Gen 2 Ch 7: Breaking and Entering

Warning: Language.

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This was it. Tonight I was going to break into my boss’s office with the purpose of proving his involvement in illegal transactions. Even though I’ve been preparing for weeks now and counted the days until this could be done, I was extremely nervous. Snooping around on the computer, from the safety of my own desk, was one thing. This was different. If I were caught in Collier’s office without an explanation after-hours, I’ll be in trouble.

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“Are you feeling alright, hon?” Tia asked from her desk near me. “You look a bit ill. Have you eaten already?”

My nerves were clearly too obvious. “I’m fine. Just didn’t sleep too well, that’s all. I’ll feel better tomorrow,” I lied, hoping it sounded natural.

“Yeah, it’s been kind of hectic lately. My own sleep patterns have been all out of whack!” she laughed.

I couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty for not telling her about my suspicions. What if her husband was still alive, for real? She would want to know, right? She loved the man and has a son with him.

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But then again, what if Gerald and I were wrong? And what if WarlordWizard was really just a perfect stranger who had nothing to do with Roman Blakely? If I told Tia that her husband was alive and it turned out to be otherwise, she’d feel even worse than she already did. I couldn’t do that to her.

And what if he was really alive? Where was he? In hiding all of this time and digging up information on the Colliers without telling his wife about his continued existence? Letting his wife work for years at a company that was most likely responsible for his near-death and possibly endangering her? What kind of loving husband and father did that?

I shook my head to clear it of these thoughts. Stay on topic, Irene. Tonight, if everything went well and if everything was where it was expected to be, you will finally have a chance to figure out what is really going on. It’s no use going crazy over all these theories at this point.

The rest of the day passed in its usual vein. I finished most of my work (pretending that there was still a lot left), prepared all the documents that were needed for next day, cleared my desk of the least needed things, had a good lunch, and mostly just waited until everyone finally went home.

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At around 4 in the evening, Lionel Collier left the building and headed to the airport to catch his flight to the conference. His office was now empty. At 5, Lana and Tia headed off home, shortly followed by David, who actually stayed later than usual because we were nearing the end of the month, where all the monetary documents needed to be ready. I had to admit, the guy was super-efficient—even though he was serious about accounting not being his first choice of work, he was really good at math and even caught a couple of my and Lana’s mistakes, saving us a lot of time on future corrections. Having him around the office was really turning out to be pretty nice.

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And just like that, at 7, I had the office building all to myself. Checking around to make sure I was really alone and wouldn’t be discovered by a late janitor, I headed upstairs. I had the lock picks in my pockets and before I even took them out, I made sure to put on a pair of gloves. There was no doubt that what I was about to do was illegal and the last thing I needed was to leave my fingerprints on any surface in Lionel Collier’s office.

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The building was creepily quiet as I headed upstairs. For some reason I remembered the scary stories I used to love so much as a kid. In the dark now, they all seemed so much more believable. Well, yeah, I thought, I am after all about to venture into the ogre’s cave. That almost made me laugh, though I tried not to—even though the building was empty, it seemed too reckless to be noisy right now.

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Bending down in front of the office door, I inserted the lock picks into the keyhole and felt around carefully for the direction and the pressure of the pins inside the lock. Recalling to myself all the details and all the steps from my home practice, I managed to finally twist the lock. It worked. I had access to the office.

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A clicking sound completely unrelated to the lock startled me and I nearly jumped. A glance at the window, however, proved the source of the clicking to be a tree branch hitting the window because of the wind. Get yourself together, Irene, I thought. You aren’t normally that easily scared.

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Without hesitating, I entered the office. The idea to turn on the light was quickly erased from my head—Collier was supposed to be out of town and if anyone saw the lights on in his private office, it would raise suspicion. Great. That meant the most light I would have would be from my cellphone.

Even in the dark, Collier’s office looked mostly the same as it did the last time I was here. The papers cluttered on the desk, the computer, the dragon painting, the antique-looking globe—they were all in the same place as before. Well, where was the electronic key? After all, maybe it wasn’t here after all? Perhaps, Collier took it with him on his trip? Something, however, told me otherwise. I didn’t think he’d be up to carrying it through airport security for a short business trip. So it had to still be here.

