Surprisingly he answered almost immediately.
Daryl’s gruff voice greeting her by his old nickname for her in his deep Georgia twang was music to her ears. “Just the man I need. How are ya handsome?”
“I’m as good as it gets, sweetheart. What can I do fer ya?”
“Well, I’ve got a dilemma I was hoping you could help me with.”
“When’s the last time you talked to Merle?”
Daryl cursed then let out a groan and although she wasn’t in front of him she knew he had an angry scowl on his handsome face. “I ain’t heard from Merle’s ass in weeks. I’m down here at his shop and he ain’t here. He’s been in the clouds these past few months over some new chick he’s bangin’ so he stopped callin much for a while now but these last few weeks he ain’t been callin’ at all, and now his cell is dead and has been for the last three days. I don’t know how many messages me and a few other folks in the family done left him in the last coupl’a days. His clients have been calling me and Axel all week looking for him and now we’re all really gettin’ worried. Axel called me two weeks ago bitchin’ ‘bout Merle owing him money and not taking his calls all of a sudden. Apparently a few weeks back he asked Ax to wire him five grand and he sent it no problem. Then he asked for five more a couple days later and said he’d get it all right back to him with interest in another week or so, so Ax sent him the rest of the money, thinking it was all for work expenses for a big job and that when Merle got paid he’d simply repay him like always so he wired the additional cash no questions asked. Then he took another ten grand from our joint business account without notifying us of the purchase details and now he’s nowhere to be found. He knew better than to call me first though. I would have asked his ass what the hell he needed that much money for.”
“You think he’s using again… or gambling?”
“I know he still drinks and occasionally smokes a little weed but he’s been clean from any hard drugs for years. He better not be usin’ again… he promised Ma he wouldn’t never touch the hard stuff again. I’m pretty sure it’s gamblin’. Why the hell else would he need twenty G’s in a lump out of the blue like that, and now won’t answer his goddamned phone. I hope he’s not locked up somewhere and too ‘shamed to call one of us… or beat up somewhere by some rough guys he owes money to… or worse,” he gulped a nervous breath and didn’t go on.
Michonne immediately tried to reassure him. “Don’t even think like that Daryl. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation for all of this. And you know if he is in any real trouble and needs legal help, I’m here, just like always. I have a big case up in New York next Thursday morning but I should be back in town by Friday or Saturday at the latest. You know you can depend on me if he needs counsel.”
“Chonne, you’ve done more than enough for our family over the years. My brother owes his freedom to you. If you hadn’t defended him that time years ago, he never would’ve gotten out of Atlanta and started over on the right path the way he’s done. I just hope he hasn’t thrown it all away. Look, I just arrived down here a little while ago. I took the day off to drive down here to see if I can find out what the hell’s going on. The police down here didn’t know jack shit when I called… said I need to come in person to file a missing person report after 24 hours of the person being gone. I’m at the shop now, looks like it’s been closed for days. Nothing looks out of place thankfully but its Saturday afternoon, he should be open for business unless he’s out on a job. The van is parked out back and both his truck and his bike are in the garage. From what I can see there ain’t no lights on in his place upstairs. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. I’m heading up to his apartment now. I’m hoping he ain’t in there passed out drunk, beat up, high or worse. Let me ring you right back.”
Daryl abruptly hung up and Michonne was thoughtful for a moment. She truly hoped that Merle hadn’t gone off the deep end and started dabbling in his old lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, and a bad gambling habit. She’d just spoken with him a few months back and he’d seemed fine. His business was successful and he was getting a nice piece of additional income from renovating and renting out apartments and furnished rooms to vacationers and locals upstairs in the storefront office building he’d bought for the business. He’d even mentioned that he had a new lady friend that he was crazy about. Said she was a ‘real classy chick, who was totally out of his league,” and Michonne had wished him well in love. It was very disturbing to say the least if it had all fallen apart in a matter of months. Merle was a good man; sure he’d made some bad decisions in his past, but he’d turned it all around.
Michonne grabbed a peach bellini wine cooler from the fridge and plopped down onto her living room’s eggshell white, L-shaped leather sofa to catch a little TV. Just then, her cell phone rang. It was Daryl calling her back and she answered on the first ring. “Well? Is he there?”
“Hell no! And get this… almost all of his shit is gone!”
“Yep! There’s an APARTMENT FOR RENT sign on his door and the place is practically bare… looks like he’s sold off most of his shit! He never mentioned anything to me about moving! All of the closets are empty and the pantry and cupboards are bare. Fridge is empty except for a few bottles of beer and a box o’ baking soda. The pool table, both flat screen TVs, the living and dining room sets, his bedroom furniture, his stereo along with the speakers and all of his tapes and CD’s as well as his massive country album collection, all his old rock and roll and Motown records are all gone too. His guitars, his weights and even all his girly mags and porn he used to have lying around his room is gone. Matter of fact, damn near everything that was here the last time I came down… is gone. Even the towels and sheets and all of his hygiene shit! Only stuff left is a bucket and a mop, some cleaning supplies, the bed and a lamp on a little table in the bedroom… oh yeah, and his dead cell phone. Now tell me… who the hell goes anywhere without their damn cell phone, let alone moves someplace without it? He must’ve been in one hell of a damn hurry to get the hell outta here!”
“Maybe he didn’t want to be traced,” Michonne murmured.
“I know right! But why would he move and not tell us? Why are his truck and bike here but he ain’t? At least all of his tools and equipment are in the shop from what I could see but it’s just not adding up! I can’t wait ‘til I can file a damn missing person report tomorrow.”
“This is too weird. Where the hell is all of his stuff?”
