Zach Bridger’s life was upended while in the Cayman Islands, sitting at the pool bar, sipping a cold beer, and chillin’ to Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
It was only eight-thirty in the morning, but his date-of-the-week had wanted to claim an ideal spot for sunbathing the day away, so she’d dragged him out of bed early. Other guests at the swanky resort must’ve been of the same mind. A line had formed for the breakfast buffet at the open-air restaurant, and the bar itself was doing a lively business.
“Isn’t that your ex?”
Zach, who’d been enjoying the array of lubricated female flesh around the swimming pool, turned toward the bartender, who hitched his goatee up toward the TV, where a photo of Rebecca dominated the upper right-hand corner of the screen behind the anchorwoman’s shoulder.
An indifferent grunt was Zach’s response to both the bartender’s question and the picture. He couldn’t attach the word “wife” to the woman beguiling the camera with her sloe eyes. It escaped him how he could have pledged his everlasting love, honor, and fidelity to her. Neither of them had kept the vows. He had, however, endowed Rebecca with a helluva lot of his worldly goods.
He said, “Best years of my life have been the five since our divorce.”
“Hear ya.” The bartender gave him a kindred grin. “It’s been three since mine.” He reached for Zach’s plastic glass and topped it off from the beer tap, then glanced over his shoulder at the TV, which now featured another picture of Rebecca. “Recently she’s been hanging with a hockey player. One of those without any vowels in his name.”
“Pity the poor bastard,” Zach said.
The bartender chuckled. “I think they’ve split.” “I don’t keep up.”
Zach hadn’t seen Rebecca in the flesh since she’d flounced out of the divorce court. She’d left through the front entrance to endear herself to the paparazzi waiting there, while his lawyer had sneaked him out through a rear exit to avoid them.
Occasionally, by accident, he’d catch a mention of her on one of those hyperactive, celeb-tracking shows. She was usu- ally featured as a gorgeous accessory draped over the arm of a guy who was trending on social media.
The bartender wiped up a spill. “You must’ve whetted her appetite for professional athletes.”
Zach saluted the bartender with his fresh beer.
“We’re supposed to be cool with celebrity guests. Not make a big deal, you know. But I have to tell you, I’m a huge fan.”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” The bartender produced a ballpoint. Zach pulled a cocktail napkin from the holder on the bar and scrawled his autograph on it.
With sleight of hand, the bartender pocketed the signed napkin. “Thanks, man.”
Zach was tipping the glass of beer toward his mouth when he saw that the images on the TV had changed. Now live video was being transmitted from either a drone or a helicopter as it circled above what appeared to be a sprawling private estate, currently encircled by police cars and emergency vehicles. Rebecca’s name still appeared in the bulletin scrolling across the bottom of the screen.
Zach set down his beer and slid his sunglasses onto the top of his head. “Turn up the sound, please.”
The bartender did as requested, upping the volume enough for the anchorwoman to be heard above “Good Vibrations.”
She was saying, “Authorities have told us that the nine- one-one call came in at three-oh-eight this morning, but the caller has yet to be identified.”
Zach and the bartender exchanged a look. Zach got up from his barstool and moved around behind the bar in order to better see and hear.
“First responders arrived at the Clarke mansion within thirteen minutes of the nine-one-one and found Rebecca Pratt in an upstairs guest bedroom. We don’t have details yet, but her condition has been described as unresponsive. She was taken to Emory University Hospital, but there’s been no word on either the cause or seriousness of her condition.
“Investigators are at the scene, questioning everyone who was attending the party at the lavish home. It’s estimated there were between forty and sixty guests. Police report that illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia were found in various rooms of the mansion. Foul play has not been ruled out.
“Rebecca Pratt, often seen on red carpets with high-profile personalities, has remained single since her bitter divorce in 2017 from Super Bowl MVP quarterback Zach Bridger, who as yet has been unavailable for comment. We’ll bring you updates on this breaking story as we get them. Now, we’ll turn to the political brouhaha being raised in Washington over comments made by—”
Zach took the remote from the bartender and clicked off the audio. The Beach Boys had given way to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” but nearby activity had been suspended and conversations had ceased.
Zach became aware that he had the undivided attention of everyone in the immediate area.
He came out from behind the bar, replaced his sunglasses on the bridge of his nose, and avoided making direct eye contact with anyone. He and Rebecca had walked away from their brief but tumultuous marriage without looking back. But it seemed that nobody else was willing to let it go. She’d reverted to using her maiden name, but their names were still linked, and rarely was one of them mentioned in the media without a reference being made to the other,
like it or not. He didn’t like it. In fact, he hated it like hell because her current reputation was an ongoing embarrassment to him. But there it was: the price of fame.
Even though he had to dig deep to find any emotion beyond indifference toward her, he had never wished her ill. “Unresponsive” didn’t sound good at all. He wandered back toward the pool, trying to remember where he’d deposited his date-of-the-week, trying to remember her name.
He finally spotted her chatting up a slender, hairless Euro type in a Speedo, who was half reclined on the chaise next to hers, which Zach had vacated not twenty minutes earlier. As he wended his way around other sunbathers toward them, his cell phone rang. He was often razzed about never being without it. It was an extension of his hand.
Recognizing an Atlanta area code, he figured it was a news outlet who’d bribed his number out of somebody. Likely they would want a sound bite from him regarding Rebecca and what was certain to be today’s lead story.
In his mind, he formed something appropriate to say, something to which no one could take exception, something conveying concern but disconnection. He thumbed on his phone.
“This is Zach.”
Within thirty seconds, he wished he’d never answered that call.