The Plough’s garden was crowded with people enjoying the warm evening air. Mark spotted Duncan. As he sat down, he tossed a flash drive to his friend. “D’you use Outlook?”
Smooth catch, one-handed. “I do,” smiled Duncan. Turning the stick over, he eyed Adware’s logo printed on the side and laughed, “Thanks,” catching the irony too.
“You know I’m a pack rat. I save everything ...” Mark’s words, the pause laden with teasing innuendo.
“So there’s an email thread on there. Started just before I went to Greece, right after your first meeting with Max. There’s one email in particular, dated August 20th, 4:37… while I was in Greece ... I’m sure you’ll find it ...” Mark smiled, left his words hanging.
“C’mon! What’s it say?”
“It’s a long thread. The next person who replied trimmed it. So it only surfaced the one time, in the original message—August 20th, 4:37. I’m pretty sure he did not mean to hit Reply All.” Mark was enjoying teasing his friend.
“Who? What’d he say?” asked Duncan eagerly, leaning forward in his chair.
“Max,” said Mark, “He was replying to Thornton, our Finance Director. I’m just paraphrasing, but he said he’d just had a long call with someone at AMB ... can’t remember the name ... said he’d explained the model to them and was sure he could get a better deal than PaySense was offering. Asked him to draw up a term sheet.”
Duncan laughed. “You’re kidding? That’s gold dust.” Then his brow furrowed. “But how do I prove it’s not a fake? The email ...”
Mark’s face spread with a wicked grin. “Max signed it ... with his PGP key.”
“Why’d he do that?” asked Duncan.
Created in 1991, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) had become the de facto standard for digital signatures and encryption. But it took effort—you had to sign each email, could not just hit Send—so most people only used it if they needed to.
Mark shrugged. “It’s his latest obsession. Frankly, it’s annoying. He signs everything. It’s his way of making everyone in the office install it. Half the time, he even encrypts his emails—no PGP, no read.”
“So anyone can verify the signature and that the contents are unaltered?” asked Duncan.
“Any original recipient,” explained Mark, “which I was.”
“Mark, you just made my day.”
They toasted, downed their pints, and left The Plough, heading down Well End. The narrow lane, crooked, cobbled, empty, unlit, belonged in a country village, not a London suburb.
“So what about you?” asked Duncan tentatively, wondering if Mark had changed his mind about leaving his job.
“Like I said earlier ... I’m outta there. I’ve had it. Wheels are already in motion.”
Duncan shot Mark a quizzical look.
“You know I’ve been working on Dynamo ...”
“I had a feeling,” chuckled Duncan. “Is it ready?”
“v1.0,” said Mark with a grin. “Checked it in the morning before I left for Greece.”
“No kidding! That’s brilliant news!” blurted Duncan.
“Well it’s a little complicated. This evidence ... can you keep it under wraps for a while?”
Duncan nodded understanding. He had been trying to raise venture capital for his own startup for more than a year. “I don’t think I’ll need to produce it till later, anyway. Either way, I’ll let you know before anything happens.”
“And in the meantime, I’ll be going full guns with fundraising, hopefully sooner rather than later.” It was a sensitive subject, so he stopped there.
“I assume Susan knows?”
“Actually, no, not about any of it. Didn’t have the heart to tell her when we were in Greece. Then today, this shit, I haven’t been home yet, came straight to meet you.” Mark glanced at his watch, realizing he had forgotten to let Susan know he would be out late. Too late now. “Speaking of, I’d better go.”
He turned and started down the last short stretch to his house.
Duncan called after him, a whispered shout that echoed down the quiet suburban street, “Drinks later in the week?” He mimed ‘call me,’ adding “Otherwise, I’ll see you at John’s on Saturday!”
Mark nodded, waved goodbye and headed down the hill. The downstairs lights were on, Susan still up, probably waiting for him, dinner cold. He slowed to take a moment to collect his thoughts.
A call or a text to say he would be late would have been enough. He had not done either. So as soon as he opened the door, he led with an apology, a hug and a kiss. With a weary sigh, the weight of the world on his shoulders, a bit of melodrama to melt her frost, he filled her in. “I didn’t want to bring this up in Greece, but ...”
The duplicity of it pissed her off, though she was not crying over the stock options. She had seen enough start-ups to know that shares and options were paper thin until they became cash in the bank.
When he got to the part about meeting Rick, she jumped to her own conclusion, taking the conversation with her. She was happy Mark was looking for a new job, excited for him, confident Rick would find him a better position, better pay, better people, better prospects, a real career move.
It was not any one thing, but after 20 years of marriage Mark knew that this was not the time to bring up Dynamo. Besides, it was late, a school night. Time for bed.