“Aw, man! How many times do I have to do this? Go over all this old ground?” Nick groaned loudly. “I don’t need this, not again. I’m okay with my past.”
The Phantom said nothing – as yet, he hadn’t seen her.
“I know what happened,” he went on. “I don’t need to go over it anymore. I have no unresolved issues, okay?”
“To whom are you talking?” the Phantom inquired.
Nick spun on his heel. “This is new … What are you supposed to be? The Ghost of Christmas Past?” he asked, grinning.
There was a very slight pause. “I am the Phantom of Past Decisions,” the figure in the long, hooded robe corrected, sounding mildly irritated. “This is not a dream. It’s a journey of exploration.”
“Exploring what? The inside of my head? That can be a pretty scary place.”
“Exploring a life not lived .. as yet. But it will be.”
Nick blinked. “My life?”
“It is a gift. It will answer the question you have asked – did I make the right choice in joining the Legacy? How would my life be today, tomorrow, if I hadn’t?”
He shook his head. “I know I made the right choice.”
“Do you? You think you do, but you don’t know. You once swore you would never follow in your father’s footsteps. You broke that vow. What if you had kept it ..?”
The bell jangled as someone pushed open the door of the roadside diner and Nick turned toward it. “That’s me … ”
“Why are you here?” the Phantom asked.
“I’d just left San Dog an’ was driving north. I stopped for coffee. I needed to think things thru. I didn’t know what I was gonna do next.”
Nick watched himself slide into a booth and order coffee.
“Man, did I ever look as young as that ..? Or as miserable?”
“You’ve always preferred consistency in your life, you resent and resist change even though change is constant and necessary,” the Phantom commented. “This behavior came as a result of your childhood where the rules changed all the time. You chose a military life to prove to yourself that you could still function under constant discipline .. and that life is now behind you. Everything has changed again. You feel uncomfortable with no boundaries to act as a guide.”
Nick watched the coffee arrive and then the younger Nick took an envelope from his inside pocket.
“Derek’s letter,” the Phantom said.
“Yeah. He wrote me while I was in the Teams, saying that, if I ever found myself needing to try something different, there was a place for me with him in San Francisco.”
Together, they watched the young man remove the letter and read it again. He looked unsure, undecided, alone and emotionally vulnerable. And the Phantom of Past Decisions nudged him down an alternate route. He screwed up the letter and dropped it into the ashtray.
“Why’d he do that?” Nick wondered. “Going to the city, joining the Legacy, it changed my life. It gave me a home an’ a family I could trust.”
“You know that life because it is your own. He chose differently, yet you are the same person. We will see how he develops, where he goes, how he matures. Not joining the Legacy will change his life too.”
The decision made, the young man looked a little more certain about his future. He had no real plans, no real idea what lay ahead, but he’d made a promise to himself and he’d kept it. He’d had the courage to face tomorrow on his own terms, serving no one, no cause. He’d paid his dues to his country and now he was free.
“Don’t do it, man,” Nick urged, sitting opposite himself. “You’ll regret it forever.”
“He can’t see or hear you. We’re only observers.”
“I can’t believe I just did that. That I could turn my back on everything I know.”
“But you didn’t know it, not then, not at twenty two with your whole life ahead of you.”
“I knew what my old man used to do.”
“Only remotely. Only by association. You were never a member of the Legacy while he lived. And, maybe, knowing remotely was enough .. for him. He kept the promise.”
“What am I gonna do?” Nick asked. “Where will I go?”
“Let’s find out,” the Phantom invited.
“Congratulations, Nick! Here’s your license. You thought what you’re gonna do next?”
“Not really. I just always wanted to learn how to fly those birds.” He glanced at the helicopters on their pads. “I figure .. news crews, traffic watch. Air ambulance. Hell, even tourists. Lotta things I can do now.”
“Air Bureau. With your background, you could get into the police academy.”
He hesitated. “Too much like my last job,” he remarked with a quick smile. “Well .. thanks for getting me this far.”
“Been a pleasure. Good luck to you.”
Nick and the Phantom followed him out to the parking lot. Nick scanned the automobiles and frowned when he saw himself go to some mud colored, dented compact.
