Gen 2 Ch 10: Meet the Hacker

Author’s note: Discussion of crime, panic attacks, some cursing. 

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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…

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“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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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?”

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“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.

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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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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?”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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…”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.

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“We’re so sorry, David,” Gerald reached out.

“You didn’t do any of this,” David muttered and stumbled out of the room.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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“For what?”

“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.”

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.

 

Gen 2 Ch 9: Past and Present Circumstances

Author’s Note: This chapter deals with topics that are problematic for some, like mental health problems and death. So, if you’re not comfortable reading about this stuff, you’ve been warned.

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Rushing out of the house, I had no idea where David might have gone. I stopped by his house, just to be sure, but he wasn’t there. I thought of heading back to the office to look for him, but something told me he wouldn’t be there.

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After hours of searching the neighborhood and nearby shops for any sign of the man, I was confused, tired, and not a little worried. I really didn’t mean to set David off like this, but my big mouth just had to go and say those things. Well done, Irene, well done.

Almost admitting defeat, I was about to head home and see if Gerald can track him through phone, but passing near the Hidden Springs cemetery, something caught my eye. David! He was here!

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I wasn’t sure how to approach him after our spat, but at least he was here and safe. When I saw him, it was as if a rock fell of my chest. If something happened to him because of my behavior, I would have never forgiven myself.

I walked over quietly- he looked to be deep in thought.

“Hey,” I made my presence known. “May I join you?”

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David looked over and to my surprise, gave a small smile. “Yeah. You’re welcome to.”

“Look, David, I’m sorry about what I said. I shouldn’t have blown up at you like this. I didn’t mean to say anything hurtful.”

“It’s ok,” he calmed me down. “I understand.”

“You do?” He really didn’t have to excuse my behavior.

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“Nobody’s perfect, Irene. We all do things we’d rather we haven’t done.” He looked away and back toward the gravestone that we were sitting next to. After reading the name on it, I understood why: Emily Collier. Judging by her picture, the girl must have been closely related to David- she looked too much like him. According to the dates listed on the gravestone, she died a bit before her 16th birthday. Which was, coincidentally, only a couple months before David’s breakdown.

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“She was my sister. We had a six-year age difference, but we were always extremely close. She was my best friend in the whole wide world.” David sounded nostalgic. “She wasn’t like the rest of us. She had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. So I’ve always tried to look out for her. But then, high school came and Dad had me shipped off to prep school, which put a big distance between us. I still made sure to keep in touch, of course. We would call and text all the time, whenever we weren’t in class.”

“You were really close…” I murmured, understandingly.

“I never liked prep school, but I saw it as a necessary evil. It was giving me the education I would need to get accepted into my dream college and that would enable me to get out. Out of this family. Away from these people. Into a different lifestyle. I would do my best to get Emily away too—she was getting no benefit from my parents’ company.” David chuckled bitterly.

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“When I did make it into college, Emily was already in middle school. A star pupil, all the teachers called her. So, as soon as it was time for high school, our folks had her enrolled in the same prep school as me. I knew it was a bad idea from the start and I tried to tell father, but you know how he is—he’s always right. Well, right from the start, Emily hated the place. She didn’t tell me that straight out, of course, but whenever we talked on the phone or over video-call, you would just be able to tell that she wanted to be out of there. So I studied harder and harder—if I were to have a good job and income, Emily could come and live with me once I graduated. She could go to normal school, where she wouldn’t have to live….” He couldn’t finish as the tears overtook him.

I wasn’t sure what to do—I never had to deal with a person in such a distraught state of mind. Tentatively, I placed my hand over David’s, which surprisingly made him more relaxed. He continued his story.

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“Then, when senior year came, I was elated. I was in the top percentile of my class and already had my eye set on several good publications. I was close to making it out. But something changed with Emily. I didn’t know what it was until it was too late. Whenever we talked, she would keep our conversations short; whereas, once, we used to tell each other everything, she would now barely tell me anything. She made some new friends at the prep school. I was happy to hear that, would you believe it? She was no longer alone!” He half-laughed again. “Then, halfway through the second week of my classes, I got the news: Emily was dead. As it turned out, she got involved with the wrong kind of crowd, the kind that liked to party, or rather, over party. I don’t know where the school administrators were looking, but there was a lot of alcohol going around at these get-togethers. Emily got her hands on way too much of it—the autopsy showed death by alcohol poisoning.”

