Author’s note: This chapter contains a discussion of mental health problems. If you’re not comfortable reading these things, you might want to skip this one. Also, like, one curse word.
As soon as we arrived at my house, David fell asleep on the couch. He didn’t eat or drink anything, just simply passed out as soon as a conveniently soft surface was available. I inwardly thanked myself for deciding to bring him here—he was clearly in no state to take care of himself at this point.
After grabbing only a box of juice myself, I headed off to sleep myself, making sure to check on my parents and Gerald—no doubt they would hate to wake up and find a stranger in their home. I quickly wrote them both notes, explaining that David was a coworker who had a little trouble with his transportation home last night and was my guest for tonight. With that issue out of the way, I quickly headed to my bedroom for some much-needed shut-eye.
Waking up in the morning, I was surprised at how quiet the house was. Usually Mom was already banging pots in the kitchen or Dad was complaining loudly about annoying weeds in the garden. Or at least, Gerald was banging away on his computer like the world was ending. Curious, I went out to investigate why everything was so quiet.
On my bedroom door, was a note from Mom. “Darling, I’m gone fishing, there’s plenty of leftover food from yesterday in the fridge. Didn’t cook today as not to wake your guest—the kid is still asleep and I’d hate to wake him. Your father is with me today, we’re having a little fishing date. Take care.”
Ah, well, that explained some of the silence in the house. Looking into Gerald’s room, I found him already awake and working at his laptop (we switched our computers because he needed something portable), albeit much quieter than usually. Upon seeing me, he smiled, “Morning, sis. What’s up with sleeping beauty on our couch? And how did yesterday go? I was wondering what was taking you so long, so I drove up to your office, but your car wasn’t there already and when I came back, you were already here, along with Mr. Sleepy.”
“Hi, Ger. That’s my coworker David. How about I take a quick shower and explain everything? There sure is a lot to tell!” I sighed and headed off to the bathroom, but not before realizing that David was now sitting up straight on the couch and seemingly staring right at me. Well, that was a bit awkward, seeing as I only wore a small crop top and short shorts to sleep in. Any awkwardness was dissipated when he once again plopped down on the couch, still asleep.
David must’ve been pretty exhausted even before last night, I realized while showering. I wondered how long suspicion about his father’s activities has been bothering him. Most likely, he’s been worrying about this longer than he let on.
Coming out of the bathroom, I found my brother in the kitchen, with some waffles warmed up for both of us.
“Talk,” he urged, moving a plate towards me.
“Won’t we wake him up?” I wondered, glancing at David.
“Doesn’t look like it. Whatever is he on? He’s out like a log.”
“I’m not sure, but I think he’s in shock. It can’t be pleasant to find out your father is a long-time criminal,” I shook my head.
“Father?” Gerald raised an eyebrow.
“Yep…” I filled him in on the events of last night, about how I broke into Lionel Collier’s office, how David also ended up in there, and about what we found out on the server. “Here’s a copy of the records,” I handed Gerald the flash-drive.
“Damn,” Gerald rubbed his head. “That must have been a lot for the guy to take in. I take it the kid is nothing like the father then? Since you told him what’s going on with us. By the way, how come you haven’t told me Collier had a son working with you guys at the company?”
“I didn’t? Hmm, I was sure I mentioned it. Maybe not,” I drifted off.
“Where was he before now, I wonder?” Gerald pondered. “It’s weird how no one really talks much about Collier’s family, apart from his wife. I didn’t even know he had a kid.”
“Me neither. I was pretty surprised when Collier brought in his son. He was at college previously, he says. He dropped out though. At least that’s what he told me.” I glanced over at the sleeping man, hoping whatever he was dreaming about was less problematic than his reality.
“Where did you say he went to college?” Gerald asked, starting up his laptop.
“Bridgeport University. Why?”
“Let’s see. University records are usually pretty easy to get into. I’m curious about the guy, now that he’s here.”
After a few minutes, Gerald had access. “Well, looks like David was a Communications, Journalism, and Media student. Heh, I guess we have something in common. Oh, nice, he was a star student too. Straight A’s and all.”
“Really?” I was confused. I lowered my voice “He told me he flunked all his classes and that’s why he was here. And that he hated being here near his father.” Was he lying about that?
“Let’s see. These are all his transcripts from the first two years of school. Straight A’s. Third year looks the same. The kid had valedictorian potential. Oh…” Gerald paused, his brow furrowing.
“What’s wrong?” I urged.
“He did fail all of his classes during the Fall Quarter of senior year. I don’t get it. Clearly, the guy had a good handling of the workload previously, what happened to him? Hmm, there is some note at the bottom of the page.” Gerald continued reading quietly. After a longer than comfortable pause, he shook his head sadly “Damn… you had a good intuition not to leave him alone last night, sis.”
