Pride is a powerful narcotic. Certainly it ruled Barry; to preserve his own, he would have gladly burned his children. Fortunately, today's exercise in conceit would involve a more modest sacrifice; Barry would be burning only his bridges.
"Absolutely, positively no. We are not getting into bed with Microsoft."
Barry flexed his jaw, parked his fists on his hips and squared off with Mission Peak through the broad span of the conference room window. Neither blinked.
This month's meeting of Whip Technologies' Board of Directors was shaping up to be a tense and uncomfortable affair. It was the first real test of cooperation between Barry and his board -- composed mostly of venture capital partners. All were flunking in spectacular fashion.
It was, at heart, a contest between pride and greed. While the rest of the board recognized an opportunity to realize an immediate and handsome gain on their investment, Barry saw only a potential -- nay, a certain -- erosion of his power in the infotech axis.
Ed Pilphur, Venture World Capital's 60-ish president, led the drive for the greed team. "Look, Barry, everyone agrees that it would be in Whip Technologies' best interests to license our technology to Microsoft. They've expressed a lot of interest, and they're willing to pay handsomely for the chance to partner."
Barry grimaced, eyes reddening with hate. "No way. I know how those guys work. Anything threatens their monopoly, and it's always the same: embrace and corrupt. They just want to get their hands on it so they can make their improvements and extensions." Barry spat out the words, sneering with disgust. "But it's just divide and conquer, plain and simple. We play footsie with those jokers, and before you know it, WHIP won't even be a protocol anymore -- it'll be a technical train wreck, and then the boys from Redmond will move into the vacuum with their own play." He turned and glared at his board. "I'm not going to walk into that trap."
To be fair, Barry's instincts were sound -- though that would hardly have made a difference in any case. He wouldn't have shared his darling WHIP with Microsoft even if it made all the sense in the world. In fact, he wouldn't have done it if Bill Gates had held Grandma Dominic bound and gagged. Barry would never play into the pockets of his arch-rival if he could possibly help it.
The tension was unbearable, but there was too much at stake. It was clear the meeting would not adjourn until the impasse was broken. Derek Morton, Woodside Associates' wonderboy VP, unwittingly catalyzed the defining event.
"Look, Barry -- we all think this'd be a good idea. It's a great opportunity for market penetration and early recovery of capital. We have a consensus here, and ..."
"And I still have controlling interest," Barry barked. "And I don't care what you and your banker pals think. You didn't build a billion-dollar company. You don't have the vision. Your opinion doesnt count."
This declaration stopped the conversation dead in its tracks. Derek's color built to a crimson crescendo against the backdrop of his blond buzz-cut, as the rest of the board looked on in silent horror. There it was: The venture partners had placed hundreds of millions of dollars on the table, but Barry had ruled their collective opinion invalid.
Anyone else would have realized he'd stepped over the line. Anyone but Barry, that is; he turned the heat up another notch.
"Get this through your thick skulls," he boomed. "This isn't just about money. Yeah, I know you guys have made a couple of bucks capitalizing your coffee franchises and your spit-roasted chickens, but I'm talking about the Future here, and that's with a capital F. This isn't fast food. This is the fast track to world domination.
"You guys are just going to have to let me do what I do better than anybody else. It's great to have you all along for the ride," he smirked, more than a little patronizingly, "but I'm gonna drive. And the less often I have to take my eyes off the road, the better."
If pride was a drug, today Barry was definitely DUI. But none of them was prepared for the next turn.
Barry scanned the faces at the table. "And if any of you tries to get in the way, I'll run you over. As in flat. You'll be a stain on the Information Highway."
Nobody spoke. A brutalized quiet filled the room, the kind that follows any swift act of dismemberment. Barry surveyed the group through a mask of terminal disdain, then stalked out of the conference room.
The board continued to sit in horrified silence until the spell was broken by Andrew Lucre's pager. He swatted at it, and glanced at the little green window.
"Yep, that's a 206. Sounds like they want an answer. Shall I do the honors?"
Ed exhaled. "Hold off a while, Andy. Don't discourage our friends in Washington state quite yet."
Andrew cocked his head. "What, you think Barry's going to change his mind? You saw him. He's like a mad dog about this one."
Ed leaned back and meshed his liver-spotted fingers together. "I've seen plenty of mad dogs in my time, Andy. There's always a way to make 'em heel."