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(c) Copyright 2000 by Wiseguy

I was not having fun.

The immediate reason for that had something to do with
being crammed in seat 20D of a 767 for almost two and a
half hours. Aside from the usual discomfort of a 23-inch
shoulder span crammed into an 18-inch middle seat, there
was the added joy of discovering that row 20 sits up
against an interior bulkhead. As soon as the oblivious
occupant of 19D put his seat in the fully reclined position
(which happened about 10 minutes after takeoff, naturally)
I lost all hope of using my tray table or even having
enough space to hold my John Sandford paperback a
comfortable reading distance from my face. By the time we
began our descent into Salt Lake City International Airport
I was cross-eyed, stiff-shouldered, and more familiar with
19D's scalp than his barber.

But there was more behind my disgruntled state than just a
bad seat on a crowded jet. While I waited patiently by the
carousel for my checked baggage to appear, I thought about
the day everything had started to go sour.
I was in Walt's office, door closed, shooting the breeze
while he packed his collection of promotional coffee mugs
in a box, wrapping each meticulously in newspaper to avoid
breakage. "You sure it wouldn't be easier just to stick
around another few years?" I joked, not really expecting
him to change his mind.

"No way," he said emphatically. "You saw the early-out
package -- if they want to give me this kind of money to
leave, I'd be an idiot to turn it down."

I just nodded grimly. I was going to miss working for
Walt. "Any word on the replacement?"

"Denny is still doing interviews. The candidate pool
doesn't look real promising." Walt stopped wrapping mugs
for a moment and gave me one of his Wise Elder looks. "He
keeps asking me if you're going to apply, Tom. I think
he'd really like to have you in here."

"So I can go to meetings, suck up to directors and do
revised budget forecasts weekly? No thanks -- I'm having
too much fun keeping the network running."

"So be it," he sighed.

The thing is, I wasn't kidding -- back then things had been
pretty good. We had a solid core team of technical
managers who knew their stuff and worked well together
backed up by a corps of fair-to-good contractors who
handled desktop support. In Walt we had a boss who knew
how to manage the upper levels and give us enough room and
support to do our jobs well. The result was a smooth-
running network and a very content IT staff. Most of us
had at least 10 years with the company, and saw no reason
why we couldn't go another 10.

Even Walt's early retirement didn't hurt things too badly
at first. While his office stood empty, the five of us --
Veronica, the help desk manager; Pete, the wide-area
network genius; Joanna, the Web and database specialist;
Jesse, the cable and hardware expert; and myself, the LAN
guru -- divided up the critical functions and kept all the
plates spinning. For four months we functioned as a self-
directed team until Denny, the IS Director, announced that
he had hired a new manager to replace Walt.

Our first meeting with the new boss set the tone for the
year and a half that followed. Kevin held forth at length
about his extensive technology experience in the military,
followed by a short stint with a large consulting firm.
The certificates on the wall told us he had been to a lot
of training: Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Sun, and a number
of reputable independent schools were named on the various
documents, all of which were dated within the past two
years. Conspicuously absent was any evidence of training
in NetWare; that seemed incongruous, as we were very much a
Novell shop.

We knew we were in trouble when Kevin launched into a
speech about his commitment to customer service, and how he
expected each of us to make the same commitment to service
every need of our customers, the end users. That
philosophy sounds great in principle, but never works in
practice. To keep systems manageable and maintainable, IT
shops often have to weigh end user requests (which are
always expressed as "needs") against the real needs of the
business as a whole; sometimes the benefit to a few users
is not enough to justify the corresponding costs.

Sure enough, within a few months Kevin had made his mark.
Instead of one standard office suite we were supporting
four different packages in multiple configurations. Users
had more freedom to change the configuration on their
workstations to suit their needs. A dozen new applications
had been introduced to meet the needs of small workgroups.
Kevin received accolades from the Executive Committee for
his customer focus.

Meanwhile, the people who had to make it all work were
becoming more and more stressed. Veronica's help desk
staff had little expertise in the new office suites, so
they were taking longer to resolve simple calls and had to
dispatch techs more often. Joanna had to learn the innards
of several new database engines and their corresponding
front-end clients, as well as the custom interfaces of the
dozen new applications. Jesse's techs were getting sent
out on more and more calls that ended up having nothing to
do with broken hardware as users tried unsuccessfully to
install their favorite programs from home, which often
tried to update drivers or change the network
configuration. Pete was seeing increases in broadcast
traffic and had to adjust his switches to keep from
saturating our wide area network links. And I had fifteen
new servers added to my list of responsibilities but no new
resources to support them. I found my days getting longer
and my pager going off more often in the night. And
through it all Kevin regularly hit us with performance
reports telling us what we already knew: support incidents
were up, average time to resolve was up, systems
availability was down, and overtime expenses were getting
out of control. Our new leader's inability to see the
causal relationship between his new philosophy and the
deteriorating state of the network earned him the covert
nickname of Commodore Clueless.

The most ominous development, though, was with our
contractors who handle the brunt of the day-to-day
activity. Most of them had been with us for over a year,
which is fairly unusual for entry-level outsourced people.
That worked well for us because they knew the environment;
through experience, they knew what the most common issues
were and understood how to resolve them. But the new
stresses introduced by Kevin's changes were taking a toll
on their morale and personal time, too. Several were
talking openly about looking for new assignments. We could
replace their bodies easily, but not their experience or
the good relationships we had with them.

We did what we thought was the right thing: the five of us
put together a joint status report stating, in as neutral a
way as possible, the problems. We used Kevin's own
statistics and measurements to demonstrate that we needed
either to increase the size of the support staff or revise
policy to rein in the workload. Each of us combed
meticulously through the document to make sure there was no
hint of criticism toward Kevin himself. Then we delivered
the report to Kevin and Denny, thinking the solution would
be obvious.

A week went by with no word. We were starting to wonder
how to politely push things along when Kevin called a team
meeting. He started out by praising the thoroughness and
professional tone of our report, saying that we had made it
obvious that some changes were definitely in order.
"Starting the first of the month," he announced, "we'll
have four additional contractors assigned to LAN support:
one help desk, one administrator, and two field techs." I
heard Jesse sigh softly, but something about Kevin's tone
put a knot in the pit of my stomach. It took only a few
seconds for my fears to be realized.

"Since we don't have the budget to support that headcount
at the current rates," Kevin continued, "the new people
will come from LANtech, a company recommended by Corporate

I really didn't like the sound of that. "What about our
contract with ESS?" I asked, referring to the company that
supplied our existing people.

"They'll be offered a chance to match LANtech's rate,"
Kevin answered smugly. "If they can't, we'll give them the
required notice and terminate the contract."

"But what about the good people we already have?" Veronica
protested. "If we dump ESS, we'll lose them."

Kevin's expression remained blank, as if this were of no
consequence. "Everyone is replaceable."

We would hear that slogan many times in the months to come
as our good, reliable contractors left and were replaced by
people from the LANtech. Our worst fears were quickly
realized: ESS had been a full-service systems integrator,
with resources and expertise to back up their people;
LANtech turned out to be little more than a temp agency,
hiring people fresh out of training programs with no
experience and paying them rock-bottom wages. These people
would come in, stay long enough to learn the ropes, and
then leave LANtech for better-paying positions with
benefits at other area companies. LANtech didn't suffer
because there was always a new trainee to fill the slot,
but the strain on our core team was tremendous. The
camaraderie between the five of us was still as strong as
ever, but our conversations became increasingly bitter.
Sarcasm and gallows humor became commonplace as we became
more and more overworked. Still, there was an unspoken
agreement that we would stick together. Eventually Denny
would see the light, even if Commodore Clueless never did.

Things really started to fall apart in January, after the
big Y2K non-event was safely behind us, when Kevin met with
each of us individually to discuss our performance
evaluations for 1999. The standard system in our company
rated performance in a number of categories using a 5-point
scale with 1 being totally egregious and 5 being
practically godlike. In actual practice, most people got
3's and 4's; the proportion of 4's to 3's tended to
separate the high performers from the rest of the pack.
Annual merit raises and bonuses were based on the ratings,
so people took them very seriously. Under Walt, our group
tended to average out between 3.8 and 4.1, which was about
as high as the upper echelons would allow a rating to go --
Walt always pushed the envelope of political acceptability,
even defying the unofficial taboo against giving out 5's
when he could. Our 1998 results, which spanned the
transition from Walt to Kevin, had been close to that range
thanks largely to Denny.

Given that history, I was expecting to come out around 3.8
for 1999 even with the difficulties we'd had during the
year. I felt the floor open up below me when I looked at
the write-up Kevin handed me and saw the final figure: 3.1
overall, 2's in 'Communication and Teamwork' and 'Effective

Kevin's explanation was brief and unsatisfying. "I can't
fault your technical knowledge," he said smoothly. "You
clearly know a lot about Novell and about servers in
general. But you have to admit that things did not run
smoothly last year. Server uptime was below the target,
overtime attributed to out-of-hours service exceeded the
budget limits, and customer satisfaction with server
performance is down. As manager of LAN services, Tom, it's
your job to keep those metrics in line and satisfy our
customers and last year you didn't do that very well."

The boss took my stunned silence for agreement and went on
to his next amazing observation. "You also need to work on
your people skills, Tom. I've gotten a few complaints that
you take too long to respond to your pager and to voice
mail. I'd like to see you spend more time in the office
with the LANtech people; there's a lot you can teach them,
but they say you're difficult to approach and it's hard to
get your attention when they need you. I need you to be a
team player."

I was speechless. I was going through a pager battery
every week and getting 25 voice mails a day from users to
whom Kevin had given out my direct number as a customer
relations gesture, mostly with questions that should have
gone directly to the help desk. Nobody could keep up with
that. Argument would be fruitless, though, I could see
that plainly; I signed the form and walked away.

My experience was far from unique; in fact, at 3.1 I had
fared better than everyone except Pete, who had suffered
the least impact from the sweeping changes. "What can I
say?" he joked grimly. "A well-designed WAN is hard to
screw up."

Over a hastily arranged dinner at a nearby grill, we
plotted our response. The time for diplomacy was over, we
decided -- we would take our case to Denny directly, five on
one, and ask him to overrule both the evaluations and some
of Kevin's policy changes. Over several pots of strong
coffee at Veronica's apartment we organized our issues and
outlined our presentation to Denny. I was elected to see
Linda, Denny's secretary, first thing in the morning to
schedule the meeting.

Linda did not even pretend surprise when I told her the
group wanted to meet with Denny. "How about four o'clock
tomorrow?" she suggested. "I've been holding that spot
open just in case; Kevin won't be around because he has a
meeting in Fairfax."

"What would we do without you?" I half-joked.

"Let's hope none of us has to find out," she answered

At 3:15 the next day we gathered in a storage room far from
our own area to practice making our points and work off
some of the emotion. We knew we needed to be cool and
businesslike even though we were no longer looking to spare
Kevin's image.

Denny greeted us with a forced smile, waving us into his
office promptly at four and closing the door softly behind
us. We had agreed that Pete would speak first, but before
he could get started Denny held him off.

"I know why you're here," he said cheerlessly. "Kevin and
I had a long talk earlier today about his concerns, so I
think I have a pretty good understanding of what's

I felt a knot forming in my belly -- something I'd
experienced often since Walt left, and it usually meant
something bad was coming. A quick look at my friends told
me I was not alone in my foreboding this time.

Denny signed deeply. "Change is always hard to live with,"
he declared. "I know how much you all liked and admired
Walt; so did I, believe me. When he chose to take the
package, I knew it would be hard to replace him because of
the great rapport we all had. But Walt is gone; Kevin is
in charge now. His way of doing things is different from
what you were used to, but that doesn't make it wrong.
He's got a lot of very good ideas and came highly
recommended, but things are not going to work unless you
all get behind him and push to make things work. Take that
energy that you've been pouring into banding together in
opposition to change and use it instead to make the right
things happen. Talk to Kevin, and listen to him. He's not
an ogre. He has the same goal as all of you -- to make our
customers happy. In the end, that's why we have these

Denny couldn't have disrupted our approach any more if he'd
deliberately planned it. There was a gruesome silence as
we looked frantically back and forth at each other, trying
to regroup. First Jesse, then Veronica, then I tried
haltingly to raise our issues, quickly trying to rephrase
in ways that would not sound as though we were simply
whining about having to change, but in the end we looked
like feeble, stammering children trying to get out of doing
their homework. We'd been completely outmaneuvered and we
knew it.

The next day, Friday, Veronica and Jesse called in sick. I
tried to get some time to talk with Pete and Joanna, but
they were too busy to chat. For the first time I felt the
fabric of our group identity beginning to tear.

Monday night my pager went off, offering me a flash of
hope. "WE NEED TO TALK," the message read. "BRIDGE 5, AS
SOON AS YOU CAN PLEASE." It had come from Veronica.
Bridge 5 was an 8-port conference bridge we used for
emergency conference calls.

As I'd hoped, everyone was on the bridge within a few
minutes. I was breathing anxiously; this was the first
time we'd been together, virtually or otherwise, since the
fiasco in Denny's office. It didn't take long for the
bottom to fall out.

"I want all of you guys to hear it from me first," Veronica
said breathlessly. "I'm quitting first thing in the

We were all too numb to respond right away. Finally, I
heard Jesse's voice. "Good for you, Ronnie," he muttered.
"Where are you going?"

"Comsat," she replied. "Don't tell Kevin that. I start
next week."

"You're not giving two weeks' notice?" I injected.

"They want me right away," she answered. "Besides, why
should I make that prick's life easier by hanging around?"
We were all sad and angry enough to agree with her there;
still, there were tears on the phone when we said goodbye
and hung up.

The scene was repeated twice over the next several weeks as
first Jesse then Joanna paged us to the bridge to announce
their resignations. Both followed Veronica's lead by
giving no notice and declining to tell Kevin where they
were going.

Three key people resigning within two months of each other
set the alarm bells ringing for Kevin and Denny, of course.
The big question that Pete and I amused ourselves by
debating was, what would they do about it? Pete won the
prize, a ten-dollar bill, which I handed over in grim
amusement when Kevin came to me with a new top-priority

"I need all of the current procedure documents updated," he
declared. "Server configurations, login scripts, groups
and rights, applications, the works. We've been doing
things out of our memories for too long; we have to get our
systems bible up to date or there's no way to make sure
things are getting done right."

"You're right," I said, mentally picturing a barn door and
three sets of hoof prints. "What did you have in mind for
a deadline?"

"I need it by April first."

"That's only two weeks away," I pointed out. "And I've got
a vacation between now and then."

"We may have to cancel that," he replied. "This is

"So is my vacation," I asserted. "I've got plane tickets,
hotel reservations, and a $1500 registration fee that I
forfeit if I cancel this close to the conference. Are you
going to reimburse me for all that?"

"You know I can't," he said reluctantly. Of course I knew;
the trip was to Brainshare, Novell's annual technology
conference in Salt Lake City. I'd tried to get him to pay
for it as a training function, but he had refused citing
budget constraints. Feeling feistier than usual, and with
my tax refund in hand, I'd decided to pay the freight
myself. I'd never been to a Brainshare before and thought
it would be just the thing for my sagging morale.

"Then you're not canceling my vacation. We've been running
with an outdated bible for over a year; the system won't
collapse if it stays that way a few more weeks."

There is no quicker way to raise Kevin's wrath than to
challenge him the way I had just done. He'd spent too long
in the military, where a superior officer's orders are not
normally open to discussion. I knew that, but that day I
didn't give a damn; part of me hoped he would lose his
cool, make a threat, maybe even fire me on the spot. In
one of those amazing moments of total clarity, I realized
that there was nothing left to pin my loyalty to. There
was an awesome, liberating power in that revelation.

Kevin may have seen some of that in my face, because for
the first time in our stormy relationship he backed down.
"All right, see what you can get done before you go on
vacation. The rest can be priority one when you get back."

"Yes, sir!"
As I stood by the smoothly turning mass of Baggage Claim
carousel 7 I felt a small resurgence of the triumph I'd
experienced in that moment. A few strains of Janis Joplin
drifted through my mind: "Freedom's just another word for
nothin' left to lose..."

But that wasn't quite true, I reminded myself. I did still
have a few things to lose: job security; the perks of over
a dozen years of service, including extra vacation time and
accrued sick leave; a system that, beleaguered as it may
be, was still my baby, designed and built from the ground
up with my hands and brain; all the friends I'd made and
still enjoyed working with.

Oh, yeah? Janis taunted me. How much job security have you
really got? You think Kevin won't try to push you out as
soon as you get the procedures updated? You think he's not
already looking for a new LAN guy?

Maybe. But Denny won't let him squeeze me out.

Oh, right, good old Denny ... big help HE's been!

She had me there.

And what about those friends you're so attached to? How
many of them still work there? How many do you think will
still work there in another month? When's the last time you
heard from Jesse, anyway?

I was saved, if you could call it that, by the sight of my
first suitcase sliding down from the chute in the center of
the carousel. The second came shortly after -- I'd
deliberately packed two cases, leaving plenty of room for
things I'd acquire during the week -- and Janis fell silent
as my mind became occupied with finding the right place to
meet my hotel shuttle.

The shuttle ride was far more interesting and pleasant than
the plane ride had been. For one thing, there were only
six of us in a converted bus built for twelve, so everyone
had a nice seat with plenty of room and a window. For
another, the view out those windows was breathtaking. We
were surrounded on three sides by mountains, distant and
hazy like a soft-focused photograph. They started out
green and gray at the base and gave way to the sparkling
white of fresh snow halfway up. The fourth side, I
suspected, would be the Great Salt Lake itself, but we were
headed away from there and into the city proper.

