As I stared into Frank DeBurra’s eyes, which were black with hate, something popped into my head that was sort of a non sequitur, considering.
How had he known there should’ve been two bodies inside Chez Tango after the explosion?
No one had told him this. I knew only because “Kyle” had called me. Bixby knew, but he had been somewhere in traffic, supposedly. Jeff Coleman and Tim knew because I’d told them.
No one had gotten around to telling DeBurra, yet even before he’d spoken to any of us, he was telling the firemen to look for two bodies. A man and a woman, he’d said.
Why hadn’t this occurred to me before? When I might have been in a better position to actually raise that red flag with Tim. Because at this moment, the prospects of talking to my brother seemed a bit bleak.
A crowd had formed around the canal, everyone angling to see the girl who’d jumped in and gotten hit by the gondola. The gondolier was in the water now, too; Bixby was cradling Charlotte’s head in his arms and shouting that someone should call 911.
No one was paying attention to me, or the fact that I was being herded out of the mall by a scruffy cop who was taking advantage of the situation. He had my right arm twisted up behind my back, and to hide that, he was walking so close we might be mistaken for lovers.
So didn’t want to go there.
Blood still caked DeBurra’s nose where my brother had hit him, and one of his eyes was swollen shut. “You shouldn’t run from the cops, Miss Kavanaugh.” His voice was low and menacing, his breath hot against my neck.
My throat and mouth were so dry, I could barely swallow. I licked my lips, but it was like licking the desert sand.
“Where are you taking me?” I managed to croak.
“Where we won’t be bothered.”
“You and I have some things to settle.”
He snorted, his one good eye shifting back and forth as he pushed me forward toward the exit.
So he was no Chatty Kathy. Normally that would’ve suited me just fine, but I didn’t like it that he was taking me to an undisclosed location.
We’d reached the end of the canal and entered the circular area that was the entrance to the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes. The ceiling was painted with elaborate Renaissance frescoes, gold accenting everything. In a way, I preferred this area to the one where the ceiling was painted as if we were supposed to be outside. The illusion was less theme park-like.
The vestibule was remarkably free of people, most likely because they’d heard the splash and the screams and had gone to see what the fuss was all about. Maybe they thought it was another one of those little plays or dances performed periodically for entertainment.
My hand, the one twisted around, had fallen asleep. I tried to wiggle my fingers to wake it up, but he only gripped harder, like a vise on my wrist.
His other hand, the one not holding on to me, swung jauntily by his side.
He probably didn’t expect me to try to wrench free, so that’s exactly what I did.
I twirled around and yanked my arm down, pulling it from his grasp. I was free. Who knew those self-defense classes in high school would pay off someday?
But that’s when I noticed that his sleeve had gotten pushed halfway up to his elbow. I hesitated.
He had ink.
It was the bottom half of a queen-of-hearts playing card.
He saw me staring at it, and an ugly smirk tugged at his lips.
“Do you think you could’ve done better?” he asked, sliding the sleeve up farther so I could see the whole thing, as if we were just comparing tattoos like at Chez Tango the first night I met him.
I cleared my throat, trying to force the saliva into my mouth so I could speak. “It’s flash,” I said flatly.
“Yeah, it’s flash,” DeBurra said. “That’s all Jeff Coleman does, isn’t it?”
“Jeff did that?”
“His mother started it, but she’s a whack job. I asked him to finish it after he finished up with Rusty’s. It was a full house that night.”
“The Queen of Hearts Ball,” I whispered, unable to tear my eyes away from the ink. It wasn’t Lester Fine after all. It was Frank DeBurra. “You were in drag.”
He coughed. “For the job,” he said.
But the band of flush that crawled up his neck said that could be a cover.
“Why did you say your name was Colin Bixby? I mean, did you know him?”
“Lambert and Abbott did. He was at that ball. I met him.”
Of all the pictures I’d seen of the Queen of Hearts Ball, I hadn’t seen one of Bixby. I hadn’t even considered that he might have been there. “And you just decided to use his name that night?”
“Couldn’t exactly use my own, could I?” he hissed.
