Liam 1997

"My wife is in danger of becoming ridiculous," Liam said to his sister over noodles in Soho.

 Deirdre responded: "Darcy is beautiful and charming and could never be ridiculous." She turned her owl-like face up from her dish to look at him.

 I don't know how to eat this shit, Liam thought. I shouldn't have agreed to come here. "Exactly what is it you're doing tomorrow?"

 "I'm speaking to a group of young women computer science majors on 'The Woman Software Professional,'" Deirdre said, and giggled. "I get invited to do this a lot these days. I stand up in front of them and feel like I'm about eight years old. But they don't notice. What did you mean about Darcy?"

 "Darcy is in a false position." Liam chose his words carefully for his intelligent but strange sister. To his best friend, Rick Bauer, he would have said "in a bad place" or even "fucked up". "My wife was at her best when she was doing her art. You could say she peaked at about twenty-five." I wonder when I peaked? "Of course, she didn't give it up just for me. She gave it up for her first two husbands." He wound a recalcitrant noodle on the chopsticks, but it escaped. "Now she's dabbling. If she needs to do something, I keep telling her she should attack it head on. Darcy won't drill down into anything. She applied for a grant, then went into a deep depression when she didn't get it, and never tried another one. She was producing a performance art festival at a downtown church, but quit when she overheard two performers talking negatively about her---one said she was a twit with money. There were some possibilities of her producing a concert and performance series at the St. Anne's Church in Brooklyn Heights, but Darcy said, 'I don't want to do art in Brooklyn.' Doesn't that sound frivolous to you?"

 "Darcy shouldn't be on the margins--Darcy should perform."

 "Darcy is too old."

 "She's not forty yet."

 "You don't start a career at her age."

 "Did you tell her that?"

 "I had to, since she asked."

 "You were wrong, I think." Deirdre put her face close to the bowl and took some broth with the ceramic spoon, then looked up at him again. Disconcerting blue eyes in a dark, unmemorable round face. My strange kid sister, the lesbian phenomenon.

"I had to be honest with her. She's my wife."

 Her blue eyes were on him, but Liam knew she didn't know anything about Signe.

 "Its quite likely that some of the women I talk to tomorrow will be forty and older, and learning a computer language for the first time."

 "Can they do it well?"

 "Some will. Others will have a lack of foundation: math training, programmatic thinking."

 "Shouldn't you tell them not to waste their time?"

 "No. I believe people aren't satisfied until they know they've made every effort. I feel its my responsibility to encourage them."

 "I think its embarrassing to see people doing something they aren't capable of doing well."

 "There's a saying, 'Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.'"

 "Who did you get that from, Victoria?"

 "No; she wouldn't even agree with it. Its Aidan who says it."

 "What does Aidan do badly?" Liam was momentarily jealous of their brother.

 In recent years, Liam had developed a relationship with Deirdre for the first time; seeing the world take note of her hadn't hurt. She was quoted regularly in Internet Week and other trade publications, was the co-author of a metadata standard under consideration by the World Wide Web Consortium, and had even been profiled in the online version of the New York Times.

Liam had also used her as a cover tonight for a visit to Signe---which he knew to be a reckless action, because Darcy and Deirdre were fond of one another and spoke regularly. But Darcy was at a meeting until later in the evening and Liam didn't expect to be caught.

Signe lived in the West Village, within walking distance. He put Deirdre in a cab to her hotel and went over. Signe was shorter than Darcy, with close-cropped blonde hair and a slim, muscular body. She lifted weights, speed-skated, and climbed rock walls at the gymn. She was an account manager for one of the high level consulting firms he so wanted to emulate, and he could talk to her about all kinds of things which didn't interest Darcy.

 They went to bed hastily---they hadn't been together in a few weeks---but Signe was very exasperated to be slotted in for an hour at the end of Liam's day. "I may not do this again. It makes me feel cheap."

 "And sleeping with a married guy doesn't?"

 "Fuck you, Molloy. Call me when you can give me a little time."

 Liam caught the ten-thirty train to Tarrytown. Darcy was sitting in the big armchair in the den, watching a television documentary on digger wasps, which paralyze their prey and lay their eggs in their living bodies. "This is cheerful," Liam said. Darcy had a tumbler of clear liquid; he tasted it, knowing it would be vodka.

"You might at least slop some orange juice into that."

 "I like it this way."

 Liam went to bed.

