The Infamous Laptop Incident

Note: This was written years later, but back-dated to the approximate date of the incident.

In July of 1996, I worked for The Internet Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was a consulting company that built web sites as consultants for companies including Ziff Davis and Comdex.  This was the mid-1990s, so this was big business.  There were maybe 20 of us and we had designers, coders, and all sorts of experts on board to build any sort of web site possible at the time…as long as you didn’t want Java, because Java was (and is) stupid for web sites.

I was a “Web Engineer” and worked on almost all the sites we had as clients at one point or another.  (I never did touch that Comdex site, but I did get to work on Ziff Davis stuff occasionally and went to a few meetings at their Cambridge office.)

Oh, and the company owned the domain “”.  For real.  If you typed “internet” in your browser, you would end up at our company’s web site.  If someone sent e-mail to “[email protected]”, it came to us.  (We had that e-mail set up for less than five minutes for internal help desk issues before we started getting e-mail…so it was quickly turned off.  …yeah, all that stuff really should have been monetized better.)

Anyway…  One day, was sitting at my desk near the back door when I heard some of the company higher-ups walking by on the other side of my cubicle wall.
“This is a pretty good deal,” one remarked. “I can’t find a lower price.”
“What if they’re stolen?” the other one asked as they walked out the door.

Okay, so that got my attention.

It was a Friday. There was a company tradition to have a “happy hour” on Fridays at about 5:30. (Apparently nobody had better places to go and party on a Friday night.) As happy hour came around, the news spread…

Apparently the CEO of the company (who we’ll call “Marq” to protect his identity) got a call from someone claiming to be our UPS guy, “John”. He said he had a friend who worked at Lechmere (which used to be a Best Buy-type chain) up at the Woburn Mall who had six laptop PC’s they were selling really cheap. Us being “The INTERNET Company”, he thought we might be interested. Marq had a tech guru look up some prices and they realized they were at least half the normal retail price. Marq set up a meeting with the UPS guy in the Lechmere parking lot.

Marq went with one of the founders, the tech guy, and the office manager up to Woburn to get the laptops. While the founder talked to the UPS guy on a cell phone, the office manager withdrew $3000 cash from her personal bank account. While everyone was waiting, the Lechmere guy apologized that he had only four laptops left.  He looked in their car and asked, “Will there be enough space?”  (They’re laptops.  How much space do they take up?)

To make a long story short, they handed over the cash and the Lechmere guy gave them a receipt and went “to get the laptops.” The receipt was merely a typewritten piece of paper. The four Internet Company employees stood there in the Lechmere parking lot for a few minutes before they realized that the guy had $3000 cash and wasn’t coming back.  They asked in Lechmere and gave a description of the guy.  Nobody in there had ever heard of him or seen this guy.

Upon returning, the vice president simply asked the office manager, “Is it true?”
“Yes. All of it. Whatever you’ve heard, it’s true.”

Oh, and apparently our regular UPS guy wasn’t even named “John”.

The Internet Company, which I’ll remind you owned and had people visiting the web site because they typed in “internet” and sending us help e-mails without any prompting…  The Internet Company that was building web sites for big clients just as the Internet and web access is growing exponentially in popularity…  The Internet Company went out of business in April 1997!

That’s a story for another time.

July 26, 1996

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