December 24, 2010, 9:00 AM —
It was a dark and stormy night.
The biting wind drove needles of ice into my face as I looked at my Android phone one more time to get a fix on my location. The residential streets of Framingham were winding and far different from the clean grids of my Midwestern home. In the icy wind I'm sure a squinted my way past a street sign somewhere, and though my GPS could tell me where I was, I couldn't make sense of which direction to go yet.
Around me, Massachusetts homes were aglow with the sodium-yellow streetlights, punctuated by the red and green sparkles of holiday lights. A jolly old elf waved at me with a stereophonic "ho ho ho" while his reindeer looked up from their eternal cycle of eating snow.
I wasn't dressed for this kind of hike; my suit and dress coat kept me warm, but my shoes were no help on the cold, slushy sidewalks. But when one goes to the ITworld Holiday Party, one is expected to keep up appearances. This was my first such celebration, since I didn't work for this crew last year. I'd heard rumors of parties gone by, so I was also carrying a large amount of cash in case I needed to make bail.
The thermometer, according to my not-so-helpful phone, was hovering around the teens, but the wind was surely pushing the wind chill factor down below zero: a temperature range that is really just a measure of how fast you will die if you stay outside.
Up ahead: a sign post. A corporate park. I was getting close. Some of the offices look well lit. I kept my head down against the wind and trudged to the nearest entrance, stamping inside and cursing under my breath. Winters in the Heartland were no better, but being away from my Indiana home had put me in a foul mood.
I shook off my hat and coat and handed it to a young lady behind a table who appeared to be taking such things. But as I handed it off and looked around the atrium I'd stepped into, I got the sense that something was wrong.
Nautical motifs decorated the room, a strange conglomeration of Yuletide and sailing ships. I wasn't aware the IDG folks were big on boats, but I was a lot closer to an ocean than I usually was, so one never knew.
There were more signs: the attendees were well-dressed and slightly tipsy, but they cast furtive glances around the room, as if they were expecting something to come at them from behind at any--
"HELLO! HOW'S IT GOING?"
I leaped out of my skin and whirled around at the sound of the booming voice. The speaker was tall, with dark hair and a short beard. Likely in late 40s or early 50s, he was the specimen of health, and his clothes and grooming screamed wealth. He also looked familiar... like someone who you know you would recognize if they weren't in such an out-of-context place.
Something was deeply wrong here. I was supposed to be at an editorial party, so who would have this kind of money?
"Er, hello," I replied with the sort of reservation we Hoosiers have for someone we're not sure we like the looks of yet. "Nice party."
"Yes, yes it is! It's not often I win such an honor, so all my offices are throwing me a shindig this year. It's taken me a long time to get to all our locations, but here I am now. Which team do you work for?," my gregarious new companion asked. Behind him, a harried entourage of young assistant-types seemed distracted by something on their smartphones. Honor? What the heck was going on? I decided to be vague.
"Um, I work with open source tech--"
"Open source? I love open source!," he interrupted. "If an open source product gets good enough, we'll simply take it. Take Apache: once Apache got better than our own web server, we threw it away and took Apache. So the great thing about open source is nobody owns it--a company like [ours] is free to take it for nothing, include it in our products and charge for support, and that's what we'll do."
I started looking around for the woman who handled coats. She had stepped away. I decided to stall.
"Er, yes, I'm sure you do. Of course, taking from open source is a lot different from managing it yourself, isn't it?," I replied like an idiot. Apparently I was more unsettled than I thought.
Behind the tall executive, one of the assistant's heads snapped up and she looked right into my soul. Then into her furtively typed smartphone. I started praying she was using AT&T so I would have more time.
Oblivious to her and my smart-assery, the guest of honor as this months-late party honoring his nautical achievement nodded.
"It sure is! But, we're just using what we need and letting the little people fight over the rest. It's been a great year for me! Did you know I was in Iron Man 2?"
Coat lady was still missing, but I could see my still-glistening outerwear on the coat rack just feet away. The assistant finished typing and looked back at me with a look of pure recognition. The gig was up.
"Yeah, actually," I replied, backing away. "Great scene. Uncredited, though, wasn't it?"
Now everyone near us started looking at us with something akin to horror in their eyes. Clouds formed in the executive's face. He was aware that something about me was amiss, and his employees were picking up on his confusion. I could feel the circle of people closing in, like a giant, red "O" I could now see atop the holiday tree in the middle of the lobby.
"Who... are you?," he asked.
If that wasn't a cue, I don't know what was. I sat on the table and spun my legs around to the other side. As I grabbed my hat and coat, his assistant stepped up and whispered something into his ear and the clouds of confusion on his face gave away to storms of anger.
"Proffitt," was all he said. And the entire room stopped what they were doing and turned to us.
"Hey, great party everyone!" I vamped, babbling. "Very festive! Very seaworthy! Ahoy!"
Someone moved behind me. My exit was getting cut off. The host took a step towards me as well. Desperate, I tried one more gambit.
"Hey, isn't that Eric Schmidt back there? Hey, Eric! How's it going?," I shouted. As one, the mob turned to the back of the lobby, blood in their eyes. I moved for the door, just making it to the slam-bar when I heard someone shout a warning.
I escaped, vanishing into the storm before anyone could follow me. The cold streets of Framingham, once foreboding, now sheltered me from the angry party-goers behind me. What a difference terror makes.
I soon found the right building, thanks to sounds of merriment and unspeakable acts with a copier wafting from within. Cautious once more, I checked my pockets for the possible bail money... and found it missing.
In the wind, I heard the sound of dark laughter. I didn't look back.