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CHAPTER #7

San Jose Mercury News interviewer: Why do they do it?

East Coast venture capitalist: Simple. It’s the ultimate report card. What better way to test your abilities, to see how far you can go. If you can’t win the Nobel Prize, the next best thing is to start your own company.

Dennis Barnhart could barely keep his pants on. If the phone rang before noon it meant he was worth somewhere between eight and ten million dollars, the kind of numbers that made it hard for Barnhart, who had been fidgeting in his seat for hours, to remain calm.

He already had placed standby calls to two of his closest friends, one of whom, Timothy Pobone, had been ready for hours, telling the staff of his Ferrari dealership to be ready to work the rest of the day without him. Pobone then had placed a call to one of his own friends, the owner of a Los Gatos yacht dealership. If Barnhart’s phone rang, Pobone’s phone would ring, then Pobone’s staff would roll out the new red Ferrari, wash it for the second time that day, and load it with an iced case of Dom Perignon. Before the car even finished drying, Barnhart’s yacht would be in the water, where it would remain in-waiting until he and Pobone had returned from taking the Ferrari over the mountain and back.

Barnhart knew that some of his friends, at least behind his back, still called him lucky, but he also knew he deserved everything he was about to get. A decade earlier, when venture capitalists had descended on Santa Clara Valley, Barnhart had been ready, having learned everything he could about startups and spin offs. When Arthur Rock had come calling, Barnhart had been waiting with a detailed business plan and the kind of answers he knew Rock would demand from him before agreeing to back Eagle Computers.

Barnhart remembered his interview with Rock better than he remembered his fortieth birthday, the smiling investor oozing confidence as he stared through Barnhart’s gaze, analyzing his prospective client for signs of betrayal. Rock had jockeyed for half an hour, joking about some woman he had seen bouncing down the hall, lighting and extinguishing a cigar, then tossing out his big question laissez-faire, thinking that by then Barnhart had been sufficiently disarmed.

“Why you?”

Barnhart had done his homework well. Even before Don Hoefler had coined the term that had transformed Santa Clara Valley into Silicon Valley, Barnhart had been reading Hoefler’s editorials in Microelectronic News. He also had read every article he could find on Robert Noyce, Jerry Sanders, and Gene Amdahl. He even had finagled his way into a luncheon with Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, stealing just enough of their time to find out what Rock, the famous east coast capitalist, would want to hear from him.

“Because I intend to get very rich,” Barnhart told Rock, and then, before Rock could think to ask for more,  “at any cost.”

Now the phone just had to ring. When it did, Barnhart would count to ten, then find out once and for all if his silicon dreams had turned into a mountain of greenbacks or a herd of thundering white elephants.

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Rich Cochran read about Jack’s arrest in the San Jose Mercury News. Jack had been part of a crew that had worked for Cochran when he had been on his way up as a production supervisor at MMI. Cochran wasn’t surprised that Jack, whom Cochran twice had thought about firing, had been caught in Mexico within two months of what the newspaper was calling the Chip and Dip Bonanza. The authorities had found everything – the gold, the cash, even a laundry bag full of hot chips – stashed casually under Jack’s bed like so many softballs. Jack had made no attempt to resist arrest, asking only that he be allowed to make a phone call to his friend, Eddie, before being returned to the United States and tossed in prison.

When Cochran thought about boys like Jack and Eddie, he thought of detestable but necessary evils, cogs to keep silicon moving through the valley. Boys like that made a mockery of everything Cochran believed in: Hard work, respect, family life. Cochran remembered that even when he had been on his way up, even when he still had been smoking reefer with the other supervisors to keep from being singled out, he had maintained high standards for himself. He and Sharon had done well by that way of thinking, placing Bill, their first son, at Berkeley, Andrew, their youngest, in a law firm back east, and after years of hard work he and his wife had begun to look forward to spending their later years in comfort, to enjoying each other’s company and the family values they had worked hard to keep intact.

