Linda let out a small noise. “Why?” she asked, staring at Clint. “Why would someone wipe it?”
Clint sighed and threw himself into a chair. “The only reason I can think of…someone was afraid of what might be on it.”
“But then what was the safe deposit box for?” asked Peter.
“Let’s just think this through,” said Holly thoughtfully, “What do we know? All the facts. Lionel needed money, right? For the child support. He came to me to get me to pass on a message to Grant.”
“What exactly did he say to you?” asked Clint.
Holly frowned in concentration. “He said to tell Grant to contact him. I think he said he’d regret it if he didn’t. Then he said the message would be more meaningful coming from me or something like it. I didn’t understand why and I still don’t. I barely know Grant and I told him so at the time.”
“Did he seem surprised?” asked Peter.
“No.” Holly shook her head. “He just insisted I should be the one to tell him.”
“Did you?” asked Linda.
“No. A friend of mine advised against it. She said I shouldn’t get involved.”
Clint chuckled. “This probably wasn’t what she had in mind,” he said, glancing around the apartment and then back at Holly.
“Anyways, he must have got in touch with Grant somehow,” said Peter, “since he showed up at that party.”
“Yes,” agreed Holly. “He was at the party, they argued and I heard something about money. No wait, it was about paying. I heard Grant say, ‘I can’t pay you’ or something like that. So then what happens next? Lionel comes back here, perhaps picks up the safe deposit key, goes to the bank, takes something out of there, then on the way back here he dies.”
Peter let out a low whistle. “It does sound like blackmail. Lionel tried to shake Grant down, failed, went to pick up whatever he had on him, planning to expose whatever dark little secret it was and got hijacked on the way.”
“By Grant?” asked Linda.
“No. Grant’s too rich a man to do the dirty work himself. But people working for him could have done it.”
Holly ran her hand across her hair again and said thoughtfully, “But why clear the computer? If he had the blackmail evidence on him-”
“Ah,” said Clint as if it suddenly clicked in place. He looked around the apartment. “They searched the place. They wanted to make sure he didn’t have any backup copies. They went through everything and cleaned up after themselves. They wiped the computer in case he had a digital backup-”
“A digital backup?” Holly stared at him and then laughed, not at him so much as in realization. “But a digital backup wouldn’t necessarily be kept on the computer.” She turned her attention back to the laptop.
“What are you talking about?” asked Peter.
“It’s the age of the internet if you haven’t heard,” she said grinning at him, “And cloud computing is all the rage. Maybe they were right and Lionel did keep a backup. But there’s a good chance they never found it.” She stood up and took the computer over to Linda and sat next to her. “With you, we stand a good chance of being able to figure out the login information.”
It took longer than Holly had anticipated. They kept trying different services with different passwords and emails but it was still an hour before they finally got through, the login was accepted and they were met with a list of files. Holly started clicking through them as Clint and Peter came over to watch. Most of them were files after files of photographs from various events. But down near the bottom, was one folder titled simple ‘Grant’.
Holly opened it and clicked on the first thing she saw. It was a record of a transfer of funds into a bank account from a Grant Malcolm to Lionel Atwood of nearly $750,000. Linda let out a sharp breath. It was dated nearly five years ago.
“The dates add up,” said Linda.
“So he’d blackmailed Grant before,” said Peter.
Holly clicked on the next item in the folder. It was a photograph. She stared at it, confused. “But that’s- I don’t understand.”
“That’s from the security camera at Peter’s old apartment building,” said Clint quietly. “I found that last year.”
“But it’s a photo of Alan.”
“Yes. Look,” Clint pointed at the screen. “What’s that? That looks like a video of the security footage. And there, open that.”
Holly opened a photograph.
“It’s Layla and Alan,” said Peter.
Clint let out a small, rueful laugh. “Lionel always was good. I almost never had a contact someplace where he didn’t have one too. Just like me he got photos of the two of them together and just like me he must have decided they weren’t worth enough at the time. But unlike me, he remembered the pictures a whole lot sooner than I did. And he started putting the same two and two together.”
“But why on earth wouldn’t he publish the photographs? And why blackmail Grant,” asked Linda. “Alan would be the more obvious target.”
“Grant was the richer one.”
“But why would Grant care?”
“Because his studio was about to close,” said Holly. The others turned at her. “McCall told me about it once. Grant’s studio put a lot of money behind a picture that folded. The studio was in trouble and it was Alan’s film, White Crusader that saved it. But what if this had come out? Alan could have been arrested and the film would have failed. Just like Peter’s film did after he was arrested. Montell Studios couldn’t afford another massive flop. So bringing this information to Grant was more lucrative than taking it to Alan.”
“And,” Clint said to Linda, “If you take into account what your marriage was going through at the time, it probably felt pretty good to him to leave Peter to the wolves.”
Linda let out a long and very tired breath. “So what do you think was in the safe deposit box?”
“I bet copies of these files.”
“Probably,” agreed Peter. “Maybe Grant was even going to pay up in exchange for the photos. Lionel went to get them, because why not? He had a backup online. He needed money again and he figured Grant had paid once before, why not now? All while keeping a backup if he ever ran of cash again. After all he had even more ammo this time. He could expose the fact that Grant had paid once before. It was the perfect time. With Alan arrested, it basically looks like Grant paid to cover up a murder, when in reality he was probably just trying to avoid a scandal he thought was just coincidental. And I bet you if this came out, even if he could stay out of legal trouble, his precious merger would be history.”
“And that’s why Lionel went to Holly,” finished up Clint. “Because of everyway she’s connected to both Alan and you, she would have been one powerful message in her own right.”
Holly snapped shut the computer abruptly and stood up.
“Holly are you alright?” asked Peter.
“I just-, I didn’t expect this.”
“I know,” he said gently.
“We have to take it the police. Surely we have enough with the information in the file don’t we to be convincing?”
“I want to go now.”
“What’s the rush?” asked Clint.
“I don’t know. I just think-, I think we need to do this now.”
“Could we wait? Just until tomorrow?” asked Linda.
“I want to talk to my children. I want…to call them. I just want to make sure I do this the easiest way possible for them. Their father a blackmailer and was murdered. I want them to hear that from me in the nicest possible way. If there is a nice possible way.”
Holly sighed. She still felt the urge to go immediately to the police but Linda was only asking for one night.
“Alright.” She pulled out a piece of paper and jotted her address down on it. “Here. Why don’t you come by my house tomorrow and we’ll go to the police together with the laptop.”
Linda nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
AN: I hope everyone had a great holiday! Also, I don’t know who was voting for Holly(Woods) on TopWebFiction during the hiatus, but all I know is four people voted for it over the holidays and I’m deeply grateful for it! So thanks! Whoever it was! It was quite a nice ‘getting back to writing’ surprise this morning.
To be honest, while I’ve had this plotline planned for quite a long time, I’ve gone back and forth a lot on whether or not it’s believable or disappointing. If you have time, I’d love to know what people think. It’s a little late to backtrack now ;-), but all feedback helps (hopefully!) to make me a better a writer.