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Peaches and the Gambler 12


  “I can’t prove that it was you, Ms. Donnelly,” he said, wearily. “But we’re trying to solve this case and you’re not helping.”

  “So you’re not here to arrest me?”

  “Unfortunately, no.”

  “Well—if I told you something important would that still be true?”

  “Depends on what you’re about to say.”

  “Promise me I won’t end up in a jail cell if I share information that I may have come across,” she said, stubbornly.

  “Fine,” he said, narrowing his eyes. His slight accent had returned. “I promise.”

  “What if I told you that Lenny won twelve thousand dollars from that sweepstakes place.”

  His jaw clenched for a moment and Peaches swore she saw him reach for the cuffs dangling from his belt.

  “I’d say that was extremely interesting and then I’d ask how you came across that information.”

  So the owner had lied to him. When asked a few weeks ago about any money Lenny may have won, the owner’s answer had been ‘Nothing worth bragging about’. He wasn’t going to share this information with Peaches Donnelly, but he was certainly going to return to Big Pete’s and threaten him with obstruction of justice if he didn’t come clean. Why would he lie about the money anyway? Seemed like that was information you’d want to advertise to your customers to reel more of them inside your establishment. Unless for some underhanded reason, he hadn’t wanted customers to know.

  “I know the right people and ask the right questions,” was her maddening response.

  “And you’re saying we don’t?”

  “I’m saying you all have rules that regular people don’t.”

  “Right. And do you know what happened to this money?”

  “I don’t. Maybe you guy’s could get on the job and find that out,” she said, perkily. “If that’s all, I’ve got somewhere to be.”

  “If I find out you’re nosing around where you don’t belong I’m going to be forced to take action.”

  “Even after the information I just shared with you?”

  “We would’ve found out eventually.”

  “Yeah. If by eventually you mean never,” she said under her breath.

  “Don’t test my patience. We’re working on it,” he lied. His desk was piled up with three new cases. He was working on the case. Just very, very slowly.

  “And by the way, you might want to look into the way people win money at Big Pete’s. Seems to me like the system is rigged.”

  “It is. That’s how those places work.”

  “And that’s legal?”

  “State of North Carolina say’s it is. As long as people occasionally win the state stays off their backs.”

  “Well, that needs to change,” Peaches grumbled.

  “I agree. Maybe you should lobby your local political rep about that,” he said, sarcastically.

  “Goodnight Detective Mendoso,” she said with a NutraSweet smile. “I promise not to do anything to compromise your hard work.”

  He eyed her suspiciously, grunted a barely audible ‘Goodnight’ and tramped off into the darkening evening.

  **

  After Peaches and the detective’s conversation, she scrambled to pack the girls up and get out of the house.

  Tonight was the dreaded drop-off.

  Peaches hadn’t dealt with The Ex in three weeks. At that time she was gainfully employed. Somehow, having a good job acted as a shield to her pride. Allowed her to have the swagger and dignity a woman needed when divorcing her much more successful spouse. Having a good job was non-verbal language for ‘See, asshole, I don’t need you after all!’

  Now she had no job and she was pretty sure he knew this via the megaphone that was Nina’s mouth.

  The Ex and she had a fractious past to say the least. Before they had divorced several years before, cheating had been the least of his transgressions. There had been belittling, disrespecting, ignoring, selfishness, secretiveness and extreme levels of uncleanliness.

  Young and foolish, even after the ink was dry on the divorce papers and she had assumed the dread status of single mom, she still hadn’t been able to shake the disease she now referred to as Can’t-Get-Over-the-Ex-ism. While stricken with this sickness, she was unable to resist the temptation of continuing to sleep with The Ex off and on for a period of eighteen months after they had parted ways. This had resulted in an unexpected pregnancy which ended with the birth of Sly and an ill-fated attempt to reunite.

  Their reunion was finally and fully thwarted by the unexpected appearance of a pair of firm legs generously splayed on the bed sheets of her beloved ex-husband’s king-sized bed. He, head bobbing, was happily licking in between those home wrecking thighs.

