In Name Only

Chapter 70: Hangover

There was this incessant ringing noise.

It kept grating on his nerves. Intruding on his dreams.

At first that was what he thought it was; part of his dreams. But they kept shifting and swirling, and the ringing stayed the same.

It took him a little time to wake; that last shot of scotch had probably not been a good idea. But then he hadnít expected to wake up until the sun was high in the sky.

Damn it! Who the fuck would call him now?

He blinked the sleep out of his eyes just enough to make out the phone on the side table. Groaning at the need to move his arm, he reached out and pulled the handset off the receiver.

"Hello?"

"I think Iíve found her."

"What?"

"Kat Morgan. I think Iíve found her."

"Who is this?"

"Oh man, Iím sorry. I didnít mean to wake you. I keep forgetting about the time differences between the coasts. Its Jake Hollings. Remember? You hired me to find her for you? I told you last month that I thought I had a lead. Itís panning out."

He sat up quickly, moaning at the head rush it caused. "What time is it?"

"Its about 10:30 here. Must be about 7:30 there." There was a dry chuckle on the other end of the phone. "Rough night?"

He groaned again, pulling the covers up over his body. There was a muffled curse from the pillow beside him and the covers were snatched back. Okay, he was not alone. Didnít remember that. Maybe it had been more than one scotch too many. "It looks like it was," he growled into the phone.

"Ah the life of a celebrity. Probably some blonde starlet snuggled up next to youÖ"

"Sheís a redhead, and I have no idea whether sheís a starlet or not," he replied honestly, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

"Kid, you crack me up." Another chuckle on the other end of the phone. "So? You want this info or not?"

"Hell yes. Just give me a second." He put the phone down and went into the living room. He poured himself a weak shot of scotchÖ lots of water. It tasted like crap (didnít it always), but it seemed to clear his head. AJ had always sworn by "the hair of the dog" and it certainly appeared to be working this morning. He picked up the phone in the living room and muttered something that was answered by a grunt. Then went back into the bedroom, replaced the handset and stumbled back out to living room.

"Okay. I think Iím alive. Tell me again."

"You sure, kid? I can call later when youíre a little more sober. Sheís been gone almost two and a half years. A couple more hours ainít gonna hurt nothing."

"Maybe, but I am not interested in taking that chance. If this is a real lead, I am not gonna lose it." He paused. "And stop calling me kid."

"Sure thing Mr. Carter sir. Okay, like I said, I think Iíve found her. Itís a long shot, but itís also the best lead Iíve come across in a long time. Damn, that woman is good. Sheís managed to cover her trail better than an Indian scout. I think I came close to catching her with that thing in Tulsa last year, but sheíd flown the coop before I could get there. Thatís why Iím calling you first this time."

"Jake, so far you are the only one who has come up with anything. I think Howieís PI is just sucking money out of him and Brianís lost interest as soon as it looked like it might be work. KevinísÖ well, I have no idea what is going on there, but you are the one who has come the closest. At least we KNOW she was in Tulsa even if you missed her. That is more than anyone else has gotten."

He could hear the smile on the other end of the phone. "Well, if you are gonna be all polite about it maybe I should raise my rates."

"Maybe you should just tell me what you got before I mention some of that immigrant smuggling you do on the side to someone who would care about it a lot more than I do."

"Touché, kid, touché. And it was only that once so donít make me out to be more than I am. And yes, Luisa and her baby are doing fine thank you."

"Jake.."

"Right, letís get down to it. I mention Luisa Ďcos it was kind of her that put me on the scent. She said something about my cookingÖ Anyway, I got to thinking about what you said about how this Kat liked to cook, especially when she was pregnant."

"I still have dreams about those chicken enchiladas of hers," Nick replied wistfully.

"Yeah well, I thought maybe that was something that she might fall back on. Cooking I mean. She sure isnít writing anything that we know of. And that Todd guy swore that sheíd contact him first if she ever did."

"Yeah, but Iím not so sure about that one. I mean heíd not in New York anymore, and if she found out where he wasÖ Do you really think sheíd send any manuscripts to her ex-husbandís lover?"

"Think she knows?"

"No clue. But ever since Howie came out last year people they havenít been exactly open about their relationship, but they havenít hidden it either."

"Yeah, maybeÖ" Jake gave a thoughtful breath. "Maybe I should start chasing down some publishing leads again."

"Hey! First things first. What do you have now?"

"Sorry, kid," he chuckled. "Guess even with the hangover youíre more alert than I am." He ignored the muttered "whoís got a hangover" and continued.

"Okay, so it was a long shot, but as I said I followed up on the cooking lead. Do you have any clue how many restaurants there are in this country? Way too many, let me tell you. So I concentrated on the ones that only opened up in the last two years. Even that was a lot. So I narrowed it down to the small ones. You know, the not so flashy ones. Still more than I wanted to deal with, but manageable. I narrowed it down further, using restaurant reviews and stuff. I figured the oriental ones were a non-starter, and even the little French bistros were a no-go. Then I started cross-referencing licenses and permits."

