« Peacemaker », Chapter One   

Chapter One

Atlas and Companion were the dominant computer operating systems at the turn of the century.  Most independent analysts at the time rated Companion the superior product technically, yet Atlas maintained a slightly larger market share year after year.  Many historians attribute this to aggressive marketing and sales techniques by the producers of Atlas, VantagePoint Software. Others are not so kind.

---- Computer Operating Systems: An Economic History, Dr. James Schultz, 2018

 

The bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Millstein were discovered behind the jewelry counter three days after the PeaceMaker attack. Each had been shot in the head and chest.  Our initial suspicion was they were murdered in a robbery during the riots following the global power failure.

---- from Sheriff’s Report D15-47, Mayfield, Indiana, February 3, 2012

 

Six years earlier –Tuesday, March 13, 2006

A TV camera focused on the handsome face of a young reporter. “Good afternoon. This is Roger Simpson of the Digital News Service reporting from the steps of the Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC. Now into the ninth week of the VantagePoint anti-trust trial, today’s session will be critical for both VantagePoint and the Department of Justice.”

Simpson pointed to the courthouse’s towering main entrance, which was guarded by two police officers. “Inside that courtroom today will be the fifth and final day of testimony from Dianne Morgan, primary founder and CEO of VantagePoint Software. The DOJ has been unable to shake her testimony to this point, so today they will be pulling out all the stops.  Michael O’Reilly, the top gun from the Philadelphia law firm of Baker, O’Reilly & Perkins, has been brought in to conduct the interrogation.”

He glanced at the entrance again. “The doors are beginning to close, so let’s go inside and watch the proceedings.” He smiled confidently. “This is Roger Simpson.”

*

O’Reilly meditated behind the prosecution’s mahogany table, as he always did before a cross-examination. Oblivious to the hum of conversation throughout the ancient courtroom, his mind raced through the planned interrogation of his adversary. 

An impressive witness, Dianne Morgan had turned aside the best thrusts of the prosecution with charm and intelligence. The media was captivated by her fame and charisma, although she was not really beautiful.  He admired the way she played the role of the virtuous heroine of free enterprise, a mega-billionaire portraying herself as David versus a Federal goliath.

But he would pierce that facade.  Her temper was legendary – a fatal weakness he planned to exploit.  Today the world would see the real Dianne Morgan.

He had studied her carefully and committed her image to memory.  At thirty-eight, small lines around her eyes and mouth were beginning to challenge her youth. The high cheekbones were prominent, with tanned skin pulled tightly over them. Sitting comfortably with her long legs crossed, she exuded grace and power, even in the witness box. 

A worthy opponent.

He opened his eyes, glanced toward the witness box and found her staring at him.  Hazy eyes, proud and insolent, gleamed a challenge.  Returning her stare, he wondered if those eyes would remain defiant after he finished with her.

The courtroom buzzed with a nervous energy, similar to the excitement preceding a heavyweight championship fight. Once the judge began the day’s proceedings, the once restless crowd became alert and quiet. 

O’Reilly stood slowly, the wooden legs of his chair scratching along the oak beamed courthouse floor. “May I approach?” he asked, indicating the witness box. His voice, clear and deep, was a tool he used carefully; now gentle, it would slash at the proper time. The judge nodded his permission, and O’Reilly, clutching a folder of papers, ambled over to Dianne.

Six-foot-five, with a body composed of sharp angles and planes thrown together without any apparent plan, O’Reilly knew he looked like Ichabod Crane in a suit.  Combined with polite mannerisms, his meek appearance had fooled opponents for years, leaving them bloodied and confused by the end of the trial.  Looking into Dianne’s determined stare, he realized she hadn’t underestimated him.  Excellent.  Beating her at her best would make victory that much sweeter.

She shifted position in her seat as he approached, her skirt riding up her thighs.  O’Reilly stopped in front of the witness box and smiled pleasantly, almost shyly.

“I know you have been on the stand for many days, Ms. Morgan, so I will keep my questions to a minimum.” 

Dianne nodded. “Please ask as many questions as you need, Mr. O’Reilly. Don’t we all want to get to the truth?”

