David Weiss liked to walk during his lunch break—when he wasn’t using it for power meetings or when he wasn’t on the road. As he dressed in expensive suits and designer shoes, he changed into sneakers and walked the industrial park beside the big building that housed Sony Online Entertainment’s headquarters.
And as a lowly underling, it was usually difficult to catch him. I really wasn’t all that lowly an underling, but getting an appointment with him was next to impossible. And getting him in a good mood for this was imperative. Thus the decision to approach him directly.
As I wore sneakers and jeans to work every day, it wasn’t difficult to keep up with him. He had at least two decades on me, but the man was fit. And he walked hella fast, even in a bespoke suit without the jacket.
“Adam,” he said when he spotted me at his shoulder, powerwalking amongst the artfully arranged industrial park shrubbery. A squirrel watched us from further up the path, skittering away once we hit a dangerously close proximity. “What brings you out from hunching over your console underneath the deep dark recesses of florescent lights?”
“Maybe I wanted to some fresh air,” I shot back with a grin.
“I’d sooner believe you were out here training for the San Diego marathon than that,” he quipped in that clipped Boston accent that gave his vowels an almost harsh edge.
I laughed. As much as I’d been rehearsing this chat in my head, I knew I had to rein myself in a bit and start with some small talk—much as I hated the thought.
“How’s the family?”
“Ugh,” he said with a laborious sigh. “You couldn’t ask me how business is going? C’mon, Adam.”
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and matched my pace to his. “That bad?”
“Don’t ever have a daughter. More specifically, don’t ever have a teenage daughter.”
My brows bobbed up. I’d never met his family but I knew he had three kids—an older teen from his first marriage and then two little ones. “Well the teenage part is kind of unavoidable, once you have them.” Also, need I remind him that I’d been a teenager just two years before when he’d driven up to Pasadena to personally recruit me to quit college and join his team?
He rubbed his forehead. “You know what she did last month? Came home for the weekend from her boarding school with this god-awful tattoo on her back. A skull with snakes. She even admitted that she hates it. I offered to pay to get it removed and she refused. I just—” He shook his head.
“Kids these days…” I chimed in. Our gazes met and we both erupted in laughter—uneasy on my part, genuine on his.
“So what did you want to talk about? I’m certain it’s something serious that’s brought the vampire out into the daylight.”
My eyes narrowed as I regarded him. He was a shrewd one, my boss. And it was hard to pull anything over on him—which is why I really never had attempted to. But I knew I’d have to navigate this conversation very carefully. I was asking a lot—and a lot he wouldn’t be happy to give me.
I took a deep breath and decided to plunge in. At best, I’d get what I needed. At worst, I’d be stuck in a job, stuck in a contract and working for a belligerent boss who resented the fact that I’d asked so much.
David held all the power here. And so I had to tread carefully.
“I have an idea I want to develop. Something that, I’m confident, could be very big if it’s done right.”
His brows raised and he turned to study my face. I kept my eyes resolutely on the ground in front of us. “You want to pitch to the team? I can set that up, no problem.”
My hands balled into fists inside my pockets, arms tensing. How did I break the news to him that no only did I not want to pitch this to the team but that this project of mine would be in direct competition with Sony Online’s flagship product, Everquest?
Sure, the game was failing. Everquest II had been launched five years before and was not doing well. The MMO market was a tough one, as he’d surely bring up Everyone was finding it hard to compete with the Godzilla of Blizzard.
“I don’t want to pitch it to the team,” I finally said.
David turned to look at me again without interrupting his breakneck speed. “Are you asking to take it straight to Ron?”
I blinked. I hadn’t anticipated this…that David would see this as my bid to go over his head to the CEO. I shook my head once more, then swallowed my doubts and decided to get it out before David start seeing conspiracies where there were none.
“My idea a fantasy-based MMO based on my own AI algo that I developed for Mission Impossible. Dynamic world and complex quest progression. I—I want to build a company around it. My own company.”
Silence. David slipped his hands into his pockets and I could see some tension begin to build in his shoulders. His face, however, was impassive. As impassive as I imagined my own to be.
“Well I knew this was coming. Had no idea it would be so soon.”
My own brow twitched. Well, well, well.
