Chapter 1

1631 Words
Chapter One Nico“I’m sorry man, it looks like you’re broke.” My accountant, Brett drops his gaze, and picks at an invisible speck of dust on his desk. “Dead broke.” It takes a minute for the words to sink in before my head explodes. “What the f**k do you mean I’m dead broke?” All the blood has rushed up to my head, leaving my fingers and my feet numb. I flex both just to make sure I’m not having an out of body experience. “I mean, before you signed the divorce papers, it looks like Veronica emptied every single one of your joint accounts.” I slam both my hands on the desk and lean forward. Brett flinches, but at least has the balls to meet my angry glare. “Then you better start figuring out a way to get it the f**k back,” I growl, trying my best to keep my field of vision clear. “You’re an accountant for chrissake.” “Who you pay to do your taxes, not babysit your millions,” he snaps irritably. I think back to dinner, to the stilted conversation between me and Brett and his wife, Maggie - the glances I caught them exchanging, the thinly veiled hints from Maggie that I’ve overstayed my welcome… a sick feeling comes over me. “How long have you known?” The guilty grimace he makes gives it all away. “How long have you known?” I repeat, anger simmering. “Ah… ah… just a few days,” he says quietly, face turning a ruddy shade of pink. “I-I wanted to be sure before I… just in case…” his voice trails off. “Just in case what?” I grit, the picture becoming clearer with each moment that passes. “Just in case you could eke out a little bit more blood from the turnip? Just in case you could line your pockets just a little bit longer?” God how could I have been so naive? “f**k, Brett, we were college roommates.” But not friends. Clearly, not friends. Stupid me. “It’s not like that,” he sputters. “Oh? Then tell me, how is it?” I’m so sick of this. Of the fake friends, of the betrayal, of nothing seeming like it is. A dark voice sounds in my head. Karma, Nico. Karma. It’s right, the voice. My house of cards has been slowly tumbling to the ground, starting with dad locking me and my brothers out of our trust fund, then Veronica kicking me out, and ultimately getting knocked up by Senator f*****g Whelan, Hollywood producer-turned-politician, then demanding a quickie divorce. I push down a cynical laugh. Ironic, that when money’s involved, a five-year marriage takes only days to dissolve. And now this. She’s well and truly screwed me. Hit me where I was most vulnerable. Just like you did to Jason, the voice points out. Times ten. f*****g karma, indeed. “Why the f**k have I been paying you, Brett? You were supposed to look out for s**t like this.” His face is the color of a beet now. “I know, I know, it’s just-” “That you were more interested in taking my money than actually working.” I point out, seeing the situation clearly now, for the first time. “So all that talk about friendship, about your house being my house, about how we go way back- it was all bullshit wasn’t it?” His mouth opens then shuts. I slam my hands on the desk and rise. “Wasn’t it?” For once, I want one of these money-grubbing assholes to just f*****g be honest with their motives. Brett opens his hands. “I’m sorry, man. I really am.” Sure he is. I shake my head and push off from the desk, mind already spinning options for what’s next like a Rolodex. “Tell Maggie I said thanks for the hospitality.” “Do you have another place lined up?” The fact that he doesn’t even bother to disguise the eagerness in his voice, is like a nail in the coffin to our ‘friendship’. “Yeah, yeah.” Like I would tell him otherwise, or worse, beg. I pause at the door, hand on the jam. “And Brett?” “Yeah?” “You’re fired.” I head down the hall, past the man cave, where I’ve been sleeping on the couch for the past seven weeks, past Maggie hiding in the kitchen, to the front hall where my backpack and leather jacket hang in the corner. I haven’t worn the thing since college because Veronica hated it. So when she unceremoniously kicked me out, I took perverse pleasure in grabbing it from the closet, wheeling my Ducati out of the garage, and kicking up a rooster tail of gravel as I sped off. There’s no need for a dramatic exit here. I’m done, and I just want to move the f**k on. The cool salty dew of the marine layer hits my face as I slip out the front door. Fitting, that it never cleared today. There won’t be a riding off into the sunset moment for me, only disappearing into the fog. Also