We Were Partners
Two FBI agents are tasked with arresting Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of Bitcoin. Their case leads them to a place neither of them ever expected to go.
“Hello Tim,” I greeted, squeezing past the organized piles of junk on the floor of my brother’s apartment.
I set a few bags of groceries, that I had picked up earlier for him, on his cluttered kitchen counter. I suppose I’d forgotten what it was like to live single—no one cared about the mess. My nose wrinkled at the smell in the air. Just because we lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, the permeating stench of fish in his apartment did not make it any more bearable.
Timothy’s eyes bounced up from his computer’s monitor and bulged with panic. I noted how his hand quickly waved his mouse across the tattered mouse pad, obviously clearing tabs on his computer. Sweat trickled down his forehead and his chest heaved quickly as his heart rate skyrocketed. “Hey, big bro,” he managed to squeak.
As an FBI agent, I was trained in the art of observation. I don’t know why my brother doesn’t understand that yet. He’s always so obvious when he’s doing something he shouldn’t be.
“Tim, stop.” I sighed and made my way over behind his shoulder.
“Whaaat?” He protested weakly, giving me a feigned irate glare.
I pushed his hand off the mouse and took control of it myself, pulling up the Google history. “Again? You really gotta stop this, Tim.”
“Well, you really gotta stop just entering my house without permission.” Timothy countered.
My eyes skimmed the domain name of the websites he’d been on. Bitcoin, Bitcoin, and Bitcoin. I looked around the room and noted a fresh bunch of bananas hanging on a shiny banana hook in the kitchen. My eyebrows furrowed as I put two and two together, “When did you get money for banana hooks? You can hardly afford bananas.” I stared down at Tim the way our mother used to when we had misbehaved.
Tim squirmed uncomfortably in his rickety office chair. “Sorry, Lincoln. I just, I need the money.”
I lowered my voice, hoping that would be enough to avoid any sort of audio recording devices. It may only be 2011 but surveillance technology is becoming more advanced every day. “Listen carefully, Timothy John Bitt. Letting domestic terrorist groups pay you to officiate their transactions through your Bitcoin wallet for chump change is not worth it. You could be locked up as a traitor.”
Tim’s countenance drooped pathetically, “Are you gonna turn me in?”
I squinted and shook my head, “You know I won’t. You’re my brother. But you’ve got to help me and stop. I’m doing my best, bringing you groceries and all. That’s good money my family could use right now. You’re endangering both them and you for some cash. I could get fired if you’re caught and then where would both of us be? Completely penniless, that’s where. Me with my hungry family and you in your dump, waiting to be forcibly evicted by the landlord.”
Tim looked up at me, “But I can’t get caught, Lincoln. You see, Bitcoin doesn’t attach my name to the wallet so there’s no way you Feds can tie it to me.” His eyes were wide with nerdy euphoria.
I shook my head, “Then why do you think these terrorists pay you to let them run their transactions through your wallet instead of simply creating their own anonymous wallet? Because if you’re caught, they’re not exposed.”
Tim crossed his arms, insulted at my doubt, “I’m serious. I’ve done the research. Trust me, I’ll be fine.”
“You’re asking an FBI agent to trust you to get away with doing something highly illegal and potentially treacherous.” I chuckled, “It’s not a matter of if we’ll catch you, it’s a matter of when. I’m serious.” I shook my head with a frown and moved back over to the kitchen counter where I started unbagging his groceries.
“You’re just too saturated in federal propaganda.” Tim laughed. “You need to get out more. The FBI has no jurisdiction with Bitcoin. It’s entirely free from government interference. It’s an amazing invention.”
I dismissed his comment with a shrug and opened the fridge. My mouth dropped in astonishment at the abundance of food. I was used to maybe seeing a ketchup bottle and some yogurt but this time it was stacked with all his favorite meals. “Wow, guess you don’t need my groceries after all?”
Tim stood up, “No, I’ll take them. There’s room in there for yours. Thanks a lot for bringing it over. Should last me about two weeks with all of it combined. Better than I’ve been eating lately.”
“I’d hope so.” I retorted bitterly, shutting the fridge.
“Look, Lincoln, I’m sorry. I really am. Maybe after I get a few more bucks under my belt I can afford to branch out into something a bit more legal. Would that be alright?” Tim stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned against the countertop.
