Chapter 15

1.2K 101 7

Although his leg was still giving him trouble, the wound was scabbing up rather nicely. Ever since he was a kid, he'd hated pills. Gabriel had offered to get him opium to smooth out the ride, as he'd said. But he hated even taking Tylenol. He couldn't stand having a foggy mind. He despised being out of control. He wanted to be present and aware, even if that meant temporary discomfort. This too shall pass, he would repeat to himself. It always did. Sometimes he made a game out of sitting back and watching it pass. Like one day when he was twelve years old playing hide-and-seek. He loved playing hide-and-seek so much that he would hide around the house waiting for his father to get back from work. His mind fondly drifted back to those days.

"Buddy! I'm home. Where are you?" his father would say. His father, Frank Thompson, had started out as an errand boy for a construction company and worked his way up the ranks to eventually create one of the larger construction companies on the East Coast. His company built office buildings and more than a few strip malls. Things had been going great for his dad. His mom had passed away when giving birth to him, and his dad never remarried, but they were well off and relatively happy, even though they never lived a luxurious lifestyle.

But the government shutdown in 1995, after an extended fight between President Clinton and the Republican Congress over funding Medicare, created a downward spiral that hit Frank's business hard. During the twenty-seven days that the government was shut down, almost all government services stopped. Everything from the Department of Education, Federal Parks, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, to smaller departments like the National Archives and Records Administration and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

In the first week, the shutdown had little effect. Like a random snow day in Portland. The snow is always gone the next day and it's back to business as usual. But when the shutdown entered the third week, the consequences started to become more grievous.

Frank had been negotiating one of his largest deals ever. He was trying to build his first skyscraper and had invested everything into it. It was going to launch him into the big leagues. and set him up to be the next Donald Trump. Though Frank had done well for himself, the skyscraper was going to cost a hundred times more money than Frank had been able to save up. So in addition to risking his entire life savings, he had turned to banks and outside investors to put up the rest. But the location chosen for the skyscraper was a historic site, and when the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation shut down and wouldn't return phone calls, Frank began to panic.

On the twenty-sixth day of the government shutdown, Frank's little boy was waiting for his dad to come home, eager to surprise him again with another game of hide-and-seek. His dad had been coming home later and later recently, and seemed off balance when he did get home, but he wanted to make his father happy. He picked one of his favorite hiding spots: his dad's closet. The slits in the closet let in enough light from the room that he wasn't scared. He sat quietly and patiently playing his Game Boy, but his dad didn't come home. When nighttime arrived and darkness came over the closet, the boy became drowsy and fell asleep.

He was awakened when he heard a chair scrape across the floor of his dad's room. The lights were on in the room, so he peeked out through the slits in the door. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw his dad standing on a chair in the center of the room. His bladder full and eyes full of excitement, it took all his will to keep quiet. As his dad threw a rope over the ceiling fan and began tying a knot, the boy realized something wasn't right. He wanted to call out, but his excitement had turned into terror and he couldn't move. The boy's legs felt warm and wet. Within a minute, his dad's legs stopped jerking. The boy sat staring at the ground as warmth turned to coldness.

"This too shall pass," the boy's grandma said to him at the funeral. A few weeks later the feeling hadn't passed, but his chronically ill, yet disproportionately generous grandma had. The boy then entered foster care and wondered if all that now had "to pass" could ever really come to an end.

Four months later, while waiting for his foster dad to pick him up after school, the boy heard a couple of girls talking as they played.

"My turn to hide," one girl yelled. "You count to thirty." The boy looked at them and caught himself wanting to play. He felt a sudden urge to run and hide and realized that the hurt inside him had indeed passed. He chuckled. Not at the girls or the game, but at himself. He laughed at how quickly he could adapt to the terrors of the world. He wondered what other horrors he could bear.

As he sat at his computer, he picked at the scab on his leg, curious if it would still hurt or if it would just fall off.

It still hurt.

And he liked it that way. He scanned some security newsgroups and mailing lists, checked some stocks, skimmed the New York Times homepage and browsed SC Magazine, a popular security magazine. One post in SC caught his eye in particular. It was a tiny news blip about a startup called Cryptobit that aimed at revolutionizing online email security. After reading about Cryptobit's approach, he went to the homepage to sign up for the beta. He entered an email address: MeHartChina@gmail.com. 

The Term Sheet | Wattys 2016 WinnerRead this story for FREE!