"That must have taken a lot of time."

"Ah, the wonders of technology. Yeah, it still took a while, but I like you, kid, and you have been working on this for a long time. I figured weíd exhausted most other avenues, why not try another one."

"Thanks Jake. And donít call me kid."

"Sure thing, kid. I figured that if she owned a restaurant that sheíd probably not have one with a liquor license. They are a bitch to get and theyíd do a lot more digging around in her past than she have wanted. Of course, if she was just cooking somewheres all this work wouldíve been for nothing, but what the hell. I now know where to eat without a beer in all fifty states. So I know where to avoid."

"You found something?" The mention of beer was making his head throb.

"Yeah. Two somethings actually. A place in Vermont and a place in North Carolina. The place in NC is right on the ocean so I think itís the better bet, considering what youíd said about her liking water. Iím gonna head up there later today and check it out."

Nick sat back heavily in the chair he was in. He took a deep breath. "How sure do you think these are?"

"Like I said, Iím not. But in both cases they are restaurants, owned by women, that opened in the last two years. They are both unlicensed. Both serving the kinda food you said she liked to cook. And in both cases the owner of the restaurant doesnít like being photographed or interviewed. You should read their restaurant reviews. Good stuff, but the reviewer seems to like making mention of how shy the chefs are."

"Anything on kids?"

"Yeah. Both of Ďem. The one in Vermont has a son. ĎBout the right age. But I am a little less sure about that one. Sheís a bit more open. On a few town committees and such. The other one, the one in NC, now sheís got a kid, but I canít seem to find out if itís a boy or girl, or even the age. Sheís a hell of a lot more secretive."

"Sounds like a better bet." Nick was trying really hard to contain his excitement. Could this finally be it? If it was, damn, he was going to give Kat an earful about disappearing the way she had. He knew how much Howie had hurt her, and coming as it had right after Kevin had acted like the dumbass he wasÖ But to be gone for so long. Didnít she realize how much he missed her? And BrianÖ he still felt guilty for not realizing that things were as bad as they were. He was even certain that the reason that AJ toured so much overseas was because he hated coming back home to a life that just wasnít what it had been. "Youíre one to talk, Carter. Whoís the one living in LA?" he muttered.

"Hunh? You say something kid?"

"Just talking to myself. Look, when can you find out if this is really her?"

"Like I said, I am heading up to North Carolina today. Should be there early tomorrow. The café doesnít open until 11, but Iíll see what I can dig up before then. I thought Iíd call you now, let you know whatís what."

"And if it isnít her?"

"Head up to Vermont. Good thing its summer: I hate snow. I should be able to check that one out by the end of the week."

"No," Nick shook his head. "I canít wait that long."

"Look, kid, I canít..."

"Iíll head up there myself. I can get a flight out this afternoon. I figure with you doing your thing and me doing mine I should know pretty quickly if itís her."

"I donít want to get your hopes up too much. I mean this could just be a false lead. Iím out on a limb with this one."

"Maybe. But the last lead you had panned out."

"Yeah, but that one was a hell of a lot firmer than this one."

"True. And I really appreciate the help you gave. It was good to know that we werenít just chasing a figment of my imagination; that she really was out there somewhere."

"Yeah, well, having her forget that toy was a real plus."

Not as much as the look on Kevinís face had been when Nick presented him with Gary. "Yeah is was," he replied softly.

"Look, kid. I gotta get going if I am going be able to get up to NC tonight."

"You could always justÖ"

"Donít even say it," Jake warned him harshly and Nick repressed a laugh. He hated to fly; Jake was terrified of it. He even started to shake when he came near an airport. But he was also a damn fine PI, and Nick had been lucky to get him. So the man had to drive to follow up on leads? So far it hadnít hurt too much. Sure, missing Kat in Tulsa had been a pain, but then none of the other Boysí PIs had even followed up on that one.

"Just kidding, man. Look, send me the stuff I need and Iíll get up there as soon as I can."

"You sure you can spare the time? Wouldnít want any starlets to go abegging."

"Lay off, Jake. I donít have anything on my plate for a few weeks, so this is the best time. I was going to head back to Florida tomorrow, hang with the guys, try and rebuild a few more bridges before this album is ready, but I can take a side trip."

"Iím faxing you the info right now."

Nick could hear the line in the study pick up and the whirring of the machine. "I think its coming through. Thanks a lot for all this, man. Not a lot of people would keep on this after all this time."

"Like I said, I like you, kid. Besides, I have a reputation to uphold. Canít have some amateur broad beating me."

"Nick?" There was a querulous call from the bedroom.

"Oops, I think your starlet awakes," Jake chuckled. "Youíll have to tell me which one it is, kid."

"Gimme a break. Thanks for the info, Jake. Keep in touch. Oh, andÖ"

"I know, I know. Donít call you kid."

Chapter 71