Leighanne gripped the phone so hard that her knuckles were white.
“AJ?! AJ!?” she screamed, calling his name over and over again. “AJ, please say something!” But all she could hear on the other end was heavy, gasping breaths.
Just moments earlier, she had heard his scream and several more following it. But now the screams had stopped, and she heard only the ragged breathing. And within the next few seconds, there came a click, and all went silent.
Choking back a sob, she hung up the phone, then picked it back up again and dialed another number.
Kevin was alone in his hotel suite when his cell phone rang. “Hello?” he asked, answering the phone.
“Kevin!” screamed a panicked female voice.
“Who is this?” he demanded, sitting up abruptly.
“It’s Leighanne! Kev, something happened to AJ! He’s hurt!” cried Brian’s wife.
“Huh? What are you talking about?!” Kevin asked, fear clutching at his heart.
“Please, go get help! Hurry!” Leighanne begged, her voice shaking with terror.
Kevin tossed down the phone and ran down the hall to AJ’s room. He banged on the door, which was locked on the inside. “AJ!” he yelled. “AJ, open up!” But AJ didn’t.
Terrified, Kevin raced back to his room, grabbed the phone that was sitting on the desk, and dialed 911. He hurriedly asked for an ambulance, giving the operator the name of the hotel and AJ’s room number, and hung up. He was about to run back out of the room, but stopped when he saw his cell phone lying on the floor, still turned on.
“Leighanne?” he asked breathlessly, putting it to his ear.
“What happened? God, is he okay?!” she cried.
“I don’t know. I can’t get into the room. But I called 911, and they’re on their way. I’ll call you when I know more,” Kevin told her and hung up.
Desperate to get to AJ, he ran down several flights of stairs to get to the lobby of the hotel, where he hurriedly explained as well as he could what was going on to the receptionist, who gave him a room key to AJ’s room. Grabbing it out of her hand, Kevin raced back up the stairs, running faster than he knew he was able to.
He fumbled with the little keycard, desperately jamming it into the lock. Finally, the door clicked open, and he burst inside. “AJ!” he screamed, looking frantically around the suite. Upon entering the bedroom area, he let out a bloodcurdling scream.
AJ was lying half on the bed, his legs dangling over the side, his body slumped forward at an odd angle. The back of his shirt ripped and stained bright red with the sea of blood that covered him and the bedspread beneath him. And with every blink of Kevin’s eyes, the amount of blood seemed to double.
Kevin began to breathe in rapid gasps, all the color draining from his face. His stomach turned at the gruesome sight, and he felt nauseous. Suddenly, uncontrollably, he began to vomit. Feeling dizzy and queasy, he sunk to the ground, vomit dripping from his mouth.
“AJ?” he heard a voice call, but it sounded far away and distorted.
“Oh, my God! AJ!!”
Through blurry eyes, Kevin saw three figures hurry past him to the bloody body on the bed. And then, he passed out.
On the outside, Brendan was just as shocked and horrified as Nick and Howie were. But on the inside, he was smiling. AJ would never find out the truth now. If he wasn’t already dead, he surely would be soon. And sweet, kind, religious Brian was the last person anyone would suspect.
I’ve committed the perfect crime, thought Brendan with pride. It seemed too good to be true. It had all been too easy. He had gotten AJ’s extra key, hidden under his bed, and when AJ had come into his room, stabbed him. AJ never even knew what was coming. And he never saw who had done it. So even if he did somehow make it, he wouldn’t be able to tell who his attacker was.
“Someone call 911!” Howie shouted, his voice high and shrill.
But there was no need to. Kevin must have done if before his collapse because at that moment, three paramedics arrived, wheeling a stretcher. Two of them rushed over to AJ, while the third pushed Brendan, Howie, and Nick back, then went to check over the unconscious Kevin.
Within a few minutes, Kevin had woken up. But things did not look so good for AJ. Brendan felt a sick sense of satisfaction as he watched the paramedics perform CPR on AJ, knowing that the man was on the brink of death. And even if they did manage to resuscitate him, Brendan figured he would probably die anyway.
How could this have happened?
That was the thought that refused to leave Kevin’s mind, as he sat with his band mates in some random hospital waiting room, awaiting word on AJ.
He did not know the answer to his question. They had top bodyguards, the hotel had seemed safe and secure, and AJ had been in his suite, which locked from the inside and only he had a key too. So how could anyone have gotten in? When did they get in?
The questions just kept running through his mind. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before. It was terrifying.
Kevin glanced down the line of his solemn-faced brothers. Nick and Howie had their heads in their hands, and although he could not see their faces, he knew they were crying. Kevin’s own face was tearstained as well. Brian was the only one who had not yet shed any tears. He sat at the end of the row, staring blankly into space, his chin resting on his palm.
