Driven to Desperation

Chapter Thirty—Suspicions & Theories


Esme

I tapped my fingernails on the desk, having checked that Bella arrived safely at the apartment. Though she had already chatted through Angela's account with the responsible party we believed was leaking information to the highest bidder, I hoped he or she would check in again.

The others believed that the player they would meet with in California was the likely suspect on the attempts on Bella's life. I had some doubts that he or she was the only one.

Several media outlets, not just one, had announced the various stories that leaked about my darling niece and her companion. The player I was to meet with the following day was likely selling the stories. One of the highest bidders could be just as responsible, considering both players had the information about Bella's new car.

In the last year alone, there had been over ten thousand attempts to hack Edward's company computers. He countered every one of them. I had to give the man credit he knew computers, and seemed to enjoy his work. He was good. Nothing Carlisle and I threw at it had been able to get through Edward's security measures.

Short of death, I couldn't see how we could.

Edward carried in a locked briefcase, something that never left his side when he left his building or home. It was essentially the equivalent of the President's "football." It held a computer hard drive that held all the data on Oasis. Even the server located in his main office building did not have all the information about the project. Another security measure, and smart, too. Since Edward had the "football" with him on this trip, we'd take extra precautions.

Carlisle and I knew that in all likelihood California would only lead to more questions. They'd undoubtedly apprehend someone that the mastermind behind all of this sent in an attempt to get their hands on Edward's hard drive.

I called bullshit. All of this was not just about Oasis.

Everything seemed so damn personal and though Aro appeared to be as guilty as any suspect was, he had no reason to continue attacking Bella. We'd been after Aro for some time, but until we could nail him for something more than tax evasion, we had to hold back.

Our sources indicated that he was likely the cause of the incident with the tainted lipstick.

I was still waiting on analysis of all the Heidi's lipstick samples I managed to procure while I rifled through Aro's home office a week earlier. If any of those matched the one that nearly killed Bella, they would pay, until then, I needed more proof.

Aro likely used the incident to determine how much Bella meant to Edward. Perhaps he wanted to use her a way to obtain what he wanted. The man had billions of reasons for going after Edward's pet project.

Aro was falling behind in the computer programming business, and we worried that he'd use any means to obtain a competitive edge. Destroying Oasis would not be enough to save his company. No, the man needed something to set him apart. Oasis would do that for him.

However, it would take a great deal to force Edward to hand it over to the man. From what I'd witnessed earlier, it was safe to say that Bella would be one reason. That scared me to death. A desperate man could do anything. Had Aro reached that point?

Still the personal edge to the attempts on Bella's life left me questioning his involvement.

Our sources in Tokyo had proven to be fruitless. We could not gain intelligence for his trip there. For whatever reason Aro visited the city, he returned a happy man, and his return coincided with the sudden influx of hacking attempts on Edward's servers.

We had people working on finding the hackers, but most proved to be poor attempts by young hackers, trying to prove themselves. Twenty-six percent of them however, were not. The potentially highest risks used an algorithm that sent their signals bouncing around the globe.

If Aro was involved, I believed he wasn't alone. The personal attack against Edward made us look deeply into his past. By targeting Bella, it was obvious they wanted to take her from him.

Bella and Carlisle had some ideas, they seemed farfetched, but at this point, we were desperate for answers.

I wanted Bella and Logan to remain safe, and to do that we had to lure out Edward's enemies.

A soft ping indicated that Angela received a message. I read it and cursed under my breath. The son of a bitch was changing the meeting from the next day to one in an hour. I closed down the computer, but I took a few precautions before leaving. As I slipped out into warm Seattle day, I called my niece.

She wouldn't want to miss this for the world.

Edward

"That is not possible. I assure you."

Carlisle gave me a smile that spoke of my lack of ability to open my mind. Even Bella had indicated that inability to me, outside of computers and codes, of course. "In this day and age, just about anything is possible."

I kept my composure while inwardly I warred with two basic desires. One part of me wanted to find my enemy and destroy him. The other warned me to return to Bella's side immediately. The thought of my father up and around—

I wanted to get back on the plane and to Bella.

It was not true. It couldn't be.

"Explain to me why you believe that my father is not in that hospital bed at the facility."

Carlisle checked his watch and then tapped a few apps on his phone, one that looked suspiciously familiar. My own cell phone was a prototype that many intelligent agencies had salivated for, and I delivered several units. It appeared one of the agencies already put them to use. The phones wouldn't be available to many, considering their fifty-thousand dollars price tag.

"Approximately nine months ago, a small cache of an experimental Alzheimer's drug was stolen from a pharmaceutical research lab."

I had no idea where he was going with this, but I tried to remain patient as he continued to type away at his phone. He spoke as if this was an everyday occurrence. It was possible, considering what he allegedly did for a living.

"An interesting side effect the drug had shown was an increase in electrical brain activities in fifty-two percent of the test subjects, and those numbers grew with continued usage in coma patients."

The implications were startling.

"The one reason the drug hasn't been further tested was because it killed just as many test subjects. It was practically a fifty-fifty chance, in other words, too risky. The theft was two days before a brief note appeared in your father's chart that indicated a large spike in heart rate and blood pressure before the machine indicated he flat lined. According to the note, the staff ran into the room within a minute but found that he was fine and it was likely due to the glitch in the machine."

I remembered the incident. I had his doctors perform a battery of tests to be sure he was still comatose. All of this was too far-fetched, straight out of some television drama or movie. This kind of thing did not happen in real life.