Suddenly I thought about that picture on Trevor’s Facebook page. The one of the drag queen whom I’d seen across the street from Chez Tango after discovering the slashed tires on Jeff’s car.
As I looked at Frank DeBurra, it was all coming together.
He was that drag queen.
And if Trevor knew, maybe that money that he had coming in under the table was blackmail money, like Charlotte suspected. From Frank DeBurra.
It was possible Trevor had put that picture on Facebook to taunt him. And as I’d suspected before, but hadn’t known the true reason why until now, DeBurra made those Facebook pictures disappear. So no one could identify him. Like me.
“How much did you pay Trevor?” I asked. “Was it just that fifty thousand?” As I spoke, I remembered something else. How quickly DeBurra had shown up at Trevor’s apartment the day Jeff and I got shot at. “You were in Trevor’s apartment,” I said, not able to stop myself. “You were the one who shot at us. You took that money. You put it in Ace’s bank account to set him and Charlotte up. You probably have lots of ways of getting into bank accounts, being in Homeland Security.”
He stared at me, not admitting anything but not denying it, either.
Tim had been surprised that DeBurra was at Chez Tango the night Trevor got hit with the champagne cork. He said he thought DeBurra was racking up some overtime. But I was beginning to think there was another reason he was at the club that night.
The guy with the champagne. How tall was he? I’d been concentrating so much on the tattoo and the bottle and the sweatshirt that I hadn’t thought too much about his height. DeBurra was about my height. I was about as tall as the guy in the club. I’d subconsciously registered that.
I also flashed back to a comment DeBurra had made when Wesley Lambert’s body was found. About how this made “that queen’s death” suspicious. At that point, I hadn’t thought anyone suspected Trevor’s death of being from anything other than natural causes. Tim and I had discussed the possibility of poison, but that was later.
“You killed Trevor to get him to stop blackmailing you. Did you pay Wesley Lambert for that ricin on the champagne cork?” I paused a second. “You were after Charlotte because you knew she might have something in Trevor’s documents that could incriminate you. And what about the investigation into Lester Fine? Was that for real?” When I was on a roll, I couldn’t be stopped. But then I made a mistake.
“Does Shawna know?” I asked.
I didn’t even see his hand until it made contact with my cheek. My head whipped back with the impact, and it felt as though my neck snapped.
He laughed as I instinctively put my hand to my face, which was hot.
“It’s the job,” he said again.
“What? You dressed up like a woman for the job but then decided you liked it too much to stop?”
I touched a nerve, because he stepped closer, reaching out for me.
He underestimated my instincts. Just as I’d automatically kicked Rusty Abbott in the groin, my foot shot out and nailed him right in the shin. His knee buckled, and I took off past him, back toward St. Mark’s Square, to the canal where the crowd had formed. I needed people around me. He couldn’t touch me if there were that many witnesses.
I had to get back to the shop to call Tim. My gut told me if I tried to tell the uniforms who’d responded to Charlotte’s accident, they might not believe me over the word of a detective.
And that said detective was gaining ground on me and holding out his badge as he shouted, “Stop her!”
I looked around like I didn’t know he was talking about me, even though I was the only one running. I glanced at the scene in the canal as I passed: Charlotte being taken out of the water by a couple of paramedics, Bixby helping, a gurney waiting on the walkway, two uniforms. Uh-oh. DeBurra got the attention of the two cops, directing it toward me. They were young and eager to help. Now we had a conga line, but no one was dancing.
I spotted Joel on the footbridge ahead, among a throng of people. I needed to get over there.
“Joel!” I shouted. “Joel!”
He looked over at me and waved. I pushed my way to him.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” I panted, clutching his arm. “We have to call Tim.” I started to nudge him down the bridge the other way.
“Do you know if Charlotte’s okay?” he asked, indicating the gurney, where she now lay. She was lying flat, but her eyes were open and she was smiling at one of the paramedics.
“Looks okay to me,” I said, nudging a little more forcefully now.
“Hey!” He frowned. “What’s your problem?”
I felt my problem in the small of my back. I twisted around slightly to see Frank DeBurra and the gleam of his service revolver.