Author’s note: Discussion of crime, panic attacks, some cursing.
It didn’t take long for David to throw on the nearest clothes he could find and we headed straight to my house without making any stops. I was still not certain that everything was fine back home and wanted to get there as fast as possible.
“So, you’re saying this hacker guy who’s been messaging your brother just showed up out of the blue? And on the same day that the information leaked?” David was incredulous.
“Basically. And Gerald sounded really excited. Which makes sense- he’s just discovered the answer to a mystery,” I chuckled.
“The guy’s identity, right?” David shook his head. “I know me saying the whole situation is suspicious is like the pot calling the kettle black, but this whole situation is really, really suspicious. How do we know he’s not trying to set us all up?”
“Fair point– we don’t. But he hasn’t thrown us under the bus this far. And according to Gerald, it is Roman Blakely, Tia’s husband—the guy who used to work on a big scientific-pharmaceutical project until he became convinced someone was trying to kill him. Frankly, after looking at the police records about his accident and all the reports he’s filed before it, Gerald and I are pretty sure he was right about that.” I filled David in on what we suspected and how a lot of it was now proved to be true. He listened carefully, asking for some details and mulling over the facts.
“And all the threats to him came straight from Collier Enterprises, right?” he stated as a matter of fact.
“It’s wasn’t clear from the information available, but he was working on a project our company was interested in. So, most likely…” I drifted off. It didn’t feel right accusing a recently deceased man of attempted murder in less than 24 hours after his passing, but we both knew that Lionel Collier wasn’t too scrupulous about breaking the law in such manner.
“Well, I am interested to hear his side of the story, that’s for sure. Hopefully, he can clear up what’s going on. Because, now that someone leaked the information before us, I’m just curious about the identity of the person who beat us to it. And at such a bad time, too.” David slunk back in the car seat, drifting off.
He was right about one thing- we will be able to find out Roman’s side of the story.
And here we were. As soon as the car shut off, we hurried inside, where we were greeted by the sight of my brother peacefully drinking a cup of coffee with the man I could only assume to be Roman Blakely.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the friendly-looking man in glasses, who looked practically at home in our house.
“Hi, you’re Irene, right?” the man smiled and extended his hand to shake mine. “I’m Roman. Or WarlordWizard, as you probably think of me. I’m really sorry to just show up like this, but I felt like you guys would all be in a state of chaos now that the leak happened.”
“So, did you do it?” David asked straight out. “The leak, I mean.”
Roman shook his head “No. I did not. I was actually planning to meet Gerald face-to-face before making any decisions about the information, so I was here, in Hidden Springs, already. My apologies, you must be David, right? My condolences. I know my attitude toward your family hasn’t been the best, ever, but I am really sorry for your loss.”
David was a bit taken aback by Roman Blakely’s sincere manner. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
I understood his reaction—this wasn’t what any of us have been expecting.
Gerald chimed in at this point. “Come on, you two. There’s plenty of coffee left. Roman already told some of his story to me but we’ve been waiting for you to be here to discuss the rest.”
Well, this was what we’ve been waiting for. As soon as we settled down, Roman began to explain what happened.
“I graduated university at the top of my class and was recruited to work at the Hidden Springs scientific department and soon became a project leader. You could say not everyone was happy about that: I was younger than many older scientists working there and they had their eyes on my promotion for a while. However, they soon came to respect that I was meticulous about my research and most of the animosity disappeared. So, naturally, when the ‘accidents’ started happening, I didn’t really suspect any of the people working with me.
You see, it was around this time that our group was assigned to the life-fruit project.” Roman noticed Gerald’s and mine amazed expressions and nodded. “Yes, the life-fruit. We all knew that a plant with such amazing healing properties will be highly desired by the majority of pharmaceutical companies. So, the project was kept on the hush-hush. However, you know how it all happens. Information leaks out. And that’s when the accidents started to happen. At first, I did think these were all real accidents. It’s not impossible for an experiment to catch fire or for a computer to malfunction. However, when these things happen on a regular basis, it is obvious sabotage is involved. Besides, after the first accident, my team was even more careful with everything than before—we took extreme care of all machinery, of every chemical present in the lab. But after the last explosion, during which most of the equipment became damaged, our funding got cut.”
Gerald nodded. Tia told us that much. But it didn’t explain his accident.
“So what happened to you? How did you ‘die’?” David blurted out.
He asked the question we all wanted to know the answer to.