I sighed and rubbed my eyes, “I’ll certainly sleep better once you do.” I pulled my hand down and suit sleeve up to look at the time. “Oh, I’ve got to get to work now, Tim. You enjoy yourself and maybe do something productive.” I smiled, starting for the door.
Timothy waved at me, “You have a good day at work, Lincoln. See you later.”
“You too, bro.” I pushed out his door, letting it clack behind me, and headed down the seedy apartment complex stairwell to the parking lot. I hurried over to my shiny black Ford SUV, hopping into the driver’s seat.
Garret Hobbs, my case partner for the past six years, looked up from his phone, “All good?”
“Yep,” I exhaled, secured my seatbelt across my chest, and put the vehicle into reverse. I pulled out of the lot and headed to our office. “He appreciated the groceries. Thanks for waiting.”
Garret nodded, “Yeah, no problem. Might wanna step on it though, we’re a bit late for the case briefing. I was starting to get nervous while you were up there.” He chuckled and stuffed his phone into his pocket.
I laughed with him, “Hah, yes I had to get out of there. He likes to engage me in long conversations sometimes.”
Garret smiled, staring at me for a second and then looked out the window.
I loosened my grip on the steering wheel, realizing how tense it had been. I focused on my breathing, slowing it down till I felt more relaxed.
Garret possessed the same observational skills I did. I’m sure he could tell I was nervous about something. I hate keeping my brother’s illegal secrets. It makes me feel like such a fraud as an agent. It’s legitimately one of the only things keeping me back from truly being successful in the Bureau. I’m always looking over my shoulder and fretting about the day they find out I never reported Timothy’s activities when I first learned about them like I should have. It’s just very difficult when you love someone to just blatantly turn them over to an emotionless government for something so menial a crime. Tim doesn’t actively participate in whatever terrorism the organizations he assists do.
We slid into a parking space outside the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office building and hurried inside. After passing a brief security checkpoint, we made our way to our superior’s office. Garret tapped respectfully on the window of the door.
Bradley Morrison, our superior officer, motioned for us to enter, standing up from his sleek office chair.
Garret and I entered and shook Bradley’s hand.
“Hello, boys. The coffee line a bit long?” Bradley jested with a smile, poking at our lateness.
Both of us swallowed and laughed nervously.
“Yes sir, that was it, exactly.” Garret replied cordially. He was the more charismatic one of the two of us.
Bradley nodded and slid over two orange folders. “Here is your case for the week. It’s one the government would like handled as quickly and discreetly as possible. I’m trusting you two will come to the bottom of it faster than our other teams managed to last year. It’s a case of top secrecy. The public and press can never know about your work involving this case.”
We picked up our files and flipped through them. The word “Bitcoin” seemed to be on every page along with some Japanese name, “Satoshi Nakamoto.” I gulped, concerned this investigation might possibly dissolve my brother’s Bitcoin shenanigans and my career.
Garret clapped his folder shut and looked up, “So, why do we need this Satoshi? He’s anonymously disappeared for about a year now.”
Bradley nodded and sipped at his white coffee mug before answering, “Yes, that’s why it’s imperative you two make quick work of the case. We fear if we don’t find him within these next few days, he may disappear from our grasp forever.”
I closed my folder to pay better attention to the conversation.
Bradley glanced at me and continued, “Satoshi Nakamoto created one of the cleverest pieces of software ever written. He successfully privatized a global cryptocurrency, locking government involvement out of it, which allows illegal entities to operate without any consequence. It’s frankly unacceptable. We need to bring the real Satoshi in and persuade him to alter the code so that the FBI can monitor the identities of user’s Bitcoin wallets and the transactions those wallets are involved in. But, and this is the key part, we need it done without the public’s awareness. Hence the secrecy of your case and why we need Satoshi himself. He’s the only one able to give us the access we need.”
My body erupted in adrenaline. I was being assigned to a case that would explicitly unveil my brother’s terrorist involvement. This would immediately doom me by association, barring me from anything higher than my current rank in the Bureau, let alone if they discovered I permitted his activity.
Garret passed me a knowing glance that heightened my fear even more. He certainly suspected something about me. I gulped and cleared my throat. “We’ll do our best to get to the bottom of this case, sir. Effectively and discreetly.”