Salt Lake City seemed smaller than I expected, nestled
cozily in between the mountains. It looked no bigger in
land area than Silver Spring, Maryland, but I felt
immediately drawn to it because of its symmetry and style.
I was impressed as we entered the city by the wide,
straight streets laid out in a grid. It seemed as though
you could look down any major street and see mountains at
the end. My spirits lifted; my work problems were now two
time zones away, and for the next five days I could leave
them there.
The shuttle drove right past the Salt Palace Convention
Center and stopped in front of my hotel, the Best Western
Salt Plaza. My room on the 8th floor was tiny but
serviceable; quite a bit less impressive than their web
site had led me to expect, but considering how late I'd
been in making reservations I counted myself lucky to have
found a room so close to the Center. A little placard on
the small writing desk welcomed me to Salt Lake City,
"Crossroads of the West," a nickname I found darkly ironic
considering my situation.

The first order of business, after hanging up my clothes,
was to get my bearings and check in at the convention
center. I stepped out of the hotel onto the street called
South Temple. Light rail tracks ran across the middle of
the street, with a small platform directly across from the
hotel labeled "UTA TRAX". Studying the transit map gave me
a good idea of how the city was laid out.

Salt Lake City's grid centers on the original Mormon Temple
built by Brigham young and his followers. The major
streets in town were named for their position in relation
to that landmark: North Temple was the first street to the
north, West Temple to the west, etc. I saw quickly that
the temple itself was actually across the street -- West
Temple Street, specifically -- from my hotel. I was on
South Temple, on the west side of town, hence the hotel's
address of "West South Temple". The streets in subsequent
blocks were numbered and named based on their distance and
direction from the city center -- that is, the next block
south of me was 100 South, then 200 South, then 300 South.
Going east I'd find East Temple, then 100 East, 200 East,
and so on. It made so much sense that after a few minutes
with the map I felt more at ease locating things in Salt
Lake than in my adopted home of Washington, DC, which also
claims to be a grid city but is a nightmare to navigate

The convention center had a main entrance on West Temple,
about half a block from my hotel door. I also saw what
looked like a secondary entrance on South Temple just a few
dozen yards from where I stood. It was a nice day, so I
opted for the front door.

It was pretty easy to tell I was at a computer-related
convention. The milling crowd inside the convention center
was overwhelming white and male, with most people carrying
standard-issue black laptop bags. A series of friendly
people wearing black "HOST" baseball caps pointed me toward
the registration area, which naturally was at the opposite
end of the building in Exhibit Hall C.

No matter -- it was a pleasant walk. I passed the Grand
Ballroom, which according to my floor plan would be home to
many of the breakout sessions I'd signed up for. There was
the massive Living Legends Hall, where the keynote
addresses would take place. I saw places set aside for
food; long tables with Compaq desktops lined up on them for
conventioneers to access the Internet; the Learning Zone,
where certification exams would be given all week; a glass-
walled gift shop with a dozen different styles of Novell-
logo shirts, jackets and other apparel and accessories on
display; more breakout rooms; the Developers' Den, where
programming workshops catered to the developer crowd.
Finally I found my way into Exhibit Hall C.

There I was issued a black pouch with my ID card and a cord
to hang it from my neck, a very nice Novell laptop bag
containing brochures and samples from the NetWare Users
International user group, and hefty 3-ring binder
containing miniature copies of the slides from every
scheduled breakout session. Nothing like a little light
reading material.

Once I was satisfied that I could find my way around the
convention center in a crowd, I took my goodies back to the
hotel and spent the evening flipping through it all. It
looked like I was in for an enlightening week.
The party started in earnest Monday morning with the
keynote speeches. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount
of joking around the Novell and Compaq executives did,
setting a pleasantly relaxed tone for the conference. I
was also relieved that they kept the Microsoft-bashing
within reasonable bounds -- a little rivalry is healthy, but
I've never been impressed by "Buy from us because they
suck" marketing.

After the keynotes, I had breakout sessions scheduled just
about solidly through the midday and afternoon. I was able
to move from room to room easily, thanks to my Sunday
reconnaissance and my wisdom in leaving the massive binder
back at the hotel. The small spiral notebook I'd brought
with me was more than adequate for my needs and weighed a
whole lot less.

It was almost five o'clock when my last breakout session of
the day ended. I was feeling energized, having learned
enough in the first day to more than justify the trip. The
crowd inside the center was thinning out, so I made my way
over to the Learning Zone to join the line of people
waiting to register for exams.

One of the special deals available at BrainShare was a half
price offer on exams. I needed take a NetWare 5 update
exam to keep my certification current and had been putting
it off for too long. Since the exam fee is normally $100 I
figured I'd take advantage of the discount. After all, a
tiny voice reminded me, you might be updating your resume

The line was moving slowly, but I didn't particularly mind
-- I was admiring the hair of the lady in front of me. I've
always had a thing for redheads, and she was my favorite
type -- nice, uniform bright red, with just enough darker
and lighter strands to prove it was natural. It was a
little wavy, well shaped, and long enough to reach the
midpoint of her shoulder blades. As my eye wandered down I
noticed a very nice pair of broad, strong-looking
shoulders, a firm waist and well-proportioned hips as well.
The Novell laptop bag covered much of her rear end, but
what I could see filled out her jeans in a most flattering

From somewhere ahead of me, a cell phone rang. The object
of my attentions shifted, turned, looked left and right. I
saw that her arms were full of heavy books. A pair of pale
blue eyes met mine briefly, and without thinking I offered
her my arms. With a grateful look she passed her burden to
me and pulled a cell phone out of her laptop bag.

"Hello," she said softly. Her voice was smooth and
sensual. "Hi, Eric ... No, it's okay, I'm not in a class
right now." A hint of apprehension came over her face.
She looked again at me, and then forward at the dwindling

"Go ahead," I said, guessing at her problem. "I'll hold
your place."

She rewarded me with a quick smile and stepped away into a
nearby alcove. The call was brief, but the line was
moving. By the time she finished and came back, only one
person remained ahead of her.

"Thank you so much," she said, the sincerity in her voice
giving more than usual weight to the common words.

"My pleasure," I replied, and winced inwardly at how corny
that sounded.

"You have strange ideas of pleasure," she remarked.

"And you have strange ideas of recreational reading," I
retorted, hefting her book collection. "CNE Update to
NetWare 5 Study Guide, ZENworks Administrator's Handbook,
and the overheads for the entire week. It's a good thing
you work out."

"Thank you -- I think." She had a half-smirk on her face
and an interested gleam in her eye. "I can take those back

"Why bother? You'll only have to put them down again in a
second anyway." The person ahead of her was gathering his
things, his business complete.

"Good point," she said, then addressed herself to the lady
behind the counter. "I'd like to register for the CNE
update exam, please."

"The 4.11 to 5 update?"

"That's it. Can I have a slot on Friday?"

The clerk didn't even bother looking at her laptop screen.
"I'm sorry, that exam is booked solid for Thursday and
Friday. I've got a handful of slots Wednesday and most of
tomorrow is free."

"Yeesh! I can't do tomorrow. I probably can't do
Wednesday either if I want to pass it. Is there a waiting
list for Friday slots, in case someone cancels?"

"No, ma'am. We thought about doing a waiting list, but
it's too hard to contact people on short notice here.
Wednesday is the best I can do for you on that exam."

I heard a deep sigh from the redhead. "I'm probably just
throwing away the fee, but okay. Give me the latest slot
you have Wednesday."

The clerk nodded. "That would be 3:30. Will that be
MasterCard, Visa, Discover, or American Express?"

I watched with interest as my new friend signed a credit
card voucher and then filled out the brief registration
form. I edged a little closer to the table, ostensibly to
rest her books on the edge, and was able to steal a peek at
her form as she wrote. Her name was Caitlin Austin, and
she listed her occupation simply as "CNE". The company
name looked like it had something to do with health care.
She paid for the exam with an American Express Corporate

Too soon it was time to give Ms. Austin her books back.
She took them, but instead of walking away she simply
backed up a few steps and waited by a large trashcan.
Encouraged, I turned to the clerk and said, "I'll have what
she's having."

"Is 3:30 Wednesday okay for you, too?"

I checked my class itinerary. "That's cutting it a little
tight, I've got a session at 3:45. Do you have something

The clerk checked her schedule. "How about 2:45?"

"Sold." I pulled out my MasterCard and did the paperwork
as quickly as I could, not daring to look back to see if my
new friend was still there.

She was, and as I approached her with my notebook in hand,
tucking the receipt into one of the divider pockets, she
noted my lack of encumbrance with amusement. "Traveling
light, I see."

I shrugged. "The less I carry, the less I have to keep
track of. Besides, it leaves my hands free to assist those
in need." Without asking, I picked up her stack of books
from where she had set them down, balanced on top of the
flat trash can lid.

She responded by taking the two books off the stack,
leaving me with the binder. "Let's split the difference,"
she suggested. Now that we both had a free hand, she
offered me hers. "I'm Kate, by the way."

"Tom," I replied, using my peripheral vision to its
fullest. Kate looked at least as good from the front as
from the rear. Her hand felt comfortable in mine, too.

There was a steady stream of traffic flowing around us so
we joined it, taking the escalator upstairs and heading
toward the South Temple exit. "I haven't carried a girl's
books since high school," I remarked. "Where are we

She gave me a playful smile. "My place, of course. I'm at
the Wyndham."

"Nice." The Wyndham is one of two Marriott hotels in the
immediate neighborhood. It was also on West South Temple,
immediately next door to the convention center on the west
side. "That makes us neighbors, in a way. I'm in the Best
Western across the street."

"I stayed there last time, a few years ago. Some of the
rooms are very nice."

"I wouldn't know. They've got me in 816 -- a little hole in
the wall tucked behind the elevators. But it's got the
essentials, and it's close to the action. Plus it's fifty
bucks a night cheaper than the Marriott."

"You're very considerate of your company's money," she

"Usually. I'm on my own for this trip, though."

She took a second look at my name badge. "A big company
like that, and they wouldn't pay for Brainshare?"

Don't get me started, I thought. "I gave it my best shot;
they have other priorities right now." Like finding
replacements for Veronica, Jesse, Joanna, and for all I
knew maybe Pete by the time I got back.

Kate accepted my half-hearted defense of the company and
let the matter drop. "Look at those!" We had just emerged
from the convention center and were facing a line of about
five Hummers -- the civilian version of the military's HUMMV
multi-purpose vehicle. One had a pickup truck bed; others
were covered in different styles. All bore the name and
logo of Allegro, an application service provider
specializing in Novell's GroupWise email and document
automation system. "I wonder if they give rides."

"That would be cool." We made the left turn at the
sidewalk and talked cars for a minute or two before
reaching the front canopy of the Wyndham. We passed the
parking valet, who smiled and nodded to us in the most
welcoming fashion, and then we joined the stream of people
flowing through the hotel's massive revolving door.

Kate stopped short in the middle of the lobby and looked at
me, an awkward expression forming on her face. Until that
moment, I hadn't even considered what would happen once we
reached the hotel, and apparently she hadn't either.
"Well," she began hesitantly, "it was nice meeting you,

"Same here," I replied. A white sign nearby caught my eye
and gave me an idea. "I'm going to go check out the Master
CNE lounge over there -- are you game?"

"I'm game," she agreed, "but I don't qualify. I think I'll
just take my things upstairs and make some phone calls."

"As you wish." I handed her back the big binder I'd been
carrying and watched as the elevator swallowed her up. We
shared one more deep look before the doors closed.

Doofus! I scolded myself. Why didn't you ask her to dinner
or something?

Because I'm an idiot, I answered, looking at my distorted
reflection in the shiny elevator doors. Because I haven't
dated anyone seriously in over three years. Because I
didn't even realize I was interested in dating anyone until
the elevator doors had already closed on her. I hadn't
come on this trip for the legendary Utah social scene,
after all. Shaking my head, I turned and strode into the
Master CNE lounge.

It was a cozy little haven. In the first room I found a
generous buffet stocked with fresh fruit, coffee and tea,
water and ice. A pleasant lady with a digital camera
looked my name up on her list of certified people, then
handed me a white "Master CNE" ribbon to attach to my badge
holder and took my picture for a free photo ID card. In
the next room were a number of round meeting tables, some
comfortable modular seats by the walls, and a long table
with more Compaq desktops for easy Internet access.

My Brainshare ID was actually a b-card, a credit card sized
plastic card with a small chip embedded in it and my name,
title and company printed on the front. At each session so
far door monitors had taken my card and fed it into a
reader-equipped Palm Pilot, verifying that I was registered
for the session at hand. I'd also been told that the b-
card could be used to access the network. Seeing a small
card reader attached to the side of the PC case, I slipped
my b-card in. A second or so later, the NetWare login box
on the screen disappeared and I was presented with a
standard Windows desktop. Cool, I thought.

I pulled up the Web browser and typed in the URL for our
remote email gateway, supplying my office user ID and
password. I had about fifteen new messages, mostly routine
stuff. One was from Veronica's new email address:

Tom --

I didn't find anything in the news about a plane crash in
Utah, so I'm assuming you made there in one piece. If not,
can I have your apartment? It's a lot closer to the new
job than my place.

Have a good time at your convention. Let me know if you
run into any cute, single Mormons.

I laughed out loud. Veronica's main hobby for the past two
years had been looking for a way to revive my almost
nonexistent social life. She must have fixed me up with a
half-dozen blind dates; they were all pleasant enough, but
none had left me with a burning desire to pursue a second
date. I was too busy building a network with Walt to waste
time in bars and nightclubs. Besides, IS guys work a very
unsociable schedule: weeknights, weekends, holidays, all of
them are subject to cancellation if something breaks or a
major job needs doing that involves downtime. It can be
hard to maintain a relationship on a schedule like that --
girlfriends tend to get annoyed and start looking for
someone with a more dependable schedule, like an emergency
room doctor.

Still smiling, I composed a reply:

V --

Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. Besides, I
offered to let you move in with me two years ago and you
gave me some lame excuse about your boyfriend not wanting
to share the bedroom with me.

Tell you what, though -- if I fall in love with a rich,
beautiful heiress who wants to keep me in the style to
which I would like to become accustomed, I'll mail you my

The rest of the mail was uninteresting. I skimmed through
it anyway out of habit, but there was no urgency. I had an
automatic reply rule running that told people I would be
out until the middle of the next week, would not be
checking voice mail or email, and did not have my pager or
cell phone with me. I'd put that last part in deliberately
to annoy Kevin, who had tried to argue that an IS
professional should always be reachable even when on
vacation. I waited until it was too late to change before
reminding him that one of his early budget-trimming
initiatives had been to reduce our pagers' coverage area
from nationwide to the mid-Atlantic region only.

On the way out, I picked up my brand new laminated
certification ID card from the lady with the camera. It
had my digital mug shot and the names and dates of all my
Novell-related certifications: CNA, CNE, Master CNE. It
looked fairly impressive.

"Can I see?"

I spun around and saw Kate sitting in an overstuffed chair.
I'd walked past without seeing her because I was studying
my new card. "Sure," I replied, handing it to her.

"Nice credentials," she remarked. "Do you have to be a
Master CNE to get one of these?"

"I don't think so." I stuck my head in the lounge doorway
and checked; sure enough, the girl with camera said that
anyone with a certification could get an ID card. She was
more than happy to photograph Kate after verifying her CNE
status, and promised to have the card ready the next
morning, as she had run out of laminating sheets. Kate was

I resolved not to waste my second chance. "Can I talk you
into having dinner with me?"

"You already have."

That was surprisingly easy. "Great -- your place or mine?"

"Actually, there's a steak house around the corner from
here that I like."

That worked for me, so we walked back out onto South
Temple, crossed West Temple, and went half a block south.
The convention center was across the street and a little
further down. We got lucky on the wait -- they had a number
of large parties to seat but no couples, so when a tiny
corner table opened up in short order they offered it to
Kate ordered Guiness for both of us; I opted for the
Porterhouse steak and fries, Kate went with sirloin tips,
baked potato and salad.

"So," she began as the waitress scuttled off with our
menus, "why does a guy who works for a multi-billion-dollar
company have to pay his own way to Brainshare?"

"You really want to know?" I asked. She nodded and fixed
her gaze on me expectantly, so I took a long pull of my ale
and decided to let her have some of it. "First off, it's
only a multi-billion-dollar company on the stock pages; in
real life, it's a conglomeration of different business
units and subsidiaries. I happen to be in one of the
smaller, semi-autonomous business units. Our revenues are
just a little piece of the overall picture. Our IT budget
is an even smaller piece of what the company as a whole
spends on technology. They used to be pretty liberal about
paying for training, but anything involving travel
invariably gets rejected by the Powers That Be."

"I'm sorry to hear that," she commiserated. "It's a shame
really, because you can learn so much at these things that
you can take home and start using right away. I used to
come every year."

"Why'd you stop?"

"Similar reasons, I guess. Budgets got tight, so we could
only send one person each year. I fell into doing more
administrative work and less hands-on, so it seemed more
important to let someone more directly involved with
support take the trip instead."

"And this year?"

She let out a heavy sigh. "This year, we've lost a couple
of key people and I've had to move back into a more active
role to cover the work while we look for the right
candidates to fill the slots. I got my CNE years ago, and
I've gotten rusty from not using it. This trip is to help
get me up to speed on the things I've missed, which is why
I'm making bulk purchases at the bookstore. I have no idea
how I'm going to pass that exam on Wednesday."

"Have you taken the class?"

"No," she confessed. "It didn't seem necessary at first
because except for the VPN servers we're still on NetWare
4, and we had a guy on staff who was already certified in
5. Now he's gone, and I can barely get a weekend off let
alone three business days to go to class. It was a major
coup to get my plate clear enough to let me come up here
for a week. My plan was to study the book like a madwoman
every night and take the exam Friday."

"And now?"