“What happened to the Mustang?” he demanded.
“Getting your license took longer than you expected. You had to sell the Mustang to pay for the lessons.”
“An’ I got that piece of crap?” he exclaimed.
“Before, there was a need to qualify rapidly. You wanted to get to San Francisco. Now that need isn’t there.”
Nick peered into the car. “Who’s that ..?”
“Your current girlfriend. Shay Hargreaves.”
“Hi, babe,” Nick said as he slid behind the wheel.
“Did you get it?” she asked.
“Are you gonna get a job now?”
“I’ll start looking.”
“How the hell did I meet her?” Nick asked the Phantom.
“You picked her up in a bar one evening after telling her you were a former SEAL. She didn’t believe you because there are a lot of phonies out there, but you happened to be the real deal. You’ve been living with her ever since, paying your way with exaggerated stories and a lot of sex. Shay supports you because you haven’t got a job.”
Nick glanced up. “How long have I been with her?”
Shay looked at her watch. “You’d better drop me at work. I can’t afford to be late.”
The scene shifted and Nick looked up at the neon-lit, concrete building.
“Don’t tell me.”
“She’s an exotic dancer.”
“She’s a stripper. I’ve kinda lowered my standards, haven’t I?”
“She earns enough to keep the both of you. And, while she loves you, her patience is starting to wear a little thin.”
He watched them kiss and then Shay went into the club. Nick started the engine, grinned to himself, and drove away.
The scene shifted again to the inside of an apartment.
“Is he doing what I think he’s doing?” Nick frowned.
He was throwing clothes into a duffel, whistling softly and cheerfully between his teeth.
“Is he running out on her?” Nick asked.
“Shay, you were a real sweetheart putting up with me as long as you did, but all good things have to end sometime, y’know? Nice screwing you, babe.”
“When did I get to be such a bastard?” Nick commented as he watched himself walk out without a backward glance.
“Some might say you’ve always been a bastard.”
“Only the ones who don’t like me,” he replied, grinning. “The ones I’ve had to .. discipline.”
“You called him a bastard. Does that mean you don’t like him?” the Phantom asked.
Nick hesitated. “I don’t like his attitude toward women, no. He uses them. I never did that.”
“Thru choice or thru fear?”
“What?” he queried sharply.
“Fear of people saying you were too much like your father.”
“My father might have been a vicious sonofabitch but he never played around.”
“I didn’t say he did. But he had little or no respect for women. In this life, it appears you don’t either.”
Nick was silent. He couldn’t argue with the evidence.
“But people can change,” the Phantom went on. “Have you seen enough?”
“I’ve seen too much,” Nick muttered. “Let’s go.”
San Francisco. Nick would know it anytime. He didn’t need to see the Golden Gate or Bay bridges, the TransAmerica Pyramid, the steep streets or cable cars. He knew it by the atmosphere. LA had just been busy and anonymous. San Francisco was alive.
He’d rented a tiny apartment in the Sunset district and gotten a job flying tourist trips around the Bay. The route didn’t quite take him over Angel Island but he didn’t care. He was enjoying his life. He worked with five other guys plus Charlotte – call me Charlie – who worked the desk and took the money. Charlie was older than Nick, divorced, and had two kids to support. She recognized in him some element of danger which repulsed equally as much as it attracted. It was simply a matter of time before she caved, and she knew it. So did he. In the meantime, they enjoyed the game of cat and mouse they played.
“He could do better,” Nick remarked to the Phantom.
“She’s nice enough. Stable. That’s what he needs.”
“Sure, but .. compared with Merli … ” He shook his head.
“He will never meet Merlin Gabrielli,” the Phantom replied, “unless he does something incredibly stupid and dangerous. At this time, she is only eighteen years old, living with her parents, and she is under the strict guidance of William Sloan. Her contact with anyone is limited and controlled by the Legacy. He is not a member nor does he want to be.”
“This is some kinda dream, isn’t it?” Nick asked, suddenly unsure. “I am gonna wake up an’ still be with her?”
