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Chapter 18

My heart jumped into my throat. Accidents happen?

Whats that supposed to mean?

Ive seen my share of crazy, Kavanaugh, and I think you better be on the lookout. I dont think hes playing with a full deck.

Considering the tattoo on Rusty Abbotts arm, Jeff Coleman was taking liberties with his puns.

You really didnt tell him anything?

Bitsy was openly listening to my conversation, and I waved my hand in front of her face and turned my back to her. She walked around me to go to the staff room and stuck her tongue out at me. I stuck mine out in return. We were like a couple of third graders.

Jeff was talking. All I said was if he wanted to talk to you, he could find you at your shop-that was public information-but he said that wasnt the plan.

What does that mean?

Thats what I asked. He wouldnt say any more than that, but Id watch your back, Kavanaugh.

I was quiet a second, digesting this information.

Do you want me to come over there, follow you to your house, make sure you get there okay? Jeffs voice was unnaturally soft, and the fact that he was offering made me take this a lot more seriously. He must really think the guy was a nut and could cause me some sort of trouble.

Accidents happen.

I heard Joels and Aces tattoo machines whirring in harmony in their rooms.

No, Jeff. Thanks, I really appreciate it, but I can have Joel or Ace do that. You dont have to leave your shop and come down here.

Wouldnt be a problem, Kavanaugh.

I thought about Jeff Coleman, how he called me only by my last name, like he was some sort of tough guy, and how he always made cracks about my upscale shop.

Thanks, Jeff, really, I said, hoping he could hear the gratitude in my voice.

I could hear a smile in his. You know, Kavanaugh, I think Im growing on you.

He didnt give me a chance to respond. I heard the dial tone and hung up the phone, pondering what hed said. Not about him growing on me-the jury was still out on that one-but about Rusty Abbott. What was his game? Even though he told Jeff that meeting up with me was just a coincidence, in a completely paranoid moment, I wondered whether hed actually set me up. If he were the champagne shooter from last night, maybe he was following me around to make sure that I couldnt identify him.

I was being totally irrational.

Or was I?

I was so deep in thought that when Aces client came up behind me, I jumped.

You scared me, I said, holding my hand to my chest to see if I could make it stop thumping so hard.

Yeah, sorry, he said with a lopsided grin.

Bitsy had come back and was taking his credit card. I wandered over to Aces room, where he was cleaning up his inks. He looked up when I came in and sat on his client chair.

Hey, Brett, he said casually, as if it were like any other day.

Wheres Charlotte?

He stopped fiddling with the inkpots and shrugged. She called some friend who came and picked her up at my place. I dont know who he was-he stayed in the car-but she said shed be okay.

Youre sure about that?

Shes a big girl, Brett.

Did she get my message about Trevor?

Thats why I made her call someone. I had to be back here, and I didnt want her to be alone. She was pretty broken up about it.

But not enough to come out of hiding.

He didnt say anything.

Whats going on? Why is she in hiding? Was it that guy at the pawnshop? Has he threatened her? Is it an old boyfriend? Is that who shes hiding from? I couldnt stop the questions once they started coming out.

He bit his lip and shrugged. She hasnt really told me anything, except that its not what it seems. Said I just have to trust her. So thats what Im doing.

Not what it seems? Thats pretty evasive. She has to talk to the police.

Ace shook his head. No cops. Shes pretty adamant about that. Says itll all come out eventually, and she wants it on her terms.

What does that mean?

He sighed. Im not totally sure, Brett. Believe me, I tried to get her to go to the cops. Tell them what really happened this morning at that pawnshop. But she wont. I cant force her.

What about Tim?

He gave a short snort. Hes the cops, Brett. No cops.

Should I talk to him for her?

He went back to putting away the inks. Whatever you want.

When did you and Charlotte get so chummy? I asked.

I could see only the side of his face, but the smile was obvious. It was as if someone hit me over the head; otherwise, I would never have figured it out.

Youre dating her, arent you? Why are you keeping it secret?

He shrugged and looked back at me. We didnt want anyone to know. The whole office romance thing is so clich'ed. He made little quote marks with his fingers as he spoke.

I could understand that. Listen, then, you really do need to convince her that going to the cops is the best thing. If she needs some sort of protection, then its for her own good.

I think she knows what shes doing.

Does she? I asked. Do you? You could be charged with obstruction for hiding her. I was repeating what DeBurra had said to me, and I didnt catch myself in time to stop.

Dont pull that cop talk on me, Brett. I know what Im doing, too. And not for nothing, but when shes ready to tell me whats going on, shell tell me. Im being patient with her. Im not going to bug her about it. He really turned his back on me now, dismissing me.