Bradley grinned widely, “Yes, you’ve got it, Lincoln. ‘Discreetly.’ That’s the word to stick to.”
Garret and I exited the office and hustled to our own office spaces where we laid out our folders in front of our desktop computers. I pulled up the FBI’s databases and set to work on analyzing the prior investigations.
Garret started on his own work, giving me looks every few minutes. He shook his head and sighed, staring at his screen, “Man, this guy only existed between 2008-2010 and then just disappeared completely. How does someone pull that off?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. Whoever it is, they’ve got to be a genius.”
“Could be a group of folks. A lot of the other investigations speculate that it wasn’t just a singular person, but a group.” Garret mused aloud.
“Mhm,” I nodded, “I’m inclined to think it was a singular person.”
“Me too, actually.” Garret agreed, “Would be easier to keep information on your whereabouts contained. He’s got to have people he interacted closely with.”
I scrolled over a file, hovering my cursor over a name, “Says on this file that Satoshi gave control of Bitcoin’s software to a ‘Gavin Andresen.’” I scrolled a bit more, finding another name. “Hal Finney also worked closely with Satoshi on the codework for the software in its early stages.”
“Yeah, makes you wonder why Satoshi would select Gavin instead of Hal.” Garret inhaled excitedly, “Gavin Andresen is actually based here in Amherst.”
“Massachusetts?” I clarified in surprise.
“Yeah,” Garret affirmed with a smile. He stood up and slipped his suit jacket over his shoulders. “Let’s go see if we can get a visit with him.”
“Then try Hal Finney?” I suggested. I really hoped neither of these men would be actual leads.
“Sure.” Garret exhaled, grabbing the keys to the SUV off my desk and heading out.
“Wait for me!” I chuckled. After making sure I had my pistol, badge, and coat I raced behind him.
When we arrived at Gavin Andresen’s address we paused to admire the elegance of his home. When a man’s net worth is $2.2 million, he’s going to live very well. Once we collected ourselves, donned our government-issued sunglasses, and turned on our FBI investigative personas we followed a paved path to the lavish front door.
I rang the bell first. Gavin himself answered, peeking from around the door.
“Gentlemen?” He asked meekly.
Garret cleared his throat and adjusted his dark sunglasses, “Good morning, sir. We’re sorry to bother you. I know you’ve been harassed before about the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, but we have a few more questions for you on the subject that is imperative to…” He paused, gulped, and glanced at me, knowing I didn’t like misleading people, “national security.”
This wasn’t an issue of national security at all. Garret didn’t care about details like that though. He just served the will of the federal government however he had to. Perhaps that’s what makes me extra nervous around him, knowing he wouldn’t hesitate to turn me in if he learned about my brother’s actions.
Gavin swallowed nervously and opened the door wider, gesturing for us to come in. “I’m not in trouble, am I?”
“Oh, not at all.” I answered, stepping inside after my partner. I noted the sweat collecting on Gavin’s neck, but dismissed it. It’s common for people to be nervous when the FBI shows up on their doorstep.
Mr. Andresen led us to an open living room and sat in a white armchair. Garret and I sat across from him on a matching couch.
“How may I help you gentlemen today?” Gavin forced a smile.
“Well, first we’d like to ask why, of all people on the team, Nakamoto picked you to lead Bitcoin after his departure?” Garret leaned back and crossed his legs.
Gavin relaxed and smiled more genuinely. “Oh, well that’s an easy question. Satoshi and I shared the same values about why Bitcoin needed to exist the way it does.”
“And what values are those?” I prodded. Maybe the reasoning behind why Bitcoin is set up the way it is would persuade Garret not to be as adamant about solving the case. Maybe he would sympathize with the reasoning and we could just seal up the case as a dead end and be done with it.
“Well,” Gavin continued, “Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer system, meaning it functions without the disruption of banks or any centralized authority. It’s a system operating by the people and for the people. Anyone can participate which allows even people without bank accounts to manage their finances with our cryptocurrency: Bitcoins. Governments and banks shouldn’t have sole manipulation of the people’s currency. It’s how currency is meant to be—decentralized.” Gavin answered enthusiastically. It was clear he truly believed in his and Satoshi’s work, something I admired.
