It was close to noon by the time Barry was able to pull himself away from Len in order to race back to Central City. Since Barry’s cell phone had not survived his rough treatment at the hands of Len’s goons, Len had handed Barry a thick envelope and demanded he take it to pay to replace it. Barry had opened the envelope and gasped to see several thousand dollars in hundreds nestled inside along with a small paper with Len’s private number on it. He had tried to give it back or negotiate a smaller amount, but Len would not be moved. “You’ll take it and use it, Barry. And if I want to give you more, you’ll take that, too,” Len had commanded, his tone hard and full of ice. Barry had just rolled his eyes and tucked the envelope in the pocket of his jeans that had mysteriously been laundered while they slept. Truthfully, Barry was thankful for Len’s insistence on the money, even as his conscience flinched with knowledge of its origins. Now that Barry was out of a job, his finances would be tight. Sure, he owned S.T.A.R. Labs, but it was not currently producing a revenue stream and it was all he could do to pay the electricity and taxes on the place after writing paychecks to Cisco and Caitlin every month. He was going to have to figure out something soon, or he would be forced to close the doors of the lab and allow his friends to find gainful employment elsewhere.
After a final lingering kiss and promises to contact him soon, Barry sped out the door and on his way back to S.T.A.R. Labs. As he ran, his heart soared above his body and trailed behind him as if it were trying to lure Barry back to Coast City. He continued to run, though, as he reminded himself that he was allowed to go back at any time, but for now, he needed to return to the business of saving his city. Barry relished the cleansing, cool air of the beautiful fall day as it rushed past his face, and for the first time in longer than he could remember, he allowed hope and happiness to consume him.
When he skidded to a stop in the lab parking lot, though, a frown marred his expression. Along with Caitlin’s sensible sedan, Cisco’s Jeep, and the white tactical van (Barry secretly dubbed it the “Mystery Machine”), there were several other vehicles taking up space in the parking lot. As Barry sped past them, he noted cars that belonged to Joe, Iris, and Wally. He couldn’t for the life of him understand why they were all there at the labs in the middle of a work day. Wally should be in school, and both Joe and Iris should be at their jobs, so the only explanation was that there was another attack by Alchemy or a metahuman.
Barry arrived in the heart of the labs with a rush of air that sent everyone’s hair flying. Barry took a split second to catalogue everyone in attendance, including the new Dr. Wells doppelganger, and exclaimed, “What is it? What’s happening? Is it another attack by Alchemy?”
Joe’s face was like a thundercloud as he advanced on his foster son. “Where the hell have you been, Barry? We’ve been worried sick about you.”
Barry wrinkled his eyebrow as he took in the concerned and irritated expressions of his friends. “Seriously? It’s barely noon. Why are you guys freaking out? It’s not like I have a regular job to report to at 8 am anymore.” Barry winced as he saw Caitlin drop her head in shame. He really needed to start thinking before he spoke.
Cisco stepped in to offer an explanation. “That’s my bad, Barry, but when I tell you why I sent out the alarm, you’ll understand why we thought you were in trouble.” Cisco turned to Caitlin who began tapping on the keys of a computer as he continued, “When we got in this morning, we didn’t think anything about The Flash suit still being in its case, but when you didn’t show up by 10 am, we tried calling your cell phone. It kept going straight to voicemail, so I pinged it to the closest cell tower, but it was completely offline.”
Caitlin stepped in seamlessly to continue the tale as a virtual map of the cell sites popped up on the view screen. “We knew that wasn’t like you to be completely out of touch, so we hacked the cell phone company to pick up the last time your cell phone registered with a tower. It was last night at 9:02 pm at the site located in this area.” She pressed another button, and a glowing circle radiated out from the tower. “Unfortunately, this tower will pick up any cell phone signal within a mile radius, so we pulled up all the businesses in that area to try to determine your last location.” She trailed off to allow Cisco to step back in.
Cisco darted a quick glance at Barry before he continued, “When we saw the list of businesses, we recognized one of the names. Saints and Sinners.”
“It was my idea to hack into their surveillance video,” H.R. piped up, eager to prove his worth.
Cisco, Barry, and Caitlin all shot him the same look of annoyance before Cisco rolled his eyes and drawled, “Aaaanyway…the video feed showed you in the bar, but the footage had been scrubbed between the times of 8:45 pm and 9:45 pm. When it starts back up, you were no longer in the bar. After we saw that, I called Joe to check your apartment, and he must have called the others when he couldn’t locate you.”
Barry closed his eyes and sighed. He knew what was coming next, and Iris finally spoke to confirm it. “Barry, we watched you walk into that bar and not walk back out again. What were you even doing there? You can’t get drunk.”
Wally kicked off the wall and interrupted them all by saying, “It looks like you guys have things under control, so I’m heading off to class.” He looked at his watch and grinned. “I better hurry, or I’ll be late!” And he was out the door in a blur of lightning.
Both Joe and Iris growled at the retreating speedster before they turned their scowls back on the one still present. Barry held his hands up in defense and tried to diffuse the volatile situation. “Look, guys, I’m sorry I caused you all to worry, but I’m just fine. I went to that bar looking for information on the gold coin ring, and I must have lost my phone.”
Joe’s nostrils flared and he snapped, “That’s not your job, Barry. You know that part of town is full of criminals and lowlifes. It was not a good idea to go there alone, even with your powers.”
Iris paced forward and paused in front of Barry to put her hand on her hip. “Even discounting your little field trip to the bar, where have you been since the bar? Your next door neighbor said you never came home last night.”
Barry cursed silently. He loved the sweet little old lady that lived in the next apartment over from him, but she was far too nosey and observant for Barry’s own good. Barry scratched his head in a nervous gesture and hedged, “When I didn’t find any information at the bar, I ended up crashing at a friend’s house for the night.” He met Caitlin’s gaze over top of Iris’s head with a significant eyebrow raise and her lips formed an “O” of comprehension.
“Bullshit,” Iris spat, clearly spoiling for a fight. “You seem to forget that I know you better than anyone, Barry, and I know that you’re hiding something. Considering the fact that all your friends are in this room or Star City, I know you’re lying. None of us knew where you were, and Oliver and Felicity both said they haven’t seen or heard from you in months.”
Barry tried to keep the panic out of his voice when he asked incredulously, “You called Oliver and Felicity? What the hell, Iris?”
Her exotic brown eyes narrowed with temper as she snapped, “I’m a reporter, Barry. I follow leads and ask questions to get information. Of course I called them.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath for calm before she pinned Barry to the spot with her gaze. “My question to you is this: if you weren’t with one of us, and you weren’t in Star City, just who were you with last night?”
Barry froze like a deer in headlights and stammered, “I-I-I…”
He watched comprehension and hurt flare to life in her beautiful eyes a moment before she took a big step back and held up her hand to prevent him from saying another word. “You know what? I take it back. I don’t want to know. I just hope she was worth it, Barry.”
“Iris, it’s not what you think. Let me explain!” he called out helplessly as his best friend in the world walked out the door.
Joe shook his head in disgust and pushed off the wall. He paused by Barry on his way out the door and said, “You and me are going to have a nice, long talk later. Got it?”
Barry nodded miserably and dragged his feet over to where Caitlin and Cisco were standing frozen in horror at the mess Barry had just made of his family. Barry understood completely, because he was even more horrified at himself than they could possibly understand.