DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters belong to the genius Don Winslow. This story was written purely for fun and entertainment; no infringement was intended, and no profit was made.
Song: 107 Degrees, Citizen Cope
Wanted by the minister, wanted by the dean
Wanted by the old folks, wanted by the teens
Wanted by the dealer, wanted by the fiends
Wanted by that girl in them cut cut jeans
The clock on the reception desk had just hit 7.30 am when Nina walked past it. Well, at least the one that said "Laguna Beach" under it. It sat right in the middle of six others, each one marking the time at a certain part of the globe. As early as it was, the staff was all smiles and good mornings when their boss passed by them with her hurried steps, just to slow down by the corner of the front desk.
"Good morning, everyone. Cynthia? How's everything? How was the night?"
"Good, nothing special. At least so far", the supervisor said with a tired grin.
"All right. Now go home. You were here when I left last night, I know that", Nina stated, walking straight to the restaurant. That was one of the bright sides of owning hotels – the food. She went to her table, at the back corner so that she could keep an eye on everything while eating, and a couple of newspapers were already waiting for her there.
"Gracias, Rafael", she said courteously to the young waiter who served her a rather sizeable cup of coffee.
Nina had just sat back down, with a plate full of fruit slices, a fat free yogurt, juice and just a little more coffee when her phone rang. It was Russell, her assistant.
"I am just about to start having an amazing breakfast, so make it quick, Russ. And good morning, by the way."
"I'm afraid your amazing breakfast will have to wait, boss. It's, uh... another OD."
Russell heard the clink of the coffee cup landing heavily on the saucer, which brought all the attention to Nina. No, everything's ok, she thought, and got herself together with a reassuring grin.
"Which room?", Nina asked, folding back the newspapers and heading out to her office. The coffee could wait. A corpse in one of her hotel rooms could not.
Her high heels moved quietly on the renovated hallway carpet, and all she could hear was her own breathing, rushed by the irritation of having to take care of something that draining on a Sunday morning. Exhaling, she squeezed the hankie in her hand, which she had soaked in rose water before coming up – a trick she had learned after the last time this happened.
The master card key went in and out of the magnetic keyhole and she entered the room, trying to brace herself for the unexpected. You never knew what these junkies would come up with, and Nina tried not to think about the last OD she saw. Russell was right by the door, and as she came in, the wreckage was visible: trashed room, broken mirrors and tables and vases, the side tables still with traces of drug use, a scene that could have come out straight from a Hollywood movie. Only it didn't. At least the guy is fully clothed this time, she thought. It didn't lessen the impact; a dead person is a dead person.
"Oh, por Dios", she sighed, letting her accent leak into the next sentence. "Anyone we know?"
"No, not that I know of. His name is Charles, he checked in last night. I think it's a clear coke OD."
Nina raised an eyebrow at his knowledge on drug-related incidents, which she knew was none. She tried to keep her eyes off of the corpse laying on the super king size bed, and put the hankie to good use by applying it to her own nose. Neither she nor Russell were street-smart, but Nina could bet her four hotels that Russ wouldn't know that there is more than one type of weed. Dead bodies were becoming a very aggravating part of her business; that man was the fourth OD case she had in the past six months. It was enough for her to learn that calling the cops first was not a good strategy: it scared the guests and that was never good. By asking the right questions, Nina found the right people to be contacted upon such events. Calling the last called numbers had been working out great so far. The person comes in, obviously interested in getting the situation resolved as soon as possible, done deal, everybody carries on with their lives. No cops, no worries, guests are happy, all is well.
"Did you find his phone?", she asked, looking around, away from the bed.
Nina's rule of thumb was: if you die in one of her hotels, you forfeit your right to privacy. You don't want her to know who you've been calling, you go die somewhere else. Russell handed her a pair of rubber gloves and an iPhone, as she took off her rings and stashed them into a little pocket in her phone case. Gloves on (stupid but necessary protection), she grabbed the phone, which thankfully wasn't protected with a passcode. Even if it was, 22-year old, Generation Y Russell had a way with that too. She tapped Phone, Recent, and what the... no. It can't be.
A quiet "what?" escaped her lips, and she blinked once, twice, to make sure her brain wasn't playing tricks on her. There was no trick, only a flood of memories that rushed over her just like the waves she disliked so much, and left her just as adrift. It couldn't be a coincidence. That nickname was too damn unique, there couldn't be more than one Chon, at least not in that area. And two minutes ago she thought that dealing with an overdose was as worse as her day could get.
She responded with a nod which Russell couldn't identify as meaning yes or no. She scrolled down the contact list, found Chon there, hoping there would be more information, but that was about it: nickname and cell phone number, no picture. "It figures", she thought; he never liked taking pictures. In a normal situation, one in which she wouldn't recognize the last number the person called, Nina would leave it at that. She couldn't help it, even though she knew it was a risk. Messages. Chon's name was again on top, and it brought a rather long exchange, but Nina only needed to look at the most recent ones.
Chonny-man, u got some of that primo grass? I'm at Las Lilas, can u drop by?