“I did?” I had a weird feeling about letting David go home alone last night.
“It’s a note from the student health center. Looks like David suffered a full-on nervous break-down during his last semester at college. It doesn’t say why, though. But this would explain the terrible grades. From the looks of it, he let whatever was bothering him stew long enough that he ended up in the hospital. The details are a bit hazy though. Looks like, even after the hospital stay, he wouldn’t open up to the doctors about what happened. He did go to the counselor he was referred to, though. Kudos to him for that.” Gerald closed the window, explaining “I can probably learn more in there, but I don’t really feel comfortable looking at a person’s mental health history before even properly meeting them.”
“Understandable,” I agreed, feeling guilty for not having noticed that anything was wrong with David previously. After he went out of his way to make sure I was safe and sound previously, I felt that it would only have been right of me to do the same for him. “I think we should make sure he’s alright. I hope he doesn’t suffer another breakdown because of what he found out about his father.”
“Let’s hope not. I wonder why he wants to work with us, though. From what you’re saying, he’s pretty set on blowing the whistle on his father. But did he actually think this through? Or is he going to change his mind now that he’s slept on it?”
“I’m not going to change my mind,” a hazy voice sounded from the couch. “I made my decision fast last night, but I’m still standing by it.”
David sat up, groggily, still rubbing his head and I wondered for how much of our conversation he’s been awake.
“Waffles?” Gerald pushed a plate toward the man.
“Thanks?” David looked around his surroundings with some confusion and noticing the time on the clock, look amazed “How long did I sleep?”
“Long enough that you must be starving now,” Gerald once again pointed to the pancakes.
David finally joined us at the table, still looking very uncomfortable.
“We don’t bite,” Gerald joked. “It’s nice to meet you. I wish I could say my sister told me anything about you, but she hasn’t.”
“Well, there isn’t much to tell—I’ve only been at the company recently. But still long enough to notice that there were serious discrepancies in the documents. And if I noticed, others will. I’d rather my father didn’t have any reason to endanger any more people.” David looked at his plate sadly but continued to eat.
That was good. I knew firsthand that when people were in emotional distress, their appetite suffered. If he continued to eat, he was doing more or less alright.
“So, let’s plan,” Gerald got down to business. “The quickest way to do this would be over the internet, I suppose. This way, the information doesn’t have to go through any law enforcement that might have been bribed and it will reach the biggest amount of people. Also, I’m sure I could sneak an article about this into our newspaper’s next publication.”
“Both sound good,” David nodded, seemingly relaxed by my brother’s casual manner.
“Do we want to contact anyone from the internet first?” I asked Gerald.
“Oh, he’ll be contacted, of course. And by the way, I think you may be right about WarlordWizard’s identity,” he smiled.
“WarlordWizard?” David asked surprised. “Isn’t that a comic book character?”
“Yeah. It’s also the name of this really good hacker from the internet who’s been helping us break into the server,” I explained. “We think it is a person that everyone presumes dead, but who is actually alive.”
“Wow, sounds like a mystery show. So who is it? If you trust me, that is,” he looked uncomfortable for a moment.
“We trust you,” Gerald agreed. “You had plenty of time to call the cops on us already.”
“We think it’s Tia’s husband, Roman Blakely,” I explained.
“Roman Blakely? That name rings a bell,” David scratched his head. “I think I heard someone talking about him back in high school. Oh yeah. He won a bunch of scholarships and grants, didn’t he? I remember them calling him the top scholar of our generation or something. If I’m not mistaken, Dad wanted to hire him, but I guess it didn’t happen? I don’t actually know– I was away at boarding school during that time.”
“He was working at a different research facility. They were working on some miracle drug, but their research was getting hampered by what seems to have been sabotage. It also seems like someone was trying to kill Roman, but the details around his death are hazy and we think he faked it,” I explained. “This WarlordWizard guy seems to fit his profile, according to the facts. But what makes you think it’s really him, Ger?”
My brother frowned, “Well, I’ve been looking through old IP addresses of the scientists involved in Roman Blakely’s old project. And one of them is also the first IP addresses that WarlordWizard the hacker has made and appearance from. So, unless we’re really dealing with some other person from his team, he is our guy.”
“But how was he so careless to use a computer at work for this stuff?” David wondered.
“Yeah, that sounds too easy to track back, like you just did,” I agreed.
“It’s not that easy to track back. One has to really know their way inside the system,” Gerald defended. “Besides, it isn’t uncommon for hackers and computer whizzes to make rookie mistakes, just like for everyone else. That’s why it’s a good thing you guys were able to access the server from Lionel Collier’s own computer. That way, if push comes to shove, he wouldn’t need to realize his information was accessed by any outside source. It’s like leaving a virtual fingerprint at the crime scene. Well, until we get the information out, that is.”
