Disclaimer: I don't own any of the POTO characters. Erik is based mostly on ALW's musical with a splash of Leroux for good measure. I've never read Kay's book so any similarities or differences are purely coincidental.
Chapter One - Then my world was shattered . . .
Oct. 14 – 2:45pm
Alex glanced at the clock as she handed her final exam to the instructor with a silent cheer of triumph. Fifteen minutes to spare and she was through, done, finished with her degree. Even though it wasn't official yet, she was still glad to no longer be a college student. Now all she needed was an interview and a job. She made a face and turned to gather her things. Business Finance…what an exciting career. Hurrah, be still my beating heart, and all that rot. She had known she needed something marketable and, since she was good with numbers where many others weren't, finance seemed the path to take. With few options, she had jumped into the coursework and was finishing up two semesters early. Now everyone thought she was rocketing towards her dream job in Corporate America. If she was honest with herself, however, she was still that little girl who didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. 'No time for fairy tales and wishful thinking, Alexandra Marie Roberts,' she scolded herself silently. 'Time to face the real world.'
Shoving her pencils, mp3 player, and cell phone into her oversized purse, she started digging for her car keys as she made her way to the door. Alex muttered under her breath as the elusive keys evaded her grasp so she did not see the person who had just entered the room. She looked up with a small cry of success just as she bumped into the gentleman standing in the door frame. Before she could apologize, however, he stopped her with a hand on her arm. The description he'd been given was accurate: a bit tall for a girl at 5'7", late 20s with reddish-brown hair that barely brushed the top of her shoulders, pale green eyes that one of the female officers described as "sea foam green," lightly tanned skin with full lips and high cheekbones, slender and athletic but still feminine.
"Miss Alexandra Roberts?" He barely waited for her nod of confirmation before gesturing for her to exit the room and closing the door behind them.
Oh. She recognized the attitude and routine. A police officer. Joy.
"What did Sam do this time, officer?" She sighed in frustration knowing that her brother's antics would prevent her from being too upwardly mobile in her chosen career. No one would trust an accountant whose brother had been arrested several times for computer hacking, electronic and identity theft.
The officer, one she'd not seen before, motioned her to a bench in the courtyard that was half-hidden by a poorly trimmed topiary of a mouse. For some reason, that fleeting thought amused her. Cat and mouse. A small smile curved her lips before she realized she was the mouse in this game. Lovely. Impatiently Alex sat on the hard bench, studying the plain clothes officer as she waited for him to reveal…whatever Sam had done this time. He was slim, fairly tall, and looked to be of Middle Eastern decent. She'd go as far as to say he was attractive with his naturally bronzed skin, dark hair, and brown eyes. Too bad he came only bearing news of more of Sam's follies.
"I'm Detective Da'ud al-Zahir from Homicide, Miss Roberts." He showed her his badge and waited for her nod of acknowledgment before putting it away and continuing. "Do you live at 423C Chickwood Lane with a Samuel Jacob Roberts?"
"Yes, that's my brother. What's going on?" Homicide? This was way out of Sam's league.
"When was the last time you spoke with your brother?" He skillfully evaded the question as he pulled out a small notebook and pen to take notes.
"This morning, before class, why?" He'd never been violent before…or maybe he was on the receiving end. She paled. "He should be calling any minute now, in fact. He always calls after class is released to let me know if he's home or not. Is…is he in some kind of trouble, Detective?"
"When you spoke with him this morning did he seem agitated or nervous?"
"No, but I am. Please, tell me what this is about." Alex's frustration was mounting as the detective dodged her questions again and again. His carefully maintained professional façade was starting to really fray at her nerves as well.
"Miss Roberts, we are not certain of all the facts as of yet, but we believe that your brother interrupted a burglary in your apartment this morning. Evidence suggests there had been a struggle and Mr. Roberts was shot several times. We believe it was a burglary as the house looked pretty ransacked when we arrived on the scene." There were times he hated this job, Da'ud thought to himself. This was one of those times. The poor girl looked devastated, like she knew what he would say next, and yet was hoping she was wrong. "I'm so terribly sorry but we simply did not get there in time."