 The next afternoon, Deirdre came to the office and he showed her Molloy Data's three floors near the South Street Seaport: the one already built out and the two under construction. Deirdre marveled at the large office Liam had designed for himself, spacious enough for a potted tree, small round table, couch and two armchairs. He had a beautiful view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. "Of course, we never look out the window at Molloy Data," Liam said, and his sister giggled. It was a line he used to every visitor who commented on the view.

 He ordered lunch sent up and they sat at the small table in his office. "I want to ask your advice on something." He told Deirdre that his software development company, incorporated separately as Molloy Consulting to distinguish it from his recruiting company, now employed one hundred and fifty people. "We do business with all the same accounts as the recruiting firm. Its profitable as far as it goes---but its almost exclusively a staff supplementation business. Very few clients have trusted us with the complete project. Rick Bauer says we need a software development methodology."

 "I'd say Rick's right. For people to give you projects, you need a whole software development infrastructure: metrics, a repository of re-usable code, and other stuff."

 "Could you help me with that?"

 " I only know about these things from reading books. I'll be glad to lend some to you---they're business books, not highly technical."

 "But don't you follow a process in doing your own software?"

 "Not really---not anything you could clone. I sit in my room and make up stuff, and Aidan goes out and sells it to the world. I do software as if it was art. You need to do it like engineering. I make things that make me happy. I don't estimate how long it will take me, and I have no deadlines. I believe software can also be done as engineering, but I haven't tried it."

 Late that afternoon, after Deirdre left, David Harper called. He was an investment banker in a high tech boutique based in Baltimore. Harper was a big, stocky, round-faced man from Iowa, with homely mannerisms but a keen understanding of the fundamentals of businesses and the desires of the Street. Liam had been in touch with him for almost two years, trying to persuade him to underwrite a public offering of Molloy Consulting. At one point they had come close enough that Harper had begun to draft a prospectus, but then the market had softened. Liam thought Harper saw his company as a marginal offering, to be sold only in a roaring bull market. In the current tighter conditions, Harper thought Molloy Consulting was "probably too much of a staff supplementation play," not sexy enough to the Street.

A month earler, Liam had decided that Harper was wasting his time and would never be ready to take him public. He hadn't spoken to him since then.

 Harper said, "Lee, there's someone in town tomorrow that I want you to meet. Its Andy Greene, the new CEO of Fledermaus."

 "Never heard of them---are they in our industry?"

 "Yes and no. Fledermaus was founded in 1965 to do insurance claim processing. In the '80's, they started a consulting arm which helps insurance companies automate. That business went flat about four years ago. Andy came in two years later to lead Fledermaus into the business reengineering space. He has a big checkbook and has done four acquisitions in the last six months."

 Liam fired up Netscape and found Fledermaus' web page, then some articles about the company in the business press. Greene was snapping up five to fifty million dollar consultancies. He appeared to be making a major push to transform Fledermaus into an Anderson Consulting. He had recently bought firms with vertical specialties: oil and gas, retail. Liam wondered why Greene would be interested in Molloy Data, since it was a staff supplementation play.

Greene showed up in Liam's office at five o'clock the next afternoon, an hour earlier than Liam expected him. "My other meeting ended early," he said, "so I just thought I'd come up and have a look." He was a tall, skinny man, about five years older than Liam, with a shock of prematurely white hair and a country manner. Liam never could decide if Greene was crazy like a fox, or just crazy.

 Greene was alone, carrying a folding garment bag as he was planning to catch a late flight back to Atlanta. Liam went into automatic mode and gave his Molloy Data and Molloy Consulting Powerpoint presentations:

 "Initially founded in 1980 as a recruiting firm....

"Reinvents itself every few years, including specializing in 1981 in an obscure operating system called Unix....

 "Realized we could use the recruiting engine to build technology businesses......

 "Molloy Consulting's mission is to be the premier provider of client/server and Internet-based software development services to the Fortune 1000...

 "Leverage our existing recruiting clients....We called managers we had been doing business with for more than ten years and said, 'You've been pretty happy buying people from us. Now you can buy full-scale project services as well....'

 "Fifteen million in revenue in 1996.....150 people.....looking to do twenty-five million in 1997.....

 "Every Molloy business has been profitable since day 1......

 "An object-oriented software development methodology--we call it the Montauk methodology--customized to the needs of our particular clients. Some people think software development is an art, but at Molloy we know that in a business environment, it has to be carried out as engineering....

 "Best of both possible worlds: a new high tech consulting firm backed by a conservative, old, privately held recruiting firm."