Which made everything that had happened to Cochran the last month entirely unfair. He had been working along, taking care of business as usual, when two events had threatened to change his life forever. The first, his boss’s announcement that the company would be releasing its Invective chip that month, was something Rich had been looking forward to a long time. If the new chip succeeded, Rich and his wife would find their company stock, which Rich had purchased for a little more than fifty thousand dollars, suddenly worth a cool quarter of a million. When the chip began to sell in volume, and Rich intended to see that it did, he and his wife would be able to pack their bags, retire, and find a place to live where their values would better match those of the community.

Then Rich, the morning after his boss’s announcement, had fainted at home, forcing him to visit his doctor.

“Feeling a bit rundown,” he’d said during his examination.

His doctor had run a battery of tests, followed by a second battery, then had suggested, based on his preliminary findings, that Rich check himself into the Stanford Hospital. Rich, preoccupied by the mountain of work created by the release of the Invective, had declined.

When Rich had fainted in his office later that week, his boss had made the move to Stanford a requirement, and it had seemed to Rich that in an instant, in a moment that no amount of planning could have anticipated, his body had betrayed him.

Rich couldn’t even pronounce the name of the deadly disease that had infested itself in his bloodstream, not then, not a week later, sipping coffee at home, reading about Jack’s arrest, waiting for his wife to finish dressing so she could take him to the hospital to pick up his portable rig.

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If Gene Amdahl had been born in a different time and place he might have become known as the Thomas Edison of his generation, but Amdahl had a bad habit of seeking fortune in all the wrong places. He certainly had a mind qualified for prospecting, having earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1952, but Silicon Valley, as Amdahl knew, was not in the habit of rewarding thought for thought’s sake.

At first it had seemed that Amdahl might be the perfect man for the job. Working long days and even longer nights, Amdahl had led a team of IBM researchers through a complex maze of engineering problems, culminating with the introduction of the IBM 360, a computer that quickly would become the cornerstone of the largest selling family of computers in industrial history.

But by then the bug of entrepreneurship had buried its fangs deep in the jugular of Santa Clara Valley. Through the grapevine, Amdahl had learned that Fairchild Corporation was about to break apart at the seams, to give birth to dozens of spinoff companies that would turn otherwise moderately talented engineers into men who controlled hundreds of millions of industrial dollars. Everywhere Amdahl looked gold fever stared back at him: in the eyes of engineers, in the eyes of supervisors, even in the eyes of line workers. Tempted by the fruits of his generation, Amdahl held on until the last of Fairchild’s founding fathers, Robert Noyce, threw in the towel and announced his intention to begin the world’s next electronics giant: Intel Corporation. The following year, in a heated letter of resignation to IBM, Amdahl cast the gauntlet of free enterprise directly at his employer’s feet: I intend to start a company that will not only compete with IBM, but that will endure. You can be sure that I will win. 

But Goliath aside, giants don’t fall easily, and it was the upstart Intel, not Amdahl Corporation, that struck first, hitting pay dirt with a large bit memory chip. At the same time, a twenty-six-year-old Ampex engineer named Nolan Bushnell walked away from a perfectly secure job to open – with exactly five hundred dollars – a company called Atari. While Amdahl was still struggling to make a computer that would outperform the IBM 360, National Semiconductor introduced an entirely new product: a sixteen bit single chip microprocessor. Gene Amdahl could hear the clock running out on him.

Then, in a flurry of activity, everything changed. Thirty million dollars in the hole, Amdahl Corporation announced its first product, the 470 V/6 computer, a machine that outperformed the IBM 360 in every way. Amdahl hunkered down for the ride, ready for the dollars and praise that were about to come his way, for the vindication he had been forced to wait five years to receive.

When the dollars did begin to roll they rolled in the millions: fifty million by 1976, twenty-five million more by 1977, the year that two brazen upstarts, Wozniak and Jobs, founded what soon would become the fastest growing company in history: Apple Computers.

By the end of the seventies everything had fallen in place: veneration for Amdahl’s mind, enough wealth to sit back and watch while the rest of the valley’s rising stars jockeyed for control of the remaining seats of power. But first Amdahl decided to make one last change, to exchange a slice of his company for a few million dollars of security. If he had been listening for their voices, which he wasn’t, Amdahl would have heard Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, and Lee DeForest screaming at him from the past, showering caveats on deaf ears: Seller Beware!

