Every muscle in my body tensed up, and I could feel the veins pounding in my head.
“Brett, please listen. You have to trust me.”
I snorted. “Trust you. How am I supposed to do that? You set me up with a dead body that might be contaminated with some sort of poison; then you shoot at me and steal Trevor’s money. Did I leave anything out? Oh, right. You deposit Trevor’s money into Ace’s account so it looks like he’s some sort of criminal, and now the cops are after him, too. What exactly are you up to, Charlotte?” It dawned on me during this tirade that perhaps I should be nicer to reel her in, get some answers, and then turn her over to the police.
“What about Ace? What do you mean, I deposited money in his account?”
For a second, she fooled me. It really sounded like maybe she didn’t know what I was talking about.
“Thirty thousand dollars. In Ace’s account. I know there was more money than that in Trevor’s apartment. Did you keep the rest? Are you heading for the Cayman Islands or something?” I couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice. Not that I was trying very hard.
“Thirty-” She cleared her throat. “Brett, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Yes, I was at Trevor’s yesterday afternoon.”
“Why did you shoot at me and Jeff Coleman?”
“So you were flying off balconies like there was no tomorrow just for giggles?”
“You have to believe me. I wasn’t the only one there. I heard someone come in and I went out on the balcony and hid behind the curtain. I didn’t see who it was, but when I heard that first gunshot, I figured I should get out of there.”
“Why don’t you tell the cops?”
“You told them I was there, didn’t you?”
“They know, yes.” I paused, then, “I know the police are investigating you. It would be better to turn yourself in.”
“Investigating me?” Incredulity laced her voice. “Listen, I’ll set things straight with Ace. No worries.” She paused a second, then added, “Oh, by the way, I’m feeling okay.”
She hung up as a tinge of guilt tickled me between the shoulder blades because I hadn’t asked how she was.
I stared at the phone and after a second hit star sixty-nine. The operator told me the number I was trying to reach was restricted. We didn’t have caller ID on our landline. Tim had issues with that feature. I now had more ammunition to argue the case.
I dialed Tim’s cell number.
“Thanks for my stuff,” I said when he answered.
“Can’t talk, Brett.”
“Thought maybe you would want to know I just talked to Charlotte. She called me.”
Silence for a second, then, “What did she say?”
“Said I have to trust her. That someone else was shooting at me and Jeff. That she didn’t put that money in Ace’s account.”
A second passed, then, “I’ll have to get back to you, Brett, okay? I’m in the middle of something.” And he hung up.
I stared at the phone. If I had insecurity issues, getting hung up on three times in five minutes might push me over the edge. But I wasn’t going to take it personally. Charlotte was on the lam, and my brother had a demanding job. Jeff-well, Jeff was Jeff.
Speaking of whom, I had to get to the shop. I looked out the window, but there was no sign of him yet. I told myself it would take him longer than that to get here.
I found an old messenger bag on a hook in my closet and tossed all my stuff inside. As I passed the mirror, I noticed that I’d spilled some coffee on my tank top. I pulled it over my head, threw it in the laundry basket, and found a hot pink, tight, stretchy T in my drawer. I needed something cheery, so I put it on. It hung to my hips and clashed nicely with the dark skinny jeans, a different pair from yesterday.
A honk made me grab the bag and dash out the front door, making sure it was locked before climbing into the backseat of the gold Pontiac. Trevor’s laptop was right where I’d left it.
“Hey, thanks for this, Jeff,” I said, then leaned forward and patted Sylvia on the shoulder. “Hey, Sylvia.”
She wore a bright yellow latex bathing cap with little daisies all over it. A peek over the front seat showed me that she was wearing a matching terry-cloth housecoat and flip-flops. Even her feet were inked. Beautiful red roses were entwined with leafy greens. She would look spectacular in her bathing suit. And probably raised a few eyebrows.
