Write a scene that begins with: “I haven’t told anyone this before, But I’m going to tell you now.” – Prompt 12 of the #FreeWriteChallenge
“I haven’t told anyone this before, but I’m going to tell you now.” The well dressed man in the easy chair leaned back. He tented his fingertips and held them under his chin. “I hope you’re paying attention.”
Steven Smithson’s eyelid twitched. He felt it. This wasn’t the first time he’d heard that disclaimer, and he was getting pretty tired of small confessions.
“I haven’t told anyone this before … during my first job at Chuck E Cheese, we used to have sex in the ball pit.”
“I haven’t told anyone this before … I smoked a cigarette outside of a laundromat when I was twelve.”
“I haven’t told anyone this before … I like to go to sports bars and drink strawberry daiquiris and smoke thin cherry flavored cigars on the weekends.”
JW Wilson was not the most interesting man, Smithson had discovered. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting when he’d been asked to ghost write Wilson’s autobiography, but he had been hoping for some kind of dirt – something to hook readers.
Wilson had made his fortune in computers. Not creating them, but manufacturing a small part that no computer could be made without. It was lucrative. And boring. Smithson had no idea how he was going to spice this up.
Not that autobiographies needed to be spicy, but there was a bonus in the contract if the book hit the top 10 on The New York Times Best Seller List.
Smithson checked the small recorder. The reels were spinning, recording minutiae of Wilson’s trade deals with Intel back in the early 1990s. Now it would be recording another goofy confession.
He probably cheated on a test in elementary school, Smithson thought. It felt uncharitable, this thought did, like so many others he’d had during their months of interviews, but Smithson would be damned if it weren’t accurate.
“You signed the NDA, correct?” Wilson asked.
This was new. Smithson sat up in his seat. They were coming to the end of the scheduled interviews. If anything juicy was going to come out, now would be the time.
“I did.” The non-disclosure agreement had been 74 pages long. Wilson would have final edit on what information would go into the book, supposedly to prevent trade secrets from emerging. Smithson’s theory being Wilson didn’t want people to know how boring he really was. The man had been cultivating mystique into his back story for years, and only Smithson knew how much it had been exaggerated.
“No one knows about this, not any of my lawyers, not my wife or children, no one.”
Smithson sat up even straighter in his chair, if possible. The twitching eyelid was gone. Now he felt breathless with anticipation.
Wilson sat in an easy chair next to a fireplace that crackled. Snowflakes gently bounced into the window as a small flurry blew through the area. He wore khaki colored pants and a blue cashmere sweater. His greying hair appeared freshly styled. Holiday music played softly in the background.
Smithson couldn’t imagine a more tranquil setting for a confession if he’d had a month to consider the topic. He wore jeans and a blue sweater, though his was wool instead of cashmere. His brown hair was tousled from his habit of running his fingers through.
During these interviews, Smithson had realized this house in the country was the exact kind he would like to have someday. He only hoped he didn’t have to have the personality of a wet dish towel to earn it.
“You enjoy puzzles, yes?” Wilson asked.
“At times. I enjoy answering questions, if that’s what you mean.” Curiosity was going to drive Smithson mad. Did the man have to meander his way to – and through – every story?
“How does a man who knew nothing about computers invent the one part needed to make computing available for every man, woman, and child?”
Smithson’s mind went blank.
He had spent months with JW Wilson. He knew every bit of back story the man could share. Before he had started this project Smithson had also researched Wilson like the man was going to run for president, as was Smithson’s habit. This was his third biography and he’d found a tried and true method. A person shouldn’t trust someone who was actively looking for publicity.
Smithson had hired a private investigator to do deep background and nothing had been found. He’d done his own research into public and private archives and found nothing of interest.
After dozens of interviews, Smithson had no inkling how to answer Wilson’s question. The fact that Wilson knew nothing about computing when he first began his company hadn’t stuck out to Smithson in the least and now Smithson began wondering if he was a moron.
“Have you ever seen Forest Gump? The movie with Tom Hanks?”
“I’d have to have lived under a rock not to have. I prefer Castaway.”
“WILSON!” JW Wilson shouted. He chuckled when Smithson flinched. “Of course that’s my favorite line in that movie.”
Smithson chuckled along as he knew was expected.
“His friend Bubba, knew everything there was to know about shrimp. It’s like he could see his future with his shrimp boat plans.”
Smithson nodded. “Indeed. Forest used that knowledge in his friend’s honor.”
“Yes. When I was a teenager, I knew a boy named Harvey. He wasn’t like the rest of the kids we knew. His brain worked … differently. He saw everything in a way he found difficult to explain. When we were not even teenagers yet, he’d already become what he called a phone phreak.”
“Phone phreak?” Smothson was unfamiliar with this term.
“They’re the grandparents, maybe great-grandparents, of today’s hackers. They could use tones or devices to get free long distance calls, get into systems before security became a thing.”
“Interesting.” Smithson jotted a note on the pad next to him to research “phone phreaks”.
“If you want to do cheap research, watch War Games. It’s old as dirt but still appropriate for today. Hell, I think that movie is older than you are!” Wilson slapped his thigh with apparently elder glee.
“I’ll do that,” Smithson acknowledged. He ignored the dig about his age. “Are you still friends with Harvey?”
Wilson sighed heavily. “This is where the confession comes in. When we were fourteen years old, we stole some beer from his dad’s garage. We also stole my dad’s car. I was driving. Neither of us knew how, but I had driven a tractor before, and we thought it was the same thing.
“Cars … tend to pick up speed much quicker than tractors. They also corner differently.”
“What happened?” Smithson asked, his mind already leading the way.
“We took a curve too fast. I was a little drunk. The car flipped. Harvey was tossed free, he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. He broke his neck. Died instantly.”
“Oh my god,” Smithson whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, me too. I spent four years in juvenile hall on a manslaughter charge.”
Wilson nodded. “Shocking, I know. I thought four years was light. Still do.”
Smithson shook his head. “There’s no record of this, not even a sealed juvie one. Professionals looked into it.”
Wilson nodded. “Oh, I know. I’m not going to tell you how I buried that information. If you’re as good as you say you are, you’ll figure it out before the first draft is finished.”
“You want me to include this in the book? This is going to hit like … like … I don’t even know.”
Wilson chucked once more. “It’s time someone knew. The reason I put a majority portion of my fortune toward cultivating technical knowledge in youths, the reason my net worth is less than half of what’s expected, is because I have been giving Harvey’s family 75%. The entire company is based on a drawing Harvey created when he was twelve.”
“Harvey probably would have been the next Job, Gates, or Woz, but I killed him. Accidentally, but still. The past fifty years have been my making the best amends that I could. Even with that large percentage going to his family and charitable foundations, I still have more money than I can spend in a lifetime. It doesn’t feel right. If he hadn’t died, I can’t imagine what he would have invented that we’d be using today.” A tear slid down the elder man’s cheek.
Smithson shook his head. He’d been hoping for a bombshell. His wish had been granted.
The world’s second largest parts manufacturer for computers had been built on the drawing of a dead teenager.
Wilson rose from his chair. “I trust you can see yourself out? I have a Christmas party beginning in an hour and I must prepare.”
“You’re going to drop information like that and then go on to a Christmas party?”
“I assure you, this is actually old news. I’ve been living with it for decades. That it feels fresh to you, that you are this surprised by the origin of my company, isn’t surprising. You’re welcome to stay for the party.”
“Thank you, sir, but no. I believe I had better get to work on that deeper digging you mentioned.”
“Yes, you should. And, just so you know, this isn’t the only confession. I’ll see you in two weeks for our next session.”