Girl Undercover 1, 2 & 3_ Three-Part BundleBy: Julia Derek
Part One—Mystery Man
The night I found Nick’s brutalized body, I broke a heel on my new slingback pumps. I was rushing to the restaurant where we’d meet for dinner. As I limped across the parking lot toward the entrance, I cursed my husband out in my head. I promised myself to remind him for the rest of his life how his hyper punctuality had stressed me out so much I’d tripped and destroyed my expensive shoes.
I will always regret those furious, petty thoughts burning a trajectory in my mind that evening.
As I got into the Santa Monica seafood restaurant, the hostess told me my date had yet to arrive but that I was welcome to have a seat at our table. In my distressed state, I was grateful of course and took the offer. Moments later, I was sitting behind a white-clothed table by the window waiting for Nick to arrive. I checked the time. Two minutes past eight, the hour we had settled on.
Ha, I thought. This time he will be the one who’s late and I can give him jazz about it. While he was always on the dot, I was almost pathologically late. Not by much, usually only by five, max seven minutes. He never made a big deal about it, just smiled and shook his head at me like I was a mildly frustrating child. Still, it annoyed me to no end, so today I had gone out of my way to show him that I, too, could be exactly on time. It was a bad habit I needed to fix, though I didn’t know if sacrificing my brand new, three-hundred dollar shoes had been worth it.
At fifteen past eight I was getting a little worried. I kept looking out the window and around the restaurant, hoping to spot Nick somewhere, coming toward the table, an apologetic smile on his handsome face.
Where is he?
I checked my phone again for a text from him, explaining that he was stuck in traffic or something similar. Still nothing.
I frowned. Very weird. I pressed the speed-dial button to get him on the line, but all I got was his voicemail.
“Hey, baby, it’s me,” I said into my phone. “Where are you? Call me. I’m at Shutters at a table waiting for you.”
I waited another twenty minutes, anxiously checking my phone and my surroundings, hoping to spot Nick somewhere. This was so not like him. Finally I couldn’t take the sense of rapidly spreading unease in my stomach any longer.
Something wasn’t right.
I got up from the table and limped out to my car, holding my phone all the while in case Nick tried to reach me. I wasn’t sure where to go, what to do, only that something was wrong and that I needed to find my husband. The idea of just sitting at the table while waiting for him to maybe show up eventually wasn’t something I could handle. Patience had never been one of my strengths; besides, the increasing tightness in my stomach suggested that wasn’t what I should be doing anyway. If Nick wasn’t contacting me, something must have happened to him and I’d better find out right away what that could be.
I would start by going home and change into more comfortable shoes.
Driving far above the legal speed limit, I was at our apartment building in West Hollywood a lot faster than I usually got there. The knot in my stomach had doubled in intensity as my phone still contained no texts or calls from Nick, nor had he picked up any of the times I’d tried to reach him again.
Something was very, very wrong. It was a feeling that completely permeated me.
I parked my car at the curb and rushed across the sidewalk toward the two-story, pastel green building that contained our one-bedroom apartment. My heart was pounding wildly as I entered the hallway. It picked up more speed when I noted that our front door wasn’t fully closed.
Neither Nick nor I ever left our door open. Both of us being LAPD detectives, there were too many people who wanted to see us dead for us to be that negligent.
Loud rock music poured out from our place.
I was in front of our apartment door in three giant strides and pushed it open all the way. By now I was hyperventilating, I was so freaked out by that powerful sense of impending doom in my chest and stomach. Cold sweat coated the skin on my face.
Oh, God, let this just be my nerves playing a cruel joke on me. Let everything be okay. Let it be me just overreacting. Please make it so that Nick is all right.
But it wasn’t just me overreacting. Everything was not okay. And I discovered that it couldn’t be more wrong when I stepped into our bedroom. It would never again be okay either.
Halfway inside the room, I spotted a bloody, lifeless man splayed across the hardwood floor. It was Nick, so brutally beaten and tortured I didn’t recognize him at first.