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Chapter 6

Obviously, someone had seen him since, and it was Eduardo.

You said he was from a pawnshop, I said to Eduardo, who was frowning. Eduardo, Kyle, Joel, and I had left Stephan in the dressing room and went back out into the front of the club.

I thought thats what he said. He sighed. But maybe he didnt, come to think of it. He said Trevor had pawned something, and there was a mistake. But that was all.

Why did he stop doing your shows? I asked Kyle.

Kyle sighed. He fell in with the wrong crowd. Bunch of rednecks. He said something once about a lab or something out in the desert, and it sounded like they were making drugs. And then his new friends started hanging around the club. They creeped everyone out. But I couldnt throw them out based on that, until they started harassing some of the girls. I told Wesley if he couldnt keep them out, he needed to find another gig. So he left. Its too bad, because he was great for the club. Hed wear a gigantic chandelier on his head while singing Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend. Everyone loved it.

I wouldve paid to see that.

But you dont know where he went after that?

As far as I know, nowhere. He just disappeared. His friends, too.

Do you remember where Wesley lived? I asked Kyle. I could tell the police when I give them the drawing. This was getting a little complicated, and I wondered whether I shouldnt just give it to Tim instead of that nameless detective, who would undoubtedly have the same number of questions as Tim, but I could handle Tim more easily. Then again, if there was bad blood between Tim and that detective, as I suspected, that might not be a good idea.

I felt like I was between that rock and a hard place everyone talks about.

I dont remember, Kyle said. And I paid him in cash whenever he did a show.

What about a queen-of-hearts tattoo? Did he have one? On his inner forearm? I looked first to Eduardo.

He wore a long-sleeved T-shirt when I saw him.

Kyle was shaking his head. I dont remember a tattoo.

More rocks. More hard places.

I folded the paper up and stuck it in my bag, taking Joels arm. Weve got to go, I said. Thanks, I said to Eduardo. I wont tell the police about you, and hopefully the drawing will be enough.

Kyle and Eduardo hung back as Joel and I went back out into the night for the second time.

Will you give that to Tim? Joel asked.

Yeah, probably. He can pass it along to whoever.

When we got to our cars, Joel leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek. You did good, he praised, like I was a puppy, but I knew he didnt mean it like that.

Thanks. You couldve done it, too.

I dont have your formal training, remember?

Yeah, but youve done this long enough so you could.

He opened his mouth to argue again, and I shook my head. We could go around and around on this.

The door to Chez Tango opened behind us, and the stragglers began spilling out. Definitely time to go.

We said our good-byes and got into our cars. I sped out of the parking lot before Joel, eager to get home. I took the Strip rather than the back roads, because I knew the lights would keep me alert. The reflections of the neon flashed across my windshield, and I was reminded how someone once said that every movie and TV show filmed in Vegas had at least one scene with a car driving down the Strip, the lights cutting across the windows.

I was such a clich'e.

The Bellagio fountains were dancing as I sat at a light. Every time I pass them I think about Oceans Eleven and wonder if George Clooneys back in town. Ive never seen him-or any other celebrity, except for Howie Mandel. I bumped into him-literally-and spilled gelato all over his Hawaiian shirt at the Palazzo. He totally freaked-out, being the germophobe that he is. Why couldnt I have spilled something on Mark Wahlberg or Leonardo di Caprio? My sister, Cathleen, who lives in Southern California, always seems to be running into Keanu Reeves or Nicole Kidman or even Miley Cyrus at all of her charity events. Youd think that because the Vegas Strip is a lot smaller than Los Angeles, Id be rubbing elbows with celebrities all the time. Instead, Im inking tourists next to a fake Venetian canal in a fake St. Marks Square.

Somebodys got to do it.

I pulled into the driveway at the house I share with Tim in Henderson, the headlights illuminating the banana yuccas by the front door. Ive been here two years now, having moved from Jersey when Tim broke up with Shawna, his almost-fianc'ee, and needed a roommate. I needed an escape from a relationship gone bad, and Id been getting too comfortable in my job at the Ink Spot. It was time to move on and run my own shop. Id also still been living with my parents, whod announced out of the blue that they were selling the house and moving to Florida. Personally, I think it was their way of saying, Youre thirty years old, and you cant live with us anymore, although I wouldve been happier if theyd just come out and said that rather than plan to move fifteen hundred miles away to a town that rolled up its sidewalks at six p.m. and had a grocery store with its parking lot divided into sections named after the states. My parents always parked in New Jersey. It was easy to remember.

I knew I wouldnt live with Tim forever, but it was a nice place to hang my hat for a while.

It was dark inside. I parked in the garage next to Tims Jeep and let myself in quietly, so I wouldnt wake him. I pulled off my jeans and black blouse, which might survive a washing, might not, and put on a pair of cotton pajama bottoms and an oversized T-shirt. The bedside lamp let off a golden glow, casting shadows on the paintings on the walls. Id indulged myself with works by college friends, splashes of color in oil and acrylic. My own work was in my parents house in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

My mother still hadnt gotten over my being a tattooist. She told all her new friends in the retirement community that her daughter was an artist but neglected to tell them what kind.

