Jeff Coleman turned around and lifted the cigarette to his lips. He took a drag, blew out the smoke, and said, “Took you long enough, Kavanaugh.”
The Mexican stamped out his cigarette on the concrete, nodded at me and Jeff, and went inside.
I walked over to Jeff, who’d started for the back door to Murder Ink.
“How did you know I was coming?”
“Did she tell you what was going on?”
“Said you needed some help. Why she thought of me, I don’t know.”
I knew. No one would think to come here, not Tim, not Frank DeBurra.
I was definitely giving that girl a raise.
“What’s going on?” Jeff asked, holding the door open for me.
As we went inside, I told him how Bitsy and I had escaped the hospital-and the police.
“And why did you need to escape?”
“Have you seen the news today?” With all the camera crews outside the emergency room, it must be all over TV.
“I don’t exactly have time to be watching Oprah. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” He shoved a chair on wheels in my direction, and I stopped it with my foot and sat down. He settled into a worn black leather chair and stuck his feet up on the desk, on top of a pile of stencils.
I started at the beginning and told him the whole thing.
When I was done, his mouth was hanging open.
“You do manage to get yourself into all sorts of predicaments, Kavanaugh.”
“It wasn’t my fault. Charlotte-”
“Got you into trouble,” he finished for me. “That girl is trouble. Have you stopped to consider that maybe she’s part of all this?”
I frowned. “No.”
“That’s because you’re way too trusting, Kavanaugh. The world hasn’t chewed you up and spit you out yet.”
“Oh, is that why you look the way you do? Because you’ve been spit out?”
He stared at me a second, and then chuckled. “You really need to lighten up.”
“I really need to find Charlotte and make sure she’s okay.”
“Don’t you think the cops are out looking for her? Why would you be able to find her first?”
I heard a buzzer in the distance.
Jeff looked up at a clock on the wall. “That’s my client.” He got up and shoved the stencils around, grabbing one.
“So you’re just going to leave me back here?” I asked.
He shrugged. “You can stay or you can go.” He reached into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a set of keys. “If you promise to drive safe, you can borrow my car.” He tossed me the keys.
I reached out and caught them with my left hand.
He grinned. “Good catch. Car’s in back. Gold Pontiac.” He started for the front of the shop, then paused, turning back for a second. “Be careful, Kavanaugh.”
“Why are you being so nice?”
“Because maybe I’d like to think that the girl’s not guilty, either. And no cracks about me having a heart or anything.”
He disappeared through the sixties-style colored beads in the doorway.
I eyed the keys in my hand. He didn’t have to know that I didn’t have my driver’s license on me. Did he?
I shoved the back door open and found his car just up past the Chinese restaurant.
“Gold” was an understatement. It was as bright as a new penny. I certainly wouldn’t be undercover in this. But who would think to look for me in a gold Pontiac anyway? As I climbed into the driver’s seat, I started to feel a little invincible.
But just a little.
The car smelled like cigarettes, and I had a sneaking suspicion that I would, too, once I emerged. The ashtray was overflowing with butts, and I pulled it out and took it over to the Dumpster, where I emptied it.
I started the car and pondered where I should go. Tim would argue that I should go back to the hospital, answer DeBurra’s questions, and apologize for running out on Dr. Colin Bixby. That would be the right thing to do.
Instead, I turned north on Las Vegas Boulevard.
If Charlotte wasn’t at Ace’s, like yesterday, and she probably wasn’t home because the police were sitting on top of her apartment, then where would she go?
She might be at Trevor’s.
I didn’t know where Trevor lived, but I did know where Chez Tango was, and maybe Kyle was there. He might know where Trevor’s place was.
I continued along Las Vegas Boulevard, crossing over Fremont Street. The neon still flashed in the daytime, luring the tourists and the gamblers. It was that shiny object that tantalized and tempted. The city had turned this portion of Fremont into a pedestrian walkway, like it was some sort of family attraction. As if poker and slots and strip shows were child’s play.
I left Fremont Street behind and continued a couple of blocks until I turned into Chez Tango’s parking lot.
It was a little jarring to see Chez Tango in the bright light of day. It was a short, squat, stucco building that spread along half a block. At night, white and gold Christmas lights twinkled along the outline of the roof and around the entrance, making it festive and almost magical. Now the string of lights hung slackly, like an old woman’s breasts.
I pulled in next to an old pickup truck.
I’d seen that truck before.
Outside Cash & Carry.
I gripped the steering wheel. Rusty Abbott had gotten into that pickup yesterday. As he ran from me for the second time.
I thought about what Jeff Coleman had said, that Rusty Abbott said accidents happen.
Would he run again if I approached him here?
I was tired of the game, but just as I figured I had nothing to lose, I thought about how it might be better to meet up with him in a public place. Certainly not a mostly deserted Chez Tango. My idea about going inside quickly disintegrated. I wasn’t going to be that stupid.
The sound of a car pulling into the lot startled me. It was a dusty blue Honda CRV, and it came to a stop on the other side of the pickup, out of my line of sight.
I heard a door slam; then a figure walked around the front of the pickup.
Kyle Albrecht, aka MissTique.
Ah, a friendly face.
I got out of the car. “Hey, Kyle,” I said.
When he saw who I was, he smiled. “Brett, what are you doing here?” Then the smile disappeared and he said somberly, “Awful about Trevor, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I’m so sorry.”
“Is that why you’re here? About Trevor?” he asked, his curiosity obvious.
“Sort of.” I glanced at the pickup. “Do you know the guy who owns this truck?”
Kyle studied the truck, then shook his head. “No. Should I?”
“No, guess not.” I paused. “I’m actually looking for Charlotte. She could be in trouble.”
Concern flooded Kyle’s face. “What’s wrong?”
I tried to make light of it. “Some police detective thinks she might be in some sort of danger.” I attempted a laugh, but it came out a little twittery and not all too human. “This morning she called me, said she needed my help. Asked me to meet her at a condo off the Strip. When I got there, Wesley Lambert was dead. Ricin poisoning. She was gone already, but I know she was there earlier. She might be sick.” I figured I would play on his sympathy.
But he was still wrapping his head around the whole story and didn’t seem to be able to concentrate on one thing, until: “Wesley Lambert? You’re kidding, right?”
“Not kidding, Kyle.”
“And Charlotte might be sick? How?”
“Just by inhaling the ricin. It was spilled all over.”
He gave me a long look. “You don’t think she killed him or anything, do you?”
Bitsy had asked the same thing, and I gave him the same answer I gave her, although admittedly I couldn’t help wondering the same thing. “No.”
“How do you know she was at Wesley’s?”
I told him about the pink hoodie, which reminded me…
“Did you ever find out who owned that gray sweatshirt we found at the club the other night?”
Kyle nodded absently. “Yeah, it was Stephan’s. Where do you think she went?”
“I thought maybe she might go to Trevor’s place to hang low, but I don’t know where Trevor lives.”
Kyle cocked his head at the Pontiac. “That your ride?”
I hated to admit it and nodded reluctantly.
He walked around to the passenger side. “Let’s go.”