The moment had come for Mason Smith. The tens of thousands of hours of practice, the pain, the blisters on his thumbs, had all paid off. Everyone was going to know his name. His bank account was going to have a second comma and his mom was finally going to have that house overlooking the ruins of the Rose Bowl she always wanted.
An email from Justin Holland.
Mason thought he recognized the name, but wasn’t exactly sure why until he got deeper into the conversation with Justin.
Justin was the creator of a long-dead social networking site called PlatForm that tried to bridge the gaps between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Vine, and even MySpace by giving users more customization capabilities and ways to create their own content.
Mason only signed up for the site when he was 15 because a girl he was digistalking was on it. The girl never responded to him, but Mason fell in love with PlatForm once he started using it.
15 was the darkest time of Mason’s life. His parents separated. His brother got hooked on pills. He had to start going to high school.
PlatForm was 15-year-old Mason’s favorite place to spew his angst. It provided live video or text communication that disappeared after 24 hours and Mason wished he could tell you why he preferred it over Instagram or SnapChat or similar platforms, but he couldn’t.
All he knew was that he spend a good year or two stealing shots from his mom’s bottles of vodka and going onto PlatForm to give its meager amount of users his thoughts. All his thoughts. Even the bad ones. Everyone got it – women, gays, minorities – and not in that order and not in such kind words.
Mason regretted it. He didn’t actually feel those things, at least now. They were just the drunken ramblings of a depressed idiot making an attempt to funny and edgy, but accomplishing neither.
Mason’s entire body warmed when he got the email from Justin where Justin informed him that the transmissions from PlatForm didn’t actually delete from the internet, and they just left the site’s newsfeed after 24 hours. and were still viewable on a user’s profile. He showed Mason just how someone could find them when they Googled his name.
The problem was everyone was going to be Googling his name very soon. He was poised to be the first pick in the first-ever televised eSports Draft on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York. Even people who didn’t care about eSports were semi-following the spectacle.
Mason had tried to delete his PlatForm profile a few times, but he hadn’t been able to.
Justin knew this. He knew Mason was about to be a quasi celebrity with a big contract. He knew he was weak.
I don’t want to ruin your life. I just want a fair agreement. Whatever you think makes sense.
I know what you’re doing. You think I’m going to just write you a big check, but that’s what’s going to happen. You can spew whatever you want out there, some websites will do some stories about it, I’ll get shit on social media, but two days later, it will all be over. Some other dipshit will say something stupid or have their blackface Halloween costume photos uncovered and everyone will forget about the video game guy who used the n word a few times.
Besides, you’ll be seen as the bully. You’re the tech mogul guy who’s already had his moment in the sun.
You’re not blackmailing me.
You really think that? You should do your research, see the graveyards of public figures that have done offensive things online and never recovered. You aren’t some athlete either who can talk about their tragic upbringing and who’s game can speak for itself. You’re a privileged little boy who plays video games. No one will want to give you a second chance. I’m not blackmailing you, I’m WHITEMAILING you.
If you’re not going to make an offer, I’m going to give you two choices.
I know what your contract is going to be based on previous eSports drafts. You’ll get a $1 million signing bonus and a five-year deal for $10 million. You can either give me the $1 million bonus, or $150k per-year, for the next 10 years, and I will delete your videos and posts on my site, and not give the media a heads up about them.
Also, I’m a former tech mogul who didn’t make nearly as much cash as you might think. VC money goes into a company, not the creator’s pockets. I made less than your signing bonus my entire time running PlatForm. I’m not the bully, you’re the bully.
Mason started to sweat. The specifics Justin got into were too-detailed and he was desperate.
He thought about contacting his lawyer, but changed his mind. His lawyer would probably sell him out. He barely knew the guy, he just got put in touch with him through his agent, who he didn’t really know either.
This was a battle Mason was going to have to fight on his own.
You don’t even know me. I’m half-black and grew up with a single mom in the bad part of Pasadena. I bounced from one-bedroom apartment to apartment with my mom my entire childhood, never going to the same school for more than one year. My life fucking sucked. I deserve this.
I’m not giving you shit. Fuck off, kindly.
First of all, no one who is black refers to themselves as “half black,” let alone puts a hyphen in there. You’re full of shit and I’m considering not even giving you the chance to buy me off. Maybe I should just go to your eSports company and talk with them? They’ll probably give me 100k to go away.
But I want to give you one more chance. Pay me.
