Gerry died two days after Christmas. No one knew the exact time. Nick left to go take a shower, as Gerry was insisting the funk had grown intolerable, and he allowed himself a brief nap as well. When one of the nurses on retainer when to check on Gerry in the interim, he was already gone. It was fitting, in a way. He’d never been one to let others see him suffer, and he’d left without any witness to his final breaths. If Nick didn’t know better, and he wasn’t sure he didn’t, he would have believed Gerry sent him away on purpose, so that Nick’s final memory of the man would be living, breathing, and talking. Being Gerry, in other words.
The world became a blur of activity as people came to take him away. Seeing strangers enter Gerry’s room, Nick felt an instinct rise in his gut to fight away these intruders. He even took a step forward, but a strong hand fell on his neck, guiding him carefully back to his own room. Ms. Pips led him there wordlessly, and, just before releasing him, pulled Nick in close for a brief yet powerful hug. It was a move that stunned him, he couldn’t remember the last time Ms. Pips had embraced him like that. Not for the sake of form or greeting, but with real emotion behind the gesture. By the time he came to his senses, she was already out the door. It had probably been a ploy to confuse him; that was the explanation he ultimately settled on.
Nick sat on the couch in his suite’s living room, staring out at the other casinos on The Strip, and past them, to the desert on the horizon. They looked wrong in the daylight, unlit by their fanciful neon glows. He’d always preferred Vegas at night, when the city came alive in its truest form, when there was money, sex, booze, and crime at every turn, for those who knew how to look. That was the world he’d been raised in, that Gerry had taken him by the hand and led him through. At least that version of Vegas felt familiar. Now, with only the harsh daylight greeting him and no Gerry to turn to, Nick felt more lost than he had in a very long while.
He genuinely wasn’t sure what to do with himself. The casino was out, by now news would have spread, and while the staff would be keeping their game faces on for the sake of the tourists Nick would still see the sorrow in their eyes. There were always other casinos, true, but the idea of gambling held no appeal. Sitting at a table, counting the cards or reading his opponents, all of it would be falling back into the very things Gerry taught him, and Nick couldn’t handle those memories right now. There was always drinking, and for a moment that idea seemed like a solid choice, then Nick ultimately dismissed it. With Gerry gone, things could be chaotic, and someone might try to take advantage of the family’s momentary disorganization. Being too drunk to handle his affairs would be a piss-poor testament to Gerry’s memory.
Nick was still sitting on the couch, gazing at the desert, sometime later when his phone rang. He made no move to answer it, only letting it ring until it stopped. Anyone with real cause to contact him could come to the door, and those who couldn’t didn’t need him that badly anyway. The phone started to ring again, then again, and finally on the fourth attempt Nick gave in and answered it without so much as looking at the number.
“You’ve got visitors,” Eliza told him. “I was trying to give you a heads up in case you wanted to get composed, but they are probably almost there by now.”
“Jesus, what sycophant is trying to kiss up to me today? Or is it someone from the Evers family trying to rile me into doing something stupid? You know what, I don’t even give a shit, just send them away.”
“’Yeah, good luck with that,” Eliza replied. The phone disconnected, and moments later Nick heard a knock on the door.
Bolting up from his couch, he grabbed one of the many guns hidden through the suite and glanced through the peephole. Blinking in surprise, he stepped back, dumped the gun in a nearby vase, and then yanked open the door.
Standing before him were Alice, Vince, Mary, and Hershel. Before anyone else could speak or act, Alice rushed forward, wrapping her arms tightly around Nick and squeezing hard. “I’m so sorry. We heard what happened.”
“I… yeah it’s sad… what are you all doing here though?”
“Mary told us what was happening,” Vince explained, stepping inside with the others and shutting the door. It struck Nick that he was dressed for much colder weather than what Vegas had to offer. “She overheard Eliza’s thoughts, and we figured you might need your friends at a time like this. Once she knew it had happened, she sent out the call. Mr. Transport picked us all up and dropped us off here. We know how much Gerry meant to you.”
Nick’s eyes roved the room, taking in all the faces and lingering on Mary’s for a long moment. He took a deep breath, hugged Alice back, and then slowly extricated himself from her embrace. “Listen, everyone, I appreciate this. I honestly do. Just seeing you all here means a lot to me. But, that said, you all cannot be here. Being friends with me is one thing; this is a whole other level. You understand what kind of place this is, right? What kind of people you’re surrounded by. If the DVA finds out you went to a den of criminals-”
“I’m the son of the most wanted Super in the nation, what are they going to say about this that they haven’t already brought up a dozen times over Globe?” Vince grabbed Nick and pulled him in for a hug that nearly bruised his back.
“As for me, I’ll claim to be here on official Adair family business, checking out a potential casino investment. Let them try and come at me from that angle,” Alice added.
“Roy and I don’t really have an excuse in the chamber; we just don’t give a shit about what the DVA tries to say. We don’t walk out on family when they need us.” Hershel skipped the hug in favor of a firm handshake, which Nick was surprised by the strength of.
“I’m not worried either,” Mary said, noticeably not elaborating on the topic. “But at the same time, we don’t want to cause trouble or make this process harder. If you’d rather handle this on your own, we won’t force ourselves on you. We just want to help in whatever way we can, be it at your side or not.”
Nick opened his mouth to tell them, politely, that they should all head back home, but the words wouldn’t come. Looking at his friends, the idea of going back to sitting on his couch alone seemed intolerable. The truth was, he did need them right now. And Gerry would have been happy about that.
“I’ll get you all some rooms on this floor. And Vince, you can borrow some clothes. If you try to walk around The Strip in that coat you’ll keel over before we make it half a mile.”
“That’s kind of you, but you don’t need to play tour guide,” Alice said. During all the hugs and talk, she’d never gotten more than a few inches from Nick’s side, a fact which he both noted and dearly appreciated.
“Come on, you’re all in Vegas, how can I not show you around?” Nick’s voice faltered a touch on the last words, and he looked away from them, back out the window. When he spoke again, it was without his usual air of frivolity. “Besides, I’ve been up here for weeks now. I don’t want to be around while they deal with Gerry’s room and equipment. Going literally anywhere sounds good, and playing tour guide will help keep my mind off things.”
“Well then,” Alice said as she slipped her arm around his, “I guess you’re going to show us Vegas.”