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The rig was a bit complicated, but after a few hours of tinkering with it Cochran had managed to position the drip bottle and line so he could drive with his free hand. The doctors’ lack of imagination had caught Cochran off-guard. With so much information about the human body available, all Cochran had asked for, and it had seemed like such a reasonable request, was a way to hook up his drip bottle and intravenous line so he could drive his car to work, then scuttle through the seventy-two hours it would take for the medicine to perform its magic. The alternative, which Cochran had been surprised to hear one after another of his doctors suggest, was that he stay home for three days, that he skip work entirely and let the intravenous drip do its work in peace.

Cochran had tried to explain things in terms the doctors would understand, posing questions that he was certain would put to bed their hours-long debate about his options: Would they, if working on a surgical breakthrough, wait seventy-two hours for an unexpected obstacle to go away? But the doctors had remained inexplicably entrenched, one of them going so far as to insist that only a madman would suggest carting a drip bottle and intravenous line through the middle of a semiconductor fab. Even Fred Williams, one of Cochran’s lead engineers, had suggested that Cochran sit this one out, that he let the rest of the team bring the Invective to market. But that, Cochran thought as he merged his car into traffic, was something Fred Williams and the team could forget about.

Traffic on the highway was a mess, long rows of Mercedes Benz and BMWs jockeying back and forth for lane position. Lately Cochran had been noticing how different things became on the highway once he drove under the 85 bypass. It was there, like some invisible dividing line, that the Mercedes and BMWs began to vanish, that the used Hondas and dented Chevrolets began to appear. He knew if he kept going, into the southernmost tip of the bay, he would see where the other cars had come from: the valley’s engineering assistants and line workers driving up from apartment buildings and rundown rental homes between Highway 17 and Gilroy.

People could say what they wanted, Cochran thought as he pushed free from the right-hand lane and moved into the center of the highway, but competition was what had drawn people to the valley and kept them there, a chance to put their talents on the line and see what they could make of them. His own company almost had gone under twice, but Cochran was certain that once the Invective hit the market everything would be different. He would be able to pay off his second mortgage while he waited for his stock to jump in value, then he and his wife would be able to fly high for years on the good fortunes of invention and entrepreneurship.

By the time Cochran reached work, the graveyard crew had begun to empty the parking lot, making way for the next wave of workers. Cochran liked that time of day more than any other, when the sun was barely up in the morning sky and the day was full of promise. Cochran pulled his Mercedes into an empty space by the front entrance, turned off his radio, then began working loose the cords he had attached to his dashboard to hold his drip bottle and line in place.

This is going to be one strange day, he thought, then he pushed open his door and placed his IV stand in the empty space beside his car.

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Dennis Barnhart was so drunk he begged Pobone to drive, but Pobone, crawling back into Barnhart’s Ferrari after stopping to pee, had proved himself incapable of rising to the occasion, insisting he be allowed to drive from the passenger side, saying that anything good enough for the Brits ought to be good enough for he and Barnhart.

In the back seat, out of reach, the last half-bottle of champagne rose straight through the top of a cooler Pobone’s staff had secured there. More than once that afternoon, before he had become so drunk that keeping his car in one lane had begun to command his full attention, Barnhart had leaned over, hit his glass of champagne, then said to Pobone, “I feel like I can fly.”

They still had plenty of room to soar, the valley highways empty of the traffic that would start congesting the roads a little after four. That left Barnhart and Pobone two more hours in the cockpit of a bright red Ferrari that Barnhart already had opened up to one-ten.

The mountains, however, were proving a bit tricky. Despite the almost perfect steering response of his brand new machine, Barnhart’s Ferrari required input to negotiate the tight wind-back turns of Highway 17. In a few years, long after Barnhart had taken his new car over the mountain, construction crews would erect a concrete divider down the center of the highway, a divider that wayward drivers would cover with thick black tire marks and long streaks of automobile paint within six months of its construction. Natives of Santa Clara Valley, some of whom had driven back and forth over Highway 17 tens of dozens of times by the time they were legally old enough to drink, called the highway The Snake Pit, a road with shoulders that vanished into thin air – space disguised as concrete, concrete disguised as open space.