 "You have a diamond in the rough here," Greene said. Liam had planned to take him out to the Hudson River Club for dinner, but Greene didn't want to leave the conference room and insisted on ordering out for Chinese food. He ate pork fried rice directly from the carton with a plastic fork as he asked Liam questions about gross margins and run rate. Liam had thought Greene was interested only in Molloy Consulting and was surprised when Greene asked questions about the recruiting firm as well.

 There was a pause, after which Greene said, "Harper says your brother and sister own Starthrower Software."

 Oh shit. "That's correct."

 "I've just been reading about them in Wired magazine. Well, how about this." He went to the white board on which Liam had been drawing the Molloy organizational chart and took the blue marker from him. "Sit down, son." Liam sat. "Data and Consulting are separate corporations, right?"



 "I believe so."

 "Ok, its simple then. Of course, everything I say will need to be gone over by the financial eagles and the legal beagles. In an extreme case, they'll claim you never met Andy Greene, just an impostor. But that's the way I like to do business--rush the hilltop and let the eagles and beagles follow after." He wrote on the board DATA, CONSULTING, FLEDERMAUS. He drew arrows from the last to the other two. Liam saw that Greene had a maddening habit of making unnecessary drawings, which didn't add anything to his words. "We'll figure out a value for your two companies--lets say for the sake of argument, three times revenues. We divide this price by my stock price. We lop off ten percent--that's so the deal can be accretive; the Street needs to see that everything I'm doing is accretive. And that's how we get the number of shares I give you for your two companies--its a stock swap accounted for as a pooling. You with me so far?"

 Liam, who was reeling, claimed he was.

"My tummy tells me that with our rate of growth, its a very good idea to have a captive recruiting firm." He drew a circle around DATA. "Your consulting firm extends our reach--that's a mainstream acquisition for us." And he drew a circle around CONSULTING. "My tummy tells me something else that would make this a triple with bases loaded." He wrote STARTHROWER below the other two. "If we got your brother's company into the mix, we have that Internet perfume. The Street still loves the smell of the Internet. After a decent interval, we fold Starthrower into Consulting and we have a pure Internet play, product and services. The combination would be much more than the sum of the parts. Molloy has no product and Starthrower does no consulting."

 "That's just what I've been saying all along."

 "This is what I do, son. I make this stuff up and the eagles and beagles sweat the details."

 Liam promised to put Greene in touch with Aidan. Greene said he would come back up in a week or ten days to pay a visit to Montauk.

 Waiting for the train, Liam was approached by a familiar looking sandy-haired man in his early thirties, who planted himself aggressively in front of him and said, "You don't remember me."

 "You look familiar," Liam said apologetically, "but actually, I don't remember your name."

 "Well, why should you? I worked for you ten years ago for six months, then you fired me."

 Liam remembered a twenty-two year old capering in his office with a nerf football. He had tried building a software consulting company once before, but the attempt had been premature. He had hired six people, then fired them when he couldn't get any projects.

 It was after eleven o'clock again when Liam got home to Tarrytown. Darcy was asleep in the armchair with the television on to a 1970's science fiction movie. "We'll be shadow-locked for twenty-two days," someone said. Darcy had no glass. Liam leaned over and sniffed to see if she had been drinking, then remembered that vodka has no smell. Darcy's blue eyes opened and looked at him vacantly. Then she asked, "How did it go?"

 "I think I just sold both companies."

 The next day, Liam took a cab up to Rick Bauer's law offices in midtown. Rick was a partner in a large firm where he had worked since graduation fifteen years before.

Liam liked but did not always respect his thin, handsome Jewish friend. Liam had been the dominant one, and Rick the deferential one, from the beginning. Liam knew that Rick admired him; Liam Molloy was who Rick Bauer wanted to be.

 Rick was a perfect sidekick, bright, flexible, nonjudgmental, willing to share the work without taking the credit. He was married to Deirdre's college roommate, Lisa. In Liam's opinion, she was shallow, vain and tremulous, exactly the type of woman he most detested; but he was convinced that Lisa had no suspicion that he didn't like her.

Rick and Lisa had two boys, Jon and Joe. If you ever wanted to distract Rick--as Liam sometimes did when Rick was unpleasantly close to something Liam didn't want him to know--you asked him about his sons. All of Rick's carefully hidden vanity revealed itself in his answer.

 Andy Greene made Rick very uncomfortable. "Something doesn't compute," he said. "If something seems to good to be true, it usually is. Here you've been working so hard for two years to get Molloy Consulting in shape for an IPO and this guy breezes in from nowhere and wants to buy it from you in one evening...."

