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«A Logical Magician», Robert Weinberg

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cogito ergo sum

(I think, therefore I exist)

—DESCARTES

 

facilis descensus Averno

(the descent to hell is easy)

—VIRGIL

Prologue

Roger Quinn considered himself a very careful man. Each morning, while still lying in bed, he planned out his day’s activities in excruciatingly fine detail. Afterward, he followed that outline in strict order, refusing to deviate one whit from the proper routine. Twenty years of computer programming had instilled in Roger an appreciation for exactness. He thought his actions perfectly normal and extremely logical.

Such a rigid adherence to schedule caused numerous problems for those who had to deal with him on a regular basis. They had to play the game his way or not at all. No one dared drop in unexpectedly on Roger. If they weren’t listed in his appointment book, he completely ignored them. It didn’t matter who they were or what company they represented. Roger refused to make exceptions. His rules were never bent, much less broken.

Business lunches began exactly on the hour, not a minute late. Presentations ran by the clock. Thirty minutes for a report meant that one second afterward Roger refused to listen to another word. His world ran like clockwork, and everyone on his payroll worked by the same schedule. Or they didn’t work for Quinn Enterprises.

Behind his back, most of Roger’s several dozen employees agreed that their boss belonged in a lunatic asylum. However, one and all they kept their doubts strictly to themselves. They jumped to obey their boss’s slightest whim. In a period of retrenchment and recession, working for a lunatic was a lot better than not working at ail. For, where most other scientific consulting and marketing companies had fallen on hard times, Quinn Enterprises continued to expand.

Without exception, all of the major financial experts agreed that the phenomenal growth of the company related directly to the unique genius of its founder and CEO, Roger Quinn. Virtually unknown only a few years before, he entered an already crowded field and beat the biggest companies at their own game. Started as a small sideline operation in Roger’s apartment, Quinn Enterprises had become a major West Coast corporation, poised on the brink of global expansion. In the last six months, QE had opened offices in New York, Chicago, and several other major metropolitan areas. Rumor had it that foreign offices were soon to follow.

What baffled his rivals and many of his own employees was Roger’s amazing skill at exploiting the problems and failures of his rivals. Whenever another company experienced difficulty in fulfilling a contract, Roger and his team were there with the necessary answers just in the nick of time. If a material shortage caused a backup in manufacturing a new product, Roger knew where to find the necessary ingredient. Moreover, he oftentimes controlled the only available supply of the goods and priced it accordingly.

It was almost as if Roger knew when and where problems were going to occur before they happened. His rivals suspected sabotage, but there was absolutely no evidence to support such claims. No one could find a thing to link Roger or his employees with any of the problems or failures experienced by the other firms. The only explanation consistent with all the facts, incredible as it seemed, was that Roger possessed a hidden talent for sensing trouble. No one accepted the theory gracefully, but they had little choice in the matter. Roger wisely kept his mouth shut. He didn’t really care what his rivals thought. As long as they never guessed the truth.

Humming softly to himself, Roger made his way down the lone staircase leading to the subbasement of his mansion. A tall, thin man with a scraggly beard and bright blue eyes, he wore a pair of battered jeans and a faded black sweatshirt embossed with his company’s logo—a five-pointed star with a large R in the center.

Surprisingly, no one drew a connection between the symbol and a pentagram. A fact that pleased Roger no end.

Always the maverick, he delighted in thumbing his nose at the establishment. Corporate executives considered Roger eccentric. But plenty of other CEO’s of major corporations were equally odd. All each of the money men cared about was that his firm delivered on tough assignments when other businesses failed. Quinn Enterprises had saved dozens of important contracts that otherwise would have collapsed. It provided a necessary service and charged premium prices for that work. “We help you out when you need us most” was the company motto, one that had become famous throughout the manufacturing industry.

Roger chuckled softly. He shook his head, imagining the shocked looks of those same corporate executives if they ever learned the truth behind his success. They might not be so pleased if they knew the whole story. Which was why he kept his revelation locked in the subbasement in a room that only he could enter.

The stairs ended abruptly at the base of a huge steel door that took up the entire rear wall. There was no keyhole or lock visible. A solitary metal plate some six inches square was the only break in the cold, unyielding surface. Roger flattened his right hand against it. It required the built-in sensors a few seconds to recognize his palm print. Silently, the huge door swung open.

Technically, criminals intent on discovering his secret could kidnap Roger, force him down to the subbasement and press his hand against the entry plate to open the vault door. He strongly doubted that corporate raiders would be so bold. And even if they were, the payoff inside the inner room would prove to be something outside their usual line of business.

With a confident smile, Roger entered the nerve center of his secret headquarters. Shaped like a square twenty feet long by twenty feet wide, with a seven-foot ceiling, the chamber was entirely devoid of furniture. The walls were stone, the ceiling and floor both concrete. A pair of naked hundred-watt light bulbs provided the only illumination. More than anything else, the Spartan room resembled an army pillbox.


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