" Back in the '80's, databases---Dbase was the first I ever used---became the main way businesses stored and manipulated their information. They gave you the ability to create tables of data, composed of rows and columns, which related to each other through the use of unique identifiers.
"The problem is, it has always been difficult to put the real world into rows and columns. In order to park your car in a database, fancifully speaking, you would have to disassemble it into its component parts and place them in drawers every night, then reassemble them in the morning when you wanted to drive to work. Today, when you migrate your existing information into a database preparatory to putting it on the Web, you are doing the same thing. Of course, Starthrower talks to databases too---we just don't require you to put your data there.
"Starthrower's typical customer is a company which says, 'We have 50,000 pages of Framemaker documents and a 100,000 record Informix database. We want to tap both types of data in a single application, and present the results to be viewed in a Web browser.' And that's exactly what we do.
"You use Starthrower to build applications which know where your data lives---anywhere on your network or on the Internet---and which also know how you want it presented. We get the data and convert it to a Web page at the moment your user requests it. You don't need to maintain two copies of your information---one in its original format, and one for the Web; these would inevitably get out of synch with one another. You maintain the original, and Starthrower gets it and converts it to a Web page just at the opportune moment.
"Many of our competitors say, 'We can do exactly what Starthrower does---provided you migrate your data to Sybase.' That's exactly what we spare you from doing---disassembling the car.
"Starthrower solves the low end of the data warehousing problem as well, by allowing you to integrate multiple disparate data sources into a single application, viewed with the universal client: the Web browser.
"Starthrower divorces content from presentation. A single collection of back-end data can be presented in completely unlike ways, dependent on the user's choice, or even his identity or the location he is coming from.
"I'm going to demonstrate a Starthrower application we implemented for a publishing company. They had websites for each of several magazines, and each site had a unique layout: different fonts, graphics, backgrounds. They wanted these sites, all music magazines, to share a single calendar of concert dates, but to present them customized to the look and feel of each magazine.
"OK, I'm bringing up Netscape and pointing it at the Swat Magazine website. Here is a link to a concert calendar---here's the calendar itself with the unique Swat lettering and logo. Now I'll open a second browser window and head over to Teem Magazine---here's the same information, but notice how the background, layout, illustrations and fonts, even the banner ads, are totally different.
"Here the calendar is again, in Steel Fan magazine. And here is the plain text source of the calendar: Starthrower handled all the details of presenting the same information differently to readers clicking through from three websites.
"Here, viewed in an editor, is the template which mediated the presentation of the calendar; I'm pointing to the English-like commands which you use to determine the look of the data as presented. Here is the same template viewed in our Interactive Development Environment....note how you can drag and drop objects from the palette to create your template.
"Clients have used Starthrower to solve numerous other problems---I don't have time to demonstrate more, but to give you a few quick examples, it has been used by law firms in trial management systems linking deposition and trial transcripts; financial systems linking annual reports with historical data in Sybase; a huge computer hardware customer support site containing technical documentation and logs of individual customer complaints. So if you approach me and say that you have a particle tracking system from which you want to present one set of users a view of the particle's velocity while another group looks at its location, I'll tell you that you can end the uncertainty with Starthrower. Thank you."
David Harper, an investment banker whom Aidan had met through his brother Liam, came up and said, "I enjoyed your little reference to Heisenberg."
"I just threw that in," Aidan said. "No-one else got it apparently." It was an off day; he thought his presentation had rambled confusingly. He packed up his laptop and followed Harper through the crowd to the hotel coffeeshop.
Harper was a large, pleasant man from Iowa, with brown hair and a wide, friendly face. "Starthrower is a very interesting product," he said. "I'd like to know what your plans are for the future."
"Oh, we're just making it up as we go along," Aidan said, immediately regretful because he knew it was not safe to talk to investment bankers this way. But Harper laughed.
"Seriously, I think we're on track to do four or five million this year."
"Doubled from last year--that's great. Can you keep it up?"
