I couldn’t catch my breath. Finally, I sputtered, “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” he said flatly.
“An incident? What type of incident?”
“She hasn’t been here at all this morning?” He was being dodgy.
“You haven’t seen her?”
“Not since last night. What’s this all about?” I was going to keep asking until he answered me.
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Are you sure it’s Charlotte you’re looking for?” I couldn’t wrap my head around this.
“Those derringer tattoos on her arms are very distinct.”
I’d inked those derringers myself.
My brain was skipping so fast over a million thoughts, like a stone in a rocky riverbed. I was thinking about pawnshops and how Wesley Lambert had been poking around the club yesterday, saying something about a mistake with something Trevor had pawned. Charlotte had spent quite a bit of time with Trevor in the last twenty-four hours.
“Wesley Lambert,” I said.
“Hmm?” He acted like he didn’t know what I was insinuating, but a flicker of his eye told me we were on the same page.
“Do you think this has something to do with Wesley Lambert? He was at Chez Tango talking about pawnshops.”
“Does she have a locker or anything here? Any personal items?”
His change of subject threw me for a second. I thought about her room, which was just next to this office. But I couldn’t have him poking around in there. “No,” I lied, hoping he wouldn’t see through me. “She’s just a trainee. She works wherever we have room at the moment.”
He pursed his mouth, like he knew. But instead of calling me on it, he stood. “Okay, well, if she contacts you or comes in here, I expect you to call me.” Then he handed me a business card, the one I’d wanted last night but he hadn’t given me. Guess I was more important to him today. “You’re close enough to the law to know what the punishment is for obstruction.”
A direct reference to Tim.
But obstruction? How serious was this?
I didn’t get a chance to ask, however, because Frank DeBurra strode across my blond laminate flooring and went out the front glass door so quickly, he didn’t even say good-bye. Bitsy watched after him, her mouth forming a perfect “O.”
“What was that all about?” she asked.
I frowned. “I wish I knew. You were eavesdropping.”
“And wouldn’t you? He comes in here like gangbusters and I’m not supposed to make sure he’s not beating the crap out of you back there?”
“Isn’t that a little extreme?”
“Seems like it’s serious, whatever it is,” Bitsy said.
“I guess. He wanted to see her stuff. I don’t get that. What’s he fishing for? It doesn’t make any sense. But if she calls or comes in, we’re supposed to call him. I don’t think so.” I waved his card. “He wouldn’t give it to me last night.”
Bitsy took it and stuck it under the phone. “We’ll leave it here,” she said matter-of-factly. “So we all know where it is and we can call when we hear from Charlotte.”
I knew that was her out. The card could get lost, easily.
Even though I didn’t trust DeBurra, he had planted some doubts about Charlotte. Why had she lied about picking up Trevor and bringing him home this morning?
It was exactly those doubts that made me push open the door to her room and stand on the threshold as I took everything in.
She’d taken a fancy to a couple of Ace’s smaller works. They weren’t his comic-book versions of classic paintings; instead, they were his own cartoon creations: a superhero rat and a rooster playing baseball. I’m not one to judge someone’s artwork, but I was glad they were in here and not out where the public could see them.
Charlotte’s own artwork hung on the walls, too. She created geometric and tribal designs in acrylics and then recreated them as tattoos.
The chair almost glistened, it was so clean; Charlotte’s inkpots and tattoo machine were lined up along the waist-high counter. On a shelf below that, she had a supply of disposable needles, some stencils were scattered, and a cup held some fine-point markers.
It was clean, thanks most likely to Bitsy’s efforts, and organized, again Bitsy’s doing. Other than the paintings, there were no personal items.
I had a client in half an hour, so I went into the staff room and sat at the light table to finish up a stencil of palm trees, dice, and Hello Kitty. About twenty minutes later, Joel wandered in with a box of doughnuts, unaware that I’d brought in smashed bagels. He took one of each.
Joel had started Weight Watchers, but we hadn’t seen any difference.
I raised my eyebrows when he took a bite of bagel.
“Oh, don’t get on my case,” he chided. “I count my points.”
“And you probably round down, too,” I said.
He made a face at me.
I didn’t want to get into it any further, so I told him about Frank DeBurra and Charlotte.
Joel actually stopped eating as I told him.
Bitsy stuck her head in the door and nodded at me. “She’s here.” She meant my client.
I glanced at the clock. Hello Kitty was just about done. “Tell her I’ll be a few. She can hang in the waiting area.”
“Looking good,” Joel said, leaning over my shoulder, getting a little doughnut dust on the light table.
I brushed it off. “I don’t want the stencil messed up. Stay over there if you’re eating.”
“So this is the gambling Hello Kitty? I’ve never seen that one before.” Joel spoke as he moved over to the staff table and sat down.
“Hello Kitty likes Vegas,” I said. “She’s one hot cat.” As I said it, I thought about Rebecca Sinclair, my client. Nice girl, first tattoo. As I surveyed my work, I didn’t think this would have to be one she’d regret. Hello Kitty was always in style.
I finished up the stencil and carefully cut around it before bringing it out to Rebecca, whom I beckoned into my room.
“Here it is,” I said, showing her. “And you want it just below your shoulder on your back on the left side?”
Rebecca nodded. She was smiling, but her mouth was tight. First time was always a little nerve-wracking.
With a baby wipe, I washed down the area where I’d do the ink and shaved it with a disposable razor so it would be completely hair free. I then rolled a little glycerin-based deodorant over the same area before placing the stencil down, rubbing it so it would transfer onto her skin. I pulled it off carefully, then surveyed it. Perfect.
I handed Rebecca a hand mirror and told her to go out and look at it in the full-length mirror in the waiting area. While she was gone, I organized my inks, took a new needle out of a package, and slid it into my tattoo machine.
“It looks good,” she said softly when she returned.
“It’ll be fine,” I said as soothingly as I could as I put the chair flat so she could lie down on her stomach. “You’ll feel it sting at first-I won’t lie about that-but then your endorphins will kick in and it won’t hurt as much.” I couldn’t tell her it wouldn’t hurt at all. In fact, tattoos over bone hurt more than when they were inked on more fleshy areas. But she’d been insistent about placement.
When she was as comfortable as she would be, I pulled on my latex gloves, dipped the needle in black ink, pressed the foot pedal, and the machine whirred to life. I pressed the needle to her skin and felt her jump slightly.
“Try to stay as still as possible,” I advised as I began outlining Hello Kitty.
By the time I started filling in the palm trees, Rebecca was chatting up a storm, telling me about the classes she was taking at the university.
It didn’t take too long before I was taping plastic wrap over the tattoo and handing Rebecca a typewritten sheet of paper that explained how to take care of it for the next few days. She shouldn’t keep the plastic wrap on long, just until she got home. Washing it with unscented antibacterial soap and an antibacterial gel would be the next step, but it would still peel like a sunburn.
“It’ll look a little faded for a while, but don’t worry. The color will come back once it’s healed.”
I followed her out to the front desk, where Bitsy would take her credit card.
But Bitsy wasn’t there.
Trevor McKay was.