Garret stroked his chin, hopefully thinking about the positive morality behind Bitcoin. “So Nakamoto just picked you because you agreed with his tenets the most?”
“And because I had no knowledge about his whereabouts.” Gavin added flippantly.
Garret’s disposition fell. He must have really hoped this would be a one-stop investigation. “Well, do you know anyone else involved that we could talk to about Satoshi’s whereabouts?”
Gavin shrugged, “Not really. We all had equal participation with Nakamoto. No one should really know more than I do.”
Garret frowned, “There’s got to be someone.”
“What about Hal Finney?” I asked.
Gavin raised his eyebrows, “He would be able to tell you what to look for in regard to Nakamoto. He communicated directly with him the most over computer messages. He worked on the early stages of the code.”
Garret’s excitement resumed, “Would you be able to put us in contact with him? Might allow us to give a warmer approach than we had with you.” He laughed, signaling he was joking.
Gavin laughed back, “Hm, this is, indeed, a matter of national security?”
“Yes,” Garret affirmed solemnly.
Gavin sighed, “I suppose I could set you up with a phone call right now, if that’ll do.”
“That’d be perfect, Mr. Andresen.” I smiled. In person communication usually afforded more information. I hoped by performing our questioning over call, we would gather less clues leading to Satoshi.
Gavin whipped out his cell phone and dialed a number, putting the device to his ear. After a moment’s wait, Gavin greeted Hal, “Hello, Hal… Yes, I’m doing great… Yeah, uh, hey, listen, there’s some FBI agents here that’d like to ask you a few questions… No, it doesn’t have to do with you… It’s some matter of national security that has to do with Satoshi… Yes, I’d appreciate it… Thanks, here you go.” He handed the phone over to me.
“Hello, Mr. Finney. This is Agent Lincoln Bitt with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” I greeted.
A sleepy voice croaked back to me over the phone, “Good morning, Agent Bitt. Hal Finney.”
I smiled, looking at Garret, “Yes, can you tell me what you know about Satoshi? Any information might help. We’re trying to locate him to assist with a matter of…” I paused, gritting my teeth, not wanting to say it, “…national security.”
“Sure, of course. Ah… well, from his messages, he seemed to type like a British person. He used strange spellings like ‘colour’ and ‘favourite.’ And, you’ve probably heard about this one as it’s a popular little mystery, but he included a British newspaper headline in one of his source codes that referenced a British headline that was in a newspaper called ‘The Times.’ If I remember correctly, the headline was ‘Chancellor on Brink of Second Bailout for Banks’ or something like that.”
“And what was the significance of that?” I inquired, narrowing my eyebrows with interest.
“Well, I assume it was a reference to his intentions regarding his purpose for Bitcoin—making it free from centralized banks and government regulation. Oh, and something else I found interesting is that the more we worked together, the more I noticed his regular time of operation. Seemed like he was working in a Greenwich Mean Time zone. Obviously, he may have moved since I worked with him, but I found that to be rather interesting.” Hal’s inflection indicated he was starting to wake up.
I nodded, “Yeah, sounds like more evidence of him being British. Strange that a British man would use a Japanese pseudonym.”
Hal chuckled for the first time in our conversation, “Yeah, I agree. I mean, the man was a genius. I’m sure he specifically chose that name to throw everyone off his trail. It’s worked so far.”
I laughed as well, “Yeah, he is quite a legend in the cryptocurrency community.”
“Well, is that all you can give me today, Mr. Finney?”
“Yes sir, that’s about all that was notable. Sorry I can’t be of anymore assistance.”
I shook my head, “No sir, thank you. It was very helpful indeed. We’ll be sure to remember those details.”
“Very good. You have good luck with your investigation.”
“Will do, sir. Thanks again.”
“Buh-bye.” The phone clicked as he hung up.
I handed the cell phone back to Gavin. “Thank you, Mr. Andresen. You’ve been most helpful.”
Gavin took the phone and returned it to his pocket. “Yes, thank you for dropping by. I hope the rest of your investigation is fruitful.”
I gulped, secretly hoping it wouldn’t be.
“I hope so too.” Garret replied, shaking Gavin’s hand. “Have a good day, sir.”
We left, going back to our car. Once back inside, I buckled myself into my seat.