  Seven months pregnant, broken hearted and cured of The Ex once and for all, their relationship had fallen into its current rhythm of casual hatred.

  Oftentimes, just looking at The Ex made Peaches grit her teeth. But tonight, she was turning over a new leaf. He could say whatever he wanted. He would get nothing more than a cool wall of silent and well-ripened antipathy.

  **

  Peaches phone rang. Expecting it to be The Ex calling to say he was running late—again—she was more than a little pleased to see Stick’s number instead.

  “Hello,” she purred. Nina grimaced at her mother’s slightly va-va-voom tone.

  “Hey. Look--,” Stick said, her sultry tone going completely over his head. “If you were planning to go to the strip club, don’t. I heard some things that got me on edge.”

  “Things like what?”

  “Like there might be something going on in the basement that’s not all that kosher.”

  “It’s a strip club, Stick,” Peaches said, dryly. “Nothing in there is kosher.”

  Nina, absorbed in a heated game of Angry Birds, was distracted by the words ‘strip club’. Was her mother considering working in a strip club? She shuddered. Hopefully she hadn’t gotten that desperate. The mother of one of her friends worked in a strip club. Everybody at school found out when someone had posted a picture of her friend’s topless mom twirling gaily around a stripper pole. That friend was now considering doing a stint as a missionary when she graduated high school.

  Best to pay close attention to these developments and see how things turned out. She went back to playing Angry Birds, but with only half her attention.

  “Yeah, but I mean illegal.”

  “Like?”

  “I don’t know. Just something. There’s only so many illegal things a strip club owner might be involved in. Either way, I think you should back off that aspect and investigate another part of this story. Something less dangerous.”

  “I need to go to the bar. Maybe I’ll just start there.”

  “So you’ll stay away from the club?”

  “More likely than not,” Peaches said, vaguely.

  “Peaches?”

  Xenon headlights shined into the car, drawing close, it came to a stop. The Ex. She hadn’t been aware he had purchased a new car. “Look, I’ll talk to you later, ok?”

  “Peaches?” he said again.

  “Yes, Stick?”

  “Be careful alright?”

  **

  “Why isn’t Sly’s hair done?”

  The Ex had some nerve to complain considering that she, Sly and Nina had been sitting in the Sam’s Club parking lot, their mutually chosen child drop spot, for nearly thirty minutes.

  Peaches felt her pulse increase in tempo and she bit her tongue, forcing a smile upon her lips and remaining silent.

  Gazing into the face of the man she had once considered perfect, she wondered what had made her drop Stick for this fool.

  Of average height and fair-skinned, the muscular body The Ex once had, had grown chubby after years of good living as the affluent owner of a computer consulting firm. His clothing was well-made, a heavy, expensive watch was suspended from a thick wrist. She had once believed he was the center of her universe. Her lips twisted wr
yly. The Ex certainly still believed he was the center of her universe.

  Up until six months ago, they had dropped the children off at each other’s homes. However, one fateful weekend, The Ex had once again decided to drop the girls off a day early without warning. Nina had used her key to open the apartment door and nearly caught Peaches, mid-stroke, with a pink Super Bunny vibrator that near had her in tears. Luckily, she kept blankets on the couch for those days when it got chilly. She had just enough time to throw the cover over her body before anyone could witness anything scandalizing.

  Sweating and guilty looking, she was almost certain The Ex had known what she was up to. He, after all, knew what she liked, how she liked it and where she liked it. His smirking, knowing look had mortified her.

  That had ended, at least for the time being, any domestic drop-off’s.

  The Ex was looking at her, waiting for a response as the girl’s got out of the car, noisily dragging suitcases and backpacks. She remained silent.

  “Did you hear me?” he asked, aggravatingly tapping his fingers against the windowpane of the driver’s side door.

  “Mommy’s probably mad because she doesn’t have a job anymore,” Sly innocently offered.

  Peaches closed her eyes, cursing the loose tongues of children.

  “Sly, shut up!” Nina hissed, nudging her.

  “Is that right? You got fired?”