"I think we can get as large as we want to. Deirdre and I just don't know how big we want to be."
"Ever think about a public offering?"
"Don't you think we're too small?"
"Oh, certainly. You would need a run rate of twenty million. With a little assistance, I think you could be there in two years or so. I could put you together with some people who could help."
"I'll think about it."
Aidan walked to the St. Regis hotel to meet his girlfriend, Ilana Morgan, a biologist who was studying fox populations not far from his home in Montauk. He had always admired the foxes he saw in Hither Hills park. Ilana told him they mated for life. He took her to eat curried goat at Jezebel's, and then to an Irish National Theater production of Waiting for Godot, the second Beckett play they had attended in a three-week festival. "Think, pig," Aidan said afterwards, laughing, as they hailed a cab. "Make love to me, pig," said Ilana, an olive-skinned woman of about thirty, with dark, close-cropped hair, a few inches shorter than Aidan. In the hotel, her olive skin contrasted with his pale skin. She glistened in the lamplight; the world was for a moment no larger than the bed.
Driving into Montauk the next morning, Aidan spotted a young dead fox on the road's shoulder. He considered not saying anything, but had already begun to pull the jeep over. Ilana ran from the car as soon as he stopped. "Damn, its one of mine." She picked it up by the tail and carried it towards the car; Aidan found a plastic garbage bag in which Ilana placed it. "I can check the stomach contents."
"Ewas will ask you for some of the fur to make trout flies."
"She can have it when I'm done."
He dropped her at the biological station near Napeague Harbor and went home. Deirdre poked her owlish face out of her study to ask about the play.
"I hear your voice telling me, 'Sell, pig.'"
""Funny, because I've imagined you ordering me to 'Code, pig'."
"I hear you both shouting, 'Bake, pig'," Ewas said from the kitchen, where she was preparing their week's supply of blueberry muffins. Aidan went into the kitchen, poured himself a tall glass of orange juice, and stayed to chat with his sister's companion of fifteen years. Hawk-faced blonde Ewas had recently sold off much of her gun collection and gotten rid of the huge cabinet which had stood for years in the corner of the bedroom. The several handguns she had kept were locked in a metal box at the top of her closet. She had also kept her hunting rifle. Almost every fall, she got a deer in Hither Hills State Park. Aidan relished the venison. Deirdre was a vegetarian.
As she sold her guns, Ewas became much more involved with NRA. She purchased a lifetime membership and became a frequent speaker for the organization. She had recently campaigned for a Nassau County congressman who had stood up against gun control, but he had been defeated by the wife of one of the Long Island Railroad massacre victims.
Ewas managed all their money. He told her about Harper's suggestion. She dried her hands and asked, "Have you said anything to Deirdre?"
"I will, but I don't take it seriously."
On a whim, he borrowed Ewas' new hunter green Jeep--his red one was five years old--and drove to the Starthrower office in town. It was a former real estate brokerage, located between the bank and the Lobster Pot restaurant. As he feared, the whole group was eating an extended lunch at the large folding table in the center of the project room.
"Don't you guys get any work done when I'm not here?"
"Oh, we've been working hard," young Kevin Maloney said in his sarcastic, Upper East Side tone. "We've solved for the Kevin Bacon number of more than ten obscure actresses. It only took an hour."
"Giddyap," said tall, disheveled Alden Siegel, making a pistol shape with his hand.
Aidan spent the rest of the afternoon calling clients, including companies in Japan and Singapore.
He woke the next morning and raised the bedroom shade to confront a gray sky through a pane speckled with raindrops. He thought: this isn't fun any more. There is nothing wrong in particular. I know how to do this. I'm just not sure I want to do it at this altitude. It wouldn't take very much to dislodge me.
Over breakfast, he requested a family meeting, and when he had everyone's attention, he asked, "What does the future hold?"
"I'm in no mood for metaphysics," said Ewas, whose moods often tracked the weather. Outside the rain was lashing the dunes.