Mason’s blood boiled over. The fact that he STILL sat in a sweatbox of a little apartment on the wrong side of the 215 in Pasadena without air conditioning on a 97-degree day was a friendly reminder to himself that he deserved a second chance.
Wait…Mason didn’t even need a second chance. There was nothing he had to come back from.
I don’t know why I kept putting your name and a comma at the top of these emails like we’re at some fucking corporate company or something. I’m glad your fake MySpace shit failed and now you’re living a shitty life and you’re out here trying to tear down other people that deserve it. Do whatever you want to do.
Mason took a walk around his filthy neighborhood to sweat it out. He tried to keep his mind on what WAS going to happen. The flight to JFK in a couple of days. The Hilton in Manhattan. The post he was going to put on Instagram. The girls who would reach out to him on Instagram. The DMs. The invites to the hotel. The white wines and gin and tonics before the trip back to the hotel room.
His new life.
It didn’t work.
He started to worry about the contract. His lawyer and agent said it was supposed to come through three days ago, but it hadn’t, and they weren’t returning his emails. The company that was going to sign him went dark two weeks ago, saying they were ironing things out with his representatives.
Maybe Justin had reached out to the company already? Maybe it had already fallen apart? They hadn’t sent him the confirmation yet for the flight. They hadn’t sent him the confirmation for the hotel.
He called his agent. No answer. Called his lawyer. No answer. Called his contact at the company. No answer.
He hadn’t actually signed a single thing yet. He simply had a verbal confirmation from one VP at the company that they were going to draft him first. No other teams had even reached out to him. Maybe he wasn’t the hot prospect he thought he was?
Mason rushed home and dialed up another email to Justin, but had to stop because an email from the eSports company VP came through.
Give me a call
Vice President, Talent
Lightning & Thunder eSports
Mason called Mike back before he even finished reading the email.
“Hey, Mason!” Mike’s enthusiasm shot a cold shot of relief through Mason’s system.
It went right away before it could reach Mason’s heart.
“We got a call from Justin Holland. My buddy in biz dev here went to B.U. with him and they’re friendly. He didn’t give too much detail, but he said something about your posts on PlatForm back in the day,” Mike shut up, forcing Mason to make the next informational move.
“Yeah, what did he say?”
“Um, I, don’t really know, he just said Justin said you had some wild stuff on there, you know?”
“Well, if you find out more about it let me know, because I don’t really know,” Mason lied.
“Okay, cool. I’ll let you know.”
“Talk to you later.”
I’ll give you 500k. That’s basically more than I even get to keep of my signing bonus after taxes and I pay my agent and lawyer. Just let me know how we do this.
Wire transfer. Your bank will know how to do it once you get your first deposit. Until then, the posts stay up. I’ll also need you to sign an agreement, that way if you try to sue or something, I’m covered. Paperwork coming soon!
Mason got the paperwork within the hour. He signed and sent it back within five minutes.
It all went through. His lawyer just emailed him the contract, he signed, and sent it back.
Mason walked up onto the podium and shook hands with the commissioner of the eSports league.
Life moved on the way it should have for Mason. He quietly became an up-and-coming prospect in his eSports league and got astounding, bi-weekly deposits in his bank account.
He just had one little problem.
His offensive posts were never taken off of PlatForm.
Things moved along smoothly though. So much so that Mason almost kind of forgot about the whole Justin incident.
It wasn’t until his first actual face-to-face meeting with his agent, 11 months into them working together, that he thought about it again.
“Funny about that Justin Holland thing,” Mason’s agent broke the awkward silence.
Mason choked on a piece of arugula.
“You didn’t hear this? Supposedly he actually killed himself two years ago, but his brother had him frozen in his basement so he could collect the payout checks he was still getting from selling PlatForm like ten years before?”
Mason researched the story on his Uber ride home. It was all true, there was a lengthy Wired story, with personal quotes from Justin’s brother touching on all of the scams he was running with his brother’s identity.
Mason went back to the two-bedroom house in Glendale that he shared with his mom. They had only been in there for a short while, but his mom was already telling him about how she thought it was haunted.
He had to agree, but he didn’t think it was a ghoulish spirit that was stalking the hallways of the house. It was his neverending fear, knowing whoever stole his half a million dollars was either still out there, or was about to go to prison and have a lot of explaining to do about the massive wire transfer he received not long ago.
Mason was pretty sure that would be the start of a story Wired would be very excited to publish.