 "Where do you see the flaw, Rick?"

 "I don't know, but its there somewhere. It has something to do with the following question: Why is Andy Greene buying so many companies so quickly?"

 The humiliating sexual scramble some nights before had started Signe re-evaluating her relationship with Liam, and she called to say she did not want to see him any more: "This is too chaotic." Liam enjoyed her body and her company, but was not in love with her. He was disappointed, but the break-up simplified things at a moment when he needed to concentrate on Andy Greene.

He didn't think Darcy had any reason to suspect Signe's existence, though he was well aware that by spending his increasingly limited sexual energy on Signe he had further deprived his wife of attention. He didn't quite understand why one lost interest in a beautiful woman one could make love to any time. There was no doubt that most men, if they saw Darcy and Signe side by side, would pick Darcy as the more beautiful; she was striking, tall, slender and with elegant bones, but she lacked Signe's youthful intensity and muscular smoothness. Darcy looked tired, and the glow her skin had had in her twenties was gone. For years, when Liam didn't really have her, he had wanted to be with her every moment. Now, they seemed to make love as an afterthought, once every few weeks.

He had talked to Rick about this. Rick maintained that the memory of what one's wife had been in youth helped to keep one in love with her later in life, and to continue treating her with gratitude and recognition. Liam thought the memory of vibrant young Darcy in college stood between them now. He held it against her that she was no longer what she had been. "Mid-life crisis," said Rick, in whom Liam had confided. "Fuck you," said Liam.

 Not quite ten days after Signe had dropped him, Darcy asked, "Who is Signe Anderson?"

 He saw from Darcy's quiet, strained manner that she knew everything. Liam's lies to her had always been mainly of omission; he had tried to stay away from constructing falsifiable propositions. He said, "Signe is a woman I know."

 "Who you're having an affair with."

 "Its over."

 It was very annoying that Signe would come up when she was no longer a factor and he was spending more time at home. It turned out that she had heard about Signe from Lisa Bauer. At a party thrown by the New York Software Industry Association a few weeks before, he had sat with Signe, in Darcy's absence. Lisa had undoubtedly noticed, careful as they had been, that there was something between them.

Within a year after the wedding, Darcy had stopped attending business events with him, which had been something of a relief, because his livelihood bored her and she had no small talk for his associates. Still, he had felt highly disappointed, because the word "wife" meant to him the same thing it had meant to his mother Alana Molloy: a hostess who furthered her husband's career. In the years since their marriage, he and Darcy had never entertained anyone at their house in Tarrytown, because Darcy simply would not cooperate in the planning or execution of a social evening. Liam himself felt completely inadequate to pull together the strands of food, drink, atmosphere and fellowship necessary to create an enjoyable party. He had expected Darcy to help him do that, because she had thrown wonderful parties in her West Side apartment; at least he knew he would have enjoyed them if he had not been obsessively jealous at the time, constantly trying to lay hands on quicksilver Darcy who could usually be found leaning casually on the shoulder of some other party-goer. But Darcy had been tired when he married her, and had not become more rested since. Yet her definition of "husband" seemed to contain some elements similar to those which her definition of "wife" lacked: playmate, mentor, nurse. Many of their arguments had started with Liam listing all the things he had done for her, then asking, "Where is the reciprocity?"

 In the first months, she attended a few business events with him, as she had never done when they were merely dating. She always sat quietly, as if dumbstruck; soon she began to find excuses not to come: a meeting or a cold. Once or twice she just didn't show up: "I was running late, it didn't seem worthwhile just to come for twenty minutes...." He had a tantrum, and she said: "I never know what to say to those people. I have nothing in common with them."

 He had thought it safe to sit with Signe at the software dinner, even though Lisa would be at the same table, because he thought Lisa rather stupid and oblivious, and because he knew that Signe would spend much of the evening off talking to other people. Afterwards, he thought the evening had passed completely uneventfully, but Lisa had apparently grilled Rick about Signe afterwards. Rick, who was loyal to Liam and professionally confidential, was afraid of his wife. He had not betrayed Liam outright, but had hesitated enough to confirm Lisa's suspicions. Lisa was not malicious; she was very fond of Darcy, and hoping to protect her, had acted in the most inept way. She had advised Darcy to accompany Liam more in the world, giving Signe as an example of what happened if one left one's husband too clear a field of action.

