Tyler walked into my office carrying a cup of coffee and a bagel. "Hey Mitch, what are you on today," he asked, as he sat down in a chair on the other side of my desk. He put his feet up on the corner, his brown wingtips knocking over a framed drawing my six-year-old gave me. "Best Dad Ever". It was a crayon drawing of me in a superman suit, slaying a monster.
"Dammit, Tyler! Get your feet down," I yelled at him, as I picked up the drawing and checked for damages. The glass was still intact.
"Jim has me investigating unusual trading activity in a micro-cap biotech stock," I said. "Looks like naked shorting again. I've got a meeting with a hedge fund manager at 1:00. Wish me luck."
"God, how do you always get the best assignments?" Tyler sighed, "I'm writing a really boring retrospective about deflation in the post cold war polyester market."
"Oof. Well, it's sad that you think mine is the best assignment," I replied. "When you started studying journalism, didn't you think you'd be covering troops on the front lines, interviewing Fidel Castro, maybe doing an expose on a drug cartel kingpin?" I asked. "I mean, don't get me wrong, The Wall Street Journal is a great gig, I'm not complaining. I just thought things would be different."
Tyler nodded his head in agreement and then took a sip of his coffee and a bite of his bagel. "Shouldn't have minored in Finance, I guess," he chuckled with his mouth full. At that time, Chuy Martinez from the mailroom came in with the day's deliveries.
"Thanks Chuy," I said, as he handed me a stack of manila envelopes. Chuy was from Brookline, MA, and was wearing a Boston Celtics jersey. He got this job in the mailroom at the Journal part-time, while finishing his bachelor's degree at NYU. It was game night, and Boston was playing the Knicks at Madison Square garden at 7pm.
"Good lord, Chuy. You've got some stones wearing that in here. You guys are gonna get crushed tonight," I razzed him.
"Oh yeah, we'll see about that Mr. Goldberg," Chuy pushed back. "You guys ain't been nothin' since Ewing was traded to the Supersonics."
"Okay, okay. True, but I'm not a front runner. I'm a Knickerbocker through and through. I bleeeed blue," I joked and smiled. "And it's not Mr. Goldberg, it's Mitch," I said, pointing at him. "Look, I'll see you at the game tonight -- but do yourself a favor and put on a different shirt!"
"Alright, Mr. Goldberg," Chuy said as he walked out of the office.
I started flipping through the mail as Tyler picked up a copy of the New York Times and kept drinking his coffee. There were some opinion articles, research requests, and a rejected expense report from accounting. Forgot to attach a receipt. Then I got to a large, beaten up manila envelope. It was mailed from Chicago and post-marked March 17, 2007. There was no return address. Bizarre. It was December 2010, and this thing took almost four years to get to me.
"Hey Ty, check this out," I said. Tyler set the New York Times down and took the envelope with both hands. "God, that's odd. Look," he said pointing at the stamps. "They are upside down."
"A sign of distress," I said.
"Yeah," Tyler said. "Open it."
"With my luck, it's going to be a bomb or anthrax. Been nice working with you, Ty," I joked as I reached for the scissors. The envelope was partially sealed and had been taped over by the post office. I used the scissors to cut the tape. No bomb, no white powder, just a hand-typed manuscript.
I pulled it out and showed Tyler.
The Oath of Dr. Issa Oakmont: a Manifesto
Tyler grabbed it from me and read the title out loud, "The Oath of Dr. Issa Oakmont...a Manifesto. Who actually calls their own manuscript a Manifesto?" he asked.
"I...don't...know, the Unabomber maybe," I replied. "Well, this is going to be more interesting than post cold war polyester. Should we show Jim?"
"No Way! He'd just give it to Phillips," Tyler replied. "Let's check it out."
There was a letter attached to the manifesto, and it was written directly to me:
Mr. Mitchel Goldberg:
For reasons that I shall make clear in the pages that follow, I have set out to revolutionize the way in which the world considers currency. The fiat currencies, for which we pay dearly, will soon be a relic of a bygone era.
No more shall we submit to the ruthless tactics of world banks. No more shall we pay interest and fees to use our own money.
No more shall we submit fees to middle-man operators to transact between two willing parties.
