Truant about Idea Engine and saw Deirdre's astonishment: he had forgotten to mention the name change to her. He belatedly remembered that Jonathan had faxed him a nondisclosure agreement for Truant to sign. He hadn't thought of it because everything he told Truant, he would have told any stranger who expressed interest in IdeaPile.
Aidan thought of Deirdre's laughter. When he was in his bedroom making phone calls he often heard Deirdre giggling to herself in the study. When he went to find out what was funny, it was always something different: an email she'd received, or a tyro's coding error she'd made through inattention.
Truant asked Aidan if they could speak alone. They walked outside and sat on the steps and Truant made him an offer of three hundred thousand dollars for IdeaPile. Aidan told him he could have it for two point four million. He had picked this as being the number to demand in order to get two million dollars. He also asked for two year consulting contracts for himself and Deirdre at one hundred thousand a year apiece.
Truant said that IdeaPile wasn't worth that much. A demand of two point four was so far off the radar screen that he couldn't even counter it; would Aidan care to state another number? "No," Aidan said, "because then I'd be negotiating against myself"---a line of dialogue Jonathan had suggested to him.
Truant said that he'd think it over and call Aidan. He seemed annoyed, and got in his BMW and drove off; Liam, Rick and Deirdre were all shocked when Aidan came back and said Truant had gone. Liam and Rick wanted to review the position with Aidan, and prompt him on how to go forward in the negotiation; Aidan was again made extremely uneasy by his brother's interest. He turned away rudely, went upstairs, and knocked on the bedroom door. Ewas opened and looked at him guardedly. "Want to go fishing?" Aidan asked.
They took the surf rods and loaded up the Jeep. Liam and Rick weren't dressed in clothes they'd care to wear on the beach; they left to pay a visit to Alanna Molloy. Ewas drove eastward on the sand, following slowly in the tracks of other vehicles, until they spotted a cloud of terns screaming and diving. Bluefish chopped up baitfish; terns ate the remnants; the presence of terns signaled fishermen to catch bluefish. Now there's an idea pile, Aidan thought.
There was already one other truck there. Ewas wore waders and plunged in up to her chest; Aidan feared the surf and wore shorts, because he wouldn't go deeper than ankle depth anyway. Most of the time he fished from the dry sand, though he was less likely to catch fish and the other fishermen thought he was a rank amateur. They were used to Ewas and accepted her as a peer; you could be as strange as you wanted out here and people would still accept you if you had a familiar handle by which they could get hold of you, like surf-fishing. Ewas also hunted deer with the locals in season. Aidan and Deirdre had no handle.
Today the run was close in to shore and Aidan beached one five-pound bluefish almost immediately. He ran it up onto the sand and it writhed. Deirdre came to him with the pliers; she wouldn't fish, but she'd help. He stepped on the magnificent dying fish, leaned over and wrenched the silver lure from its jaw. He picked it up carefully by the tail and dropped it in the sack in the back of the Jeep. Ewas had two fish on the beach and was fighting another. Then the birds dispersed and the run ended; he carried one of Ewas' fish while she held the other two, walking back to the Jeep grimly happy, a huntress with her prey.
They grilled the fish with lemon and butter on the deck outside the women's bedroom. On the side of the grill were vegetables for Deirdre: mushrooms, red and green peppers. Everyone drank a few beers and when Aidan was feeling relaxed, Ewas said, "Well? What's the verdict?" She was looking at the sunset over the highway, not at him.
Ewas sat cross-legged on a lounge chair and Deirdre was stretched out with her head in Ewas' lap. Aidan heard his sleepy sister make a protesting noise, as if to say, why are you bringing this up now? But he knew Ewas wouldn't let it drop.
"If we can get a price of one point five million or more, I think we should sell."
"What will you do then?"
"I asked for consulting contracts for Deirdre and me for two years after."
"That doesn't seem like a lot for the creator of IdeaPile." Not creators, he noted.
