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BOOK: The Grey Tier
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Chapter Eight

AT TEN PAST SEVEN the next morning, I could be found at Starbucks insisting to a barista she did indeed have everything needed to make a pumpkin spice latte in June. She, sadly, didn’t agree. I tried pulling the, “I’m Simone’s assistant, you know
, the
Simone” line. Her response?

“Right. Whoever you are, I can assure you we don’t serve pumpkin spice lattes in June. How about hazelnut? That should make
anyone
happy.”

“Oh, fine.” I glanced at my watch, knowing there was going to be hell to pay. I’d overslept, probably the result of that disturbing sex dream combined with Mac waking me when he eventually found his way to my room and crashed on my pillow. Suffice it to say, it hadn’t been the most restful of nights. I’d darted out of bed and then out of the house, leaving Cass and my new feline friend inside to sort things out.

And here I was, running behind schedule and without the requested pumpkin spice latte to sweeten the deal. I grabbed the hazelnut mocha or latte or whatever it was, and kicked the van into high gear—which means not high at all—making it to Simone’s about twenty minutes late.

She greeted me at the door with a bright red nose, red-rimmed eyes, hair in a rat’s nest, and hands on her hips. She wore a short, hot pink-colored silk robe with some kind of lace teddy underneath. Simone stared at me like I’d slapped her. She grabbed the hazelnut drink and took a sip. She spit it out. “What the fuck is
this
?!”

“I’m sorry, Simone. Look, the girl at the counter insisted she did not have pumpkin spice. I pleaded with her. I told her I was your assistant. I don’t think she believed me.”

She grabbed my arm. “Come on.”

“What?”

“Did I stutter? Come on.”

I followed her outside.

“Are your keys in this piece of shit?” She smacked her hand on the van.

“Yes.”

“Get in.”

Oh no. This was it. I had lost the only real paying job I’d ever had. She was sending me on my way. I had been fired. “I am really sorry. I am.”

“Get. In. The. Van.” She pointed at the driver’s side, her slipper-clad foot tapping impatiently.

“Hey, you can fire me, but that means you don’t get to order me around like this anymore.”

“I’m not firing you, loser. We’re going to Starbucks.”

“I told you, she said—“

“I don’t care what that idiot said,” Simone said. “Now drive me to Starbucks.”

We turned right off of Mullholland. “God, Edie, I can’t believe you drive this tin can.” She wiped her hands down her face tiredly.

“It’s all I can really afford, and it gets me where I need to go. I’m saving my money.”

“Saving your money? Why?”

“Uh, well, that’s what most people do. They budget and save so one day they have nice things and can travel or afford to send their kids to college.”

Simone shook her head. “Whatever. You don’t even
have
kids.”

We drove the rest of the way in silence until I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot. Simone grabbed the handle and threw the door open.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I am going to get my fucking pumpkin spice latte. You stay here.” With that, she was out the door and marching into Starbucks wearing nothing but her pajamas.

I groaned, certain it wouldn’t be long before the paparazzi showed up or someone whipped out a camera phone. All I knew was somehow this was going to end up my fault.

Less than five minutes later, she strolled out with two coffees in hand. She got into the van just as a crowd started gathering, handed me one of the cups, and said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

I turned off of Sunset and floored it, as ordered. Once we’d reached cruising speed, I glanced over at Simone and asked, “What did you say in there?”

“Oh nothing much. Just let them know the next time my assistant comes in and asks for a pumpkin spice latte, they better fucking well give it to you. They gave me two. What do you think?” She motioned to the coffee.

“I think you should stop using the ‘F’ word.”

“No, what do you think about the latte?” She rolled her eyes.

I took a sip. I wasn’t really partial to super sweet coffee, and I really don’t like pumpkin, but I figured now was not the time for honesty. “It’s great.”

She laughed. “You’re a fucking liar!”

“No, I’m not.” Then I started laughing, too. As obnoxious as Simone can be, there are times when she cracks me up.

“So you think I should stop using ‘the F word,’ huh?”

“Yes. It’s just, well, it’s not, um . . .” How to put this without ticking her off? “It just doesn’t fit your image. You know, you’re a song-bird. You’re glamorous. And I don’t think vulgarity is really your style.”

She nodded, pondering. “Hmmm. Okay.”

“Really?”

She took a sip of her latte and swallowed, then looked over at me. “Fuck, no, Edie. The ‘F’ word is the only word I know that suits me to a T. Now take me home and put my make-up on.”

I sighed. An hour and a half later, she looked gorgeous as usual, and she managed to increase the number of F-bombs, if that were even possible. My ears were numb, but the photographer and his crew didn’t seem to notice. They told her how beautiful she was, what a great voice she had, and on and on. It made me nauseous.

As the photographer clicked away, my cell phone rang. It was Nick’s cell number. Oh God. He had to be pretty irritated with me. Here I’d run out on him last night and hadn’t even had the courtesy to call. What if that producer had stopped by? I was such a jerk. I picked up on the second ring.

“Hello? Hello? Nick? I am so sorry about last night.” No response. Boy, he must be more upset than I thought. “Hello? Nick? Look, I
am really sorry.”

I paused, and that’s when I heard a faint gurgling sound. What the heck? The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. Something was not right. “Nick? Is that you?”

“Help me.” It was barely a whisper but I heard it loud and clear. I was certain it was Nick. And then the line disconnected.

I didn’t tell Simone I was leaving. I just left. All I kept thinking was Nick was having a heart attack or a stroke. On my way to the bar, I decided to call 9-1-1 just in case. I relayed what had happened and the operator asked me if it was some kind of joke.

