After talking to Heather, David added a new routine to his days. He started jogging. Though most mornings were drab and wet since the Portland winter had fully settled in, David didn't mind. In fact, the drearier it was outside, the better he ended up feeling on the inside after his run. The harder he pushed, the less noise his brain seemed to make. The thoughts of self-pity and failure seemed unable to thrive without the vital energy he used up jogging.
A typical winter day in Portland was a steady, irritating fall of just enough water to annoy you, but not enough to require an umbrella. But this morning was different. The rain started out easy, light even. Halfway through his jog around all five of Ladd's Addition's traffic circles, the rain started picking up and before he finished the third circle, it was pouring buckets. David saw a crowd of people standing under the awning at Palio's Café waiting for the rain to let up, but he kept running. One man made a run for his car, but dropped his keys halfway there and had to double back to pick them up.
When David got back to his apartment, he began to strip. His white T-shirt felt like it was superglued to his chest. David had to peel it off. He left his damp clothes on the floor near the entrance and walked to the shower, turning on the hot water. He wiped his hands on a towel and walked back, wearing only damp white underwear, to do a quick check on the Cryptobit statistics. He made a promise to himself that he would not check his phone or computer in the mornings before going out running. Checking in on the day's statistics became a reward for completing his run.
David pressed refresh. There appeared to be a bug. The night before, there were a hundred forty-five people on the waiting list. He thought back to how much time and effort he had put into the jellyfish website. No more than twenty people would visit that site in a typical day. A day with over a hundred people coming to the site was a huge success. But now his dashboard was reporting 253,435 people on the waiting list. Something had to be wrong. Overnight growth like that didn't make sense. He pressed refresh. It said 254,102 people. Almost a thousand new signups in a few minutes? Now he knew something was really wrong. David noticed the icon next to his mail program. Five hundred twenty-four new emails in his inbox. He started reading the subject lines.
Great job on pitch deck
Too bad about last night
Remember me from high school?
The emails went on and on like this, mostly from people David had never heard of before. He had been so focused on improving Cryptobit and retooling it for email that he had nearly forgotten how badly things had gone on Pitch Deck. After David's fight with Mark Baxter, he had relegated all corporate communication to Andrew. So he had no idea that the episode had aired last night. Until now. A part of him had hoped that the producers would just cut Cryptobit out and never show it in the first place, but he knew that the failure was just embarrassing enough to make great TV. There was no way they'd cut it.
David heard a knock on his door. He jetted to his bedroom and quickly put on a pair of jeans that was lying on his bed and an old shirt. He turned off the shower. By this time, it had created a warm sauna out of the tiny bathroom. He cracked the door open an inch. It was his landlady, Helen. Helen was a kind older woman who lived in Unit 1 for significantly reduced rent in exchange for collecting rent from the other tenants and coordinating maintenance.
"David, can I come in, please?"
The rain had let up since his run and had resolved into an annoying drizzle, but Helen was wearing a thin yellow plastic poncho and clearly uncomfortable standing outdoors.
"Of course, come on in."
Helen entered and began taking off her poncho.
"David, you know you are my favorite tenant."
David smiled. "Oh I bet you say that to every tenant. Can I get you a cup of tea?"
Helen made herself comfortable on the folding chair at David's card table.
"That sounds wonderful, dear. Thank you."
David walked over to the kitchen and filled the kettle with water.
"David, your rent is almost two months overdue. The owners keep bugging me about it. I keep telling them it's on the way, but they're getting more and more skeptical."
"I know, I know. I'm working on it."
"I know you are, dear. I know you are. If it were up to me, I'd give you another month to figure out how to get out of this mess. But if I don't get your rent payment in two days, I have to evict you. Don't take it personal. You're young. It could end up being just what you need."
As David poured two cups of tea, Helen began putting on her yellow plastic poncho.
"What about the tea?"
"How about you just deliver that tea to me this Sunday with your rent?"
"You got it."
Helen walked out and closed the door behind her. A few moments later, David heard another knock.
"It's open still, Helen."
"Who's Helen? Your new girlfriend? She seems a little old for my taste, but to each their own, brother." Andrew walked in with a big smile. "I was expecting this place to be vacated by now."
"Yeah, that was my landlady telling me that if I don't pay in the next two days, I'll be evicted. I'm surprised it took this long to get to this point."
"You look pencil thin, are you even eating anymore?"
"I started running."
"In the rain?"
"I like the rain."
"I guess that's what guys do after breaking up with their girlfriends."
"She broke up with me. You look fatter."
"I know, right? Jeni's the coolest girlfriend I have ever had. She grew up in the South and deep-fries everything. I put on ten pounds in the last month. That reminds me, Andrea asked about you a few days ago. She was sad when she heard I quit Cryptobit and wants you to come by and talk. The more I get to know her, the cooler she is. Like a startup Yoda." Andrew paused and David looked at the floor. "So did you watch it?"
"Pitch Deck? No. I didn't even know it was going to be on."
"I emailed you last night. They didn't tell me it was going to be on either, but when I saw our faces in the promo, I emailed you immediately."
"I was on a coding binge. Plus my email is hooked up to Cryptobit now, so I didn't get any messages until this morning when I turned it back on."
"Yeah, they featured us as the big finale. Every time they went to commercial, they teased you with a clip of us standing there dumbfounded. We look like idiots."
"How's the waiting list?"
"Let me see. As of right now... 263,404."
"I've got an extra folding chair waiting for you if you want it." David pointed to his card table. "I had an idea recently for how to get some quick cash. Enough to prevent my eviction at least."
YOU ARE READING
The Term Sheet | Wattys 2016 WinnerMystery / Thriller
2016 WATTY AWARD WINNER - HQ LOVE THE TERM SHEET is a fast-paced technothriller about entrepreneurship, startups, encryption, and the delicate balance between national security and individual privacy. Its complex characters explore thought-provoking...