 Darcy had married Liam within three months of her second divorce. She had previously spent ten years of her life married, four to Claude, six to Joao. The first sign of danger, Liam supposed, had been her desire to marry very quietly, without any kind of party at all. He had insisted on planning an event for 150 business friends. Alana had danced with Darcy for so long at his wedding it had become inappropriate and he had had to separate them. Alana, very drunk, had continued dancing by herself next to the newlyweds. Even Deirdre had agreed it was a strange spectacle.

 Standing up before the priest at St. Eusebius earlier in the evening, Liam had thought, this happened so fast, is it really what I want? For seven years he had been "wise and kind" for Darcy, a persona he had carefully cultivated to differentiate himself from dark, stormy Liam of their early years. Darcy had been taken in completely by it. He had always hoped that Darcy would turn to him one day when she tired of her fantastical, phony men with their sexy accents. He had just not expected that she would romanticize him so much after knowing him so many years; from the beginning of their tumultuous relations in 1978 she had always seen through him. "You don't love me," was one of the lines that cut through him in his twenties: "You just love the idea that you love me." Liam had been with many tremulous women, but had always been drawn back to Darcy because he could not fool or dominate her. For years, she was his unsolved problem. But when she finally sank down to him, it was not to land on bedrock, but on a false pink cloud. Bedrock was all he really thought he could provide her, not the cloud. Instead, she fashioned him into what she needed, another fantasy like Claude or Joao.

 Now, sitting opposite each other in the den, Darcy and Liam spoke quietly about infidelity. Liam told her that the Signe deal was over. He intimated vaguely that he had dropped Signe to preserve their marriage. He said he knew Signe had been a mistake. Since he didn't have her any more, he wanted to milk the state of not having Signe for every possible benefit.

He would have felt more comfortable if Darcy screamed or cried. But she was not a screamer and though she had cried a few times, she did not now. On the whole, she had better control of herself when they argued than he did; he had often ranted while Darcy remained calm. Now he could not bear her guarded expression. He would finish a declarative statement and she would say nothing. Much of the time her eyes looked past him. It never boded well when anyone was lost in thought when Liam was speaking; he wanted his prospect's full attention.

At last Darcy seemed satisfied that the affair was over. It was very disconcerting that she seemed to expect no more than the barest observance of conventional rules. Can she really love me and be so calm about this?

 Just when the discussion was almost over, Liam made a serious misstep. Telling him about Lisa's intervention, Darcy said, "She actually thinks that if I went to business dinners with you, none of this could have happened."

 "She might be right," Liam said in a false, joking tone, and Darcy immediately stood up and left the room. She got her night things and went off to sleep in the guest bedroom. He asked what he had done now, but she would not speak. "I want to sleep now," she said. When Liam woke in the morning, she had left. His box of Special K cereal stood in the middle of the kitchen table with a note taped to it. "Dear Jones: I am leaving for a few days, not because of Signe but because of the words, 'She might be right'."

 Darcy was nowhere to be found. There were only two places to look for her: at her mother's in Connecticut, or at Deirdre's place in Montauk. By the evening, Liam was in a jealous frenzy: he was certain Darcy was punishing him by having sex with an old boyfriend. He lay awake raging until four in the morning, when he found peace in the thought that he would divorce Darcy and ask Signe to marry him. Signe was a gourmet cook and powerhouse hostess. But he woke the next day knowing he did not want to leave Darcy: for nineteen years she had been his project, for much of that time his aspiration, and he could not countenance such a foolish end to their story. By the evening, when he still had not heard from her, he was ready to divorce her again; he even thought about calling Signe rather than going home to the empty house in Tarrytown. But now he imagined that Darcy was in danger, had tried to kill herself or been attacked by a stranger, and went home to sit by the phone. Some hours later, he called Lisa, though he hated to involve her. But she knew nothing either. Awake again at four a.m., he concluded that if Darcy could be this cruel, he didn't want to stay married to her. He woke thinking of another good reason not to leave her: After years of struggle, he had finally built up some net worth, and if he divorced Darcy he might have to split it with her (though he was not certain she would ask for anything.)

By the next night he was certain Darcy was dead and he began to feel grief and to contemplate what it would be like to be permanently without her. He felt terribly lonely; he had not known how much it meant to have her there, even when she was withdrawn, even when they were in different rooms occupied with different thoughts. At one thirty in the morning, when he was feeling very low, a cab pulled up outside the house; he saw the lights through the shades. Darcy came in carrying the ancient blue overnight bag she had brought to his apartment when she used to stay over. Her absence had given her a sheen of mystery and sex, of being not quite his as in former days. He felt certain he must love her. This, combined with relief, kept him from ranting at her, but after after she had been home a short while he could not resist asking her if she had been with another man.

