I WAS NOT HAPPY about going over to Simone’s. Lucas and I had been on the verge of—of something. How much worse could Simone’s timing get? And why in the world did the cops want to talk to her again about Nick? It didn’t make any sense. Or maybe it did. An awful thought crossed my mind. What if the police thought I was somehow responsible for Nick’s murder? I had found Nick. He called me the morning he died. That had to be it. They were looking into timelines, talking to other people who knew me, and trying to see if it all added up. I didn’t like this one bit.
Eventually I calmed myself down and my mind drifted back to Lucas and the improbability of my being in lust with a spirit who lived (existed?) with me in the house where he’d been murdered almost twenty years ago. And, I’d only met him twice and only really spoken with him once. What was wrong with me?
On top of it all, thoughts of his murder suddenly brought my sister, Hannah, to mind. Thing is, I’d always suspected she’d been abducted and killed, even though her case was declared unsolved. I hated feeling that way, but I knew the only reason Hannah wouldn’t have come back to us is if she were dead. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I sped toward Simone’s house, if Lucas might be able to help me find the answers to Hannah’s disappearance. Then again, when I had asked him about Nick, he’d given me an emphatic “no.” So maybe it didn’t work that way on the other side. Damn.
I also liked the fact that when he “touched” me I couldn’t see his traumas. I think the answer to that was two-fold. He wasn’t human, and I was certain his most traumatic experience was being shot to death. I didn’t think I could heal a spirit. I didn’t see how anyway. He was already dead.
Finally, after mulling things over way too much, I pulled up in front of Simone’s mansion. I could hardly wait to see what she had in store for me this time.
I walked through the ginormous front door and into her all-white living room. She was seated on a white leather sofa, legs kicked up on a white, marble coffee table, with a white, silk pillow under her feet, and what appeared to be a fluffy, white cat in her lap. Yes. I did say cat. All the white combined with her white dressing gown made her beautifully coiffed head look as if it were floating, disembodied, in mid-air.
The thought of her floating head gave me a sudden fit of the giggles, which I quickly covered up with a fake coughing fit that rapidly turned into the real deal.
Simone glared at me in irritation. “Jesus, Evie, breathe much?” She gestured to a pitcher of water on the end table next to her. “Have some water. You look ridiculous.”
If by ridiculous, she meant pissed, then yes, she was correct. “Excuse me, but I broke several speed limits to get here because of an emergency and this is how I find you? With that . . .” I pointed to the cat, “. . . in your lap?”
She smiled and made a kissy face at the contented looking pile of fluff. Her voice took on a tone usually reserved for babies and small children. “Look at Edie, little man. She’s growing a spine. And there is no way she could have broken any fucking speed limits in that piece of shit she drives.”
I let out an aggrieved sigh.
“This is Clooney, by the way.” Simone patted the spot next to her again, “Come say hello, Auntie Evie.”
“I thought you were allergic to cats. Isn’t that why Mac now lives with me?”
She shook her head. “Turns out I’m not allergic. I think that was a sinus infection. Anyway, I missed McConaughey, so I got Clooney here. He’s a Persian.”
“Nice. But why didn’t you just ask for Mac back?”
“Cuz he’s a fat slob and besides, I’m sure he likes you better. We sort of had this love- hate thing going on. But me and Clooney get along just perfectly.”
I walked over and sat next to Simone and the new cat, who admittedly was cute. He stared up at me with sleepy blue eyes.
“What’s the deal, Simone? I was in the middle of something.”
She stopped petting the cat and her eyes widened. “Oh my God! You were having sex?!”
“Evie! Who were you with? Wait. Let me guess. The photographer who was on the shoot the other day? He was eyeing you.”
“He was gay, Simone.”
“How did I miss that?”
“I don’t have a clue. Especially since he wore pink Vans and couldn’t stop talking about his new husband, Marcus.”
“Yes.” That was Simone. Totally self-absorbed and in la-la land.
“Okay, then was it the lighting guy? He was cute. Really cute.”
“I was not having sex with anyone. And the lighting guy is married. His wife is due to have their first baby any day now.”
“How do you know these things and I don’t?” Simone whined.
“Because I listen. You should try it some time.”
“Ouch. You on the rag or something?”
I rolled my eyes. Seriously, I was not getting paid enough for this crap. “No. I just want to know what’s going on. You called me, remember? You said to come right now, that the police wanted to talk to you about Nick.”
“Oh yeah. That. So, here’s the deal.” She scooted closer and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “The cops were apparently going over Nick’s phone records and my number showed up a few times.”
“Yeah. They wanted to know if you ever used my cell phone to call him.”
“You told them no, right? I mean, I would never use your phone!”
She picked up a flute of champagne on the table and took a sip. “Want some?”
“No! I want to know you told the police I would never use your things without your explicit permission. Because it’s the truth.” I waited, expectantly.
“Actually, I told them you borrowed my phone a few times. With my permission, of course. And who you called was none of my business.”
I felt my blood pressure rise. “You did what?! Why?”
