Ace didn’t tell Bitsy where they were, just that Charlotte was okay and knew the police were looking for her. He said he’d call back later.
Talk about obstruction of justice.
I tried his cell, but it was turned off. I left a message.
I needed to know more about what happened at that pawnshop this morning. I wouldn’t get anything out of DeBurra. But I might get something out of my brother.
Unfortunately, I got his voice mail. I left a cryptic message and hung up.
“What’s my schedule like this afternoon?” I asked Bitsy.
She leafed through the appointment book. “You’ve got a client at seven.” Bitsy tossed her head back at Joel. “You’ve got someone coming in any moment.”
Shoot. I’d wanted to ask Joel to come with me when I hunted down that pawnshop, but I’d have to go alone.
He knew what I was up to.
“Don’t go playing detective, Brett,” Joel said, putting his arm around my shoulders.
“I have to do something,” I said. “And when I see Ace, I’m going to wring his neck for not telling us where he and Charlotte are.” I gave Bitsy a glare. “I don’t know what you were thinking, letting him just hang up without getting any information out of him.”
“He said to trust him. I do, so there.” She stuck her tongue out at me.
It looked so ridiculous, I couldn’t help but chuckle. “I guess I’m just on edge,” I said, and Red Rock Canyon flashed through my thoughts again.
Bitsy went off to try to disinfect the bathroom and get the stench out of the air that we now noticed was hanging like an invisible cloud.
I went into the staff room to get my bag, and the tracing paper on the light table caught my eye. I didn’t have the sketch of Wesley Lambert, but I had a name. I could ask about him. But the guy this morning at the roulette table was still nameless. I couldn’t help but think that his ink was a clue; he was possibly the champagne shooter from last night. I wondered whether I could make a sketch of his face, too, and get an ID on him.
I put my bag down and sat at the table, grabbing a piece of paper and a pencil. I closed my eyes and willed myself to see the guy’s face. I began to sketch.
I’d had to do a similar exercise in school. It wasn’t easy, and the face I’d drawn was all over the place.
Like this one. I peeked.
I erased a few lines, drew new ones; the guy’s face was etched in my memory, and an image slowly began to emerge. I couldn’t remember some of his features-the cheekbones might be too wide-but others, like the length of his nose and his eyes, were clear.
Bitsy walked through the room spraying Lysol. I coughed.
“I thought you left,” she said, standing behind me.
“Just trying something,” I said.
She looked over my shoulder. “Who is he?”
“The guy at the roulette wheel this morning.”
“He looks like a girl.”
A closer look indicated that she was right. If I drew long locks of hair, he definitely would be mistaken for a girl.
He was that pretty.
Why hadn’t I noticed that this morning? Oh, yeah, I was possessed by the gambling devil and distracted by that spinning wheel.
I drew the spikes of hair, and he began to look a little like Annie Lennox.
“He looked more like a boy in person,” I said to Bitsy. This could all be a skewed image in my head; memory was a slippery thing.
I didn’t have time for more than this, though. It would have to do. I folded the drawing up and stuck it in my bag. “I’m off,” I said.
“You’ll be back for your appointment?”
“Yeah. Thanks for holding down the fort,” I said as I swept past her and went out of the shop.
I heard music-a harpsichord maybe, definitely violins-and I looked over at St. Mark’s Square-not the real one, but the Vegas imitation-to see a group of costumed dancers bowing and curtsying to one another. A gondola glided by on the canal, the gondolier expertly guiding it. The ceiling was a bright blue, with fluffy white clouds that seemed to move. Sometimes when I stopped for a moment and took it all in, rather than just as a backdrop, I could see why the tourists would fall for it. Even though it seemed so wrong on so many levels.
There was a small strip mall on the far side of the Sahara. It housed a convenience store, a nail salon, and a pawnshop. Cash & Carry. According to the signs in the window, they’d take my gold and silver jewelry off my hands for a good price.
I had rows of silver hoops lining each ear, but I didn’t think any of them were worth anything. I didn’t wear rings because I’d found early on that they get caught in the latex gloves. My watch was a simple Timex. It kept on ticking.
