Today's Reading

(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores June 2020.)

March 10, 2011

The night I was supposed to fly to Japan, I didn't know how little time I had left before my personal apocalypse. Had I, there's one thing I would have changed. The one thing that wakes me in the night, my teeth clenched so tightly I think they're going to crack. The one thing that puts blood on my hands and a death in my ledger. The one thing that won't let me go.

I wouldn't have made a mistake.

Yeah, I know, everyone makes them, and all that. But not me. I started my first company before I could drive. The company I really became known for, the one that became a household name, came later. Valued at over $1 billion pre-IPO, CastorNet is what the Valley calls a unicorn. They're not as rare as they once were, but people still sit up and pay attention when they're run by a guy in his twenties.

That wasn't enough for me. I wanted a place in the history books. When I got to Japan, I'd close a deal that would put my name alongside Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg.

While I was supposed to be popping the cork on a bottle of Cristal on our private jet, I was instead sipping a stale, green smoothie, huddled around a computer screen in the dark with a hairy, bearded guy, trying to get the FBI off my back without blowing everything up.

"The payload's been delivered. Coming online now," said the hairy guy. The glow of the monitor reflected off his wild beard, giving him a spooky profile in the dim room. "What are you going to tell the guys at Fukushima Semiconductor when you don't show up to complete the takeover?"

Jack Walton. My right hand, and oldest friend. The Woz to my Jobs. Brilliant programmer, but like the legendary Wozniak he didn't have a head for business. Building CastorNet was all me. He was the only person I could trust with what we'd agreed to do for the FBI. If word got out, it would be a disaster.

"I'll make it in time to close the deal. I'll take the jet when we're finished here. I just won't have time to check-in at the hotel, which means I'll have to shower at the airport."

"Noble sacrifice, considering this deal's going to make you a billionaire," said Jack, noting the distaste in my voice. "But first, wherever this guy is, we have to find him."

"We will. Then that FBI dude, what was his name? Salazar something..."

"Burke," said Jack, rolling his eyes. "Special Agent in Charge Salazar Burke."

"Whatever. Details," I answered, waving my hand back and forth. "Then we can get on with Fukushima while Burke takes credit for our genius."

The Agent had shown up on our doorstep from the LA Field Office with a problem. This sick fucker, Bruce Sterling, had kidnapped a girl named Kate Mason, right out of her college dorm. The FBI said he'd taken some other girls before, all of whom turned up dead, and in each case, he'd used our software to live-stream his exploits with them. While the media hadn't gotten a hold of the story, they could.

The negative press from that revelation would be bad, but I was sure Ace Prior, our Operations guy, would be able to contain it. He's good and calm in front of the camera. Then Burke showed me and Jack pictures of Sterling's previous victims. It's easy to stand on your high moral ground when it's just an ideal. Words on a page. Or in a mission statement. But when you see the things Burke had to show, it changes you. It hits you on a level deeper than intellect, right at the part of your brain that evolved from a furry little mammal whose drive was survival from predators.

Burke told us he had to find Sterling before he did those things to this Kate girl. It didn't matter who Kate was or where she came from. You see someone facing that kind of horror, you help. But that doesn't mean you have to throw away everything you've spent years building. CastorNet's most valuable product was secure, private messaging and live video streaming. Which meant if anyone found out what Jack and I were doing for the FBI, we'd be finished.

"Will, the marketing push on privacy starts tomorrow," said Jack, tugging on his beard. "Are you sure it won't get out that we have a back door..."

"Don't call it a back door."

"What should I call it?"

"A trap door."

"Will, that's not a real thing! You can't just make it a thing because you want to."

"I bet I can after the Fukushima deal closes. It's totally going to be a thing."

"Maybe then," acknowledged Jack with a sigh.

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