David’s breathing became a little too quick and before I knew it, I put my arms around him to steady him. He visibly relaxed and his breathing became less shallow.

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“You don’t need to tell me these things if it’s too difficult, you know. You don’t owe me any explanations for your life, David.” To be honest, I was quite worried for him because he wasn’t reacting well to these recollections.

“I think I should though. I want you to understand why I want my father to go to jail. If he didn’t send her to that school, nothing would’ve happened. Do you think he even took any legal action against the school? Ha! As if! He blamed her. He blamed Emily. He said that if she should’ve been more responsible with her decisions it wouldn’t have happened. How can a father act this way after the death of his child? Tell me!” David was furious and I agreed with him- Lionel’s response to his daughter’s death was a bit too heartless.

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“Is this why you’ve flunk out of school?” I understood.

He nodded. “Yeah. I couldn’t stop blaming myself. If only I could’ve gotten her out sooner, she would still have been alive. She wouldn’t have gotten involved with that crowd if only she was with someone who actually took care of her. If she wasn’t so lonely, she would have been fine. So, I went into a downward spiral. I stopped going to classes, stopped doing any work, and wouldn’t talk to any friends. Sharon, my girlfriend at the time… she tried to stick it out with me, but I did my best to push everyone away, even her. In the end, she couldn’t take it anymore and broke it off between us. Not that I blame her.”

He paused for a little while before continuing. “I was practically a zombie. I wasn’t properly alive—half the time, I wouldn’t even get out of bed for days. Not that I could sleep much though. I kept recalling that phone call, imagining that party. Eventually, my lack of sleep, barely eating and constant chain-smoking showed a result: I passed out outside of my dorm and my classmates called the ambulance for me. The doctor who put me back on my feet wasn’t a stranger to such symptoms and he quickly got it through to me that if I didn’t start taking care of myself, I wouldn’t last long myself. Also, he hooked me up with a good counselor, for which I will never be able to thank him enough. Little by little, I came to my senses. But then my money ran out and since I dropped out of school, I ended up back here. Well, you know the rest.”

“I’m so sorry about your sister and about what happened to both of you. No one should ever go through this.” I pulled him into a hug and he didn’t protest. I imagined a terrible fate like this befalling Gerald and shuddered inwardly. No wonder David was in such a state.

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He eventually pulled away from me, and looking me straight in the eyes stated “We have to do this. We have to release this information. To the public, to the cops, to whoever can do something. It’s a matter of conscience at this point. The more people know that Lionel Collier is a criminal, the higher the chance that he will be held accountable. Even if he manages to buy his way out of facing charges this time around, people will know what kind of person he is. This is, really, all I want. I know it’s too late for Emily, but others can still be kept safe from him.”

“Ok,” I nodded. “We’ll do it. I’ll talk to Gerald right this evening. We’ll publish everything through as many channels as possible. But I’m serious—you can’t let those fingerprints be in your father’s office. I understand that you blame yourself for what happened to Emily, but taking the fall for something you didn’t do will not bring any justice to her. Honestly.”

“I know…” he admitted after a pause. “It’s just… you know, she had her whole life ahead of her. Why did it have to happen?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I guess that’s life. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. The best we can do is to continue on and keep looking out for the people we care about. And to hope for the best.”

He honestly smiled at that “I didn’t know you were such an optimist?”

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I chuckled “I guess Lana’s company has rubbed off on me.” A thought occurred to me that I didn’t have previously “Hey, that night we’ve met. Is this why you went to such great lengths to make sure I was alright?”

He nodded “Yeah. I saw a young woman getting drunk and all I could think of was that if Emily had someone there to watch out for her, she could have still been alive. I couldn’t just sit by quietly.”

I appreciated the gesture even more than before. “Thanks again. I really appreciate it.”

“It was the least I could do.”

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It was dark and rather chilly by now and I was sure David was still exhausted from these past few days.

“Alright, so here’s what we’re going to do. I will go into the office tomorrow and clean of those prints, that is not up for debate. And after that, we publish everything through Gerald’s channels. Ok?” I presented the plan to David.

