Hold On For Dear Life
A note in a book can unlock a small fortune online.
May 26 2017
“It’s been a year.”
The text came through as Dan was eating a sandwich at his desk. Since graduating, Jamie would occasionally send memes or recite inside jokes. Messages would bounce back and forth and they’d gossip about the successes and failures of their fellow alumni.
They knew what each other was up to but weren’t close.
Dan had moved to New York to take a job at a magazine aimed at business leaders in the construction industry. Jamie, who stayed back West while weighing up post-graduate courses and helping at his cousin’s renovation business, had joked that he was expecting a feature on him in the magazine titled ‘How construction can tap into the lost generation workforce’.
The only thing Dan could think of that happened a year ago with his former roommate was their graduation. There had been the highs of passing, parties, and performative goodbyes as they and their classmates tried to mask the nervous excitement of being on the precipice of what their parents kept calling the ‘the real world’.
“Hey man. A year since what? When you fell into that bush on the way back from the club.”
“Lol. No. Well, actually I suppose you’re right. I meant a year since we took the plunge on bitcoin.”
At the time they’d each contributed $5,000 made up of graduation gifts, their apartment deposit and whatever money they had in their accounts, to buy a total of 20 bitcoins. A friend had insisted it would have a good return. They’d made a pact to sell them in 5 years when they imagined they’d be confronting a variety of inexorable adult scenarios; marriage, children, buying a house, doing up a classic car after a failed marriage.
Although the deal was a financial decision, both had a sense it was a reason to create a lasting bond even as they could see their paths starting to diverge.
“Wanna know the price?” Jamie text.
“It’s at over $2k a coin. We’ve got about $20k each! I know we said we were going to keep them for a few years but I could do with the money now.”
“Holy crap! Don’t let me stop you selling. I’ll do the same. That could pay for a week of existence in New York.” Dan joked.
“You need to sell. They’re all in your wallet, remember. Hold on. I’ll call.”
Dan speed chewed before answering.
“You already had a wallet for some reason, remember?” Jamie went straight in without a hello. “So we just did it all in your account.”
“Huh, I kind of remember.”
“You saved the wallet on a USB. You’ll need your password to get into it to sell.”
Dan strained to place himself back in their apartment.
“Wait, I’ve got it. It’s on my USB shaped like a hot dog, right?”
He’d been given it after placing last in a hot dog eating contest at their local bar. He’d used it to keep backups of his essays, job applications, and other important documents.
“Yes! That was it.”
“Cool, I’ve got it back at my apartment. I'll message you when I’ve dug it out.”
“Nice one, man. Look, I’ve got to go but let me know when you’ve got it. I’m going to be loaded this summer!”
August 31 2017
“Have you found it yet? The price just jumped. We’ve got $40k each now! We need to sell quick!”
In May, Dan had found the little plastic hot dog exactly where he expected. He’d plugged it in but quickly found he didn’t have the access he needed. After a few searches online he realized he was missing the long password of random numbers and letters.
Again, he’d returned to the night they’d bought the bitcoins. Half-eaten pizza in the box, empty beer cans congregating on the table, his little black book where he’d scribbled the characters.
The book wasn’t where he’d expected. It wasn’t anywhere.
He’d checked in with Jamie to let him know he was looking for the password. He’d received nudges over the past few months but Jamie had been fairly relaxed. The price was up and down a little, he’d said, but relatively stable. No rush to sell.
But when Dan saw the latest text a jolt shot through his spine.
“Jesus. I’m on it. I’ll have it, don’t worry.”
When he got home he tore the place apart.
Like the USB, he remembered the black book as a repository for important information; phone numbers, dates of parties, notes he’d tear out for Jamie.
Every draw had already been tipped out and refilled item by item. He’d pulled down each book and turned them over in the hope that one side would be different from the other.
Jamie’s messages were getting flustered.
“Don’t say that unless you actually have it. Is there any chance you threw the password out when you moved?”
“You were always forgetful. You took my laptop with you to class. Twice.”
“I know I have it. But I think there’s a chance it’s at my parent’s house with my college stuff. Call?”
Jamie’s name immediately showed on the phone. Dan answered the call and Jamie started before the phone had reached his ear.
“Can you get to your parents this weekend? I guess it doesn’t matter if flights are expensive if the trip is worth $40,000.”