Sister Mary Eucharista would give her a pass. I had a harder time forgiving her for not accepting who I was.

Tim said I should get over it. But who was he to talk? Hed followed in Dads footsteps and had always been the favorite.

I shut the light off, as if it would shut out my thoughts, too.

It worked after a little while, and I fell into a deep sleep.

Tim was scrambling eggs when I emerged the next morning, rubbing sleep from my eyes. He grinned and took another plate down from the cupboard.

Hey there, night owl.

I groaned and slid onto one of the kitchen chairs. My bag was still slung over the back.

So how was the show?

Fine, I said on reflex, then, Well, there was a little excitement.

He dished the eggs out and put a plate and fork in front of me as he sat down with his own. What happened?

I told him everything: how I witnessed the cork shooter and the mysterious nameless detective and Trevor going to the hospital and the queen-of-hearts tattoo and Trevors pin and Eduardo telling me what to draw. I managed to eat all my eggs while I talked and pulled the sketch from my bag, handing it to him as I chugged a glass of orange juice.

He studied it for a second, taking a drink of his own juice, then put it on the table between us.

You did that?

Yeah, what of it?

Nothing, except its good. Great if it looks like the guy its supposed to be. You could have a second career if you want to give up the shop.

I chuckled. Mom would love that, wouldnt she?

No kidding. Tim shoveled more eggs in his mouth before asking, So who is he?

Some ex-drag queen named Shanda Leer. I couldnt remember his real name-I knew Kyle had told me-but I remembered his stage name because now I got it. Chandelier, you know, I said. Shanda Leer.

Tim chuckled. How do they come up with those names? he asked.

I shrugged. Beats me. Kyle kicked him out of the club because he started hanging with drug dealers or something.

Tim frowned. Huh?

I told him how Kyle said there was some sort of lab in the desert.

Probably not just speculation, Tim said, but then he grew quiet.

I wanted to push it, find out just what was going on out in the desert, but I could tell hed closed down on that subject. So I tried a new one. Whos the detective who wouldnt give me his name?

Tim drank some more juice, buying time. I could tell he didnt want to tell me.

Come on, big brother. What is it with you two? Did you get into a fight on the playground or something?

Hes Shawnas fianc'e.

Shawna, as in Tims old flame, the one who wanted a diamond but got a house instead, so she moved on. Guess she finally got her wish.

So, why would that matter to me? Why not tell me his name? I asked.

Tim sighed. He thinks Im an ass. Even though Ive reminded him that if Shawna and I had gotten married, he wouldnt be with her now.

Good point, although Tim had been an ass. I didnt understand, either, why hed go in on a house with the woman and then drag his feet on getting married. Id never asked him outright, though. It was his business, and if he wanted to tell me about it someday, fine. If not, well, that would have to be fine, too.

Howd he meet her? I asked.

Tim made a face. We had a barbecue here, right before Shawna moved out. They met then. Maybe it was love at first sight.

He didnt sound bitter. Maybe the reason he didnt marry her was because he just didnt want to. Maybe it was that simple.

Shes a pit boss now, he volunteered during my silence.

Really? Shawna had been a blackjack dealer, like Tim had been when he met her. Hed had more fun trying to catch people cheating at the table than he did dealing, and finally figured he would go to the police academy so he could go after real bad guys.

She got promoted a few months ago.

I didnt really care, and I could tell he was just making conversation.

Whats the guys name? I asked.

Frank. Frank DeBurra. He paused. Im surprised he was there. Must be putting in some overtime.

Why surprised?

Hes with Metro Homeland Security.


Tim chuckled. Yeah, LVPDs got its own homeland security force. All those threats, you know.

I didnt know, but he didnt elaborate.

Before I could ask, he tapped at the sketch. You know, come to think of it, if DeBurra was the responding officer and he talked to you last night, he wont be happy if he knew you gave this to me.

I nodded. Yeah, I thought of that. But I didnt know his name. How was I supposed to get it to him if I didnt ask you?

Okay, well go with that story. But you couldve just called the department and asked for the detective on the scene last night.

That would be too much trouble.

On second thought, I dont want to deal with the fall-out. He pushed the sketch back toward me. Call the department. Tell him youve got this. Leave me out of it. Believe me, itll make my life a lot easier.

He had a point.

Whats the best way to explain how I did the drawing without mentioning Eduardo? I needed a little guidance on this.

Just tell him I dont know. Tim ran his hand through his hair and sighed. I know you want to protect the guy, Brett, but

Im not ratting him out, Tim. I promised.

Okay, chill. Youll think of something. He got up and started clearing up the dishes.

The doorbell rang.

We looked at each other, both of us frowning. Tim went into the front foyer and looked through the peephole. He gave me a funny look as he opened the door.

Speak of the devil.

Detective Frank DeBurra walked in.

Chapter 5 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 7