I am the second Mrs. Roberts
Harriet looked at the text with surprise. It made no sense. She could not understand what it meant but she could not ignore it. She looked at the chat application and it showed ‘typing …’
The first Mrs. Roberts. I don’t think anyone knows she existed. I think something bad happened to her
“Bad? Like what?” replied Harriet in the message.
I think he had her killed
“Who?” she replied immediately.
My husband! I think he had her killed
“What?” thought Harriet. Mrs. Roberts was the wife of Sunil Roberts, a billionaire scientist and philanthropist. Over the last few years, he had handed over his company to his daughter and retired to obscurity but he was still on the news. “Don’t be ridiculous. You have been married to him for as long as I know,” typed Harriet quickly. After establishing an instant connect with Mrs. Roberts, she had researched her online. They were a very close couple.
You don’t understand. He tells me things I can’t remember. I don’t think it was intentional. He let something slip. I haven’t been feeling good. There is something …
The messages stopped coming. Harriet waited for a few minutes and then typed, “Are you there?”. There was no reply. She immediately searched for Mr. Sunil Roberts online. The man was sixty-seven years old and he had been married for thirty years to the same woman. In every article about him, he mentioned his wife as his pillar of support. There were many pictures of them together. They looked like the couple who set goals for other couples.
Harriet dialed her number to make sure everything was ok. The phone kept ringing. “She was just texting me,” thought Harriet. She waited for a few minutes and then dialed her number again. Her heart began to race as she waited for the billionaire’s wife to pick up. After what seemed to be forever, someone answered the phone.
“Mrs. Roberts can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message?” asked a male voice in a polite tone.
“Who is this?” asked Harriet suspiciously.
“I am Mrs. Roberts’ butler. Should I ask her to call you back?” he asked.
Harriet had a bad feeling. Mrs. Roberts had stopped texting in the middle of something serious. Nobody does that. What if she was telling the truth? What if Mr. Roberts had caught her texting? She had to find the truth. She had to go to Mentone Avenue, home of Mr. Roberts and the most elite members of their city.
All the lawns on Mentone Avenue are mowed on Wednesdays. Harriet could smell the freshly cut grass as she drove outside the compound. She had taken her boyfriend Braun with her for support. Braun was a cop. He parked the car on the street opposite the eleven-storied posh apartment complex. The block had five billionaires, two global footballers, Hollywood’s biggest power-couple and two former presidents living. Yet, Mr. Roberts’ house was the most beautiful one. The Orchard in Mentone Avenue was Mr. Roberts’ residence. It had state-of-the-art everything. Not many people had been inside but the rumours about the luxuries of the apartment were aplenty.
“Why are we here this morning?” asked Braun, stifling a yawn.
“This woman is my new best friend. She says she is in trouble,” said Harriet.
“Why does this concern me?” he asked lazily.
“I’d do the same for you. You remember the weekend at the lake house?” she asked sharply.
Braun sighed and smiled. She would do anything for him. He had to return the favour or she wouldn’t let him hear the end of it. Harriet peered into the building using her binoculars. To her surprise, Mrs. Roberts was walking casually in the garden. In her hands, she carried a jug of water which she poured into a bird feeder. She took a few steps back and a number of parrots flew to drink the water.
Leaving Braun in the car, Harriet walked close to the compound and looked closely. Mrs. Roberts was humming a happy tune and walking around the garden. She moved towards the place where Harriet stood. She stopped as she saw Harriet standing outside the compound. “Mrs. Roberts, hi,” said Harriet awkwardly.
“Hi. Do I know you?” she asked with a kind smile.
“We met at the yoga place. I am Harriet,” said Harriet anxiously.
“I think you have me confused with someone else, dear. This is private property. It is not right for you to peep in. You look like a nice person but I think you should leave,” she said kindly.
“We have been going to classes for weeks. See here? You were texting me not too long ago,” said Harriet showing her phone to Mrs. Roberts.
“That looks like my number but I don’t think I texted you. I haven’t used my phone in a while,” said Mrs. Roberts as her smile faded. “Perhaps I have been hacked,” she said looking worried. She shook her head and walked away.
