“I found some of that money in his apartment. He said boots were better than a bank. But he did have a spreadsheet for it. I saw it when I was doing his taxes, but he said it wasn’t going to be reported. I should ignore it. He wouldn’t tell me any more than that.”
“But if he had all that money, and the money from Lester Fine, why would he need to pawn that brooch?”
“Lester gave him the brooch, and whenever they had a fight, Trevor would pawn it but then he’d regret it and buy it back. It’s real, you know. Diamonds and rubies. It was Lester’s; his wife had it made for him before the ball,” Charlotte said, then frowned. “How do you know about the money from Lester?”
I admitted to having Trevor’s laptop and looking at his documents.
“So that’s where it is. That day you saw me on the balcony? I dropped off the makeup case and figured I’d grab the laptop while I was there. But I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
The mention of the makeup case reminded me… “So the pin really belonged to Trevor? Then what was the mistake Wesley Lambert told Eduardo about that day?”
“Trevor and Lester had another falling out, but this time, Lester wanted the pin back. Trevor told him he’d pawned it, which he had, but then he went and bought it back.”
“So Lester Fine sicced Lambert on him? He went to the club to find out where the pin was?”
Charlotte nodded. “Trevor got a message from the pawnbroker that they’d had a complaint that the brooch was stolen, and he wanted me to go see if I could find out what was going on.”
“Why you? Why didn’t he go?”
Charlotte took a deep breath. “He was afraid they’d arrest him on the spot.”
It was likely, especially if it was Lester Fine filing the complaint.
“So Lambert was part of this, right?” I asked. “When he showed up at the pawnshop and knocked you around?”
Charlotte looked puzzled. “Lambert? At the pawnshop? No, Brett. That wasn’t Lambert. It was Frank DeBurra.”
A few days after the Queen of Hearts Ball, DeBurra showed up at Charlotte’s door. He said he knew about Trevor and his “freelance work” for Lester Fine. It wasn’t Trevor he was after, but Lester Fine. He knew she’d done Trevor’s taxes and wanted to look at Trevor’s finances, which verified Trevor’s “work” for Lester. She handed over everything. Except Trevor’s spreadsheet with the fifty thousand dollars noted on it.
“The 1099s from Lester were legit, but this wasn’t,” Charlotte said. “There was no proof that it was tied to Lester, and I didn’t want to get Trevor into trouble.”
“I heard, too, that you were giving DeBurra information about Lambert and that militia in the desert.”
She gave me a funny look, then said, “That’s right. I ran into Lambert at a club one night, and we were catching up. He was wasted and started telling me about making poison. I didn’t believe him, but I told DeBurra anyway.” She paused. “Who knew it was true?”
“So how did you end up in Lambert’s condo?”
Charlotte took a deep breath. “I had a message on my voice mail from him asking me to come. He said he knew something about Trevor and that champagne cork. But he was dead when I got there. I couldn’t risk calling the cops and having DeBurra find me there.”
“Why has DeBurra been after you? Why did he show up at the pawnshop?” I asked.
“He said he knew I was holding something back and if I didn’t tell him, he’d have me arrested for stealing that brooch. He’s a cop. Who’d believe me?” Her eyes filled with tears.
“Why would you agree to do this at all?” I asked Charlotte. “Work for DeBurra, I mean?”
A band of flush moved up Charlotte’s neck and into her face.
“What did DeBurra have on you?” I asked, suspicious.
She shrugged, but her face got redder.
“Charlotte, it’s okay,” I said, although I was remembering Tim’s advice about background checks on all employees.
When she spoke, her voice was so low, I had to lean forward to hear her.
“I got caught tattooing a fifteen-year-old girl. She was the sister of a friend. Her parents weren’t supposed to come home that early. They called the police.”
I took a deep breath. I totally was going to be changing my hiring policies.
I wanted to be able to tell her it was all right, but I couldn’t. Because it wasn’t.
She could tell. Tears sprang into her eyes, and she blinked a few times. “I’m fired, aren’t I?”
I nodded without thinking.
She jumped out of her chair and swung the door open, dashing out. I took a deep breath as I got up. I kept forgetting that she was ten years younger than me, that I might have reacted the exact same way if Mickey had threatened to fire me when I was just a trainee.
The front glass door was already closing when I emerged, and I saw a flash of her as she ran, Bitsy and Joel staring.
“What happened?” I heard Joel ask. I shook my head and sped past him after Charlotte.
She was fast. She was running along the canal, dodging shoppers and tourists. I had about five inches on her, but I’d had a slow start and wasn’t gaining much. I kept my eye on her, bumping into a few people because I wasn’t watching where I was going, and when I finally thought I’d catch up, someone stepped out from around a turn up ahead that made me stop short and caused my heart to beat even faster, but not for the right reason.
He took two steps toward Charlotte, who was careening toward him.
She grabbed onto the top of the small railing that ran along the length of the canal and stopped short. She looked first at Bixby, then back at me. An expression of terror crossed her face, and before I had a chance to even shout out her name, she catapulted over the railing and splashed into the water.
A gondola sailed under the footbridge at just that moment and slammed into her.
I held my breath, considering my options. Should I jump in after her? I did have my lifesaving certificate from when I was fourteen.
But Bixby was seconds ahead of me. He was already in the water. Just as I was about to pull myself up over the railing to join him, a hand clamped down on my shoulder.
“Don’t even think about it.”