fitting. I take one last look around the fancy Carmel Highlands neighborhood, with its gracious houses tucked between redwoods and rocky crags, overlooking the bay like tiny fiefdoms surveying their land. The whole reason Brett and his family live here is because of me. Gall burns the back of my throat. And how many others in the neighborhood are just like him? Siphoning money from the uber-wealthy to line their pockets, all in the name of business? The whole thing disgusts me. But what disgusts me more, is the unwitting role I played in all of it. Foolishly believing that my wealth secured loyalty, friendship to those I bestowed it upon. I quickly check my phone. Weeks ago, when Veronica surprised me with divorce papers and let the tabloids inform me that she was pregnant again, this time with Senator Whelan’s child, my brother Declan offered up his vineyard on Mt. Veeder. But I couldn’t. At least not then. I’m the oldest of the three of us, and while it may only be by six minutes, I was the one groomed to lead, I’m the responsible one. And asking anyone for help, especially one of my brothers, would be admitting failure. But there’s no use denying it anymore. I’m exactly that. Spectacularly. And it’s either take my brother up on his offer, or camp on the beach. I don’t bother to text him to confirm I’m on my way. I already know it’s unoccupied, except for a skeleton crew of day laborers working to rebuild the 1800’s era farmhouse - I checked out the property weeks ago, just in case. I strap into my helmet and sling a leg over the bike, a part of me settling with the low purr of the engine beneath me. Tendrils of fog undulate and close in around me as I ride away - and the once billionaire prince, now fallen from his pedestal, is swallowed by the coming night. Thanks to Friday night traffic, it’s well after midnight when I roll to a stop, exhaustion pinching the space between my shoulder blades. I just f*****g want to sleep. Okay, and drink. I could use a bottle of Scotch. Or bourbon. Or anything strong enough to make me pass out and forget the f*****g mess I’ve made of my life. I cut the engine and gaze skyward. Declan scored big with this place, the air is clear and crisp, and even with the light pollution from Napa and Sonoma, and the city to the south, you can still see the stars. I didn’t bother to ask him if it was planted, but you’d have to work hard to produce a shitty bottle of wine in conditions like this. The farmhouse, destroyed by fires a year ago, stands lonely and forlorn in the moonlight, lending a gothic feel to the place. To my right stands a double-wide trailer, most likely the foreman’s office. Easy enough to crash there until morning when I can get my bearings. I loop my helmet over the handlebars and hop off the bike, taking a moment to stretch before I approach the trailer. The tension across my shoulders relaxes a bit when the door quietly swings open. I flip a switch by the door and blink at the harsh overhead light. “Fancy digs,” I mutter as I step into the room and drop my backpack. A desk with a laptop stands in the corner, but the rest of the space is… homey. A large leather sectional and a low modern coffee table take up most of the space. The kitchen is well equipped, and a round table with four chairs is nestled into the bay window. But what has my attention is the bottle of grappa and two small glasses at its center. It figures that Dec would have hired someone with wine knowledge. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree for any of us, even though we try. I drop into a chair and pull over the bottle and a glass. I’d rather not drink alone- misery loves company. But beggars can’t be choosers, and I need to drink away this day, this week, this summer from f*****g hell. I pour a full glass and salute the empty space. “To karma,” I murmur quietly, then down the contents in one swallow. The burn brings tears to my eyes, but I don’t care. There will be time later to contemplate the finer points of this particular bottle, but right now, I want release. I pour another full glass and drain it. The pleasant buzz hits after the fourth glass, and I let out a deep sigh. Exhaustion overtakes me, and I can barely lift my hand. I pour a final glass for good measure. This should allow me to sleep into next week, at least. And maybe when I wake up I’ll realize it’s all been some kind of a dark, twisted nightmare. If only I was so lucky.
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