“I can’t. I’ve got a work event I have to cover. And next weekend I’ve got a freelance job I picked up. Look, I’m going home for Thanksgiving and until then I’m not sure I can get away from the city, I’ve got stuff on here.”
“Stuff on! Cancel it, call in sick, quit your job. Thanksgiving is almost three months away but we need this password now. I need this money. I know I’ve been talking about post-grad options but you know what, I don’t want to study, I don’t want to work. I just want to hike and read and enjoy my life, and $40,000 will get me a whole lot of reading time.”
Dan clenched his jaw. He had to force each breath from his body.
“I need this money too! And I need it for actual life stuff, not just reading. I like it here but I can see it’s going to be hard to afford to stay here forever unless I win the lottery. But this could set me up.”
“Actual life stuff! Just because you want to live in a city doesn’t make your life choices more important than mine. And don’t get pissed with me, you’re the one with the password.”
After a short pause, Jamie took an audible breath and continued.
“Look, this isn’t helping. Why don’t I fly to your parents? Just let me know what I’m looking for and I’ll explain to them and see if I can get it before November.”
Dan was tense but appreciated Jamie had tried to navigate them out of an argument.
“I don’t know. My mom isn’t well and I don’t think they’d understand what we’re looking for. Can we just wait until I can make it there? We didn’t sell in May and look at what happened to the price. Just hold on a bit longer, I’m sure it will be fine.”
“OK. Whatever. I don’t know what else we can do.”
November 24 2017
“I’m home and I’m looking.” Dan messaged Jamie.
Contact had been sparse in the past few weeks. When they did text it was like they were checking the other was still there and sticking with the plan.
“Great. But when you find it let me know and don’t sell right away. The price keeps going up. I wonder if we should see how high it goes. I’ve seen it on the news. I reckon more people will keep buying. New Year, I think that’s the best time to sell. People will get distracted after that and lose interest.”
“Cool. Well let me find it first then we can make a call.”
Dan was pulling out boxes in the garage. Small piles of school and college textbooks were growing around him.
His dad appeared in the doorway.
“So I don’t understand why it doesn’t just let you reset your password.”
“It’s not like that, dad. It’s not a password I created, it’s a load of letters and numbers they give you.”
“And you wrote it down. I thought you told me I shouldn’t write passwords down.”
“You shouldn’t but this one you kind of have to. Are you sure you haven’t seen my black book? Even if you threw it out, I need to know. I can’t take much more of this. I don’t think I have it, I’m going to have to tell him.”
December 19 2017
“Have you emailed the wallet service?”
“Is there anyone online who can help?”
“Could you try to guess it?”
“Our coins are worth $190k. Each.”
For most of December Dan could feel acid creeping up to his throat.
Bitcoin was everywhere. News anchors were talking about it, colleagues asked if he was going to buy any and Jamie was frantically searching for any way to get hold of their money.
Dan had given up. He’d told Jamie to forget about it, to not look at the price. He told him they hadn’t lost over $100,000, they’d only lost the initial $5,000.
But it was impossible to not think about it. He’d pass houses and imagine making a down payment, he’d picture himself in a first-class seat in the jets flying above him, he saw a mirage of zeros in his bank account. It felt like part of his soul had left to jet around the world but the rest of him wasn’t invited.
February 7 2018
December brought a sense of dread that rose with the price of bitcoin. But in January it couldn’t go any higher. The price plummeted and Dan frequently found himself vomiting and sweating in bathrooms.
There were consecutive days when he didn’t hear from Jamie. The silence felt searing but it wasn’t any better when a flurry of messages came through at once. Dan didn’t have answers and he could tell Jamie was almost defeated.
Even the vibrations from his phone sounded exhausted.
It buzzed on the table.
“Could you have sent yourself the password in your college email account? I reckon our accounts still exist and I have your password to log in.”
“I only remember writing it down. And how do you have my old email password?”
“You wrote it in my notebook. You used to put loads of stuff in there.”
Dan stopped breathing. His fingers couldn’t move fast enough.
“What color is the book?”
“Black. It’s the little black book I always had out on the side.”
“It’s in there. The password. I thought the book was mine.”
“WHAT! You only told me you wrote it down. You didn’t say you were looking for a book.”
“Is it there?”
“I think I’ve got it.”
“What’s the price?”
“We’ve got $70k each.”
“Of course sell! You need to sell, it’s your account!”