Chon boy pick up man. I need 2 mellow out cmon
Primo grass. Mellow out. Overdose. Those words should add up to meaning something, yet they didn't. They didn't mean anything because Nina refused to connect the dots, even though the picture was laid out in front of her. He wouldn't. He couldn't.
"Nina, what is it?", Russell asked her again, snapping her out of her thoughts.
"Here", she said under her breath, handing him the phone and trying her best to keep her voice steady. "Call the most recent number. Whoever picks it up, you tell them you want to speak to John McAlister Junior. Got it?"
The assistant looked confused. Nina usually handled that kind of situation, but he did notice her hand shaking slightly as she gave him the device.
"Are you sure you want me to do this? I mean, you..."
"Just do it, Rus", she said on her way to the door. "Call me again when he arrives, and tell him to hurry up."
Chon didn't sleep much, but whenever he did, you didn't wake him up. Or you did, if you didn't know better. A phone call at 8am on a Sunday was definitely from someone who didn't know better.
He jumped up from the bed he didn't recognize at first, then looked around and saw a non-specific, non-brunette, non-brained trophy wife squirming under the sheets. Yeah, she looked better with dim lights. The vibrating sound kept on going and he looked at his phone, "Dense calling" flashing on the screen, reminding him why he woke up in the first place. Chon picked it up and headed to the bathroom. He'd probably skip the room service, but never – ever – the shower.
"Do you know what time it is, Dense? What the fuck you want now?", he growled, his harsh voice even harsher in the morning, checking his reflection in the mirror and thinking he should ask O to come by and cut his hair. He could cut it himself, but her haircuts always came with interesting benefits.
"Is this Mr. John McAlister Junior?"
The voice didn't sound like he expected it to, and it was enough for Chon to wake up for once and pay attention. He made a mental list of the people who a) had his phone number, b) knew his full name, and c) would call him from Dense's phone. No matches found for that search criteria.
"Keep talking", he answered bluntly, his mind already in full throttle thinking about what could have gone wrong now. That list was unfortunately long.
On the other side, Russell cleared his throat and made his best effort to sound imposing.
"Your friend Charles Ducau decided to, uh, die in our hotel, which we don't appreciate. Since you're the last person he called, we kindly ask you to come over to Las Lilas hotel and... take care of it, please", he said, thankful that Nina wasn't around to see his ridiculous attempt, and praying to all gods that it would work. It had to, otherwise he'd be left to deal with the dead dude, and that was definitely not a part of his plans for that Sunday.
Chon considered the possibility that this could be a trap, but he knew how fucked up Dense was and if he od'ed, Chon wouldn't be surprised. He didn't like that it turned out to be something he had to deal with, though.
"We didn't call them. It's not good for the business."
It made sense. And if they were lying, Chon would know it the moment he got closer to the hotel, and he could drive away as if nothing happened.
"I'll be there in 20", he stated, and turned the shower on, hoping that... Brittany? Emily? Well, hoping that the trophy-wife wouldn't wake up. Not that it mattered, it just made it easier. If she woke up, he would have to remember her name, which would be tough and let's face it, he wasn't willing to try that hard; and then he would have to listen to more of her rambling about how she wanted to get another boob job but her husband wouldn't pay for it. Yeah, that was not going to happen. Please, Tiffany, please be sleeping when I leave.
Russell exhaled deeply, leaning against the door. He looked down and picked up Nina's hankie. Yep, roses were definitely better than putrefaction.
Meanwhile, Nina got into a vacant room, down the hall from where Russel was, still incredulous. Well, it wasn't that hard to believe, she pondered. It's Laguna Beach, it's a small town, so the strange thing was really that they hadn't bumped into each other before during the past decade, even though she spent a few years away and God knows what he was up to. Still, it was him, it was
"Chon", she said his name for the first time in many years, with no one but her memories to listen to it. She threw out the gloves, washed her hands, undid her ponytail, ran her hands through her hair, and put it up again. She leaned on the sink for a couple of minutes as she struggled to make something make sense, but nothing did. The fact that there was a dead man in one of her hotels whose last call had been to Chon, the fact that she was that affected by the idea of seeing him again. Her plan to block him out had been successful until that very moment, when it sank in that it might have been over a decade, but it still stung like it was yesterday.
"It's nothing. It's not him", she said out loud, and repeated it once, twice, in a failed attempt to convince herself of that. During the third time, her phone rang.
With a deep breath, she opened the door to the room where he was supposed to be and almost sighed in relief. There was a man standing, facing away from her, all dressed in black: black t-shirt, dark washed jeans, black boots, and no, he couldn't possibly be Chon. He was taller than she remembered, and the hair... his hair was short, close-cropped. Definitely not him. Still, Nina found herself calling his name.
She stood still, frozen on her feet, and watched as his head moved slowly to his right, showing that profile she knew so well. The straight nose, the full lips, the ever-squinting eyes, the sideways look... and two horrible scars that were new to her, one on the side of his face, and one on his neck.