Her voice was confident, almost to the point of arrogance but stopping just short. It was a feminine voice, one that demanded respect, laced with a warning to tread carefully.

O’Reilly cleared his throat. “Ms. Morgan, I’ll get right to the point. Did or did you not have dinner with Mr. Alan Goldman at the Randolph Beach Country Club on the evening of May 6, 2005?”

“I did.”

“Did you discuss matters pertaining to the computer software business?”

“Yes.”

“Did you discuss an arrangement to divide the operating system market between your two corporations?”

Dianne straightened her blouse, as if only half-listening to her own answer. “Goldman offered to divide the marketplace. I refused to discuss the matter since such an arrangement would be illegal.”

O’Reilly looked at her sharply. “Weren’t you the one making the offer, not Alan Goldman? Weren’t you trying to protect VPS from Goldman Information Systems?”

“No, I welcome competition. It makes us stronger. Competition from GIS motivates us to make better products.”

“Come on, this isn’t Business 101. Competition from GIS was cutting deeply into your profits – strangling the life out of your business, if I may be so bold.”

Before Dianne could respond, he pulled a news clipping out of his folder. “Ms. Morgan, I have here an article from the Wall Street Journal, dated March 18, 2005.” He handed it to Dianne. “Please read aloud the underlined section.”

Dianne held the paper with two fingers as if it were diseased. She peered at it for a moment then began to read. “Goldman Information Systems reports customer response to its new operating system, Companion Version 5, has far exceeded their expectations. Sales for the second fiscal quarter were forty-three percent greater than last year. CEO Alan Goldman claimed Companion sales exceeded those for Atlas, the operating system produced by archrival VantagePoint Software.”

Dianne looked up from the article, shrugging her shoulders as she glanced at the judge.

The judge can’t help you, he thought.

“Wasn’t that the truth, Ms. Morgan?” O’Reilly asked. “Didn’t Companion sales top Atlas as Mr. Goldman was quoted as saying?”

“Yes, Companion was slightly better that quarter. However, Atlas sales were better for the entire year.”

“But at the time of the dinner, you didn’t know what sales would be for the entire year, did you?”

“Nobody can peer into the future, Mr. O’Reilly. Not even you.”

He ignored the jab, determined to open a wound. “Weren’t you worried that  Companion would outsell Atlas for the entire year? Could Companion have replaced Atlas as the best selling operating system?”

She sighed, as if dealing with a slow learner.  “Anything is possible, Mr. O’Reilly.”

“But at the time, weren’t you terrified Companion would surpass Atlas as the dominant operating system?”

“No. We have been competing successfully against Companion for years. We provide a better product, better support and we have better sales people.”

O’Reilly sneered. “We know all about your, uh, sales techniques, Ms. Morgan.” The audience tittered, leading the judge to call for order. Dianne fidgeted in her seat, pushing her skirt across her knees. 

First blood. 

Turning his back on her, he  smiled slyly into the cameras. “But we will examine that later.” 

O’Reilly pulled several papers from his folder and handed one to Dianne. At the same time, another government lawyer provided copies of several documents to the judge and defense counsel. 

“Contrary to what you’re saying, these documents show you and your partners were terrified Companion would outsell Atlas. We found dozens of corporate emails that expose these concerns. As an example, read aloud the document I just handed you.”  He turned to address the judge. “Your Honor, this is an email from Ms. Morgan to her partner, Steve Bonini, dated April 11, 2005. Ms. Morgan, please read it so the court will finally hear the truth.”

Dianne scowled at O’Reilly and began to read.  “Steve, I just read an article in TechAdvantage.mag about a head-to-head comparison with Companion. They rate Companion superior, particularly for wallet computers and other small systems. Atlas crashed twice during the tests. What the hell is going on with our developers? I want this shit fixed now. Our sales people are getting an earful from customers about these reliability problems. This is very serious, and our sales are taking a hit.”

“You still claiming you weren’t worried?” O’Reilly sneered.