She sighed heavily, suddenly unwilling to make eye contact with me. A hard knot began to form in my stomach. “Because I called him.”
“You called Nick? Why?”
“Listen, I like you. You’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a friend. But you don’t know how people can be. I grew up here . . . and I have seen a lot of shit go down. I’ve seen a lot of people get strung along, ripped off, or beaten down by others. I know that guy, Nick, was giving you a line about his friend the music producer. I know he was stringing you along to get you to work late hours in that bar for no money, playing music to drunks and losers. I think you’re better than that, so I called him a few times to tell him to fire you.”
The blood drained from my face. “You—you are unbelievable.”
“I’m sorry. But I want the best for you.”
I couldn’t even respond to that. I stood up from the couch and stared at her.
selfish. I can’t always be at your beck and call. I am available to you most of the time. In fact, I even dropped everything to come and take care of you the night you supposedly overdosed on Sudafed. The night Nick’s producer friend was coming in.”
“According to Nick. Oh, you are so naïve.”
“Yeah? Well what about you?”
She laughed bitterly. “Oh, I’m not naïve.”
“I mean you promised me an audition at Sony. With a real producer.”
She nodded. “I did. And I intend to make it happen. But first, I think you need to really understand what this life is like. Look, I can’t even go to Denny’s without dressing up like a washed-up Pat Benatar look-alike. The minute I take the wig off, there’d be a hundred tweens in my face wanting my autograph, and let’s not even talk about their fucking insane, forty-year old mothers. Then there’s the paparazzi—” She sighed loudly.
“This is a lonely existence. It really is. Everyone wants something from you. You don’t know who your friends are, if you even have any at all. Hell, my own sister wants to mooch off me constantly. Then you came along and you didn’t want anything from me. Granted, I did give you a great place to live, but you didn’t ask for it. You seem appreciative, and you’re nice. Now, you want something from me, like everyone else. I don’t know why, but I thought we were friends and honestly, I was trying to protect you.” A flash of hurt darted across her face and she quickly covered it up with another gulp of champagne. Although I wasn’t a big drinker, that stuff sure was starting to look good right about now.
I tossed my arms up in the air and sighed. “Simone, we
friends. That’s why I haven’t bothered you about an audition. But where I come from, when you tell somebody you’re going to do something for them, you do it. You’re only as good as your word.”
“What about Nick then? Was he a good guy?”
“Yes. I think he was. I think his intentions were good and for all I know, the producer came that night. I never did get a chance to follow back up with Nick about it.” A stab of guilt shot through me. “I do believe Nick wanted the best for me too.”
“So do I. I mean, I want the best for you, like I said. You’re good peeps.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her. But I nodded anyway. “But why didn’t you tell the cops this, instead of saying I borrowed your phone?”
“Duh. Because I don’t need a scandal. If the cops thought I threatened the guy and the media caught wind of it, I’d be screwed. I don’t need the paparazzi climbing up my ass any more than they already do.”
The knot in my stomach was back again. “Wait a minute . . . why would the police think you threatened Nick?”
“Because I did. I mean, I didn’t mean it.” Simone had a grim expression on her face.
“And my sister heard me, and if she gets in one of her little snits and decides to tell that to the police, I could be in trouble. She hasn’t connected any of it yet. She’s in Hawaii for two weeks. But if she did, and I didn’t keep doling out to her all the time, well, I could be front page on
“What did you say to him? To Nick?”
She knocked back the rest of the champagne and poured herself another glass. “I told him I’d fucking kill him if he didn’t let you go.”
“You said that?! Oh my God.” I turned to walk out.
Simone jumped up off the sofa, dropping Clooney unceremoniously on his rear. “Evie, please don’t go! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I was only protecting you.” She darted over and grabbed my arm—a shockwave of loneliness traveled through me and I shoved her hand away.
“You can’t leave me. I need you. We have a shoot in the morning. You know, for my new video.”
I turned the knob on the front door, determined to leave for good. But then I remembered exactly what would happen if I quit. I’d lose an awesome and much needed salary, my only chance of ever singing for the Sony people, and most importantly, my home, which meant Lucas. I sighed.
Nevertheless, I decided to let Simone sweat it out for a while. I marched out the door without a word and headed back to my van.
I WAS THERE THE FIRST night the bar reopened, a week after Nick’s death. As Bradley Verne promised, he did what he could to keep Nick’s Place in business. His wife, Raquela, rectified the books and paid the bills. And they’d contacted the attorney in charge of Nick’s affairs.
Becky was the new bartender, much to Candace’s chagrin. But truth be told, Becky sure could mix a mean martini. And as for Candace, she could be found in her usual spot next to Mumbles. Honestly, it was as if nothing had changed. But of course, everything had.
I had yet to question Candace about her engagement to Nick. I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. I mean, if Candace had wanted me to know about it, she would have told me herself. But after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to approach her that night after my final set.