"Now my best hope is to waylay a Master CNE and steal his
brains between now and Wednesday afternoon." She gave me a
predatory grin and added, "I suppose this would be a bad
time to ask if you've taken the NetWare 5 update class."

"Actually, I have," I answered, laughing. "Early last
year. I got paged out of it by my" -- I choked off the word
"asshole" -- "boss so many times I couldn't take the test
right away and never did get back to it. I've been
reviewing the course book a little at a time so I can take
the test this week and be in reasonable shape for it."

"You've got a lot of self discipline," she remarked. "I'd
be cramming myself into a frenzy. In fact, after dinner I
probably will be."

"That's too bad. You'll miss the parties that way."

"I've been missing a lot of parties anyway," she confessed.
"Right now I'm trying to remember the last time I had
dinner with someone who isn't a coworker."

"And where the meal didn't come in a paper bag?"


As if on cue, the waitress appeared with two more glasses
of Guinness and our food. The steak was terrific, juicy
and tender and just done enough to lie still on the plate
for me. The ale was the perfect accompaniment for it. A
third round appeared at just the right moment, leaving us
with a good supply for slow, after-dinner sipping.

"I probably shouldn't be drinking this much," Kate
remarked. "I need all the healthy brain cells I can get
for the next couple of days."

"So cancel the test," I suggested. "You've got until the
end of August."

"I know. I also know that if I go back to work without
getting this done, August will come way too fast and I
won't be any more prepared than I am now."

"Then ask yourself how important the certificate really is
to you," I said. "If you're not going to NetWare 5, why
drive yourself nuts trying to pass a test on it? In the
end what's important isn't what tests you've passed, it's
what you can actually do."

Those pale blue eyes fixed on mine, and for a moment I felt
as if I were under a microscope. "You could have taken
that test today and passed it, couldn't you?"

"Probably," I admitted. "I'll spend an hour or so tonight
and tomorrow night reviewing the parts I haven't had a
chance to actually work with just for insurance, but I'm
pretty much ready."

Kate reached across the table and took both of my hands.
"If I can't steal your brain," she proposed, still holding
me in that penetrating gaze, "how about letting me borrow
it for a night or two? I could really use a smart study
partner who can translate Novellese into English."

"What makes you think I can do that?"

"The way you sit here and talk about taking an exam from a
class you sort of attended a year ago without so much as a
single nervous twitch, while I'm half out of my mind with
test anxiety. The way you go into detailed technical
tutorials armed with nothing more than a mechanical pencil
and a spiral notebook." She squeezed my hands harder to
emphasize her last point. "I was in that NDPS session,
about six rows behind you. I learned more from your
questions than from the slides and the lecture. My
intuition tells me that you are someone who not only
understands technology but can also explain it in everyday
English. Am I right?"

"You're right," I conceded. Back when I had free time I
used to hold workshops for sales people, teaching them how
to take care of their laptops, send and receive email on
the road, and use remote access to get to the network. If
I could do that in an hour, I could probably help Kate
prepare for her exam in two nights. Looking into those
sparkling eyes, I couldn't think of a single reason not to
try. "My brain is yours ... along with any other parts you
may find useful."

That broke the tension nicely. Kate sat back and laughed
suggestively. "Let's start with your brain and I'll take
an option on the rest."

After dinner we headed to my room to plot our review
strategy and retrieve my class manual, which could serve as
our study outline. Kate took one look at the interior of
my room and suggested that we use her place as our
classroom. I had to agree with her. The bedroom in my
apartment at home was bigger than my room at the Best
Western. If we studied here, we'd be just about forced to
do it lying on the bed, since I had only one chair and a
tiny, cluttered little writing desk otherwise.

Kate's room at the Wyndham proved much more accommodating
to our needs. In addition to the king-sized bed, she had a
separate sitting area with a sofa and coffee table as well
as a writing desk and chair. I spread out my course manual
and the old notebook I'd used during class on the coffee
table, looking over the table of contents first.

"How would you like to organize this?" I asked her.

"I have no idea," she replied emphatically. "Whatever you
think makes the most sense."

I gave it some thought before answering. "There look to be
six topic areas on this test: doing the upgrade, using the
Java console, the FastTrack Web server, DNS/DHCP, NDPS, and
ZENworks. Have you worked with any of those already?"

"I've seen demonstrations of Console One and ZENworks," she
said. "I went to that NDPS session today, as well as a
workshop on doing the NetWare upgrade itself. I haven't
actually had to use any of it in the real world."

"Okay, then. Since you've got a head start on those
things, let's go through the installation, Console One and
NDPS tonight. That leaves the Web server, DNS/DHCP and
ZENworks for tomorrow."

"That makes sense," she agreed. "I'll grab us a bucket of
ice and some overpriced sodas from the vending machine
while you get yourself organized."

I looked at my watch: 8:00pm already. "Do you want to set
a time limit on this, or just go until we get through it

"We've only got the two nights; I don't mind staying up
late as long as we're making progress. How about you?"

"I tend to stay up too late anyway," I said. "On the other
hand, my body is still running on Eastern Time -- to me it's
already ten o'clock. If we're still going at it when
midnight local rolls around, I may start fading on you.
What kind of schedule are you on?"

"Mountain time -- I'm a local girl. I'll keep pushing
caffeinated sodas on you tonight if you promise to give me
a wake-up call in the morning. Deal?"

"Deal." She had a point; the time difference that worked
against me at night would make things easier in the
morning, when 8:30 local time would feel like 10:30.

It didn't take us long to settle into a pattern. I started
out by giving her an overview of the first topic, upgrading
a server from NetWare 4.11 to NetWare 5, in simple words.
She then repeated back what I'd said, but in her own words.
Once we were both satisfied that she understood the big
picture, we repeated the process in greater detail,
covering first the key features of NetWare 5, then
mechanics of the upgrade itself, then the migration agent
Novell provides to smooth the transition from IPX to IP.
This was familiar material to me since I'd been in class
for it and also worked with it in my test lab, ignoring
statements from Kevin that there was no compelling reason
for us to upgrade to NetWare 5. I found I seldom had to
refer to the book, which seemed to inspire confidence in my
student. Once we had the upgrade itself covered we moved
on to Console One, the new Java-based management interface
introduced with NetWare 5, and then to Novell Distributed
Printing Service, the bi-directional printing system
designed to replace the traditional NetWare print queues
used by older versions. All of this was likewise familiar
material, either from lab work or from breakout sessions
that day.

We took very few breaks, and finished up a little before
12:30 in the morning. When we closed the books, Kate
reached her arms into the air and stretched, yawning
slightly. I suddenly became aware again of the round
curves of her breasts filling out the knit sweater she was
wearing. The distance between us on the couch had slowly
closed during our discussions without my noticing, but now
she was close enough to put an arm around if I dared.
While I debated the idea with myself, she let herself drop
lazily in my direction, laying her head on my shoulder. I
buried my face in that beautiful hair and inhaled deeply.

"I could go to sleep right now, right here," she said

"Me too," I replied. "In fact, my arm is halfway there

Kate's body shook as she laughed at my joke. "That's it,"
she announced, "We're getting punchy. Time to call it a

I rose reluctantly from the couch after she did, gathered
my books and let her walk me to the door. "Remember, you
promised me a wake-up call," she reminded me.

"When's your first session?"

"Nine thirty."

"I'll call you at 8:30."

Kate groaned tiredly, then winked and blew me a kiss as she
closed the door. My head spinning from the impact, I
shuffled back to the Best Western, set my alarm for 8:00,
and crashed.

My body woke itself up at 7:50 with no ill affects from the
late night. Love that Eastern time zone, I thought to
myself. By 8:15 I was showered, dressed, and ready for

At 8:30 exactly I picked up the phone and dialed Kate's
direct number at the Wyndham. After three rings I heard
the click of the handset coming up, but it was several long
seconds before Kate's groggy voice came through. "Hello?"

"Good morning!" I said with exaggerated perkiness. "Are
you in the mood for breakfast?"

"I'm in the mood for sleep," she grumbled. "What gives you
the right to be so damned perky?"

"Absolutely nothing," I replied pleasantly. "I'm faking
just it for your benefit."

That got me a tired chuckle. "There's a state law against
being so witty before breakfast," she retorted.

"Then come eat with me before I get arrested."

"I guess I'd better. You get us a table at JB's, and I'll
be over there in twenty minutes."


JB's Restaurant is attached to the Best Western and sits at
the corner of West Temple and South Temple. The breakfast
buffet is simple but well stocked and the price is right.
I ordered a pot of coffee and waited for Kate. She arrived
as promised about twenty minutes later, looking none the
worse for wear in a simple denim dress. She was ready for
the conference, her name badge in place and laptop bag
slung over her shoulder. She was waving a glossy plastic
card at me.

"See?" she said, handing me the card. "I got mine."

It was her Novell certification card from the lady at the
lounge. The digital photo was flattering. "You look a
little like Nicole Kidman in this," I remarked. Next to
her photo was her list of credentials: Certified NetWare
Administrator, 1995; Certified NetWare Engineer, 1996.

"Your eyes must be tired," she replied, but I could tell
she was pleased. She helped herself to a cup of coffee and
managed to get through the whole first sip before her cell
phone went off. "Arrgh!" She picked up a menu and used it
as a shield while she brought the phone to her face.
"Hello? ... I'm at breakfast, Eric, can't this wait? ... Okay,
hold on a minute." She lowered the menu and looked at me
sheepishly. "I refuse to do this in the restaurant," she
said flatly. "Will you order me an omelet while I take
this outside?"

"Go," I told her. "I'll hold your place for you."

She made it back just a few seconds after her omelet
appeared. "Maybe you should remind Eric about roaming
charges," I suggested.

"Wouldn't work," she explained, taking a bite of omelet.
"He knows I'm still in the local calling zone."

"Must be a big local zone."

"Not really," she said. "I work in Provo. That's about an
hour south of here down I-15."

"Wow," I remarked. "And your company sprang for the

"They're pretty understanding about these things. I live
in Lake Shore, which is another 25 minutes on the other
side of Provo. The first time I came to Brainshare I
commuted from home every day. Three hours a day in the car
on top of the long schedule made for a miserable week; I
was nodding off during classes and missing all the fun
parts in the late afternoon and evening. When I told
Annette about it, she had the travel policy revised so that
for in-state trips we can book a hotel and the company will
reimburse us for half of the room rate and taxes. We also
get a per diem allowance for meals. It works out much
better this way for everyone."

"Annette is your boss?"

"Our CIO. I told her about all the value I was losing by
commuting, and she went to the accounting department and
got the rules changed."

"Just like that?"

"Sure, why not?"

I just shook my head in amazement. I tried to picture
Denny pleading a case with our finance department to pay
partial costs for a hotel in Baltimore, but it was too
fantastic for my imagination to grasp. "Things are
certainly different out here," I conceded.

"We're a health care company, managing hospitals in the
Mountainland area," she explained. "So our upper
management tends to be of a humanistic mind set. Also,
since a lot of them are Mormons, they tend to be very
family oriented. We're pretty lucky that way."

"No argument here," I said wryly.

Kate gave me another of those piercing stares. "I take it
things are different for you back home."

"A little bit," I replied, feeling the bile rising in my
stomach. "My boss is a raging asshole whose primary
objective is to make himself look good at the expense of
those underneath him. His boss used to be a decent guy but
is either too dense to see that things are falling apart
all around him or is too busy looking out for himself to
care. I have a support staff made up temps who can barely
spell 'NetWare' reporting to empty seats because the good
people who used to manage them couldn't stand sitting
around handcuffed by clueless leadership while what used to
be a great network falls into ruin. I have an apartment I
haven't seen during the daylight hours in about a month
because there's nobody left but me to take care of a fleet
of servers that keeps getting older and larger with no sign
of any relief coming soon." Kate's shell-shocked face
brought me back from the edge of the abyss. "Other than
that," I joked weakly, "I've no complaints."

Kate reached across the table and took my hand. "Why do
you stay if it's so miserable?"

Why indeed? Big sigh. "Because it wasn't always like
that. When I first got into the network side, it was
different. We had a core team of really good people,
including a boss who trusted each of us to exercise our
best judgment and kept the corporate IS yo-yo's out of our
hair long enough for us to prove we could do things better
than they could. We built a system so reliable, and so
easy to support, that we had the highest service metrics
and the lowest per-seat support cost of any business unit
in the corporation."

"So where did things go wrong?"

"Walt retired," I replied grimly. "They offered him six
months' pay up front as an incentive to retire early. Not
just him, of course, it was a corporate downsizing measure,
but he was part of the eligible group. Walt was always
very smart about seeing trends; he figured with a carrot
that juicy there must a wicked stick waiting for those who
don't bite, so he took the deal. And then Denny hired this
jerk-off Kevin to take his place, and the rest is too
depressing to go into in any detail."

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, and I could tell she meant
it. "I didn't mean to spoil your breakfast."

"It's not your fault," I said, wiping away a half-formed
tear from my own eye. "In a way, it's my fault. Walt did
everything he could to convince me to apply for that job,
even told me that if I did Denny would promote me in a
heartbeat. But I didn't want the job; I wanted to keep
doing what I was doing and leave the paperwork to someone
else. If I'd been a little smarter and taken the
management job, maybe none of the rest would have

"It's not about being smart," she argued, squeezing my
hands in hers. "If you weren't smart, you could never have
designed and built that network in the first place. It's
about knowing yourself, Tom. One of the hardest things for
technical people to do is to make that leap from managing
technology to managing people. Let's face it, it's
exciting and creative and rewarding building networks,
planning upgrades, finding new and cool ways to improve on
what we've built. Becoming the boss means letting go,
giving the controls to someone else and watching them take
your design, your system, and in effect let them have all
the fun while you find yourself going to meetings and
studying budget reports. Not everybody can do that; not
everybody wants to do that." There was an energy in her
voice, an intensity in her face, that made me wonder if we
were still talking about me.

I lifted her hand and kissed it softly. "Thanks, Kate. I
needed that." As I put her hand back down, I spotted her
watch: it was 9:25. "And now we'd better get out of here
or we'll be late for our sessions."

I shooed Kate out of the restaurant immediately, then
charged both of our breakfasts to my room and headed across
South Temple myself. My trusty spiral notebook firmly in
my grasp, I joined the meandering crowd herding into the
convention center.

My Tuesday session schedule was full: IPX to IP Migration
Strategies at 9:30, Implementing ZENworks for Servers (a
new product for managing servers) at noon, Using the
NetWare 5.1 Management Portal at 1:30, an advanced ZENworks
seminar at 3:00, and Integrating NetWare 5, NDS and Windows
2000 at 4:30. The only slack time in the schedule was
between 11:00 and noon. Kate's first session, Proper
Protection of NetWare Data, was scheduled to run until
11:45, so I was surprised to see her outside the Living
Legends Hall when I came out of my first session.

In the lobby area outside Living Legends is a Notebook
Ports station: a series of high, folding tables skirted in
black cloth. Every two feet or so along the table surfaces
a pink LAN cord was held in place with gaffer's tape, and
between each four cords was an APC portable UPS power
strip. The LAN cords provided connectivity to the
Internet, with a DHCP server to dole out IP addresses.
Kate had her ThinkPad plugged in. I recognized the
familiar look of the GroupWise Web email client on her

"Playing hooky?" I teased.

Kate jumped at the sound of my voice. Seeing me, she took
a deep cleansing breath and turned to face me, blocking my
view of the laptop screen. "Don't do that," she chided,
"You gave me quite a start."

"Sorry. What are you doing, plotting the overthrow of the
free world?"

"My security session started getting into SAN and
clustering products, and I don't see us using those any
time soon. So I skipped out early and came over here to
catch up on office email."

"No wonder you have that guilty look on your face."

"Drawbacks of a strict upbringing," she quipped. "Why
don't you hunt us up a couple of soft drinks, and if you
want you can borrow this when I'm done?"

"Sure. Any preferences?"

"Something diet, preferably with caffeine. Lots and lots
of caffeine."

Smiling, I wandered over to one of the refreshment tables
where light lunch fare was being laid out: salad makings,
fresh fruit, and soft drinks. On the other side of the
convention center I knew there was a hot menu available,
but this was closer and had plenty of soda choices. I
snagged a Diet Coke for Kate and a Sprite for myself,
scooped some ice into two plastic cups, and rejoined her at
the notebook station.

"My savior," she praised as I poured her drink over the
ice. "My laptop is yours."

Kate took her can and cup and retreated to one of the
cushioned sectional seats that lined the opposite side of
the hall. I typed in the URL for our own remote mail
interface, logged in, and skimmed through the list of

Only a couple seemed worth any interest. One was from
Veronica, just continuing our friendly banter from the day
before. The other was from Pete, and had been flagged
Private and Urgent.

Tom --

Linda gave me a sneak peek at the req's for backfilling
Ronnie, Jesse and Jo. His Nibs is looking for people with
"MCSE plus 2-3 years recent experience supporting Windows
NT in an enterprise environment." The one for Joanna's
job says, "Oracle knowledge desirable, SQL Server
experience required." Thought you oughta know ASAP.
Every muscle in by body clenched tight as I closed my eyes
and imagined bludgeoning Kevin with a tire iron. That
duplicitous bastard! I screamed inwardly. In the midst of
my silent fury I felt a gentle hand take hold of my

"What's wrong?" Kate asked softly. I was too angry to
answer right away; instead I let out a low, menacing growl
and nodded toward the laptop screen. She peeked at the
screen and then promptly closed it, causing the ThinkPad to
beep in protest as it went into suspend mode. "You need to
breathe, Tom," she said with growing concern in her voice.

She wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know. I
did take several deep, slow breaths and felt myself slowly
getting back into something approaching balance. My white-
knuckle grip on the table loosened and I stepped back,
giving Kate room to grab the ThinkPad and toss it into her

"What's wrong?" she repeated.