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Deciding not to waste time, I focused on searching through the bookshelves. After half an hour of verifying that the books and folders contained in the shelves did not have anything inside of them and placing them the same way as before, I still had nothing. Collier’s desk was my second target.

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It had a few built in shelves and prying them open turned out to be pretty easy. While, at first, I marveled at why a criminal businessman such as Lionel Collier would keep his space so unprotected, I soon realized that he had no reason to make this place high security—there didn’t seem to be anything of importance in here at all. Unless that dragon in the painting was some sort of a real enchanted creature, I was, plainly speaking, wasting my time in here. Looks like, it’s back to the drawing board for the anti-Collier team.

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Leaning back from the desk, I nearly  concussed my head on something. That’s right, I totally forgot about the globe. Rubbing my head and knowing I’ll have a bump tomorrow, I registered the barely audible sound of something scraping inside of the globe.

Were decorative globe’s normally hollow? Yes. They usually didn’t have anything inside though…

Shining my phone light around the globe, I realized that it could be opened. Right at the top of the frame was what turned out to be a well-blended in button. I was about to press it, when I heard quiet but definite footsteps right outside the room. Hoping it was just a late janitor, I paused what I was doing and listened to the other person’s actions. From what I knew, janitors never cleaned inside of this room when Lionel himself wasn’t present. He believed they had sticky fingers, the rumor went. So, all I had to do was to quietly wait for them to leave.

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But the parting footsteps never came and instead I heard the unmistakable sound of someone inserting lock picks into the keyhole. Well, this certainly wasn’t Lionel Collier himself—he’d have the actual key. I quickly made myself fall to the ground and hide under the desk. Who would have thought?! More than one person planned a break-in to Collier’s office on the same night! This was almost like something from a crime-comedy film, except that I was looking at a very real chance of getting caught by someone who was likely a professional criminal. That seemed rather grim.

At this moment, the lock picking stopped and a quiet “Huh” sounded on the other side.

“Crap!” I muttered, realizing that whoever the other person was, they now knew the door was unlocked. Likely, they will realize any moment now that someone was inside the office.

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Then the door opened and the mystery person came in. Fitting my body under the desk as well as I could, I tried to hide myself from line of sight. Whatever this newcomer wanted, hopefully they will get it fast and leave without finding me. Maybe they’ll just assume the door was cracked open by an amateur thief who forgot to re-lock it before leaving…

The new person paused briefly after entering. My guess was they were trying to figure out whether anyone was actually in here or if it was safe to proceed with whatever their plan was. Clearly deciding they would rather proceed with their plan, the newcomer quickly made for the computer, causing me to regret my choice of hiding space. After all, there was only that much space under the desk and they’d be likely to realize someone was here.

However the person sat down at the desk without noticing that there was a little less leg space than usual. Because we were still in the dark, it was harder for them to see me hiding under the desk, but, unfortunately I also couldn’t see them. I had to admit I was curious to find out who else planned a break-in on the same evening as me. After all, Lionel Collier will be out for the whole week—they could have done it any other day.

The sound of a computer turning on followed the person’s arrival and as soon as it was on, the person sitting at the desk began to type and click furiously. Clearly, they were also looking for something in the records, it seemed. I briefly wondered how they were going to access whatever they were looking for and whether they had the electronic key…

“Damn it, where are those records?!” the person in the seat exasperatedly muttered and I recognized the voice—David. David was the guy who also planned a break-in at the same time as me.

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“There has to be a trail. I don’t believe he really remembers every little detail in his head…” he sounded irritated. “Fuck it! What was all this planning for if the stupid machine is clean!?”

In his anger, David managed to move his leg in just the right (wrong for me) way to brush against me. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for him to realize that he really was not alone in here.

Startled, he leaned back in his seat too quickly, causing it to fall over, with him nearly hitting the floor with his head.

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“Oh my god, are you ok?” I couldn’t help myself from yelling out.

“Irene?” he slowly got up to a sitting position, rubbing his elbow where he hit it against the floor. “You’re in here?”

Well, so much for staying hidden. “Hello David. I see we have a similar sense of timing for more than just bar-crawling.”