  Though it was getting harder by the minute, Peaches just looked at him, still damnably silent.

  The two girl’s had tossed their belongings into the trunk of their father’s brand new 7 Series BMW. It shut with a muted, well-behaved, thump.

  The Ex’s brows drew together. He leaned down, perplexedly staring at her through the glass separating him from clawed fingers which desperately wanted to rake their way down his irritating face.

  “Look—maybe we should get our custody arrangement reviewed because--,”

  Peaches didn’t hear the rest of his sentence.

  As soon as the girl’s were safely ensconced in the luxury of soft, calfskin leather and new car smell, she sped off, tires screaming, leaving The Ex and her two daughter’s satisfyingly open-mouthed as they stared after her in astonishment.

  Chapter 19

  Peaches seriously felt she needed some alcohol, fast. Calling both Lynn and Charm, she arranged an emergency drinking session at a semi-swanky watering hole in the Tobacco District.

  They were seated at the bar in the midst of a loud, raucous evening crowd. The baseball game at the new Durham Bulls Stadium across the street had let out, the flow of human bodies heading in the direction of more alcohol and perhaps a warm, willing companion.

  Lynn was already getting on everybody’s nerves.

  “You need to get a job, Peaches.”

  “Can I enjoy being paid to be unemployed for a while? I mean, what’s the big hurry?”

  “The big hurry is you start losing important job skills after just a few weeks of being unemployed,” Lynn lectured, sipping on the chocolate martini she’d ordered.

  Teeth gnashing at this unsolicited advice, Peaches powerfully resisted the urge to point out that The Cabbage Diet forbade the drinking of all alcohol until desired weight goals had been reached. And clearly Lynn’s goals were not even close to being achieved. Her thighs strained the tight satin pants she had squeezed into and a few of the buttons on her blouse looked about ready to explode.

  “That sounds like an exaggeration, Lynn,” Charm said, dismissing her comment with the skeptical expression reserved just for moments like these. “I didn’t work for the entire time I was in Cali and I haven’t forgotten a thing.”

  Charm was wearing her hair teased up so high, Peaches literally had to lean over to see past her gigantic afro.

  “Well, what’s there to forget? You just mix a bunch of drinks. Peaches has skills that require a bit more upkeep.”

  “Really?” Charm asked, not one of her feathers ruffled as she calmly sipped her Heinekin. “How would you know? You ever been a bartender, Lynn?”

  Peaches groaned inwardly. This wasn’t good. She usually didn’t put Charm and Lynn in the same room because the two of them—to say the least—were incompatible.

  Though Charm wasn’t outwardly excited there was the glint of battle shining in her eyes. Of course, Lynn being the know-it-all person she was, blundered right into her trap.

  “I’ve never been a bartender,” Lynn said, guzzling the remainder of her drink and flagging down the waitress to order another. “But I was in law school. Duke. I know hard and bartending just ain’t it.”

  “And what happened with law school again?” Charm inquired.

  Lynn’s mouth closed with an audible snap. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “What’s my going to law school got to do with this conversation?”

  Lynn, as everyone at the table already knew, had flunked out of law school.

  “You mean you having gone to law school? Nothing, really. But I guess you’re right.” She took another studied sip of her beer. “Law School is so much harder than Bartending School. Guess that’s why so many don’t make it through. Some people just have more ambition than talent.”

  A stiff silence fell over the trio. Lynn, stewing in anger, jerkily reached for her fresh martini, accidently splashing a few drops on her pants.

  “Damn!”

  Charm smoothly handed her a handful of cocktail napkins from the holder just in front of her. Lynn snatched them without a word.

  “Anyway--,” Peaches hastily said, trying to break up the tension. “I’m good for right now. I have plenty in savings and checking and I’m not having any problems paying my bills. I could be out of work for seven whole months and be good to go.”

  “And you’re still pursuing this crazy investigation thing?” Lynn asked, face fixed in disgruntled lines.

  “Yep.”

  “I think it’s awesome, Peaches,” Charm said.

  Lynn looked like she wanted to say something else, then looked at Charm and thought better of it.