I really didn't want to discuss it, but I owed her an
answer. "I just found out something new about Kevin. Not
only is he a raging ignoramus, but he's also a deceitful,
lying, underhanded SOB."

Kate took my arm firmly and, in a voice that would not be
contradicted, said, "Walk with me." She steered me around
the corner and past the Grand Ballroom to an alcove on the
other side. I recognized our destination immediately -- the
"Neckwork" station on the far side, where conference-goers
could get a ten-minute neck and shoulder massage
administered by professionals. This station had two
massage chairs, both of which were vacant at the moment.

As we approached a pair of athletic-looking ladies in
workout gear sprang up to greet us. Introducing themselves
as Angie and Liz, they directed me to one of the massage
chairs, a strange contraption something like a forward-
leaning makeup seat with a front vertical beam and
strategically placed pads to support the occupant's face
and shoulders. Angie went right to work on me. "Good
heavens you're tight," she exclaimed and redoubled the
force she was putting into kneading the muscles of my

Liz watched Angie work for a moment then turned to Kate.
"This is going to take a while," she said. "Why don't you
climb up here and I'll work on you for a bit? You look
like you could use it."

Angie's hands were working magic on my neck and shoulders.
She pushed and stretched and squeezed and patted and
slowly, steadily, I felt the knots loosen and yield to her
touch. The padded supports took on more of my weight as I
relaxed. Kate seemed to be enjoying her workout, too --
her face was smooth and content, her eyes closed. That
seemed like a good idea, so I let mine drop too.

"Isn't that better?"

Angie's voice pulled me back to full awareness. I'd been a
hair's breadth away from nodding off. "Absolutely," I
agreed. "I haven't felt this good in ages."

"Was that your first massage?"

"Yes, but it won't be the last."

Angie grinned and patted me on the back. "Come on back any
time. Mornings are better, we get real busy in the
afternoon and can't spend more than a few minutes with any
one person."


It was 11:35; we still had about twenty minutes before we
had to start finding our next sessions, so Kate led me up
the escalator to a little lounge area outside the Novell
merchandise booth. There we sank into one of the black
leather sofas side by side and, ignoring decorum, put our
feet up on the glass coffee table. "Do you want to tell me
about it?" she prodded gently.

"We had a core team of five," I explained in a slow,
detached monotone. "The same five, mind you, who designed
and built and ran things the whole time under Walt. Since
January, three have left already and I'm pretty sure Pete
will go soon -- he's been quietly interviewing with Cisco.
Pete emailed me because he got a look at the paperwork
Kevin put in to hire replacements for the people who left,
and in the requirements Kevin is specifically requesting
people with Microsoft experience: MCSE, NT and SQL

"Go on."

"We're a Novell shop, Kate. The core servers are all
NetWare 4, all part of one well-designed tree. We use
ManageWise to monitor and manage the servers and ZENworks
to manage the desktops. Most of our mission-critical
databases are run on Oracle, either using NetWare or
Solaris as the platform depending on fit. We have about 20
NT servers, single-purpose application servers that we
manage with NDS to keep things integrated.

"But as I told you at breakfast we're just a small piece of
the corporation, a semi-independent territory if you will.
Most of the other business units have no IT staff of their
own, just a liaison to the corporate shop. And the
corporate shop has bought into Microsoft, and particularly
NT, in a big way. So has Kevin. He thinks that since NT
is the corporate standard, we should tear down everything
we have now and switch to NT. He doesn't care that there's
nothing wrong with the system we have, or at least there
wasn't before he came along; he doesn't care that it would
cost us a ton of money just to do the conversion; all he
cares about is that we follow the corporate standard. He
thinks that if we do that, Corporate will give us more
money for personnel and support for special projects."

"Will they?"

"They might. But I think it's more likely that they'll use
any requests like that to justify absorbing our IS
organization into the corporate one. If that happens then
we lose all control over our own infrastructure; all of our
systems decisions will be made by people in another state
who have no idea how we need to operate to stay in
business. There's a reason why our division was spun off
as a separate subsidiary, and for that reason the generic
corporate solutions won't always work for us. Plus, the
level of service that Corporate provides is dismal; even in
our current state we're better off than we would be under
their model. I'd hate to see that happen, and I'd hate
even more to part of the group that implements it."

"You said something about Kevin being deceitful?"

"He's a snake," I said bitterly. "We had this debate
almost a year ago, when he first told me he thought we
should move to NT. I told him my reasons why I don't think
we should; he basically ignored them and kept repeating his
mantra, that NT is the corporate standard so we should
follow it. I told him, and backed it up with a detailed
report, that NT 4.0 is not as well suited for our
particular environment as NetWare is. He didn't even read
the report; he said if I was that interested in writing, I
should write a project plan on how to do the NT conversion.
In the end, I went to Denny and told him that I'd resign
before I'd participate in replacing a perfectly good system
with a less functional, more expensive one just to conform
to an arbitrary standard that was adopted without our
input. Two hours later, Kevin told he was willing to stay
with NetWare as long as we continued to meet our service
benchmarks, and that I'd be consulted before any decision
was made to change."

"So you won."

"Temporarily, it seems. In the time since then, Kevin's
idiotic policies have resulted in more downtime and slower
trouble resolution. We're not meeting the benchmarks
anymore. Almost all of our in-house talent is gone, and
Kevin is actively looking to replace them with NT and SQL
experts. That tells me that the decision has already been
made behind my back."

"You could go to NT training," she suggested. "Learn how
to work around the problems. A lot of people seem to be
doing that."

"Been there, done that," I told her. "I started out
working with NT in a satellite office. I like NT -- it's
simple to set up and works very well on a small scale.
That's why my Master CNE specialty is NT and NetWare
Integration. I could take the MCSE core exams tomorrow and
pass them easily. I'm not about me being a NetWare zealot,
Kate, because I'm not; I know both systems well. What this
is about is professional integrity. By moving behind my
back to force an unnecessary and ill-advised platform
change down my throat, Kevin is proving to me that he has

I could see she still had questions, but the crowd flowing
around us had become thick and loud, indicating that our
time was nearly up. She gave me a firm, supportive hug and
we went our separate ways for the day, agreeing to meet
back at her room after my last breakout session for our
study date.

My last session ended at 5:45. I went back to the Best
Western to wash up, assuming that Kate and I would go out
and eat before studying. I was completely unprepared for
the sight that greeted me at her door: Kate in yellow
running shorts and a white racer back sports bra.

"I suddenly feel overdressed," I said.

"This?" I couldn't help but admire the way her muscles
moved under the tight-fitting top. Okay, there was more
moving than just muscles. "It was something handy to throw
on after a workout and a shower. I was hoping we could
just do room service for dinner and get an early start,
maybe get to bed sooner."

She certainly had me thinking about an early bedtime.
"Sounds great."

We started out going over the Netscape FastTrack Web server
because it was the least familiar topic to both of us. I
hadn't even tried setting it up in the lab because in our
structure Web servers fell under Joanna's jurisdiction. We
leaned heavily on the books to get through the basics on
how to set up, configure, and manage FastTrack, then
practiced explaining it to each other until we were both
comfortable. At some point during the discussions dinner
arrived and was eaten, but I didn't pay much attention to

The DNS/DHCP review went quickly, mostly because we were
both well versed in the basic concepts from having used it
already; we simply needed to review how they are integrated
with the directory in NetWare 5 and the mechanics of the
new GUI management tool. That left us plenty of time to
work through the intricacies of ZENworks in detail.

It was only a little after nine when we closed the books
for good. "We deserve a reward for all of our hard work,"
Kate asserted.

"Did you have something in mind?"

Kate produced a small cooler from under the writing desk
and set it on the coffee table. She flipped up the lid and
removed two very cold bottles of Genesee Cream Ale. "All I
have are the standard hotel glasses. Do you want one?"

"Waste of time," I said. "I'll be barbaric and swig from
the bottle."

Kate sat down next to me again, nonchalantly placing an arm
behind me on the top of the couch. "Works for me, too."

"What should we drink to?"

Her brow wrinkled for a moment as she thought about it.
"How about to success?"

"On our exams?"

"In general."

I liked the sound of that. "To success, then." The ale
was so cold it chilled my tongue on the way down.

After a few minutes of quietly enjoying the ale, I noticed
Kate seemed far away. "What is it?"

The hand behind me came forward and idly caressed the back
of my neck. "It's you," she said. "Whether I pass that
test tomorrow or not, you've taught me an awful lot of
things, Tom. I want to thank you for that somehow."

"You just did," I replied sincerely. Looking into her eyes
at that moment was all the thanks I really needed. Not
that my id wasn't suggesting some other ways she could
thank me ... but I wasn't ready to go there just yet. Rusty
as I was at the dating game, I could sense something very
strong developing between the two of us. Maybe we'd end up
in bed before the week was out, maybe not, but I wasn't
going to screw things up by pushing.

"I'm serious," she insisted. "What are you going to do
about your job?"

"I don't know. The obvious answer is to do what all my
friends are doing -- put together a resume and go looking.
I just don't know if I'm ready for that. I've put a large
chunk of my adult life into that company. When I started
there I didn't know anything, Kate. They trained me, they
let me develop my talents, and they encouraged me to keep
growing. I wouldn't be who I am without those
experiences." Her free hand found mine and gave it a
reassuring squeeze. "What do you think I should do?" I

Kate stared off into the distance, her eyes opening wide,
and drew in a long breath. "I think I'd better take the
fifth," she answered carefully. "There's too much at stake
here. I can say that if my experience with you is any
indication at all, they have gotten far more value from you
in service and dedication than they spent on your training.
I also think you need to give more credit to yourself for
who you are. You have gifts that did not come from any
training class, gifts that you would have discovered and
used in any profession. Those gifts are yours and will
stay with you no matter what job you take."

"I've never quit anything before," I told her. "I don't
know if I can."

"It's not necessarily a question of quitting, Tom.
Quitting implies failure. Instead of trying to decide
whether or not to quit, ask yourself if there is anything
more you can contribute -- can you make a positive
difference by staying? You seem to have a loyal and noble
heart, Tom; can you be happy in a situation where that
loyalty isn't appreciated or returned?"

I didn't know what to say so I just sat there staring into
my own lap, stewing in my own mixed-up feelings. Kate
pulled me close and held me, stroking the back of my neck
and rocking slowly. "Thank you," I finally said. "I still
don't know what I'm going to do, but I feel like this has

Kate kissed me softly on the lips. "I hope so. Sleep on
it, and maybe things will become clearer in the morning."

I slept fitfully, my mind occupied with half-dreams that
vanished every time I woke up, which was often. By 6:30 I
gave up on sleep and by 6:45 I had a better idea. I picked
up the phone and dialed a number in Salisbury, Maryland.
The sound of Walt's voice was instantly reassuring to me.

"Morning, Boss," I said, as I'd done hundreds of times in

"Hey, Tom! I was wondering when you'd call."

"What do you mean?"

"I talked to Pete yesterday. Are you getting email out

"I got it," I said grimly. "The question is what am I
going to do about it?"

"That's not so tough," Walt replied. "You really only have
two choices, stay or go. What happens if you stay?"

"I go over Kevin's head and fight this stupid conversion.
If I explain it to the Finance people they won't approve
the funds."

"You used to be smarter than that, Tom," Walt scolded.
"Finance people don't care about operating systems, they
care about following the rules and not making mistakes.
Bucking the corporate dictums is not something they do
without a lot of arm-twisting, and you don't have nearly
enough muscle."

He was right, and in my heart I knew it: choosing to stay
meant choosing to cooperate in a conversion that all my
experience told me was a bad idea. "Okay, granted.
Staying there means having NT shoved down my throat."

"Is that really such a bad thing?" Walt asked. "I know you
like NetWare, but you've never struck me as being
evangelical about it. Do you really believe that strongly
that NT won't work for them, or do you just have your back
up because you can't let Kevin be right?"

Another very good point, one I hadn't seriously considered.
Was I letting my dislike for Kevin influence my technical
judgment? "It's possible," I conceded, "but I don't think
that's all of it. You and I looked at both objectively
when we were planning the network in the first place, and
we picked NetWare 4 over NT 4 on the merits. Since then
NetWare has improved while NT has stagnated because of the
delays in Windows 2000. If they really want to adopt the
all-Microsoft solution, it doesn't make sense to step
backward to NT -- we should give 2000 a good thorough look
and then migrate to that once they've got the major bugs

"Have you said any of that to Kevin?"

"All of it, several times. It's irrelevant to him, Boss.
All he cares about is following the corporate standard to
the letter."

"Then why are you still there?"

He caught me off guard with that one. "Friends," I
stammered. "Security. I owe this company a lot, Walt, you
know that."


"Excuse me?"

"You heard me," he insisted. "Bullshit. What friends are
you talking about -- Jesse? Joanna? Veronica? Me?
They're all gone, Tom. Pete will be gone too as soon as
someone makes him the right offer. What security is there
in being a LAN engineer whose technical judgment is
considered irrelevant? What debt do you owe to a company
that no longer wants or appreciates what you have to

"Wait a minute --"

"No, you wait a minute. You called me from across the
country for my opinion, Tom, so listen to it. You keep
thinking about how much you don't want to give up the good
things about your job, but the fact is that most if not all
of those things are gone already. The only thing really
holding you there is habit. It's risky and scary to leave
a company you've been with for a dozen years; maybe it
feels safer to just stay around and be miserable. But
understand this, my friend: whether you stay or go, things
will never go back to the way they were."

"So you think I should go."

"Do you need to hear the words, is that it? Yes -- I think
you should go. It's way past time. You need to find a
place where your ideas are welcomed, and where you can
share what you know with the less experienced folks around
you. There's a lot of demand for guys like you in this
industry, Tom, it won't take you very long to find a good

Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt as though I'd been
released from bondage. "Thanks, Boss," I choked. "I did
need to hear that."

"I suspected as much," he replied, sounding a little shaken
up himself. "Now go find yourself a hot Mormon babe and
enjoy the rest of your trip."

"Will do."

"By the way," I asked Kate over breakfast at the Wyndham's
restaurant, "are you Mormon?"

"Unitarian," she replied with a bewildered expression. "By
name, at least. It's been a while since I made it to
Church. You?"

"Generic Christian values, no particular sect."

"And we're talking about this because?"

"Something Walt said," I explained, then changed the
subject. "I called him this morning. He said some of the
same things you did last night, only with a lot less
subtlety. He thinks I should have bailed months ago."

"And what do you think?" Her eyes met mine and looked into
my soul.

"I think he's right. I should have seen it myself, but I
guess I didn't want to. Like a boiling frog." According
to corporate folklore, a frog tossed into a pot of near-
boiling water will fight like mad to escape. However, if
you place the frog in a pot of lukewarm water it will sit
there happily. Turn on the heat and the frog will not
notice as the water temperature slowly increases to a
lethal level; it will sit there and boil to death. I've
never heard of anyone actually trying it, but it makes a
powerful analogy when applied to complacency in the

Kate must have heard the same story, because she nodded in
understanding. "So does that mean you're officially on the

"And priced for a quick sale," I confirmed. "Just as soon
as I get my resume together."

"We could post you on eBay, see what the market will bear."

"Sure, why not?" I said, getting into the spirit of the

"What if the high bidder wasn't in DC, though?"

"Shipping and handling charges would be obscene."

"But would you do it? Is there anything holding you in
DC?" She was still smiling, but there was a slight edge to
it and her voice seemed a little less capricious. "Family?
Friends? Property?"

"Not really," I replied, giving it more thought than I
originally intended. "My sister lives in Dallas and our
parents live in Tucson. My friends are my ex-coworkers,
there's no knowing what'll happen with them now that we
don't work together. My apartment lease is up in
September, but it wouldn't sit empty for long if I left
sooner." Kate seemed to relax as I answered. "Why?" I
challenged, still mostly playing. "You planning to bid?"

"You'd be way out of my price range," she said. "But I
know a few people ..." Her broad wink had me wondering how
much of that exchange had really been idle banter.

Kate paid for breakfast then led the way back upstairs to
her room. The conference schedule called for a general
session that morning, so we decided to skip the pep rally
and use the time to get our minds into test-taking mode.
Kate had purchased a practice exam program online which was
supposed to be similar enough to the real thing to give a
good idea of our chances. Back in her room, we fired up
the ThinkPad and took turns having the system grill us.

One thing anyone with a serious certification can tell you
is that knowing the material is only about two thirds of
what you need to pass an exam. The other third is a
familiarity with how the vendor likes to express the
concepts -- key words and phrases that the vendor likes,
sometimes (especially with Microsoft and Novell) with
meanings that do not completely jibe with common usage.
The great value in practice tests is that they get you used
to thinking of things in terms of those phrases, so that
you won't get thrown off by strange wording and blow a
question that you should be able to answer. By the end of
an hour, Kate and I had both answered about 100 questions
and reviewed those answers against what the software
expected. We found that we were a little weak in the Web
server -- no surprise, considering our lack of real-world
experience -- but sound enough otherwise that we should
probably both pass. It was hard to be sure because the
exam is adaptive, so the exact question mix would be
largely left to chance.

Our session schedules tracked fairly closely for Wednesday.
We both had sessions at 11:00 and were even in the same
session, NDS Recovery Made Easy, from 12:45 until 2:00.
She was already looking jittery as we walked out of
Ballroom D together at the end of that class.

"Ninety minutes to go, and I'm already trembling," she
confessed. "How about you?"

"I'm fine," I said simply. I've always been a very cool
test-taker. My attitude is that at point either I know the
material or I don't. If I do, there's nothing to be
nervous about; if I don't, being nervous won't help anyway.
I didn't try to explain this philosophy to Kate because
I've learned the hard way that test anxiety does not yield
to logic. Instead I tried to come up with a way to get her
mind off it.