"Its a metaphysical kind of day, isn't it?" Deirdre asked.
Lets go, Aidan thought. They do not move.
He continued: "Do we stay small? Grow large? How large? Should we hire a VP of operations to run the business? Should I go on the road more? Should we hire ten programmers, or fire the ones we have?"
"I'm not in a hurry to get big," Deirdre said. "Five million in revenue is a dizzying number."
Ewas added, "On this revenue, you should be able to pay yourselves three or four hundred thousand total this year, while banking almost as much. Your liquid assets, cash, mutual funds and stocks, stand at about 2.5 million, so we could actually get it up over three this year."
Deirdre said, "What do you want, Aidan?"
"I don't know. I keep going back and forth. Grow big, stay small. I'm afraid of running a much larger operation. You'd have to bring in experienced managers and give them stock. They'd probably push to move the operation into New York City or at least Nassau."
"You said 'you'," Ewas said.
"You said, 'You'd have to bring in experienced managers.'"
"I meant 'we'. We, you, I, what does it matter? On the other hand, if we stay small, sooner or later Galacticorp or someone else will try to kill us, just like last time."
"We'd be more visible a target at twenty million," Deirdre said, "and if we were public, an unfriendly takeover would be possible."
"On the other hand, if we were worth fifteen or twenty million dollars, personally, we'd be protected against anybody. We could do whatever we wanted the rest of our lives."
"I feel that way with two and a half," Deirdre said.
On impulse, he drove to his mother's instead of going right to the office. She put a kettle on and they sat in the huge, airy kitchen of his childhood home. He had always thought Alana was beautiful, but he had to acknowledge that she was now a ruin: the too-tight face from plastic surgery, the stiff hair colored a scarlet unknown in nature, and when she was drunk, the mis-applied lipstick. While they were waiting for the tea, she poured a tumbler-full of vodka. "Mother," he said, "isn't it a bit early...." "Its my house," Alana replied, and he saw she would cry if he pursued it. They spoke instead about his brother and sister. "I'm angry with Liam," Alana said. "I asked about Darcy and he was rude to me. I can't tolerate rudeness in a person. He said I'm 'invasive'. What does that mean?"
"What about Darcy?"
"He's not looking after her. Darcy is lonely. He should do something about it. He neglects her."
Aidan got up and made the tea. His mother had a hundred colorful boxes of teea-bags and he chose Celestial Green Gunpowder, for its name alone, as he could not remember what it tasted like. On the counter, he noticed the porcelain ballerina doll which had stood there since he was ten. Alana added: "I don't understand why they don't have children." She left her cup untouched and sipped the vodka instead. Aidan began to talk about Deirdre.
"Oh," said Alana, "after all these years, its hard for me to spend time with her, because she's so disappointed in me. If we talk about anything other than the weather, we fight."
"She feels you never accepted Victoria."
"I can't lie to her about it, can I? I'm not an actress. I can't pretend."
But you have always been the queen of the Drama Society, Aidan thought. Always a performance. You're like a woman who has played the same character on a soap for thirty years. No-one knows who you really are; I'm sure I don't. He realized Alana reminded him of the actress he had seen the week before in Beckett's Happy Days; he imagined her up to her neck in sand, proclaiming, "Today will have been another happy day." Except she had no Will to crawl around the base of her mound. He wondered if Beckett was right that love outlasts beauty and even understanding, a dumb force when there is nothing else left. If that is so, it must reside in us below language. But when I look at Darcy, I imagine that love is an illusion generated by loneliness. He thought of Ilana at the exact moment his mother asked, "Are you seeing anybody?"
"I've been dating a biologist who's here in Montauk for the summer."
"When were you going to let me meet her?"
"When I know its serious."
"Is it going to be serious?"
"Lets just say she has my complete attention."
"But what does that mean?"
Restless and evasive, he discovered he was pacing the kitchen; he kissed his mother on top of the head and left.
