Chapter 33


Phineas had heard the phrase “you would have to wake up pretty early in the morning to fool insert-name-of-person-not-easily-fooled-here,” and he thought that it was the sort of thing that would apply to his father. That was why he had been sitting in his father’s office since before dawn.

He had chosen the big, comfy chair behind the desk to wait in, not so much because it was his father’s chair as because the others were harder and he was bony. He reclined while he waited, and amused himself by bending paper clips into various shapes. He was nearly done with a small sculpture of himself when his father and his aide came in, talking about some shipment or other.

Maxwell stopped mid-sentence and took in the scene before him in expressionless silence. He decided to get straight to the point.

“Phineas, what are you doing in my office?”

Phineas did not look up. “I think when I’m older, I’m going to change my name,” he said. His tone was absent, his mind focused on his sculpture. “From Maxwell to Casey. It’s a good, solid, Irish-sounding name, don’t you think?”

“You’re not Irish,” Maxwell pointed out, his voice as crisp as his suit. Ashe hid a yawn behind his hand and ineffectually shook his curls out of his face.

“I could be.”

Maxwell did not bother to respond to that. He gestured with one hand for Phineas to leave.

Phineas did not move. “I have an appointment.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I do,” Phineas insisted. “Just ask Ashe.”

Maxwell turned to his aide, who seemed surprised and a little annoyed at being drawn into the conversation. “I did not set up an appointment with your son at”--he checked his watch--“8:42 AM, sir.”

“Look at your datapad,” Phineas prompted without looking over. He was absorbed in adjusting his sculpture so that the top looked like his hair.

Ashe did as Phineas suggested, using a small plastic writing tool to navigate to the planner on his datapad. He scrolled through the day’s agenda and his expression became disgruntled. He held it out to show Maxwell.

“I did not enter this appointment, sir,” he assured.

“Then how is it there, Ashe?”

The aide raised his eyebrows and looked at Phineas, who had finally turned his attention toward them. Maxwell looked over at him as well, and the boy grinned.

“...You hacked into Ashe’s datapad so that you could make a surprise appointment with me?”

Phineas continued to smile at his father’s incredulity and obvious annoyance. “It was mostly as a formality. I figured if I had an appointment in the agenda, you couldn’t say no.” He looked thoughtful. “Well, I guess you still could, but I also figured that my ingenuity might be just impressive enough to catch your attention. I mean, I wouldn’t go out of my way to see you if I didn’t have a good reason.”

“Do you also have a good reason for wasting my paper clips?”

Phineas looked down at his sculpture, then turned it and held it up next to his face. “You don’t see the resemblance?”

Maxwell just looked at him, waiting for him to stop being foolish.

His son sighed dramatically. “I guess that’s a no to art school, then.”

“Is there a reason why you’re here or are you just bent on wasting as much of my time as possible?”

Phineas took a moment to look affronted, then set down his sculpture with a more serious expression on his face. “You have a guest on the next floor down who I think has overstayed his welcome.”

Maxwell raised an eyebrow and stepped toward him. Without waiting to be signaled, Phineas vacated his chair and circled around to the less comfortable side of the desk as his father settled down in his chair.

“I think you should release him. Let him go on home.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Well, he’s of no more use to you, I bet,” Phineas started. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t just be in the white room. He’s told you whatever it is you needed to know. You could just kill him--which I’m betting was your plan, since he’s just a street kid and those disappear all the time.”

Phineas paused, but Maxwell only regarded him critically and said nothing.

“He isn’t a threat, I can guarantee that.” Phineas set his hands on the edge of the desk and leaned forward a little. “And nothing’s been compromised by his knowing me. No one but you, me, him and this one Chinese brothel owner in No Town knows that he knows me. You aren’t going to tell anyone, and I like my hair the way it is, so I’m not going to tell anyone. Ethan won’t, since he probably doesn’t want to die or worse, and the Chinese lady has more important things to worry about, assuming she even figured out who I was, which I doubt. So we’re in no danger up here, don’t you think?”

Maxwell made no indication either way.

“I’m willing to trade something for his safe release,” Phineas added.

His father sat forward in his chair. Now he was interested. "What might that be?"

"I'll build you something."

Maxwell gave an undignified snort and had opened his mouth to retort when he noticed Ashe over Phineas's shoulder. His aide gave a slight shake of his head, signaling him not to turn the boy down. Maxwell closed his mouth and paused, thinking it over. His initial reaction had been that he did not need any of Phineas's inane toys cluttering up his office, but it occurred to him now that his son was capable of much more than that.

"Build me what?" he asked finally.

"Oh, you name it. I bet I could come up with a good bugging device, or a weapon that would suit your needs." Phineas smiled. The expression was almost convincing enough to cover how distasteful the idea was to him.

Maxwell pretended to consider. Really, it was too good an opportunity to pass up--as much as he disliked his son's affinity for all things mechanical, he could not deny that the boy was a genius with machines. His skill at inventing was rivaled only by his distaste for his father's business and his reluctance to in any way contribute to it. This rare offer was definitely worth trading the blond oaf he was holding downstairs for.

"Done," he said, smiling back at his son coldly. "The boy will be released and put on a tram home immediately. I'll let you know when I've decided what I want."

"Great." Phineas pushed away from the desk and turned to leave.

Maxwell watched him walk away. He let him get almost to the door before speaking. "I do wonder why it is you're so desperate for me to release him. There's nothing you're failing to tell me, is there?"

Phineas looked over his shoulder at his father, his expression blank. "I wouldn't say I'm desperate. I'd have said calculating."

Maxwell shrugged, and decided to ignore that that response didn't answer his question. "Whatever adjective you choose, you're still willing to negotiate on my terms. It's unlike you."

His son shrugged. "I've never had a friend before. I think I'd like to continue having one, and you killing him would put a slight crimp in that plan."

"I suppose you're right," Maxwell conceded. "Though I don't think he's an appropriate friend for you."

"I'm just going to send him over the CommNet," Phineas reassured. "And I can make sure that the correspondence is untraceable."

"Make sure that you do." Mawell waved him away. "That's all."

Phineas smiled at him and waved at Ashe as he left the room. Still trying with no success to keep his hair out of his face, Ashe turned to his employer to find the man gazing at the paper clip statue his son had left on the table. It did have a cartoonish resemblance to the boy, he supposed. Maxwell regarded it for a few moments, expression closed, then looked up at his aide.

"So, where were we?" he asked, sweeping the sculpture off of the desk and into the trash bin with one easy gesture.