Roman sighed “Well, what happened to me was, I began to dig too deep. You see, now that I already suspected foul play with the events at the lab, my natural curiosity got the best of me. So, I tried my hand at what I now do best- hacking. Even before the project got cut, I was already scouring the darkest parts of the internet for an insight on who was responsible for my team’s misfortunes.”
Gerald looked at me conspiratorially—like he told us, the first time the identity of WarlordWizard appeared online, it was done by someone working on Roman’s project. And now, the man himself was proving his research correct. I smiled at my brother in agreement.
Roman continued “Not all the information was good, of course, but there was enough to piece together that Collier Enterprises was very interested in our research. They even went as far as to have gotten involved with a few questionable characters in order to arrange a break-in to what I believe was this house.”
Gerald and I both shuddered. It was one thing to know your house has been broken into years ago, but to hear about how it was arranged was certainly unsettling. David, for his part, just looked resigned to the facts.
“So, I continued to dig,” Roman went on. “And that ended up attracting the wrong kind of attention. Meaning, that things started happening to me. I got nearly run-over twice in one week, my equipment somehow got covered in extract of goldenrod, which I’m extremely allergic to, my car brakes got tampered with… And this continued after the project ended, as well. I hoped, fruitlessly, that once our project became dismantled, I was no longer of any interest to whoever was targeting me, but I suppose I knew too much and posed a serious threat. So, once someone blew up the trashcan near the house where my family lived, I knew even Tia and Clyde weren’t safe. I couldn’t have that. My presence was putting them in danger. So, I faked my death.”
“It couldn’t have been that easy, could it?” David and I both asked.
“You’d be surprised, actually,” Roman smiled ruefully. “I picked the kind of evening when, according to statistics, most of the drunk driving happens, made sure my car was at an appropriate location for the accident to happen, messed it up enough to look like the vehicle has been involved in an accident, and blew it up. All things are possible if you try. And once the police had filled the report of the incident, I got into their system, which is sadly, very poorly defended against such intrusion, and changed a few facts in their report to match up with me dying. It worked—whoever was trying to get rid of me stopped their attempts and my family was safe. And being “dead”, it’s much easier to snoop around on the people who tried to kill you, which is what I’ve been doing for the past four years.”
“I’m sorry,” David apologized. “For all the trouble my family has caused you. I wish I could have done anything to prevent those things.”
“Hey, apology accepted,” Roman smiled. “Besides, you were practically a kid yourself. What could you do?”
“Still,” David looked down.
“So, Tia really has no idea you’re alive, does she?” I asked. She still thought her husband was dead. She had to know the truth, eventually…
“No,” Roman shook his head. “I didn’t think it was safe to contact her. Especially after she began to work at the company. It would have put her and Clyde in danger again. But I’ve always kept tabs on them to make sure they were ok and never needed anything. If there was ever a shortage of money at home, I would always arrange for her to acquire the sum needed, through a fake lottery win or some other way. I wanted to contact them, but you know… safety first.”
“Are you going to contact them now? After all, you’re here in town and at least one of the remaining Colliers knows you’re alive,” Gerald pointed out.
“And I definitely don’t intend either you or your family any harm, Mr. Blakely,” David hurried to assure the man.
“I do want to talk to Tia,” Roman ventured. “But I don’t know how she’ll take my sudden resurrection…”
“Well, she already knows.” The door burst open, with my coworker and friend practically falling into our living room.
And she did not look happy. “Hello, folks. Hello, Irene. HELLO, ROMAN!”
Roman, in turn, got up from his seat by the window, with a look that contained both fear and adoration. “I can explain.”
He moved closer to his wife “I can explain, really. I’m so sorry I had to do this, but I had a valid reason for doing this.”
Tia looked at her at her phone with an impenetrable expression “Well, I’m here and listening. And I’ve got plenty of time. Talk.”
“I was scared something was going to happen to you or Clyde, ok? I didn’t want to become the reason you were hurt or worse,” Roman pleaded with his wife.
“Well, we were hurt by you not being here. Do you know how many times I’ve cried myself to sleep, mourning you, mourning what our lives could have been?”
“I know. I wished I could have been with you all these years. Do you know how many times I nearly broke down and just traveled back home? I had to remind myself over and over that I was going to uncover the necessary information soon and it will all be over then. I’ve missed you so much…”
“I’ve missed you too! And if I hadn’t become suspicious of Irene’s behavior lately and followed her, I still wouldn’t have known you are alive.”