I submit this Oath to you, Mr. Goldberg. I solemnly swear, I shall create this currency and unleash it on the world. Because of the disruption to the current world order, I shall be hated. I shall be an outlaw. I shall be a martyr for my cause. This is the cross that I must bear.
My only request is that you publish this manifesto in its unedited form so that the world may know my true intentions and pursue the reform that I seek.
Dr. Issa Oakmont
I set the manifesto back down on my desk and looked at Tyler. "This sounds like Bitcoin, Ty," I said.
"Yeah, it does, but there's other crypto currencies now. Besides, the guy who created Bitcoin wasn't named Oakmont. It was a Japanese guy...I can't recall his name just now," said Tyler.
"Satoshi Nakamoto," I said. "But he's supposedly not real. There's a belief that it's actually a group of people." I sat back in my chair, which made a creaking sound as I leaned back and held my hands in front of me, thinking about the manifesto.
"Maybe we should google Dr. Issa Oakmont, see what comes up," Tyler suggested. He took a sip of his coffee and stood up. He reached over and threw the rest of his bagel in my trash can.
"Seriously, Ty?" I asked. "Use the kitchen trash can. This is just going to attract bugs, and I don't know if the cleaning staff is coming tonight. You're kind of a mess."
"Sorry, Mitch. I am what I am," said Tyler.
"Okay, look. I'm curious about this Oakmont guy, but I don't have time to research right now. I need to get ready for my 1:00. Why don't you have Lisa Dabrowski in Research do some digging, see what she finds," I suggested.
"Okay, will do Mitch," Tyler responded. "By the way, I'm not going to the game tonight. Sarah’s parents are coming over for dinner. So, I'll catch up with you in the morning."
Tyler turned to walk away. "Hey, Ty. Take the trash dude," I said. Tyler turned and smiled, stopped at the trash can and removed the bag before leaving my office.
The meeting with the hedge fund manager went pretty much the way I was expecting. Naked shorting is illegal. Proving it is almost impossible, and these guys are never going to admit to it. I still needed to turn in an article, but I hit a dead end here.
It was 4:00 pm, and I was beat. I thought I'd get a beer before heading off to the game. The hedge fund was three blocks from McSorley's on 7th street. I walked down there and ponied up to the bar.
McSorley's is one of the oldest bars in the city. There's sawdust on the floors and they never dust behind the bar. There's a hundred years worth of cobwebs, ghosts, and memories. My kind of place.
I sipped on a dark pint and pulled out the Oakmont manifesto. It was filled with pages of drawings and descriptions of how the alternative currency would work. Oakmont went on for several pages about monetary policy and how the Federal Reserve is running a racket on the middle class. A great deal of it I understood, some of it was too abstract. Some of it was true, most of it strained my credulity.
I understood how in some way our system was like a house of cards. The Federal Reserve was responsible for maintaining the amount of money in circulation. There was supposed to be actual currency for every dollar represented in a savings account, checking account, mortgage, car loan. Pension. But was there?
I thought about how I paid for my pint. I used my debit card. My bank transferred the money from my account to McSorley's account. I thought about the fees they would charge for it -- how stupid it would be if we used the same bank. I thought about It's a Wonderful Life, and how George Bailey explained that he could not give everybody their money when they wanted to close their accounts. Their money was loaned out. One missing deposit nearly ruined him.
I understood the attraction of the world Oakmont sought to create. But I did not trust his vision. How would it be any different? Just like Bitcoin, it would only be an illusion -- something that has value because we have decided it has value. And how is that any different than our paper money? Those thoughts chilled me to the bone. I finished my pint. It was 5:30 PM, and I decided it was time to head to the Garden for the game. I tightened my overcoat, tied my scarf, and stepped outside. I walked to 3rd Avenue and hailed a cab.
The Garden was packed to the gills, even though it was a Wednesday. Chuy was right. The Knicks had not been very exciting for years, but the season was off to a great start. Heading into this game with Boston, we were 16-9 and on an 8-game winning streak.
I loved the Knicks. I came out because my wife was in upstate New York with the kids, visiting her sister. I had too many deadlines at the paper to join them.
