Sync or swim

John Brennan

Part 13 of our dramatic serial

John Brennan |

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Ethan and Sam stood staring in disbelief at the laptop as the video Ethan's grandad and Sam's younger sister had made finished playing.

The short film, which featured scenes intercut with text titles, showed:

- a garden, with Mr Wong's mournfully-cute puppy sitting in the midst of trampled flowers

- the message: "Haven't we all done something we later regret?"

- an unidentifiable man standing, arms folded and foot tapping impatiently, by a dog's kennel

- the words: "Even when sorry seems to be the hardest word"

- a shot of the puppy standing by the devastated flower bed, and ...

- ... as it starts to raise a back leg, a cut takes us to: "Sometimes you just have to make amends" ...

- ... before we see the crushed flowers now miraculously restored

- The final message - "shamefacebook ... coming soon" - accompanied by the sound of a barking puppy.

After watching it, Ethan was at a loss for words. "But ..." was all he could manage.

"People like this?" Sam asked, amazed.

"It's gone viral," Grandad proudly announced, before adding, "Whatever that means".

"Just google 'puppy watering plants' if you want to see how popular it is," Jenny told Ethan and Sam.

Ethan was dumbfounded. "But ..." he repeated.

"And, heh, don't feel too bad," a straight-faced Jenny told them. "There was a buzz around the films you two made." She shot a glance at Grandad. "Only trouble is, it came from the flies attracted by the stink."

As Grandad and Jenny laughed, Ethan and Sam had no option but to take it on the chin.

And Ethan had to admit the puppy was creating intrigue in forums and chatrooms.

While Ethan, Sam and Jenny finished the coding for the site, and prepared for their end-of-term exams, the questions ricocheted across the web: What was shamefacebook? And when exactly was it coming?

Ethan was hunched over his laptop in the classroom at St Jude's International School, when Jenny stormed in followed by Sam, clutching his own open netbook.

"Ethan, are you sure about this?" Sam asked, bringing the computer, and the image of the puppy on its screen, down to desk-level.

"Look, I don't like the mutt any more than you," Ethan replied wearily, "but I thought ..."

"It's not the puppy, it's the ..." Sam interrupted, jabbing the new text at the bottom of the screen.

Jenny took over. "It's the fact you've been dumb enough to fix December 9 as the launch date. We'll never finish all the coding and testing by then, you idiot."

"What do you want to do?" Ethan asked. "Wait til the rest of the world is as sick of the puppy as we are?"

"And what about if, by some miracle, the site is popular?" Jenny demanded.

"We haven't even started to raise the cash we'd need to pay for the extra hosting capacity," added Sam.

But Ethan was now getting used to feigning confidence. "Don't worry, I'll sort it out."

"For the final time, Sam, I'm not accepting any money from your parents," said Ethan, sitting at his kitchen table, engaged in an increasingly exasperating video call. "I told you, I've set up a meeting with a possible investor."

As he listened to the reply, Ethan's eyes followed Grandad - dressed in his vest, old trousers and slippers - as he entered the kitchen to turn on the kettle. "And, yes, I know we'll need someone to go to the meeting for us," Ethan told Sam.

"And you didn't stop him?" Jenny asked Sam as they stood outside Grandad's shop. Her brother shrugged awkwardly, but she persisted. "You really think he knows anything about business?"

"What do we know?" Sam demanded. "The puppy in the video was his idea."

"That's right," said Grandad as he emerged wearing a business suit that had once fitted him. "And I've got lots of other ideas as well."

As Jenny and Sam grimaced, Mr Wong, the owner of the neighbouring shop, spotted Grandad. "Wah!"

Grandad put on his sunglasses. "Well?" he asked his old friend. "What do you think?"

"I think someone must have died."

"Ha. I'm not going to a funeral, I'm ..."

But Ethan had emerged from the shop just in time to save Grandad from a dangerous indiscretion.

"Excuse us, Mr Wong," Ethan said, taking his grandad by the arm. He led him back into the shop to finish briefing him for the meeting.

Jenny looked at her brother. "Tell me he's going to lose the sunglasses. Please."

That afternoon, Ethan, Sam and Jenny were huddled nervously around a table at a dai pai dong at the end of Stanley Street. The siblings leaned in to listen, as Ethan spoke into Sam's phone. "Just let him read it, gung gung."

In a wood-panelled office in Central, Grandad touched the tiny bluetooth earpiece that connected him via the phone in his pocket to Ethan. "Ok, ok," he snapped back at his grandson.

Mr So looked up sharply at the elderly man looming over his desk.

He had met lots of people aiming to start up internet companies, but nobody quite like Mr Tai. Not only was he so much older than the average geek, not only did he keep turning the pages of the proposal So was trying to re-read, now he was talking to himself. But ...

"I have to say, I'm impressed by your plans for your website," So said.

"Good," Grandad replied. "Now, about the money ..."

"But I do have one or two questions."

"Uh-oh," Grandad replied, echoing the voice in his ear.

"I knew this wouldn't work," Jenny whined.

As they sat at the roadside table, Ethan's anxiety levels had also gone up a notch. "It's supposed to be a done deal," he explained. "Mr So is just supposed to sign."

"If we don't get this money, then all the work I've done goes down the drain," Jenny continued in a louder voice.

"Will you shush?" Ethan told her.

"No," said Jenny. "Give me that."

A battle for control of the phone ensued.

"Get off my foot!"

In the office, So stared at Grandad in disbelief. "I'm not on your foot."

Grandad was becoming as bemused as So by the stream of nonsense he was repeating. "I said, let go! What idiot thought this meeting was a good idea?" But he seemed unable to stop. "Do you know what I'll do with this chopstick, if you don't let go?"

Finally, once order had been restored among the trio outside the dai pai dong, Ethan could give Grandad the information he needed to answer So's technical questions.

All he could then do was cross his fingers and hope.

"Excellent," So said, clearly impressed with the explanation Mr Tai had smoothly delivered. Maybe the line between genius and madness was as thin as they said.

Outside, Ethan's face lit up as he listened to his phone. "Mr So's accepted my offer."

Sam and Jenny's tension dissolved into cheers and hugs.

"But ..." Ethan began staring at the phone in disbelief, "...Grandad's turned it down."

Sam and Jenny froze. "What?" they asked in unison.

"That sounds like something being ripped up," a shocked Ethan told them. "And ... Grandad's just said goodbye."

"He's ... leaving?" Sam asked.

"Gung gung!" Ethan yelled into the phone. "Gung gung!" Ethan turned to his friends. "He must have switched off the phone."

Jenny clutched her head. "I knew he'd blow it."

To be continued next week