Nick answered on the third ring. He sounded almost as tired as I did.
“I’m sorry if I woke you,” I said.
“No problem.” His voice was muffled, as if he’d wiped his mouth while talking. “Actually, I was up until three o’clock this morning trying to meet a deadline. Then, I didn’t really fall asleep, but just fell into bed and zoned out.”
“I have bad news.” I wasted no time getting to the point. “The Harcourts have been murdered.”
“What? Good Lord . . . .”
I steeled myself to go on. “I discovered the bodies. They weren’t just killed. They were beaten and stabbed several times and their throats were cut.” I didn’t bother to describe the blood spattered all over the place, which I hoped to forget.
Nick said nothing. I could imagine what he was thinking. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was really dry. And the memory of the horrid sight and smell in the basement was still fresh.
“I just thought you should know before the cops and the press come knocking,” I said. “You realize they’ll check your article about the couple for clues.”
Nick cleared his throat. “Plus whatever they said off the record. Not that there was much.”
“They may want your sources.”
There was a snort at the other end. “Erica, the article was a puff piece. I did it for the money.” Nick’s voice had a hint of disgust.
I paused in an effort to choose my words. “Can you think of any reason why the Harcourts might have felt in danger?”
“If they were in danger, they never mentioned it.”
“Do you know why they wanted to hire a personal assistant then?”
“They didn’t tell me. I just assumed they were too busy being internet big-shots to do their own dishes.”
“Could there have been another reason?” I asked.
When Nick didn’t respond, I added, “Did you get any sense at all that they were hiding something?”
“Well . . . .” That one word told me plenty. “I sensed some tension between them. If I’d been doing a proper job, I would have dug further into it. You don’t suppose . . . ?”
“Many things can make people tense, but most of them don’t lead to murder.”
“But I should have seen it.”
What the hell? Silence filled the line. I let it continue.
With an audible sigh, Nick added, “At some level, I could tell these people had bigger problems than they were admitting to me. If I had been doing an investigative piece, maybe this could have been avoided.”
“Don’t,” I said. I knew that feeling too well. “That wasn’t your job. Whatever happened was because of their choices, so you don’t need to blame yourself.”
Another long pause. “You’re right, of course.” He managed to get the words out, but he spoke without conviction. “But . . . .”
“Is there anything I can do?” As a fellow recovering opioid addict, Nick helped keep me on the straight and narrow, no matter how trying the various group meetings got. He was my sounding board and a life raft in a sea of trouble.
“Maybe,” he said.
PS: Want more of the story? Try it out here. The first few chapters are free!
PPS: You know what show they should reboot? Honey West! 🙂