I settled into the Wall Street Journal luxury suite. This was one of the benefits of working for the paper. I grabbed a beer and saw Chuy sitting at the edge of the suite. I couldn't believe it; he was still wearing that Celtics jersey. I walked over to him.
"Chuy, Chuy, Chuy. You'll be lucky to get out of here in one piece. I told you to change that thing. Knicks fans are like wild beasts, son," I said to him.
"I know, Mr. Goldberg, but I don't change for anybody or anything. I do what's right for me," Chuy said with a smile.
I sat down next to him and opened a beer. "Well, I gotta respect that, my man," I said. "Cheers!" I lifted my bottle of beer and took a sip. The Rolling Rock was not nearly as good as the pint I had at McSorley's, but it would do for now.
The basketball was great. Stoudemire, Chandler, and Felton were a well-oiled machine, and they weren't making it easy for the Celtics, but Boston's Pierce was a force. Chuy and I spent the first three quarters chatting, snacking, drinking beer, and cheering and jeering at opposite times.
"You ready?" I asked Chuy, holding up a Rolling Rock.
"Yeah, beer me, Mr. Goldberg," he said.
"Come on, seriously, Chuy, call me Mitch."
"Right on, Mitch," he replied.
We opened our beers and looked out at the game. The fourth quarter was underway, and the Knicks were leading.
"Hey Chuy," I said. "What was it like growing up in Brookline?"
"Oh, Brookline is a great place. I miss it," he replied. "But I didn't grow up there. My parents moved after I graduated high school."
"Oh, I didn't know that," I said. "What do you miss about it?"
"Oh, it's just so steeped in history, you know? Beautiful buildings and parks. I'm a bit of a history buff. You know, it was the birthplace of JFK," he said.
"Really? I don't know that much about JFK," I said. "You got a girl back home?"
"Nah, no girl. Not in Brookline," he said. "I was going with a girl in high school, but she went off to Chicago for art school, and I moved to Brookline with my folks. I visited her once, but that was a long time ago."
"Got it. Well, lots of fish out there, my friend. Whoa!! Look at that! Hahaha! You guys are going down now," I cheered. Stoudemire had just dunked to widen the lead by 4. The score was 111-107, and the Knicks looked like they may take this one.
"Hey, plenty of time on the clock, Mitch," Chuy said.
He was right. There was still almost 3 minutes left.
"Yeah, we'll see Chuy. I think we got you guys this time," I said. "So, tell me more about your hometown-- where you went to High School."
"Yeah, Westminster. It's a tiny little place in Worcester County. There's not a lot going on there," Chuy said.
"How did your family end up there?" I asked.
Chuy said his dad was the Director of IT for Aubuchon Hardware's distribution center there, and that was how he got interested in computers.
"So, you're a computer guy. You know anything about Blockchain, Chuy," I asked.
Chuy nodded. "I'm interested in it. If a guy could figure out how to quickly mine a lot of coins, he could make a lot of money," Chuy said with enthusiasm.
"Got it," I said. "So, how'd you get the name Chuy, anyway?"
"Oh, my parents are HUUUGE Star Wars fans," Chuy said, and then laughed. "Nah man. My real name is Jesus. In Spanish, it's common to call people with my name, Chuy. It's like Richard and Dick, or Charles and Chuck."
"Huh. Learn something new...", I started to say.
"Whoa!!! Hahahahaha! Mitch, you guys are going down now!" Chuy yelled, jumping from his seat and spilling his beer.
Boston's Pierce had just nailed a 2 point jumper with only 0.4 seconds left on the clock, giving Boston a 2 point lead. The score was now 118-116, and the Knicks had just one possession left...and a prayer.
After a brief timeout, Landry inbounded the ball to Stoudemire just below mid-court, high in the 3-point range. He didn't hesitate and put the ball up as the buzzer went off. The high arc of the ball was insane. Swish, it went right through the hoop. It was deafening as The Garden exploded in cheers. Strangers were hugging each other. People were crying. The whole Knicks bench came rushing onto the court, jumping on each other and screaming. I was elated. Chuy was pissed.
Suddenly, there was a lot of commotion. The officials were questioning the shot. Then, we heard the dreaded announcement. The shot was after the buzzer and did not count. The Celtics had beaten our 8 game winning streak. We were heart-broken.