He woke at six the next morning from an upsetting dream in which he was a hawk, soaring over a stretch of sparse woodland in Hither Hills. Another hawk was attempting to hunt in his territory. He rushed at it, got its head in his claws, but couldn't bring himself to twist it off. He flew away, and a moment later, the other bird charged him, out of the sun. He knew it would not be as merciful as he had been, imagined himself a twisted heap of feathers, and awoke.
Deirdre was already at her keyboard. Aidan turned on the coffee machine---Ewas always left it set up the night before---and brought his sister a mug along with one of Ewas' muffins.
"You seem very jumpy these days," she said.
"Just thinking a lot. Harper got my mind racing, I guess. What are you working on?"
"I've been writing some little fantasy stories, loosely based on the games we played as children. Thing and the Sand Prince."
"I'd like to see them."
"I'm not ready to show them to anyone. They're not nearly as good as Ewas' stuff."
Aidan remembered that during their games he had almost believed that he could wrap the beach around himself like a cloak.
He went out to run. The women were also runners, but he rarely went with them any more; Ewas and he always started racing each other, and it turned unpleasant.
At nine-thirty, Liam called him in the Starthrower office to say that David Harper had introduced him to Andy Greene, CEO of Fledermaus, to discuss a possible acquisition of Liam's two companies. Liam raised the idea that Greene might also buy Starthrower, to consolidate it with the Molloy companies. "Your product and our services would be an unbeatable combination."
"Last time you wanted me to sell my company," Aidan said, "I went along. I won't necessarily do that again."
"Greene is going to call you. Just tell me you'll speak to the man."
Aidan promised he would. Liam and his glittering prizes, he thought. Deirdre had gone into the city overnight. At a family meeting the next evening, the women said they were not interested. Deirdre couldn't imagine how Starthrower would fit within a consultancy, let alone one specializing in insurance.
Aidan took Ilana to dinner at Gosman's Dock. It was a clear evening; boats were returning to the channel with late winter fish, such as cod and ling. Gulls rose from pilings and flew after, screaming.
Aidan had met Ilana on the beach. Sometimes, instead of going to the office, he drove the jeep up through the woods, past his favorite pond, and to a deserted beach on the Sound. He set up a folding chair and made calls from the cellphone. His employees told callers, "He's in the northern office today." Ilana was in the woods observing her foxes on a mild March day, and came out on the beach for a break. She looked at him, made a snap decision that he was all right, and began talking to him in a friendly, unforced way. He immediately liked her, but as usual did not feel motivated to do anything about it. When she said, "Well, I'd best be going," she paused and waited a long moment for him, but he said nothing.
A few days later, Ilana met Ewas at the pond. When Ewas brought her home, Ilana smiled at Aidan as she shook his hand; both waited for the other to say they had met before. When neither did, it became their first secret.
Ilana figured out that if she wanted Aidan, she would have to make the first move, so she did.
At Gosman's, Aidan felt lonely and anxious. He remembered that Lake Montauk had been a fresh water lake until a hurricane early in the century opened it to the ocean. He hadn't really decided to say anything, when he asked: "What if we got married?"
Ilana's jaw dropped open. "What if?"
"Yes, just suppose."
"Is this a proposal?"
"I'd like it if we got married."
"Its an appealing idea."
"Is that a yes?"
"No, its an 'I'll think about this interesting idea'."
Ilana looked at her ringless hands as if imagining a diamond.
Brawny fishermen were walking to their cars in the parking lot. Aidan, walking, turned to see that Ilana had stopped and was looking at him.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing." He drove her to her rented cottage near the biology station.
"So you really want to marry me, Molloy?"
Ilana gave him a wet friendly kiss and went in.
Some weeks went by and Ilana didn't give him an answer. He brought the subject up once or twice and she said, "I'm thinking." At first Aidan wondered if she was hesitant about him. Then he imagined she was waiting for someone else to make a counter-offer. There was a side of Ilana's life he didn't know. She never said whom she had seen, or who might be waiting in North Carolina. There were phone calls from people she didn't identify and messages on the machine he wasn't to hear. He resolved to force an answer from her by July 4th.