Kevin wondered why his cousin wasn’t weeping along with the rest of them, but he shrugged it off. Everyone had their own way of grieving. You didn’t have to be crying on the outside to be upset. Kevin looked away from Brian and took to staring down at his hands instead. He had them clasped tightly together in his lap, and still, they trembled. His whole body felt shaky.
And again, his mind went back to that same question.
How could this have happened?
Leighanne sat still at her kitchen table, her head bowed, her eyes closed, her hands clasped tightly together.
Please, God, let AJ be okay. Please, God…
She repeated the simple plea silently over and over again, praying that AJ was all right. It had been an hour since she had called Kevin, and she had not yet heard back from him. She wanted to call, but something stopped her. She knew Kevin would call her back eventually. But with every minute that passed, her hope slowly faded.
Opening her eyes, she glanced at the clock. It was two in the morning already, but in California, where the Boys were, it was only eleven. Still, she sat up, knowing she would not be able to sleep anyway.
Her thoughts suddenly drifted back to the reason she had called AJ in the first place. Brian. Or rather, Brian’s twin. Leighanne wasn’t sure, but the idea that the twin had somehow taken Brian’s place seemed more and more realistic. But then, where was Brian? If the Brian in California was an imposter, what had happened to the real Brian?
The new question made Leighanne begin to tremble, and suddenly, she feared more for her husband than for AJ. What had happened to him? What had the twin done with him? She had not realized it until just then, but the twin had to have somehow gotten rid of Brian to do what he had done.
Leighanne absently chewed at one of her long nails. What was she supposed to do? Call the police? But it was two in the morning. And what would she tell them? She had no real proof of anything.
Suddenly, another thought came to her. If the twin had done something to Brian, had he done something to AJ as well?
Leighanne’s blue eyes widened in terror. If he had, then all the Boys could be in danger! Immediately, she grabbed the cordless phone that sat on the table and punched in Kevin’s cell phone number. She got the busy signal.
Sighing, she turned off the phone, turned it back on again, and tried Howie’s. It came up with a message saying the phone was not turned on. She tried Nick’s. It rang over and over again, but no one answered.
Leighanne hung up the phone again in defeat, sighing miserably. Feeling helpless, she buried her face in her hands and began to cry.
Four heads shot up as the door to the waiting room opened, and a nurse walked in. Since they were the only ones in the room, Kevin figured she had come to talk to them. He felt immediately relieved and scared at the same time, not knowing if he wanted to hear the news or not.
But he had no choice.
“How is he?” Nick asked immediately, looking ready to pounce on the poor nurse.
“Mr. McLean was just taken up for emergency surgery, sir,” she said. “The doctors stabilized him as best they could in the ER and now need to operate to try to fix his injuries.”
“Do you think he’s gonna make it?” Nick asked anxiously.
The nurse shifted uncomfortably. “Uh… well, I’m not a doctor, sir. I really can’t say,” she replied haltingly.
But that was enough for Nick. He could already tell she didn’t think AJ would live.
“How long will the surgery take?” Kevin asked.
“It could take a long time, sir,” she said. “It’s a very delicate procedure. I suggest you all go back to your hotel and get some sleep. There’s nothing you can do right now.”
“No,” Nick said stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest. “We’re not leaving.”
But Howie was more sensible. “Come on, Nick,” Howie said gently. “She’s right. We’ll just make ourselves sick staying here all night, just waiting and worrying. Let’s head back and come back in the morning, when they’ll be able to tell us more.”
Kevin nodded, his head telling him to side with Howie, but his heart wanting to stay there with AJ, even if he wouldn’t be able to see him. His practical side took over though, and he took charge, insisting they go back to the hotel.
“You’ll be sure to call if anything goes wrong though, right?” he made the nurse promise.
“Of course,” she said sympathetically.
“Okay,” Kevin said. Sighing, he turned to his three band mates. “Let’s go, guys.”
Kevin walked slowly into the hotel lobby, his feet dragging tiredly. He felt dead on his feet. Brian, Nick, and Howie walked along behind him, followed by a few of their bodyguards.
“Excuse me, Mr. Richardson?”
Kevin looked up to see that a police officer had come up to him.
“I’m Chief Robinson of the Los Angeles Police Department. Can I ask you a few questions?” the officer continued.
“Please, not tonight,” Kevin said softly, looking at the officer with pleading green eyes.
“But, Mr. Richardson, sir, we need-“
“You heard him,” Nelson, Kevin’s bodyguard, said sharply. “Not tonight.”
