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Chapter 2

Someone finally shut off the strobe when the cops showed up, and replaced the dim lights with bright ones that accentuated the weariness of the night: spilled booze, smudged martini glasses, a couple of shoeless heels. Even the hunky background dancers looked a bit worse for the wear. And while the champagne was spilled only halfway through the show, there had been enough cocktails beforehand to get a third world country drunk.

I didnt see my brother with the two uniforms whod escorted the paramedics onstage to tend to Britney. Then again, it didnt seem logical that a detective would be sent here. While it was clear to me that the guy who shot the cork at Britney was aiming for her, she may have gotten only a bump on the back of the head when she fell.

But I remembered that actress whod had what everyone initially thought was a minor bump on the head, too. She died just hours later. Maybe I should tell those uniformed cops that the cork was shot on purpose. I could at least give them a description of the tattoo, even though I hadnt seen the guys face.

I felt something tug on my foot as I started toward them. I glanced down. My shoe was stuck to some spirit gum and sporting a curly blond wig that had somehow lost its drag queen.

You know youre dragging something that looks like a dead cat, dont you? Joel asked.

I was one step ahead of him. I leaned against his arm and lifted my foot, pulling the wig off my shoe with a yank. I waved it in front of him, accidentally hitting Bitsy with it. I hadnt seen her come around the other side of him.

She made a face at me and brushed at the wig. Whered you get that?

I tossed it on one of the large speakers next to the stage, where male dancers had been performing as Britney lipsynched. I saw him, I said simply.

Bitsy looked at me as if I had three heads. What?

I saw the guy with the champagne. The cork-it hit her. He aimed it at her.

Joel tugged my arm. You have to tell them. He indicated the cops. So even Joel thought it was a good idea.

We made our way over to the stage. Joel is good in a crowd. He weighs about three hundred pounds and few people can get past him. Bitsy, however, was again missing.

As we approached, I did see a detective, after all, near the edge of the stage. I could tell he was a detective because of the cheap-looking green sport jacket and gray Dockers frayed at the bottoms. His hair was cropped short and his ears stuck out, giving him the appearance of an impish Santas elf. And he had that look about him. That cop look. The one my dad had. The one my brother has.

Excuse me? I said loudly, trying to get his attention.

He didnt hear me.

Excuse me! I said more loudly.

He turned and looked right through me.

Excuse me! The third time is said to be a charm, but he hardly looked charmed. He frowned.


I saw the guy who hit her with the cork, I said.

He leaned over and whispered something to one of the uniforms before turning back to me, rolling his eyes and sighing. I didnt hear the sigh, but I could see his chest rise and fall. I thought maybe he should think about asking MissTique for a job. He obviously had a flair for the dramatic. I wondered what hed look like in a dress, then immediately tried to erase the image from my head. It wasnt pretty.

As he jumped down off the stage to join me and Joel-Bitsy had somehow scrambled up onstage and was talking to Charlotte now-I noticed that he was older than Id originally thought. Or maybe it was the lighting that showed off the wrinkles around his eyes and the sag of his jaw. I wondered what I looked like in this dreadful light.

Sister Mary Eucharista, my teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy School, wouldve said I shouldnt be so vain while Britney was being moved onto a gurney.

A gurney?

Are they taking her to the hospital? I thought she was okay.

The cop shrugged. Hit her head pretty hard on the floor. Paramedics want to make sure she doesnt have a concussion. He was distracted, checking out my tattoos. His eyes followed the Monet water lily garden up my arm to the dragon poking its head up through the low neckline of my silk blouse, which was sticking to me because it was wet from the champagne. Fortunately, it was black, so he couldnt see the rest of the dragon curling around my torso, meeting up with the tiger lily that slinked down from my breast to my hip. My jeans hid Napoleon riding his horse up the Alps on my right calf, the ink so new it still had a bubblegum pinkish hue, and my blouse also covered the Celtic cross on my upper back.

In a moment of solidarity, the cop moved his sleeve up to show a snake curled around his left arm just above his wrist.

Nice, I said politely, although it was probably flash, a stock tattoo. At The Painted Lady, we do only custom ink.

He grinned. So, what happened here? We cant get a real answer out of any of those fags.

My own smile disappeared. Theyre drag queens, I said coldly. Performers.

Yeah, whatever, he said, not seeming to notice it had gotten frosty in here. Whats your name?

Brett Kavanaugh. I watched him write it down in his little cop notebook, an eyebrow rising as he took a better look at me, not my tattoos this time.


You probably know my brother. Tim and I are carbon copies of each other, except he shaves and has freckles. Sort of natural ink as opposed to my self-imposed ink. A lot of people think were twins, with our red hair and thin frames, although hes got more muscles while Ive got more angles. At six feet, hes taller than I am by three inches, but most people dont notice because I dont shy away from wearing heels.

The cops expression changed slightly, the corners of his mouth tightening, and he nodded in that way people do when theyre just being polite. I wondered whether there was bad blood between him and Tim. Which reminded me

I didnt get your name.

He gave me a smirk. So, tell me what happened here.

Definitely bad blood.

I stood up a little straighter, forcing myself not to pay attention to my wet blouse. There was a guy standing next to the stage. He had a champagne bottle, Mo"et White Star, I think. He pointed it at Trevor and hit him with the cork.


You do know his name is Trevor McKay? I indicated the gurney, which was now being wheeled across the floor toward the door.

He blinked at me a couple of times, then asked, What did this guy look like?

I shook my head. I didnt see his features. He had a big gray hooded sweatshirt on, and baggy jeans.

Maybe it wasnt even a guy; maybe it was a woman.

No, it was a guy. He had his sleeves pushed up. Definitely mans arms.

But these guys-the cop waved his hand, indicating the stage-all look like women. Maybe it was a woman who looks like a guy.

I stared at him to see whether he was joking. He was dead serious.

No, it was a guy, I insisted. He had a tattoo, I added.

The pencil paused over the pad. What sort of tattoo?

A queen-of-hearts playing card. On his inner forearm. His right arm.

So you cant tell me anything else about this guy, but youre sure about the tattoo?

I own a tattoo shop. The Painted Lady.

The eyebrows went back up again, and his arms fell to his sides. At the Venetian?

He seemed to know it. Yeah, I said.

Pricey place.

I didnt know whether he was referring to the upscale shops that made up the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes or my custom tattoos.

You can get cheaper ink on Fremont.

Sure. I shouldve known. He was determined to take me down a notch. I had to ask Tim about this guy who wouldnt give me his name.

Theres no cork, he said curtly.

I frowned. What?

No one has seen the cork that you say hit him. Youre sure it was a cork?

No, a frog flew out of that bottle. I rolled my eyes at him, irritated that he was questioning everything I was telling him. As if I would lie.

No frogs, either, he said humorlessly as he stuffed the notebook in his jacket pocket. Do you have a card or something? In case I need to ask you more questions?

Maybe you can give me your card, I suggested.

I thought it might work. And for a second, he considered it. But then he grinned and said, I know where to find you, before heading back to the stage.

Chapter 1 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 3