"No? It seemed like a lot of money to me."
"I'm not sure I want to work for Galacticorp," Deirdre said.
"Then you should have said something earlier." Aidan knew he sounded like Liam.
"You didn't ask me."
Aidan retreated: there was still no decision to be made; one point five million was not on the table.
Two days later, Truant called to offer seven hundred thousand. Aidan now knew that they really would sell IdeaPile to Galacticorp and felt frightened. He dreamed of a panicked horse plunging in mud, something he had once seen at Rita's Stables out at the Point. He consulted with Jonathan and with Ewas separately, then got them on the phone together. Deirdre withdrew into her study and wrote code all day.
Aidan and Truant got stuck on some details of the noncompete clause in the consulting agreements. A day or two went by and Aidan again thought the deal would not happen. Then he took an afternoon nap one day and was awakened by the G.O. himself, calling on a cellular phone. The connection was terrible; the G.O faded out, came back sounding like a computer-generated voice, then returned to normal. This happened several times; the effect was especially eerie because Aidan talked to him for a few moments before waking up completely.
The G.O. said how much he liked IdeaPile and that he was looking forward to welcoming them and their product into the Galacticorp family. He said he'd heard that there were some sticky last minute issues with the noncompete clause; he hoped they didn't get in the way of the deal. He had been a coder himself---that first version of Basic had been his work---and he much preferred to do business on a word and a handshake. But those pesky lawyers had educated him that if you bought something without a strong noncompete, you weren't really buying anything at all. "Its like buying a block of ice, and then watching it melt away in the sun," the G.O. said. "Are you with me?" Aidan said he understood. "Good," said the G.O., as if they had agreed to something. "I'll have Tom Truant call you." He started the sentence sounding like a person, but "Truant" boomed out in a machine voice: "I'll have TOM TRUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAANNNNNNTTT call you."
Truant called the next day sounding awed that the G.O. had phoned Aidan. ("That's probably an act," Jonathan said later.) They worked out the noncompete details, but Truant was still offering only nine hundred thousand dollars. Aidan demanded one point eight and Truant, sounding irritated, said, "You're dragging this out too much, Aidan."
"This is the end game," Jonathan said. "Now come the antics. Be prepared for temper tantrums. Truant may walk away from the table. He may play bad cop and bring in someone else to be the good cop."
Aidan half expected to get another phone call from the G.O. but instead Liam called to say that Truant was threatening to kill the deal. Aidan didn't believe him but when Truant failed to return two phone calls in twenty-four hours, Aidan started to sweat. He thought again of the plunging horse and wasn't sure which would now be the bigger disaster, selling IdeaPile or not selling it.
"Your brother is the good cop," Jonathan said. "I would advise you to cut him out of the loop and sit tight. I think Truant will call you."
"What if he doesn't?" Aidan decided he couldn't take the chance. He called Liam, who said that if Aidan would accept one point one million, the deal would close today. Aidan said he would, and went to take a shower, feeling entirely limp. He sprang dripping to answer the phone: it was Truant, completely cordial, saying he was glad they had a deal. Aidan gave him Jonathan's name and phone number and asked Truant to deal with him on the contract.
He summoned Ewas into Deirdre's study. He told them he'd made the deal and Deirdre started to cry. Ewas held her and looked at Aidan, who understood that he should leave.
He went back to his room and called Jonathan. When he thanked him for all his help, the attorney sounded bitter:
"'Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous', that's me."
Galacticorp sold IdeaPile as a stand-alone product for less than a year, then incorporated its features into GalactiWord. At first, the word processing package included a separate IdeaPile manual; later, a very short chapter in the main manual described some of IdeaPile's features. Before two years had elapsed, you couldn't find any reference to IdeaPile in the GalactiWord documentation or help files. Galacticorp never deleted the IdeaPile code from the product; users who knew it existed, and remembered which obscure submenu launched it, continued to be able to use it.