“In a way, it is a dream. In another way, it is very real.”
“Just tell me I’m not gonna change places with that guy.”
“This is the past. Your alternate past. You still have two more spirits to visit you and guide you thru the present and the future.”
It didn’t answer his question or settle his doubts. It just increased his uneasiness.
“And this is a gift? Y’know, I would’ve settled for socks or underwear.” It was an attempt to bring this to an end, humor to lighten the moment.
“Anyone can give those.”
“So who’s behind this?” he asked.
The Phantom didn’t reply.
“Nick, hey, man. End of the season’s coming up. You’ve done good work for us and I will be calling you next year for sure. But .. end of the month, I have to let you go.”
“Why not one of the others?” Nick asked Davy, the owner.
“It isn’t only you. Sammy and Walter, they’re going too. Mike’s staying on with me an’ Charlie.” Davy shrugged. “With your skills, you can be a chopper jock anywhere. My advice, head east or south back to LA. Florida’s a good bet. Tourists all year round.”
Nick nodded gloomily. “Okay, thanks for the advice, man. And the warning.”
“Just make sure you give Charlie your number so I know how to reach you.”
Nick wondered thru to the office. Charlie glanced round. “He’s told you?”
“Yeah. I’m gonna miss this place.”
“I’ll miss you,” she said.
“I’ll be heading back this way. Davy says to give you my number – I can’t do that cos I don’t know where I’m gonna be.”
“I could give you mine,” Charlie offered. “And .. if you need a place to stay .. for a few days, y’know, while you get yourself a place of your own .. it’s no big deal.”
Nick gave her a slow smile. She blushed. “Appreciate it,” he said, his eyes twinkling with that wicked gleam.
He left the small building and headed along the Embarcadero. Nick and the Phantom walked with him.
“What’s he gonna do now?” Nick asked. “Out of a job again. No way to pay his rent or run his car, buy food, pay the bills.”
The scene shifted, moving on a few months. Nick sat at a desk, his feet propped up, the newspaper opened on his thighs. His hair was tied back in a ponytail but he was in a uniform. A cloth badge sewn onto one pocket read ‘Nighthawk Security’.
“Night watchman?” Nick queried.
“It pays the bills,” the Phantom commented.
“Yeah, but .. look at his face. He’s bored rigid.”
The Nick aged twenty four sighed and reached into a pocket for a hip flask. He took a long pull, coughed slightly, and blinked, then put the flask away again.
“Drinking on the job … ” the older Nick remarked, shaking his head. “Quit while you’re ahead. Go someplace else, set up on your own. You’ll find something. This is the start of a slippery slope, man. Don’t screw up your life.”
The young man turned to the job ads and perused them. Then he turned to the sports pages and, yawning, read those.
“He can’t hear you,” the Phantom said again.
Nick turned on her. “This gift is getting me nowhere. I don’t have a problem with my choice to join the Legacy. All this is doing is showing me how I became a loser. Is that a nice gift? No, it isn’t.” He gestured back at himself. “That guy was a SEAL, one of this nation’s elite. He’s turning into a bum. It hurts me to see that, okay? I’ve already seen it for real with guys I served with.”
“Sometimes, before you can rise, you have to scrape along the depths. Hit rock bottom.”
“What’s he doing? Still sinking?” Nick demanded.
The scene shifted abruptly.
“You’re fired! Drunk on the job! No excuses, Boyle, because nothing can excuse being incapable at work. Get out!”
“I was gonna quit anyway,” Nick retorted. “I was getting brain death working for you.”
He walked out and hunched his shoulders into the cold wind. He looked around at the dull, overcast streets.
“The hell with it,” he muttered. “I deserve more than this … ”
“It’s about time you figured that out,” Nick told him.
Suddenly, the day became filled with sunshine and heat. Palm trees waved in a slight breeze. Nick straightened slightly, thinking this was more like it. But he soon felt his shoulders start to drop again when he saw the succession of jobs he began and gave up. He started in Orlando, a cast member at Walt Disney World, moved out to the coast to drive a tour bus at the Space Center then work in the store. Even that seemed too much effort. It seemed the alternate Nick Boyle, the Nick who had never joined the Legacy, was content to be a drifter. He drifted down the coast, heading toward Miami and then passing it, going on to the Keys. Here the pace of life seemed to match his life aspirations.