But Dennis Barnhart had no intention of letting a little thing like too much champagne put a plug in his party. He had worked too many years, too many hours, and had given up far too many things. The day belonged to him, entirely to him, and he was going over the mountain if it killed him, long before the sun went down, long before he and Pobone returned to board his new yacht, although, as far as Barnhart was concerned, someone else could pilot the dammed thing once they got there.

“Open her up,” Pobone cried, as Barnhart cleared the summit and steered into the middle of the first long straightaway the men had seen in half an hour. “Let’s see this baby fly!”

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Gene Amdahl was on the tail end of a bad two-year skid when he pulled out of a Mountain View bar on a Saturday night and aimed his car north to begin his half-hour drive home. Selling big blocks of stock, it had turned out, was not always a smart thing to do, and while Amdahl certainly had bought plenty of security by selling, the company that bore his name no longer had even the smallest obligation to listen to what Amdahl said it ought to do.

It was one right out of the books, corporate America’s long history of playing off the ignorance of its inventors and starry-eyed entrepreneurs, seizing greed and running with it until men like Amdahl, Edison, Tesla, De Forest, and Bell found themselves watching from dugouts games they had started with their own bats and balls.

Amdahl barely had been able to stand it. Earlier that month, National had become the valley’s first semiconductor company to earn more than a billion dollars. Apple Computers had completed its transformation into another Hewlett-Packard, moving from a garage womb straight into the mainstream of technological America. Steven Jobs, who didn’t know a transistor from a capacitor, had even graced the cover of Time magazine, his Apple-bright smile the perfect picture of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial spirit. And everyone seemed to have forgotten Gene Amdahl, despite his brilliant record of invention and innovation.

Trying to keep up in Silicon Valley, Amdahl thought, as he drifted off the Junipero Serra Highway into the hills that led to his home in Los Altos, was like trying to outrun a Pamplona bull. If you stopped to catch your breath, even for a minute, the bull would flatten you, erasing any memory of what you had accomplished before being rundown. But if you kept running, always with the bull closing from behind, you might spend your whole life looking over your shoulder, never knowing what you might have had if you had just stepped off the road and let the bull pass.

Amdahl, however, had no intention of stopping, or even of pausing to reevaluate the course that had placed him exactly where he was: on a dark, isolated road fifteen miles from home, alone with his thoughts, trying to outthink the bull bearing down on him from behind. He barely heard the music blasting from his radio, or the air whistling past his window, which he had rolled down to help keep him awake on the long, dark ride home. He had driven the road hundreds of times before, almost always deep in thought, although not always as tired as he was that particular Saturday night.

With only one tiny headlight to announce itself, the motorcycle that pulled up behind Amdahl went completely unnoticed, like the whistling air and blaring music, the background of Amdahl’s thoughts.

There was still time to start again, he knew, to take the money he had earned from the vulture capitalists who had run roughshod over him to form a new company, a better company, something that would make the world forget that Gene Amdahl ever had been associated with the company that still bore his name. It would have to be big, something extraordinarily grand, bigger than Intel, bigger than National, bigger even than IBM. As Amdahl drove, and the motorcycle closed unnoticed behind him, the giddiness of his thoughts began to fill his car like the morning fog rolling over the mountain top, surrounding his approaching house in a white cloud.

When the bumpy shoulder of the road intruded on his thoughts, Amdahl tried, just for a moment, to reign in his distracted attention. But by the time the motorcycle pulled up on his left to pass, Amdahl was somewhere faraway again, his thoughts as unencumbered as a newborn child’s.

He mistook the first sound, his bumper catching the rear wheel of the motorcycle, for another stray pass over the road’s bumpy shoulder, yanking the steering wheel hard to his left as he accelerated to free himself from the edge of the road. When the motorcycle flattened in front of him and attached itself to the wheel well of his car, Amdahl wondered what fool had left debris in the road, what damage the fallen branch or wayward pile of dirt had done to his car. By the time he had regained control of his steering, and had stopped to see what he had hit, Amdahl’s car had traveled more than one hundred and fifty feet, dragging the dead body of the motorcycle driver with it, attached, as was the rear wheel of the bike, to the front wheel of Gene Amdahl’s car.