My first thought, to find Angie and Liz at the Neckwork
station, didn't pan out. There was a big crowd waiting for
neck rubs, and the girls we'd met Tuesday were not on duty
then. By pure happenstance I looked over at a map of the
convention center and my eye fell on an area I hadn't yet
visited: Planet Novell.

"I've got an idea," I announced. "Come with me." Arm in
arm we strode through the crowd, past the Learning Zone,
and around to Exhibit Hall 1. A lot of the nearby sessions
weren't letting out until 3:00, so we easily joined into
the thin stream of people entering the recreational area.

We bypassed the Dr. Cache Challenge and other trivia
contests and went straight for the Sports Lounge. It was
laid out like a Chuck E Cheese, with pinball machines,
foosball stations, and basketball shooting booths. Off to
one side was a table with about 10 Compaq desktops, several
of which were unoccupied, and a sign inviting us to play a
round of Unreal Tournament. "That's for me!" I declared
and bellied up to a free workstation.

"What is this?"

"It's a first-person shooting game, like Doom or Quake but
tons cooler. Watch." I adjusted the character appearance
to my liking, set the name to "Tominator", and joined the
match already in progress.

It was a team Death Match, five Blue players versus five
Red. Three players on each team were actual people, the
others were 'bots' -- simulated players controlled by the
host computer. The objective was to kill as many of the
opposing team as possible. Killed players and bots respawn
immediately to fight again, but lose any weapons they
accumulated along the way. The first team to achieve 50
kills, or 'frags' in game parlance, would win. The level
was one of my favorites from the demo version of the game,
featuring three impossibly tall and narrow towers with
nothing but a deadly drop waiting for the player who makes
a misstep or misjudges a leap from tower to tower.

I was Blue. Kate watched over my shoulder as I killed a
Red player with my pistol, which is the only weapon
provided at respawn, and took his ASMD Shock Rifle. Then I
joined the fray seriously, jumping from tower to tower,
grabbing up better weapons or extra ammunition or a healing
pack at every opportunity. I had a good initial run,
scoring six frags before the blast from a red player's
rocket launcher threw me off the roof of a tower. I
respawned and took out two more, getting killed twice
myself in the process, before the game ended: Blue 50, red

We still had twenty minutes before my exam and nobody
waiting to play, so I signed up for the next game. In that
one Blue took red by a bigger margin, 50 to 37, and I was
the top scorer with 19 frags. I was ready to go, but the
Red group demanded a grudge match. They got it, and the
human players spent the entire game focused on destroying
me. My teammates used their single-mindedness to
advantage: the final score ended up Blue 50, red 33 even
though I only managed to frag 8 myself.

The Blue team burst into loud congratulations; several
high-fives later, I saw it was 2:35. I was riding high on
adrenaline and ready for anything.

At the testing center I gave my notebook and badge holder
to Kate for safekeeping, signed the nondisclosure
agreement, and followed the testing proctor to my assigned
station. I took a moment to close my eyes and breath
deeply a few times to get settled, then started my test.

Fifteen minutes later I emerged from the testing room,
relieved. The system had asked the minimum 15 questions
and passed me. The after-test survey, which used to be
optional, took longer than the exam itself. The test
proctor smiled broadly as he pressed his seal into my
report. "Nice work," he said.

I reached out to take the grade report from him, but Kate
was a hair quicker. "Show and tell time," she said, then
her jaw dropped. "This is a perfect score!"

"Fifteen out of fifteen," the proctor agreed. "First one
this week."

"A fluke," I said modestly. "You know what adaptive tests
are like."

"Let's hope it's as gentle with me, then," Kate retorted.

With about 40 minutes yet to go before Kate's exam, we
opted to make use of a nearby Notebook Ports station and
check in with the outside world. Kate had an impressive
number of emails waiting for her, so I went foraging for
beverages to give her some privacy.

When I got back she was on her cell phone with a pained
expression on her face. Seeing me, she perked up. "Wait a
second, Eric, I may have another idea." Kate lowered her
cell phone and placed a finger over the microphone. "You
wouldn't happen to know any way to get around the console
lock password on a server, would you?"

"With or without downing the server?" I asked.

"Without if you can," she replied. "With if you must."

NetWare 4 has a very simple mechanism for securing the
console against unauthorized use: you choose 'Lock Server
Console' from a menu and then type in a password. That
password must then be re-entered to unlock the console.
The major weakness in that system is that the password is
transient -- whatever the last operator types in becomes the
password until the console is unlocked again. If the
operator forgets what password they used, or manages to
mistype it twice out of haste or sloppiness, there is no
obvious way to get around it. Fortunately for Eric, I'd
seen this problem before. "I know a couple of

"Great!" Lifting the phone back to her face, she said,
"Eric, I'm handing you over to Tom; he's a Master CNE and
he knows a trick or two that might help." Then she handed
the phone to me.

"Hi, Eric," I began. "Tell me what happened."

"We always lock the console when it's not actively in use.
We had a new person in there today who locked it, but
apparently they mistyped the password because it won't take
the one we normally use. I've already tried a couple of
likely misspellings and they haven't worked. The only
other way I know of to unlock the console is to hard boot
the server."

"It's a 4.11 server?"

"Yes. Support Pack 7a, if that makes a difference."

"Is it set up for bindery emulation?"

"I don't know," he replied, but I saw Kate nodding

"Kate says it is; that makes it much easier. Do you have a
workstation handy?"

"Right here."

"Good. Here's what you need to do..." With Kate watching
and listening intently, I guided Eric through the process
of changing the password on the bindery Supervisor account,
which on NetWare 4 can be used to override a lost console
lock password. Then I instructed him to type that new
password on the console.

"It worked!" he exclaimed. "That's so cool! How did you
learn that?"

"The same way you just did," I answered, winking broadly at
Kate as I handed her the phone.

"Everything okay now?" she asked Eric. His answer caused
her to break out into laughter. "I'll take that under
advisement. ... Bye."

Kate took one look at my rising eyebrows and blushed.
"Let's just say that Eric wants me to convey his heartfelt
gratitude," she said.

"Gets a little excited, doesn't he?"

She shrugged. "He's only 24. The ink is still wet on his
CNA certificate, but he's well educated, enthusiastic and
very smart. With the right guidance and some real world
experience he'll be very good."

"Pretty green to be standing in for you, isn't he?"

"We're running a bit thin on technical staff right now.
I'm here; our senior administrator is on maternity leave;
our top engineer left us to take a job with Novell and we
haven't found a replacement for him yet. Until we do,
we're stuck in survival mode."

I could relate. Most of the LANtech people on my team made
Eric seem like a grizzled veteran. Any thought of trying
to do a significant upgrade under those conditions was a
pipe dream; yet another sign it was time to go.

Before long it was time for Kate's exam. I offered to blow
off the beginning of my 3:45 session and wait for her, but
she wouldn't hear of it. We agreed to meet in the
Developers' Den, a lounge area not far from the South
Temple exit. I took her laptop bag and its contents with
me since she couldn't bring them with her for the exam. We
shared a quick kiss for luck and I watched her disappear
into the testing room. I waited until 3:45, then high-
tailed it to my afternoon session.

My 3:45 session was a hands-on lesson in NDS Programming
with ActiveX Controls using Visual Basic and Delphi. I
don't write programs very often and I'm not a professional
coder by any means, but I'm good enough to pull out my C++
compiler and whip up a utility to solve a specific problem
when I need to. I was used to writing most of the code
myself, incorporating Novell's libraries to allow my
programs to access network services. With the ActiveX
controls, however, a lot of the programming work could be
eliminated. Something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet
can use an ActiveX control to interact with the network,
and can be set up in minutes instead of hours. The
instructor took us through several example programs, which
we edited and ran on our own workstations. I hardly
noticed the time flying by until a hand touched my shoulder
and Kate slipped into the empty seat next to me.
Wordlessly she slipped me a folded sheet of paper.

It was her test report, sealed and approved. She had
passed, answering 17 of 19 questions correctly. I was so
happy for her that I forgot for a moment where I was; I
pumped my fist and shouted, "Yes!"

The instructor heard me at the front of the room and took
it in stride. "Yes," he agreed, "it's very exciting when
things come together so easily. Now in the final example,
you'll see how the Session control can be used with the
Directory control to query NDS ..."

We snickered like school children for a moment or two, then
Kate took back her paper and her laptop bag. "I'm going to
go freshen up," she said. "Meet me in the lobby of the
Wyndham at seven -- we're celebrating."

The session ran long, lasting until almost 6:00. When I
finally emerged from the room the convention center was
nearly empty. What few people I did see were rushing to
get out, since the conference party was scheduled to start
at seven at the nearby Utah Fun Dome.

Back at the Best Western I showered, shaved, and put on
fresh clothes. I wasn't sure what she had in mind, so I
got out the best clothes I had with me: black dress pants
and a crisp white short-sleeved shirt. I hadn't thought to
bring a jacket or tie -- I seldom wear those even at home --
so I left the shirt collar open and pulled on a gray knit
vest. That was as close to formal as I was going to get on
short notice. A sudden thought struck me and sent me to my
shaving kit in the bathroom. I dug through the black
zippered case quickly and there they were: three little
foil packets, relics of an Ocean City trip taken a long
time ago while on the rebound from my last serious
relationship. The condoms had been in that bag at least
two and a half years but the packets were still intact so I
reasoned they should still be okay. I slipped two into my
pants pocket, just in case.

When I got to the Wyndham lobby I found myself wishing I'd
packed a jacket and tie. Kate was dressed to kill in a
slinky black sheath dress, cut low in the front and even
lower in the back. Her hair was tied up in a tight,
intricate knot, which emphasized the smoothness of her neck
and shoulders. A simple gold herringbone necklace and
earrings provided just enough ornamentation. Sheer hose
and black shoes with modest heels completed the ensemble.

I said exactly what was on my mind: "Wow, Kate!"

She looked me over carefully. "Not bad for a technocrat on
a business trip," she said, smiling. "Not bad at all."

"Where to, the Fun Dome?"

"Not right away," she replied coyly. "I thought we'd start
out at Benihana and then improvise from there."

"Lead the way."

We walked out of the Wyndham and back toward the convention
center, crossing West Temple before turning right. We
passed JW's Steak House, where we had eaten on Monday, and
kept going. Benihana turned out to be a little bit south
of the convention center at 165 South West Temple.

The place was packed. Hand in hand, Kate and I snaked our
way through the crowd toward the hostess. She greeted Kate
warmly and waved us toward the bar area. "We have a
reservation for 7:30," Kate explained. "But since they
tend to be busy, I thought it would be best to show up
early and wait in the bar."

I followed Kate into the bar, which was a little less
crowded than the main dining area. We were able to find
two seats together on the left side. The bartender also
seemed to recognize Kate; he nodded at her, smiling
pleasantly, and produced a magnum of champagne in ice and
two flutes. "Shall I open for you?" he asked in a charming
Japanese accent.

Kate looked at me inquiringly. "That's fine with me," I
replied. "Not to mention probably safer for the innocent

The bystanders were never in danger -- this was good
champagne, with a real cork rather than a plastic stopper.
The bartender opened it expertly and poured glasses for
both of us, leaving the bottle within easy reach. Kate
raised her glass high, studying the bubbles for a moment in
the light. "To success?" she suggested.

"Why not? To success." The first sip was absolutely
divine so I drank deeply, letting the delicate flavor wash
over my tongue. "This is really, really good. What is

"I have no idea," she answered. "I just asked them for the
best in the house."

I pushed aside the white linen wrapping the bottle and
snuck a peek at the label, but was none the wiser.
"Something French, I think," I said. "I don't recognize
any of the words."

We sat there at the bar sipping champagne and enjoying each
other's company. The conversation stayed light and easy,
steering well clear of work and networking by unspoken
agreement. I lost track of how much champagne we had
consumed because the helpful bartender kept topping off our
glasses, but by the time the hostess came to escort us to
our table we were both feeling pretty mellow.

The hostess led us past the sushi bar and upstairs to the
larger dining area. It was very impressive to look at: a
huge room filled with long, curved tables where groups of
people sat together. In the center of each table were the
steel grill and a skilled chef who chatted pleasantly with
his guests as he prepared their food.

Kate and I found ourselves at one of the smaller tables,
equipped with only six seats. The hostess introduced us to
Hiro, our personal chef for the evening, and gave us our
menus. Moments later a bus boy appeared with the rest of
our champagne, thoughtfully transferred to a steel pedestal
with fresh ice to keep it cold for us. "You are
celebrating?" Hiro asked pleasantly.

"We are," Kate replied. "We both passed important exams
today which will hopefully help our careers."

"Ah, you are with the Brainshare," he guessed. "Lots of
Novell people in town this week."

"Most of them seem to be downstairs," I observed. "Plenty
of empty seats up here."

"Yes," Hiro agreed, looking around. "The sushi bar is very
popular tonight. Not as many people interested in
teppanyaki. Tomorrow, maybe things are different."

On an impulse, I closed my menu. "What would you suggest
for dinner tonight, Hiro?"

Hiro beamed. "You like chicken, steak, or seafood? Or
maybe a combination?"

The champagne was definitely getting to me a little, so I
decided on some protein to slow things down. "How about
steak, with a little seafood on the side?"

"Okay -- you like teriyaki beef?"

"Love it."

"One of the house specialties is teriyaki beef julienne.
Teriyaki beef strips, green onions, and shrimp. Very good
with your champagne."

"Sold," I said approvingly.

Hiro looked over to Kate. "And you, Miss?"

"I'm in a seafood mood," she said thoughtfully. "What's in
the seafood combination plate?"

"Cold-water lobster tail, ocean scallops, and shrimp."

"Sounds perfect."

Hiro entertained us with stories about some of the
interesting patrons he gets during Brainshare week while he
fixed our salads. While we were eating those we were
joined by another couple who introduced themselves as
Gloria and Reuben from Chicago. Hiro welcomed them as
warmly as he had us, and soon the five of us were pals.
Gloria, we discovered, was part owner of a flower shop.
Reuben was a fleet supervisor for UPS. They were in their
fifties, had been married to each other for 23 years, and
were in Salt Lake City on a skiing vacation.

"How long have you two been married?" Gloria asked.

I laughed, and Kate choked on her champagne. "We're not,"
I hastened to explain. "We just met here this week at the
Novell convention." To bolster my claim, I held up my left
hand. "See? No ring."

"I'm so sorry," Gloria gushed. "I have no idea why I
thought you two were married."

"Gloria wants everyone to be married," Reuben explained.
"If she'd been born a hundred years earlier, she'd have
been a village matchmaker."

Kate steered the conversation back to safer, neutral
topics. Between her knowledge of the area and Hiro's, I
learned more than I ever knew about Utah in general and the
Salt Lake City area in particular. The city's nickname,
"Crossroads of the West," came from the fact that it is a
major transportation hub for the western United States,
with over half the country within a two and half hour plane
ride. I learned that those mountains that I'd enjoyed
looking at all week were home to something like 10 world-
class ski resorts, a fact that had not been lost on the
2002 Olympic selection committee. A little further south
toward Kate's home was Mount Timpanogos, which is famous
for the Timpanogos Cave National Monument and for a huge
network of hiking trails, and the Provo River, which
provides some of the best trout fishing in the western
United States.

"All anybody knows about Utah back home," I remarked, "is
that it's home to the Utah Jazz, Orrin Hatch, and a whole
bunch of Mormons."

"Where's home?" Reuben asked.


"That's too bad," Gloria remarked, looking at Kate. "He
seems like such a nice fellow, too." I wasn't quite sure
what she meant by that, so I just laughed it off and took
my turn telling them stories about the peculiar brand of
insanity that is Washington.

The food was incredible, by the way. My teriyaki beef
julienne was succulent, the shrimp perfect. I even ate the
green onions, which I don't normally go for. Kate's
seafood platter looked equally delectable. And Hiro's
preparation skills were first class. Knives whirled and
flashed in a dance so complex that at times it seemed as
though he had three arms. All the while he smiled and
laughed with us and kept up his end of the conversation,
making us all feel totally at home.

By the time dinner was over we had finished our champagne
and put a serious crimp in a carafe of a very nice white
wine. I was feeling no pain, and Kate seemed to be walking
a little more carefully on her way back from the ladies'
room. "Maybe we'd better slow down on the drinks a
little," I suggested. "There's still plenty of evening to
get through."

Kate grinned slyly and pulled me closer. "Suppose I told
you I was trying to get you drunk and have my way with
you?" she asked in a sultry murmur.

"Suppose I told you that you could have had me anyway?" I
countered, softly enough that I hoped Gloria and Reuben
wouldn't hear.

"In that case, suppose we say goodnight to Hiro and go back
to my place?"

"I suppose we should."

We drew a lot of looks as we wove through the dining room
and out of the restaurant, arms firmly intertwined. I felt
as though there was a neon sign overhead advertising our
intentions. We took our time meandering across the street
and over to the Wyndham. Kate was strangely quiet, and
seemed to be staring into space a bit. I put it down to
the alcohol and tightened my grip on her a little bit just
in case.

The elevator doors closed on us, leaving us alone, and
impulse started to take over. Kate leaned back against me
and I put my arms around her waist. My head was suddenly
filled with the most tantalizing aroma, the mixture of her
perfume and her own natural scent. The side of her throat
was too much temptation -- I snuggled in and started kissing
her lightly along the right side of her neck, working my
way down to the shoulder, luxuriating in the fragrance and
the texture of her skin against my lips. "You smell
delicious," I said hungrily.