So much for my subtlety.
Tia looked like she was about to start crying. But to all our surprises, she instead jumped on Roman in a passionate kiss, to which he responded in the same manner.
The rest of us just smiled. The two lovebirds were reunited once more. Well, we now knew one thing for sure—Roman Blakely wasn’t a bad guy. But if neither he nor David were responsible for the information leak, then who was?
Finally, after a kiss that seemingly took all the air out of them, the two pulled apart.
“Will you be coming home, then?” Tia asked her husband. “Clyde will be so happy to see you.”
“Yeah. I think it might be safe now. But first, we should really discuss the situation with your company. Collier Enterprises is really going to be a mess after what happened,” Roman admitted. “And we still have no idea who leaked all this information about the company.”
“Information leak?” Tia was bewildered. “Am I missing something? I spend all day tailing Irene,” she admitted apologetically.
“Why don’t we all sit down and relax before thinking everything over?” my brother offered.
“So, you guys have been gathering intel on the crimes going on at a company I’ve worked at for years! I had no idea any of these things were happening!” Tia was shocked to learn about the secret deals going on at Collier Enterprises. Hers was, probably, a good example of the reaction we’ll get from the rest of the workers.
“Basically,” I explained. “But the good news is, since none of you guys knew about these things, you won’t be held legally responsible. Right, Ger?”
“Yep. Roman and I have already looked up all the legal information about this situation. The workers weren’t in the know- therefore not legally accountable.” My brother and Roman Blakely both nodded.
“Insane,” Tia shook her head, finally resting it on Roman’s shoulder. “And now, you say, someone leaked all this online? And you don’t know who?”
“Pretty much,” David chimed in. “Strange, isn’t it? We thought the key and the server were so well-hidden and secure. It took us all this time to find the key and to get access into the server—and now, someone else got the information seemingly so easily?”
“Well, your father must have had a copy of the server key on him. Because, from what I’ve gathered after searching for the source of the leak, the IP address that posted the information is located in Twinbrook. And your father was there right before the leak happened—whoever the culprit was, they must have stolen that copy off of him. And obviously, they must have pretty good hacking skills, as well,” Roman grudgingly admitted.
“Hmm, do you think this could be the reason that Dad… you know, died? I mean, they say it was a heart attack. Maybe he realized someone had access to his information and became too stressed out?” David supposed.
“It’s possible, I suppose,” I agreed. “Although, one would have expected a person who constantly hid so many illegal things to have a better ability to deal with this kind of situation… Sorry, that sounds kind of cold,” I apologized.
“It’s ok,” he shrugged. “You’re right though. It isn’t all that plausible.”
“Speaking of apologies, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Roman, Tia,” I addressed my friend. “I’ve suspected he might be alive for a while now. I just didn’t want to get your hopes up and then to dash them again when it would have turned out WarlordWizard wasn’t him after all.”
“Oh, that’s alright, Irene. I probably would’ve done the same thing in your situation,” she mumbled sleepily.
She wasn’t the only sleepy one– David was also now nodding off in his armchair. He was going to have a messed up neck if he ended up spending the night asleep in it.
“David! Hey, you want to go lie down now?” I woke him up.
“What! Oh, did I nod off?” he got up. “I have to try to call my mother again before I fall asleep for real. Thanks for waking me up.” He headed out of the room and Gerald exchanged and uncomfortable look with Roman. The later brought his hands to his head.
“What?” I didn’t understand why they reacted in such a manner.
“Gerald warned me to be careful with David, considering the guy is already so strung up, so I didn’t mention it while he was here,” Roman explained nervously. “But, umm… whoever leaked the server information also leaked the information off of the Colliers’ private computers and accounts. And I guess, Selma wasn’t too careful or just not skilled enough to hide this, but… the information showed that she had recently purchased a drug called succinylcholine. You might have heard about it if you read or watch detective fiction…”
“Isn’t that the ‘perfect murder weapon’ drug? The one that simulates a heart attack and organ failure in many cases?” Tia perked up.
“Yeah, the very one,” Gerald stood up, rubbing his neck. “So, you know. The wife purchases this kind of drug and in a short while, the husband dies of a ‘heart attack’… This is going to look mighty suspicious under normal circumstances.”
“Yeah, you see,” Roman explained. “It is not unusual for some less scrupulous hackers to fake this kind of information to create problems for their targets. And since this kind of information came out without any warrant, the police would be hesitant to act upon it. Since it’s possibly fake, and all.”