Liam called to say that Greene was tied up and that Harper would come in his stead. Aidan agreed, only to face Deirdre' distress and Ewas' rage at a family meeting. Why arrange a meeting to discuss something they had decided not to do? Aidan insisted he owed Harper the courtesy. He realized that his heart was pounding; Ewas was looking into his pounding heart with her hawk eyes. Aidan went to bed early and thought, "I want to but I can't make Deirdre. She'd be so disappointed in me if I said I was tired."
Harper drove out in his new black BMW the next day. Ewas stayed upstairs. Deirdre came out of her den, shook hands and vanished again.
Aidan talked to Harper for an hour about sales, gross margins, competition, market penetration, and run rates. Despite the prediction of six million for '97, Harper said, only 4.5 million was really certain. Harper, dressed in a blue suit, blue button down shirt and yellow tie, took out a pad and began writing numbers down:
3 X 4.5=13.5 x .10=1.35
"Fledermaus will pay three times projected '97 revenue. You might be able to stretch it a little farther, but not much. He's got to show that the deal is a penny or two accretive. He'll take off a ten percent discount to preserve accretion, then divide the result, 12 million one hundred fifty thousand, by the Fledermaus stock price on the day of the acquisition. That established the number of shares you get."
"Its a stock swap."
"Yes. You wouldn't be an insider in Fledermaus after---your holdings would be too small. So you could get out fairly quickly, if you wanted."
"What happens to Starthrower after the sale?"
"Greene wants to fold it into Molloy Consulting to form a combined Internet consulting and product play."
"Would we work for Liam?"
"I would say probably yes. The two of you would be vice presidents, of development and marketing, most likely."
"I haven't worked for Liam or anyone else in fifteen years."
"Greene would ask you to sign a contract promising to stick around for two years."
Aidan was silent.
"Twelve million is a lot of money," Harper said.
"That it is." Aidan opened the den door and saw Deirdre. She had wheeled her desk chair to the middle of the room so she could hear better. Harper couldn't see her from the couch. She had her hands folded in her lap.
Aidan closed the door and said to Harper, "Let's take a walk." They went outside and Harper followed him towards the beach. "I'm not dressed for it," Harper said as Aidan left the pavement and began walking up the dune. "Don't worry," Aidan said. "We won't go anywhere near the water."
He took Harper to the top of the dune and they looked at the Atlantic, almost black in the afternoon light. "What do you see?" Aidan asked.
"I'm more of a Caribbean man; I go for white sand and emerald water," Harper said. "These Atlantic beaches seem stern and gray to me."
"OK, just assume its beautiful." Harper squinted his eyes and assumed a silly smile, as if humoring a child. The waves curled in a swell; dark birds floated on them, loons Aidan supposed. "If you bought it from me for twelve million and trucked it away from here, what would you have?"
"Exactly." Aidan began walking back to the house. Harper followed, asking, "So your answer is no?"
"You don't want more time to think about it?"
Harper started to unlock the BMW; he turned to Aidan and said in a voice so low it was almost a whisper: "You're doing the right thing."
In May, Ilana went back to North Carolina for a week, and Aidan felt hollow, certain that she had another man and that he wouldn't be together with her again.
Darcy Molloy and the Bauer family came out for a long-planned weekend; Rick Bauer stayed in the city with Liam, working on the Fledermaus transaction. After playing softball, Deirdre went to her den with the three small boys to make web pages, and Liam followed Darcy to the beach. It was too early in the year for anyone but Darcy to swim, but she said she was not susceptible to cold. He deliberately dropped a few feet behind her going over the dune so he could admire her. She wore a lime green one piece suit; with her long legs and graceful carriage she was a dancer again, walking onto the beach as if it were a stage. "How are things going?" he asked.
"Your brother is being a beast, but I don't want to get into that."
"You tell him, if he doesn't treat you right, I'll take you away from him." Aidan began singing, "You're going to lose that girl...."