She sighed and pressed a little harder against me, rubbing
her butt up against the lump of my hardening cock, and
tilted her head back to give me a better angle of attack.
Without thinking, I lifted my hands to her breasts and
started fondling her through the stretchy black dress. Her
nipples responded by hardening to my touch. I almost
didn't notice when the elevator dinged and the doors
opened. Kate did, though, and abruptly pushed my hands
down as two teenage girls walked in on us. Their eyes
widened a little for a second, then turned away and made a
great show of not looking at us.

Only three more floors, I told myself as I hid the evidence
of my arousal behind Kate. The elevator opened again on
our floor. I heard the distinct sound of giggling as the
doors slid shut behind us.

Kate led me by the hand down the hall to her room. I
nibbled on her neck a little more while she fumbled in her
purse for the key. "You're not helping," she chided, but
her body relaxed against mine anyway. Soon her fingers
closed on the small plastic key card and slipped it into
the lock. The door clicked and she pushed it open.

I followed her inside and then closed the door behind us,
turning the bolt all the way. As an afterthought, I opened
the door again long enough to hang the "Do Not Disturb"
sign on the knob and then locked it again. As soon as I
turned around Kate wrapped herself around me in a strong
embrace. Our lips met and parted in unison, allowing our
tongues to begin dancing together. The taste of the wine
was still in our mouths along with just a hint of seafood
and teriyaki -- a scrumptious combination.

Gently at first, then more insistently, I felt Kate's hands
pulling on my vest and shirt. I let go of her long enough
to lift the vest over my head and fling it aside. She had
the shirt unbuttoned and off me in record time, then we
went back to deep kissing. I ran my hands along the low
back of her dress looking for a zipper. Finding none, I
dropped them down lower and lifted on her dress, slipping
my hands underneath. I felt the silky smoothness of panty
hose on her thighs and up higher, uninterrupted, to her
buttocks. Either the hose were the kind with the built-in
panties or she wasn't wearing any. I gave each buttock a
squeeze and felt the strong muscles working inside. I
started lifting up the dress, intending to strip it off
her. Kate pulled back a little and stopped me.

"Hold that thought," she said breathlessly. "I'll just be
a minute." Before I could reply she slipped into the
bathroom and closed the door.

The combination of the alcohol, the equally intoxicating
scent of her perfume and the rapid transfer of blood from
brain to groin had left me dizzy and breathless. The
nearest place to sit down was the corner of her bed so I
worked my way over, keeping a hand on the wall for support,
and plopped down heavily. I kicked my shoes off, then my
socks and undershirt.

From the bathroom I heard a toilet flush, then water
running in the sink. The door opened and Kate came out.
She was still wearing the slinky dress, but the shoes and
panty hose were in her hand. Her eyes wandered hungrily
over me as she approached the bed, and her seductive smile
told me she liked what she could see so far.

Kate came to a stop in front of me, midway between the bed
and the vanity opposite. With a knowing smile, she dropped
the hose and shoes on the floor then turned her back to me.
I watched her reflection in the mirror as she slowly
removed the gold necklace and earrings. She saw me
watching and grinned slyly, bringing her hands slowly up to
her shoulders. With a little flick of each hand the thin
straps of her dress fell off her shoulders and down to the
elbows. Carefully holding the loose fabric of the dress
against her bosom, she slipped first one arm, then the
other free of the straps and let it fall. She was nude,
her back in full view to me, the reflection of her front
obscured by her body itself. "Enjoying the view?" she

"Absolutely," I replied with feeling. She had a delightful
rear end.

"Show me."

No problem, I was about to burst through my briefs anyway.
I stood up long enough to drop my pants and underwear and
kick them away then sat back down on the edge of the bed.
"Very nice," she said, looking at the reflection of my
hard-on in the mirror.

"Exquisite," I replied, letting my eyes show her it wasn't
me I was talking about.

Kate reached up with both hands and released her hair,
letting it fall easily and naturally to her back, then
turned and approached me. The front view of her was even
more spectacular than the back: I saw beautiful, teardrop-
shaped breasts, a strong waist and hips, and a delightful
patch of bright, curly red hair pointing the way to

Impatient, I reached out and pulled her to me, my face
falling quite conveniently between her breasts. The
perfume scent in her cleavage was even stronger than in the
elevator, making me dizzy again as I inhaled her. Her arms
encircled me and held me closely. In a fog, I kissed my
way along until I found a ripe, hard nipple then locked on
to it and began teasing it with my lips and tongue. Kate
let me enjoy her, switching sides every few minutes, and I
felt her relax against me. Her breathing got deeper and
heavier, and her hands began to wander over my back and
neck. One hand remained closed, I noticed in passing, but
was too preoccupied to wonder why. Instead, I let my own
hands wander more aggressively over Kate's body.
Everywhere they went I felt the same thing: a smooth, soft
layer of skin on top and underneath firm, ripe muscle.
Kate was either naturally athletic or spent a lot of time
in the gym. I prayed silently for endurance.

Kate let me know when she'd had enough by climbing onto the
bed over me, gently but firmly forcing me onto my back.
She had me pinned and pressed her advantage by locking her
lips onto mine again for another round of passionate
kissing. My hard, rigid cock kept brushing against her
pelt and driving me insane. A thick, warm trickle of
moisture oozing down the shaft told me she was ready too.

Her hungry lips left mine and began to move south, tracing
a line down the center of my chest, my belly, and coming
agonizingly close to my raging cock. She rose up and
contemplated my leaning tower. Her right hand, which had
been closed for most of the festivities so far, opened to
reveal a foil packet. So we both came prepared, I thought
to myself.

"Ready?" she asked as her fingers tore the packet open.

"Completely," I answered emphatically, holding out a hand
for the condom.

She slapped my hand playfully. "Lie back," she told me.
"This is one of my favorite bits of foreplay." Watching me
intently, she unrolled a little bit of the condom and
popped it into her mouth. "Mmm, strawberry," she said

I'd heard of flavored condoms before, but never quite
understood what the point was. Kate wasted no time in
showing me. She bent over and right away I felt her lips
parting around the head of my aching cock. I felt a tongue
pressing down on me, and in a flash I realized she was
placing the condom with it.

Shockwaves traveled down my cock and through my body as
Kate steadily worked the condom down over my shaft, using
her teeth and tongue to unroll the latex a quarter inch at
a time. It was agony and ecstasy rolled -- or should I say
unrolled -- into one. Every so often she would pause and
give a good, hard suck on the covered portion, sending me
into paroxysms.

I am NOT gonna blow this too soon, I vowed, I am not. ...
Baseball, think about baseball ... Orioles ... Ripken should
hit 3000 pretty early, maybe during the Detroit series; I
should try to get tickets ... The O's will probably suck in
the beginning, especially with Erikson on the DL ... Their
bullpen isn't looking too solid, except maybe compared to
last year. ... Sweet Jesus, I can't hold this much longer!

"How are you doing up there?" Mercifully, Kate's mouth had
come away from my cock. She was watching my face while her
right hand played idly with my balls.

I was panting like a sprinter at the finish line. "Fine,"
I squeaked painfully. "I was just wondering if this is
Mussina's year to win 20 games."

Kate grinned down at me wickedly. "I love a guy with self
control," she said. "Batter up!" With that, she climbed
back up on top of me and pinned my shoulders to the bed
with her hands. She teased me just a little more, grinding
her hips against me once or twice, letting me feel the wet
smears she left where her thighs touched me, then she rose
up and thrust herself down over my shaft. "Oooooh," she
moaned, "Feels like the heavy hitter is in the box."

Her eyes closed and she sat upright, letting herself settle
farther and farther down on me until I was buried to the
hilt. "You feel so good inside me," she said. "I could
stay like this for hours." Then she quickly looked back at
my face, and laughed heartily at the worried look she found
there. Even the laughter was mild torture, as it caused
her muscles to contract around my shaft. "Don't worry, I
was only kidding; I'm as close to the edge as you are, and
I think we've both waited long enough."

The got me laughing too, a painful, almost manic laughter
that made my cock twitch. "Do you torment all your men
like this?"

Her face softened. "No, this is all just for you. I've
been fantasizing about this since late Monday night."

I laughed softly one more time. "I'm always the last to
know," I lamented.

Kate put a finger to her lips and began slowly pumping her
legs, lifting herself up and dropping herself back down
over my saddle horn. I reached up, found her breasts, and
gave them plenty of loving attention. Her eyes opened
wider and stared directly into mine, making some kind of
electrical connection between us. I couldn't have looked
away if I'd wanted to. She began to moan with each stroke
and each squeeze of a breast. I was very happy for the
condom at that point, because it deadened the sensation
just enough to give me a little extra stamina -- without it
I was sure I'd have blown my load long before. As it was,
I was able to keep going and concentrate on the rising
pitch and pace of Kate's heavy, gasping breaths. Her moans
became grunts, and then short groans, and then she threw
her head back violently and let out a loud, joyous cry. I
felt her muscles clamp down tightly against me and her
entire body shuddered. Her weight shifted as her spine
relaxed; the hands that had been caressing her breasts were
now supporting her writhing frame. I held her steady,
breathing with her, keeping myself pressed firmly in place
where it seemed to do the most good, and as she let out
another loud cry I felt my cock explode. Bright spots
crossed my field of vision as I surrendered to my own
overpowering climax. For a few seconds my entire body ran
on automatic pilot, clenching and releasing with every
heavy pulse of my cannon.

When it was over I had no strength left to hold her up;
Kate folded down on top of me and slid off, rolling over
onto her back with a huge, blissful sigh. "You have no
idea how badly I needed that," she said. "It's been so

"I can relate," I replied. It had been a long time for me

Without another word, Kate rolled over onto her side and
pulled me up toward her. My head fell neatly between her
breasts. I tossed an arm around her, nestled in, and we
both went to sleep.

I woke up a few hours later with a dry mouth and a soggy
condom still hanging from my flaccid penis. Both were easy
enough to take care of, I even managed to get myself
disentangled and to the bathroom without waking Kate.
Standing in the bathroom doorway, letting the light bounce
off the walls and gently illuminate the bed area, I found
myself standing still, just admiring the beauty and peace
of the sleeping woman.

Well, Tom, the inner voice said, you've done it again --
acted without thinking. What happens next, bright guy?

I wasn't sure. It had been very easy for me to sit across
the breakfast table from Kate and say there was nothing
holding me in DC, but the fact was I'd been there a long
time. Was I really willing to pack up and move cross-
country based on a relationship of less than 60 hours'

Why not? The only thing really holding you in DC is your
job, and you've already decided to leave that. And there's
an opening in her own company.

Office romances are so dicey, though. I'd never tried one
before, but I'd seen plenty of them end up in personal, as
well as professional, ruin. Besides, she had mentioned
the opening in front of me several times but never
suggested I apply for it -- that must mean something, I

So get a job with Novell. Or the government. Or a
different company. A good IS guy can work effectively in
any industry.

This was stupid, I realized. There I was, standing naked
in a doorway chasing my own mental tail when 10 feet away
was a woman I should be snuggling up to, perhaps making
love to. I banished the inner voices to a dark closet of
my mind and slid back into bed. Kate sensed the movement
and pulled me to a breast again. Why not, I figured, and
started gently suckling at her.

Kate remained asleep, her breathing steady and slow, but
her body responded to my touch. The nipple in my mouth
became hard and erect, and she shifted back a little to
give me easier access. My right hand caressed her body
idly, sliding slowly up and down her side from just under
the arm, down the smooth side of her torso, over the
generous curve of her hip and down the upper thigh. Her
legs parted slightly. I accepted the opening and slid my
hand down over her mound, massaging her pudendum with my
palm and letting my fingers probe gently between her inner
thighs. Her lips opened at my touch and her juices began
to flow.

I probed a little deeper, learning the folds of her inner
sanctum, feeling gently for the little round nub I knew
would be there. I found it and brushed against it. She
drew in a sharp breath and then let it out with a soft,
sleepy moan. Her hand clasped the back of my head and
pulled it more tightly into her. I reached a little deeper
with my right hand, slipping a finger up and into her
canal, reaching deep inside her.

She was stirring now, panting lightly and letting a little
moan escape her lips with each stroke of my finger along
the upper wall of her vagina. Her hips began to rock with
me, pushing against my palm and increasing the reach of my
finger. "Mmmmmm, I like this," she sighed drowsily.

I kept it up, moving my palm in a circular motion and
stroking in and out of her with my finger. A little
experimentation taught me just the right way to move to
gently sideswipe her clitoris, and each time I succeeded I
was rewarded with a gasp and a moan. Soon she surrendered
herself to me totally, throwing her head back and letting
me take her to another deep, long, satisfying climax. We
held each other and kissed for a while, then fell back into

I woke in the morning on my back with a hard-on, and the
curious sensation of someone playing with my balls. "Good
morning," Kate said from somewhere near my feet. Before I
could react, she had ripped open another condom packet and
started repeating her trick from the night before, using
her teeth and tongue to roll it slowly down over my
hardening rod. When I'd had all of that I could stand, I
pulled her up to me and climbed on top, adoring her lips,
her breasts, working my way down her body with little
kisses until I came to the sweetness below.

Kate moaned and purred as I went down on her, her responses
telling me exactly where and how she liked to be kissed,
licked, and sucked. Her flavor and her scent were
mesmerizing for me, I wanted as much of it as I could get.
After a short while I heard her moaning, "In me now,
please," but I didn't stop right away. It was my turn to
tantalize and torment her the way she had done me, and I
wanted to savor it a little. I kept going until I pushed
her over the edge.

Her climax was intense. Her thighs clamped down around my
head like a machinist's vise. Fingers wove into my hair
and clenched, grabbing fistfuls and pulling me in deeper.
I had about ten seconds of air left by my reckoning when
the vise loosened its grip, her thighs becoming soft and
inviting again. I started to relax into them.

"Oh, no you don't," Kate's voice said, and I felt strong
arms pulling me back up and tossing me on my back. I was
too weak to resist; Kate pounced on top of me easily and
slid down over my waiting shaft. She started pumping
immediately, anxiously, squeezing me inside her as she
moved up and down. My hips picked up on her rhythm and
matched it, and soon we were both coming together.

"Ready for breakfast now?" she asked when our breathing had
returned to normal.

"No thanks," I replied, making a big show of licking my
lips. "I just ate."

Kate grabbed a pillow and swatted me with it. "Hit the
shower, wise guy!"

I showered quickly, not sure what time it was, not entirely
sure I cared that much. When I came out of the bathroom I
was treated to a unique sight: Kate, still nude, had her
ThinkPad out on the coffee table and was reading something
on the screen. "A computer geek's wet dream come true," I

"Come here, I've been wanting to show you this since

It felt a little strange, but what the heck -- I plopped my
naked body down next to hers and turned the laptop to get a
better viewing angle. It was an MS Word document entitled
"Candidate Profile" and it was about me. My name, age,
certifications, and information on my current job were
neatly typed into fields on this standardized form. I
wasn't sure what to make of it. "What's this?"

"I have a friend who works in a recruiting firm," she
explained. "I told her about your situation, and she
offered to put together a professionally-produced resume
for you if you want. This is her standard form; I started
filling it out with what I know from talking to you. If
you want to finish it, she'll have a proof ready for you in
24 hours and she'll ship the finished copies anywhere you

"I see," I said, still not quite comfortable with it. "I'm
not sure I'm ready to sign up with a headhunter. Don't
they have fees and whatnot?"

"The new employer usually pays those," she replied. "But
that doesn't apply here. She's not putting you in their
system, Tom, she just offered to do the resume as a favor
to me. You'd be under no obligation at all. Or are you
changing your mind about your job?" There was something
strange in her voice, a hint of stress that hadn't been
there a few minutes before.

"Not likely," I answered firmly. I was definitely going to
need a resume; it couldn't hurt to have it done by a pro.
So I put an arm around Kate and kissed her. "Thanks."

While Kate took her turn in the shower, I quickly filled in
the rest of the details on the profile and saved it to
disk. When the File Save dialog came up, it displayed the
list of existing folders in her documents directory. She
had folders with names including BUDGET, DR PLAN, METRICS,
PERSONNEL, and PROJECTS. There were also folders named
after people, including an ERIC folder. Kate must do a lot
of administrative work, I reasoned. I remembered our first
dinner together. "I fell into doing more administrative
work and less hands-on," she'd said. It certainly looked
that way. On an impulse, I created a TOM folder and saved
my profile in it. Then, having snooped as much as my
scruples would allow, I shut down the system and started
hunting for my clothes.

It was 9:05 when Kate came out of the shower. We hadn't
left ourselves time for breakfast, so we kissed goodbye and
talked randomly about getting together in the afternoon
before I hustled myself back to the Best Western to
retrieve my notebook and badge and to change into fresh

I looked at the pristine bed in my neglected room and
wondered what the maid would do when she saw the bed hadn't
been slept in. Probably nothing, I decided, but better
safe than embarrassed. I pulled the sheets aside and
climbed into bed, rolled around a few times, then got up
again. Now it looked slept in. I laughed at myself as I
changed clothes.

My first session was a long one entitled 'Optimizing
ZENworks in a Production Environment', running from 9:30
until 11:45. I didn't have another until 1:30, which had
me thinking about finding Kate for some lunch. I checked
the copy of her schedule she'd given me the day before: no
dice. Kate was scheduled for a session on ZENworks for
Networks from noon until 1:15. I hadn't registered for
that session, but since Kate would be there I decided to go

I didn't see Kate in the line of people waiting to enter
the breakout room, so I hung back for a bit. In due course
the door monitor opened the door and started checking
people in, plugging their bcards into her Palm Pilot to
make sure they were registered before waving them through.
Soon it was 12:02, there were no more people waiting to
enter, and Kate hadn't shown up yet.

"Did you want to attend this session?" the monitor asked me
nicely. "There are some open seats."

I looked around one more time for Kate in vain. "I think I
would," I answered, and gave her my bcard.