The younger Nick, twenty five by now, was working two jobs. By day, he sailed fishing charters and, by night, he was a bartender in a club. By day, he sailed the motor cruiser a few miles into the Atlantic and then slept while his passengers fished. It recharged his batteries enough for the eight to two shift at the Fifth Avenue club which wasn’t on Fifth Avenue. He had discovered he had a flair for mixing cocktails and rediscovered his flair for picking up women – single, married, divorced, it made no difference to him. They were available and they didn’t object to one night stands. It seemed they were all attracted to a guy who could tell an embellished war story or two, especially when he then told them how he’d fallen on hard times and gave a mischievous wink. They were never totally sure if he was telling the truth or lying, but he certainly had a way with him.
Often, when he finished his shift, he didn’t go home alone. Often, he didn’t go home at all.
Then, one day, two things happened. One was a total surprise to the younger Nick and sickening to the older. The other was like a nudge to whatever he had as a conscience.
“A hundred. I haven’t had such a fantastic night in a very long time.”
Nick stared at the money. Then he picked it up and shoved it in his pocket. Why shouldn’t he be paid for enjoying himself?
“Next time you’re in town, you know where I am,” he winked.
Later that same day, as he dozed at the wheel of the launch, one of the passengers said, “Bermuda Triangle’s around here, isn’t it?”
“Yeah .. well, a little more to the north. I think one point’s at Miami.”
Nick stretched, woke, and listened to the idle conversation. It began with the Triangle, progressed onto mysteries in general, and then went to ghosts.
“I don’t know if I believe in that or not. Something says it’s real an’ yet .. it can’t be.”
“Have you ever spoken to anyone who’s seen a ghost?”
“No. Nearest I’ve ever gotten is someone who spoke with someone who told him her house was haunted. She had to call in some guy to get rid of it.”
Nick sat up slightly. The older Nick frowned.
“Did he? Get rid of it?”
“Don’t know. My friend never said. I know she paid big bucks for it.”
Nick folded his arms. “Don’t even think about going along that route,” he warned, then saw the calculating expression on his face. Too late. “Aw, man … ” He turned away. “Let him join the Legacy! If he wants to go ghost busting, let him do it the right way.”
“He doesn’t want to join the Legacy. He chose to keep his promise not to follow in his father’s footsteps,” the Phantom replied. “He wants to be as different from his father as he can.”
“Well, that explains his total lack of morals. Just about anything goes for this guy. Is he gonna do it?” Nick demanded. “Cos, if he is, I’m not watching. It’s bad enough that he’s selling his body for sex! I am not gonna watch him turn into a fraud as well.”
“It’s his way of hitting back at his father, and at the Legacy.”
“My old man was genuine so .. he’s gonna cheat people? To get revenge on someone who’s been dead ten years?”
The scene moved on – several months if the apartment was any indication. The one room Nick had lived in since he hit town was gone. This was a nice place. He was doing well. It seemed he had finally found his niche, something he was good at doing and which was paying him very well. He’d given up the day job, and the night job too. He couldn’t be fired, not when he was working for himself. In a way, he’d listened to the advice the older Nick had given him – set up on your own.
“He has no conscience,” Nick growled. “His ethics are in the gutter. I really do not like that guy.”
“He just looks like me! We parted company the second he screwed up that letter.”
“Mrs Harriman, yeah, I can make tonight. Nine? No problem. I’ll be there.” Nick put down the phone and grinned wickedly. “I am just gonna have to take on an assistant. I’ve got too much work for just one guy. Of course .. overheads will have to go up. Fees’ll have to go up too.”
“There’s only one good thing about this,” Nick remarked to the Phantom. “And that isn’t really good. He’s cheating people in Florida, not in San Francisco.”
The Phantom said nothing.
Nick only got to see himself at ‘work’ once and his hands bunched into helpless fists.