“Yeah…,” he nodded his head with a strange expression on his face. “We sure do.”

An awkward pause filled the room until he suddenly began to laugh. “Well, I don’t think we’ll be calling the cops or my father on one another, right? Considering that neither of us is supposed to be in here at this time.”

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“I suppose not,” I agreed carefully. “Although you might want to be more quiet or someone might hear us.”

“Don’t worry about that. Unless this office has a secret house elf that no one knows about, we’re really the only ones here,” he chuckled. “So, you want to tell me why you’re hiding out in my father’s office? I assume this isn’t your favorite pastime for week-nights.”

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“No, it isn’t.” Of course he had questions, but so did I. “How about this? I’ll tell you why I’m here and you tell me why you are. A fair exchange of information?”

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“Deal,” he agreed. “I’m here because I’m trying to figure out whether daddy dearest is trying to involve me in accounting fraud and tax evasion. Or something like it. You see, it seems he’s forgotten that I’m really good at math. And some of the numbers or rather a lot of the numbers in his documents don’t match. And since I work with those numbers, I would very much not like to be involved in something illegal. You?”

“How much do you know about your father’s medical research projects?” I ventured.

“Frankly, not that much. He usually just has me deal with the monetary parts of the job,” David admitted. “I don’t think he trusts me too much with sensitive information, really.”

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I took a deep breath and tried to make it short “A few years ago, my father discovered a fruit with extreme healing properties. It cured my mother’s cancer. We wanted to make this discovery available to others in need and my father ended up contacting your parents. However, when it was clear Collier Enterprises was only looking for profit rather than to actually help sick people, my parents decided not to partner with the company. Then, a few weeks later, our house was broken into, my father’s garden was destroyed, and his research involving the healing fruit was stolen. And then, only a while afterwards, Collier Enterprises came forward with a new miracle drug that was said to be very effective against cancer. Coincidence?”

“No,” David rubbed his head with a concerned expression. “Doesn’t sound like a coincidence? So, I guess you’re trying to find something to link the two events?”

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“Are you going to rat this out to your father?” my words came out somewhat harsher than I intended. But I was caught. Despite my best efforts, I was caught by the very son of the man I was trying to convict of a crime.

“Well, I haven’t called the cops or my father up until this point, and I am still fully intending to break into his records to find evidence of another crime, so no. And now that I’ve heard your story, I am rather curious myself about my father’s involvement in it. Now, we’re wasting alone time. Let’s see if the two of us together can figure out where my father stores sensitive information, shall we?”

I had to admit, I was pretty shocked by David’s nonchalant attitude towards this whole situation, but one had to admire his quick adaptation to the new development.

“It’s on a server. But you won’t be able to access it without his electronic access key.”

“Cool and where is the key?” he asked.

“Well, I was looking for it when you got here. It might be inside of that globe though.”

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“What are we waiting for then?” David quickly made his way to the decorative planet and I looked once again for the small button on the top of the model. As soon as I pressed it, the globe came open and David reached in, fishing out what looked like a small flash-drive. This was it. The thing I was looking for all this time. Hopefully now I’ll have the information I was looking for.

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“Allow me?” I sat down near the computer and entered the address of the server the way Gerald taught me to. When the access screen came up, David plugged in the key, and after a few minutes of the information loading up, we had full access to Lionel Collier’s secret records.

After only a few minutes of looking at the information on the server, David let out a long whistle.

“Well, looks like Daddy’s been busy…,” he shook his head dejectedly. “I guess money fraud isn’t the worst of his offenses.

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He was right. While the records in this server made it clear that Collier was involved in the theft at my house, it was only one small chapter in what was turning out to be Lionel Collier’s impressive rap sheet. There were records of stolen patents for medications, records of money used for sabotage of competitors and bribes for law enforcement, notes about sales of faulty products, and much, much more. Even I, who hated Lionel Collier on a personal level, was shocked at some of the things that were alluded to in the server.

“He’s been real busy…,” David drifted off, sounding awfully sad all of a sudden.

I glanced over at him, wondering if he was alright, but of course he wasn’t. After all, he just saw proof of his father’s involvement in multiple serious crimes. Any one of these instances could lead to a hefty prison sentence. There was no way at all he could be ok with this.