 "It would be very tempting to say I hadn't," Darcy replied.

 "Then you have."

 "It would be very tempting to say I had."

 It was the performance artist's deliberate use of language--he remembered the one-act play, years ago, in which she had skewered him on a pin. Darcy's intention was that he would never know. She would not say where she had been, or with whom. He knew that he had no right to know, because he had been unfaithful with Signe. Here was the reciprocity he had been whining for.

 Darcy sat by him on the couch and took his face in her hands; he smelled the familiar perfume at her wrists. "You get this one for free, Molloy. But if this ever happens again, I will swim away from you. Do you understand?"

 "Yes," Liam said, thinking: more performance art language.

 "Say you understand."

 "I understand."

 "Say it will never happen."

 "It will never happen again."

 David Harper dropped by the office and advised him to move things along as fast as possible with Greene. "He's looking at a couple of other companies. If this thing delays and he goes after one of them first, you may never get your deal done. He can only buy a couple more companies before the deals become dilutive of his stock and the board stops him."

 "The swap scares me," Liam said. "I'll have my entire net worth tied up in his stock. Can I get some kind of guarantee that he'll give me more shares if the price drops?"

 "You can put that in the contract, but only through closing. After that, its your risk."

 "How quickly could I get out?"

 "He'll probably ask you to hold the stock some period of time, and to stick around personally for two years or so."

 "What does the Street think of him?"

 "Bemused so far. Every time he buys a company, Fledermaus goes up another point or two."

 "How long can that continue?"

 Harper's guileless eyes fixed on Liam. "Fledermaus' stock should stay good through the third quarter." He repeated, "Third quarter---do you understand me?"

Everyone's talking to me in code, Liam thought.

 When Liam told Rick about the conversation with Harper, Rick, who had been very tentative, now said he was opposed to the deal. Liam wondered if his old friend was jealous of him. Several times every day Liam checked the Fledermaus listing on NASDAQ, took a calculator and ascertained what his net worth would be if the deal was done at that price. The answer: about thirty million dollars, with daily variations.

He called his brother Aidan to inform him of Greene's interest in him. Liam went into full sales mode and made himself misty-eyed describing the incredible success which would result from combining Molloy Consulting and Starthrower. He could hear that Aidan was not convinced. The balance of power in their relationship was far different than ten years before, when he had convinced Aidan to sell his last company to Galacticorp. Aidan had been more impressionable then, and he had also been afraid of Galacticorp, as he was not of Greene. He had desired a small nest egg for himself and Deirdre; he had it now, and he was not terribly greedy for more, even though the deal would mean another ten million or so for him and Deirdre. Still, he said he would talk to Greene.

 Harper called and said that Greene was preoccupied with another transaction and had asked him to go out to Montauk in Greene's place. Aidan said he would meet Harper but told Liam, "Don't you come this time." Liam was insulted; he had counted on accompanying Harper. It was hard to stay away from the action. Instead, he took Darcy away for a romantic weekend in the Catskills; they walked on the banks of the Ashokan Reservoir and she touched him every moment, holding his hand as they walked, leaning her head on his shoulder when they sat. She raised her face to the sunlight and sketched a dance step and he remembered why he had wanted her so much for so many years.

 Harper returned from Montauk and said that Aidan and Deirdre had decisively rejected the idea of doing any kind of deal with Fledermaus. Greene called to reassure Liam that he wanted to acquire the two Molloy companies even without Starthrower. "We'll buy some other product company instead," he said.

 Deirdre phoned to say that she had found some people via the Internet who worked for companies acquired by Fledermaus in the past two years. They had all told her that the atmosphere was very uncertain and chaotic.

Liam didn't know what to make of this information. He was pleased that his sister thought enough of him to call, but had no confidence in her business insights. Besides, he supposed the atmosphere in a recently-acquired company was always chaotic. What difference did that make if he had his money?

 He had known for several years that he had taken Molloy Consulting as far as he could.

 Greene faxed him a "Memorandum of Understanding" which had a signature line but which Rick told him was, for arcane reasons, unnecessary to sign. Greene's lawyer and his chief financial officer, accompanied by several young accountants, came up from Atlanta and spent a week going through all financial records and contracts of Liam's two companies. Liam told his employees that they were from Ernst and Young, Molloy Consulting's auditor.

