A buzzing grated on Rich’s brain. His eyeballs were dry, but he had no energy to blink, much less investigate the buzzing. A groan sapped him, but he managed another as he curled around a pillow.
Peeling open an eye, he scanned his surroundings. Sure enough, his bed in the hotel. His phone vibrated on the nightstand, seeming to aim toward his head as it traveled across the slick wood. A lovely caramel-colored hand caught the phone as it edged off the table.
“Rich?” Michelle whispered. “It’s the third time that arson investigator called. Should you take it?”
Rich struggled upright. He had to grip the headboard when the bed began spinning. He gulped a breath and answered. “Yes, Kitterick?”
“It’s about time. Thought you should know we have a decision. The fire that destroyed your house was arson.” The little shit sounded giddy. “We even have a suspect. Can you guess who?” Kitterick chortled.
Stalling for his brain to kick into gear, he twisted the school ring on his finger. He couldn’t come up with a clever retort, though. Aching, his head a clanging mess, Rich just waited. “You going to be at that fancy hotel for a while, Brandt?”
“You have my cell number, obviously. My lawyer will be in touch.” Rich ended the call and slumped against the pillows, lifting a blanket to cover his face. Michelle brought him a glass of something fizzy. He drank it dutifully and huddled again. When the phone buzzed another time, he answered just to make it stop.
“Rich, it’s George.” Rich frowned at the breathless tone in his accountant’s voice. “Look, I need you to get down here like now, man. Too much to go over on the phone and I need some signatures anyway.”
“NOW now? Or just sometime soon now?”
“Right now. Ten minutes ago, man,” George responded. Rich hurried through a couple cups of coffee before leaving.
He settled into the armchair by George’s desk. His head was still spinning, though his stomach was settled. As George droned on, Rich was beset by memories of being let go from the company and how polite that phrase was, of doing “just one more” vodka shooter while being encouraged by jeweled lovelies he knew not where, and the nagging feeling Michelle helped him into bed last night, seeing him at his worst.
“DUDE! Pay attention, man!” Rich nearly jumped. George shuffled some papers on his desk. “Sorry, didn’t mean to yell. You have to get this through your head, man. You’re in a world of hurt. You’re overextended and can’t keep living this way unless you get some money coming in and fast. Yeah, your company already called to work out your severance.” Rich flinched at the salt in the wound. Severance. “As it is, the car has got to go.”
“What? The Jag? I own it free and clear!” He had wanted a Jaguar since before law school.
“Dude, chill. Yes, you don’t have car payments on it, but you do pay incredibly high insurance, not to mention the auto club and the maintenance on the car. It’s bleeding you dry. Add to that staying in a five star hotel and maxing out a credit card we thought could not be maxed out? Dude, you gotta cut back. That starts with the Jag. You’ll have to downgrade your hotel and get going on the search for a little condo in the meantime.”
Body blows, one after the other. He heard George trying to placate him. “You could get a late model Audi. That’d be sweet, man. Insurance would be a fraction of what you’re paying now.” George was an accountant, what did he know from a decent lifestyle?
The suite was empty when he returned. Pouring himself a splash of vodka, he sucked it down. It would be nice to have Michelle here. She’d make it better. She was probably at that studio, what was it she did? Oh yes, interior design. That’s how they met, when she did his office. Rich slumped, thinking of his office being dismantled. He left a voicemail on her cell. Trying for a lighthearted message about trading in the Jag for a VW Microbus and the Avenue Suites for a Motel 6, he ended it with, “Meet me at the hotel soon.”
He checked the impulse to call Sybil and have her deal with the Hyatt, the search for a condo, and for packing up this place. He didn’t have a Sybil anymore. Another splash of vodka. After downing it, he sat for a while, absently twisting his ring. He didn’t have a Sybil, but he still had a Molly. He called his lawyer and brought her up to speed. “I guess we should have bail money ready. No idea what they’re going to do, Molly.”
“Darren Pritchard is a criminal attorney here. I’ll take care of it. Get in touch with your accountant about assets for bail,” she replied. Another splash of vodka after ending the call. Deep breaths helped him fake composure.
His phone trembled in his pocket. Michelle’s voice was reassuring. She laughed about the VW and “Motel 6 is fine so long as we’re together.” Corny and it should have made him feel better. Instead, he felt hollow inside at his inability to live as he should. “In the meantime, maybe you should make a list of things to do.” She left his briefcase next to the bar, she told him, saying she’d see him soon.
He felt like a walking disaster: the fire, his job, now his car. Strangely, Michelle didn’t seem to mind.
Making a list would help. He opened his laptop and frowned. Closing it again, he swept his fingertips across the top. There was the scratch he hated so much. No doubt it was his, but the monitor display was wrong. Unfamiliar icons, one labeled BRANDT AND ASSOCIATES. A logo for a company by the same name was the wallpaper for the desktop. Waves of dread buffeted him.
Grumbling at the timing, Rich answered a knock on the door. The concierge apologized for the intrusion, but the gentleman refused to wait. There was no gentleman. It was Kitterick. McClean stood behind him, grinning.