I sat as close as I could to the door, figuring that Kate
was just running late and would be in soon. The lecturer
gave a very good presentation on ZENworks for Networks, a
new product that allows Cisco and Lucent routers and
switches to be configured and controlled through Novell
Directory Services. Pete would like this, I thought,
especially the Quality of Service controls.

Kate never showed. I didn't have time to go looking for
her after the session because I had another one scheduled
immediately afterward, but when that one ended at 2:45 I
made a beeline back to my room at the Best Western. I
wasn't wearing a pager or a cell phone, so if Kate had
tried to contact me it would have to be through the hotel.
Sure enough, when I reached my room the red light on my
phone was flashing. I followed the instructions on the
faceplate for checking voice mail and found there was one

"Tom, it's Kate," her voice said, sounding a bit frazzled.
"I had to come down to Provo unexpectedly, so you won't
find me at the Workstation Security session this afternoon
the way we planned. I still expect to be back there this
evening, though, so call me when you get a chance." She
added her cell phone number and blew me a digitally
recorded kiss.

I took a deep breath, then dialed the cell phone number.

"Hello?" Her voice sounded less strained than in the

"Hi, it's Tom. Was it something I said?"

"I don't scare off that easily," she chortled back. "No,
we had a minor system meltdown here. All of our printers
suddenly stopped processing queued jobs, and Eric didn't
have a PIN number to open an incident with Novell. That's
my fault, I should have made sure he had one before I

"Do you need some help?"

"No, we've got it in hand now. Novell Tech Support helped
us figure out what to do, it's just taking a little time to
do it. I'll be heading back up to Salt Lake City in an
hour or so. There are some things I need to go over with
Annette while I'm here."

"Okay. What would you like to do about dinner?"

"Surprise me," she suggested. "Just make sure it's
nourishing -- you're going to need your stamina." I could
imagine the lecherous grin on her face as she said the last

"Guess I'll look up oysters in the yellow pages."
The Workstation Security seminar started at 4:30 in
Ballroom F. We were both registered for it, so I went and
took a seat in the back row in case Kate showed up. At
about 5:10 I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder and turned
to kiss Kate, who then slipped into the seat beside me. "I
missed you," I whispered.

"Same here," she replied.

The lecture continued, but my attention flagged. Now that
Kate was next to me again, I was struck by how much I
really had missed her in the short time she was gone. That
disturbed me, because in less than 24 hours I was supposed
to get on a plane back to DC. Long distance relationships
are hard, and relationships with IS people are very hard --
a long distance relationship between IS people seemed like
a guaranteed disaster. What was I prepared to do about

"Tom? We can go now."

I shook the fog out of my head and saw that indeed, the
seminar was over and people were filing out of the room.
"Sorry," I said reflexively. "Out gathering wool, I

"It's been a long day," she said. "Have you made any
dinner plans?"

"I'm in kind of a simple mood. There's a diner back behind
the Best Western that looks like it might fit the bill.
It's called Dee's."

"I don't think I know it," she said. "Sounds like fun."

Dee's did not disappoint. It had a simple, roadside
atmosphere and plain honest food, not the best in Salt Lake
City in all likelihood but good enough. The ribs and
chicken combination plate worked well for me, since I
hadn't had a substantial meal all day, only a sandwich
after talking to Kate. She was in better shape, having had
lunch in Provo, so she went with a grilled chicken sandwich
and salad. We thought about beer, but went for iced tea
instead. "I've still got some Genesee in the cooler at the
Wyndham for later," Kate confessed.

"I've got a radical idea," I announced at the end of
dinner. "Why don't we actually go to a Brainshare social
function this evening?"

Kate's eyes widened. "I don't know," she said in mock
skepticism. "I hear all kinds of computer geeks hang out
at those things."

"Every once in a while you meet a really sexy woman there,
though," I countered playfully.

"What if I said I'd rather take you back to the Wyndham and
screw your brains out?"

"You mean we can't do both?"

"You drive a hard bargain, Mister ... fortunately, you also
drive something else pretty hard. Okay, you can have it
both ways tonight."

So it was that for the first time all week Kate and I
showed up at an after-hours function associated with the
convention. Thursday night was Meet the Experts night, a
chance to rub elbows with some of Novell's technical elite.
We got there about 7:30 and mingled until 9:00. I'm not a
real sociable type, so that was enough for me. Kate was
also content to call it a night then.

Our lovemaking that night was different from the first
night. Having gotten the initial burst of pent-up desire
out of our system, we were able to relax more and cherish
each moment. There was a lot of holding, caressing, and
kissing as we lay together, taking our time, making every
minute count. I went down on her again, kissing and
adoring her into a slow, easy climax, and she returned the
favor by repeating the condom trick and then climbing on
me, riding me lazily to my own release.

Afterward I disposed of the condom and we moved to the
sofa, still naked, to cuddle and sip ale.

"That was sweet," Kate said. I just nodded my agreement
and held her to me, stroking her hair with my free hand.
After a short silence, she spoke again. "We need to talk,

"You sound serious." There was a gravity in her tone that
I hadn't heard before.

"I am serious. We have a lot of unfinished business, and
only a few hours left."

"I know." My flight out of Salt Lake City was due to leave
at 12:55. "I've become very fond of you in the last few
days, Kate. Enough so that I don't entirely want to get on
that plane tomorrow, but I think I think I have to. So the
question is, where do we go from here? Do you want us to
try and continue?"

"I absolutely do," she answered softly. "You mean a lot to
me, Tom, and I don't want to see you go back to DC and be
miserable. I know you have to go, but you don't
necessarily have to stay there. You could come back after
you quit your job, stay with me while you look for a new
one. I can even help you look. You know there's an
opening on my own team that's practically tailor-made for

"I've thought about that. Maybe I'm being influenced by my
feelings for you, but I really like Utah. I like the
mountains and the atmosphere and the people that I've met
here. I could be happy here, I think, even if I came out
on my own. If being with you is part of the package, I
can't think of anywhere else I'd rather live."

I felt tears dripping lightly onto my chest. My own eyes
were getting a little moist too.

"I almost wish you hadn't said that, Tom," Kate confessed.
"It makes this next part so much more difficult."

Huh? "What next part?"

Kate got up and found a small packet of Kleenex in the
bathroom. Bringing it with her, she returned to the sofa
dabbing her eyes a tissue. This time when she sat down,
she positioned herself away from me a bit so she could look
me in the eye. "I haven't been entirely open with you
about my own job situation," she said. "I used to do
engineering work for the company, like you do, designing
and supporting solutions. About two years ago I accepted a
promotion into management and became head of the network
group, the way Walt was for you. I let my CNE skills go
because I was no longer working directly on the system, I
was managing the people who do. Then we lost our best
engineer, and I haven't been able to find a replacement, so
I've been doing both jobs."

If she was expecting surprise, she didn't get it. "As
deceptions go," I said, "That's not exactly a whopper. I
was beginning to suspect as much anyway." Thinking I was
making things easier, I added, "I've also been wondering if
you were hinting that you'd like me to apply for that
engineering job."

"That's the crux of the problem," she said. "All week
long, there have been two things I've wanted to do with
you: hire you and make love with you. We really do need
someone like you, Tom, to pull our systems together. We
need someone who can take our younger people under his wing
and teach them by example and by word, and build the kind
of team that you had before Kevin came on the scene."

Kate paused for a long pull of her ale before continuing.
"The problem is, that engineering position reports to me.
If I offer you that job and you accept it, then our
personal relationship has to end. I can't bring someone
that I'm sleeping with into my team and put him in a
position of authority, Tom; it's against every principle of
management ethics, and it could very well alienate the rest
of the team and poison all of those important

"They wouldn't have to know," I offered half-heartedly,
knowing it was a non-starter.

"They'd know," she said flatly. "We would know, and they
would see us sitting across the conference table from each
other and within a week they would know, and then they
would despise us for trying to fool them."

All I could do was agree, and wait for the next shoe that I
could sense was about to drop.

"The other side of this is that we really do need you, Tom.
That job has been open for four months. I must have
interviewed thirty candidates. None of them had anything
close to your talent or willingness to help, Tom. Most of
them were paper CNE's, people who could pass a test but
didn't understand a thing about how networks should be run.
Others had glass room mentalities and ridiculous salary
expectations because of their experience. None of them
wanted to work for a nonprofit organization for industry
average pay. Like you, I'm very emotionally attached to
this company, Tom, and if you are willing to take that job
I feel like I owe it to them to give you up. That's my
dilemma: do I offer you the job, knowing that it may mean
sacrificing a young relationship, or do I do the selfish
thing and keep you for myself?"

I didn't know what to say; I just sat there, staring into
her tearful eyes, absorbing the impact of all she had said.
Finally a few mental gears started turning. I wanted a
life with Kate, there was no question anymore -- the final
straw for me was the sense of honor she was showing me now.
We were so much alike in so many ways. No job was worth
sacrificing that. "For what it's worth, Kate," I began
slowly, "If you offer me a choice between the job and you

A soft but firm hand clamped down over my mouth. "Don't
say it," she pleaded, "Not yet. I'm not done confessing

I nodded my understanding, and she let go of my mouth.

"When I went back to the office today, I used some of that
time behind a closed door with Annette. She's my mentor as
well as my boss, and I needed her advice. I told her
everything, and I do mean everything, about you and about
us. I told her about my dilemma, and asked for her

"And what did she say?"

"She told me to sleep on it," she said. "Actually she told
me to make love to you, tell you everything, and then both
of us sleep on it. She also told me that under no
circumstances was I to ask you about taking that job, and
that if you started to volunteer an answer I was to cut you

"Okay," I acknowledged. "So what do we do now?"

"I want you to make love to me again, and then I want us to
sleep in each other's arms."

She got her wish. We made love one more time, slowly and
quietly, in the bittersweet knowledge that it might be the
last time. Afterwards we held each other closely and went
to sleep.

I slept fitfully, my rest disturbed by a series of strange
dreams. In one, Kate and I were seated at the head of a
conference table with a bunch of people I didn't know.
Kate was explaining that I had been hired to take over the
lead engineering role in her organization, and asked Eric
to fill me in on the status of current projects. One of
the men started speaking, but the words were all jumbled
and I couldn't understand them. As he talked, I realized
that my cock was getting hard. The more I tried to
concentrate on listening to Eric, the longer and harder my
cock became. Within a few minutes it ripped through the
front of my pants, up to the underside of the table top,
and then lifted the table up. Everyone looked at Kate and
asked, "Is there something you're not telling us?"

In another, Kate and I were sitting down to breakfast. We
were in our own house, at our own table (I knew this even
though I was unfamiliar with the room). We had our
calendars out and were discussing when we could get
together and have sex.

"I'm working late all week this week," she said. "We're
doing a lot of upgrades, and I don't have an engineer yet.
I may be free next Tuesday between 8 and 9."

"Tuesday's no good for me," I replied. "I'm doing a server
upgrade. How about 6:30am on the 19th?"

"That might work, but I'd have to be done by seven so I can
leave for my budget meeting."

"I'll make it quick."

Another had me sitting in a small waiting room of some
kind, done in green, with a big-screen tv set on the wall
opposite me. A greasy-looking guy in a tux was asking Kate
about our first date and she was telling him about how we
met in the line at the Learning Zone and had dinner at the
steak house. The scene reminded me of a sleazy game show
I'd flipped past a few times, "Blind Date." As I watched,
Kate continued to relate how we had taken and passed our
tests, and then launched into a lurid description of our
first night's lovemaking. I sat in shocked silence
listening to the account.

At the end the host spoke up. "And now Kate, it's time to
make that momentous decision. What will you do: date him
or hire him?"

Kate seemed to freeze, face simultaneously pensive and
fearful. The studio audience started shouting out their
own suggestions -- "Date him!" "Hire him!" "Date him!"
"Hire him!" The "Hire him" group seemed to be getting
louder and the "Date him" group quieter. I tried to shout
"Date him!" at the image of Kate on screen, but all I could
manage was a hoarse whisper -- my voice was gone.

No problem, I could just go to her and tell her to choose
dating. But then I realized the waiting room I was in
didn't have any doors. I pounded on the walls, desperate
to get out, to find Kate, but there was no exit.

And then, in the distance, I heard the faint ringing of a
cell phone. I started looking for it, tossing the couch
cushions aside, feeling in the cracks with my hand, but I
couldn't find it. The phone fell silent ...
" ... Tom? Wake up, honey."


Kate was standing over me, her cell phone in her hand. "We
need to get up, Tom," Kate said. "Annette just called.
She's on her way up here from Provo and she wants to meet
with us both."

That woke me up quickly. "What about?"

"I didn't ask. Whatever it is, we'll find out in about an

I threw my clothes on and headed back to the Best Western.
On my way through the Wyndham lobby, I had a thought and
detoured to the Master CNE lounge. The door was ajar, so I
poked my head in to see if anyone was home and found myself
face to face with the photo girl from the other day.

"I'm sorry," she said sweetly, "the lounge doesn't open
until eight."

I checked my watch: 7:15. "That's fine," I said. "I'm
looking for a quiet place where I can have a small business
meeting in about an hour. Would it be okay for me to use
one of the round tables in here?"

"Sure," she answered, nodding. "It should be pretty quiet
in here, not too many people come in first thing."

"Thanks," I said sincerely. "You just made my morning."

Back at the Best Western I showered, shaved, and dressed in
record time. I buzzed Kate and told her I'd gotten the use
of the Master CNE lounge; she like the idea. We decided to
have her meet Annette in the lobby and then bring her into
the lounge where I'd be holding our table just in case the
place got popular on the last day of the conference.

I went back to the Wyndham at 7:55. The photo girl was
waiting for me, and even told me to feel free to offer my
guests coffee or juice from the refreshments spread. A
couple of other small groups did drift in when the lounge
opened, but there was plenty of room for all.

At 8:20 the photo girl stepped through the doorway from the
outer anteroom and pointed to my table. Kate came in next,
followed by another woman and a man. I stood quickly and
Kate performed the introductions.

"Tom, this is my supervisor, Annette Cooper and our HR
Director, Ed Poole. This is Tom Mulhearn." Annette was a
blonde who looked to be in her late 40's, medium height but
very thin, almost boney-looking. She was attractive in her
way, but no match for Kate. Ed Poole was a big, hefty man
with a fringe of graying black hair ringing the sides of
his otherwise polished bald head. We did a round of
friendly handshakes and I offered them beverages. Kate
volunteered to fetch the drinks, leaving me momentarily
alone with the two strangers.

"How are you finding Utah, Tom?" Annette asked politely. I
assumed it was a throwaway question, but looking into her
kind, gentle face it seemed as though she sincerely wanted
to know.

"I like it here," I said frankly. "The city is clean and
well laid out, the scenery is amazing, and all the people
I've met this week have been unbelievably good to me. If
nothing else, you folks really know how to charm the

"It seems to be working both ways," she replied. "You've
made a very strong impression on Eric. And on Kate, of

Kate arrived on the heels of that remark with their coffee.
"Just a little bit," she agreed with a wink.

Annette smiled at that. She had a very comforting smile.
She took a good taste of her coffee, set the cup down
approvingly, and addressed us both. "I don't see any
reason to keep you in suspense," she began. "Ed and I are
here, obviously, because we want to talk to both of you
about your situation. Kate told me about how you've helped
her this week and about the personal relationship that's
formed in the process. She also told me about the ethical
conflict between wanting to continue that relationship and
also wanting to bring you on board."

Annette took another sip of coffee, then continued. "Kate
is a highly valued member of our team, Tom. Even before
she showed me your resume and qualifications, I was ready
to make you an offer based entirely on her opinion of your
talents. When she left my office yesterday, I resolved
that if there were any way possible that we could bring you
on and avoid the ethical concerns that are troubling her, I
would find it. I called on Ed, who is our human resources
director, and together we came up with what I think is a
win-win proposal."

The boss reached into an attaché case she had brought with
her and pulled out a manila file pocket. She removed the
top sheet and passed it over to me. It was an organization
chart of her company's IS department.

"This is the organizational structure that is in place
today," she explained. "As you can see, Kate is the
overall manager of LAN services. The team leader for each
department -- Engineering, Administration, Help Desk and
Desktop Support -- reports to Kate. Right now the
Engineering lead position is vacant, and it has been for
something like four months. That's the job we very much
want to offer to you, Tom. The main functions of that
position are to act as our senior technical advisor on LAN
technology issues, to design and lead the implementation of
system upgrades and enhancements, and to act as an
escalation point for problems that require a high level of
expertise to troubleshoot. Secondary functions, which are
very important to us, would include the ability to teach
and advise the first- and second-level support people so
that their technical skills increase as they gain
experience. Ideally, you would find yourself doing more
designing and directing as time goes on and the people
under you get better at execution and support."

She paused for a breath and some more coffee. "Before we
go any further, Tom, this is probably a good point to ask
you if you are interested in the position. Don't factor in
anything about your relationship with Kate; we'll deal with
that separately. What I need to know is, does the job as
I've described it appeal to you? Would you accept it,
assuming that we can come to agreement on pay and
relocation issues?"

I felt like a contestant on Final Jeopardy, trying to
figure out how much to bet without knowing what the actual
question was going to be. I knew the answer, though; it
was just a question of saying it. "Yes," I said finally.
"I'm interested. One of the most satisfying parts of my
old job, before things went sour, was helping others to
learn the craft of networking. I miss that, and I'd like
to be able to do that again."

Annette's eyes told me I'd passed the first test. "I'm
glad to hear that, Tom. Now let me show you both the
solution that Ed and I came up with last night." A second
organization chart came out of the folder. I put it
between myself and Kate so we could both see it well. "As
you can see, this second chart has been reorganized a bit.
The titles are still undefined as yet, but in essence Kate
would continue to be manager of user support services -- the
help desk and the desktop support teams -- and you would
become manager of the engineering and administration teams.
You would then report directly to me. That makes you
Kate's peer, outside of her chain of command but of course
still working with her very closely."