People handed over checks, cash, and were grateful. They couldn’t see the smoke and lights show for what it truly was – a show. A scam. Nick actually invested some of that money in equipment and making the show a good one. He’d read books, he’d practiced. He was good at this. They talked with their dead relatives or had the troubled spirits laid to rest, and they paid heavily for the privilege of Nick Boyle’s personal service, complete satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Nick’s assistant was even better. A conman new to the area with a silvered tongue. He could talk up a storm. The angle was that, if clients insisted on Nick’s personal service – and, by now, he had a book of testimonial letters – it would cost more. And they paid.
Nick moved to a house and bought a new car. He was finally on his way.
The Phantom glanced at him. Nick’s mouth was open, his eyes wide. The house was fabulous – all large white rooms, comfortable furniture, airy, expensive. But it wasn’t the house he was looking at.
“Who’s .. she ..?”
“Her name is Petra. She’s your wife.”
“An’ .. who’s that?”
“His name is Jimmy. He’s your son.”
Nick went a little closer. “I have a son ..?” He bent to study the little boy crawling around the lounge floor. “He looks like me. Like my baby pictures.” He tore his gaze away to look back at the hooded figure. “He’s really mine?”
“Hs is Nick Boyle’s son,” the Phantom replied. “Born in love to parents who love each other.”
Nick watched the young woman’s face. She was a blonde, tanned golden by the Florida sunshine, with dark brown eyes. Pretty. But she wasn’t Merlin. But then the Nick here had never met Merlin, nor would he.
“I got married and had a son .. an’ never joined the Legacy.” He looked around with fresh eyes. “I got a house an’ a car. Money. No danger. Nothing evil’s gonna trip me up when I don’t expect it.” He frowned suddenly. “Am I legit?”
The hooded head tilted a little to one side. “Your line of work has not changed. Crime pays, and it pays well.”
“I gotta go, sweetheart,” Nick said, bending to kiss his wife. “Not sure what time I’ll be back.”
“I’ll wait up for you,” she smiled.
“I can’t believe this guy,” Nick said as he straightened. “Why is he doing this? He’s gotten himself to a good place. He could afford to go straight. Why doesn’t he?”
“Because he enjoys his work as much as you enjoy yours.”
“But .. it’s gonna bite him. One day, he’s gonna get caught.”
It happened a few days later. Nick watched the police arrive and arrest him. A lawyer got him out on bail but his reputation in the area was ruined. The money dried up. What he had in savings went on legal bills and to repay the people he’d fleeced. Petra sued for divorce and then custody. The house was sold, so was the car. The silver tongued assistant vanished. Nick was back on the streets again.
“Hell, I’m a survivor,” he muttered to himself. “I’ll find something, some place. Start over.”
Nick glanced at the Phantom. “Just tell me he’s gonna go north.”
“I can’t do that,” she replied.
Nick groaned. “Perfect … ”
Twenty eight years old, almost twenty nine, and he felt he’d wasted nearly seven years of his life. The only good thing to come out of it was Jimmy, the son he probably would never see again.
Nick got back to San Francisco just as summer hit the city in September. For a few days, he shamelessly slept in store doorways and begged for money so he could eat. But he couldn’t get around the fact he had a record. He’d escaped with a warning and he’d lost everything, and it had acted like a punch in the gut. Easy money was exactly that – easy come, easy go. He decided to get his act together.
“If he would just choke down his pride, he could get a real job on the island,” Nick remarked. “Derek would welcome him. We both know it.”
“He doesn’t. He’s forgotten that, put it behind him. The Legacy is now, as far as he is aware, a closed book. Beyond his abilities. He’s been out of the Teams for almost seven years, Nick. He hasn’t picked up a firearm in all that time. Hasn’t kept himself in shape. And, now, he doesn’t have confidence in himself. He believes he is destined to be always alone.”
“I thought that as well.”
“Then, although you’ve traveled two different paths, you are at the same point.”
“I had a purpose in my life,” Nick commented. “He doesn’t.”
“He’s alone. So were you. Surrounded by people, yet no one to really trust, no one to love, and no one to love you in return. Live long enough like that, you start to lose yourself.”