Garret sighed and lay his head back against his seat, “Uhg, don’t you just hate it when people thank you for interrogating them? It’s like, you know they don’t actually mean it, but they think that’s what they’re supposed to say?” He looked over at me with a smile.
I nodded, grinning too. “Yeah, it’s not really a pet peeve of mine, but I know it is for you. Just part of the job.”
“Mhm. It’s difficult but worth it—” Garret’s phone started ringing. He pulled his phone out and raised his eyebrows, answering it, “FBI agent Garret Hobbs. Who is this?” His eyes widened and he motioned for me to write, “Ahuh, go ahead.”
I got a napkin and pen.
“17 Penobscot St, Augusta, Maine, 04330. Got it.”
I wrote the address down.
Gavin looked at the phone quizzically, “Anonymous tip, I guess? Sounded Russian.”
I frowned, “But no one is supposed to know about this case.”
Gavin nodded skeptically and then checked his phone again, “Yo, I just got a text from Bradley telling us to act on the address immediately. There’s no warrant but we’re supposed to breach anyway.”
I squinted, “Something about this is making me uneasy.”
Garret put the phone back in his jacket pocket, “Lincoln, the Bureau probably fact checked the call the moment I received it. We’d best follow our orders now that we’ve got them. Apparently, we’ve got plane tickets to Maine in fifteen minutes.” He jerked the gearstick into Drive and we peeled out of Gavin Andresen’s neighborhood.
“Why don’t you ever question our orders, Garret? None of this is jiving with me.” I protested, jostling with Garret’s driving.
Garret’s eyes stuck to the road, shifting to our car mirrors every now and then, “Why do you always question our orders? We’re agents, Lincoln. Not politicians. It’s not our place to question what we’re told to do. This stuff is bigger than both of us. If we don’t do our job, someone else will.”
“We’re just agents? I thought we were Americans first. None of this seems American to me.” I grunted.
“Hah!” Garret scoffed, “American. You say that like it actually means something anymore.”
I frowned, “Well, doesn’t it? It means doing what’s right for the great people of America.”
“Well look around you, Lincoln. America’s people are getting more divided every day. We’re not the same country our parents—or even we—grew up in. You’ve just gotta recognize that and join the flow.”
“Sounds like a hopeless perspective of our country if you ask me.”
We stayed silent toward each other for the rest of the drive and the following hour-and-ten-minute plane ride to Augusta, Maine.
After landing, we got into a pre-stationed black SUV and drove for thirty minutes till we reached the address. Garret rolled us to a stop just outside a populated apartment complex. Children played in a field outside the apartments. Seemed like a crowded place for such a renowned figure to hide.
Garret and I exited, giving each other a look that grounded us into being a team again despite our earlier dispute. We entered the complex with our right hands resting on our pistols, going up the stairs to the room number of the address. We reached the door and knocked three times.
“FBI, open up!” Garret shouted. We waited a few seconds and heard scuffling feet inside. He yanked the door open and both of us charged in, pistols drawn. A dark, lanky figure lurched from behind us and bounded out the room, catching us off guard.
“Satoshi Nakamoto!” I shouted, “Stop! You’re under arrest!!”
Garret and I rushed out into the hallway and chased our fugitive as he raced away from us. He turned down hallway after hallway. He finally entered a stairwell where we promptly followed.
“Why’s he going up!?” Garret exclaimed, following Satoshi’s path.
Eventually, Satoshi left the staircase on one of the higher levels. We followed him through that and down another maze of hallways. Then Satoshi burst into one of the rooms. We reached it and entered, shutting the door and locking it behind us.
“Ok, Satoshi. This is it. You’re coming with us now.” Garret exhaled tiredly.
We walked deeper into the room and found the tall, lanky figure we had chased to be a young teenage boy. He stood beside an older Japanese man sitting in front of a computer.
The man spun in his chair to face us calmly and folded his hands. “‘Allo, officers.” He greeted us with a heavy British accent.
Our eyebrows furrowed with confusion.
“I am the Satoshi Nakamoto you seek. My real name is Bennet Yingbi. This is my son. Please let him leave us. He only wished to warn me about your arrival.”
We nodded as the boy squeezed past us and left the room. A long awkward silence followed as we stared at each other, uncertain as to what to do next.