“This is just an example of the normal, day-to-day communications that go on all the time at VPS.”  She shook her head condescendingly and explained. “I have been sending out messages like this my whole career. When there’s a problem, we fix it. That’s how we became such a successful company.”

Ignoring her comment, O’Reilly handed Dianne another document. He turned to the judge again, deep voice resonating in the cavernous courtroom. “This is a copy of an email from Ms. Morgan to Mr. Goldman, dated May 1, 2005, five days prior to their May 6 meeting.”

Turning to Dianne, he said, “Please read the message aloud, Ms. Morgan.”

Frowning, Dianne glanced at the message, and held it up, shaking her head. “This is a fraud. I never sent this message.”

Dianne’s lawyer rose to his feet. “We object, Your Honor. The government has introduced no evidence that proves Ms. Morgan prepared this message.”

Anticipating a response, the judge looked at O’Reilly.

“In the stack of documents we just provided is an affidavit from the FBI indicating this email was extracted from the GIS message archives,” O’Reilly said. “In addition, the FBI certifies the message trail points back to a wallet computer owned by Ms. Morgan.”

While the judge examined the affidavit, O’Reilly waited patiently, turning his back to avoid Dianne’s glare.  Now he could feel her anger, hot as the summer  sun burning unprotected skin.  He was confident the judge would rule in his favor, confident he would drag this woman into his trap.  He twisted his long neck to catch a glimpse of his quarry.  She was leaning back, with her forearms resting on the sides of the stand, stretching the fabric of her blouse across her breasts.   Too bad, under other circumstances

Abruptly, the judge  looked up. “Objection overruled. Please read the message, Ms. Morgan.”

Anger flaring in her voice, Dianne began to read. “Alan, I would like to meet with you within the next few days to discuss a potential business arrangement between our two companies. The subject is much too sensitive to discuss here, so I would like to meet in person. May I suggest dinner on May 6 at your club?” Dianne glared at O’Reilly again and finished the message. “BTW, wouldn’t it be better to leave the anger of the past and become friends again? I would like that.”

It was there … in her voice, he thought.  Getting close to the edge.

“You and Goldman were not exactly friends, were you?” O’Reilly asked.

“I detest him. He is a lying, cheating bucket of slime.”

A low rumble spread through the crowd as O’Reilly turned to the judge. “Your Honor.”

“You will not use that language in my courtroom, Ms. Morgan,” the judge said, glowering at Dianne. “I will not warn you again.”

The judge waited briefly for an apology, but Dianne sat stonily with her arms folded across her breasts.  The courtroom became eerily silent, with all attention concentrated on the woman sitting alone in the box.  Finally, the judge turned to O’Reilly and flicked his hand to continue.

O’Reilly couldn’t suppress a smirk. “Now, Ms. Morgan, you’d be very upset if Mr. Goldman’s company moved past VPS.  In fact, you would hate it, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course.”

“When you set up the dinner with Mr. Goldman, you were – ”

“I did not set up the dinner with Goldman.”

O’Reilly looked helplessly at the judge.

“Ms. Morgan, I realize you have been on the stand many days, and you must be tired,” the judge said, his eyes contrasting with the conciliatory voice. “However, you must wait until Mr. O’Reilly completes his question before you answer, even though you may not agree with the premise.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” O’Reilly said, nodding to the judge. He turned back to Dianne, in the manner of a cat playing with his prey. “When you set up the dinner with Mr. Goldman, you were desperate and ready to do anything to make Atlas succeed, weren’t you?”

Dianne glared at him for several seconds, making O’Reilly uncomfortable for the first time. There was an edge of violence in her eyes, barely restrained.

Just when it appeared she would not answer the question, she spoke in a hard, controlled voice. “I did not set up the dinner, and I was not desperate. Goldman sent me an email practically begging for a meeting. I agreed to dinner out of curiosity.”

O’Reilly stared at her in mock disbelief. “With all due respect, Ms. Morgan, do you expect the court to believe you would accept a dinner invitation from a man you despised? Isn’t the truth that GIS was overtaking VPS as the dominant company, and you were afraid Goldman would have the last laugh?”

“Not at all.”