  “I’m going over to a bar I found out Lenny drank at. See if somebody knows something there and then after that…,” Peaches said, pausing to take a sip from her nuclear powered Sex on the Beach. “It’s on to the strip club. Have a few questions I want to ask. See if he was with any particular stripper that night. Maybe she knows something.”

  “A strip club? Are you serious? And why the hell would this stripper tell you anything, Peaches?” Lynn demanded. “You’re not an investigator.”

  “Yes, but she doesn’t have to know that.”

  “So you’re going to lie?” she asked, incredulously.

  “Why not? If it’ll get me some answers, what’s the harm?”

  “What if she finds out and complains to the police?”

  “What if she does?” Charm interjected. “Not like they can arrest people for lying to get some answers.”

  “They can if they think she’s interfering with their work,” Lynn said, rolling her eyes briefly in Charm’s direction. “Peaches, you were already arrested once--,”

  “Yeah, but that was because that policeman was an asshole,” Peaches said, defensively.

  “Maybe. But if he hears your name again, he might get really pissed and throw you in jail just for shits and giggles.”

  “He can’t do that,” she stated, confidently. Or could he?

  “He can. So you better hope he doesn’t find out about this little private eye game you’re playing.”

  “I gotta do what I promised I’d do,” Peaches said, firmly.

  “Well, if I didn’t have to work that night I’d come with you,” Charm said. “Sounds exciting as hell.”

  “Sounds foolish and dangerous if you ask me,” Lynn muttered. “I should be the last person you call if you get arrested again.”

  “Just call me, Peaches. You know I always got your back. No questions asked.”

  Lynn shot daggers in Charms direction. She merely smiled, cool as a pickle in brine.


  “Charm?”

  They all turned. A tall, good-looking man with light brown skin and a muscular upper body, broke away from a group of guys crowded around the bar, striding over to their table.

  “Howie? Oh, shit! What the hell are you doing in Durham?”

  Charm grinned, stepping on tippy toes to hug the handsome Howie, placing a hand on a well-tattooed arm. The tiny, white trouser shorts she was wearing drew every man and woman’s eye within viewable distance, her fully tattooed thigh a stark contrast to the white of her shorts.

  “Had a game across the street. Never thought I’d see you again. Not after Miami.”

  “You remember that?” There was a mysterious smile in her eyes.

  “How could I forget?”

  Peaches hadn’t heard about this guy. She’d have to remember to ask Charm about him later.

  Peaches caught Lynn throwing a furtive look at Charm’s firm thighs, then glancing at her own with displeasure.

  She introduced Howie around the table. He was a minor league baseball player out of Florida. They had just played and lost, to the Durham Bulls. He could barely stay focused, so enraptured was he by Charm’s unexpected presence.

  “You look amazing. Really, really amazing.”

  “I see you’re not wearing your ring anymore.”

  “No. Just got divorced,” he said, a sexy sheepish smile playing around his lips. “Two times and counting.”

  “Don’t worry. You know I like to keep it light and easy.”

  She leaned in just close enough to give him a teasing whiff of her perfume. Then backed off, smiling playfully.

  The air between the two crackled with energy. Peaches, amused, watched Charm. She had game. Lots and lots of it.

  “Look, ladies,” Charm said, gathering up her purse and light jacket. “Got some catching up to do with Howie. Hope you all don’t mind. Peaches—I’ll give you a ring tomorrow. I wanna hear all about the strip club.”

  She gave Peaches a hug and Lynn a cool nod before leaving the bar with Howie. Rushing, more likely than not, to get something Peaches hadn’t had in a very long time.

  Sex.

  “She’s such a fucking ho,” Lynn said, venomously. “I don’t know what you see in her.”

  “Umm—hmm,” Peaches said, dreamily thinking about Stick’s firm backside. “You would be too if all the men you attracted looked like that.”

  **

  Upon returning home from the bar, lonely, horny and somewhat desperate, Peaches tried to call Vernon. Her philosophy being: the dick you knew was better than the dick you didn’t. His phone rang and rang.