I felt Kate's hand grip mine.

"Before you get too excited, there are some downsides to
this structure," Annette warned. "In the existing plan,
the team leaders are not formal supervisors. Kate is
solely responsible for the personnel issues including
performance evaluations, time accounting, and expense
reporting. In the new structure, Tom, you would have to
assume the supervisor role for the people under you. That
means being willing to do more paperwork than you are used
to, and assuming responsibility for helping these people
develop their careers. It means staring at budget reports
sometimes, and dealing with personal issues. You need to
decide whether you're willing to do that as part of the

Annette turned to Kate. "The other downside, Kate, is that
by making Tom's position equal to yours, I have to upgrade
the salary class to equal yours. There isn't enough budget
money this year to fund that unless I can cut a headcount
somewhere else within the organization. The obvious
choice, in fact the only choice I'm willing to make because
it's the only one that doesn't cost us a real person, is to
cut the third engineering position that was funded for this
year but hasn't been filled yet. I know you lobbied hard
for that third position when Gupreet was still here; are
you willing to give it up, at least for this year, in order
to get Tom on board?"

Kate wasted no time in answering. "Yes," she said
decisively. "I'd rather have someone of Tom's caliber in
the senior slot than two vacancies we can't fill."

"And what about you, Tom? You've had a few minutes to
think about it; are you still interested in the job with
the extra personnel duties on top?"

I answered slowly. "About 18 months ago, a man I respect
tried to steer me into a position very similar to what
you've outlined. Rejecting that offer has been my number
one regret ever since. I won't make that mistake again."

Annette seemed pleased with my answer. "Kate, does this
arrangement satisfy your concerns?"

"It does," she said tearfully. "Thank you. Thank you

"Don't thank us yet. Tom, I understand from Kate that
you're coming from a bad situation. What concerns do you
have about potentially coming on board with us?"

That needed some thought. "I guess my biggest concern is
the composition of the group. I know you've lost key
people and the ones you have left are largely
inexperienced. The big question is, why are you losing
people and what are you doing to try and keep the ones you
have left? It's tough to develop young talent with a
revolving door in action."

"You're thinking like a manager already," Annette noted
with a smile. "As far as losing people goes, we've really
only lost one: Gupreet, our last senior engineer, left us
because Novell offered him a lot more money and he has
children who will be entering college in a few years. He
left on good terms. The only other member of our team who
isn't with us now is Nadine, one of our administrators, who
is on maternity leave. She'll be back in about five weeks.

"We do pretty well at retaining our people, Tom. Our
biggest weakness is salary. We don't have the deep pockets
that some of the high-tech companies in Orem and Provo
have, so we can't match the top salaries they offer. I try
to compensate for that by fostering a positive work
environment and doing everything in my power to make sure
the people who work for me are properly encouraged and
challenged. The best example I can give you is this
meeting, Tom. I'm offering you a job without benefit of a
formal interview based on Kate's conviction that you are
the person we need. I'm willing to restructure the
department in order to find an arrangement that you can
both live with. And if you accept my offer, you'll be
negotiating your startup package with the head of Human
Resources. That should tell you about the lengths to which
I'm willing to go to get good people and retain them."

It did. It also fit in with other things Kate had already
told me, such as how Annette had gotten the travel policy
modified to help cover Kate's hotel expenses. "If I've
learned anything from my situation," I said, "it's that
loyalty to a company is crazy; loyalty should be reserved
for the people that you work with, and work for, who value
it and return it. What you've done here today just
confirms what I already suspected from talking with Kate --
you already know that, and you practice it. That makes you
exactly the kind of organization I want to be a part of.
I'm yours."

Annette beamed. "That's great. I think we're going to
work together very well. There's just one more thing."
She looked sharply at both of us. "I don't think you need
me to remind you about the pitfalls of office romances, but
I'm going to do it anyway. Tom has already made a strong
first impression, but it will be up to the two of you to
make sure the relationship stays in its proper place and to
retain the respect of your teams. If you don't, there will
have repercussions through out the department.

"There's also the issue of what happens when the
relationship is over. I hope that it never becomes an
issue, that you have a long and happy time together. But
if that's not to be, I'm holding you both accountable for
making sure that the breakup doesn't throw my LAN
department into chaos. Is that understood?"

"Understood," we agreed.

Annette sighed contentedly and pushed her chair away from
the table. "Good," she said. "Kate, why don't we see if
you can sneak me into the closing keynote address while Tom
and Ed hammer out the details?"

I took off my badge holder and handed it to Annette.
"Here, this should help. They don't scan badges for the
general sessions, so nobody will question the name on it."

"Thanks." The two women strolled out of the lounge
together, leaving me alone with Ed Poole.

The negotiations were short and painless. We settled on a
base salary that was roughly equal to my present pay in DC.
With the difference in the cost of living, that was
equivalent to about a 15 percent raise. We discussed a
relocation allowance and settled on a not-to-exceed figure
that seemed reasonable to me. We estimated I would need 2
or 3 weeks to get my DC affairs in order for a move, plus
I'd have to pass a physical in Provo before I could start,
so we put my effective date at May 1. That seemed like a
long way off until I realized it was already March 31. The
benefits package was more or less comparable to what I
already had; being a health care organization, the medical
options were a bit more generous than I was used to. There
were a few minor perks offered by the old company that they
couldn't match, but nothing major. When I put my signature
on the final offer sheet, I was perfectly content with the

"It's going to be a pleasure having you on board, Tom," Ed
said. "By the way, Annette asked me to give you this now
that you're signed up." He pulled a plain white envelope
out of his breast pocket and handed it to me. Inside was a
check for $1870 made out to me.

"What's this for?" I asked, puzzled.

"Your Brainshare registration fee," he explained, "Plus
half of your hotel room charges. We called the Best
Western to verify the room rate and taxes. It's Annette's
way of welcoming you to the team."

With nothing left to do but wait for the women to return,
Ed and I retired to the restaurant for some breakfast. We
ate blueberry pancakes and talked trout fishing until about
10:30, when the girls found us.

"How was it?" I asked.

"Fascinating," Annette answered. "Drew Major was the
speaker. I'd have gladly stayed for more, but Kate thought
we'd better get going." She pointed to the check in my
hand. "Looks like we have a deal."

"Signed, sealed, and delivered," I confirmed. "Thank you
for this. For everything."

"You'll earn it, and then some," she replied confidently.
"How would you like to check out of your hotel and come to
Provo? The team is already dying to meet you."

Some of the air hissed out of my balloon as I realized what
time it was. "I'd really like to," I said, "but I can't.
I have a 12:55 flight and it's going to be crowded; if I'm
not checked in ahead of time I'll lose my seat."

"That could work," Kate said. I could see the wheels
turning in her head. "With the conference ending today,
every plane out of this city is going to be packed. By
Sunday, though, the rush will be over. I know a nice,
comfortable place in Lake Shore where you can stay for the
weekend; you could meet the team, see the area a little,
and then with any luck have a more pleasant flight home."

I weighed my options carefully: spend the day shoehorned
into a flying sardine can, or spend two more nights with
Kate first and maybe have some elbow room on the return
flight Sunday? Decisions should all be this tough.

"Works for me," I said happily.

Time was tight; I normally gather up my stuff the night
before I check out of a hotel so I don't have to rush
around in the morning, but of course this time I hadn't
even slept in the room in two nights. The desk clerk was
accommodating, though, so I was able to get my things
packed in some semblance of order rather than madly tossing
things into suitcases. By 11:30 Kate and I were headed
south on Route 15 in her red Subaru Outback station wagon.
Annette and Ed had a good 45-minute head start on us. By
the time we made it to Provo, got me signed in and found
the 4th floor team room, she had already presented the new
organization chart to the crew.

Eric turned out to be a short, stocky, Hispanic guy with a
boyish face. That surprised me, since I hadn't caught any
hint of an accent over the phone. "That's what growing up
in Orem will do for you," he explained with a grin. He was
my junior engineer, a Microsoft MCSE who was studying for
his Novell CNE exams in his spare time.

My new team also included three administrators. Nadine,
the new mother still on leave, had the most experience.
Aldo, a thin black man about Eric's age, had been there two
years. Sam (short for Samantha), a perky brunette with a
tomboy look, was a relative newcomer at eight moths. All
were Certified NetWare Administrators, though, which was a
big improvement over where I was coming from.

We spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know each
other and gathering documentation on the system for me to
take and review while I wrapped things up in DC. By the
time I set foot in Provo again I wanted to be familiar with
the existing design and procedures so they wouldn't have to
waste a lot of time getting me up to speed. We even set up
my user account and a client-to-site VPN node so that I
could access the system remotely over my DSL.

Kate took me home with her to Lake Shore. She lived alone
in a 4-bedroom rancher on a cul-de-sac. One of the spare
bedrooms was set up as a satellite office complete with
cable modem, printer, scanner, fax, and a NetWare 5 server
running BorderManager for secure site-to-site VPN access.
A workstation plugged into her Ethernet switch would be
fully connected to the office network at an impressive
speed. "I do a lot of work from this office," she
explained. "By the time you get back, I'll have space
cleared out for another workstation and an extra phone for

"Will I be spending a lot of time here?" I asked

"You'd better be." She gave me a soft punch on the
shoulder followed by a kiss that curled my toes.

The other spare bedrooms were made up as guest rooms.
"This house has been in my family since I was a kid," she
told me. "It was a vacation home for us at first. When I
started working in Provo I took up residence here because
it was convenient. Last year I bought the place outright
from my folks. I keep these two rooms made up because
every once in a while my folks or one of my brothers will
come up for a few days on short notice."

Kate had closed off part of the redwood deck out back and
turned it into a pretty impressive home gym. It featured a
serious looking resistance-training rig, a recumbent
stationary bike and a Nordic Track all laid out in an
enclosure with plenty of windows to allow a view of the
back yard. An adjoining section, divided off with panels
of discreet glass, held a Jacuzzi. "You take your workouts
seriously," I remarked with respect.

"Sometimes it's the only way to keep from pulling my hair
out. Twenty minutes on any of these machines, or in the
tub, can salvage my whole day."

"And it's better for you than my system of stress relief."

"What's that?"

"Find a defenseless piece of furniture and kick the crap
out of it."

"Maybe I should put in a heavy bag."
The rest of the weekend was a blur. We spent quite a lot
of it in bed, learning more ways to arouse and delight each
other. She gave me the cook's tour of Lake Shore,
including a drive up to the Utah Lake itself.

We also made some plans for my move. I decided to sell off
my old Bronco rather than move it across the country. I'd
be staying with Kate right away, so I didn't need a lot of
furniture; I'd give most of it to Goodwill rather than pay
to move it. The good stuff I'd keep in a rented storage
unit at first until Kate and I could see how the
relationship was working out, then take it from there.

Sunday came way too soon for either of us. We held hands
during the entire drive from Lake Shore back to Salt Lake
City International, where I caught my postponed flight back
to DC. I still had my paperback from the flight out, and
this time I actually got to read it.

The first thing I did when I got home Sunday was to page
the old crew. "MY TURN," the message read. "BRIDGE 5,
STAT." Inside of five minutes everyone was on the bridge
wanting to know the details. I gave them an abbreviated,
PG-rated version of the story and received congratulations
from all of them. Veronica offered to housesit if I
couldn't get the place rented before I had to return to
Provo. Jesse offered his pickup truck to supplement my
Bronco in clearing the place out. Pete and Joanna offered
to come over and drink beer with me while I packed. When I
told them my plan for resigning, they howled with wicked

By arrangement with Kevin I had the day off on Monday. I
spent it productively, making the initial calls to movers
to set up appointments for quotes and checking with
Goodwill on what kind of stuff they were willing to take.
Then I went through my apartment from stem to stern and
found every item in it that belonged to the company. Like
a lot of IS people, I work from home a lot; as a result, I
had a fair amount of things, mostly copies of manuals and
software and systems documentation, that the company had
paid for. All of it went into my Bronco. As I was loading
the last of it, my pager went off.

"NEED TO SPEAK WITH YOU TUES AM," the message read. "PLS
REPORT MY OFFICE 0800." Kevin, of course.

No problem, I thought to myself, smiling broadly. In fact,
it'll be a pleasure...

At just before 8:00 that evening I pulled into the office
with my loaded Bronco. The place was deserted as usual
except for the rent-a-cop in the lobby. He was used to
seeing me come and go at all hours, moving boxes and
computers and all manner of equipment with my Bronco, so he
paid me very little attention. I wasn't required to sign
in unless I came after 8:00. The company's property, all 3
boxes of it, was quickly stowed on the floor in my cubicle
out of the way. I then gathered up all of the personal
affects from my cubicle. There wasn't much: a few
knickknacks; my original Novell certificates; my copies of
my performance evaluations, timesheets and expense reports.
It all fit in a fairly small box, which the rent-a-cop
didn't even question when it left the building under my

Back at home, I typed up a one-sentence resignation letter
("I hereby resign my position with the company effective
immediately."), sealed it in a plain white envelope and
wrote Kevin's name on the front. That went into my laptop

I got up extra early Tuesday morning and made it into the
office at 6:45, knowing that I'd be a good hour ahead of
Kevin. Using my key, I entered his office and left the
envelope on top of his chair along with my final timesheet.
Then I went back to my cubicle and deleted my own user
account, email account, and home directory on the network.
I wiped the drives on my laptop and desktop and restored
them to their original configurations. Then I closed my
eyes and waited quietly.

At 7:55, Linda appeared at the entrance to my cube. Her
face was bursting with ill-concealed excitement. "Kevin
got in about five minutes ago," she said. "Not one minute
later he came marching out of his office, and asked me to
come get you. He looked like someone just shot his dog,
Tom. What did you do?"

"I left a little note for him," I replied with a wink and a
grin. "I have one for you too, actually," I added and
handed her a Rolodex card with Kate's home address on it.

"Lake Shore, Utah?" she said, mystified.

"That's where you can send the check for my unused vacation
time. Is Denny around?"

"No, he's got a meeting in Arlington."

"Cool. Well, I'd better not keep the boss waiting, eh?"
My best poker face was fixed firmly in place when Linda
ushered me into Kevin's office, closing the door behind us.
His eyes glared at me with barely-controlled rage. He
flipped my envelope across the desk toward me. "What the
hell is this?"

Maintaining my outward cool, I removed the sheet of paper
from the envelope, looked at it, and put it back. "It's my
resignation," I replied casually, dropping the envelope
back on his desk.

I could see him fighting to hold in his temper. "I think
you owe me an explanation."

I let him try to stare me down for a minute before
answering. "I think the letter says it all."

"This letter says nothing," he argued. "I want to know
what you think you're doing."

"Resigning," I replied with a shrug.

Seeing that he was getting nowhere with the frontal
assault, he tried a different tack. He covered his face
with his hands for a moment and sighed deeply, then looked
back at me with a softer expression. "I understand you're
not happy with some of the decisions I've made here, Tom.
I would hope that before you do something this drastic that
we could talk about things. What can I do to persuade you
to stay on?"

A long list of suggestions -- vile, debasing, painful
suggestions -- came to mind, but I was determined to stay on
the high road. "Nothing."

"Look, I know we don't have a very good relationship. If
you'd rather negotiate with someone in HR ..."

"It doesn't matter," I said evenly. "I already have
another job."

"I see." Kevin's shoulders slumped and his gaze fell to a
spot somewhere on his desk. "Would there be any point in
my asking with what company?"


"Why are you doing this?" The question came out almost as
a whine. He seemed so pathetic in that moment that I
almost broke my promise to myself and told him why.
Almost, but not quite.

Just over two weeks later I found myself once again sitting
in a 767 on final approach into Salt Lake City
International Airport. It had been a much better flight
than the last one -- or maybe it just felt that way because
this time I knew Kate would be waiting for me at the

My Bronco was history, sold for slightly less than book
value to a 20-year-old college student who reminded me a
little bit of Eric. So were most of the furnishings in my
apartment that I didn't deem worth transporting across
country. All the rest of my belongings had been picked up
by the moving company and should arrive in Lake Shore in
about a week. Veronica had taken up residence in my old
apartment, intending take advantage of it during the week
to shorten her commuting time until a new tenant could be
found. I wasn't worried, the rental market was pretty
healthy and Kate was willing to let me earn my room and
board in other ways. ("Is that legal in Utah?" I'd

I'd had one more chance to see Walt before leaving town,
when our whole gang descended on his place in Salisbury for
a going-away party. It got pretty maudlin, and if all that
was said comes true then Kate and I will have a steady
stream of out-of-town visitors during the peak skiing
season. Pete, the last one of us still working for the old
company, made the party even more interesting by sharing
with us an internal organization announcement.

"Effective May 1," he read, "Kevin Hilliard, Network
Systems Manager, will be placed on special assignment.
Individuals currently reporting to Mr. Hilliard will report
on an interim basis to Dennis Crider, Director of
Information Technology." We all knew what 'special
assignment' meant: Kevin was being given a finite amount
of time to quietly find himself a new job outside the
company. "I bought Linda lunch," Pete added, "and she told
me that Denny is on his way out too. By the end of the
month, Corporate IS will be in charge of the shop."

"What about you?" we asked.

He shrugged. "Best guess is my headcount gets transferred
to Corporate. I don't care; I got my offer letter from
Cisco yesterday. Come May first, I'm outta there."

The plane landed smoothly, bringing my attention back to
the here and now. I shouldered my carry-on and joined the
line of passengers streaming out of the plane.

I spotted Kate hovering near the terminal end of the jet
way, straining to see down through the crowd. Her face
brightened immediately when she saw me, and the second I
was clear of the opening she smothered me with welcoming
kisses and hugs.

I was definitely having fun.



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