He nodded, this time much more calmly “Ok. Let’s do it. I think you’re right about me not thinking clearly about this. I guess I was trying to go after some form of self-punishment. But I admit your plan makes more sense at this point. Really.”

“So, you’re not going to do anything to endanger yourself, right?” I had to be sure he was safe.Screenshot-73.jpg

“No. Honestly. I’m sorry for scaring you guys like this. I mean, I overheard some of your and your brother’s conversation. It’s ok, I know you guys were concerned about my behavior. But I’m not going to be a danger to myself, really,” he reassured me.

“What about tonight? Where are you going to stay?” I was still worried about him being alone.

“I actually do want to go home,” he admitted. “Something about sleeping in one’s own bed and not in the middle of someone’s room.”

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“Hey, I would’ve given you the bed…” I started, but he interrupted with a smile.

“I’m joking. Thanks for having me over. It was nice to be surrounded by other people, for once. Take care, Irene.” With that, he headed off home and even though I still worried, it seemed that our conversation has done him some good. Perhaps, he really did just need to talk to someone about this whole ordeal?

————————————————————————-

 

The next morning, I entered the office with a clear plan: once again, wait for the others to leave, go back into the office and wipe all the areas we’ve touched clear of possible fingerprints. It was an unexpected hassle, but one I was happy to complete for a friend.

However, everything in my mind went up in smoke when I saw the state of the workplace. Everyone was in shock, the workers were not at their stations, and they were speaking together in worried voices, the looks of morbid curiosity on their faces.

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My first thought was that somehow, due to very bad luck, David and I were discovered last night. Perhaps there were hidden security cameras? Or a witness to our break-in? But if we were the cause of all the hustle, why was no one looking at me at all? If anything, they were mostly congregated around newspapers and computer screens…

Running into our office, I headed straight towards Lana and Tia. They were also talking about whatever had everyone’s attention.

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“Hi, what’s going on? Why is everyone acting so strange?” I asked upon reaching them.

They looked at me with surprise. “Don’t tell me you haven’t heard?”

Lana gave tossed me the newspaper and it was right there, in big letters across the front page.

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“Lionel Collier, pharmaceutical supergiant, dead at 48.”

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“What?!!! He’s dead? How?!” I was incredulous. This was too easy. The Big Bad didn’t just kick the bucket hours before he would be caught.

“Well, the newspaper states it was a heart attack. It’s unexpected, sure, but these things happen I guess,” Lana shrugged. “But what happens to us now? The company, that is. Does Selma just become the new owner and do we just keep on working as usual? Where even is Selma?”

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What was going to happen, indeed? If Collier was dead already, then was there a point in releasing all the information from his server? Gerald, David, and I would have to discuss the whole thing.

Where was David anyway? His desk was empty. He was actually ok, right? Did he even know the news?!

This whole situation was taking an unexpected turn.

“Are you ok, hon?” Tia looked at me with concern.

“Yeah. I’m just worried about David. It’s his father, after all.” It wasn’t exactly a lie now, was it?

“That poor boy. He must be in quite a state now,” she shook her head.

My phone rang, making me jump. It was Gerald.

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“Sorry, I have to pick this up,” I excused myself and headed out on the balcony, for some privacy.

“Irene! We have a problem,” my brother started without any preambles, “It’s out. The information’s all out. It’s plastered all over the internet, along with the news of Collier’s death!”

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“What!!! But we weren’t going to publish it until…”

“I know! I didn’t do it! I have no idea who did!” my brother was baffled. “I didn’t realize anyone else had a copy of the files. I know I didn’t send it to WarlordWizard or anything…”

My brother trailed off. My mind went right to David’s empty desk—was he really reckless enough to do this? Maybe he was. My heart lurched. I really hoped he wasn’t reckless enough to do anything else.

“Irene, is David there with you?” Gerald asked. “I can’t reach his phone.”

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“No, he’s not here.” A new surge of worry hit me. He was still alright, wasn’t he? Was it a big mistake to let him go home last night? On the spot, I made up my mind about my next decision “I’m going over to his place right now.”

“What about the fingerprints?” Gerald asked.

