Brandon was standing at a wall of whiteboards. His job was to write whatever Shawn called out as he poured over documents and posed new hypotheses. They had spent weeks collecting data, thinking through possibilities, and drawing and redrawing larger and larger grids. When Brandon suggested they use an app developed by the CIA that did much of the analysis for them, Shawn stared at him in disgust, then said, "I've got a better idea. Erase everything. Start again." Brandon didn't make any more suggestions.
"Which hypothesis have we not ruled out yet?"
"Can we order pizza? I'm starving," said Brandon in a high-pitched whine. "We skipped lunch and everyone else has gone home already."
"Pizza is for closers. Now focus. Give me the next hypothesis and let's try to disprove it."
"Seriously Shawn, I need food or I am going to collapse. If we don't eat, I'm going to go home to my girlfriend. I haven't seen her in weeks."
"You're using the word 'seen' loosely, right? You only met on Second Life, didn't you?"
"Focus, Brandon. Stop complaining. We're missing something. I can feel it. Hunger will keep your head clear. What's the next hypothesis?"
"Fine. Let's see. Hypothesis forty-three: foreign governments are behind the attack."
"Okay, what are the supporting facts?"
"The nicknames we found in the forums: China and Germany."
"It would be rather naive of a Chinese terrorist to sign emails with his country's name, wouldn't it?" asked Shawn.
Brandon brought the marker up, ready to draw an X. "So are you suggesting that this disproves the theory?"
"No, it's just supporting evidence. Seems odd though, doesn't it?"
"I guess." Brandon dropped his hand from the board.
"Go on, are there any more supporting facts?"
"Just the funny email address professing his love of China."
Shawn had a puzzled look on his face.
"Erase everything again," barked Shawn.
"I don't think we n—"
"Erase everything, I said. Now."
Brandon started erasing.
"Faster." Shawn stood up and ran to the board and began to erase with Brandon. "Quick, spell the email address out loud to me."
Brandon ran to Shawn's desk and pulled out a paper and began to recite: "M - E - H - A - R - T - C - H - I - N - A @ G - M - A - I - L . C - O - M."
"H. A. R. T. You sure it's heart without an E?"
"Hart without an E, that's right."
"Why no E?" asked Shawn.
"Maybe MeHeartChina with an E was taken?"
"This has been nagging me for forever—since I first saw the post, but I couldn't figure it out."
"Figure what out?"
"Why heart was misspelled."
Brandon ran to his laptop computer across the room and began typing.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking up an anagram website," said Brandon.
"Your generation is so lazy. Next thing I know you'll be asking for a pocket calculator to figure out half of twenty."
"I don't need a pocket calculator for that, I have my Android."
Shawn stared at the whiteboard while Brandon kept typing away.
"Got it," yelled Brandon. "The Marachin."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"You know, the Mexican singers?" said Brandon with a dumb grin.
"You fucking idiot. No, it says The Chairman. As in chairman of the board."
"Who is the only chairman who's come up in the investigation so far?"
Brandon leafed through the papers sitting next to the laptop. Shawn walked slowly to a wall next to the whiteboards with pictures pinned on it and strings connected between the pictures. Shawn pressed his finger firmly on David Alexander's picture. A dozen strings sprayed out from his picture around the board in every direction. Shawn dragged his finger steadily across the line to the upper right corner of the board.
Brandon pulled a piece of paper from under a pile excitedly and stood up.
"Of course! Doug Kensington, Chairman of System, Inc."
Brandon looked up at Shawn, whose finger was squarely sitting on Doug's face on the board.
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...