“Hell if I know! Like I said, my guess is that he sold it,’ he snorted as he closed and locked the door behind himself. “Wait a minute, ‘Chonne, someone’s coming upstairs. Some dorky fucker with a mullet…probably one of Merle’s tenants. Hang on a sec, babe.”
Michonne chuckled at the mullet comment and waited. A few minutes later Daryl returned to the phone.
“I don’t have to file the missing person report just yet but I know for certain he’s gamblin’ again,” he groaned.
“Oh no! What did the guy say?”
“Mullet head goes by the name of Eugene… lives down the hall. Thought I was interested in renting Merle’s apartment and told me he’d be here on Monday afternoon for showings. I told him I’m Merle’s brother, and asked him when was the last time he’d seen him. He told me that Merle was here a week ago. He then said that a few weeks back, Merle mentioned to him that he’d be moving out but would still be the landlord of the building until further notice. Not long after that Merle began hauling his stuff away a little at a time in a rented U-Haul truck and then last Monday, he asked him to keep an eye on the shop this week because he had to go to Vegas, but would be back first thing Monday morning to collect rents.”
“Thank goodness! Well at least you now know he’s okay and that he’s expected back soon!”
“Maybe, but you know Merle… he could’ve told that dork anything. He don’t seem too bright to me. Anyway… he said Merle hit him up for a couple hundred right before he skipped town and told him he’d deduct it from his next rent payment. Sounds awful desperate to me. I’m ‘bout certain he won’t miss out on collecting his rents on Monday if he’s as hard up for money as I figure he must be. So… a trip to Vegas is what he needed the twenty large for. He’s probably putting it all on the line at the crap tables, hoping he’ll win big so he can pay off everybody he owes money to. He probably moved out ‘cuz the wrong people know where he lives and works, and his share of the business is probably in danger to be scalped next. I’m gonna kick his ass when I see him!”
“Well Daryl, look at the bright side. He’ll be back on Monday and you can finally get some answers. Now… are you coming back to Atlanta tonight or are you gonna stay down in Savannah?”
“Might as well stay my ass down here. Scheduled myself off ‘til Tuesday anyways and it wouldn’t make no sense to drive all the way back home tonight when I 'd have to turn right back ‘round and come back on Monday to try and catch up with Merle.”
“But you're not staying there at his place are you?”
“Don't see why not... got a free room right here."
“But you said yourself the place is empty, Daryl. And you don't know who might be looking for Merle and find you there instead. It may not be safe. He had to have moved out in a hurry for a reason. I'll feel much better if you stay somewhere else. Just get a hotel room."
“You treating?” he asked with a smirk.
“If that’s what it’ll take for you to stay someplace else! My firm has a business account at every Corporate Hotel & Suites location across the state, including the one in Savannah. I can call ahead and comp you then pay it back later.”
"I’m just kiddin’, you don’t have to do all that, ‘Chonne. I’ll just get a motel room off the interstate somewhere right here in Bayside. If I get a place down at the beach in Savannah proper I'll have to shell out the big bucks. It’s summer and it’s the weekend so the rates are sky high.”
"Daryl Dixon two nights at a decent hotel in Savannah will not break the bank and you know it. But I already said l’d treat you myself if need be."
"Don’t need ya to do that ‘Chonne. Got plenty o’ money, woman… but the reason I got it is ‘cause I ain’t in the habit of spendin’ it on frivolous shit like fancy hotel suites when a basic motel room will do me just fine. All I need is a bed and a shower anyways and I can get both at any motel I come across.”
"Daryl I swear you could pinch a penny ‘til it bleeds! Splurge for once! Stay somewhere nice. You’re the sweetest, kindest person I know. You deserve to treat yourself!”
“Stop,” he whispered shyly, his ears turning red from the genuine flattery.
“I mean it! You’re down there out of love and concern for your brother. The least you can do is stay someplace nice while you wait for him to turn back up. There are over 150 nice hotels to choose from on the main strip and all up and down the side streets at the beach. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Merle's place and you might as well enjoy yourself since you’re stuck down there anyway.”
“I hate the beach this time ‘o year,” he groaned with a frown. “Too many crowds!”
“Liar, liar pants on fire! You love the beach! And since when did you pass up an opportunity to watch half naked beach babes scampering around in bikinis all day?”
Daryl hadn’t thought about that. It had been months since he’d last gotten laid and the thought of an array of half naked women on display at the beach made him grow hard as a rock right where he stood. Michonne knew him all too well. “I guess I could find a little old place somewhere down there. Somewhere with a pool and maybe a decent breakfast buffet... or better yet maybe I can crash at your place?" he suggested. “It’s walking distance from the beach and the boardwalk and not to mention all the cool bars and restaurants on the strip are down that way.”
“Dixon you know I’d let you stay at my place in a heartbeat but, it’s already occupied.”
“You renting it out now? Smart move, girl. The place’ll pay for itself in no time!”
“I thought about trying that but I haven’t put much effort into planning for it yet. One of my girlfriends is staying down there for the next week or so. In fact, she’s the main reason I needed to get a hold of Merle in the first place. She called me earlier and let me know that the A/C stopped working last night. I tried to call Merle so he could check on it… which led to me calling you because I’d tried to contact him a week ago about the pool too and no reply....”
“I'll go check the A/C unit out fer ya. But I didn't pack anything for staying down here for the next 2 days so I need to a pick up a few things first and then I’ll swing past and take a look at it. Got access to Merle’s tools… might as well use ‘em since he damn sure ain’t.”
"Thanks babe. It's probably just a short of some kind. The unit was running fine all last summer and it wasn’t too old when I bought the place a couple years back. My friend said it was running fine until last night's storm zapped the power. Everything else came back on just fine. I can wire you your fee via paypal if you want."