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Chapter 38

I couldnt breathe. Thirty thousand dollars? Ace? He could barely break a thousand on one of those paintings every couple months. And while he made a good living in my shop, he didnt make that kind of money.

Then I had a flashback. Charlotte was wearing a backpack when shed jumped off that balcony. Shed been in Trevors apartment. Where there was about fifty thousand dollars hidden in Trevors boots.

But I hadnt told DeBurra Id been there earlier. They didnt know I knew about the money in the boots.

Id already been at the station house for three hours. If I suddenly came clean, I was looking at an all-nighter.

But if I didnt tell them and they found out later that I knew, Id be in deep crap. DeBurra I could handle, but I wasnt so sure about Tim.

I sighed. I was at Trevor McKays earlier today.

They looked at me like I had three heads.

We know that, Brett, Tim said softly.

I shook my head. No, I was there earlier, with Kyle Albrecht. MissTique. He had a key; we went over there to see if Charlotte was there. She wasnt, but we found money. A lot of money. In Trevors boots. In the bedroom. I paused for a second. Actually, Kyle found the money. But we left it there. We didnt take any of it.

DeBurra looked like he was going to explode.

I waited for it.

He did not disappoint.

Did you go back there for the money? he asked, his face just inches from mine. I could smell burger and onions on his breath.


Why did you go back, then?

I did not go for the money. But Jeff Coleman did. I couldnt rat him out, though, because hed helped me, what with lending me his car and not getting too upset-at least outwardly-when the tires got slashed on my watch.

I wanted to make sure Charlotte hadnt gone there after wed left, I said, hoping hed believe me. Ive been worried about her all day. She couldve gotten sick in that condo. She wasnt decontaminated like the rest of us. I hoped I wasnt laying it on too thick.

He stood up straight and stepped back, studying my face. I willed myself to stare back even though I wanted to look away, put my head back down on the table, and go to sleep again.

Finally, after what seemed like hours but was just seconds, he nodded. Okay. But you have to tell me everything about that visit to the apartment.

Tim nodded at me, urging me to continue.

I sighed. I knew Id be stuck here if I told. I might as well just suck it up and tell him everything as quickly as I could. Maybe I could go home and get a couple hours sleep at some point.

Since he already knew about Bitsy rescuing me from the hospital-that conversation lasted much longer than Id liked-I started with Jeff Colemans car and going to Chez Tango and meeting up with Kyle. It didnt take me long to run through what had happened.

When I was done, I hoped that would be the end of it.

Then DeBurra held up his hand.

Okay, so you borrowed Colemans car. Where is it now?

Oops. Left that part out.

When I brought Kyle back to the club, I went in to use the phone, and when I came back out, the tires were slashed. So it was towed to a garage.

All the tires were slashed?

I nodded.

Did you find that unusual? He was baiting me.

I took it. Yes. I did find that unusual, Detective. The sarcasm dripped off my words. I figured someone didnt want me poking around.

And then when you went back to Trevor McKays place, you got shot at. Youd just been there and the tires were slashed. Is there a connection?

How should I know? Youre the detective. Is there a connection? I had stood up and was shaking with anger and exhaustion. I was one breath away from tears. There it was. The one breath. And there were the waterworks.

My whole body heaved with sobs, but I didnt take my eyes off DeBurras face. It unnerved him. He began to shift from foot to foot; his eyes skipped over to the door as if willing someone to save him.

And thats exactly what Tim did by speaking up at just that very moment.

I think thats enough, he told DeBurra sternly. Im taking her home. If you want to ask her more questions in the morning, I can bring her back. But she needs some sleep. He put his arm around me, which only made me cry harder. I couldnt stop once Id started.

Which is why DeBurra let us leave.

I went into the ladies room and managed to calm down a little, throwing some cold water on my face and running wet hands through my hair. It was a little spikier that way, slicked back over my ears, which were still naked. I fingered them absently, wondering whether I should leave them that way for a while. No. Id find replacements in my jewelry box at home.

When I emerged, not feeling totally refreshed but at least no longer sobbing, Tim and I went out to his Jeep in the parking lot without saying anything to each other. I was tired of talking, anyway.

The desert air was still, and it had cooled a bit. If I figured right, it was about eight.

What about Jeff Coleman? Is he still in there? I asked, cocking my head toward the building as we climbed into the Jeep.

DeBurra took his statement and let him go after about an hour.

Thats good.

I had a little chat with him. You know, Brett, hes not a bad guy. Why dont you like him?

I was glad the sun was going down, so my face was in a shadow. I felt the blush crawl up my neck as I remembered Jeff grabbing me and covering me with his body when the gunshots rang out.

I shrugged. Yeah, hes not so bad after all, I guess.

He thinks pretty highly of you.

Really? I was too tired to think about it.

Do you think Ace is involved in whatever it is Charlottes up to? Tim asked. Off the record.

No. And until I saw her today jumping off that balcony, I didnt really want to think she was doing anything wrong, either. But now Im not so sure.

Did you do a background check on her when you hired her?

I stared at him. No. Should I have? Shes just a trainee.

Brett, you should background check everyone you hire, even a trainee.

Something about his tone made me pause. You know something, dont you?

He kept his eyes on the road, flexed his fingers on the steering wheel.

What is it, Tim? Whats in her background?

I cant say.

Yeah, but youre the one who said this was all off the record. So you didnt really tell me, okay?

The Jeep slowed to a stop at a light on the Strip. The Venetian was just to our left in all its Renaissance Italy glory. It looked exactly like the Doges Palace, with a sign for Madame Tussauds wax museum stuck like a postage stamp at the end of a ramp. I stared at it for a long second before whispering, Tim? Please tell me about Charlotte.

The light changed and he gunned the accelerator, causing the Jeep to lurch forward.

I didnt tell you.

I know.

He waited until we were sitting at the next light.

Metro Homeland Securitys been watching Charlotte Sampson since last year.

Chapter 37 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 39