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BOOK: The Grey Tier
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Chapter Twelve

A FEW DAYS AFTER Nick’s murder, the bar’s future was still up in the air. I had been kept busy with Simone, who had a flurry of promotional things going on, including being photographed for feature pieces in
InStyle
and
Bazaar
. She even fielded a few paparazzi questions regarding Nick’s murder, and I think someone snapped a photo of me in her Range Rover at one point. In any case, I began anticipating a story of some sort in
The Enquirer
, because what I discovered about Nick since his death was far juicier than I ever imagined.

The night after the murder and the outing to Denny’s, I turned on the TV in the family room. I’d secretly been waiting for Lucas to show up again. After I got home the night before, I immediately googled Lucas Minx and found a photo of him—my ghost—in a Wikipedia article. He was beautiful when alive, that’s for sure, but as a spirit, he was breathtaking. Then I found a clip of him on YouTube singing and playing guitar. His voice was like a combination of Eddie Vedder and Jack Johnson . . . sexy, mellow, and powerful. It was surreal to hear him after having seen his ghost in my kitchen.

Anyway, while waiting for my next paranormal encounter and trying to keep my mind off of Nick’s murder, Cass, Mac, and I sat in front of the TV eating dinner (tuna fish sandwiches, if you must know. And yes, I took the cat off the diet. He seemed so much happier).
Entertainment Tonight
came on with flashes of video footage of the bar, and photos of Nick as a kid when he starred in
Next-Door Neighbors
. And then Nancy O’Dell’s voiceover began (and I quote), “Back in 1985 when Nick Gordin made the decision to leave show business for good, many speculated it was due to the untimely death of his good friend, Roger Hawks. Hawks, recently chosen to be the next James Bond, drowned during a party in the swimming pool at the vacation home of producer Warren Verne, where Gordin had been house sitting.”

I could feel the goose bumps making their way down my arms. The vision I’d seen when Nick placed his hand on my shoulder the other night was of a dead man in a pool.

Nancy gazed sadly into the camera and shook her head. “We certainly hope Nick Gordin’s murderer will be caught and brought to justice.”

“Yes we do,” agreed Mark Steines, nodding sincerely in his seat next to her. “Terrible, sad story, Nancy.” Then his face lit up in a sly smile. “And now, let’s talk about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt! Are they getting married or not?”

I shook my head and stood up. I needed to get online and learn more about Nick and this Roger Hawks guy. Here he’d led me to believe he’d never been able to get any more acting gigs, but in reality, he’d made the decision not to continue with his career. And how awful to have a friend die at a party where he was house sitting!

Unfortunately, my attempts to go online proved fruitless. In spite of all the money floating around up here, the internet service wasn’t the greatest. Drove me nuts. Instead, I hunkered down for a night of popcorn with my fur-covered friends and
Pretty Woman
playing on TNT. No ghosts. No good stories to uncover. Oh, well.

When I woke up the next morning on the couch, Mac at my head and Cass at my feet, I knew the day would be difficult. Nick’s wake was today. I’d received a text from Becky yesterday saying Nick had been cremated after the coroner released his body. I wondered who’d given the consent. Maybe it had been in the will? Someone must have known his last wishes. I guessed it was Becky. They went back a ways, but then again, so did Nick and Candace. I wondered if it was possible one or both of them had known Nick back in 1985? And hadn’t Candace mentioned the name Roger during her tense stand off with Becky not too long ago?

As I got dressed, my mind reeling, I had that feeling again . . . that I wasn’t alone. I glanced around. Nothing. Cass lay curled up on the bed next to Mac who was meticulously grooming himself.

“Hello?” I called out into the empty bedroom. Then, feeling vaguely silly, I said, “Lucas?” No response. I finished getting ready and left.

Maybe Lucas’s visit with Bob was simply a one-time deal, like when I had seen the little girl when I was a kid. If so, I was disappointed. I mean what could be better than being sung to personally by the ghost of Bob Marley, and being haunted by a hot, dead guy? For the hundredth time in the last few days, I found myself wishing Simone hadn’t shown up when she did. Her timing, as usual, was pretty damn horrible.

A half an hour later, and after a few days’ absence, I was back at Nick’s. I’d left Cass at home with Mac, although I’d contemplated bringing her. While some would have understood my bringing her, others might not have been okay with a dog at a memorial service.

It was strange being at the bar again. It felt different without Nick’s constant presence. I hugged everyone I knew—Candace, Becky, Mumbles, but before I did so, I put a buffer in place in the form of long, black satin gloves so I wouldn’t be forced to deal with painful visions. Yeah, I looked a bit like Jessica Rabbit, but it was better than having to deal with an onslaught of depressing life stories. Today was going to be hard enough.

I was a bit surprised to see Jackson there. He shook my hand, and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. The kiss was just enough contact to force a vision of him as a young boy being beaten by a larger man. Oh dear. I quickly took a glove off, acting as if I needed to scratch the top of my hand. I then placed my hand over the top of his and squeezed for a second, sending him healing vibes. He glanced down at me and smiled.

“Tough day,” I said, putting the glove back on.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” he replied, glancing curiously down at my gloved hands. “What’s up with the gloves, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Umm . . . eczema. It’s a stress response.” I quickly changed back to the earlier topic. “Did you talk with the police?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I did.” He stopped for a minute and then moved closer, dropping his voice to a loud whisper. “The unofficial word on the street is it was a mob hit. They say no one will ever go to jail for his murder.”