As I prepped for my first song of the night, I recalled what Jackson had said about the cops losing interest when it came to murder investigations involving the mob, and I worried Nick’s murder would get the same treatment. My gut was telling me it wasn’t the mob who’d killed Nick. Yeah, there was that nasty guy Pietro, and I intended to talk to Becky about what went down that evening when she and Nick ended up in the kitchen with him. But truthfully, the mob story just wasn’t very convincing to me. And that’s because I was becoming more and more certain Nick’s murder had something to do with his past.
And of course, there was Simone. I continued to feel uncomfortable around her after she revealed her threat towards Nick. Which is why I wondered, briefly, if she could have possibly hired someone to kill him. She certainly couldn’t have done it herself; she was at the photo shoot the morning I got the call from Nick. But there was one guy who hung around Simone from time to time. Dwight Jenkins, the guy who’d approached me at the counter at Nordy’s and informed me of my “interview” with Simone.
See, Simone and Dwight seem to have this friend with benefits thing going on. They were very discrete about it. But I’d noticed a wink here, a meaningful look there, every so often when they though no one was looking. And then there was the night I walked out her front door to see Dwight speed up the drive in his sleek Audi. He told me he was bringing her take-out, even though he wasn’t carrying any bags except for one from BevMo. I didn’t trust the guy at all. And I think he would do anything for Simone. Even kill for her.
I managed to make it through the first set without any issues. I’d been worried how strange it would feel to be back at work without Nick’s familiar, comforting presence. But once I started playing . . . it all faded into the background, and I felt peaceful for the first time in weeks. I decided to take a breather and make myself a bite to eat in the kitchen. Sadly, Nick took his famous fish taco recipe with him to the grave . . . but I knew the chicken and steak recipes by heart and promptly whipped up three for dinner.
Back out front in the bar, I noticed Jackson in his corner booth. He was typing fast and furious. I had some questions about his screenplay or documentary, whatever it was. I plopped down in his booth on the seat across from him. He looked up from the computer and smiled.
“Hey, Evie. How’s it going?”
I shrugged. “I miss Nick.”
“We all do.”
I nodded, pointing down to the plate of tacos. Figured I might as well sweeten the deal a bit before I started asking questions. “Want one?”
Jackson eyed the tacos appreciatively. “Sure! Thanks.” I scooted the plate across the table so he could grab a taco, and then leaned in close, clasping my hands together. I was pleased to see he was being Mister Nice Guy tonight.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Um . . . yeah.” He took a bite of the taco, moaning appreciatively.
“How well did you know Nick?”
He sat back against the booth, taco in hand, and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. “I thought I told you all of that.”
“Well sure, I mean . . . I know you were doing a documentary and wanted him to be in it. But how did you guys meet?”
“I came in here one night and that was it.” He dabbed at his mouth with a napkin and eyed my remaining two tacos enviously.
“But how did you find him?”
Jackson sighed and pointed to his closed laptop. “A good writer does his research.”
“So, you targeted him.”
“You make it sound so slimy. Yeah, I knew Nick owned this place, thanks to the powers of Google. And I’ve been a fan of Nick’s because I’d watched
a billion times as a kid. I didn’t exactly have a great family life. TV was my best friend.” He set his napkin down on the table and clasped his hands together. “Everything I’ve ever gotten was because I earned it, including getting into film school on a scholarship. Not too many people can say that. My mom was a single parent. I have three brothers and I’m the oldest, so guess who ran the family while mom was out? Me. And I still made it to USC. And I am going to have an awesome master’s project when I’m finished, Nick or no Nick. Not that he planned to help me anyway.”
I nodded. I couldn’t help wonder if Jackson’s mother had divorced his father due to the physical abuse I knew Jackson had suffered. I assumed the man I’d seen in the vision had been his father.
“I don’t understand why he was so shy about being on camera. I mean, he’d obviously been in front of it for years as a kid and young adult.”
Jackson leaned back and crossed his arms. “Secrets. Nick had secrets like everyone else, and he didn’t want me to expose them.”
“What kind of secrets?”
A smirk crossed his handsome face. “Who knows. But I’m uncovering them, and it’s changing the entire storyline of my documentary. See, lies make for good entertainment.”
“Lies?” I arched my brow in disbelief.
“There are tons in this bar. This place.” He gestured at our surroundings. “It’s built on lies. With this new angle, I don’t need Nick anyway.”
Jackson was really starting to irritate me. “That sounds a bit arrogant.”
Again, he shrugged. “Maybe it is, but you know, it wasn’t like Nick was super warm and friendly to me. He didn’t like me coming in here, trying to get the scoop on his life. But he couldn’t do much about it either. It isn’t like I was disruptive. I’m just doing my thing. And I pay, unlike those bums at the counter.”
He did have a point. “Oh. Well, Nick gave me my first opportunity here in LA, and I will always be grateful for that.”
“More than he gave me.”
I was feeling uncomfortable with the conversation, so I decided to finish up my meal in the kitchen and get ready for the next set.
“It was nice chatting with you Jackson. Gotta get back to work now.” He smiled at me, nodding as if we were the best of friends, which we definitely were not.