To say that I was shocked was an understatement. I was destroyed.
At first, I didn’t believe it. I refused to. This is a joke, a prank, my parents were amazing people, they wouldn’t hurt a fly, I thought. Then it started to sink in and a lot of things started to make sense. Like their reluctant reaction every time I proposed to spend an evening outside, their odd behavior when they would walk my sister and I back home, and their strange habit of locking every single door in the house.
I started to consider the possibility of my parents being retired murderers to be true, but this would mean that I had been lied to my entire life. I feared that. But it made sense, a lot of it. It would also explain the sudden stop in the police investigation.
It was true.
I still wanted justice for them. I figured I could try to find a way to contact a private investigator since the police clearly couldn’t help me.
The main problem was that I didn’t know how to find one. I mean, you usually don’t have the occasion to search for a PI. I thought of searching online but I quickly rejected that idea: I didn’t know how much trust I could put into the person I would hire through the internet. I could’ve asked a fellow university student, but I wasn’t close to any of them. At least not close enough to talk about that sort of stuff; all of them were only acquaintances.
This whole situation was keeping me from focusing both on studying and working. One day, it was about a week after and I still couldn’t find a way out of my quandary. I was at work, I had almost finished my shift and my phone rang: it was Mr. Sandovyl, my father’s old friend. He was calling to check up on me and to make sure I was doing fine.
I had always known him. He and my dad used to spend a lot of time together, but at a certain point, they stopped seeing each other, I never knew why. We had met at my family’s funeral, we had talked and from time to time he came to see me at work, to catch up a little. I think he felt it was his duty to look after me since the passing of his ‘old buddy’, and I could see that he clearly missed him.
While I was searching for a way to investigate on that night, I had pondered the idea of contacting him but soon realized that my father’s death had seemed to cause him a lot of trouble and I didn’t want him to somehow relive it. He was my father’s best friend after all; the poor man was still grieving.
Once our call ended, I realized I only had a few minutes of work left and figured I could stay a little longer, so I went back to the counter, behind the cash register. I had just talked to Mr. Sandovyl about hiring a private investigator and he had told me that if he were me, he wouldn’t; that what happened was a terrible thing, but I needed to get over it. He told me that he hadn’t entirely recovered from it, and that reinvestigating this case would be like reopening a wound that was supposed to be healing. I was starting to believe him. What if the fact that the first investigation wasn’t able to go through in the first place was a sign of fate telling me that I should stop throwing a tantrum and get back to my life, stop obsessing over the past and start living the present.
Just as I was considering that idea, a customer entered the coffee shop and walked over to the counter where I was standing. He was a middle-aged man, dressed in a very formal way, and seemed to be arguing with someone over the phone.
“Yes… I do know that, but… Sir, please let me talk…” He seemed to get more and more irritated. “Would you please stop shouting? Sir, you seem not to understand that I do not operate like a police officer; in fact, I am not a ‘cop’ as you call them.” He put his phone down and faced me. “I am very sorry for making you wait. Could I please have a black coffee? Thank you very much” said the man in a very soothing tone that was utterly different from the way he was talking to the other person on the phone. He turned away and continued with what he was doing “I told you: I am a private investigator, not a police officer!”
How convenient. I figured I could ask this man to help me with the investigation. I made his coffee and waited until he finished his phone call to introduce myself.
“Here’s your coffee sir”, I said, putting down the cup. Looking still upset, he muttered a thank you and looked awkwardly at me, expecting me to walk away. I did not.
“I know this will probably sound weird and very intrusive but I couldn’t help listening to your discussion on the phone and heard that you are a private investigator. I might need your help on something.”
“Okay, Ms. Moon, let me recap what you’ve just told me”, said the private detective – whose name happened to be Mr. Blackwell – straightening his posture and reading the notes he had taken when I was exposing to him my issue. “So, your family allegedly got murdered on the evening of September the 13th of last year?” he questioned, and I nodded as an answer, although something was bothering me. “ The police has done an investigation on it and concluded to something but you refuse to believe them because you qualify their conclusion as ‘absurd’ and the only proof backing up your statement is your late sister’s diary which, again, allegedly claims your parents were criminals, am I right ?”
“Yes, but why do you keep saying allegedly? My family was murdered.” I asked in confusion.
“Simply because these are not facts, Miss, they are claims; your claims.” He stated and crossed his arms against his chest “When approaching cases similar to yours, I need to be extremely impartial because a first investigation has already taken place and I don’t want to lose your time nor mine, nor do I want to get your hopes up for nothing. Do you understand me?”
I blurted a defeated ‘yes’ and he continued talking “Moreover Miss, do you realize how implausible your statement sounds?”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that what you’ve been telling me for the last twenty minutes resembles some work-of-fiction. Unless I have concrete proof – like the diary you’ve mentioned – I am afraid I cannot believe you”, he explained.
“I can understand that what I have told you can seem unbelievable, but it is true. You said you wanted some proof; I have the diary with me. If you can wait a second, I’ll go get it.”
He sipped his coffee: “I have all the time in the world.”
Once I showed Mr. Blackwell the diary and cipher, he accepted to believe me and to investigate on the ‘murder’. We had a lead, the cipher, but it wasn’t enough. Mr. Blackwell suspected that the diary could have more cipher to decrypt. We were now in his office.
“I doubt that, all the pages are blank,” I reported.
“But I recall you telling me the cipher you found was written with an invisible ink. Maybe we could find other hidden ciphers,” he told me.
“I’ve tried. The cipher I found was written in lemon ink and I found it because of heat. I did it for the other pages and nothing came out.”
“There are other types of invisible ink.” He took a marker: “Let’s try something.” With the marker he had in hand, he traced a line in the middle of the page that followed the one where the first cipher was written. The line didn’t fully appear, it was cut in certain places. “See, I was right.”
He continued to trace all over the page, and another message appeared:
“What even is this?” I questioned as the first symbols of the cipher were appearing on the page. “How are we even going to decrypt this? These are not even numbers or letters!”
“Don’t worry about that, no matter how unintelligible this cipher looks, it’s probably the easiest one to decipher,” he affirmed. “It’s very easy to recognize: the ‘pigpen cipher’, or ‘tic-tac-toe cipher’, if you prefer. It’s a cipher that exchanges letters for symbols which are fragments of a grid; so, to decipher it you have to separate the alphabet in 4 grids. Like the ones that are written on the page.”
“It doesn’t seem so easy,” I noted.
He decrypted the message in front of me:
“Recently, things have been really tense at home; I guess you haven’t noticed it. Dad has been bickering with an old coworker of his, apparently mom knows him as well. I don’t remember his name, but he came to our house a few days ago. He was about dad’s age and weirdly enough, seemed kind – at least to you and me. I didn’t listen to their discussion because I couldn’t, mommy wouldn’t let me, and I also didn’t feel like it. Although I did catch something that man said as he was leaving, ‘One day, I swear to you, you’ll end up killed and so will your family. I’ve warned you’. I don’t know what he meant by it, who would kill us and why; still, how gruesome.”