"Why, Aidan Molloy." She took his arm, but very lightly so as to give him no expectations. When they were halfway down the beach, Darcy ran ahead and dived into the green waves. Darcy the sea otter.
Afterwards, they sat on the beach together and he sensed a certain flirtatiousness in his sister-in-law that he remembered from the days before she married Liam, when it had been her standard interface to the world. He asked her what Liam had done but she refused to talk about it. He began to tell her about Ilana. After a while, he sensed Darcy had withdrawn from him, though she continued to be very pleasant in her manner. "Timing is everything," he thought.
Ilana returned from North Carolina acting like someone who had made a decision. He met her at the train station and, though she kissed him assertively, Aidan noticed that her manner was forced and that she couldn't meet his eye. In his car, she took off her denim jacket and was wearing a sleeveless blouse underneath; he saw a bruise on her shoulder which he imagined was a bite mark, and he was certain that he was seeing the traces of another man, on her body and in her behavior. He pulled the car over at the lookout over Hither Hills; in the late afternoon sun, his woods, the nameless pond, Napeague Harbor and Long Island Sound glinted; a bird of prey, possibly an osprey, was patrolling over the railroad tracks. "What's going on?" he asked, and helplessly desired her, as her olive skin also glinted in the sun.
"I have some good news and some bad news," Ilana said. "Which do you want first?"
"The bad news."
"The bad news is that you would have to move to North Carolina."
He felt wild hope as he saw the implication. "So the good news...."
"I will marry you."
He hugged Ilana speechlessly, but lay awake that night bathed in sweat and wondering if it would be possible after all to break with fifteen years of his life.
Liam sold his two companies to Fledermaus. In early July, there was a problem, and he went off to Atlanta to confront Greene. Darcy came out again, arriving four hours late with a frightening scratch on her face. Deirdre, who had picked her up, knew something, but Alana was with them, and very drunk, so they could not talk. They all went down to the beach. Deirdre whispered, almost hissed, that he should watch Darcy, who was very upset. He sat on a blanket with Darcy, who had put on the same lime green bathing suit she had worn the month before. His mother sat on a blanket twenty feet away, staring at Darcy, whom she adored. Ewas swam, then fell asleep on a blanket, while Deirdre made calls on her cell-phone. She put the phone down, lay against Ewas' wet back and closed her eyes. Darcy sat all the while hugging her long legs and staring at the light green ocean. Aidan touched her arm but she flinched; she said something he couldn't make out. "What?" "I keep asking myself," Darcy replied, "What does Signe signify?" She made a face, halfway between a smile and a grimace.
"I'm working on notes for a performance." She slipped a little spiral-bound notebook from her floppy cloth bag. "Please look at it and tell me what you think." He reached for it but, as if not wishing to touch his hand, she dropped it in the sand at his feet. He picked it up and began looking for the page which she had folded down. "I'm going to swim now," Darcy said. She walked thigh deep into the waves, then dived. He found the page:
What does Signe signify?
Darcy is Liam's spandrel.
Liam is Darcy's digger wasp.
Frightened, he looked up to see Darcy's head pass under a large breaking wave one hundred yards out. Then he couldn't see her. He ran into the surf, calf deep, and stood calling her name. He couldn't see her. He ran back and forth in the shallow water, like an absurd sandpiper, calling her. He stood holding his breath, sure he was being foolish and waiting for her to emerge. When he still couldn't see her he ran out of the water and woke Deirdre and Ewas; they listened aghast, then dived into the surf and began to swim out. Aidan noticed his mother screaming and thrashing in the sand. He desperately wanted Deirdre's cell-phone, and ran another bird-like trajectory, from his blanket to his mother's to Deirdre's, before finding it half-buried. Deirdre had stepped on it. He called the police, then sank down, ignoring Alana. Deirdre and Ewas continued swimming and shouting, swimming and shouting, until the coast guard arrived; but they couldn't find Darcy anywhere.