Charlotte? Working for Homeland Security? “What’s she doing for them?”
“She’s been getting them information about that Lambert guy, the one you found dead in that condo.”
“It’s the ricin, right?”
“He’s involved with some sort of militia out in the desert.”
So it wasn’t drugs. It really was terrorism.
Jeff was still talking. “There was something about Lester Fine, too, but they got all squirrelly, Kavanaugh. Wouldn’t tell me more than that, and they were all nervous about telling me what they did.”
“Why did they, then?”
“Why did they what?”
I could hear a low chuckle. “Well, if you really want to know, one guy doesn’t owe me money anymore, and I’ve got a date for Saturday night.”
I didn’t want to know about Jeff’s social life. “Are they really looking for her, or is that all a ruse, too?”
“That’s all I know, Kavanaugh. The rest is up to you.” He hung up.
I sat, staring at my phone for a few seconds.
Joel’s voice made me jump. I turned to see him coming into the staff room.
“Are you aware you’ve got a hunky guy in your room?”
I nodded. “Yeah, and I’ve got to get this stencil done.” But my hands were shaking and I dropped my sketchpad. Joel leaned down, picked it up, and handed it to me.
I told him what Jeff Coleman had said about Charlotte working for Homeland Security.
My thoughts were more mixed up than clothes in a dryer. And I still had Colin Bixby to deal with. All of a sudden, he was the last thing on my priority list. But I couldn’t let him down now. It wouldn’t take but an hour.
“Why would she work undercover?” Joel was asking. “Is she undercover here? I mean, she just started working for us a couple months ago. Do you think she’s investigating one of us?”
I hadn’t thought of it like that. Jeff said his people told him it was Lambert. Since he was dead, though, why was she still hiding out?
There were more questions than answers as far as Charlotte Sampson was concerned.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” I told Joel truthfully as I put the drawing into the thermal fax machine and watched the stencil emerge. I grabbed it and went back to my room.
Bixby flashed a nervous grin at me. “I thought you forgot about me.”
“How could I forget about you?” I asked, forcing myself to flirt even though my thoughts were miles away. I told him to take his shirt off as I lowered the back of the chair so he would be more lying down than sitting up. I washed the spot where he wanted the ink and then carefully shaved it. He was watching everything like it was on the Discovery Channel.
Before putting the stencil on the spot, I rubbed a little glycerin-based deodorant on it.
“What’s that for?” he asked.
“You’ll see,” I said, carefully pressing the stencil on his skin and then peeling it back to show the Celtic knot design.
He grinned. “Is that it?”
I turned in my chair to the counter and put a new needle into the machine and dipped it in black ink. I wheeled back toward him and let the machine hover a second. “I assume you didn’t want any color.”
There was no color in his face as he stared at the machine. He nodded, and I pressed the foot pedal. The soft whir of the machine was hypnotizing-for me, because it pushed everything out of my head except this tattoo; for Bixby, I wasn’t so sure. I moved the machine closer.
“It’s going to feel like bee stings,” I warned.
He closed his eyes. “I’m ready.”
He didn’t cry, and after a few minutes, he was even watching me draw.
“I’m glad you’re my first,” he said when I was almost done. He hadn’t spoken at all until then, and his voice knocked me out of my zone.
I smiled. “I will tell you that people who get one tattoo usually end up getting at least one more.”
“Maybe I’ll be back.” He cocked his head toward my arm. “Although I’m not sure I’d get anything like that.”
“You could bond with the ER patients,” I quipped, putting the finishing touches on the tattoo. I took my foot off the pedal and surveyed my work. It was a simple design, but classic.
“Want to look?” I asked. “There’s a big mirror in the back, on the wall next to the couch.”
Colin Bixby stood up, a little wobbly at first; then he flashed me that sexy grin as he left the room. I put the tattoo machine on the counter and started to gather the instructions for the tattoo’s care.
When he came back, he was still smiling, so I figured he liked it. I covered the tattoo, told him to keep it like that just for a little while, then instructed him to take the wrapping off to let it heal, washing it with liquid antibacterial soap and applying an antibiotic ointment. After a few days, he could switch to using an unscented moisturizer.
“It’ll be pink for a while, like bubble gum,” I said, “and it’ll peel like sunburn. Then it’ll be fine.”
He buttoned his shirt, and I saw his fingers shaking a little.
“Has the Xanax worn off?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’m just a little nervous about what I’m going to do next.”
“And what’s that?” I asked absently. My thoughts were turning back to Charlotte and what I’d be doing next.
But instead of answering, he grabbed me around the waist and pulled me to him. His lips found mine, and I couldn’t breathe, but in a good way. He tasted like wintergreen Tic Tacs.
When we finally came up for air, we grinned stupidly at each other.
“I guess you don’t think I’m contaminated after all.”
I couldn’t believe I said something so stupid.
But he didn’t seem to notice. “I’ll call you.” He started out the door, but then stopped and turned. He held his hand out.
“I don’t know what to do with this. Kyle came and got Trevor’s clothes, but he wouldn’t take this.” He opened his hand, and sitting in the center of his palm was the queen-of-hearts brooch.
I stared at it.
“Isn’t there some sort of hospital procedure for stuff like that?” I asked.
“We keep things for the next of kin, but Trevor didn’t have family, apparently. That’s why Kyle took over. But he didn’t want to take this. Said it was bad karma or something.”
No kidding. Wesley Lambert was looking for this pin, and the next thing we knew, Trevor was dead.
I reached over and took the brooch from Bixby, turning it over in my hand. Still seemed as garish as the first time I’d seen it. I held it back out for him, but he shook his head.
“How about if you give it to your brother for me? I want the police to have this. I don’t really want to leave it around the hospital. It might get lost or stolen.”
I thought about how the pin had been reported stolen already. It probably should be in police hands. They’d most likely give it back to Lester Fine.
Something Jeff had said picked at my brain. Lester Fine’s name came up in conjunction with the investigation into Wesley Lambert. Lambert had been poking around for the brooch. There had to be a link there somewhere. I could give the brooch to Tim and tell him what I’d found out.
I nodded. “Sure. I’ll give it to Tim.” I put it in my jeans pocket.
He flashed me that smile again, the one that made me a little weak in the knees. I almost told him the ink was on the house, but Bitsy wouldn’t be happy about that. I consoled myself by not accompanying him to the front desk where the money would change hands, or at least the credit card would be swiped.
I went back to the staff room. Trevor’s laptop still sat on the corner of the light table. It reminded me of something, and I went back out to the front, where Bixby was just about to leave. He looked up when I approached.
I tugged on his sleeve.
“Just one question,” I said.
“I haven’t been interrogated this much since my prom date’s father.” He grinned.
I wanted to kiss him again but pushed the thought aside. Time for that later. I hoped.
“I saw some pictures,” I said. “Trevor had some pictures, and the funny thing is, Lester Fine’s in one of them.” I didn’t want to describe it, so I just stopped there.
It was like someone had switched the light off. Bixby’s face grew dark. “Listen, Brett,” he said in a tone so low I had to lean forward to hear him. “If you think you saw Lester in a picture and you think it means something, maybe you should just tell your brother and let him handle it in whatever way he feels is appropriate. I don’t think Lester would like it very much if you start throwing accusations around.”
I was already on Lester Fine’s bad side. But Bixby wasn’t done yet.
“Rusty Abbott is more than just a personal assistant, Brett. He’s taken care of things for Lester for the last couple years.” Bixby paused. “He can make accidents happen. Get my drift?”