“Pass the ketchup,” he says, pointing at the glass bottle next to the salt.
She passes the ketchup.
“Now, I know what you’re thinking.” He tips the bottle upside down and slams his palm against the bottom. Smack smack. “I’m not who you were expecting.” Smack smack. “Don’t worry. No one’s ever expecting me.” With one last smack, ketchup burbles out of the bottle onto the mountain of fries on his plate. “It’s the fancy clothes, isn’t it? People always expect me to look like a low life.”
She watches him shove fries into his mouth, lick ketchup and grease from his fingers. But she doesn’t say anything. Not yet.
“Anyway, it doesn’t matter who you thought I’d be. What matters is who I am. And who I am,” he licks his fingers again, points one at her, “is the guy that can get you what you need.”
He isn’t the guy that can get her what she needs.
He’s the guy that matters just enough to get her in the door, but not enough to get her personally noticed. She lets him talk.
“Scotty vouched for you, so that’s one thing. But you gotta know it’s only good business for me to check you out myself.” The fries are almost gone. He picks one up and smears it across the plate, collecting ketchup remnants. He doesn’t finish chewing before he speaks again. “You look alright to me. Better than alright, you know what I mean.” He lifts an eyebrow at her. She doesn’t vomit. “So all that’s left is you telling me what you need, and me telling you how much I keep.”
“This,” she says, sliding a piece of paper across the table to him, “is what I need.” She slides another across before he can read the first. “And this is what you keep.”
He lifts both papers and stares at them. “Lady, you got some balls on you.” He lifts his eyes from the papers, locks onto hers. “You’re gonna get some attention with this.”
Attention is what she wants. Not for her, but for her project.
She says nothing.
He folds the papers up, one inside the other, and puts them in his pocket.
She stands to leave, he watches her go.
In the parking lot, she gets into an unassuming white Camry and pulls out her phone. It rings before she can place the call and she hits the green button.
“Sato,” says the voice on the other end, “I don’t know how you did it, but word is already out. That guy must have texted someone as soon as you turned your back.”
“Good.” Sato presses start, and the Camry comes to life. “Getting the right attention now is crucial.”
“You on your way back?”
She puts the phone down, switches on her bluetooth. “Am now. See you in twenty.”
She takes the backroads home, checking the rearview occasionally. Things aren’t interesting enough yet to catch a tail, but she checks anyway. Better to start the habit now, before it’s truly necessary.
Twenty minutes later she pulls up to a cut-rate storage unit tucked behind a grocery store and a chainlink fence. She kills the headlights and sits a moment, making sure all is clear. When she’s sure, she gets out and enters the unit through the side door, stepping into darkness.
Closing and locking the door behind her, she reaches forward and pulls the black curtain aside, revealing the bright workshop within.
Tables line the walls, each with its own set of monitors and glowing CPUs. Jess is at one table, typing furiously, though Sato knows she’s only gaming.
Their real work will come later. Once the word is out.
At another table, this one in the middle of the workshop, sits Cally. They’re finishing a microwaved burrito as Sato joins them.
“So, that went well, eh?” Cally gulps down half a bottle of water.
Sato nods. “Since you heard before I even got in my car, I’d say yes.”
Cally bites their lip. “Listen, Sato…” they look away, and Sato knows what’s coming. “I’ve been thinking—“
“Open source, Cally. I’m not budging on that.”
Cally sighs. “Come on Sato. We could make a fortune.”
Sato aims her dark eyes at Cally. “Like the banks made a fortune off us? That’s the whole point of this, Cal. We made our cryptography money already, and where did that get us?”
Cally looks away. “Bankrupt.”
“But can’t we make our fortune and then just… not put it in the bank?” Cally shrugs, trying to look innocent no doubt.
Sato stands. “I’m not having this conversation again. We’ll make enough money this way. We can mine the coin, but blockchain stays open source.”
“Alright. I had to try.”
They smile, and of course Sato can’t stay mad.
“Hey you two, come look at this!” Jess waves them over and they run to her.
“What are we looking at?” Sato scans the screen, but all she can make out is a grainy building and maybe a car.
“That guy you met with tonight. He’s already making moves.”
Sato allows herself one small smile.
A week later, everything has fallen into place. The moves they made at the end of last year are all paying off. All the work, the dry runs, the countless hours of debugging. It will all be worth it if this goes off the way she thinks it will.
Last year, when she and Cally lost everything, when so many people lost so much in the recession, she promised herself it would never happened again. And then she decided to make sure it couldn’t. The night they learned they’d lost it all was the night blockchain was born. It was the night Sato and Cally birthed the idea that brought them here, to the brink of bitcoin.
“Are you ready?” Cally asks, pulling the computer chair out and offering it to her.
She sits. “The world is ready, Cal.”
She opens the page ready to launch the network. Before she can, her phone pings. A news app notification. The headline reads “Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”
A smile quirks at the edges of her lips as she types the line in and hits ‘enter.’