I brought my hands up to my mouth. “No! What do you mean?”

“The cops aren’t exactly on this all hot and heavy. Look, they may act like it for the time being, but a mafia hit is one of those things that rarely gets looked into too deeply. Plus, the media hype will be gone by tomorrow.”

I wrinkled up my nose in distaste . . . kind of the way I do when I accidentally step in a pile of Cass’s poop. “Yeah. The media hype. I had no idea Nick had been such a star.”

Jackson crossed his arms. He held a beer in one hand. “Yeah. Kind of. I mean he was a big star as a kid. Then he got offered a role back in the mid-eighties for a show that was meant to compete with
21 Jump Street
. . . you know, the show that made Johnny Depp such a big star?”

“Oh, I don’t know TV much. We weren’t allowed to watch it when I was a kid. And I was born in ‘84, so a lot of this is before my time. Speaking of, you don’t look any older than me.”

“I’m twenty-six, but I grew up here in tinsel town and this stuff has always fascinated me. Why do you think I wanted to do the documentary on Nick?”

“He really wasn’t interested in that, was he?”

Jackson shook his head and I noticed his expression had gone a little sour.

“Nope. Not at all. So, maybe there was something to the theory that Nick was responsible for Roger Hawks’ death back in the day.” He shrugged. “Those two might know.” He pointed first at Becky, who was talking with the attractive woman who’d been in the bar with the middle-aged, good-looking guy not long ago.

Becky had her usual glass of wine in hand and looked completely distraught. The glamorous woman looked casually bored, and her boyfriend or husband—whoever he was—had just sidled up to them and handed her a drink. He gave Becky a hug. I wondered who they were.

Jackson then pointed to Candace in her regular spot near Mumbles. They were hunched over the counter, nursing drinks. There were a couple of guys working behind the bar, and some waitresses passing around appetizers—I recognized none of them. I assume they were hired caterers. About sixty people were there and I had to wonder who was paying for it all. My guess was Becky. She appeared to be playing the grieving widow.

I wanted to ask Jackson what he meant with regards to Becky and Candace when the handsome, middle-aged man got up on the small stage.

“Hello! Hello, everyone. Good afternoon.” The bar quieted down and the small crowd turned to face him. “First of all, I want to thank you for coming today. This is certainly not how I imagined my next visit to Nick’s Place.” He bowed his head momentarily. “But I know Nick would be honored and humbled to see all of you gathered here today in his honor.”

Something shiny caught the corner of my eye across the room. I glanced over to see a big guy leaning against the wall. Actually “big” was a nice way of putting it . . . he was seriously overweight. His hairy arms were crossed above his huge, sagging gut and a large, diamond encrusted watch sparkled obnoxiously from his wrist. I had never seen him before, but then again, I hadn’t seen most of the people in the bar today. There was something about him, though. Something not right. Fact is, he didn’t look sad or solemn or contemplative. Just irritated.

I directed my attention back to the guy on the stage.

“For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Bradley Verne. Nick was a good friend of mine. In fact, he was more than a friend. Nick was like a brother to me. I have many fond memories of Nick and me at my dad’s place. We had so much fun as kids, and I feel fortunate to have had him in my life. My wife, Raquela, and I loved him dearly.” His eyes caught those of the chic woman in the crowd who smiled and nodded. She then dabbed her dry eyes with a handkerchief.

So Bradley was the son of the guy Nick had house sat for. One more puzzle piece dropped into place. I looked back up at the small stage . . . Bradley had tears in his eyes. Clearly he’d been close to Nick.

“I’m not looking forward to telling my father about Nick. They were quite close and Nick was family to us. Dad . . . well, his health hasn’t been great, and I’m worried this news won’t help much.” That was when the waterworks really started, and Bradley was unable to speak for several seconds. Finally, he stepped down and stood next to his wife who embraced him. “I’m sorry. We love you, Nick. Peace be with you, brother. If anyone else wants to share stories and memories about Nick, please step forward.”

No one did, so I decided to go up. I hadn’t known Nick for long but he’d been willing to take a chance on me.

“Hi. I’m Evie Preston, and I played music here in the evenings.” I glanced at the small group of regulars and smiled. Candace waved and Becky smiled back, wiping her eyes. “Nick was a really good guy. I didn’t know him that long. But he was the kind of person who really cared about others and he took friendship seriously. Thanks to Nick, I didn’t have to turn around and head back home to Texas right after I got here. I know I will miss him dearly.”

“Kind? Took friendship seriously?!” The voice was loud, male, and very unfriendly.

I peered out to see who was shouting. It was the fat guy with the flashy watch. He was covered in sweat and his face was turning an alarming shade of red.

“Let me tell you something about Nick Gordin, chica!”

Chica? Who was this guy and what was his deal? The low hiss of whispers slid across the room.

“Nick Gordin was a bum! He was supposed to be my partner. He stole my fish taco recipe and he was running with our idea of a franchise! He even had the loan docs all ready and I only just found out about it. Dropped me like a hot tamale! How’s that for taking friendship seriously?!”

I couldn’t speak, but Bradley and Jackson made their way over to him. There was a loud exchange with lots of colorful language, and then the large fellow was escorted out. But he managed to get the last word in when he yelled, “Karma is a bitch! Guy got what he deserved.”

After his departure, an uncomfortable silence settled over the room. No one knew what to say following the outburst. Finally, Bradley stepped forward again.

BOOK: The Grey Tier
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