Harriet turned and walked towards her car. She could not understand what had just happened. Mrs. Roberts had trusted her enough to confide something huge to her. Now, she acted like they did not know each other. As she neared her car, she heard a gruff voice from behind her. She turned to face a man who was dressed like a security guard.
“Mr. Roberts would like to see you,” said the man who towered over her.
“No thanks,” said Harriet dismissively. Braun stepped outside the car sensing trouble.
“I was not asking you,” said the man. Harriet froze as she saw him holding a gun in his hand. He signaled her walk towards the compound. He made Braun follow Harriet and walked behind the two of them with the gun to their backs. “You are expected on the seventh floor,” he said as they reached the entrance.
As soon as Harriet entered the building, she headed to the seventh floor. The man with the gun was calm but something told Harriet that she would not be able to surprise him. He kept instructing them where to go. Braun was silent and looked to be deep in thought. She held his hand to calm herself. He nodded at her to reassure her but that did not help.
“Through that door. Mr. Roberts is waiting for you,” said the man softly as he lowered his gun. He nodded curtly and turned away.
“Wait! You want us to go in alone?” asked Braun with surprise.
“If I thought you were a threat, I would have shot you. Mr. Roberts just wants to talk,” said the man calmly. He turned back and then added, “For now”
The door opened to reveal Mr. Sunil Roberts sitting across a table on the other side of the room. He was tall, grey-haired and looked fit for his age. “Welcome. Please take your seat,” he said warmly. Braun and Harriet were uneasy but they obeyed the billionaire. They sat but they felt uncomfortable. “My guard caught you talking to my wife. Why is that?” he asked politely.
“She texted me,” said Harriet. She then realized that she had made a mistake. “I have backups of those texts with one of my friends,” she added quickly.
“You are a bad liar,” said Mr. Roberts with a chuckle. He rose to his feet and walked towards them. He stood directly behind Braun as he spoke again. “I don’t know what you assumed from that text you claim that you received. You saw my wife and you spoke to her. I want you to forget she ever texted you. If you do that, you are free to leave,” he said slowly. Something about the way he said that was giving them the chills.
“What if we don’t?” she retorted. Braun looked at her with disbelief. Even she was surprised that she had said the words.
“You misunderstand me if you think I am giving you a choice,” said Mr. Roberts. Before he could say another word, Braun rocked his chair backwards and pushed Mr. Roberts to the floor. The chair fell on his shin and incapacitated him. Hearing the sound, the door opened and the security guard walked in.
“Stay back,” said Braun, quickly sitting on Mr. Roberts’ chest and raising his fist.
“Yardley …,” began Mr. Roberts weakly.
It all happened in a flash. Yardley, the security guard, was extremely quick. He reached Braun in a moment and pinned him to the floor. He swiftly punched him on the face. Braun was on the ground and did not move. He looked like he had been knocked out. Harriet stood perplexed. Before she could say anything, everything went dark.
Braun was staring at Harriet as she woke up. It took her a while to realize where she was. Mr. Roberts was sitting next to him with a cut lip. He had a handkerchief with blood stains but did not look to be in pain. Yardley looked alert and held a weapon. Harriet heard a weird noise as she tried to sit up. “Where are we?” she asked Braun.
“Somewhere in Minnesota,” said Braun softly and helped her up. They looked like they were in a small room. Harriet looked outside the window and her stomach did a flip. “Honey, we are in a helicopter,” said Braun to state the obvious.
It was the farthest north they had ever been. Harriet looked out the window with no idea what to think. A few hours ago, she had been sitting at home with not a worry in the world. Now she was flying in a helicopter with no idea about her survival. She realized that she had endangered Braun too. Braun kept staring outside determinedly.
“Relax. If we had wanted to harm you, we would have done so already,” said Mr. Roberts.
“Being knocked out does not inspire confidence,” said Harriet. She regretted speaking. It was as though her mouth had a mind of its own since she left home.
“You started to attack me. You did not give Yardley much choice,” he said apologetically.
“Where are we going?” asked Braun curtly.