“We have to stop off for my car,” Sylvia explained. “Someone”-she looked at Jeff-“left it in some parking lot all night.”
“We’re going back to Trevor’s?” I asked Jeff. “Can you drop me first?”
“And miss checking out the scene of the crime? Kavanaugh, I’m disappointed in you.” He didn’t look at me, but I could see the corner of the smile in his profile.
I sighed and leaned back in the seat. When he put it that way, I couldn’t really back out. “Sure, fine. But let’s make it quick, okay?” I reached into my bag and took out my phone, punching in the number for the shop.
“The Painted Lady.”
“Hey, Bits, it’s me.”
“How are you?”
“Spent most of the night at the police station.”
“Ace is there now.”
“I was afraid of that.” I told her about Charlotte at Trevor’s apartment and the money and how the police thought she might have made a deposit in Ace’s bank account but she was denying it. As I spoke, I saw Jeff sneaking looks at me in the rearview mirror. Sylvia bobbed her head to a tune only she could hear. Literally. She had earbuds in her ears and was flipping through songs on a bright pink iPod that matched my shirt.
“I’m not sure who to believe anymore,” Bitsy said when I finished.
Her and me both.
“I assume you’re home today,” Bitsy said.
“No, I’ll be in, maybe in about an hour or so. Jeff Coleman’s taking me to my car, but we’ve got a stop to make first.”
Just as I said that, we passed the access road that led back to Windsor Palms, the high-rise condominium where my Mustang was still parked. Surprisingly, a chill slid down my spine. Maybe it was a good thing it would be the last stop. I must have underestimated the degree of my freaked-out-ness from the day before.
When I hung up after talking to Bitsy, I spotted Jeff’s eyes in the mirror.
“So no one told you what they’re investigating Charlotte for?” he asked.
“I’ve got some friends I could call. Make inquiries. See what I can find out.”
I frowned. Jeff Coleman had “friends.” That was interesting. But then I remembered: He’d been in the military. Maybe he was onto something.
“Sure,” I said, slipping the laptop into my messenger bag.
We didn’t say anything more; I stared at Sylvia’s bathing cap and wondered if all the decorations would keep her from moving well through the water. I’d never seen her at the pool; I would’ve remembered that cap even if I hadn’t known her.
The sun was bright, blasting through the car windows as we turned into the parking lot at Trevor’s. The Gremlin sat squat with two empty spaces around it. Every other spot was taken. No one probably wanted to park too close to it; it might have something that was catching. Like the rust that was creeping along the frame.
Jeff eased the Pontiac next to the Gremlin, and Sylvia opened her door to get out. But as she swung her body around, Jeff put his arm across her chest.
“No, you’re not driving it,” he said, and with his other hand he tossed the keys back into my lap. “She is.”
I frowned, picking up the keys. “What?”
Jeff was cocking his head at Sylvia and shaking it at the same time. I got it. He didn’t want her to drive. I’d wondered whether Sylvia had started a decline into dementia, but Jeff put the kibosh on that.
“You don’t have your license with you,” Jeff admonished her. “You can’t drive in that silly outfit. You’ll get stopped by the cops.”
“Then it’ll all be in the family, won’t it?” Sylvia asked, still attempting to get out, but Jeff continued to hold on to her.
“Kavanaugh, get out,” he said. “I’ll meet you back at my shop, and then I’ll take you to your car.”
I opened the door and climbed out. Sylvia was still arguing with Jeff, but then I heard, “You better treat that car nice.” I assumed that was for me. The door slammed shut, and Jeff gave me a little finger wave as he backed out and the Pontiac moved away.
I stood next to the Gremlin, and I felt another shiver. Twice in one day. Go figure. Getting shot at here wasn’t giving me the best karma.
I looked up at Trevor’s apartment on the second floor. A band of yellow crime-scene tape had been slung across the door.
But it was broken. Two pieces of tape hung down on either side like limp ponytails.
The door was open. And someone was coming out.