It felt like I had a hundred-pound weight on my chest. I was just trying to do the right thing and help the girl. Sister Mary Eucharista had taught me well. But she didnt tell me how to do the right thing when no one else was cooperating.

Joel agreed to follow me home to make sure I got there okay. Ace and I didnt talk for the rest of the night, and I let Bitsy go early because she had a date.

I had a million things swirling around in my head: Rusty Abbott warning me about accidents, the toothless guy at Pawned, Charlotte and Ace and their discreet romance, Trevors untimely demise, Dr. Colin Bixby. The latter was the most pleasant place for my thoughts to hang their hat, but even he got pushed aside when I flashed back on that sketch of Wesley Lambert. What role did he have?

My cell phone rang. I had it hooked up to my hands-free device.

Want to stop for a bite? Joels voice came through loudly.

I just want to get home.

You wouldnt know that by the way youre driving.

So I went the speed limit. Sue me.

You know, if anyone wanted to follow you, it would be so easy, Joel continued.

You must be hungry. Youre grumpy.

Come on, stop for something. Theres a little Mexican place not far off the exit.

I knew it. And the power of suggestion had my stomach growling. The noodles were a few hours ago. Sure, fine.

Nachos, he said, drawing the word out.

I was also thinking margaritas. That would be a nice way to top off the day. So I mentioned it.

Way too many calories, Joel said. Ill go through a weeks worth of points.

And nachos are fat free? Give me a break.

I pulled off the highway and turned off the exit.

Its just up there, Joel said when the strip mall came into view.

I see it.

I ended the call and threw the hands-free unit on the passenger seat as I pulled into the parking lot. The lights were still on, the neon advertising Corona beer.

But as I was about to get out, a glance in the sideview mirror made me freeze.

Detective Frank DeBurra was walking up to my door.

I lowered the window, waiting for DeBurra like he was going to ask for my license and registration. Joel had already gone inside, not noticing I wasnt behind him.

Some bodyguard he turned out to be.

Miss Kavanaugh, can you get out of the car? DeBurras voice was low, measured.

What, was I speeding or something? Am I under arrest? I should know better than to question a cop. It wasnt as if I didnt know how to behave with one. But DeBurra got my hackles up.

Just get out of the car, please. His tone was laced with exasperation.

I had that effect on some people.

I opened the door and climbed out, smoothing my skirt, pulling down on my tank top, which had started to ride up over my abdomen.

Are you following me? I asked. If Id known that, I wouldnt have asked Joel to come along. DeBurra wouldve been my shield against Rusty Abbott.

Have you heard from Miss Sampson?

That old song and dance. Shouldve known.

Im going in for some nachos now. I havent seen Charlotte all day. I have no idea where she is. None of what I said was a lie.

Her friend Trevor McKay is dead. It sounded even more final the way he said it.

I know, I said.

I know you know. You were at the hospital. You spoke to Dr. Bixby.

I shifted a little. Yeah. I wanted to see how Trevor was. But he was dead before I got there. I added that last part in case he thought I had something to do with Trevors demise.

And you went to two pawnshops.

I tried to keep my anger out of my voice. Have you been following me all day?

Whats your relationship with Jeff Coleman?

This had gone on far enough.

Id love to stand here and play This Is Your Life, Detective, but my friend is in the restaurant and I really want a margarita right now. Unless youre going to charge me with something, then Im going inside. I started walking even as I spoke.

DeBurra fell into step beside me. I can arrest you-for obstruction. But I wont.

Dont do me any favors, I said, the attitude slipping out because I was unable to stop it.

I think youve had contact with Charlotte Sampson today. And I think youre keeping it from me.

I stopped short and whirled around to face him. You know, Charlottes the one who was threatened. Its not as if she committed a crime or anything. You should be trying to find the guy who threatened her, not acting as if an innocent girl was guilty of something.

As I spoke, an expression crossed his face that I couldnt read. I began to wonder whether she was guilty of something, regardless of what that pawnshop guy said. That would explain why she was hiding, why DeBurra was going after her like a dog after a bone.

DeBurra gave a short snort. So you dont know where she is, do you?

I sighed. No, I really dont. Im telling the truth. I did talk to her, but she wont say where she is. Im doing my best.

Miss Kavanaugh, if you were doing your best, Charlotte Sampson would be turning herself in.

I rolled my eyes. Fine. But theres just so much I can do.

Its for her own good, DeBurra said.

Like I dont know that.

No, really, he said, his voice lower now, like he was going to tell me a secret.

I leaned forward slightly to hear him better.

Charlotte Sampson got mixed up with the wrong people. Wesley Lambert, for one. And her life may be in danger.

Chapter 17 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 19