More than heart-broken, I was also in a bit of trouble, having bet money on this game. I owed $50 large to a bookie from Staten Island: Kenny the Chiropractor -- paying him would keep me from needing one.
Chuy and I finished our beers and said our goodnights. I told him to be careful on the way out wearing that jersey. Fans were angry. I walked out in the cold December air and hailed a cab. It was a long ride back to my empty brownstone on the Upper East Side.
I was back in my office the next morning, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the Oakmont manifesto again when the phone rang. I answered.
"Goldberg," I said.
"Hey, Mitch, it's Lisa Dabrowski, from Research," said the voice on the other end.
Lisa was the highest educated person working at the Journal. She had a PhD in Linguistics and Masters in World History.
"Oh, Hi Lisa, how are you doing?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm good, Mitch. How are you?" she asked.
"Mmm, been better," I said as I took a sip of coffee. "Wish the Knicks could have pulled it off last night, but...what are you going to do. So what you got for me? Any luck with Issa Oakmont?" I asked.
"Yeah, no, not really. I can't find a trace of a Dr. Issa Oakmont. There are a lot of doctors with the last name Issa, but it isn't a common first name. I cannot find any record of Oakmont being a last name. That said..." she continued as a mailroom worker came into my office.
"Hold on Lisa," I said, and covered the phone with my hand.
"Hey, where's Chuy today?" I asked the mailroom worker.
"Didn't show up," the worker said.
"Huh. Okay, thanks," I replied.
"Hey Lisa, can I give you a call back? I need to check in on a friend," I said.
"Sure, Mitch. No worries," she said and hung up the phone.
I was worried that Chuy may have been jumped wearing that Celtics jersey last night. I did not have his phone number, so I set off to HR. They were on the next floor up, and I decided to take the stairs.
When I found myself at HR, I knew it was going to be a battle. Marsha Collins was working the front desk, and she was a formidable gate keeper. A real stickler for policy, she was not particularly fond of me. I poked fun at her monthly Safety meetings five years ago at the company holiday party, and she had never forgotten it.
"Hey Marsha, how are you doing today?" I asked.
"Mitchel. What can I do for you?" she replied, deadpan. No smile.
"Well, Chuy Martinez, in the mailroom-- We were at the game together last night, and he didn't show up for work today. I was hoping I could get his phone number so I could check in on him," I explained.
"Oh, hmmm, sorry Mitchel. We have policy about not sharing personal information. I can't give you his number," Marsha said with a glad look in her eye. She sat back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest.
"Come on Marsha. Look, I know you're still upset..." I said.
"I have no idea what you are talking about," she said, glibly. "It's P-O-L-I-C-Y, policy."
"Oh come on. Look, this kid could be in trouble. He was wearing a Celtics jersey, and..."
"Mitchel, I don't care if he was wearing a Kimono, you're not getting his phone number. Now please, I have work I need to do," she said and waved me away.
I left the office and called Tyler. I explained the situation. Tyler understood Knicks fans, and he knew that Chuy could be in trouble. He agreed to help me get Chuy's file out of HR. There was remodeling going on in the office next to Marsha's. I had a plan.
Tyler burst into the HR office.
"Marsha!" he said with intensity.
Marsha leapt to her feet.
"Tyler, what is it?" she questioned.
Tyler put both of his hands on Marsha's desk and leaned forward. In a loud whisper he said, "I was walking by the office next door, where they are painting, and I saw one of the maintenance workers on the highest rung of the ladder, straining to reach a corner. It doesn't look right."
"Well! That will not stand," she exclaimed. She grabbed a clipboard and a red Sharpie and marched out of the office with Tyler in tow.
I had been hiding behind a wall in the hallway. I glanced around the corner. Tyler looked over his shoulder and gave me a thumbs up. I quickly darted into Marsha's office and began scrambling for the key to the filing cabinets. I found it in the pull out drawer under her computer. I was running out of time.
Through the walls, I could hear Marsha berating the maintenance worker.
"It says in Paragraph 3 of page 32 of the Employee Handbook...that you must obey all safety policies..."
