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Brian felt dead to the world; so dead that it took Howie a second key card to get into his hotel room and wake him up. It was almost noon then. Hours had passed since he had called AJ to check up on Nick. When it dawned upon him that Howie’s visit wasn’t social, all signs of sleep dissipated.

“You gave us quite a scare there Brian.” Howie said; sounding irritated. “You didn’t answer our calls, you didn’t open the door when the cleaning lady was here earlier and you didn’t bother to call us back. I thought you’ve gone missing too.”

Brian almost had his butt back on the bed when what Howie said made him paused and got himself up again. “Too?”

The irritant look turned into that of worry. For a second there, Brian could see the glimpse of age catching up on Howie. Those thin crows whenever he smiles or frowns weren’t there before. Those brown eyes used to always emit the fun loving guy that Brian got to know from years ago. These days, it showed a mixture of maturity, knowledge and loads of experience. And then something slaps him on the face – he had those signs in him too.

“Nick’s missing. AJ couldn’t get hold of him last night and he’s not home since.”

Brian yawned, hiding his grin well. He’s fucking 24 Brian.

“He’s fu…he’s 24 D, AJ’s right, we’re still treating him like he’s 14.”

“Kevin went over to his house this morning.” Howie paused; sighing a little before continuing. “Someone broke into his house, started smashing everything in sight.”

“D, he was very upset last night, and you know Nick, when he’s mad…he’s mad.”

“They found his cellphone by the driveway, smashed.”

“Let me guess, his car’s missing too? The Expedition to be exact?”

Howie frowned. “Did he call you?”

Brian smirked. “Lucky guess…you know D, I was worried too last night, but I think he just wants some time to himself. You know how he’s been lately.”

“Kevin broke into his house.” Howie said, brushing Brian off.

“Wow, first AJ, now Nick.” Brian joked.

“Steven Carvel left a note.”

Everything fell into place then. Brian knew what had been troubling their youngest brother now.

“Oh Nick.”
-


Nick was 23 when he finally told Brian about Uncle Steven. The death of Johnathan Reitt came during times where Backstreet Boys were back in the studio, followed by a World Tour, mourning for his lost was pushed under the rug. It was like a taboo topic, never to be spoken about amongst them. But when they reunited again after the hiatus for the Billboard Music Awards, Brian had spent some quality time with Nick and after a few rounds of alcohol in his system; he spoke up.

“Where was I when all these were going on?”

“You were there, we were on tour remember?”

“How come I know nothing about it? God Nick, I should’ve known, I’m your bestfriend!”

His glazed eyes widen for the first time that night and then a small smile played around his lips, almost as if he was blushing.

“Did I say something wrong?” Brian puzzled.

Nick shook his head. “Nope. Just surprised to hear you said it.”

“That you’re my bestfriend?”

“Yup.”

“Sorry, you do know I regard you as more than just that right? You’re my brother, that little kid I used to dunk his head under my armpit. Can’t do that anymore now, but it take more than not smelling my armpit to severe that tie.”

Nick laughed and then took another sip of his beer. “I was surprised you even think of me as your bestfriend, not cause you didn’t call me your brother.”

“Look, I know we hit some rough patch for awhile there, but it’s gonna take more than that for me to hate you. I’m sorry it happened but I don’t want you to think you’re not important to me anymore.”

“I’m sorry too, for everything. You’re important to me too. You all are.”

“So how come I didn’t know about this uncle when we were supposed to be tight back then? I’m feeling guilty now.”

“You didn’t know cause I said nothing.” Nick had smiled. “Besides, you knew something was up, it’s not like you didn’t care.”

“I knew?”

“You suspected something. You asked about it, remember?”

Brian frowned. He did?

Nick waved it off. “Don’t sweat about it Brian, it’s in the past.”

Funny how the past always catch up with you and suck you back in.


-

Steven Carvel started an investment with a group of his friends a few years ago. Half a million dollars given by Nick in exchange to a promise that he’ll never lay his fingers on her sisters- something that Jane Carter knew about but made his son promised not to tell his father. Jane told Nick that it was a good thing he had done. That he was being the best brother the girls could ever have. The son a mother could ever ask for. It had made Nick’s entire life when Jane said that. To know that he had gained his mother’s love.

Things started to ease up a bit, with Steven Carvel almost out of his life. The last time they met, Steven was a very successful businessman.

That lasted for almost two years before he was charged for stealing the investment money and their clients’.

“He’s back.”

Kevin was standing on the porch looking up at the house when Brian and Howie arrived. Not knowing what to do next, he decided to stand next to Kevin and tried to find what it was that had his cousin’s interest.

The window to his room on the second floor was opened. “He broke in from the window?”

“Looks like it, doesn’t it?” Kevin said.