Mr. Roberts did not answer. They landed in the middle of a compound that was heavily guarded. They were taken from the helipad to a small building. As they entered it, it led to a brightly lit passage. The floor began to move as soon as they stood. There were signs and lights along the walls in many languages. They realized that there was a huge research facility. It was sophisticated but there were no people anywhere inside the building.
“Damn,” she thought on seeing the inside of the facility. It was like she was on a movie set. Braun said the same out loud.
Mr. Roberts took a keycard from his pocket and swiped it on the door. After a beeping sound, the door opened with a hiss. He entered followed by Yardley. Before Braun could follow them, Harriet grabbed the card from the old man’s hand and made a run for it. “Run,” she bellowed at Braun who looked at her bewildered.
“Where?” he asked doubtfully but he began to sprint after her.
“Don’t be stupid!” shouted Mr. Roberts but Harriet did not care. She did not want to be caught by them.
She ran to the first door with an access pad and swiped the card. The door began to open with a hissing sound.
“That is not the way out,” said Braun, catching up to her. As the door opened, he opened his mouth and looked surprised. Harriet turned to see what he was looking at.
In a huge glass cylinder-like structure filled with water, a familiar woman floated unconsciously. “Mrs. Roberts!” exclaimed Harriet. Mrs. Roberts wore a white dress and floated lifelessly in the water with a breathing mask around her nose and mouth.
“Oh. You two are here. You were the ones father told me about. I see that you have met my mother. Where is my father?” asked a man with thick-rimmed spectacles. He was tall and clean-shaven. His skin looked pale, like he had not seen the sun for a while. As he finished speaking, Yardley had arrived.
Yardley held his hand out to Harriet. She begrudgingly handed the access card to him. He looked at her and shook his head with disappointment. Mr. Roberts walked up to them slowly.
“Meet Samir Roberts. My son,” said the old man proudly.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Samir, holding out his hand. He took a look at Braun and lowered his hand. The smile in his face had disappeared.
Harriet remembered him from her online search. While Mr. Roberts’ daughter ran the company, his son was just mentioned as a researcher. This had to be him.
“What the hell is that?” asked Harriet before anyone could say anything. Braun looked at her with horror.
“That is my mother,” said Samir sadly.
“What happened to her?” asked Braun, walking closer to the container.
“She died from a disease a few years back. It was a disease that we could not find the cure to. Not for the lack of trying,” said Mr. Roberts, admiring his wife.
“Then what is this?” asked Harriet pointing to the container.
“Clones. We had some blood from one of my mother’s tests before she died,” said Samir.
“I saw your mother at your home. Why do you need one more?” asked Harriet sharply.
“The blood came with the disease. I could make a clone but that clone too would die. We had ninety days more or less with each clone. Inevitably, the clone met the same fate as my mother,” said Samir sadly.
“This is insane. A clone cannot be your real mother,” said Braun.
“You don’t understand. My son is a genius of a different level. He found a way to even bring back memories from the blood. He could accelerate the ageing just enough to bring her to the age she was when she died. Every single time, my wife had the memories of her time with us. It was almost perfect,” said Mr. Roberts earnestly.
“This is wrong,” said Harriet abruptly.
“Right or wrong, this is my chance to have some more time with my dear wife,” said Mr. Roberts, looking pained to see his wife this way. “My son gave up his claim to my company just to do this for me,” he said looking at him fondly.
“Why are you telling me all this?” asked Harriet doubtfully.
“We are not hurting anyone. He is just doing this for me to be with my wife. We don’t want you expose our secret,” said Mr. Roberts, looking at them hopefully.
“The clones. That is your wife. Will she want such a life? She would not want to be in doubt. She thought you were killing people,” said Harriet.
“This is a work in progress. Soon, my son will have perfected this. Until then, we beg you for your discretion,” said Mr. Roberts tearfully.
Harriet looked at Braun who nodded almost immediately. She could not decide yet. “You are ok with doing this?” she asked Samir.
Samir simply stared and then nodded. To him, this did not matter the way it did to his father. This was doing the impossible. This was a challenge. Samir was never one to back down from a challenge.
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