1. Time to disappear
Fatigue started to settle in as I recounted for the hundredth time what I had come across earlier in the office. The two officers from the Metropolitan Police and the Serious Fraud Office kept scribbling things in their notepads like they had not heard my story over and over again in the past few hours. I couldn’t blame them, really- I came to them with information on a huge financial crime involving the extremely reputable trading company in Canary Wharf that I worked for. Getting all the facts and details was crucial in compiling the evidence against my CEO.
“Miss Miller, let’s go over this once again- how did you find out about your CEO’s crimes?” The skinny officer with the glasses asked, eliciting a deep sigh on my part.
“Do we have to do this again? It’s 1 AM, and I am exhausted.”
The other officer nodded sympathetically. “We understand, miss, but Mr Armstrong is an extremely powerful and well-connected man, and building a case against him is not easy. In fact, the last person that came forward with some information two years ago disappeared into thin air not long after, so we need to be sure that we get everything and we get it right.”
Did he think that this new piece of information reassured me?
“What do you mean the last person disappeared? And why are you only telling me this now?” I tried to remain composed, but my voice was shaky.
My CEO always looked like a calm, polite man on the rare occasions that I came across him at the office. Then again, it never crossed my mind that I was going to discover information that proved his involvement in insider trading and embezzlement of company funds to an unknown offshore account.
It had been a crazy day as I worked on the latest company financial report that my management had asked for. Thinking about it now, it was odd that my CEO joked about me not needing to prepare a detailed analysis, but I thought he simply wanted me to focus on my other, more urgent tasks. Yet, being the type of person that I was, I was set on getting the report perfect. So when I found myself missing certain documents and coming across information that did not match, it spurred me on to dig deeper- after all, our company always encouraged staff to be thorough in their work. And after days of digging into our system and our archives, I finally knew the truth.
The prickling of the skin on my upper arm was what brought me back to the present. I placed my other hand on top of it and scratched the itchy part through the thin fabric of my top.
That was another problem that I had been trying to figure out for the past two days- where the hell did the tattoo on my arm come from? I certainly could not remember getting one, and yet, there it was, etched on my skin the morning when my best friend Riley and her three Scottish friends left. I wondered time and time again whether perhaps we got drunk and got tattoos but I had no such recollection. On top of that, how wasted must I have been to get a bizarre text such as “You’ll crawl and beg too” tattooed on my arm?
Some memories were crystal clear though, like the tall, muscular hottie who accompanied Riley.
Even his name made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Sure, the other two guys- Aiden and Rafe- were handsome as well, but there was something about Callum that captivated me and lit a fire within me that no stranger, no matter how hot, had ever managed to spark before. Or maybe it was just my guilt over the fact that I nearly knocked him out with a vase when I thought that he was a burglar.
“Miss Miller? Did you hear what I just said?” The Met cop looked at me like something was wrong with me, which was when I realised that I had gotten carried away in my thoughts.
I hated feeling like I was under interrogation because I was not the one that had committed any crimes. We were not in an interrogation room but a small, cramped interview room, which was probably meant to make me feel more comfortable but everything about it screamed “police station”. Their incessant questions did nothing to alleviate my unease either.
“I was asking whether you have somewhere to stay. Somewhere where no one would think to look for you.”
“Hold on, what? Why?” My voice came out trembling, which I had not intended for but the expressions on their faces told me that maybe my fear was not unwarranted.
“As I just explained, we have suspicions that Mr Armstrong is in business with people from the underground world. People who are very much interested in keeping anyone who is threatening their business quiet, if you know what I mean.”
My hands went clammy and my shoulders tightened. I blinked rapidly, trying to process what he was telling me.
What the hell did I get myself into?
They must have seen the worry in my eyes. “Look, there is no need to panic.” Ha, that’s rich of them to say that. They are the bloody police. “Your boss doesn’t know yet what you know or that you have contacted the police. This means that we have an advantage. Just call in sick for a while tomorrow and disappear until we need you to testify.”
“We will provide the medical note for a burnout,” his geekier colleague said, “so that we can throw them off your scent for as long as possible. Once the court case is done and we send him and his associates behind bars, you will have nothing to fear any longer.”
My eyes shifted from one to the other but their faces showed no emotion. Were they used to telling people to just pack up and leave their life behind for a while? This was crazy. These guys worked the white-collar division, not the mafia operations. And I was just a normal girl with an interest in tattooed, bearded men and writing my own music, not an informant for the police.
“Miss Miller... Scarlett. We have your best interest at heart. Please, listen to us when we tell you that you have to disappear for a while. Think- is there a place that no one knows about? Not your family and friends, and certainly not your coworkers.”
I fumbled with my sleeve as I racked my brain to figure out where I could go. Then it hit me. There was one place where I could hide. One place where I knew I was going to be kept safe by the top security and protection expert in the whole of the UK- my best friend.
Riley had recently moved to Scotland to learn more about her birth family, which only her mum and dad knew about. Plus, no one was ever going to suspect that I headed there, so it was perfect. And I was definitely not going to complain if I bumped into a particular hottie while I was there.
Images of a certain Mr Andrews popped up in my mind, causing a sudden wave of warmth to wash over me. The way he said my name that night did funny things to my brain. Fuck it, it was settled- Scotland it was. That was if my bestie accepted to host me.
“I would need to make a phone call,” I requested but both guys must have expected this because, next thing I knew, they pulled an old, classic Nokia 3310 from a drawer close by and slid it down the table to me. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The phone was twenty plus years old. I remembered having one at school a long, long time ago. In fact, it was the first mobile phone that I had ever owned. But what was I meant to do with such an ancient phone, other than play Snake?
“No jokes here, Miss Miller. This device is perfect to have direct contact with us without the calls being traced. And the old-school technology makes it pretty difficult to track your location.”
“Shocker- even the bad guys won’t believe that I am this outdated.”
The skinny guy looked at me, scrutinising me. “I would make the call if I were you, instead of worrying about being fashionable.”
Touché- he had me there. He was surprisingly authoritative and assertive, given his shy look.
I grabbed the phone and ran my thumbpad over the protruding keys. Flashbacks of needing to press each alphanumeric key three times to reach a specific letter ran through my head. Christ, this really was old-school.
Riley’s number popped into my mind, and I entered it in no time but my thumb lingered over the button below the Dial option. I found myself pondering what to do, although it was unnecessary really- I knew that I had no other choice.
I placed the tiny device against my ear and listened to the dialling tone. Anxiety crept in as I waited for my best friend to pick up. The change in the sound through the speaker told me that I was finally through.
“Hey you, it’s Scarlett. Listen, how do you feel about me visiting you?”
And we’re back!😱
I am so excited to share Book 2 of the Stronger Together series with you. I hope you love it as much as you loved Stronger as One (Book 1).
Can’t wait to hear what you all think of Scarlett and the trouble she got herself into.