“You have other theories, haven’t you?” Brian said. “You’re always one who plays detective Kev.”

“The window’s not broken.” Kevin said.

“Maybe it wasn’t locked in the first place.” Brian offered.

“Maybe.”

“Kevin, I’m worried about him. What if that uncle of his is hurting him right now?” He lowered his gaze, massaging his neck a little. He studied the place around him and recalled the broken cell phone. “You found his cell phone?”

“Yeah, it’s with AJ.”

“So Nick was still here when he called me last night.”

“Yeah.” Kevin said.

“Wait, you know Kev, detective work should tell you that you can’t disrupt evidence. Have we even called the police yet?”

“No. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, maybe calling the police isn’t the best option right now.”

Brian couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “Howie did you-” Brian frowned. “Where did D go?”

“Backyard, AJ’s there taking pictures.” Kevin replied.

“Taking what?” Brian exclaimed. “Kev, Nick’s MISSING, this is serious, we need to call the police; this isn’t the time to play detective Kevin.”

“When we find Steven, we will find Nick.” Kevin replied calmly. “He’s not going to hurt him, he needs him for the money.”

“It’ll be easier and a hell lot faster if we let the police help us. What did AJ and Howie think about this?”

“Do you remember what happened when Steven was charged?”

Of course he did. It wasn’t that huge a deal until Jane started opening her big mouth and sold the story out to ET. Tabloids printed pictures of under age Aaron on the beach drinking and smoking. There weren’t a lack of girls in bikinis and teenage boys walking around topless near the campfire they made. Jane was quick to be on TV to clear her son’s name, only to destroy the other.

Brian wasn’t exactly sure how one linked up to the other, but she managed to talk about her stress after learning that her brother had ended up in jail from an investment gone bad. She said it wouldn’t have happen if Nick had borrowed him the money he needed to pay his debts. Brian was certain the exact words Jane used were ‘He turned his back on his family when they needed him the most’. It took months of endless tabloid speculations before something else came up in the tabloid to drown the whole episode. Those were hard times; sometimes Brian would sit back and wondered why Nick wasn’t already admitted into rehab for depression.

“Don’t think I can ever forget it.”

“Yeah well, Aaron is finally out of her clutch and we all know she’s not happy about that. Reporting this to the police is like handing her an opportunity for a comeback on a silver platter.”

Brian thought about it. He had to admit that Kevin was making sense there. “But Kevin, Nick’s much more important than that. What if keeping quiet cost us his life? Sure he needs him alive for the money but we can never be too sure about that.”

“I don’t think so Bri; you might want to read the note that he left.”

-

Brian stood right at the corner of the living room, afraid that he might disrupt some unseen evidence in the house. It was hard to stand still when pieces of glass were lying everywhere. Broken frames and upturned furniture only added fuel to his imagination.

AJ and Howie appeared from the back door, with a camera in his hands. He couldn’t tell if it had sunk in yet to them that Nick was missing and probably in danger. AJ would probably just tell himself that Nick was late for one of his meetings again instead. It helped to keep him calm.

“What you got there detective?”

AJ smiled and handed the camera to him. “Check it out.”

There were pictures of his room, the opened window and the state his room was. The floor was wet, most probably from the storm. The room seemed untouched though. The kitchen and the backyard looked normal, there were no signs of forced entry. It was the living room that had been turned into mayhem. And then there were pictures of the crushed cell phone, found near the gates at the entrance of his house.

“You got a picture of the note?”

AJ shook his head. “Nope. Kev got that sealed in a clear bag.”

As if on cue, Kevin came climbing down from the second floor with a clear bag on his hand. Brian could see the piece of crushed white paper in there.

“That’s all we’ve got.” Kevin said as he passed him the note.

I’ll let you redeem yourself dear Nephew.

Brian frowned. “That sounds disturbing guys, we have to find Nick NOW.”

“Calm down Brian. Look, he’s letting Nick redeem himself, that means he’s not going to kill him.” Howie said.

“Well, we have to find out where he’s living right now or find his daughter. And not to sound amazing race ish, but we have a road block right now. Go straight to Jane and save ourselves some precious time or go to Aaron and see if he knows anything.” Howie said.

“I think it’s wise if we ask Aaron.” AJ said.

Kevin didn’t seem to agree. “Look I know we don’t wish to talk to Jane, but it’s faster if we ask her, besides, Aaron might get suspicious if we call him up and ask about his uncle out of the blue.”

“Sure Kev, after she’s done drilling you and find enough substance in there to make up some hot ass rumor for her next ET spot. But hey, if you’re calling, I have NO problems whatsoever.”

Kevin winced. “Nah, let’s go call Aaron.”

AJ smirked. “I thought so too.”
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