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The first emergency worker to reach the scene, in an interview that would appear in the following morning’s San Jose Mercury News, said that the little red Ferrari must really have been flying.

“There aren’t any skid marks, not even a trace of tire tread on the road. But judging from where the car landed, you know there aren’t any trees along that stretch, when they went over they must not have known they’d even left the road.”

But Timothy Pobone had known, having looked to his right in time to scream “We’re going over!” just before Dennis Barnhart had launched his new Ferrari off the summit of Highway 17 and into open blue sky. On the way down, freefalling in space, Barnhart had closed his eyes and prayed.

Not today, he thought. This is my day, entirely my day.

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On the way home from work that afternoon, Rich Cochran had himself a good long laugh. Doctors, he thought, merging his car into the center of the Junipero Serra Highway.

Not only had he gotten through the day, he had wrapped up the final touches on the Invective, drafting a final masking step that none of the other engineers had been able to see. He hardly had noticed the IV line attached to his arm, its constant drip providing immunity from a disease that would have killed him if the drip had been interrupted for more than a few minutes.

There had been only one close call, when a janitor who wasn’t supposed to be working in the fab had turned the corner pushing a bucket forward with his mop. Someone had called out; Cochran had stopped suddenly. The IV stand had rolled away slowly, the drip line in Cochran’s arm tightening, threatening to rip free the vein from his arm, then pulling just hard enough to stop the stand from rolling away.

Tomorrow, Cochran thought, laughing about the joke that had just popped into his head, will be another day, a day with a bottle attached to my arm, but a day when I’ll fly into the annals of Silicon Valley, proving to the world that immortality, if you have the right values, is always within arm’s reach.

 

CHAPTER #13

Lisa was nervous. And she felt ridiculous. Like most women her age, she had, for years, been carrying around a picture of what her life would look like by the time she was thirty: college graduate, school counselor, if not someone’s fiancée at least his long-time lover. Instead she was waiting to meet someone named Mitch, her long brown hair sweeping across her cheekbone like a movie harlot. Eddie, her Heartline consultant, had insisted on the single sweep, telling her it added a touch of fluid grace to her otherwise too-still features.

Lisa had gone along with Eddie’s suggestions, just as her friend, Rosario, had urged her to: her hair, her dress, even filming a second video after Eddie had said the first one was too forgettable. She had felt uncomfortable about the changes until Eddie had called one afternoon to tell her that the Heartline computer had located a perfect match. Thirty-two, athletic, a degree in philosophy with a minor in electronics technologies.

Lisa had suspected from the beginning that she might be stepping into the very trap her college Partnership classes had taught her to avoid – seeking in one partner the mirror image of another – but Mitch, Caucasian and Protestant, wasn’t likely to drag behind him the kind of inherited baggage that weighed down Lee, or the socialite girlfriend who needed him to prove she was more than a Palo Alto club girl.

The heels Eddie had picked out for her were higher than she was accustomed to, her legs were tired, but Lisa resisted the temptation to sit while she waited, shifting her weight from foot to foot instead, just the way Eddie had taught her: lady-like but confident. At first she had been unsure about the idea of joining Heartline at all, but eventually Eddie had made it easy to go along, pitching the critical reasons for the company’s sixty-five percent success rate: voice and screen lessons, computer-compiled suggestions for improvement, Heartline’s patented Climb the Ladder method of introducing partners. After weeks of hair coifs, palette training, script writing, and filming, Lisa was ready to take her final step: a full-scale upLink with Mitch.

While she kept an eye on the red bulb that would light seconds before Mitch’s appearance, Lisa reviewed a mental list of his interests. He liked snow skiing more than basketball, group upLinks more than upLinking alone. He owned a collection of antique computing machines. He enjoyed singing in church. His list of dislikes was short, but it had been bothering Lisa for days: he didn’t like feeling pressured; he didn’t like women who talked a lot. Eddie had told her not to worry, reminding her that a pretty smile and sexy lips were enough to undo anything she might say.

