I woke up to a dull pounding in my head. It took me a few seconds to realize that the pounding was actually someone knocking on the door. I sat up quickly. Too quickly- a wave of nausea rushed through me. For a second I thought I was going to be sick, but the feeling resided and I was able to stand up.
"I'm coming," I yelled to the person at the door. The knocking continued uninterrupted. I opened the door and saw Steve pause mid-knock. "What exactly is it that you want?" It was eight in the morning and, by rights, I deserved another hour of sleep. Last night, I had spent hours tossing and turning trying to get rid of the feeling that something was wrong. Rationally, I knew that it was just emotions running high, but my body seemed not to get that.
I had been worried, but not quite sure exactly what I was worried about.
"Sorry, Liam. God, I woke up and no one knew where you were..." Steve trailed off. It was then that I noticed that his face was pale and his hands were shaking.
"Steve, are you okay?" I was worried now. Steve wasn't the type of person to just let things get to him. If anything, I was the emotional one. Which is ironic because I've been called a heartless bastard more times than I dare to count. Twenty-three times, actually. I lied about not counting.
"Yeah, man," he said and then shook his head. "No, not really. I don't even know how to tell you."
"Tell me what?"
Steve was silent for a long time. A few minutes passed and I was getting impatient, but I knew that it must be something big for Steve to be as freaked out as he was. "Helen called. Stan's dead."
The words hit me like a physical blow. "How?" I asked, hoping that I hadn't heard right.
"They won't tell me. They said that they can't give out any information on ongoing investigation or some bullshit."
"A few homicide detectives and the rest police department, apparently."
"Fuck," I said. "Fuck."
"Fucking right," replied Steve. "I need a drink."
"Give me a second. I just need to get dressed and I'll be down. Call a cab, okay?" I told Steve, the words coming out of my mouth automatically. Steve nodded and I closed the door as he left.
I walked to my unmade bed and sat down for a second, my face in my hands. I couldn't believe it. Stan was dead.
"Stan is dead." The words didn't make any fucking sense.
"Stan is dead," I said again. "Dead is Stan." A bubble of hysterical laughter left my mouth and echoed in the room. It creeped me out enough that I came back to my senses, though I must admit that it took a lot of effort to pull myself together. I guess I wasn't nearly as stoic as I had thought.
Someone important will die- Sandy's words echoed in my head. I felt sick then at the realization that my friend's death could be used to fulfill that psychic's prediction. Was Stan important? For this town? Certainly. In the big scheme of things? Hardly. It was harsh, but true. Still, that wouldn't stop vultures from jumping on his carcass and tearing it to bits in order to get just one shred of fame. I felt angry then, and hopeless which just made the whole thing worse.
I dressed quickly, not taking care with my appearance like I usually did. This was likely a mistake because celebrity deaths usually drew out the paparazzi like the rats that they are. If it had just been Stan, it might not have been so bad, but Helen was here and she was Hollywood's newest darling. Everyone would jump on this and that was a damn tragedy.
I rushed downstairs to find Steve waiting for me. We didn't talk as we got in the taxi or on the trip to the studio. The silence was just too big for either one of us to breach. There were questions I wanted to ask, but I knew that Steve didn't have the answers. He was just as clueless as I was.
I saw the blue and red flashing lights from a block away, but there were no sirens. As we got closer, I could hear the hum of activity. The taxi stopped, and I practically jumped out of the car. Steve followed right behind me. Unsurprisingly, I was stopped by a police officer before I got within fifteen feet of the building.
"Excuse me, Sir? This is a crime scene, you can't be here," said the cop, who looked like he hadn't even graduated high school yet. Seriously, I had seen kindergartners more threatening than he was.
"Do you know who I am?" I asked.
The cop looked confused. "No? Should I?"
That was depressing to hear, but didn't really surprise me. Fame was an elusive mistress and all that crap. Aside from that, I was mostly just seeing whether or not I could punch him in the face and get away with it. Not that I was actually considering punching him in the face. That just wasn't how I did things. Anymore.
