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Chapter 4

Kyle had been taking his makeup off with a baby wipe when he saw the brooch in my hand. He waved his hand in the air.

Trevor made such a big deal over that thing.

I turned it over in my hand. Where did he get it?

At a fund-raiser about a year ago.

Bitsy looked over my elbow at the brooch.

Pretty, she said, but I knew she didnt mean it. It was garish and over the top, not something either of us would like.

Nevertheless, I couldnt stop staring at it.

Its the queen of hearts, I said softly.

Like the tattoo you saw. Joel had joined the party, now that Kyle was Kyle and wearing jeans and a white T-shirt.

Kyle put the baby wipe down. His eyes looked a lot smaller without all the shadow and eyeliner and lashes. What tattoo?

I told him about the guy whod shot the cork at Trevor.

So you think because of this pin that theres some sort of connection?

His tone indicated his doubts about that. He was probably right. This was Vegas. Over-the-top brooches and playing-card tattoos were part of the fabric of Sin City.

I put the brooch in the makeup-kit drawer, added the lipstick, and shoved it back into the case. Youre right, I said. Its just a coincidence, I guess.

I dont believe in coincidences. Wouldnt you know wed hear from Bitsy the peanut gallery.

Kyle cleared his throat. The fund-raiser where Trevor got the pin? It was the Queen of Hearts Ball. They were raising money for AIDS research.

So maybe I wasnt completely off base. But I was hard-pressed to see how the tattoo would be a part of that.

This isnt the first time someones gotten hit with a champagne cork.

Id almost forgotten Charlotte was in the room, she was so quiet.

Thats right, Joel piped up.

What are you talking about? I asked.

Joel said, Some guys been going to clubs all over the city for months now, spraying champagne on people. I cant believe you havent heard about that.

So sue me for not paying attention to the local news. The story, however, indicated that perhaps Trevor was just another victim, and the queen of hearts thing was just a coincidence, despite Bitsys belief. It also would explain why the detective was here. A serial champagne-cork shooter could warrant that.

He got beat up, Charlotte continued when Joel went silent. The guy who was spraying the champagne. He got some guy soaked, and the guy went nuts and beat the crap out of him. Cops arrested the guy who did the beating, but they let the champagne sprayer go.

So why would he keep doing it if the cops know who he is? I mean, he must have pressed charges after getting beat up, I said, then wondered again about the detective. Wouldnt he already know who the guy was?

Unless it was a copycat.

This was the problem being brought up in a family of cops. I always think of all the angles.

Kyle finished taking off his makeup. He had been a gorgeous woman, but he was a good-looking guy, too. The makeup had made his face look even longer and thinner, but without it he looked more normal, less anorexic, perhaps. A little stubble had started to sprout on his jawline and chin.

Where are the rest of the girls? Charlotte asked him.

Kyle shrugged. Theyre probably drinking for free out there. He got up. I need to make sure theyre all going to come back tomorrow night for the next show. He saw me with a piece of shiny fabric in my hand. Thats Mirandas, not Britneys. He picked up the gray hooded sweatshirt and studied it a second. Ill see if this belongs to anyone. If it doesnt, we can give it to the police. His eyes skirted around the room. I think youve got everything. Thanks much. And with that, Kyle disappeared out the door.

I tried not to think about the brooch as we lugged Trevors makeup case and duffel bag back out into the front of the club.

Kyle was right: Everyone was standing around with cocktails in their hands, gossiping about what had happened. The police had gone; I was glad I wouldnt have to interact with that detective again. Miranda Rites came over to us, her sequins blinding me for a second.

She reached out for the makeup case I carried.

Ill take that.

Trevor asked me to take his things back to his place, Charlotte said. I could see the strain on her face; dark circles were starting to form under her eyes, which sagged a little under the weight of exhaustion. This had taken a toll on her. She was Trevors friend and because of that seemed to take responsibility for him.

Miranda smiled at her. Thats nice of you. But I can help.

Were all set to go, I butted in. Weve packed up all his stuff, and Charlotte s just going to drop it off.

Mirandas face fell slightly. I want to do something.

Couldnt fault her for that. But I still hung on to the case.

You could go by the hospital and keep him company until I get there, Charlotte suggested.

Bitsy, Joel, and I stared at her.

Youre not thinking of going over there tonight? Bitsy asked, sounding like Charlotte s mother.

Charlotte s smile was tired. I promised.

I could feel all my energy dissipating the longer we stood there. I clutched the makeup kit tighter and nodded at Miranda. Maybe thats a plan. Come on, guys; lets go.

Miranda drained her martini glass. Fine, she said with an edge in her voice. So she wasnt happy. I was too tired to care.

We stepped outside into the cool desert night. The sky was clear; the stars flickered over the shadows of the distant mountains. I thought about Red Rock Canyon, with its weathered cliffs, banana yuccas, and Joshua trees, and how I could totally use a hike tomorrow if I could find time for it. Now that it was the end of September, the temperatures had moved from blistering in the nineties and hundreds to perfect in the eighties, and Id switched from my summer swimming schedule back to anything outdoors.

My Mustang Bullitt looked like a thug next to Joels sleek green Prius and Bitsys dainty MINI Cooper that shed outfitted so she could reach the foot pedals. A few spaces away, Charlotte s Honda Fit had a look similar to a mailbox, all squat and square. She opened the hatch in the back and I put the makeup case next to the duffel bag.

Thanks, she said, then leaned toward me a little and whispered, You talked to that cop?

I told him everything I saw, I said. I hope they can find the guy.

Did he say anything?

He didnt tell me about the other champagne incidents, I said, not quite sure, though, whether that was what she meant.

Okay, she said, and I guess it was. She went around to the drivers-side door.

Dont stay out too late, Bitsy said, although it was already after midnight, so who knew when late was.

Charlotte gave a short wave and climbed into her car. We watched her drive off before going over to our respective vehicles.

We were bidding each other good-bye when the door to the club opened and Kyle came out and walked toward us.

Im glad youre still here, he said.

Whats up? I asked.

Ive been thinking about Trevors pin.

On reflex, I glanced over to where Charlotte s Fit was pulling out onto the main drag.

You might want to leave it with me.

I frowned. Why? The Fit was getting farther and farther away.

Eduardo, one of the dancing boys-remember him?

There had been so many. We all shook our heads.

Well, Kyle continued, he said some guy came around the club looking for Trevor this afternoon. He told Eduardo that Trevor had pawned something last week and bought it back today. But the guy said there was a mistake.

What sort of mistake? I asked.

Kyle shrugged. Not sure. But it had to be that pin. Trevors pawned it before, so he probably did again. I cant think of anything else Trevor had that was worth pawning.

Are they real stones? I asked, but Bitsy interrupted.

We can talk to Trevor about it. Charlotte already took it with her. We dont have it anymore. Bitsy was just as tired as I was, and I could see she just wanted to get going.

Something crossed Kyles face, but I couldnt read it. Okay, thats okay, he said after a few seconds, but I could tell by his tone that it wasnt.

Whats wrong, Kyle? I nudged.

He sighed and put his hands on his hips, staring off into the distance before answering.

Eduardo is feeling guilty.

About what? I asked.

He told the guy hed give Trevor the message. But the guy said hed send his own message, one that Trevor wouldnt be able to ignore.

Chapter 3 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 5