For the first time, Liam believed the deal would go through and begin to think about what he would do afterwards. Greene had suggested that Liam might want to move up within Fledermaus, running other companies besides his own. The challenge was interesting, but it would mean eventually relocating to Atlanta. He thought his wife was probably not transportable. Liam also was not certain he could work for Greene for too long; he had been his own boss since 1982.

 He thought he would probably leave Fledermaus after two years. He would not work so hard, at least for a while, and would spend more time with Darcy. He attempted to construct a pastoral daydream but failed: he would eventually need new projects; he was not a man who could stay home and occupy himself the rest of his life with his wife and golf. He thought he would start another company, or perhaps become a venture capitalist and back other people. Maybe he could get involved with Deirdre and Aidan, as a strategist who would take them to the next level. They could never get there themselves, he thought.

 Fledermaus' stock price continued to edge up. Rick called to say that a client of his had just taken a European bank automation project away from Analystar, a Fledermaus company which had left behind a highly politicized disaster and a large amount of unusable code. However, the subsidiary was a small one and the revenues associated with the project were too little to matter, Harper said.

 In May, Greene came up for a closing in Rick's office, at which some final details were worked out and all the paperwork was signed. Liam admired a green Fledermaus stock certificate made out to him, reflecting an astronomical number of shares. He gave the certificate to Harper, who had opened an account for him with the brokerage side of the investment bank.

In the street outside, he heard a familiar voice behind him singing. He turned and saw Mad Tom, the street schizophrenic, with dreadlocks and spit flying. Tom was pretending to be a stiff, pompous man carrying a heavy weight. Liam looked around absent-mindedly to see whom Tom was mimicking, but couldn't decide.

 Darcy had declined to attend. He went home and told her it was over, but she didn't seem to take it in. He tried to talk to her about the money he would give her to be a producer, managing his language carefully so she wouldn't think it was millions. She immediately cut him off, saying, "I don't want to." She wouldn't say why. He decided to wait a few weeks, then bring it up again.

 He and Darcy had not been able to stay happy and intimate after their Catskill weekend. He had worked very hard and come in late during the "due diligence" performed by the Fledermaus people. Darcy had gone back to see the St. Anne's people and now said she would definitely not take the job. He felt rather annoyed, and she was withdrawn.

 Darcy had avoided talking about the Fledermaus deal. At first he was not certain why, because she had no attachment to his companies or the employees. Then he saw the flash of panic in her eyes whenever he said the words "thirty million dollars" and realized that she was frightened of so much wealth. He said there was no reason why they should live any differently, but she feared it would change everything.

 He was disappointed by everyone else's reaction to his good fortune. Aidan and Deirdre were polite and encouraging, but no more. Alana had long assumed Liam was rich, and didn't understand why this was different. Rick shook his hand soberly after the closing; he and Liam had never been equal in their relationship, and Liam supposed the inequality had just become much greater.

Liam had given stock options years ago to his employees, which had been exchanged for Fledermaus options. Many of them within six months would be able to exercise these at very low prices, buying seventy-three dollar Fledermaus shares for under a dollar in some cases. Liam was astonished that all his employees were nervous and that some who stood to benefit the most were depressed. One or two people quit and he had to talk a few others out of leaving. Somehow, without caring too much about it, Liam had created a community which everyone else was loathe to give up.

Harper was wrong that the stock would stay good through the third quarter. The securities laws required Greene to announce material bad news as soon as it became definite, and in May, Greene held a press conference to say that Analystar had bungled two significant European bank automation projects. Even worse, the company had booked as revenue future payments from these projects which were highly contingent and which it would now never receive; Greene had determined the number of shares which he swapped for Analystar based on these misrepresentations, which his due diligence team had failed to discover. The result was that the Analystar deal became dilutive of the Fledermaus stock, and Wall Street began to lose confidence in Greene.

 The financial press was also on his trail. Everyone loves the fall of a hero, and articles about other Fledermaus acquisitions (including the Molloy companies) began to appear every day. It was thought that Greene had bought too many companies too fast and that Fledermaus would not successfully integrate them. His motivation in hitting the acquisition trail became clear: the core business, insurance automation, was fading, and he thought he could keep the fundamentals up if he bought enough companies. Cracks were found in other acquisitions. One article particularly annoyed Liam: "What did he want a body shop for, analysts ask". Greene held another conference to announce that results were now going to be several pennies a share less than he had previously said; a selling frenzy ensued and in two days Fledermaus stock slid from seventy-five to seven dollars a share.