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“Fraud, theft, sabotage… We can’t let him keep doing this. Not now that we have proof of all this,” David stated sternly. Noticing my surprised expression, he explained, “I know I sound completely heartless saying this about my own father, but allowing him to continue these practices now that we know about them would not only be a criminal offense for us, but also just plain morally wrong. The rest of the employees think they are working for a legitimate establishment but being employed here could literally land them in jail. Or seriously endanger them. Think about it—I’m here because I noticed discrepancies in the numbers, but most of the workers here are just as good. How long is it until one of them figures out something that lands them on Daddy’s hit list?”

He was right. Some of the information in the server made it clear that Lionel Collier was involved in “silencing” certain people. I didn’t want to think too much what that entailed. The idea of dear Lana or Tia, along with all the other workers at this office, becoming endangered for some reason, made me choke up.

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“You’re right,” I admitted shakily. “We do have to do something about this. How though? He seems to have a foot in local law enforcement.”

“I know,” David rubbed his head, looking grim. He must be getting a headache by now.

“Are you sure you didn’t hit your head back there?” I worried about him. I heard stories about people getting concussions and sustaining brain injuries—hopefully David wasn’t hurt.

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“No, it’s fine, it was only my elbow. It just looks like we have a lot of work cut out for both of us. I assume you’re in? To reveal this stuff about my father?” he clarified.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I’m in. I thought he only stole from my family… Looks like it’s all much more serious than that. I might as well stick it out to the end now. Whatever that means.

“We’ll probably all lose our jobs. There is no way this company will be allowed to stay open after these practices come to air. Just, so you know.”

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He was right. This entire company was involved in too many illegal activities to stay open once these things came to light. But the truth was worth it, right? I simply nodded.

“We need to make a copy of all this somehow. Ah, let me see if I have a flash drive big enough.” David dug inside of his pockets. “Empty.”

“Let me go downstairs quickly—I should have one.”

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I headed downstairs and fished the old flash drive out of my desk. I still couldn’t believe this whole situation was happening. I finally had proof that Collier was involved in illegal activity, but his son was helping me? This was a turn of events that I didn’t expect.

Upstairs, David was still skimming through the information with a grave expression on his face.

“Here it is,” I handed him the object. He quickly began copying the information to the device, but since there was so much information, it was going to take a bit of time.

“So, how did you know all this? About the server, about the key?” he finally asked the questions I expected.

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I sighed. “I’ve been trying to dig up information on your father ever since we got robbed.”

“Impressive. It must’ve taken some effort.”

“How are you so ok with me being here in this situation? And how come you’re helping me?” I finally demanded. “I was digging under your father. How are you not yelling at me or calling the cops right now? Don’t you consider me an enemy of some sort now?”

“No. I don’t consider you an enemy. As for why…I’m not sure I can be angry at someone whose family was wronged by my father. He doesn’t exactly try to keep people on his good side. We’re looking at proof,” he pointed to the screen and added softly. “He doesn’t really try to keep family on the friendly side either, to be honest.”

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It sounded like he could say more about bad relationship between him and his father, but he hardly needed to. It was clear that a normal parent-child relationship was non-existent in their family.

The information was now copied to the flash drive and David eagerly stood up “Come on, I think it’s high time we leave this place. I, for my part, have seen enough of this office for a while.”

We made our way out of the office, making sure to put the lock back how it was. We were still not sure how we’ll be calling down the law on Collier, so having him find the office broken into won’t do.

Outside, the night was dark. It was already past midnight. I hoped my parents weren’t too worried about my absence, but it was up to Gerald to cover for me now.

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David lit up a cigarette as soon as we were outside the building. I’ve noticed that he’s been craving for one since before we accessed the server. His nerves must be pretty frayed by now, after an evening like this.

“We need to figure this whole ‘blowing the whistle’ thing out soon,” he ventured. “Speaking of, which one of us gets to keep the flash drive with the information for now?”

“What do you mean? I thought you were going to keep it?” I was confused.

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“You’ve done most of the leg work for discovering the information, though, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to keep it, would it? Besides I’d rather the evidence wasn’t someplace where my father can suddenly turn up,” he admitted.

“True. Maybe I should take it for now.”

Something about the idea didn’t sit right with me. After all, we were both involved with this. Therefore we should both be in possession of the evidence against Collier. Also, there was another nagging thought at the back of my mind…

“Why not keep it together?” I offered.

“How?”

“Come over to my place. That way, we’d both have access to the flash drive. Besides, it’s high time that you’ve met my brother. You two will get along well, I think. Come, I’m inviting.”

“If you say so,” David didn’t sound too sure of this—understandable. I on the other hand, didn’t want him to go home alone tonight. He was trying to act normal, but it was obvious that seeing all that information about his father’s activities shocked David and I felt that it would be best if he had safe company for the time being.

“Come on. It’s late, but I’m sure there’s something to eat at home—you must’ve been here for hours.”

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We drove home with a sense of purpose mixed with exhaustion. We had a lot of work ahead of us, but that would wait until morning. Right now, we were both mentally and physically exhausted after the adrenaline of the break in wore off. A break was in order.

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Gen 2 Ch 6: Getting Closer

Despite my worries about David’s presence at the office, things continued on in their familiar vein. We still came to work and did what we were paid for. There was just an extra person in the mix.

To satisfy my friends’ curiosity, I ended up telling them that I ran into David while out on the town, which was how he knew me (well, it wasn’t totally a lie). If they didn’t believe me, they didn’t say anything.

As for David himself, he seemingly understood from my behavior that I still felt really awkward about how we met. So, any interaction between us was strictly professional and while he seemed pretty amicable, I was hesitant to become too friendly with him. Yes he was nice, but he was a Collier. That family knew how to play any situation to their advantage and to charm people into trusting them—why would David be any different?

Besides, I was no closer to figuring out where his father kept the electronic server key. I studied his appearance for any accessory that could be dual-functioning but there wasn’t any visible object that looked like a potential technical device. Perhaps, whatever I was looking for was not kept on the person after all, but someplace more private. Like Collier’s office. But I had no clear way of getting in there undetected.

After several weeks of this, I was still trying to figure out how to make my way into Lionel Collier’s office. He didn’t really interact much with the office workers aside from giving orders or occasionally firing people—therefore, there weren’t many excuses for going into his private area.

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But it looked like luck was more or less on my side in this situation: Lana had recently gotten engaged to her boyfriend and, naturally, she couldn’t contain her excitement about the whole thing. Expectedly, office talk often transitioned into wedding talk. One such day, Collier ended up passing by the office and heard it. Disliking that we were “wasting office time on personal matters”, as he put it, he ended up calling a meeting for office workers in the conference room upstairs. After an hour of “discussing” what was and wasn’t appropriate in an office environment (if you asked any of us, it was an hour well-wasted), he finally released us employees to do their jobs.

 

Throughout the lecture, I was seething about Collier’s spitefulness—Lana was one of our best workers, there was literally no doubt about that. And she only talked about her upcoming wedding on our official designated work breaks. Clearly, this was not in violation of any work rules. But of course, Mr. Ogre had to go and find a problem with something! I tried to keep my annoyance well-hidden throughout his talk, instead focusing on my coworkers’ faces.

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Lana herself was sitting there with an air of someone who was used to getting lectured on things that idiots considered problematic and she didn’t seem too uncomfortable—she was still floating on clouds because of her engagement.

 

Tia was constantly looking at the clock. The meeting was towards the end of the workday and she worried that she won’t be on time to go with her son to his doctor’s appointment. Motherhood was certainly not easy, that much was for certain.

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David’s behavior was what surprised me the most. He spent most of the meeting staring at a spot on the wall with an expression that said he would rather have been literally anywhere else but that room. What puzzled me was the fact that he was clearly unhappy about being in his own father’s presence. Of course, Lionel Collier was hardly a pleasant person to be around, but I figured his own son would feel some positive emotions towards his father. Then again, maybe there were no warm feelings in that family. I remembering what Lana and Tia told me about the dysfunctional marriage between Lionel and Selma, how the only thing keeping them together was his money and her love of wealthy living. How much did these two actually care about their son? That made me feel a pang of sympathy for the poor guy—no one deserved parents like these.

As the meeting was over and we were dispersing to our workstations, I noticed that Collier dropped one of the folders he was carrying and was already on the way to his office. This was my chance!

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I picked up the folder and headed right after him. “Excuse me! Mr. Collier, you dropped your folder!”

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He was already inside and examining an antique globe, one of the many decorations of his office, but upon my entrance he turned around and nodded, “Oh, thank you, Irene, is it? All these papers! How is one supposed to keep track of everything?”

“It’s no problem, I’ll just be on my way,” I forced a smile and headed back, on my way, noticing that the door to Collier’s office had a very basic lock. This was good. I was sure I could easily pick it with proper instruction. Now, just to find the right time to do it…

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I was about to go down the stairs when something made me look out the window to the second floor patio area. David was out there all alone and for some reason I felt that maybe I should go and talk to him. After all, after that evening at the bar, we weren’t strangers.

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Stepping outside, I took in his appearance. David was young, about my age, or perhaps a year or two older, but at that moment he looked much older. One simply did not look that way because they were happy in life. In his hand, he had a half-finished cigarette, from which he was still taking urgent drags and his face held the expression of someone who really wanted to run away as far as possible and never come back.

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“Hey,” I called out quietly. “Mind if I join you out here?”

“Oh, hi,” he looked toward me, only just noticing my presence. “Sorry, let me put this out.”

He tried to extinguish his cigarette but I waved his concern aside “It’s alright. You look like you need it.”

He gave the cigarette a sad look and nodded “Yeah, I do. Whenever I’m around him for too long, I do.”

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“You and your father don’t get along?” I asked, feeling strange about discussing the Colliers’ family dynamics.

“That’s one way to put it,” he chuckled sarcastically. “He’s not exactly the friendliest person around. Never thought I’ll end up working here, next to him, that’s for sure.”

“What did you plan to do instead?” I was curious.

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“Would you believe I always loved reporting? Wanted to be a columnist, too. So much for that,” he took another nervous drag from the cigarette.

“What happened? If you don’t mind talking about it, that is,” I prodded him.

“Ah, it’s pretty simple, really. I flunked out of college. Failed all my courses in my last semester and my school was really strict about retaking them. So, once my money for staying back in Bridgeport ran out, I was basically faced with being on the streets and coming here to work at Collier Enterprises. Sounds like a dumb situation, doesn’t it?”

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“Not really. These things happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself. And hey, it could be worse—at least you don’t live with him. Besides, you being here in this town definitely prevented at least one upset drunken person from doing something stupid.” Try as I might, I was finding it hard not to feel sorry for David. He was someone who found himself in a bad situation, and judging from his behavior, he was the worse for the wear. Of course, it seemed like there was something else he wasn’t telling about the whole situation, something that was very catalytic to what happened, but I didn’t know him well enough to prod, since he didn’t reveal willingly. “By the way, I never did get to thank you properly for taking care of me that night. I shouldn’t have freaked out the way I did.”

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“Oh, that’s alright. I’m just glad I could help someone out,” he smiled genuinely for the first time that day.

“Listen, I know I can haven’t been very friendly lately. It’s sort of a bad habit of mine,” I ended up blurting out before I had a chance to regret it, “But if you ever need someone to talk to, about anything, just feel free to call me. Here’s my phone number.”

He regarded me with a sincerely surprised expression, leading me to think that he didn’t have that many friends to begin with. “Thanks. I really appreciate this.” He instantly texted me a smiley face. “Now you have my number too. Same conditions!”

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“Alright, take care then,” I parted with him and with a strangely lighter heart headed toward my desk. Ok, so David was Lionel Collier’s son. But he seemed really lonely and in need of companionship. After he took care of me on that crazy night after my breakup, I kind of wanted to do something nice for him in return.

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The rest of the month went by quickly. Gerald and I ended up researching ways to pick a lock (surprisingly easy information to find out, thanks to the internet) and practicing at home. Of course, we made sure to practice when our folks were out—even though Mom and Dad knew what we were up to, we were sure they’d both have heart attacks if they saw us practicing an illegal activity. After we were both pretty good with the technique, it was time to act. Now we just needed a good time to do it: I would have and excuse to stay at the office late, Collier would be conveniently out for the night, and the rest of the coworkers would be home. Otherwise there would be too many questions raised. So, literally, it was a matter of time and now that the goal was set, I had no problem patiently waiting.

At work, things were going mostly good. I was enjoying the benefits (and the pay raise) of my new promotion and still doing good work. I had to admit, if this company had a different owner, it really would have been a pretty nice place. And my fellow coworkers were good friendly people, which, as I realized by now, was quite an important thing at work. I was sincerely happy for the people I worked with.

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So, of course, I agreed to babysit Tia’s son when she had to work especially late one day. It was no problem for me at all. Tia was also trying to get a pay raise, meaning she was trying to increase her productivity at work. That implied lots of overtime, unfortunately. And being a single mother, she had double duty, both at work and at home.

Clyde Blakely turned out to be an energetic kid, who certainly wasn’t too eager to sit down and do a big math assignment. At least not without someone helping him.

“Alright Clyde, you’re looking at a long division problem. So, the number you have to divide, otherwise known as the dividend, here, is 125, right?” I explained to the boy.

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“Yes! And I know the number I divide by is the divisor. But 125 doesn’t divide by 7 evenly!” Clyde complained.

“Yep, that’s right. So what you do is this: you build a table, with the dividend underneath the bracket and the divisor outside. It’s pretty easy when you do it this way! You first divide 12 by 7, which would be how much?”

“One! 7 only goes into 12 once!” he chimed in eagerly.

“Exactly. So, you write the 1 on top of the bracket and subtract the seven from 12. The leftover 5 is carried down along with the 5 from 125, to make a 55, which you also divide by 7. Which would be how much?” I encouraged the boy.

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“The 49 divides by 7. It’s 7!” he figured out. “So we write the seven on top along with the 1. Our whole number is 17.”

“And is that where we add the zeros?” Clyde was getting the hang of his assignment.

“That’s right. See? You do get it once you think it through? Think you can solve the rest of your problem without my help?”

“Yes!” In the next five minutes the boy figured out the correct answer of 17.857 for his problem. After that, he had no problem solving the rest of his assignment. “Thank you, Irene! You should come over more often. Mom says you’re nice.”

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“Thanks, kid. I bet you would like my brother even more. He’s good with computers and could probably help you beat that video game you’ve been stuck on.”

“Really? That’s so cool! I bet he would’ve gotten along with my dad well. He liked computer games too. Speaking of, can I go play now?” he asked.

“Of course, your assignment is done, so you’re free for the rest of the night,” I let the kid go to his room, smiling to myself. I never really thought of it much, but I did think kids were pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind having some of my own someday.

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Tia came home soon, thankful for my babysitting. “You actually got him to do his homework? Wow, that is no small task!”

“It was pretty fun. I think he was pretty eager to do the problems once he figured out the technique. He’s a good kid,” I assured her.

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“That’s nice to hear. Usually I have to bribe him with comic books to do any of his assignments. Unless it’s art. He’s always eager to draw his favorite comic book characters. I guess it’s his passion,” she chuckled. “Like father, like son, I guess.”

“Your husband was into art?” I was curious. She didn’t talk much about Clyde’s late father.

“Not into art, into comic books, mostly. It used to annoy me quite a bit when we were together, to be honest—his comic books were always strewn all over the house. But now that he’s gone, I can’t bring myself to throw away those old WarlordWizard issues,” she smiled sadly.

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“It’s a reminder of him,” I nodded, understanding. And in the back of my head, it registered that WarlordWizard was also the name of Gerald’s hacker friend from the internet. What a coincidence.

“Yeah. I guess it is. Well, I won’t keep you much longer, you must be tired. Thanks again,” she hugged me and I headed home. It really had been a long day, after all.

At home, Gerald was waiting for me. “So, do you think you’ll have access to Collier’s office anytime soon?”

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“I think so. Next week, he’s going out of town for some conference on steroids in over the counter medications. I’ll just make sure I have a lot of work left to do after the others are gone home. That way, no one will be likely to disturb me while I’m searching Collier’s office.”

“Sounds good. I wish I could come with you, but there wouldn’t be any good reason for me to be at your workplace afterhours, now, is there?” he shook his head sadly.

“Hey, Ger? Can you look something up for me real quick?” an idea hit me.

“Sure, what is it?” he perked up.

“Well, about four years ago, there’s been a drunk-driving accident that killed my coworker’s husband. Roman Blakely was the name. Can you look anything up on that? He worked at a scientific facility not far from here, if that helps.”

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“Sure, I’ll see what I can find,” he pulled up his databases and after half an hour of scrolling through them, looked confused. “What was his name again? Roman Blakely? There was an accident, alright. But there were no drunk drivers involved, as I can tell. The car blew up.”

“What? Why would Tia lie about this?” I was appalled.

“Hold on. This other source says it was, in fact a drunk-driving accident…. weird. Let me go a little deeper,” he resumed his search. “Just so you know, by ‘going deeper’ I mean logging into secured databases that I should have no access to. But you know, it seems that there is some sort of a mix-up here and now I’m curious.”

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“Why would something like this be a mix-up? Hold on, which version of the accident is dated as the earliest?” I asked.

“That would be the car explosion one. And the drunk driver version came later. But why? It looks like there was some sort of a cover up,” he mused. As a new page came up on his screen, he scratched his head “Well, would you look at that! Looks like it wasn’t the first time something went badly for dear old Roman. Here’s a list of all reports he made to the cops, or tried to make—he believed someone was trying to kill him at the facility. But none of these were officially filed for some reason… I wonder why. You know, it might be that his accident was no accident after all. It might have been a murder.”

“What were they working on at his facility? It could be important,” I realized.

“Let’s see… It looks like they were working on creating a new miracle drug. And it looks like the preliminary testing actually worked, too. But then, why did the project get cut?”

“Tia said the donors decided it was more hassle than benefit to continue funding the research after multiple accidents at the lab…”

Gerald and I exchanged a look. Accidents at the lab, successful research for a miracle drug, a head scientist who thought people were trying to kill him, and in the end a car explosion—yeah, this all seemed unlikely to be a coincidence. Most likely someone was really trying to sabotage the research and the people involved in it. By any means possible.

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“I wonder if Tia even realizes any of this,” I managed to say. “Hey, is there any talk of Roman Blakely’s body after the accident?”

Gerald scrolled through several more pages of reports and turned back at me with a curious expression “None. Which is surprising. But with explosions, a lot of times there are no remains.”

“Is there any chance the guy didn’t die?” I found myself asking. “You said yourself that he suspected someone was trying to kill them. I mean, the guy wasn’t the head scientist of a project for no reason—he must’ve been smart. Maybe he decided to fake his own death before someone got him for real?”

“It’s possible, I suppose. But why are you asking about all this now?” my brother cocked an eyebrow.

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“I was just babysitting Roman Blakely’s son. Did you know that the man was a big fan of a comic book called WarlordWizard? And was apparently really good with computers?”

My brother looked at me very seriously “You think he is my hacker friend from the board?”

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“I don’t know, but it is plausible. And you said yourself the guy seems to have a grudge against our company. Think about it. They were developing a miracle drug only a short time before Collier Enterprises released one of their own. And their whole research process was hindered with accidents and likely sabotage. It is possible that Collier Enterprises was responsible for the whole thing. It’s not like a cover-up like this would be unaffordable for Lionel Collier if he really wanted to hide involvement in something illegal.”

“We really need to get our hands on that key, that’s for sure,” my brother was apprehensive. “Who knows what else is hidden on those servers?”

“That is what we’re planning to do, isn’t it? I just hope we find what we’re looking for inside that server.”

“So do I, sis, so do I. And remember, be careful. We don’t want this guy to discover what we’re up to and do something to you.”

I nodded. “I understand. I am careful. But also really eager to get a move-on with this. As for you, are you going to ask WarlordWizard about this new information?”

My brother sighed “Not yet. For now, all we have is suspicions. Unless he chooses to reveal himself to us, I feel like we should let him keep anonymity.”

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“Fair enough. I’d rather not have to keep the fact of her husband’s living state from Tia, either. Night.”

Hopefully, it won’t be long now until we could figure out what was going.