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 that’s what he said.” He sighed. “But maybe he didn’t, 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 couldn’t throw them out based on that, until they started harassing some of the girls. I told Wesley if he couldn’t keep them out, he needed to find another gig. So he left. It’s too bad, because he was great for the club. He’d wear a gigantic chandelier on his head while singing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.’ Everyone loved it.”
I would’ve paid to see that.
“But you don’t 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 shouldn’t 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 don’t 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 don’t remember a tattoo.”
More rocks. More hard places.
I folded the paper up and stuck it in my bag, taking Joel’s arm. “We’ve got to go,” I said. “Thanks,” I said to Eduardo. “I won’t 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 didn’t mean it like that.
“Thanks. You could’ve done it, too.”
“I don’t have your formal training, remember?”
“Yeah, but you’ve 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 Ocean’s Eleven and wonder if George Clooney’s back in town. I’ve 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 couldn’t 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. You’d think that because the Vegas Strip is a lot smaller than Los Angeles, I’d be rubbing elbows with celebrities all the time. Instead, I’m inking tourists next to a fake Venetian canal in a fake St. Mark’s Square.
Somebody’s 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. I’ve 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 I’d been getting too comfortable in my job at the Ink Spot. It was time to move on and run my own shop. I’d also still been living with my parents, who’d announced out of the blue that they were selling the house and moving to Florida. Personally, I think it was their way of saying, “You’re thirty years old, and you can’t live with us anymore,” although I would’ve been happier if they’d 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 wouldn’t 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 Tim’s Jeep and let myself in quietly, so I wouldn’t 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. I’d 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 hadn’t 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? He’d followed in Dad’s 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 Trevor’s 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 it’s good. Great if it looks like the guy it’s supposed to be. You could have a second career if you want to give up the shop.”
I chuckled. “Mom would love that, wouldn’t she?”
“No kidding.” Tim shoveled more eggs in his mouth before asking, “So who is he?”
“Some ex-drag queen named Shanda Leer.” I couldn’t 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 he’d closed down on that subject. So I tried a new one. “Who’s the detective who wouldn’t give me his name?”
Tim drank some more juice, buying time. I could tell he didn’t 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?”
“He’s Shawna’s fianc'e.”
Shawna, as in Tim’s 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 I’m an ass. Even though I’ve reminded him that if Shawna and I had gotten married, he wouldn’t be with her now.”
Good point, although Tim had been an ass. I didn’t understand, either, why he’d go in on a house with the woman and then drag his feet on getting married. I’d 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.
“How’d 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 didn’t sound bitter. Maybe the reason he didn’t marry her was because he just didn’t want to. Maybe it was that simple.
“She’s a pit boss now,” he volunteered during my silence.
“Really?” Shawna had been a blackjack dealer, like Tim had been when he met her. He’d 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 didn’t really care, and I could tell he was just making conversation.
“What’s the guy’s name?” I asked.
“Frank. Frank DeBurra.” He paused. “I’m surprised he was there. Must be putting in some overtime.”
“He’s with Metro Homeland Security.”
Tim chuckled. “Yeah, LVPD’s got its own homeland security force. All those threats, you know.”
I didn’t know, but he didn’t 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 won’t be happy if he knew you gave this to me.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I thought of that. But I didn’t know his name. How was I supposed to get it to him if I didn’t ask you?”
“Okay, we’ll go with that story. But you could’ve just called the department and asked for the detective on the scene last night.”
“That would be too much trouble.”
“On second thought, I don’t want to deal with the fall-out.” He pushed the sketch back toward me. “Call the department. Tell him you’ve got this. Leave me out of it. Believe me, it’ll make my life a lot easier.”
He had a point.
“What’s the best way to explain how I did the drawing without mentioning Eduardo?” I needed a little guidance on this.
“Just tell him… I don’t know.” Tim ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “I know you want to protect the guy, Brett, but…”
“I’m not ratting him out, Tim. I promised.”
“Okay, chill. You’ll 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.