“That’s not the most important thing at this moment!” with that I hung up and ran out of the office. Some of the workers looked at me funny, but they had more serious concerns at the moment than a random employee’s erratic behavior.

The drive to David’s house wasn’t long but it certainly felt that way. I just hoped I would be there before he was able to make any rash decisions.

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Arriving at his house, I began to knock on the door like the world was ending. To my surprise, it opened by itself. Running in, I saw David sitting on the floor, looking wide-eyed at the screen of his laptop.

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‘David!” I half screamed. “Thank goodness, you’re ok! You are ok, right?”

He was looking at that screen without really seeing it. Barely moving his lips he managed to let out:

“He’s dead. My father’s dead…”

He was definitely not ok then. In fact, he looked positively feverish. No wonder he was in such a state.

“I never meant this to happen, Irene. I wanted him to be held accountable for his crimes, but I never wanted him to die, I swear,” he muttered bitterly, taking in fast shallow breaths. “He was still my father.”

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“I know, David. But this wasn’t your fault. Really, it wasn’t. The information was leaked after he passed- his death wasn’t caused by the news. So, you really aren’t to blame for this. Please don’t be so harsh on yourself.” If David was the one who leaked the server info, then of course it made sense that he’d feel the need to blame himself for this.

“Information? What are you talking about?” David steadied himself as much as he could. “Did you and Gerald decide to go ahead and publish the server content already? I thought we were going to wait…” he drifted off, with a slightly hurt look.

“Us?! No! We were going to wait! Wait, you didn’t publish it?” I looked at David with expectation.

“Me? How? I gave the flash drive to you.” David shook his head. Now feeling calmer. He slumped against the wall, trying his best not to let the new information overwhelm him.

“Oh, of course, of course. Sorry, I went kind of crazy when I heard the news, too,” I joined him on the ground, staring at the screen. This really was the worst kind of timing. “It’s just, you know… I showed up to work, the news is going abuzz with your father’s death, the information is out, and you’re not there. I was worried something bad was going to happen to you…”

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“You were worried about me?” David looked up surprised.

“Of course. This whole mess is kind of my fault too. And why wouldn’t I be worried? We’re friends, after all.”

He gave a weak smile. “Thanks. It means a lot to me.” He took a big gulp of breath and much more steadily asked “So, what are we going to do now? Dad’s dead, all the dirty laundry is aired, everyone is going crazy. The company is probably in chaos right now. And I’m a total wreck on top of it.” He sighed.

“You’re not a wreck, David,” I found myself understanding him. He was just going through a bad time and circumstances were making it all so much worse. “We didn’t expect this whole situation to happen. We never expected your father to pass away that young, that’s for sure. How is your mother, by the way? How is she holding up?”

“My mother? Oh… you’re right. She must be wondering why I haven’t called all this time.”

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He got up, knees still unsteady, and dialed his mother’s phone number. For several long minutes, the dial tone kept on beeping, until the robotic messaging system told us the owner of the phone was unavailable.

“Maybe she’s disconnected her phone after too many calls?” I offered. Selma Collier must have been getting concerned calls from the entire company now. It was understandable how something like this would be overwhelming at a time of loss.

“You’re probably right. I should go there right now, then. See if she’s home and needs any help.”

At this moment, my own phone rang. It was Gerald.

“Irene? Any info on David?”

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“No, he didn’t even have the information to leak it. He’s only just found out about it from me. He’s in a bad state after hearing about his father’s death though. So we’re going to try and see if Selma is home since she’s not answering her phone.” Of course I was going with David. The last few scares he’s given me were more than enough—I wasn’t letting him out of my sight until this whole situation calmed down.

“Actually, that’s why I’m calling you. Umm, you should both come home right now. There are some new developments here.” Gerald was whispering in a conspiratorial voice. The voice he used when he had just discovered some very interesting information or when he thought he had new information for our search.

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“Gerald? What’s going on back home? Is everyone safe?”

“Yes! As far as I know, all the people present here are safe. But… he’s here. WarlordWizard’s here! And you were totally right about his identity, for reals. Now you two need to get here. He… kind of has some information that could really shed a new light on things.”

I hung up, feeling both excited and drained at once. So, Roman Blakely was really WarlordWizard. But how was he related to all of this?