Garret broke the silence first, “Satoshi Nakam—I mean, Bennet Yingbi, we must ask you to come with us.”
“Why?” Bennet questioned.
Garret shook his head, “The United States government requires your presence to give them discreet access to Bitcoin.”
Bennet shook his head with a smile, “See, this is why I have put so much effort into hiding. I knew governments would want to undo my achievement. It doesn’t agree with their agenda. They must control every aspect of our lives. I’m sorry, but I will die before I help you commit this crime against the world. This isn’t even about America, Bitcoin is global.”
“Yeah, well your little project allows millions of criminals to operate unchecked.” Garret sneered. “Now get up or you’ll be charged with resisting arrest.”
Bennet Yingbi sat motionless. “I will not undo my work. It must remain free of government entanglement for it to be pure.”
Garret pulled out a pair of handcuffs and took a step toward him, but I raised my hand to stop him.
“Wait, Garret. We shouldn’t do this. We need to leave. This was a dead end. No one will know but us.” I stared at the floor, knowing I couldn’t live with myself if my brother was punished for his crime. I’d make him stop later, but I couldn’t let the government do this.
Garret glared at me, “Seriously, Lincoln?”
“Yes. This is wrong.”
“I don’t report your treasonous opinions because I like you, Lincoln, and I didn’t think you’d actually want to act on them. I thought you were just expressing yourself.” Garret grit his teeth menacingly, “We’re taking him into custody whether you agree with it or not. Is that clear?”
I gulped, lowering my hand. “Yes.”
Garret moved to Bennet and forced him to stand, putting handcuffs on him.
I looked up and didn’t see Bennet in those handcuffs. I saw my brother, Timothy John Bitt. The brother I had grown up with and protected my whole life. I saw Garret clamping those cuffs on him and leading him out of the hotel room.
My blood curdled with adrenaline as my vision clouded with tears. In a swift move I lunged for Garret, wrapping my arms about his neck. I pulled him down away from Timothy and landed with my back on the room’s bed and Garret on top of me, gasping for air. I cinched the chokehold tighter as I felt Garret reach for his pistol the same way he always did when either of us were in a dangerous situation throughout our career together.
“Stop fighting!” I pleaded. “We can just leave!” I desperately hoped he’d stop fighting, but I knew that wasn’t Garret. He never gave up on something he had set about to do, even if it killed him.
His hand missed his weapon as his body spasmed from the lack of air. He dug both sets of his fingers into the sleeves of my arms, trying to claw me off his neck. His legs kicked spastically, trying to free himself from my hold. I bit down hard on my teeth, pressing my forearm further into his neck. His motions gradually slowed to a stop. My eyes squeezed shut and my muscles remained stiff with fear as I continued to cling to him.
Bennet tapped my shoulder, waking me up from my protective trance. I opened my eyes and my arms. Garret’s lifeless body slid off me and tumbled to the floor.
I looked up at Bennet, my eyes red from my tears. He lifted his hand, silently asking for the key to his bonds. I solemnly plopped the key in his hand. He took it from my open palm and undid his cuffs. He pocketed both the key and handcuffs. He then grabbed Garret’s taser, pointed it at me, and let the electrical projectiles fly into my chest.
I sat there, vibrating under the pulse of the taser, as Bennet Yingbi signaled his gratitude and left. I silently thanked him in return. He would be the entity to whom the blame for my partner’s death would fall, allowing me the chance to continue to steer my brother from his desperate decisions. I would see my family again. I would continue my career despite this failed case.
Satoshi Nakamoto would stay a phantom. A phantom that successfully eluded the entire world, imprinting his name in history forever with just two years of recorded existence, but I knew he was only a man with a family, just like me. A real person that I had encountered and saved, but a case I never solved.
My friend, Garret, on the other hand, disappeared from history that day forward. Our case was so secret, even the cause of his death was fabricated to protect our government’s intentions.
Do I regret what happened? Yes, but I did not let my partner’s death be for nothing. I lived to redeem my brother’s actions and amend my own. Every case I solved following that day was for Garret’s memory and my redemption. He and I may not have agreed on everything, but we were partners, and he was a man I will always honor and respect.
Take this account as my confession. I regret not having come forward sooner.
Lincoln J. Bitt