"Liam!" cried a familiar voice. Before I realized what was happening, Helen's arms were around me and her face was buried into my chest. I froze for a second, but then I found myself wrapping my arms around her instinctively. I'm not entirely sure why I did it; probably because I was still a bit shocked from Stan's death, or maybe it was all the journalists lurking around with cameras.
"Oh Liam, I thought you were dead," said Helen. At first, I had thought that I had heard wrong because her voice was muffled, but then I saw the horrified look on Steve's face. Apparently, I had heard just fine.
I was about to ask her about it, but then decided that I was, in all probability, better off not knowing.
"Excuse me?" asked the cop, interrupting the moment. "Um, are you Liam Wicklow?" I let go of Helen, relieved that that awkward hug-thing was over. It had been uncomfortable, to say the least. What's worst was that there was now mascara on my shirt. I knew I shouldn't have worn white.
"Yes," I said, nodding my head in Steve's direction, "and that's Steven Kibbler. We heard something happened to Stan, which is why we came down. We're colleagues of his."
"Well, we were," said Steve, "until he ended up dead."
"Stay classy, Steve," I said, to myself. Though I wasn't really surprised-I didn't keep Steve around for his tack. In fact, on most days, I wasn't sure why I kept Steve around at all. If Steve's insensitivity hadn't shown up on a regular basis, I probably would've chalked that remark up to stress or shock. As it was, that was just...well, Steve.
The cop realizing that we knew Stan ushered us inside the building. He mentioned something about a detective and being questioned. I jokingly asked if I needed a lawyer. The cop said that would be a good idea. I had no clue if he was being serious or not. The lesson I learned: Don't joke with cops about an ongoing investigation. They get defensive.
Helen, Steve and I were separated into different rooms, which at this point was a relief more than anything else. Bored from waiting, I took out my phone and turned it back on. Fifty three missed calls, I read. On top of that, my voice mail was full, and I had fifty seven unread text messages. Half from Helen, a third from Steve, and the rest from various other people.
I had, apparently, been out of the loop. I hadn't even known that there was a loop to be in on. As someone who prides myself on my attention to detail this was a bit disconcerting. I should not have turned my phone off last night. I understood then, that this was what Helen had meant. She had thought that I was dead because I hadn't been answering my calls. On top of that, Steve hadn't known that I had gotten my own room and likely had no idea where I had been.
I had virtually disappeared for fifteen hours. And in that time frame my friend had died, and I was too busy avoiding Helen and being pissed off at Steve to even notice. There was something oddly humiliating about that.
"You must be Liam Wicklow." The voice broke me from my thoughts. The woman- who I assumed was a detective of some sort- sat in the chair opposite of me. At first glance she certainly didn't look like any police officer I ever had seen before: She was dressed in regular clothes and had the messiest red hair that I had ever seen. Still, the set of her shoulders and her steady gaze gave her away as being an officer. I had seen too many cops in my life not to recognize one right in front of me.
I took her hand and gave it a shake. "Yes, and you are...?"
"Detective Gilbert, I'm a federal officer."
She must have sensed my confusion because she said, "It's a long story, but my presence here shouldn't worry you. Now I have a few questions for you- I assume that you don't mind answering them." The tone of her voice implied that she wasn't asking.
"Of course not," I said. I almost added "because I have nothing to hide," but I hated when people said that. It usually made me think that yes, they did have something to hide. This in turn made me think that they were some sort of asshole. That wasn't exactly the impression that I wanted to make. I'm mistaken for an asshole with alarming frequency as it is.
And the thing is, it isn't even my fault. People hear that you're an actor and they make assumptions. Usually, I try to play on them- often by employing subversion or exaggeration. I had done it last night when talking to Sandy. I had acted like a conceited jerk because that was what she had been expecting. In the end it wouldn't have mattered whether I nice or not- she would have remembered me however she wanted.
Knowing this, I looked at Detective Gilbert straight in the eyes. I then I did something that I had never done before. I answered every single one if her questions honesty.