Ty told me later that the poor man just looked on in shock, occasionally fighting to get a word in edgewise. He ended up getting written up for violating company safety policy.
I found the cabinet that had Chuy's file and ran out of the office. I was already in the stairway on my way back down to my floor when I realized I left the key in the cabinet. It was too late. I would have to deal with Marsha soon.
I was back in my office. I knew it would be mere minutes before Marsha came down here to confront me about the file. I found Chuy's cell phone number from his application and called him. His phone was either turned off, or his battery was dead, because it clicked over to voicemail right away. The mailbox was full.
I called Lisa back.
"Hey, Lisa. Sorry about that. There's was something I had to do," I explained.
I was looking at Chuy's file when Lisa continued what she was trying to explain earlier.
"What I was starting to say, Mitch," she continued. "is that Oakmont is not a last name, but it is a very common geographical name. You'll find streets, buildings, golf courses with this name. It's quite ubiquitous."
Just then, I found Chuy's resume.
"Yeah, would you look at that," I said. "Chuy graduated from Oakmont Regional High School. What a coincidence."
"Chuy? Who is Chuy, Mitch?" Lisa asked.
"A friend from the mailroom," I replied.
"Mitch, Chuy is a nickname for Jesus, and.." Lisa started to say before I cut her off.
Marsha had entered our offices and was looking for me. Thankfully, Tyler caught her before she could make it to my side of the room.
"Lisa. Shit. Lisa-- meet me in the lobby right now. Hurry!" I cried and slammed the phone. I grabbed Chuy's file and the manifesto and ran out of my office, trying to avoid Marsha. It was impossible. I was halfway to the elevator when I heard her scream.
"Stop! Mitchel Goldberg. Stop!"
But I didn't stop. I made it to the elevator and pressed the button for the lobby. The doors were closing as Marsha came running towards me, her eyebrows slanted and nostrils flaring. I was on the fifth floor, and I knew I would barely beat her to the lobby.
The doors opened, and I saw Lisa standing by a potted plant near the drinking fountain. I ran toward her telling her we didn't have much time. We headed for the front doors.
As we approached the front doors, I saw Kenny the Chiropractor enter the rotating door. He had come to collect.
"Shit. Dammit. Lisa we can't go this way," I exclaimed.
We turned around and headed for the back door, when Marsha came busting through the stairway doors.
"Mr. Goldberg. You need to STOP!" she yelled.
Building security looked over at us. Lisa grabbed my hand and said, "Come on, I know another way."
We ran through a side corridor to an emergency exit. The alarm went off as we pushed through and spilled onto W 47th street. We picked ourselves up and grabbed a Yellow Cab.
Out of breath and dazed, we felt safe in the cab.
Lisa said, "I was trying to tell you that Chuy is a nickname for Jesus."
"Yeah, I know. Chuy told me that last night. It's very common, I guess," I said.
"No, you don't understand," Lisa said emphatically. "Issa is a name in Arabic that means Jesus. Jesus Martinez, graduating from Oakmont Regional High School...?"
I was shocked. "He's also the one who delivered the manifesto to me," I said. "Do you think he wrote it?"
"The odds of another explanation are extremely slim," she explained.
The cab stopped in front of Chuy's apartment building on Avenue B and 10th Street. We got out and rang the bell for his place. His roommate answered.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"Hey, it's Mitchel Goldberg," I said. "I work with Chuy."
"Oh, yeah. Chuy's not here," the roommate said.
"Where is he? He didn't come to work this morning," I said. "I'm worried about him."
"He's fine. He said not to worry. But he doesn't live here anymore," the roommate said. "He left a package for you. I'll meet you down there. Hold on."
The roommate handed me a box and a card from Chuy. The card read:
Mitch. I'm sorry I had to skip town without saying goodbye. I'm not really a student at NYU, and I will not be found again. The truth is, I am the creator of Bitcoin. The manifesto, which I'm guessing you already know, was written by me. I created Bitcoin after my father lost his job in Westminster, and the bank foreclosed on our family home. I needed a way to survive in this world without having to submit to the banks and the US Dollar. I took the job at the Journal so that I could get close to you. I trust you to handle the manifesto. I did write that in 2007, but I never mailed it. I had my girlfriend in Chicago send me some canceled stamps, and I used them on the old envelope, hoping to throw you off the trail.
