The water smelled like smoke. Water in a pitcher in a conference room. Could that water smell like smoke, and, presuming it could, what did that mean?
         Was the water, then, unsafe?
         Had the water, somehow, been exposed to fire?
         An omen perhaps. Something predicted. If the water smelled like smoke—when the water smelled like smoke—something from a prophecy if he knew some prophecies.
         No reason he would.
         Prophecies in his experience did not come true. And so were meaningless. Worse, useless. Of no use for anything or to anyone.
         A thing beyond utility some useless thing.
         Even if the thing were a prophecy. Words. A maxim or saying or proverb.
         All those could be things.
         In this sense.
         He’d been warned there would be payback but he had not bothered to understand whether that meant he would be paid back or he would be compelled to pay something back at an undetermined future point.
         A detail.
         Not where he was focused.
         As though he might be called upon to deliver some payback though he could not imagine what form it might take or to whom he was to deliver it.
         If he waited—
         If he waited it might become clear or it might go away.
         No sense in pursuing it unless—until—someone brought it to him.
         Which implied someone had been planning things all along and, when needed, he would fit into the plan at an appropriate operational level.
         Then the lie. Austin said, what, you’ve never been lied to here?
         That was not it. Everybody in the system lied all the time from the tiniest of motives or from no motive at all.
         This had been different. There were assurances, guarantees, thank yous. Relief from other parties. A sense things were moving forward.
         Somebody leaked him the memo that undid the deal.
         He was out there alone.
         He, too, had made some guarantees.
         He was accountable to his constituents in ways others were not accountable at all.
         He would pay.
         No one else.
         Unless he could force something from the others. Not easy. They’d spent years—careers—insulating themselves.
         This was—he was at—the peak of his career.
         Quality Department bringing out a new tool. He had to go. Presenter said the tool could be thought of as the latest generation measuring device and everyone knew the importance of measurement in determining productive directioning.
         Presenter talked about metrics.
         He thought Presenter meant measures or measurements. Metrics, he thought, was the study of the metric system.
         Not that it mattered what a word meant.
         He’d said a lot of things over many years and who knew what he meant or what the words meant or whether he used them correctly—
         Whether he had properly measured them.
         Measure your words. Something people used to say. He did not think people said it anymore.
         People no doubt said something different. To mean the same thing.
         Measuring system was designed, but not yet fully implemented. However, or conversely, it was partially implemented although it had not been strictly piloted except insofar as it was partially implemented.
         All this like a story he had barely heard many times before.
         Dull hum ever in his ear.