While the audience watched, the words on the screen and the program began to disintegrate and fade away. Now only four words appeared: Brett is a thief.
At first, the audience was stunned, and then there was a mixture of reactions. Some laughed because it was all so absurd. Some were angry because their time had been wasted. And all were united in their disgust with Brett Keaton, even letting it spill over to his associate, Fred Stiles, who also looked furious.
"Man, oh man," Noah said, and began to laugh. "Look at Brett. His face is bloodred. What’s he doing?"
"He’s trying to stop the message," Liam guessed.
"He can’t stop it," Allison said. On the surface she was as calm and cool as a summer breeze, but inside she was boiling. She tried to pull away from Liam, determined to give Brett a piece of her mind, but he held tight. She wasn’t going anywhere until he let her.
Brett’s audience couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
"She’s lying," Brett shouted. "She’s a jealous bitch and she’s lying. Wait. Let me explain. She must have hacked into my program. . . . Wait. . . ." To say that Brett was frantic was an understatement.
His partner didn’t move at all until he and Brett were alone in the room. Then he attacked. He grabbed Brett by his shoulders and shook him. "You told me she wouldn’t make trouble," he screamed.
"She . . . she can’t," he stammered. "I made sure the program was finished before I took it. It wasn’t ed yet. I never saw her show it to anybody." He was panicked, and as Stiles tightened his grip, he rushed on. "She wasn’t supposed to find out until it was too late. Once we sold the program, we could keep it out of court for years while she fought us. Even then it would be impossible for her to prove. And she doesn’t have the money for a legal fight." He took a deep breath and added, "She’s going to be sorry she did this to me."
"To us," Stiles said as he loosened his hold and gave Brett a shove away from him. "I want to know if you think she was telling the truth. Is there a missing part?"
Brett didn’t have to think about it long. "Yes, I believe her."
"Why didn’t you know that? You did look at the software, didn’t you?"
"Yes, of course I did. I tested it over and over again, and it looked complete."
"You should have known," Stiles muttered. "We have to get the missing part. It has to be buried somewhere in her computer. There’s too much money involved to let this go. We’ve got to get it," he repeated. "No matter what it takes."
Brett was still irate, but there was a tinge of self-pity in his voice when he said, "She ruined my reputation. I was humiliated and embarrassed."
Stiles agreed. "She shouldn’t be able to get away with this."
"No, she shouldn’t."
The two men continued to talk as they walked out of the room together.
"I’m guessing they forgot the mikes were still on," Noah suggested.
"Or they didn’t care," Liam said.
"In their minds I’ve become the villain. Brett steals my work and then blames me when I ruin his plans? He’s beyond contemptible," Allison railed.
"What do you want to do about this?" Noah directed his question to Liam.
"Excuse me." Allison finally got her hand away from Liam’s and stepped back. "I’ll decide what’s to be done. This is my problem, not yours."
"Ordinarily I would agree with you." Liam told the lie without cracking a smile. "But you’re Phillips’s asset, so he has to know about this and handle it. I will, of course, offer to help."
Hands on her hips, Allison responded, "How come I’m your asset when it’s convenient for you and Phillips’s asset when it isn’t?"
"It’s a quandary," Liam answered.
"I’d call it a dilemma," Noah remarked.
"They’re pretty much the same thing," Liam said.
"Yeah, I guess you’re right."
They were having a fine time teasing her. "Know what I think?" she asked.
"That you should let us do our jobs?" Liam asked. He evaded an argument by placing his hands on her shoulders and turning her toward the door. She was as stiff as starch.
"I’m still going to tell you what I think whenever I want to," she grumbled.
He smiled. "I figured you would."
When they reached the main floor, Noah said his good-byes and left. Allison and Liam continued to walk across the lobby. When they reached the entrance, Allison suddenly stopped. "Is that Brett waiting for his car? It is, isn’t it? If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a few words with him." Her voice was shaking when she got the last sentence out.