“Yeah, well, I was lucky an’ found myself again.” He shifted. “Or I was found.” Nick glanced at the Phantom. “Just tell me this – is Julia still alive? Did the fact that I never joined mean she survived?”
“You were not the cause of her death, Nick. In this version of reality, Alex, Julia and Derek went to Ireland. Julia still died. Your fate has never been bound to hers.”
“Got any spare change?” Nick asked, his hand held out.
“Get a job, whydon’tcha?”
“Thanks for your time.”
“He looks really down,” Nick remarked quietly. “Like .. someone’s switched off something vital inside. He’s lost something, some edge.”
“This is the bottom of the barrel for him. He could ask for help but his pride won’t let him. He doesn’t even trust himself. It’s a hard fact to realize, to accept – that you’ve lied to yourself, let yourself down, disappointed your hopes, wasted your life.”
“Spare change, sir? Just for a cup of coffee?”
“You’d only spend it on booze.”
“So .. the only way for him now is up?” Nick wondered.
“We have to wait and see,” the Phantom replied.
“Hey, you. Yeah, you, with the ponytail an’ scraggy beard.”
Nick looked round. So did Nick and the Phantom. The Phantom blinked within the confines of her hood. Nick grinned broadly.
“Hey, buddy, stand by for a hard kick in the pants,” he advised.
“Don’t start with the ma’am, okay? Why are you begging for money?”
“I’m hungry an’ I’m thirsty,” Nick answered.
“So .. why don’t you do like that guy said an’ get a job?”
“I got a police record. I’m homeless. I’m a bad risk.”
She nodded. “Know how to work?”
“Yeah, of course I do.”
“Know how to tend bar?”
“Six months doing that down in the Florida Keys.”
“Want a job?”
Suddenly suspicious, he studied her. “You’d trust me?”
“I didn’t say that. I’ll give you a job, tending bar. You have to work to earn my trust.”
“Thanks. I accept.”
“What’s your name?”
“Nick. Nick Boyle.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “I’m Peri. Your boss. C’mon, Nick Boyle. Let’s see how you clean up, huh?”
“Look, I know I’m young an’ .. this is my first business undertaking. It’s a risk. A chance. It could fail miserably. But I can’t run this place on my own. I need help. I will pay you well an’ I expect you to earn it. You up for a challenge, Nick Boyle?”
He scratched his chin. The shave made his face itch. The new clothes felt stiff. But he nodded.
“I just want someone to give me a chance, y’know? I got out the Navy an’ .. I haven’t kept a job since. I used to fly helicopters round the Bay but that was only in the summer an’ a few years back. I’m not scared of working hard an’ I have learned my lesson. I just need a chance, Peri.”
you got one. There’s an apartment over
the club. You can live there, rent free,
so long as you’re working here an’ taking care of the place. Manager, bartender, janitor, Mr Fixit. I’ll call in most evenings but not every
night. You work hard, I’ll reward
you. Screw me over, you’ll never hear
the end of it. Okay?”
She held out her hand. He shook it.
“Welcome on board,” she said. “Let’s go take a look upstairs. This place opens in two weeks. I’ll deal with decorators, furnishing, booking the bands, advertising, sound system. You deal with stocking the bar, all that side of it. Security. You okay with security?”
She unlocked the door at the bottom of the stairs and invited him to go ahead of her. The apartment at the top was one large space. There was a kitchen area and a shower room but the rest was empty.
“I can fix this up,” Nick said. “Some paint, furniture. It’ll be nice.”
“Yeah, it will,” the older Nick agreed as he wandered around.
“Whatever you need, let me know. I’ll cover the expenses.”
“You got money to throw around?” he asked curiously.
“To invest. I support worthy causes.” Her eyes hardened. “I’m not into charity, Nick. Don’t think for one second I’m gonna go easy on you or that I feel sorry for you cos I don’t. This club could go belly up. If it does, I lose my investment. You lose a lot more. If it’s going to succeed, you have to make the effort just as much as me.”
He nodded. “I will. I promise.”
She looked around. “How much d’you think you’ll need?”
