I read the words again for what must have been the 200th time. Harry wasn’t much for word games, in fact he was dyslexic. This made the fact that the entire contents of his safety deposit box was a plain black notebook with six random words on a torn page completely baffling.
None of the words seemed significant to Harry, to our lives. They didn't appear when I searched his inbox (which I did repeatedly), they weren’t related to each other as far as I could tell, the first letters didn't spell anything out. I was so tempted to just throw the little book away. These random words had consumed me for the three months since Harry died.
I felt a strange sense of guilt reading the list. Was Harry trying to send me a clue? Witch and Despair? Even Ice and Least sounded negative to me. I had tumbled the words around in my head for so long that they now felt like smooth stones instead of the jagged rocks they were at first. They had almost lost their meaning.
I felt guilt that I didn’t even know Harry had a safety deposit box. Isn’t that something a wife should know? When the notebook was surrendered to me I actually acted like I knew what that little book was, like I was waiting for it to be returned to me. The layers of secrets stung, even worse was that three months later I was still as clueless as to what it all meant as I was the first time I read them.
Our dog, Mulberry, nudged my leg. He wanted to go to bed. Since Harry died, Mulbs had been sleeping in the bed with me. Even though the police said Harry’s death was an accident, something about it just didn’t sit right with me. I’m not sure how much protection a six month old Golden Doodle could provide but I felt safer having him close.
I brushed my teeth, words still spinning in my head. I decided to do my weekly ritual of scouring Harry’s gmail to search for more clues. His password (bluecat44) had been the same since we met. That’s how bad at secrets Harry was.
I opened my gmail app on my phone but it didn’t work. My phone said NO SIM at the top and wasn’t connected to WiFi. What the hell?
I opened my laptop, it was working fine. Strange. Harry’s gmail was already logged in on my computer, not unusual but something immediately looked off. There was a new email from...my email address. Time stamped 2 minutes ago. Subject line: COOPERATE OR ELSE.
My first reaction was to call 911 which, in hindsight was dramatic, but my panic only grew when I realized I couldn’t call 911. My phone was deactivated and of course we didn’t have a landline, it was 2017. I recognized the chest tightening of a panic attack coming on. I clicked the email open, my eyes blurring from stress.
The email was addressed to me.
“Cassidy, we have access to everything. We know you’re hiding the money, it’s not in your bank account. You have three days to return it.”
Every cell in my body felt like it was on fire. I immediately tried to log into our shared bank account, it didn’t work. I couldn’t log into my email either. Next I checked facebook, instagram, even twitter and nothing worked. Through tunnel vision I grabbed my useless phone and dialed 911 anyways. It worked. The only words I could get out were ‘I'm having...a….panic...attack…..I can’t...breathe”. Minutes later I heard sirens.
I sat trembling like a child while the EMTs gave me an Ativan and oxygen. I felt the chemicals kicking in and started to calm down. I explained what happened to the police with my accounts and my phone and they guessed I had been hacked. “SIM swapped”. Someone else had control of my phone number and was able to use that to get into all my other accounts.
The police asked if I knew about any debt Harry was in, or if he gambled. I told them the truth, that neither of those things sounded like Harry at all. The cops asked a few more questions, filed a report and very unhelpfully told me it was close to impossible to catch the hackers and that I should get a new phone number in the morning.
My eyelids were getting heavy as the sedative they gave me sunk in and my adrenaline subsided. The cops handed me their cards and said to call if I thought of any more information that could be helpful.
I woke up late to Mulberry licking my face, sun streaming through the window. The night before came rushing over me like a tsunami. I felt panic wash through my veins and desperately wished the EMTs had left me with an extra Ativan. Suddenly, I remembered Harry had a few Xanax pills from our Paris trip. He was horrible on planes and got something to calm him for the international flight.
It had been so painful to go through Harry’s things, remembering all the plans we had that could never happen now. His bedside table was the last place I had yet to go through. He kept a jar of pennies on top with a sticky note that said New York City. It had always been our dream to move there but we never had the money or guts. I used to joke when the jar had a million dollars in it we could just up and leave.
The bedside drawers were a mix of the things that were most important to him and junk. Abandoned toothpaste caps rolling around next to anniversary cards, loose advils stuck to the back of pictures of his parents. Going through his treasures had been too much to bear but I knew that's where he would have put a random pill bottle and I was about to hyperventilate.