Lisa was glad that Mitch had not asked her to make too many changes. Some of the men who had expressed an interest in Climbing the Ladder with her had asked her to change everything: the color of her hair, the way she laughed, the type of questions she asked. The only suggestion Mitch had made was that Lisa “loosen up a bit,” something Eddie had helped her with in her second taping, getting her to talk less about books and art museums, more about Grid Bars and “the things she liked in a man.”

From the bottom rung of Climb The Ladder to the penultimate step – an exchange of videos that had been cleared by each of their consultants – she and Mitch had gotten along well. Based on demographically normed samples, their projected compatibility rating was ten percent higher than Heartline’s target. Eddie had hugged Lisa when he had seen the results, telling her it was the thought of new love, not the extra commission, that moved him.

Lisa felt her heart quicken just before she saw the red bulb above her screen begin to glow. If Rosario hadn’t warned her about the flush of static electricity produced by the life-sized screen coming on she would have thought she’d had a premonition. Instead, during the remaining seconds before Mitch appeared, Lisa let her body go limp, bending at the waist then flipping back her hair as she righted herself, a touch of planned spontaneity that Rosario called Eddie’s trademark.

Lisa could tell right away that Mitch had been well-coached. He was wearing a bright red tie covered with gold accents, a tailored shirt that showed off his shoulders, pleated khakis that made him look lithe and graceful. But it was more his entrance than his appearance that Lisa noticed, his decision to approach through an open door at the back of his room rather than appearing still and ready in front of her. Lisa turned her shoulders slightly while she waited for Mitch to cross the room, an almost imperceptible movement that allowed the fan Eddie had placed in the corner to lift the sash wrapped around her neck. She wanted to smile, but Eddie had told her to wait until Mitch was standing right in front of her, leaving no doubt that his arrival, not his mere appearance, had been the source of her happiness. Lisa would thank Eddie later, perhaps even take him to dinner. She was ready.

You look beautiful, Mitch said, stopping beside a chair near the edge of his sound stage. You’ve done something with your hair.

Lisa resisted the temptation to tell him he was right, that she and her stylist had gone through three different looks before settling on the single sweep and loose coif.

I’m glad you like it. Did you have any trouble finding the place?

Mitch’s laugh, a boyish grin that highlighted the yellow in his eyes, was exactly what Eddie had told her to look for, the kind of trump card Rosario said Eddie always found. Preparing for Mitch, Eddie had used a computer to enhance the barely visible laugh lines around his mouth, lines masked by the Mediterranean coloring of his skin. Mitch, Eddie had discovered with the help of his computer, liked to laugh.

Lisa’s face felt flush. She was glad Eddie had turned on a fan in the corner. Mitch’s shirt moved on him like skin. His eyes were soft but strong. He was more handsome than she remembered, and his good looks made her nervous. She wondered if he might be thinking he had made a mistake selecting such a plain-looking woman.

Is this your first time? Mitch asked. Your first full-scale upLink?

Yes. How about you?

Mitch nodded.

I didn’t know everything would be so big, Lisa said. I guess it really isn’t, but it seems like it.

Lisa wondered, if given time, say a week or two, she would have been able to think of anything more banal to say. Then she remembered something that suddenly put her at ease: Mitch didn’t like women who talked too much; she could leave most of the conversation to him.

For the next twenty minutes Lisa did her best to say as little as possible, nodding when Mitch said something he thought was clever, asking questions that made it easy for him to talk about himself. Her tactics were old ones, ones taught to her by sisters and girlfriends, but she could tell by the constant smile on Mitch’s face that they were working, that he found her not only appropriately talkative, but also interesting, intelligent, and witty.

A few minutes before the half-hour session was scheduled to end, Mitch leaned forward in his chair, letting his hand come to rest on a place that would have been Lisa’s arm if they had been sitting in the same room. Lisa was ready. She felt anxious.

I really like talking with you, Mitch said. I wish we’d had a chance to meet like this before.

Lisa took a deep breath. She knew she should be kind and give Mitch a chance to explain. She could even pretend she didn’t know what he was going to say next. But Lisa was tired of self-effacing humility, and she knew exactly where Mitch was headed. She could have compiled a catalogue of men’s transitional lines, the I‘m Sorrys and the This Doesn’t Have Anything to Do with Yous they use to prepare a woman for rejection.

