[twenty one]

“How soon do you want information?”

“As soon as you get it. I don’t care how late or early it is. Just get it to me.”

“Yes, Sir,” the older man rose from his seat, extending his hand. “I’ll get word to you immediately.”

“Thank you,” Nick nodded, accepting the man’s handshake. “I really appreciate it.”

He walked the man to the door, running into AJ, who was making his way inside his friend’s home. AJ nodded a quick greeting to the strange man before turning a questioning gaze on Nick.

“Nicky, who was that guy?”

“Someone I had to talk to,” Nick shrugged, following AJ inside and closing the door behind him. “Business.”

“Uh-huh,” AJ nodded. “And tell me, since when do you ‘talk business’ with someone without the rest of us?”

“Not that kind of business,” Nick told him, the serious tone in his voice intriguing his older friend. “Personal business.”

“I see... care to elaborate?” AJ asked as he rummaged through Nick’s fridge, producing two cans of soda.

“Nosey, nosey,” Nick grinned, catching the can AJ tossed his way. “I don’t think I should.”

“I think you should,” AJ protested. “Besides, I have a feeling this business concerns me in one way or another.”

“Does it, now?” Nick smiled.

“Yep,” AJ nodded matter of factly. “After all, San was my friend first.”

Nick’s jaw dropped. “How do you DO that?!”

“Would you believe a little bird told me?” AJ chuckled.

“She talked to you?” he asked AJ.

“More like I bugged the living shit outta her and got very minimal details,” he sighed. “How bad was it, really?”

Nick sighed, running a hand through his blond lock as memories of the night before came to him. “Very bad, J. Hella bad. If it scared the crap out of me, I hate to think what it did to her.”

They went off topic for a good two hours, small talk, basically, before going back to the subject of the past night’s events for a while, AJ getting his fill - and then some - of details before finally asking. “So where does the guy that just left come in to all this?”

“He’s a private detective,” Nick said.

“You went THAT far?!” AJ exclaimed.

“It seems I can’t go far enough where she’s concerned,” Nick sighed. “I want her to be safe, you know? I threw a big fit last night, trying to get her to come home with me. She wouldn’t hear of it, so I had to leave her place feeling very concerned for her,” he grinned sheepishly at his friend. “I even made her promise to call me the second she woke up so I could know she was okay.”

“Did she call you?”

Nick frowned. “Not yet. I’m kind of hoping she’s sleeping in...”

At those words, his telephone rang, and a smile crossed his face.

“Talk about timing,” AJ laughed as Nick jogged toward the phone.


“Mr. Carter?” the male voice asked.

“Speaking,” Nick replied, his smile fading once he recognized the voice.

“We’ve got some details for you, Sir.”

Nick’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Already?” he asked, checking his watch. It had only been nearly three hours since he’d seen the detective out his front door.

“He wasn’t a difficult individual to locate,” the man explained. “It was fairly simple to trace his place of residence, place of employment, and my team is looking into any criminal record he may have.”

Nick swallowed hard, the word ‘criminal’ causing a nauseating sensation in the pit of his stomach. “Do you know where he is at the moment?” he asked.

“I’ve got my eye on him personally,” the detective replied. “Which is why I called you.”

An uneasy feeling washed over him as he asked for Zack’s wherabouts.

“He’s heading into an apartment complex. Possibly visiting an acquaintance..”

Nick reached out blindly and grabbed the edge of the counter for support before he toppled over. “Wh-what building?”

“3812 Evergreen Court,” the detective informed.

Nick’s face paled considerably. “Don’t.. don’t let him out of your sight. I’ll be right there,” he stammered before hanging up.

“Nicky?” AJ called out, following him out the door. “Nick, what’s going on? Who was on the phone?”

“Get in,” Nick said simply, nodding toward his car.

AJ hopped in, no questions asked. He braced himself for a high speed drive toward God knows where. Nick’s face was a mixture of anger, concern and fear as they sped across town.

“Nick, you gonna tell me, or what?” AJ pressed. “I’m kinda freaked out over here.”

“It was the detective,” Nick said mechanically. “The asshole’s in San’s apartment building.”

[chapter list | chapter twenty two]