I shook my head. "That sounds like a story. But there is a man in that bed that looks like my father."

Carlisle nodded and pulled something up on his phone before handing it to me. It was a missing person's file of a homeless man, who matched my father's height, weight, hair, and eye color. A concerned volunteer from a local shelter had reported him missing. The file indicated that the man always attended Sunday dinner for the past four years. She reported him missing two days before the hospital incident, when friends of the man stated that he was taken into a van almost a week before by two men.

I didn't want to believe it. "Coincidental," I murmured, handing him the phone. "I assume you have more than circumstantial evidence."

Carlisle's mouth twitched into a smirk that I had seen on his daughter Alice once before. He searched for another file on his phone and continued with his explanation. The picture was of a headstone.

"For the last five months, every Tuesday someone delivers a bouquet of lilies to your mother's grave."

I had roses delivered every Friday. Who else would do the same? We had no other family left. I remembered something from my past. A memory resurfaced that I wanted to push back instead.

It was of my mother, beautifully angry as she threw yet another bunch of lilies into the trash. I had asked her why she always threw them away and she told me that they were tainted. That was all, but it was enough to know the truth. They'd been from my father.

"Damn it," I hissed, and made a call to the facility my father stayed.

"Tell them someone from a local lab would be there to take and pick up a sample," Carlisle indicated, already on his phone to make the arrangements.

The hospital proved easy enough to convince the unorthodox request. I paid them handsomely, it was the least they could do.

Minutes later, Carlisle slipped through airport security after he gave out instructions for the switch, still posing at the captain. We hoped the exchange we had outside and inside the limo would appear as nothing more than business. I suggested we made the exchange then, but he indicated it would be too obvious. The man knew what he was doing and I would not question it.

We made our way to the first destination in downtown Los Angeles. I sent a message to Bella to let her know we arrived. Within a minute, she replied with a picture message. Curious, I opened it and nearly choked on a drink of water.

Emmett smacked my back several times, laughing. "If that's your reaction, it's got to be Bella." His eyes narrowed. "She didn't leave the fucking apartment, did she?"

I only shook my head in response, still staring at the photo Bella sent me. It was of her dressed—well, barely dressed really—in one of my white dress shirts, her new black and rhinestone heels she ordered last week, and a sexy, tiny black lace garter. The part of the shirt left little to the imagination, but there was no actual nudity. For some reason that made the whole image sexier.

The message attached message read: I miss you already. I'll be here waiting.

With another lingering look, I realized something. I dialed her immediately, which she answered as quickly. "Who may I ask took that picture?" From the angle and position she was in, there was no way she could pull that off on her own from her cell phone.

"That's what you have to say?" she groaned. "I have a timer on that little Wi-Fi, point-and-shoot camera you got me for our trip to Virginia. Remember?"

The tension in my body left me. "I apologize, I should've realized that."

"Some genius you are," she huffed, clearly annoyed with me. "What did you think? That I called Jason into our bedroom and asked him to take a picture?" She sighed when I said nothing.

Trust was still so tentative on both sides, even after everything.

"In my defense, your picture killed about ninety percent of my brain cells," I admitted, under Emmett's watchful and amused expression.

She laughed, thankfully. "You're forgiven. Now, go get the bad guy. I have another call on the line."

"Yes, dear."

She ignored my sarcastic tone and sighed. "And Edward, please be careful."

"I'll be fine."

We said our goodbyes with promises to check in often. As we pulled into the rendezvous point with Carlisle, I received another text from Banner. Though it wasn't as pleasing to the eye as Bella's picture, it was just as startling.

There's been some suspicious activity in Ms. Swan's bank accounts. Almost six million dollars have been deposited into her account in the last two weeks.

Esme

I kept watch as I waited, the engine idling of the Volvo Carlisle assured me was an exact replica of Angela's car. It hadn't taken much to find one when we received all the data from Bella and our man that was tailing her since the gala.

The passenger door opened approximately seven minutes later, the red head sighed as she struggled with the seatbelt.

"How did it go?" I asked her.

"As I expected, the two points of weakness in their security was exactly as you described. I have two hours before they notice I'm gone."

I nodded and pulled onto the busy street. "And if they notice before that?" We knew what it would mean.

"I'll handle Edward if he finds out." She was practically unrecognizable in the red wig, prosthetic nose, and stylized business suit. It was her eyes that gave her away, which explained the oversized sunglasses.

I laughed. "Honey, you'll have to tell him. It's your theory that's driving this investigation in the first place."

"I know. I hate that Uncle Carlisle is telling him a part of it and when he returns, I'll tell him the rest."

It would undoubtedly shock him. "It's not every day a man finds out his father is up and around," I said thoughtfully.

"Yes and that Aro is the least of his worries."

Too many enemies all working together to bring one man down to his knees, it was all too much. It was what money and power did, create enemies.

"You're right about that."

Bella looked at her cell phone for the time. "Let's go before I change my mind."

As we drove to our destination, I realized that I had made a mistake. This sudden change of plans made me wary. I should have never called her. I hoped that I wouldn't regret it later.


AN: Dun, dun, dun. Thanks to Harleys01 for all your help. Thanks to all of you for being patient. Holiday season makes me crazy sometimes, way too busy. Hope you all have a good holiday. Enjoy and be safe!

I wanted to inform you that I'm writing a short holiday fic called The Red Coats and I started posting a collab fic with kyla713 on our joint account you can find on my profile bio under PlotBunnyWranglers. Thanks again!