Before what? Lisa asked, going along for a final moment just in case she had misunderstood.

Well, that’s kind of complicated. I was hoping we could talk –

Lisa raised her hand, deciding they couldn’t.

You mean before you found someone you liked better?

Mitch shook his head, but Lisa was determined to continue.

Or before you got all dressed up and pretended you were interested? Or maybe you mean before you came all this way to show what an honorable and upright guy you are.

When Mitch leaned back, withdrawing the hand he had offered, Lisa wondered if she had chastised the right person. It was, after all, Lee who was confused, who had surrounded himself with Mandy’s white bread heritage to hide his identity.

They must have told you that things like this happen, Mitch said. You know, the different levels of Climb the Ladder, the time delays. Sometimes there are overlaps.

Is that what this is? An overlap?

I’m sorry.

Lisa started to respond, then remembered Mitch’s suggestion that she “loosen up a bit.” Considering the unexpected turn of events, the fact that she was about to get dumped by a man she had never actually met, she was willing to give it a try.

Do you know the kind of questions I was asked during my interview? My relationship goals and hobbies. That’s it. You don’t know a single thing about me that matters. Doesn’t it bother you that you know next to nothing about this woman you’re so anxious to run off with?

Lisa could tell she had hit her mark – the way Mitch sunk back into his chair, the way he looked up to see how much time was left. She had done everything she could to pressure him, making sure she used the last few minutes to keep him from saying the words he had been waiting twenty-five minutes to say: I’m sorry, but I met someone else. When Lisa saw the bulb above her screen begin to glow, then the relief on Mitch’s face, she leaned forward, acting as if she were about to take his hand in hers.

By the way, she said. You should know something about this other woman. My consultant told me she – And then the screen went blank, the red bulb went out, and Lisa heard the door of her sound stage fly open.

Well, Eddie said. Is it love at first sight? Is it a romantic moonlight dinner? Is it wine and dancing in the city?

It’s I want my money back, Lisa said.

Sitting alone in the parking lot, Lisa drove her fingers through Eddie’s single sweep of hair. She pulled a brush from her purse, saw her Heartline contract inside, then dropped the brush and began slowly shredding the contract, tearing it into long deliberate strips.

By the time she had pulled into the street, she had brushed away all but the last bit of coif, attacking it so fiercely that she had pulled out several long strands of hair. She was wearing her sunglasses by the time she reached the first light, and by the time she crossed the highway her radio was blaring. She had decided to take the long way home, up into the foothills, traveling north until she found a road that would get her lost.

Half an hour later, feeling the satisfaction of lashing out beginning to ebb, Lisa turned around and started heading for home. After a few blocks she turned off her radio, feeling, for the first time, her head beginning to throb. She flipped open her purse, the one Eddie had picked out for her, sleek and black with a short gold chain, then dumped it out onto her seat. A pack of tissue, a tube of lipstick, eye liner, mascara, was all she had been able to fit inside without looking like what Eddie had called a hoarding bag lady. Her head and ears were ringing by the time she pulled onto the highway, and when the items on her seat began to slip onto the floor, first the lipstick tube, then the eye liner, she let them go, not really caring if she ever saw them again.

Traffic was thick, full of people making their way home from work. As she began edging toward the left lane, the red light above her navigation console began to glow.

You are approaching heavy traffic to the south. Please consult your on-screen map to determine an alternative route.

I’m not in the mood.

I’m sorry, but I do not understand the word ‘mood.’ Please try something else.

Leave me alone. I have a headache.

I’m sorry, but I do not understand the word ‘headache.’ Please try something else.

What about “off’”? You understand that, don’t you?

You wish to disengage your navigation system?

Yes.

Lisa rolled down her window, hoping the rush of fresh air would clear her head. Traffic was heavy, and when she saw the approaching logjam of cars that her navigation system had warned her about she jumped off the highway and settled onto nearby back roads. The absence of traffic was refreshing, but not enough to make her head stop hurting. She could tell she was going to think about that night again, that night with Lee that had started everything. There was nothing she could do to stop it.