In the second drawer I found the bottle, inside were two pills and a folded piece of paper. I shook my head in disbelief, it was the exact same shade of creamy white as the inside of the notebook. I unfolded it and there were six more words:
I stumbled to grab the little black notebook from my desk to confirm what I already knew. It was the other half of the page in the notebook. It lined up perfectly. I frantically swept through the drawer looking for more answers but all I found were foam ear plugs and old concert tickets. I was so frustrated, so tired, and now I was scared. I ripped the drawer off the tracks and threw it across the room.
Scolding myself for being dramatic, I went to pick it up when I saw something taped to the backside of the drawer. It looked like a mix between a car key fob and a flash drive. I picked it up and inspected it. It had two buttons and a small screen. Another secret.
I shoved the device and the notebook in my pocket, and drove to my brother’s house. He’s somewhat of a tech wiz, and I had never seen a device like this. Was it some sort of listening device? Were we being spied on or did it belong to my husband?
My brother opened the door and I immediately shoved the device in his hands, scaring him with how hysterical I sounded when I asked him what it was.
He looked at me with confusion, “It’s a bitcoin wallet, why? Whose is it?”
“It was Harry’s,” I said quietly.
Mark looked at me with kind eyes, “I’m sorry sis,” he said, pulling me in for a hug.
“Unfortunately this isn’t going to do you much good without the pin or seed phrase, did Ha-”
“WAIT” I cut him off, my brain sharpening into focus.
“Is this a seed phrase?” I said, allowing myself one ounce of hope as I showed Mark the list of words.
“Yep, wow. Here, come inside” Mark said, leading me to his computer.
Twenty. Thousand. Dollars.
“Jesus,” Mark whispered under his breath. “That’s enough to-”
“To kill for?!” I cut him off, choking back a sob.
Mark rubbed his eyes. “That’s a stretch, Cass. Did you know about this?” he asked.
“KNOW ABOUT THIS? No, I did not know my dead husband had twenty thousand dollars taped to the back of his Ikea nightstand.”
I thought back to the email. Twenty thousand dollars he stole? How could he be so stupid?
“I didn’t even know he was into cryptocurrency.” I said. Yet another secret.
“Hmm, he told me he had done some research on bitcoin, he sent me a few Reddit links,” Mark said.
His reddit account! I had totally forgotten about it. A stone I had left unturned while searching for answers. I grabbed Mark’s computer and entered Harry’s go-to internet username, rolling my eyes while I typed Harryballs85. I held my breath as I entered ‘bluecat44’ into the password field. It worked.
He had made a few posts, most were irrelevant, but then I saw it. He posted a screenshot of his crypto account and like an absolute idiot, had his instagram handle visible in another tab in the screenshot.
I went to his DMs. There I found increasingly intense threats from a username: Goblin_XX. My jaw literally dropped as the user revealed to Harry that he knew where we lived, he even knew our dog’s name. He made threats saying he knew how much money Harry had and if he didn’t send him 20 bitcoins he would show up to our house. Hurt us.
“Call the police,” Mark said. For the second time in 24 hours and in my life, I dialed 911.
For being sophisticated enough to hack me and track down my husband, ‘Goblin’ was an idiot. The threats he sent weren’t through a VPN and were easily traceable. He was a kid. 17 years old. He confessed to police that he had tracked down Harry but just wanted to scare him. When he realized he lived close to us, he followed him home from work one night. He flashed his brights at Harry and repeatedly honked, trying to get Harry to pull over. When Harry got distracted he veered into oncoming traffic. He was struck and killed instantly. ‘Goblin’ fled the scene.
When I finally confronted this ‘kid’ in court, he never made eye contact with me. The judge asked him if he had anything to say. He looked up smirking and said “at least you got the money”. Those words still knock the wind out of me, as if 20k was a reasonable price for my husband.
When I got home I put the ‘wallet’ and notebook back into Harry’s nightstand and didn’t touch it for almost four years. I couldn’t bring myself to cash in such a shitty consolation prize, like trading the love of my life for the price of a used Honda.
Yesterday my brother called me, he asked if I had checked bitcoin lately. I winced at the word which had become a trigger for me and told him no.
“Cass, you might want to check,” was all he said before he hung up.
20k of bitcoin in 2017 had ballooned into just over a million dollars. I was stunned. I had been tiptoeing around our house living with a ghost for four years but this felt like a sign. Harry had found a way to make something happen for me, even if it couldn’t happen for us. I put Mulberry in the car, grabbed the little black notebook and drove through the night to New York City.