“But from what we understand, Selma Collier has been unreachable for most people here all day. And from the information currently available, it seems that she is currently in Twinbrook,” explained Gerald.
“She is?” Tia asked. “Strange. I definitely heard Lionel Collier talk on the phone regarding his hotel arrangements. He was only going by himself.”
“Yeah,” Roman chuckled darkly. “It doesn’t seem like he knew she was also planning to be there. Well, the deal is, the police over there have already talked to her regarding the leak of information and she’s not supposed to go anywhere until the police decide what to do since it’s obvious she was also involved in many of the illegal transactions and arrangements listed in the server information. But it seems that, based on what the autopsy turns up, Selma could be facing a murder charge.”
“Shit,” was all I could say. This wasn’t good at all. Now the whole company really would be in shambles and David will be the one dealing with the whole thing. As well as with the fact that there was most likely a murder committed within his family.
“Yeah. That’s why we didn’t want to say anything about it with h…” Gerald stopped speaking abruptly, looking at the door.
I turned around and saw David standing at the entrance with the expression of a gazelle caught in the headlights. It was obvious that he’s heard enough.
“We’re so sorry, David,” Gerald reached out.
“You didn’t do any of this,” David muttered and stumbled out of the room.
“I’ll go after him,” I jumped up, following my friend.
Luckily, he only went as far as the next room. He just stood there, looking out the window and focusing on his breathing. Trying to stave off another panic attack, of course.
“Hey, it’s going to be ok. It’s all going to be ok,” I tried to reassure him, even though I knew it most likely won’t be. Funny how life can work out, isn’t it? Only two days ago, he was set on exposing his family’s crimes. Well, they were exposed now. Just on a higher level than he expected. And he didn’t even have anything to do with it. Which, judging by his reaction to the current events, was probably a very good thing.
“Do you think she really did it? I mean my mother. Do you think she really tried to poison dad?” he asked with a thick shaky voice.
I pulled him into a hug, causing him to become steadier. “I honestly don’t know. I don’t really know your mother that well to be a judge of her character in this instance. I guess, it’s really up to her how this situation goes.” Well, I knew some of her character, I supposed. I knew she was staying with Lionel mostly for the money and the lifestyle she could afford being married to him. If there was a reason for her to feel threatened about her position in said marriage… well, people have done worse things than murder for money.
“It’s not impossible. If my suspicions were correct, my father may have had a mistress. It wouldn’t have been the first time of course and she never really cared before… Unless, this time, he had intentions to divorce…” David drifted off.
“Well, no use thinking about it now. That would just drive you crazy, without any solid facts at hand. But you know what? The morning is wiser than the night. Tomorrow is a new day. I’m sure we’ll have some new information about all of this by then.”
“You’re probably right. Thanks by the way,” he pulled me into a hug.
“For being here for me and not freaking out at my behavior,” David admitted. “I definitely would have gone crazy if I had to deal with these events alone.”
“You don’t have to thank me. I meant it when I said I was a friend. Despite everything.” Well, I was legitimately worried about David’s wellbeing, so I was a friend.
He seemed quite exhausted by now—this day took a big toll on him.
“Well, it’s late, so I’ll head home now,” he started, but I had a different idea.
“Why don’t you stay here tonight? Seriously, there’s plenty of space to sleep.”
“What? I can’t! What will your parents think?” he protested.
“Nonsense. My parents will have my rear if I let you go home alone tonight in this state.”
That actually put a smile on his face. “I didn’t think they were so strict!”
“Oh, they can be, when it comes to people’s wellbeing. Seriously, let me make you the bed.”
And so, despite all protests, David ended up sleeping in my bed, while I headed over to Gerald’s room for the night. By this time, Tia and Roman have also gone home, no doubt continuing their family reunion in cozier surroundings. They would certainly have a few things to talk over.
My brother was already half-asleep, when I finally came to bed.
“So… you’re giving up your bed for him?” he asked groggily.
“He needs it more than me right now. Besides, we can sleep in the same room tonight. Just like old times,” I smiled.
“Hmm, you really care about that guy, huh?” Gerald joked.
“We’re just friends, dude. Seriously,” I waved him away.
“Sure…” Gerald mumbled, falling asleep.
David was just a friend, though. And one in need of a comforting shoulder right now. And there was no way that I would to be there for him at this moment.