existence of the other one.

He swirled the bourbon in his glass and stared blindly out the window. What kind of woman could conveniently forget she had a child? Only someone like Kay-a woman who was too silly and shallow to see what would be perfectly obvious to anyone else. He should have taken it upon himself to investigate long ago.

He turned his head to study the little girl at his side. She sat straight in the seat with her hands clasped neatly in her lap. Her head was beginning to wobble a bit, and he suspected the noise of the airplane engines would soon put her to sleep. As he watched, her eyelids, like fragile eggshells, began to drift downward, and then they abruptly snapped back up.

'You're sleepy,' he said.

She turned to look at him, and he felt another pang of sympathy as he saw that her eyes were huge and stricken, like those of a fawn caught before a hunter's gun. 'I-I'm fine,' she stammered.

'It's all right. We won't be in California for hours. Go ahead and take a nap.'

Susannah stared helplessly at the magic, golden prince who had rescued her. It would be unthinkable to disobey him, yet if she slept, the fox-eyed monster was certain to find her. Even in this great silver airplane, he would find her and make her wet herself, and then her prince would know how bad she was.

Joel caught her hand and gave it a soft squeeze. 'Just shut your eyes.'

His voice was so gentle that she could barely control her tears. 'I-I am unable,' she said.

He gave her all his attention, as if she were an important adult instead of only a child. 'Why is that?'

'Because it's unwise. Sir.' She added the courteous form of address belatedly and hoped he wouldn't notice her extraordinary lapse of manners.

'I don't know very much about six-year-old little girls. I'm afraid you'll have to explain it to me.'

Those blue eyes speared through her, sympathetic but demanding. He had a dent in the center of his chin, and she wished she could push the tip of her finger into it to see what it felt like. Her mind raced as she tried to find a polite way to explain. Bathroom talk was vulgar and unacceptable. There was never an excuse for it. 'I rather suspect-' she said. 'It's quite possible-'

He chuckled.

Alarmed, she looked at him. He gave her hand another squeeze. 'What a queer little bird you are.'

'Yes, sir.'

'I don't think you can keep calling me 'sir.''

'No, sir. What would you like me to call you?'

He was thoughtful. 'How about 'Dad'?' And then he smiled. 'On second thought, let's make it 'Father' for the time being. Somehow I think you'd be more comfortable with that.'

'Father?' Her heart soared. What a wondrous word! Her own father was dead, and she desperately wanted to ask this golden prince if that meant she would now be his little girl. But it was dreadfully impolite to ask personal questions, so she held her tongue.

'Now that we have that settled, why don't you tell me why you can't fall asleep?'

She stared ahead miserably. 'I'm rather a-afraid that I might-not on purpose, of course-purely by accident… I might commit an unfortunate mishap on the airplane seat.'


She nodded her head miserably. How could she explain something so terrible to this shining man?

He didn't say anything for a moment. She was afraid to look at him, afraid of the revulsion she would see on his face. She stared at the woven back of the airplane seat ahead of her.

'I see,' he finally replied. 'It's an interesting problem. How do you think we could solve it?'

She didn't move her eyes from the back of the seat ahead of her. He seemed to expect her to say something, so she made a tentative offering. 'You could pinch my arm, perhaps, if I began to fall asleep.'

'Uhm. Yes, I suppose I could do that. Except I might fall asleep, too, and then I wouldn't notice. I think I have a better idea.'

She cautiously turned her head to look at him. His fingertips were pressed together and his forehead knitted in concentration.

'What if…' he said. 'What if we both just shut our eyes and took a small nap. Then, if you woke up and found out you'd had an unfortunate, uh, mishap, you could nudge me in the arm. I'd ask the stewardess for a glass of water, and when she gave it to me, I'd accidentally spill it over your skirt and onto the seat.'

It took Susannah's quick mind only a few seconds to absorb the staggering brilliance of his plan. 'Oh, yes,' she whispered on a rush of expelled breath. 'Oh, yes, please.'

She slept for hours. When she awoke, she was dry, rested, and happier than she could ever remember.

Her happiness carried her through those first few California days in the place called Falcon Hill. The house was as big as a castle and full of sunshine. She had a pretty, pink three-year-old baby sister named Paige who let Susannah play with her, and she saw her beautiful mother every day, not just for tea at the Plaza. Every night her new father came into her bedroom and left a glass of water for her so she could spill it on the sheets if she had a mishap. Susannah loved him so fiercely it hurt.

From the time he was fifteen, Joel Faulconer had fed on the lore of Tom Watson, the founder of IBM. He had watched avidly as Watson had molded his company into one of the most successful corporations in the world. He wanted the same to happen with Falcon Typewriter, the company his father Ben and his uncle Lewis had founded in 1913. Being good wasn't enough for Joel Faulconer. He had to be the best.

Returning from World War II with big dreams, Joel presented his father and his uncle with audacious strategies for expanding the company. Selling typewriters was smalltime, he told them. They needed to attack IBM in its own territory by expanding their product line to include accounting machinery. They should be going after government contracts and upgrading their sales force.

His uncle, Lewis Faulconer, with his flashy suits, Havana cigars, and two-toned shoes, dismissed all of his nephew's suggestions. 'Your father and me made ourselves millionaires a couple of times over, buddy boy. What do we need more money for?'

'To be the best,' Joel replied, tight-lipped and seething with frustration. 'To give Watson and IBM a run for their money.'

Lewis's gaze slithered from Joel's well-cut hair to his Stanford class ring. 'Shit, boy. You're not even wet behind the ears and you're trying to tell your daddy and me how to run the company we founded.'

Ben Faulconer, who had gained more social polish over the years than his brother, was intrigued by Joel's ideas, but still cautious about making the sweeping changes his son insisted the postwar economy mandated. Still, Joel was certain he could manage his father, if only he could get rid of his uncle Lewis.

In a move that was to prove prophetic, Joel snatched up patents from the infant computer industry. At the same time, he began a systematic courtship of the high-ranking officers of the company, and with very little effort maneuvered his uncle into an escalating series of blunders. It took two years, but he finally succeeded in uprooting Lewis Faulconer.

On Lewis's last day with the company he had helped found, he confronted his brother in Ben's comfortable, paneled office. 'You let a fox in the hen house, Benny,' he warned, his words slurred because he no longer had any reason to wait until noon to take his first drink of the day. 'Watch your ass, boy, because he'll be after you next.'

Nonsense, Ben had thought to himself, secretly proud of Joel's cunning in ridding the company of a man who had become an embarrassment. The very idea of worrying about the security of his own position seemed ridiculous to Ben. He was chairman of the corporation-an untouchable. Besides, Joel was his son.

One year later, at the age of thirty, Joel Faulconer had forced his father into early retirement and taken over the helm of the newly renamed Falcon Business Technologies-or FBT, as it was being called. The company immediately began to prosper beyond anyone's imagination.

Two weeks after Susannah's arrival in California, FBT was marking the eighth anniversary of Joel's ascendancy to the chairmanship with the dedication of their new corporate headquarters near Palo Alto. Officially named the FBT Center of Corporate Activities, it had already become known simply as the Castle. Joel was secretly pleased with the nickname. After all, what better place for a king to live than a castle?

Not that he actually thought of himself as a king. But in the kingdom of Falcon Business Technologies, he certainly had unlimited power. Even the President of the United States was answerable to the people, but Joel was only answerable to himself and a handpicked Board of Directors. He was proud to have accomplished so much at

Вы читаете Hot Shot
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату