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