He’d let that shoe drop with little fanfare. But there was always another shoe. And when that one dropped, I suspected it wouldn’t go as easily.
“Adam, you are ridiculously talented. And smart as hell. But—and this is a big but—you are young. You’re barely old enough to legally drink. Don’t you think you’ve still got things to learn? A lot of things to learn?”
“The best university is the school of hard knocks and the world itself.” I quoted his words back at him and he rolled his eyes, recognizing them instantly. He’d used that argument to persuade me to leave school two years before. Not that it had taken much persuasion.
He stopped walking and turned to me, his face deadly serious. I screeched to a halt and turned to face him. He rolled his lips into his mouth and stared at me blandly. “You’ve been working in the industry for two years Two years. You are an infant. More to the point, you know that what you are proposing can’t be done by a single person. The days of the kid sitting in his garage and coming up with software to change the world came and went with the seventies and eighties. A game like you propose—well, look at all the people we have working on Everquest. It will take you a team and years of development. Proposals, proof of concept. Pitches. Venture capitalist investments to fund salaries. You know computers. You speak the language like a native. But you don’t know business, kid.”
I nodded. “I have someone who will help. Someone I trust.”
His face only showed a little emotion—clear irritation that I’d been talking around about this. “Not one of my people, I hope.”
“No. I—” Well I couldn’t promise him I’d never do that. There were a few I was hoping to poach, if I could. “No,” I amended.
His eyes narrowed, hands going to his hips. “You have a five-year contract with three more years on it. In addition, there’s a non-compete clause that says you can’t so much as work on something in your own spare time. What you work on belongs to us.”
I nodded. “Which is why I have done no work on it.”
He looked skeptical. “No notes? No flow chart? No storylines?”
I pointed to my head. “It’s all in here for now. I swear to God, David. I haven’t violated my contract.”
He shook his head, flushing slightly. “I’m the one who answers to the company for this, Adam. You realize what you are asking of me, right? To cut you loose and let you go create some competitive product—” he cut himself off, tensing.
He was starting to get worked up and I didn’t want this. Didn’t want this confrontation. It would do me no good whatsoever to make an enemy out of someone who had been my greatest advocate. Who had opened up doors for me that I’d never dreamed of having opened at my age.
I turned and took a tentative step along the path, silently urging him to follow suit. Perhaps if we were walking this wouldn’t end up growing as tense as it looked like it might now.
“I do realize what I’m asking of you. But…do you realize what you were doing when you asked a nineteen year-old to sign a five-year contract? At that point, five years represented a quarter of my life.”
He shot me a long look and then fell into step beside me. The look was—it wasn’t contentious, that’s for sure. It was a definite score for me. I almost wondered if that thought had caused him more than a little guilt.
“We treat you well…”
I nodded. “This is a fantastic job. I won’t deny it. But…”
“But it’s not the job you want, ultimately.”
Staring at the ground in front of me, I thought about my goal with this. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny—not dependent on the whims of a corporation that could make a decision to cut my position at any time—or reduce, change or require me to do something different entirely.
“I have a vision. I have to see it through.”
“You realize the terrible risk you are taking, right? To give up a job like this… you’re making almost three quarters of a million dollars a year. You’re making connections in the industry. Gaining experience. You risk throwing that all away to start something based on only a vision inside your head.”
I blinked and nodded. When put it like that, it was terrifying. I’d be an idiot not to be terrified, to be honest.
“Yes, you’re brilliant. And you’re well aware of that fact. You have a stunning future ahead of you, Adam. But what makes you think you can take on the likes of World of Warcraft when our efforts have floundered and other, newer companies can’t seem to fare any better?”
I’d been expecting this comment, at least. “Blizzard can’t dominate the industry forever. Everything will rise and fall.”
David snorted and shook his head. “Just don’t burn your bridges. That’s the greatest piece of advice I could ever give you. Don’t cut ties.”
I returned his gaze. “I don’t intend to cut ties. Not with you.”
We walked on for five minutes. Then ten. We’d made it almost the full way back to our building in silence when I thought he was never going to return to the conversation. He spoke with his hands jammed stiffly into his pockets.
“I have to think about this. I have to think.”
I took a deep breath and then let it go, aware that everything—everything—depended on this decision. If David said no, I was stuck in this job for another three years before I could even begin to start working on my design and vision.
And who knew where the industry would be then?
“Thank you for keeping an open mind. I appreciate it.”
He grunted and waved me off, turning to take the pathway directly back to his office, leaving me standing there in the pathway.
I hadn’t realized it but my fingers, inside my pockets, were tangled around one another, firmly crossed. As if that would bring me any kind of luck. At this point, I’d take a stroll through a field of four leaf clovers and rub rabbits feet all over my body if that would help.
This couldn’t end now, before it had even begun.
A couple days later, as I was sleeping, my phone rang and buzzed incessantly. It was Saturday night but I’d worked most of the day, as I usually did on the weekends.
Nevertheless, I was not happy about the fucking phone ringing at 3:16 a.m., almost vibrating its way off the nightstand. What the fuck?
It had better be an emergency or whoever was about to get an ear full of the filthiest curse words I could think of.
Good thing I looked at the caller ID before answered.
It was David.
Couldn’t he have texted whatever it was? I swiped to answer as I cleared my throat. “Yes?”
“Adam. It’s David.”
Well I fucking knew that already. Shit… “Yes, hi David. What’s up?”
“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought…”
I blinked, my eyes gritty with sleep. “Uh huh…”
“You know, when you asked me if you could be let out of your contract…?”
“Yes, yes, I know.” I fumbled, forcing myself to sit up. Shit. I’d only gone to bed two hours ago.
“I can’t, in good conscience, hold you back. I know you’re destined for great things. I’m going to recommend that the company sever your contract and we part on good terms. With no mention of your…vision… That’s not going to happen overnight anyway. You know that, right?”
“Yes. Of course. But as you know, I’m a hard worker.”
“I do know that.” He cleared his throat. “Before you leave, I need you to finish up the projects you’re currently working on. Or at least prepare for them to be handed off to someone else on the team. And you agree not to poach any of my people. At least not for a year.”
I narrowed my eyes as I rubbed one of them with a knuckle. What was happening in a year, I wondered? If I wasn’t half dead to the world, I had a feeling I’d be picking up a lot of subtext from David in this convo. And probably, playing it out in my head when I was fully conscious later, I’d figure out what that was.
“Fine. That’s all feasible. I think Darlene would make a great team member She could easily handle what I’m working on. I can get her prepped.”
“Okay… we can work out the details later. But give me a month at least, please?”
“A month is totally reasonable.”
“Glad you agree. Okay, I’ll let you get back to…whatever you were doing.”
“Sleeping?” I laughed.
“Yeah…well. Some people do that, I guess. Good night, son.”
I raised my brows. He’d never called me that before. Hmm. “Good night—”
“Oh, and ah, when it comes time to ask for some venture investments. You have my number. Call me. I can hook you up.”
I frowned. Well there was a surprising turn of events. “Uh yes, absolutely. Thank you. I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I—”
“Night, kid.” Click.
I stared at my phone for a minute as the glow died down in the dark. Well…fuck.
“Hmm. Did I hear you mention my name?” a voice murmured from next to me in the darkness. “Or was that a dream?”
I grinned, suddenly fully awake, placing the phone face down on the nightstand, I lay back and turned to Darlene. “You did indeed.”
Her arm came around my waist, her hand smoothing across my chest. Mmm. Okay at least David’s wake-up call would be the gift that kept on giving. Not only had he set me free and given me some very good news, it was entirely possible that I was about to get lucky again.
And there would be round three when we woke up in the morning, certainly. “Let’s just say that I think you’re going to be getting some good news at work shortly. Can’t say more, of course.”
She sighed. “You know it’s a good thing you aren’t my boss. You’d drive me fucking bonkers.”
I laughed as I rolled over, pinning her down beneath me and nibbling on her neck. She made happy noises. “So you’ve said. Like every single time we hang out. Maybe in a year or so, you might change your mind.”
She laughed. “It would take a year, I’m sure. What’s happening in a year, Drake?”
“We’ll see…” My mouth moved lower and she let out a soft moan. “I feel like celebrating with round two,” I said.
“I’m sure you won’t tell me what you’re celebrating, but if I get another orgasm out of it, I don’t care.”
With a laugh I rolled back toward the nightstand and grabbed a condom.
“I’m good at delivering on my promises. An orgasm it is.”
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