 Liam was now worth three million dollars instead of thirty-three. Darcy seemed almost relieved; Rick could barely resist saying "I told you so"; Harper was hard to get on the phone. Aidan called to commiserate; he said three million was still decent money. "I didn't grow this thing for eighteen years to sell it for a fraction of one years' revenue," Liam said. He instructed Rick to research the question of whether he could sue Fledermaus to get his company back. Everything's really coming up diamonds now, he thought.

 Between the initial Analystar announcement and the final crash of the stock, Liam had spoken to Greene several time every day. The older man was reassuring to the point of gross unrealism: until the last, he was insisting that he would pull out of it, with the help of the eagles and beagles. "My tummy tells me that we'll get out of this in a week or so."

 After the stock went to seven, Liam could no longer get Greene on the phone. The people around him---the general counsel, the CFO, Greene's secretary---sounded strange and false. He asked the counsel where Greene was; the reply: "I can't tell you that."

 "Does that mean you don't know?"

 "I can't tell you that."

 In a daze, Liam walked down Fulton Street to the soup place to get lunch. Standing in line ahead of him was Signe, reflecting the restaurant's dim light from her golden skin. "I miss you, Molloy," she said.

 He told her he was off to Atlanta for a couple of days and asked if she would come along. She sounded interested and said she would call later to let him know. An hour later, she phoned to say she would come. He booked the tickets and went back to the problem of what to tell his employees about Fledermaus. He decided he would know more after visiting Atlanta, and left his vice president of operations to make vague statements of reassurance.

Liam went home very early and Darcy said, "I know the timing isn't good but there's something I need to talk to you about."

 "Can you hold that thought?" Liam said. "I need to make some phone calls right now. This whole Fledermaus thing is falling apart."

 "I'm sorry," Darcy said. "What are you going to do?"

 "I'm going to Atlanta tomorrow to see if I can undo the deal and get the company back."

 "Would you like me to come with you?"

Liam was astonished; his wife had never offered to come on a business trip before. He realized he would much rather take Darcy to Atlanta than Signe, but the logistics were too complicated. He would have to call Signe without Darcy knowing, cancel her ticket, book one for Darcy. Also, he knew that if he canceled Signe he would not have a third chance with her. It was easier to say, "Thanks, love, but I'll be running around like a madman."

 Darcy said she would go to Deirdre for the weekend instead, and went off to call her. Liam mixed himself a gin and tonic; he wasn't much of a drinker in general, but needed one now. He sat in the den feeling wild panic, but said to himself: I'm a fighter. I've been down before. I just have to stay in there and I will turn this around.

 They went to bed. Darcy brushed his side sleepily: her signal. Liam rolled over to her. Darcy tonight, Signe tomorrow.

Darcy was almost as slender as she had been in college, though all other women her age put on weight. Never having had children made the difference. She said she couldn't. He hadn't wanted them badly enough to think about doctors and treatments. Sometimes, when Alana was whining about not having grandchildren, he thought about it, but just for a moment. He couldn't imagine Darcy with a child. In her twenties she had said she never wanted any, and he believed her. Some women said that--Lisa for example--then bloomed as mothers. He couldn't imagine Darcy. For the best.

 Darcy came absently, then Liam. "We'll talk when you get back," she said, and he was too exhausted and comfortable to ask, about what. He fell asleep. When he woke at five in the morning, as he usually did, to urinate, she was not in the bed. He looked into the guest bedroom and saw her in the dark, a long thin presence in pajamas, breathing evenly. When she was restless she often went to sleep in the other room. He felt a little lonely but supposed he would get used to it. When he left, Darcy was still asleep.

 At three the next afternoon, Liam and Signe checked into the Marriott in downtown Atlanta. He had two hours to kill before he could see the Fledermaus general counsel; he felt amorous but Signe said he was sweaty. They compromised and took a bath together. Signe in the tub was an aquatic animal: sea otter Signe. Sex in the sea. They dressed and went down to the lobby for coffee. Signe walked outside with him and he waved to a cab that was pulling in, then kissed her. The man who got out of the cab looked him in the eye; first Liam knew that he knew him; a moment later he recognized Darcy's pretty actor friend, Gregg. Who brushed past Liam without saying anything. Liam thought Darcy hadn't spoken to Gregg in years. Unless she had seen him on the lost weekend. Clenching his fist, Liam got into the cab; he went searching for Andy Greene, but couldn't find him anywhere.