“If so, Ms. Morgan, where is the record of this supposedly desperate email from Mr. Goldman? The FBI found no evidence of it in their search.”

Dianne seethed. “Someone must have removed it.”

O’Reilly barely suppressed a laugh. “Seems you have some real security issues to deal with at VPS, isn’t that so Ms. Morgan?”

Dianne’s lawyer leapt to his feet. “Objection, Your Honor.  The prosecution is taunting the witness.”

“Agreed,” the judge said. “Mr. O’Reilly, please restrict your questions to the evidence.”

“I’m sorry, Your Honor.” O’Reilly handed Dianne another document. “As previously testified by Linda Tidesco, the primary developer of Companion, this is an email from Mr. Goldman to Ms. Tidesco, dated May 7, 2005. That was the day after the dinner between Mr. Goldman and Ms. Morgan. Please read it aloud, Ms. Morgan.” 

Dianne began to read, her voice a low growl.  “Linda. I had dinner with Dianne Morgan last night. I dislike her, as you know, but she was very humble and apologetic, so I agreed to meet her. I expected something underhanded, and I was not disappointed. The witch offered to split the market with us – even to fix prices. Then guess what? She sticks her hand in my lap.” Dianne stopped reading for a moment. She glared over at her defense counsel, who shrugged helplessly. She shook her head angrily and started reading again. “I practically jumped out of my chair. Not exactly subtle, but she has always been like that. She knows we are going to blow her away. I refused the deal. I’m telling you this because she is a dangerous woman. She’s desperate and might attempt to bribe or threaten you. I’m increasing security on both of us, and I’m going to the Feds, too. Be careful. I’ll talk to you when I get back from my trip.”

Now I have the bitch.  The ancient floorboards protested as he stalked towards Dianne. “Weren’t you so desperate to succeed you would do anything to keep Goldman from dominating? Didn’t you offer to share the world market between Companion and Atlas?” Dianne’s lawyer was objecting in the background, but O’Reilly kept hammering away.  “Didn’t you propose to fix the price of Atlas and Companion to protect your profits?” Practically leaning into the witness stand, he said, “Didn’t you offer him sex to close the deal?”

The veins in Dianne’s throat stood out as she answered. “I’d rather have sex with a disgusting mouthpiece like you than a piece of slime like Goldman.”

As the spectators roared, O’Reilly leaned over the witness box and whispered, “We know you use sex to close deals. You’re not fooling anyone.”  He couldn’t keep the smile off his face.  “You’re just an expensive whore.”

The judge slammed his gavel and shouted for order, but Dianne ignored him. She stood up in the witness box, fists balled, her face inches from his. “You’re the prostitute in this room, O’Reilly, not me.”  O’Reilly saw  murder in those colorless eyes and backed away as Dianne said, “I won’t forget this.”

The courtroom was in an uproar, with reporters surging down the aisles and shouting questions. When a DOJ lawyer was pushed off her chair, the judge ordered the bailiffs to clear the room. After order was finally restored, the judge glared at Dianne.

“Ms. Morgan, I warned you. You are found in contempt.” He slammed his gavel again. Dianne didn’t acknowledge him, just stared angrily at O’Reilly.

The judge turned to O’Reilly. “Mr. O’Reilly, you are an Officer of the Court and should know better.” His gavel overrode O’Reilly’s attempt to apologize. “You are also in contempt.”

The judge motioned to the bailiffs. “Take them away.”

O’Reilly went peacefully, but Dianne angrily jerked her arm away when a bailiff tried to grab her. She stood rigidly in the witness stand and stared out at the empty courtroom. When the bailiff again grabbed her arm, O’Reilly was shocked to see her turn and slap the man hard across the face. A second bailiff seized Dianne in a headlock and pulled her over the rail, long legs flailing wildly as she tumbled out of the stand. She crashed to the floor but continued to struggle, pulling his hair and biting his hand. Finally, the bailiffs pinned her face down on the floor and cuffed her hands behind her back. She kept kicking as they cuffed her ankles. Still cursing and struggling, they dragged her down the aisle and out the door.