Chief Robinson opened his mouth to protest, but, glancing at the four men’s tired and upset faces, closed it again and nodded.
“Thank you,” Nelson said coolly.
As they started towards the elevator, they were interrupted again by the hotel manager. “Excuse me, gentlemen. I’m sorry to interrupt, but I thought you might like to have these,” he said. Kevin saw that he was holding a large suitcase and a backpack. AJ’s things.
“Thank you,” Kevin said appreciatively, taking the luggage from the man’s arms. Then they took the elevator upstairs to their floor.
Even before the group made it down the hall to where their rooms were, Kevin knew immediately which room was AJ’s, for their was a trio of grim-faced police officers standing outside it, and a yellow police tape was spread across the door, signaling that the room had become a crime scene. The sight of it made Kevin’s stomach turn.
The policemen looked at the men in sympathy, as they passed by. Kevin refused to look any of them in the eye. He kept his head down and walked swiftly on past them to his own room.
He mumbled a quick “goodnight” to his bandmates and bodyguards and ducked into his room, immediately setting AJ’s bags on the floor and sinking down onto his bed. He felt like he could cry at any moment, yet he seemed to have no tears left. That was what being emotionally drained actually felt like. It was an odd sensation.
Kevin turned off the light, lay down on the bed without even changing his clothes, and closed his eyes. He was exhausted, but sleep would not come to him. And so, after about an hour, he got back up and turned the light back on. His sight immediately rested on AJ’s suitcase and backpack, sitting forlornly in the middle of the room, right where Kevin had set them.
Sighing, he got up and sat down on the floor in front of them. He picked up AJ’s backpack first and pulled it into his lap. He slowly unzipped one of the pouches and opened it up. Inside, he saw AJ’s portable CD player, CD case, and a few magazines. He took out the CD case and opened it up. Flipping through all of AJ’s favorite CD’s, a lump rose in his throat. AJ’s taste in music varied so much. He had everything in there, from Boyz II Men, to Limp Bizkit, to…
I thought Brian wanted to borrow that CD, Kevin thought, as he looked at Limp Bizkit’s latest album. In fact, I’m sure Brian went to borrow that CD. He could still remember the conversation from earlier that night in his suite…
“Hey, AJ, do you have your Limp Bizkit CD with you?” Brian asked.
“Yeah,” AJ replied absently, his attention focused on the game.
“Well, could I borrow it?”
“Sure. It’s in my bag in my room,” AJ said, still staring at the TV screen.
”Okay. Can you give me your room key then?”
“Just a minute.” AJ paused the game and dug into his pocket for his room key. He tossed it to Brian and started playing again.
That’s funny, Kevin thought. I wonder why he didn’t take it after all. Kevin remembered that Brian had never come back that night. Instead, he had gone to his room to go to bed early, according to the note he had left. And that meant he probably still had AJ’s key with him. One of the three copies of the key that he knew existed. AJ had the second, and Kevin had given the third, which he had gotten from the hotel receptionist, to one of the police officers when they had first arrived.
That brought Kevin back to the question of how this had happened. If there were only three keys, and he knew who had them, how could the attacker get into AJ’s room? Since the locks were not keyholes, but slots to slide cards in, there was no way someone could pick the lock. And even if there were more keys, Kevin was sure the hotel staff had them somewhere, in a secure place that no attacker would be able to get to. So how did he get in?
Perplexed, Kevin closed AJ’s CD case and put it back into his backpack, zipping it back up and shoving it back aside. He stood up and headed back to his bed, ready to try to fall asleep again. But before he could get there, something else caught his eye. It was his cell phone, lying right on the floor where he had dropped it after Leighanne had called.
Leighanne! Oh no, I forgot to call her! Kevin suddenly realized. She has to be frantic!
He picked up the phone, but, having been turned on the whole time, it was dead. He turned it off and plugged it up to be charged, then picked up the line in his room and dialed out to Atlanta.
As the phone rang, Kevin sheepishly realized it was past midnight for him, which meant it would be after three in the morning in Georgia. But at that moment, Leighanne picked up the phone, and it was too late.
“Hello?” she asked, sounding surprisingly alert.
“Leigh? It’s Kevin.”
“Kevin! Oh, God, how is he? What happened? Is he gonna be okay?!” Leighanne fired questions at Kevin faster than he could process them.
“He was stabbed,” Kevin answered gravely. “And I don’t know if he’ll make it or not. He’s in surgery now.”
“Oh my God,” Leighanne gasped. Then she fell silent.
“You still there, Leigh?” Kevin asked after a long pause.
“Yeah,” she replied shakily. Then, her voice thick with tears, she spoke again.
“Kevin, I think I know who did this.”