"No." Alex was amazed at how calm she sounded, how composed, though deep inside she was being torn apart. Maybe he was talking about the burglar instead of Sam? "No, you're wrong. See…Sam will be calling in a few minutes. Any minute now and you see this is all some terrible mix up, a mistake. Please tell me it's a mistake?"
"He had his driver's license in his wallet and we also verified his identity through finger prints, Miss Roberts. I'm very sorry for your loss; however, if you feel up to it, I need some information from you."
Tears had begun to roll down her face as she struggled to accept the news. Not Sam! He couldn't be dead, he just couldn't. Perhaps it was some joke? Maybe Sam had thought to escape his past, establish a new identity. But no, that was impossible. He'd never hurt her like that. The steady but kind gaze of the detective finally shattered the blissfully numb shell she was in and she collapsed into sobs. He was gone. Her brother, her twin, her only remaining family, was gone forever.
Detective al-Zahir gave her a bit of time to collect herself before he sat on the bench beside her. He hated to interrupt her grieving but he needed to continue his questioning before the trail grew any colder.
"Miss Roberts, do you feel up to talking? We need as much information as possible if we're to find the ones responsible."
Alex nodded, taking long, slow breaths to calm down using a meditation technique she learned from her therapist after the deaths of her parents. She had been prone to anxiety attacks and severe bouts of depression but, against the doctors' advice, refused medication. They had settled on meditation to remain calm in upsetting situations, self-defense classes to work through her anger and fear, and cognitive behavioral therapy for the depression. Opening her eyes slowly, she turned to the detective.
"Miss, we need to know the names of anyone your brother might have had business with: friends, co-workers, that sort of thing."
"S…sam was unemployed," Alex took another deep breath when her voice trembled. "He is…was a convicted hacker, Detective, with strict restrictions concerning computers. It makes…made it very hard for him to get a job. Most of his friends were people he had met online, other hackers. After he was forbidden from using a computer, he began meeting three or four of them for lunch every Thursday. You know, one of those 'no shit there I was' types of friendly one-upmanship. I'm afraid don't know their names; Sam never told me and I'm not really sure he knew either. He'd always call them by their computer names." She dug around in her cavernous purse once more and pulled out her wallet, handing him a business card. "Here's the café they go to; one of the waitresses should know them. Other than the people he stole from before his arrest, I don't know of anyone who'd want to hurt him. He wasn't very social, preferring his computers and video games."
Al-Zahir took the card and slipped it into his pocket. He'd have to look into the boy's old case files and see if it holds any clues.
"Do you have somewhere you can stay for a few days? The crime lab hasn't finished looking over your apartment and you really shouldn't be alone right now." At her nod, he offered to drive her to her friend's home which she declined. As polite as he was, she really just wanted to be alone to grieve. "Very well, here. Take my card and if you think of anything that might help, no matter how insignificant you feel it may be, don't hesitate to call me. I'll let you know when the lab is finished with your apartment." With a final pat on her shoulder, the detective made his way out of the university and towards the café.
After he was out of sight, Alex dug her cell from her purse and sent a text to Lizzie Butler, her best friend since grade school. Not wanting to deal with explanations until she arrived, she merely asked if she could stay a few days to decompress from finals. And though Lizzie never really cared for Sam (she felt he should have 'grown out' of his childish computer obsession by now and gotten a job), Alex knew she could count on her for a shoulder, a tub of Ben & Jerry's, and crash space. She had just made it to her car when she heard the chime letting her know she had a text message. Lizzie must have been on a smoke break when her message went through, she thought as she threw her purse into the passenger seat before sitting down. Fastening her seat belt, she pulled up the message.
You have something we want. Don't be as foolish as Samuel
Her phone fell from numb fingers.