Still holding the keys to the Prius, I said, “Let’s go,” and went through the doors and into the walkway that led to the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes. Joel lumbered along-to side me, every few steps patting my back. If I hadn’t needed it, it might have been annoying.
“Has she said anything?” I asked.
“She looks like hell. That drag queen is with her.”
“He’s the one who called me. Told me she was sick.”
“He says he didn’t.”
We’d reached the small kiosk at the entrance to the Shoppes, and I stopped. “What?”
Joel shrugged. “I told him you said you talked to him, but he’s denying it.”
If I hadn’t spoken to Kyle, then who had called me?
I started walking again, not even looking in the window at Kenneth Cole, which meant I was really distracted. I always look in the window at Kenneth Cole.
Ace was sitting at Breathe, the oxygen bar, a tube in his nose, his eyes closed as he leaned back in the tall chair, a look of absolute serenity on his face.
“Look at that,” I said, cocking my head toward him.
“He didn’t want to be in the shop with Charlotte,” Joel said. “She broke up with him.”
Bitsy had said that earlier. This wasn’t good. I couldn’t have two of my tattooists not speaking to each other, or not able to be in the same room together. But that would mean I’d want to keep Charlotte around after all this. And the jury was definitely out on that one.
“This is why you never sleep with someone you work with,” I muttered.
Ace didn’t even open his eyes as we passed.
Bitsy was at the front desk, and her eyes widened when she saw me. “Are you okay?”
I nodded, indicating my arm. “Just a few scratches.”
She jumped up to get a closer look, and she and Joel shook their heads over my injury.
“It could’ve been worse,” I said.
They nodded in unison.
“Where’s Charlotte?” I asked.
“In your room,” Bitsy said.
“Kyle with her?”
I didn’t say anything else, just walked back and opened the door. Charlotte was in the middle of inking something on Kyle’s hand. As I took another step toward them, I saw it was a Chinese character. The character for strength. They both looked up, and the machine stopped whirring but Charlotte still held it over Kyle’s hand.
“Are you back to work?” I asked Charlotte, aware of a sharp edge in my voice. I tried to tell myself that I needed an explanation before judging her, but I was having a hard time convincing myself.
I waved my hand. “Might as well finish. You’re almost done anyway.”
She gave me a funny look, then went back to the tattoo.
“I didn’t call you,” Kyle said without any prompting.
“So who did? And how did Rusty Abbott know that building was going to explode?”
Charlotte glanced up at Kyle and they exchanged a look.
The machine stopped again; Charlotte sighed. “We were in the club. But we decided to go for something to eat. We were about two blocks away when it blew.”
I looked at Kyle. “Your SUV was still in the parking lot.”
“We had my car,” Charlotte said.
I took a long look at her. Her face was paler than usual, but it could’ve been the lighting in here. The overhead light was off, and she had the desk lamp aimed right at Kyle’s hand, its beam illuminating her work.
She had already gone back to finishing the ink. I watched as she filled in the last part, wondering what to ask first.
Charlotte turned the machine off again and put it down, pulling off her gloves. But before I could even speak, she gave a little sigh, and said, “It all started that night at the Queen of Hearts Ball.”
She exchanged a look with Kyle, who nodded, encouraging her to continue.
“That’s the night Trevor and Lester met each other.”
Charlotte put some ointment on Kyle’s tattoo, which was pink around the edges. He was admiring it.
“Nice work,” I said absently.
“Thanks,” Charlotte said. She patted Kyle’s arm. “Why don’t you go out and see what Bitsy’s up to, okay?”
Kyle looked from her to me and back to her again. “Sure, honey,” he said, standing. He knew she was trying to get rid of him.
When he was gone and the door shut, I said, “So tell me what happened that night.”
“What didn’t happen that night?” she said. “You’ve never seen such a party. Lots of champagne, dancing, gorgeous queens. Anyway, fast-forward to a few months later.”
“What happened then?”
“That’s when DeBurra showed up. Even though I’d already figured out there was something funny going on.”
“Funny like what?”
She took a deep breath and smiled sadly. “I was pretty sure Trevor was blackmailing someone.”