“Of course not! Why would I joke with you?”

“You wouldn’t believe the pranks we get, lady. I will send a unit to that address, but if this is a prank, you will find yourself in jail.”

“Look, I know what I heard. Just send help.”

I screeched to a stop in front of the bar. There were no police cars, no ambulances. Nothing. Not yet anyway. The bar wouldn’t open for another hour, but the back door was unlocked . . . not a good sign. I ran inside, through the kitchen, calling Nick’s name. No response. I scanned the booths. Nothing. I was just beginning to wonder if maybe he had called from home, when I stepped behind the bar. That’s where I finally found him.

Dead, in a pool of blood.

I backed away, nearly stumbling as a scream caught in my throat. I hit something behind me. The scream let loose when I realized it wasn’t something, but someone.

Chapter Nine

“HEY, EASY, EASY,” a man’s voice said. He turned me around, touching the bare skin of my arm, and I could just make out his LAPD uniform in the dim light.

I said something to him, but I don’t know what, exactly. I was hysterical and frantic. I caught a quick flash of the officer as a kid with his mother who was passed out on a couch—a bottle of booze next to her. I shut the vision out quickly. My friend was dead and it seemed pretty clear from all the blood on the floor he’d been murdered. Shattered glass was everywhere behind the bar. It looked like a fight had taken place.

“I’m Officer Harris. Wait here.” He sat me down in one of the booths.

My hands would not stop shaking. I wished I had Cass with me so I could bury my face in her fur.

I watched the officer walk around the bar and then disappear from sight as he knelt down behind it. Then I heard him on his radio, “I have a signal five at Fairfax and La Cienega. 527 La Cienega. Nick’s Bar. Repeat, I have a signal five.”

After Officer Harris called in the incident, he came back and sat with me. “Can you answer some questions, miss?”

“Is he . . . ?” I couldn’t make myself say the word.

“Yes, ma’am, he is.”

“Oh, my God! I can’t . . . I don’t understand. How?” I dropped my face into my hands as a fresh wave of tears threatened to overtake me.

Officer Harris nodded sympathetically. “I’m sorry. It appears to be a bullet wound to his chest. I take it he was a friend?”

I nodded. “Yes. My boss, too. I sang here in the evenings.”

“Can you tell me his name?”

“Nick Gordin. He owns . . . owned . . . the bar. He, he . . .” I swallowed thickly, trying hard to keep from sobbing or throwing up. “He was a really good guy. He believed in me.”

“I am sorry. Uh, did you say Nick Gordin?”

I nodded.

“As in the actor?”

I nodded again.

He looked slightly pained. Another fan, I guessed. “Can you tell me what happened?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” My eyes shot up to his face. “I found him like this . . . I must have arrived only seconds before you.” My hands still hadn’t stopped shaking and I could hear the quiver in my voice.

“I understand. But can you tell me how you found him? You said you play music here in the evenings, but it’s not quite ten o’clock in the morning. What were you doing here?”

I told him about the phone call from Nick.

“You were at work when you got the call?”

“Yes. I’m also a makeup artist.”

“As a matter of procedure, I will need to verify your story. Where do you work?”

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Simone was not going to like this kind of publicity at all. “I work for Simone.”

“Simone who?” he asked.

“Simone, the pop star,” I mumbled.

“Excuse me?” he said.

“Simone. The singer.”

“Really?”

I nodded.

“Okay. I’ll need you to give me her contact info so I can verify where you were when all of this went down.”

“Yes, of course.”

An hour later, a Detective Franklin sat me down and asked the same series of questions I’d heard from Officer Harris. I told him everything I knew. He asked me about acquaintances, friends, enemies, bar regulars.

“There’s Candace and Mumbles, and uh, Becky. But they would never hurt Nick.”

Detective Franklin looked at me. “Do any of these people have a last name?”

“I’m sure they do but I don’t know what they are. Except Becky. Her full name is Rebecca Styles. She was a really good friend of Nick’s.”

“Enemies?”

For some reason, Jackson’s face popped into my mind. But I had bigger fish to fry. “This guy came here last night. His name was Pietro. I think his last name was like Santiago or San something.” I snapped my fingers. “SanGiacomo. That’s it. He looked like some sort of mafia guy, you know, like Tony Soprano. He yelled at Nick. Then Nick and Becky went into the kitchen with him. Becky said sometimes Nick gambled and owed money to the wrong people.”

The detective jotted all of this down. “Pietro, huh? Damn.”

“What?”

“It could be a mob hit, and if so, those are tough cases to close.”

“Really? The mob?! I was kidding about the Tony Soprano thing.”

Detective Franklin stood. “I’ve got your number and we will be in touch again. Thank you for your help. You’re free to go now.”

“But what about the bar?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea what the terms are on this place. Do you have a manager?”

I quickly said, “Yes. Me. I manage and sing.” What in the hell was I doing? I was as much a manager of this place as Mumbles.

“And do makeup for Simone the pop singer?”

I nodded.

“Busy lady. I suppose in a few days you’ll likely be able to reopen. If Mr. Gordin owned this place, he must have had a will of some sort. If you’re the manager, I’m sure you’ll be hearing from an attorney soon. Again, I am sorry, and thank you for being so cooperative.”

I managed a weak smile and left. I don’t remember the drive home at all. It felt like the day I realized my sister was gone. I felt the same guilt, too. When Hannah vanished, I was convinced it was my fault. And now I wondered, maybe if I had stayed at the bar the night before instead of rushing to Simone’s aid, Nick would still be alive, too.

BOOK: The Grey Tier
8.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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