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Chapter 43

Leigh Holmes wasnt about to let me get away, even though I took another step. She was in my face again with that microphone.

We understand an employee of yours was involved with the ricin poisoning at the Windsor Palms, she said.

That stopped me. I stared at her for a long second. How did she find out about Charlotte?

I still have no comment, I insisted.

But she was onto me. She knew that question had sparked something.

And the police are interrogating another one of your employees as we speak, she said, a hard edge in her voice.

When I didnt say anything, she added, So what sort of business are you running, Miss Kavanaugh?

Maybe you should sleep with my brother again to see if you can get answers to all these questions, I said loudly.

Under the five inches of caked-on makeup, I believe Leigh Holmes turned white. She waved her hand in front of the camera lens frantically, the microphone now drooping toward the ground by its cable.

While she was distracted, I glanced around and saw that Rusty Abbott was almost to the top of the incline. He must have followed me here from Trevors apartment. I wasnt interested in an up-close-and-personal encounter, so I scrambled through the crowd and got on the incline going back down. I caught Abbotts eye.

He pointed to the bottom of the incline. Wait for me, he mouthed as he moved his shirt to the side and I saw that gun again.

What, was he kidding?

I swiveled my head to see him start to stride up the incline, and when he got to the top, he turned around to come right back down again. He was gaining on me.

I pushed my way down the incline and caught purchase on the pavement at the bottom. I ran around the fountain and toward the entrance to the lobby of the Venetian.

I usually didnt go in this way. There was no need, since I could get to the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes through the parking garage around the back. After living in Vegas for two years, going on three, youd think that Id be used to the decadent, over-the-top opulence in the resort lobbies by now.

Everything dripped gold. I almost slipped on the shiny Italian tiles on the floor as I bounded through the palatial walkway. Flags advertising Phantom of the Opera-Id never seen the show; somehow watching a man sing with a plate on his face didnt appeal to me-fluttered in the air-conditioning just below the arched ceiling sporting Renaissance-style paintings in gold frames. Marble columns topped with gold stood sentry, flanking the walkway that led to the globe fountain, to which golden statues clung.

It was gold overload.

I turned and started to run through the casino, but a security guard appeared out of nowhere, stopping me with a raised hand.

Whats your hurry? he asked.

I glanced behind me. Someones following me, I said, my breath coming out in spurts. I didnt realize how hard Id been running.

The guard looked behind me. No one running but you.

I peered past the fountain to the marble columns. I didnt see Rusty Abbott. Maybe hed lost interest. I could only hope. I looked back to the guard and nodded. Okay, fine. I just have to get to the Grand Canal Shoppes.

He pointed to my left, and the escalators were there, ready to take me to my shop. I thanked him and power walked toward them, sneaking looks behind me as I went.

Still no sign of Abbott.

At the top of the escalators, I was in the Great Hall. Talk about over the top. More ceiling paintings, more elaborate theme park-like illusions of actually being in Venice. Without the stench of the canal, of course. Id been in Venice once, in July, and I thought Id landed in the middle of a sewage plant. I got over it, or probably just got used to it, as I wandered the streets and bridges.

I was doing the same thing here, skipping past the restaurants and shops. It was like being in Oz, but instead of a yellow brick road, there was a minicanal with gondolas filled with tourists.

As I walked, I pondered what it was Lester Fine thought I had. Did he know Id been to Trevors apartment? Did he know about the money? Did he think I took it?

I shook the thoughts away. How would Lester Fine know about Trevors money? No, it had to be something else. The queen-of-hearts pin, maybe? Rusty Abbott had the makeup case, so he most likely knew now that the pin had been removed. Could he think Id taken it?

I was circling the runway but had nowhere to land.

The Painted Lady was at the opposite end of the canal, squeezed in between Barneys New York and Jacks Gallery. Across the waterway was a Godiva chocolate place. I needed a little chocolate right about now, so I crossed over one of the footbridges and found myself pointing out various truffles that the kind girl put into a box for me. Armed with sugar, I scooted around the end of the canal and the line of people waiting their turn for a gondola ride and pushed open the door to my shop.

I took a deep breath as the door slowly closed behind me. Bitsy was sitting at the front desk and looked up at me expectantly. I handed her the box of chocolates.

Her grin was immediate.

Godiva! she exclaimed.

Joels head poked out of his door. Did you bring Godiva? he asked.

I nodded.

Bitsy had already opened the box and was popping a truffle in her mouth, mmming as she savored it. Joel came out of his room a few seconds later and bounced over to the desk, grabbing the box.

Do you have a client? I asked.

His mouth was already full of truffle. He nodded. Needed a break anyway, he said as chocolate smeared across his teeth.

I grabbed one because I knew they could be gone in seconds, and when the chocolate hit my tongue, I sighed again.

You should get poisoned more often, Joel said, taking three truffles back to his room with him.

Bitsy cocked her head toward his back. Hes off Weight Watchers. Said he gained five pounds and cant afford any more.

Too bad, I said.

Yeah.

We both knew hed join up again in about three or four months.

I had my back to the door, and when it opened, I jumped a little, but it wasnt Rusty Abbott. It was my client.

I was feeling almost normal again as I inked the pinup girl on Herbie Nelsons upper arm. She had unnaturally large breasts with the nipples peeking out of a low-cut shirt and legs that any showgirl would die for. Herbie wanted her to be a blonde, so she had a huge bouffant of yellow curls cascading over her shoulders. When Herbie flexed his biceps, the breasts got even larger. He loved it.

I wasnt so sure. This was old school, the kind of ink Jeff Coleman would do. I didnt do many like this-usually left it to Joel, who was better at it than me. But Herbie was a regular. Id already inked him five times, and hed fallen in love with the Japanese geisha that Id done just a few months back on his other arm. Granted, hed wanted a more scantily clad geisha, so the kimono was short and open in the front. Herbie liked sexy women on his person. I hated to say it, but it might be the closest he would ever get. Who was I to turn him away? Plus, he paid top dollar, and considering the economy, we needed as much money as we could get in the till at the end of the day.

The gloves were feeling a little clammy, and my hand started to cramp about an hour into Herbies ink. I lifted my foot off the pedal and the machine stopped. I looked at Herbies face, and he had tears running down his cheeks. Herbie always cried. I was used to it now.

A break? I asked, pulling off my gloves before he could answer.

Herbie nodded, and I handed him a box of tissues so he could clean himself up before round two.

I stepped out of the room. Bitsy was still at the front desk, going over the appointment book. She looked up when I came out. I walked over to her and noticed that the box of truffles was empty. I raised my eyebrows at her, and she chuckled.

Joel enjoyed them.

Where is he?

Hes got half an hour between clients. I think hes out getting something else to eat.

Figured. It was lunchtime. I hoped hed bring something back for me and Bitsy.

Oh, by the way, Bitsy added, giving me a sly smile I couldnt read. A few minutes ago someone came in and made an appointment. Hes going to be back in a couple hours to go over what he wants with you.

I nodded. Okay. I leaned over her shoulder and looked at the appointment book.

When I saw the name shed penciled in, I froze.

Colin Bixby.



Chapter 42 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 44



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