“Oh…” David suddenly went pale. “Shoot.”
“What’s wrong?” Gerald was confused, but I understood, remembering something that evaded my attention last night.
“You didn’t wear gloves in there, David, did you?” I asked to be sure.
He just shook his head and slumped down on the table. “I really messed this up, didn’t I?”
“Not necessarily,” I began to think about his blunder. Was it really such a blunder after all? After all, we didn’t move things too obviously in Collier’s office and we made sure to put the lock back how it was. We didn’t break anything. And even the electronic access key was placed back in its hiding spot in the globe. Unless, Collier had reason to suspect that someone broke in, he wouldn’t need to dust for fingerprints, right? “There is no obvious evidence of a break-in inside the office; therefore your father doesn’t need to look for fingerprints. I don’t think we need to worry about this issue just yet.”
“You really think so?” David asked hopefully.
“Actually, this almost certainly will be an issue,” Gerald grimly admitted. “Once the information about his father’s crimes gets out, no doubt the investigators will pay a visit to Collier’s office… If they find David’s fingerprints in there, especially on the laptop, he may be considered an accomplice.”
“Oh,” I didn’t think about that aspect of the situation.
“Oh, indeed,” Gerald rubbed his head. “But we’ll figure something out, I’m sure of it.”
“Well, we sure can’t do anything to attract attention to the office until the fingerprints are no longer there,” I decided. “We have to clean them off while we still have time.”
“What?” David was looking at me like I’ve sprouted a second head. “Are you talking about breaking into the office again?”
“I suppose I am, yes. What? We did it once. It worked. And your father is still out of town, so it’s not like he’ll see us.”
“She has a point,” Gerald conceded. “We can’t let this whole thing escalate to you getting arrested.”
“This was my mess-up though,” David argued. “You don’t have to make this all so much more difficult for yourselves just to keep me out of jail, guys. I should’ve paid more attention to what I was doing back at the office. Besides, it’s not like anyone in my family is innocent of the company’s crimes. It’s only fair that I should go down with my father.”
“Drop the self-hate, David!” I snapped. “Is this what the whole idea of revealing your father’s activities was all about? Is it really about calling attention to his criminal choices or is that all just a ploy to inflict some sort of martyr-like punishment on yourself because you think just through association with your family you deserve to be miserable? Let me tell you something—if it is just that, then let’s just quit the whole thing here and now.”
“You don’t understand anything!” David retorted. “This isn’t the first time that I’ve suspected my father of these things. But did I do anything about it? Did I look into anything, or try to figure out the truth? No! I just went on like everything was normal, like my family was just a normal functional unit of people, and like they don’t hurt the people around them! I pretended that my father was an honest businessman who actually cares about medicine, like my mother actually loves him and not just the zeros in his bank accounts, like either of them actually cares about their children! But guess what? That’s all a big fat lie! And I’m a liar to have gone along with it for so long!”
David was now breathing in quick jagged intakes of air and Gerald kept looking on with a shocked expression. He warned me that David might have another breakdown after the latest events, and it looked like something of the sort was happening right now. But I couldn’t contain my feelings about this. I couldn’t stop myself from letting David hear exactly what I had on my mind.
“You think it makes you a criminal to have just been born in your family and living with them? Well, newsflash! That’s what people do. They live with their families. If they don’t like something, they leave. And most people don’t just throw fits because life doesn’t work how they think it should!”
Gerald kept shooting me warning looks- he clearly thought I was crossing the line.
David on the other hand was different now. His breathing became more even and even though he still looked pale, he was definitely grounded in reality. He was however, legitimately angry at me now.
“You know what?” he finally managed to get out. “Do whatever you want. You have the information you were looking for and I have my knowledge that my father will get what’s coming to him. But you know what else? I’m out of here.”
With these words he stormed out of the house, leaving Gerald and I standing there stunned.
“Shit,” I cursed under my breath. What have I just done? It has been a while since I’ve allowed my temper to take over like this, but something about David’s self-deprecating behavior must have set it off. I really didn’t want to hurt him though…
“What was that?” Gerald shook his head. “Irene, we can’t let him be by himself right now. You see what’s happening with the guy. He might do something reckless right now.”
“You’re right.” I knew deep down that I’ve messed up. I was supposed to be his friend, especially at a time like this.
“Where did he even go?” Gerald scratched his head. “Because I don’t think I can, in good faith, do anything with this information right now, not with David like this. I don’t know him, but I feel like this will mess him up good, even if he says otherwise.”
“I know,” I admitted. “I didn’t want to hurt him either. I don’t want to hurt him. He’s been a good friend.”
With these words, I knew that I couldn’t allow this situation to be the last thing that affected David’s opinion of me. I just couldn’t.
“I’m going after him. I need to apologize.”