I leave you with this parting gift. In the box, you will find a keycode protected hard drive containing nearly 2 million bitcoins. I will not tell you the passcode, but you have all you need to figure it out. It's 15 characters. Good luck- your friend, Chuy.
P.S. - I am sorry about the game last night. Knicks do look good this year.
I looked at Lisa dumbfounded. "Wow, 2 million Bitcoins. It's trading at 23 cents per coin right now," I said.
"That's nearly $500k dollars!" Lisa cried.
"Help me crack the code, Lisa. Do that, and I'll give you half the coins," I said. She nodded in agreement.
We walked across the street to a corner computer cafe to start brainstorming ideas for the codes. We rented a computer and plugged in the hard drive.
"Mitch, in the letter, Chuy said 'you have all of the information you need to figure it out'," Lisa explained. "Do you think there's a message in the card?"
"Yeah, maybe," I said. "Look. He underlined Chicago and Bitcoins. Those represent two things he loved, and together they are 15 characters."
Lisa agreed that it was a good possibility and worth a try.
I typed in the passcode...it failed. Worse yet, the computer told me I had only 3 more attempts and then the hard drive would encrypt itself.
"Wait, Mitch. BITCOINSCHICAGO," she said, "That could be it?"
"Yeah, let's try it."
Failed. We had 2 more attempts until the $5o0k was lost forever, and I would have to take out a second mortgage to pay off Kenny the Chiropractor.
"What about Oakmont Manifesto?" I suggested.
"No, that's 16 characters," she said in a disappointed tone. "Hmmm. Maybe it is something from the manifesto, though. Can I see it?
I handed her the manifesto and she started to pore over the letter that "Dr. Issa" had written to me.
She said, "Mitch. The words Oath, Issa, and Oakmont are exactly 15 characters when put together. I think that is the passcode, and likely in that order."
"Okay, but we only have 2 attempts left, Lisa. What if you're wrong?" I said.
"Well, we aren't going to get anywhere by not trying it. It makes sense," she said.
I tried it. My hands were shaking as I slowly pecked each letter, making sure I my fat fingers wouldn't cost us $500k. I looked at Lisa and took a deep breath. She said a prayer. I hit [ENTER].
Fail. 1 attempt left.
I was deflated. It seemed we were never going to unlock the hard drive.
"God dammit, Lisa," I cried and sighed heavily. "This is really fucked up. I can't believe a 17 year old kid from a tiny town in Massachusetts is Satoshi Nakamoto."
"Who?" Lisa asked.
"Satoshi Nakamoto. He's the creator of Bitcoin. Nobody thought he was a real pers..."
"Hold on Mitch. Hand me that paper and pencil," Lisa said, while motioning to a pad of paper next to me.
I did as she asked, and Lisa went to work.
She had written 'Satoshi Nakamoto' on the paper and stared at it for minutes.
"What is it, Lisa?" I asked.
"Shhh. Hold on. I'm thinking," she said.
I waited patiently, staring at the computer and hearing the sounds of the East Village. It was nearing 11am, and traffic was buzzing. Horns were honking. I didn't understand how Lisa could concentrate under these conditions.
Suddenly, she looked up, and showed me the note pad. Alongside 'Satoshi Nakamoto', she had written 'OathIssaOakmont'. They were both 15 characters.
She smiled brightly and had a glimmer in her eye. "This is it, Mitch," she said, sounding victorious.
"What do you mean?" I asked. "What have you figured out there?"
"Satoshi Nakamoto is an anagram of Oath Issa Oakmont," she explained. "When I rearrange the letters, it spells Satoshi Nakamoto, the founder of Bitcoin." She laughed. She was giddy.
"So, Satoshi Nakamoto is the passcode!" I cried.
Lisa nodded, and I typed it into the computer. I hit enter and looked over at Lisa as tears came streaming down her cheeks, and she smiled from ear to ear.
I picked up my cell phone and called Kenny the Chiropractor.
"Kenny. I've got your money," I said. "Meet me at Grand Central tomorrow morning at 9am."