In the end it didn't make a damned difference. I could see it in her eyes: she still thought that I was guilty.
I'm a tough person to fool. This comes from my many years of being a professional skeptic. And by "professional skeptic" I mean that I'm that asshole who goes to psychic shows and explains to an unwilling audience how all the tricks are done. Loudly. I even learned a bunch of parlor tricks just so that I'd be able to spot all the slight of hands with ease. I'm also quiet proficient at cold reading.
I've been banned from four different shows, and have been arrested on two occasions. I was young, stupid, and, most importantly, too slow to outrun a bunch of cops. The second time I ended up in a jail cell my parents threatened to leave me there. I knew that they were bluffing. My mother is especially bad at lying, and my father wasn't that much better. Still, I promised that I would concentrate my efforts on more productive things. I obviously didn't mean it, or else I wouldn't currently be trying to become a professional actor.
Still, I did stop that particular habit. Partly because I clearly wasn't accomplishing things, and also because it started to seem childish. There were better and more legal ways to get my point across. This is what eventually led me to start producing my own show, where every week I could expose psychics, mediums, and mystics for what they really are: Frauds and scam artists.
Sometimes I'll come across an individual who isn't actually a bad person, just deluded or naive. I'm nicer to those people and try not to make them out to be complete fools. It seems wrong somehow to do that, but logically I know that even if they aren't bad people that doesn't mean that they're harmless. Exactly the opposite. If anything, those people are the most dangerous of the bunch.
That's why, after we were released from questioning, and Steve asked me the question that I had been waiting to be asked, I knew what my answer would be.
"So," Steve had asked, having the decency to look a little bit embarrassed, "do you think the girl actually knew?" I looked out the window of our shared room, and considered the ten centimeters of snow before I answered.
"That Stan was going to die? Maybe, but not because she can predict the future."
"So you're vetoing the idea that she's actually psychic?"
"I am. There has to be a reasonable explanation for what happened," I said to Steve. "Remember that guy outside New York, he was pretty convincing, but it turned out to be a scam. It always turns out to be a scam. There's no such thing as the paranormal." Steve nodded his head, but I knew that he wasn't totally convinced. I sighed. I could feel myself getting a headache.
"Do I have to prove it to you Steve? Because you know me- I will. There are ways," I said, frustration seeping into my voice. I was too tired to even attempt to hide it. Steve looked taken aback.
"Dude, chill." He was quiet for a moment. "Wait a minute- are you planning something?"
"They rescheduled the movie, you know. They're looking for a new director. The producer said that it might take a few months, and my agent doesn't have any auditions lined up. I'm out of work for the foreseeable future."
It must have clicked then because a grin broke out on Steve's face. "Well, it's not as awesome as the haunted parking lot, but it will sure be interesting."
"Oh, that it will be. Do you have your video camera?"
"I never go anywhere without it."
"Perfect, let's go." I stood up from the bed and started hauling on my coat.
"Now, Liam? Don't you think it's a bit soon?"
"No, the media is going to be all over this. We need to get to the girl first and get her agree to do our show before she has a chance to think."
"That doesn't seem predatory to you?" Steve asked. I let out a bark of laughter in response. That's the last think that I would have expected Steve to come up with. Whatever his misgivings, Steve started to get ready. He took out his camera and checked to make sure that everything was still functioning properly.
"Do you even know the girl's name?" Steve asked as we were about to go.
"Macy O' Connor," I replied. "Twenty Marple Avenue." I had taken the time to look it up. Not that I would ever forget the girl's name. She had presented me with a puzzle that I was determined to figure out. Like I mentioned, I'm a tough person to fool, but this girl had come close. I would prove that she was a fraud before the whole thing got blown out of proportion.
If experience had taught me anything, it would get blown out of proportion.
And if, by chance, I discovered that she did know things about Steve's murder it would only serve to take the suspicion off me. I hadn't killed my friend, and I didn't want anyone for a second to think that I had.