Nick considered. He couldn’t quite believe his luck. “Five hundred should be enough .. to make a very good start, anyway. It’ll get the essentials.”
She opened her purse. “Here’s a thousand. An’ the keys. I’ll see myself out an’ I’ll be back tomorrow to see how you’re doing. Don’t forget, there’s club downstairs opening two weeks tonight.”
“Yes, Peri. Thanks.”
She grinned. “Don’t mention it.”
Nick couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. “Hey, buddy, guess what? You’re on your way up at last! A legit job, responsibility, a place to live, an’ a lady with a bankroll who will keep you firmly on the straight an’ narrow. Play it right .. you could end up marrying the boss.”
The Phantom said nothing – this was unexpected and she was as curious as Nick as to how it would turn out.
Nick spent an hour slowly walking round. First, his apartment, then downstairs at the club. It was right on the edge of a distinctly unsavory district. He made notes. He went outside and surveyed the street, crossing to the opposite sidewalk and studying the building plus its neighbors. He went out back, to the yard, checked out the rear of the building. He felt slightly overwhelmed by the task. But, after an hour, he sat at the empty bar and looked at his notes, then started to make new notes. Plans. Two hours after that, Nick and the Phantom accompanied him to a hardware store where he purchased paint and nails, timber, a few hand tools, some electrical goods. Then he went and bought food, and finally a bed. Then .. he went home.
His boss called round the next morning, banging on the door and looking at her watch. Nick opened it and she angled her head.
“I only got you cleaned up yesterday.”
“I was down the cellar. Come on in. You want coffee?”
They went upstairs and she saw the evidence of his hard work. Nick had been painting till nearly two in the morning.
“Bed’s being delivered today,” he said, wiping his hands on his jeans.
“You slept on the floor?”
“Beats sleeping on the streets,” he responded.
“Well, I can certainly see you’ve made a start up here. What about down there?” she asked.
Nick leaned against the counter. “I took a good look round. Made some plans. Until I know what kinda style you’re going for, I can’t do very much. The money you left isn’t enough for me to start buying stuff in bulk an’ I can’t charge it. But I’ve started clearing out the cellar. I figure I’m the only one who’s gonna go down there. I’m gonna need help behind the bar. If something goes wrong an’ I have to go fix it, or if a fight breaks out .. someone needs to be there to watch the cash.”
“He’s really into this,” Nick commented with great satisfaction. “He just needed a little responsibility, someone to take a chance.”
“You’ve made plans, huh?” she remarked.
“Yeah, for the security aspect. I’d like to see your designs before you get the decorators in. A lot of chrome is gonna mean a lot of cleaning. I’d probably need help with that.” He glanced at her. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah. I can see you’ve thought about it a lot. Can I see your plans?”
“Sure!” He got out the notebook and gave it to her. “I’ll just fix the coffee. It’s instant.”
“The buildings either side have security bars on the windows. Neighborhood’s a little rough. I figure there’s fights in the street. Bars on the windows will stop ’em getting smashed. The yard out back opens onto an alley. You might wanna consider razor wire for the top of the wall or maybe a closed circuit TV monitoring system. All the locks need to be upgraded plus some heavy duty bolts added. What about the cash? If it’s being kept here, there should be a safe.”
He turned back with the coffee. On the counter was a sketch, and on top of the sketch was a charge card.
“How the club’s gonna look. No chrome. And this .. is so you can start fixing things downstairs. Up here .. that’s cash. You need more?”
She nodded. “Do what you have to, Nick. Decorators are here starting this afternoon. Electricians are putting in the sound system tomorrow. I’ve given them four days to get it all completed. This is my number. If they give you trouble, call me.”
“What about help behind the bar?”
She shrugged. “I own this place. You run it for me. If you need help, hire some help.”
Nick gazed at her. “You don't know me at all yet .. you’re doing all this.”
She grinned at him. “Think of me as your guardian angel.”
“This is it, right?” Nick asked the Phantom. “His life is now on track. He’s hit rock bottom an’ now he’s on the up. Tell me I’m right.”
The Phantom of Past Decisions shrugged slightly. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”