Candy Sawyer knocked back her third venti triple latte of the morning and devoured her fresh manicure. The WHIP prototypes were late. Five days until product launch, and not so much as a single working demo from the guys in the lab. She was so frustrated she could scream.
What exactly were they doing down there? They were all supposed to be completed weeks ago, and the geeks still hadn't gotten it together. "Technical problems," a section manager had dismissively explained.
This had made her see red; she hated being straight-armed by nerds. So Candy had threatened, terrorized and kicked butts all the way up the engineering hierarchy, only to be stalemated by Rick Roth-Parker at the apex. His main contribution to the dialogue was only to impart a slightly more theoretical sheen to the debacle, citing "major architectural revisions," "redefinition of project timelines" and "unanticipated shortfalls in functionality."
Bullshit. Candy was not about to let functionality get in the way of the product launch. TeraMemory had promised the world a revolution, and she was going to see it delivered, with or without engineering.
In the absence of demos and product documentation, she set to creating a presentation out of whole cloth. If those dweebs in engineering couldn't supply her with a working product -- or even a description of a working product -- she would dictate it to them. Engineering could resolve the inconsistencies later, or "TBD," as they liked to say when they were inclined to dodge their own professional commitments.
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La Costena was the final word in burritos. On the edge of the barrio, its location on Rengstorff made it a straight shot from the clusters of high tech hives east of 101. It was a quick and easy drive for legions of nerds and cubicle-dwellers when their stomachs began to growl in Spanish.
Originally a specialty grocery for the Mountain View Latino community, La Costena offered its clientele a kind of mini-vacation south of the border. But lately its back-room burrito operation was rapidly overshadowing the core business. And for good reason: for hordes of burrito-crazed engineers, nothing else would do. At any time of day a line of corporate digit-heads -- bagged and tagged with photo ID badges dangling from their denim belt-loops -- wound out the establishment's door.
The homogeneity had not been wasted on Jose, the store's owner and manager. Jose lived in a small house wedged in the back of the market with a wife, four children and a brother-in-law. The front yard -- a tangle of tricycles, pets and wrecked pinatas -- testified to a life of pleasantly domestic pandemonium.
The contrast of his own circumstances with the armies of clearly unattached young male technocrats marching through his market puzzled him. So much money here in El Norte. So much success. Why should so many young men be without love?
His Abuela had come to him in a dream. "Jose," she had sung to him in her native Mayan dialect, "As the thunder leads the rain, the stomach will lead the heart. This is the wisdom of the jungle."
Jose awoke with an idea: these young engineers, he had observed, were a practical bunch. He would offer them an economic efficiency, with only a small string attached. After all, it was for their own good. He hung a hand-painted banner at the burrito counter. "VALENTINES SPECIAL -- THIS WEEK ONLY. BUY ONE BURRITO, GET A FREE BURRITO FOR YOUR SWEETHEART (A KISS WILL PROVE IT)."
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After their chance meeting Liz and Paul had agreed to meet for lunch. Nothing heavy, just casual; neither was yet prepared to admit larger romantic possibilities. Take-out burritos and Mexican sodas at a nearby park seemed to strike the right note.
But Jose's ruse took them by surprise. Paul took note of the special offer.
"Hey, amigo," Paul called out to the proprietor, catching his eye. Before Liz could register any objection, he planted a kiss on her cheek. Liz blushed, pleasantly puzzled. She also noted the kiss was surprisingly tender for such hasty theft.
"One free burrito for the lovely lady," Jose called out. "Que viva el amor!"
As Liz and Paul walked out the door, they overheard a brief exchange between the engineers in line behind them. "I'm not going to kiss you, dude," one objected to another. "Buy your own lunch."
Paul grinned, and Liz giggled. It was a date after all.