“There’s something off about her,” Daniel said.
Daniel was sitting at the bar surrounded by a disarray of empty glasses and a half-eaten bowl of popcorn. The long narrow barroom was illuminated by the gray gloom of a rainy afternoon seeping past the neon signs in the front window. The TV had a picture of Evelyn Eden, the CEO of Clear Chip Corporation, on it, but the sound was muted, replaced by the twangs of a country-western singer bemoaning the loss of his unfaithful spouse.
“What’s the matter, Daniel, you don’t like strong women?” Erik asked.
“No, it’s not that,” Daniel replied. “There’s something wrong with her eyes.”
“They look perfect to me, she has great eyes.” Erik was ready for what was coming next. Daniel was always good for a conspiracy theory or two.
“That’s just it. Last year when I saw a picture of her, I would have sworn it was a deep fake. This year she looks completely normal.”
Daniel had apparently made it big out in Silicon Valley before cashing out and moving to small-town Iowa. He had been working in cybersecurity. Erik was not exactly sure what Daniel’s job had been out there, he just knew Daniel had no lack of cash. Recently Daniel seemed to be mainly focused on depleting the local alcohol supply.
“So normal is bad?”
“She looks too good. I think Paulson was right.”
“Senator Paulson was right.”
“You mean ‘Pedo’ Paulson? As far as I’m concerned, they cannot lock him up long enough. Don’t you remember what they found on his computer?”
“Yeah, I know, they found all those files on his computer. Do you remember what he was doing before the scandal?”
“Wasn’t he the head of some committee?”
“Exactly, he was the head of the antitrust committee investigating Clear Chip and Evelyn Eden.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess I forgot about that. That thing really fell apart.”
“Yeah, kind of funny how a bunch of people on that committee ended up involved in a scandal… or worse. Williams was found with illegal drugs, Garcia was taking bribes, and Brown was killed in a plane crash. What do they all have in common?”
“They all denied everything.”
“Of course they did.”
“If you look carefully you can pretty much tell they were blindsided by the charges. They look completely dumbstruck. Their replacements on the committee were much more friendly toward Eden.”
“What about Senator Brown though? Just bad luck getting on the wrong plane?”
“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck. The plane’s autopilot was said to have malfunctioned. Everyone on board was killed.”
“What are you thinking, Daniel, that Evelyn Eden was somehow behind it? That sounds pretty farfetched… and pretty ruthless.”
“I’m just saying it seems odd that she shows up on the tech scene out of nowhere, starts buying up technology, and now she ends up owning most of the tech companies in Silicon Valley. I could pretty much understand it when Clear Chip acquired Intel. Clear Chip had a superior product. I think everyone was surprised when Clear Chip bought Apple.”
“Yeah, but she is bringing manufacturing jobs back to the USA. I hear there’s a bunch of new construction going on out in California and Nevada.”
“You’re right, Clear Chip is building a ton of new fabrication facilities out there. After all those years of outsourcing, they are finally bringing it back home. Don’t get too excited about the job market though. Most of those new plants are highly automated. They just need a few maintenance grunts to fix things up when they break down. My contacts out there tell me those new plants are built like fortresses. Security is extremely tight.”
“Didn’t you used to work in security?”
“Cybersecurity. I would not go out there now. Not for anything. There’s something really messed up going…”
“Hey Daniel, your phone is on,” Erik interrupted.
The screen had lit up for a second, then shut off. Daniel looked down at his phone and seemed concerned.
“What’s the matter, Daniel,” Erik asked. “Did you get a text?”
“No, my phone was off,” Daniel answered. “I always leave it off. I think maybe I better shut up.”
Daniel drained the last of his beer and threw a twenty on the bar for his tab and tip. He put on his brown suede jacket.
“You take care now, Erik,” Daniel said. There was something about the way he said it. He seemed to mean it.
“Yeah, you too,” Erik said.
That was the last time Erik saw Daniel. It wasn’t long after that he had the accident. His electric car just went nuts and slammed into a tree at a hundred miles per hour. They blamed it on the autopilot. The thing is, Daniel never used autopilot.