Immediately I thought about Rusty Abbott. Had he left this for me before showing up at Lester Fine’s photo op? If he did, he must have followed me from Trevor’s, then waited to see where the valet would park the car. Creepy. I thought about Jeff Coleman’s stalker comment. And why put the case in my trunk at all?
I took the case out and balanced it on the edge of the trunk, opening the top. Trevor’s makeup was strewn about, sort of in the same way things were strewn around his apartment. I tugged on the bottom drawer, and it slid out.
I shifted the hand that was holding the case, but I miscalculated. The case toppled to the pavement, lipsticks and mascaras rolling across the driveway. The valet gave me a dirty look.
“I’m sorry,” I said, leaning down to gather them up.
The drawer had come out completely, and papers skittered along the pavement, a bunch of receipts from Wal-Mart and Terrible’s-our local convenience store and gas station rolled into one-and what looked like a couple of pictures. As I picked up the drawer, I scooped everything up. I tossed the receipts into the trunk but held on to the photographs.
One of them was that picture I’d seen on Trevor’s Facebook page of the drag queen, the one who’d been across the street at Chez Tango when Jeff’s tires got slashed. I wondered again who she was as I turned over the other photo.
This one was the same picture of Lester Fine that I’d seen on Trevor’s laptop.
I held the two photographs side by side, wondering whether Lester Fine was the drag queen in the first picture. I couldn’t tell. These guys were so good at changing themselves into women that it was hard to pick out their male features under all the makeup and the glitter.
There was something, though, about the photo of Lester Fine that was tugging at my brain now. Not the intimate details, but something else. Finally I focused on it. Lester Fine had a tattoo on his arm. On his inner right forearm. I couldn’t make out exactly what it was because of the angle, but considering the other tattoos I’d seen in that same spot lately, I wondered if it could be the same one.
It also would clear up who the third mysterious person was at Murder Ink that night of the Queen of Hearts Ball. If the drag queen in the other picture was Lester Fine, this all made perfect sense. And since Lester knew Colin Bixby, it might make a little twisted sense to use the doctor’s name rather than his own. It’s not as if he would have been recognized, since Jeff said he was in drag.
Granted, I had seen pictures of Lester and his wife at the ball, and Lester was wearing a tux. But maybe he’d dressed up to get the ink.
The valet was staring at me. I tucked the pictures back in the makeup case drawer and left it in the trunk. I slammed the lid shut and hoped it would stay until I could at least get some string or something.
As I leaned down to get into the car, I felt the brooch in my pocket, where I’d stuck it when Bixby had given it to me. I’d practically forgotten it was there, I’d gotten so used to the way it felt. But I figured I shouldn’t drive with it like that-what if the pin came unclasped and stuck me?
I took the brooch out of my pocket and stuck it in one of the cupholders in the center console as my brain ran faster than a hamster on a wheel.
It seemed pretty clear that Rusty Abbott wanted me to find those pictures. He couldn’t have known I’d already seen them on the laptop. And even if he did, I’d needed that little nudge to make the connection between them.
I wondered what his angle was. He worked for Lester Fine. Maybe Fine was a lousy boss.
I pulled out of the Venetian driveway and onto the Strip heading north. I hit a bump and the trunk opened. This was going to be a pain in the butt; however, I didn’t really have time to stop and fiddle with it now. It bounced up and down as I drove, and a couple of people pulled up next to me to tell me my trunk was open.
No kidding. Like I hadn’t noticed.
I ignored them and thought about Lester Fine. And that ink.
Something Bixby had said came back to me. I punched in his number.
“I’m on my way,” he said without saying hello. “There’s an accident, though. Traffic’s stopped.”
Great. “I have a question. The procedure that Lester Fine had? Did he have a tattoo removed?”
The silence told me my suspicions must be right.
“How did you find out?” Bixby asked after a few seconds.
“No time now. I’ll explain when I see you. It doesn’t seem like there’s any traffic this way.”
I wasn’t sure which direction Bixby was coming from. I had no idea where he lived, and again I wondered whether he lived with his mother. I made a mental note to find out.
The sun had gone a little lower in the sky, and it beat down on the windshield. I squinted as I drove with one hand and found my sunglasses in my bag with the other. I slipped them on. Better. The palm trees in the median cast sporadic shadows. I hit another bump and the trunk opened even wider. I couldn’t see out the back window now.
I needed to tie down the trunk lid. I didn’t want to get stopped and end up with a traffic ticket. Granted, I needed to get to Chez Tango and find out about Charlotte, but Bixby was on his way, too, which made me feel better about a short detour. I turned right into a parking lot. It wasn’t until I pulled in that I realized it was the lot for Cash & Carry, that first pawnshop I’d visited. I drove as far away from the pawnshop as I could, easing the Bullitt into a spot in front of Tip Toe Nail Salon.
I got out of the car and approached the salon. I didn’t know whether they’d have any string, but it was worth a shot to ask. I pushed the door open.
The smell of acetate hit my nose, and I tried not to breathe too deeply. A short Asian woman scurried up to me, a big smile on her face.
“Hello, hello, welcome!”
She was so exuberant and the salon was so empty that I wondered if I was the first person to wander in there in a while.
“Hello,” I said, trying to be friendly, but my anxiety was growing. “I’m having-”
“Pick a color. Any color,” she interrupted, her fingers now wound around my forearm as she pointed to a wall filled with nail polish of all colors. She twisted my arm and began inspecting my fingernails. She began tsk-tsking as she explored my cuticles.
“I’m just here for some string,” I tried lamely. I was starting to get a little anxious about the amount of time I was wasting here.
She had no clue what I was talking about.
I pointed out at my car, the trunk gaping open like Moby Dick’s mouth. “I was wondering if you have some string. My trunk is broken. I need to fix it.” I did a little pantomime, since I was pretty sure by now that English was not her first language. “Tie it closed.”
She dropped my arm and nodded. “Yes, yes.” She shuffled past me, behind me. A bunch of balloons that had seen better days sagged from a hook near the door. She took one of the balloons and brought it to me. “Here,” she said.
It had lost enough of its helium that it hovered about three feet off the ground. It was a Bitsy balloon. I had no idea what to do. Should I accept it and be on my way?
The woman saw I was confused, and a huge grin took over her face. She took a pair of scissors and snipped off the balloon, handing me the ribbon.
“This will do?” she asked.
Okay, so sometimes I can be a little slow. She meant I should tie my trunk with the ribbon. I smiled. “Thank you,” I said, and took a step toward the door.
But she wasn’t going to let me off that easy. She pointed again at the nail polish. “What color?”
I didn’t have time for a manicure. But she did help me.
I made an appointment for the next morning. I hadn’t had my nails done in years. Since I was in high school and I would paint them black and draw little white skulls on them. I didn’t like the way my nails felt when they were painted and I wore the latex gloves.
I’d have to suck it up for a day.
The ribbon worked perfectly, and now my Bullitt looked like it was all dressed up for a party. Considering where I was headed, it was probably appropriate.
I was walking around the car, about to get back in and on my way, when tires screeched behind me. The truck careened so close to me that I felt the heat from its engine.
It slammed to a halt just inches from the hood of my car.
I’d seen that pickup before.
I didn’t have time to get into the Mustang before the pickup’s door opened and Rusty Abbott charged right for me.