At home, in my jewelry box, was the engagement ring Paul had given me. He hadn’t wanted it back. I tried to give it to him when I broke it off. Maybe Cash & Carry could give me a good price for it. Although with all that money I’d won at roulette, I certainly didn’t need to pawn it.
I parked next to a beat-up old blue pickup truck, my Mustang looking out of place here and way too classy. I made sure my CDs were out of sight before I locked all the doors.
The pawnshop door and front windows were lined with bars. I pushed the door open and stepped inside.
A long glass display case stretched from my right all the way around the perimeter of the room. Inside, stones sparkled, timepieces ticked, delicate china pieces leaned easily against velveteen holders, old toys in mint condition were positioned just so.
On the walls, electric guitars, light fixtures, paintings, and sports team jerseys hung suspended from hooks. Mountain bikes were stacked three deep behind the display case at the back of the shop. Televisions and VCRs and DVD players were stacked on shelves.
It was neat and orderly. Not what I was expecting.
A big man-not fat, just muscular-came out from behind a door I hadn’t noticed and walked toward me, behind the case. His bald head shone in the glow of the bright lights; he had tattoo sleeves and wore a Yankees T-shirt.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I’m looking for Wesley Lambert,” I said.
He frowned. “Who?”
Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the place. But I had another idea. “Trevor McKay sent me over here.”
At the mention of Trevor’s name, the man’s face grew dark, his eyes narrowing at me. “What does he want?”
“He’s pawned a pin here; it’s got stones, and it looks like a queen-of-hearts playing card.”
“He hasn’t been in with that in a while.”
“Are you sure?”
“Listen, lady, I’ve helped him out. I know he needs the cash, and for some reason he always comes back for it, so if I give him a hundred bucks I know he’ll end up paying me more than I paid him because of interest.”
He must have seen the question on my face, because he sighed and said, “Say you want to pawn something. I give you a percentage of what I think it’s worth. You’ve got thirty days to come buy it back, for the same price I gave you plus interest.”
So that’s how it worked.
“Do a lot of people buy their own stuff back?”
He waved his hand to indicate everything in the shop. “Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t.” He reached inside the glass display case and pulled out a pair of diamond studs that shone in the light. “These are a steal.”
I studied them a second, then shook my head. “I’m not here to buy anything. I’m just trying to find Wesley Lambert.”
“And I told you I don’t know who that is.”
As he said it, his eyes skirted over toward where he’d appeared from. Made me wonder whether he was lying, if Wesley wasn’t back there somewhere. But I wasn’t exactly sure how to find out unless this guy played along.
I figured I’d try to throw him off again, so I pulled the sketch I’d just made out of my bag. “Do you know this man?” I asked, showing it to him.
He glanced at it, and his face froze for a second; then he said, “What are you, police?”
I shook my head. “No. I own The Painted Lady, a tattoo shop.”
He looked like he didn’t believe me, but then his eyes ran up my arm and over the dragon head that stuck out of my tank top on my chest. He nodded. “You’re Brett Kavanaugh.”
I didn’t like it that strangers knew my name.
Before I could say anything, he added, “Jeff Coleman talks about you.”
Of course. Jeff. He hung with nefarious people; this didn’t surprise me. Then I realized: The roulette guy had said Jeff did his ink. Maybe Jeff had mentioned me to him as well, and he just recognized me from a description. Maybe that’s how he knew my name.
I began to feel a little silly.
Until I had another thought.
Why did the guy run, then? Why not just stick around and continue on our winning streak?
The pawnshop guy was looking at me expectantly.
“You didn’t by chance have some sort of… well… disturbance or something here this morning?” I asked.
“No. Should I have?”
This guy wasn’t any help. I stuffed the sketch back in my bag, said, “Thanks for your time,” and walked toward the door.
As I stepped outside, a man was walking quickly to the pickup truck parked next to my Mustang. I took another step, and he spotted me. We weren’t that far away from each other, and I recognized him.
It was the guy from the roulette table.