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Peaches and the Gambler 16


  Peaches phone buzzed.

  “He jst wnt dwnstrs. Whre the fck u @? U ok?”

  She deleted the message and stayed calm. Getting excited would only get her caught.

  This girl was really into the act, bouncing around on her John’s dick as though Peaches were not present. The absurdity of the scene struck Peaches all at once and she had to pinch herself to maintain control of the hysterical laughter threatening to bubble over.

  “Double?” The girl stopped her bouncing, considering this meaty proposition. “I guess I can do that. But I ain’t sharin’ none with you,” she said to Peaches, her tone hard. “This ain’t my usual. This gonna be pro bono on your part. Ya’ll new girls always be tryin’ to move in on somebody business. I’m gonna talk to management about this shit. So? We gonna do this or what?”

  Peaches chanced cracking the door a bit and peering around. The coast looked clear. She’d have to make a run for it.

  Turning around, she smiled sweetly saying, “Nope. I just changed my mind,” and darted out the door.

  As she was running up the stairs, Peaches heard the girl howl: ‘And hurry the hell up, Shawn! You only paid for twenty minutes!’ before she jetted out the door leaving the lascivious activity of the basement behind.

  Chapter 24

  Peaches laughed all the way back to Polo’s house as she told him what had happened between her and the stripper/professional ho.

  For a while he pouted, a bit upset that she had dragged him into what he believed was a dangerous situation. But after she plied him with promises of a free dinner at Outback Steakhouse and a hookup with Charm, someone he had been crazy about since he had first met her two years before, he softened and was laughing with her by the time they arrived in front of his house.

  “Peach--,” Polo said, getting out of her car and closing the door. “--the next time you say you takin’ me to a fuckin’ strip club, take me to a strip club and leave the detectin’ at home.”

  “I promise,” Peaches said, blowing him a kiss with her left hand while keeping the fingers of her right hand crossed.

  **

  Back home, after showering and scrubbing what she felt was a thick layer of microscopic strip club germs from her body, Peaches curled up on her couch, removing the ragged half of the sweepstakes ticket she had discovered from the plastic baggie she had placed it in. She laid it on her coffee table, regarding it as though it were a tough adversary she couldn’t figure out how to defeat.

  The biggest question she was asking herself was: where was the other half of this ticket? The ticket was dated a few days before Lenny’s murder. It appeared that all of Big Pete’s sweepstakes tickets were both color and date coded. That made it easy to narrow down the days Lenny may have been there and also eliminated this particular ticket as a match for the sweepstakes ticket that had been in Lenny’s pants pocket. It could have fallen out of Lenny’s pocket anytime between the date it was stamped and the night he was killed. The other half could be anywhere. Or nowhere. It might not even be Lenny’s. Perhaps the other half was in a police evidence locker. Peaches was assuming they kept Lenny’s clothes and anything in them, as evidence.

  Now Peaches had a bit of a quandary. Should she call Detective Mendoso and inform him of her latest find? Or should she keep it to herself and continue to root around a tad bit more until she got all of her ducks in a row?

  She knew the answer even before she was finished asking herself. She would wait. Because what information did she really have beyond what might be a matching sweepstakes stub and a strong hunch? Right now she had no real answers. She needed to get back in there and talk to whoever she could and doing that would require some soft stepping.

  **

  Peaches woke up late the next morning; a splitting headache and a dry mouth her only company. She was fairly sure the pain in her head was strumming to the same beat as the last hip-hop song that had been playing when she and Polo had escaped the club. After popping a couple of aspirin and washing it all down with a glass of orange juice (expressly forbidden on The Cabbage Diet), she felt almost human again.

  Though she had showered less than six hours before, Peaches took another shower, feeling the need to wash any remaining vestiges of her strip club experience from her person.

  While choking down her breakfast of shredded cardboard, or Shredded Wheat as the box called it, she mentally went over her plans for the day. Going back to Satin Doll’s was at the top of her list. She really needed to talk to the dancers while they weren’t distracted with lap dances—or in the case of the girl in the basement—professionally fucking. And for that matter, she wanted to talk to non-dancing personnel, too. This time she would go to the club during the day, dressed in her civilian clothes and get in some hardcore Q & A.

  Easier said than done.

  **

  The moment she walked to the door of the club she was met with resistance. Initially, she was concerned that she would be recognized even without the wig, tight dress and stilettos. But that was the least of her problems.

  “So I can’t even show the picture around to see if anybody recognizes him?” Peaches demanded.

  “I’m sorry,” Chandler/Massive Security Giant Number One said impassively. His enormous shoulders strained at the tight black shirt he had somehow managed to squeeze into. “But our policy is to only allow officials in to ask questions. You’re not an official.”

  “But I’m here on behalf of his family and I just want to ask a few questions,” she implored. “Wouldn’t you like to help his mother in her efforts?”

  “No.”

  Damn. Where was a fake badge you could flash around when you needed one? She’d have to look into purchasing one of those on Ebay.

  Forced to use the last weapon in her arsenal, she removed her suit jacket, exposing The Girl’s in all their Victoria’s Secret Wonder Bra glory beneath a tight, low-cut silver blouse.

  “What do I need to do to get in there?” she asked, batting her eyelashes. She moved in close, placing a hand on a grapefruit sized bicep that had a makeup similar to cast iron.

  Abruptly finding herself being taken firmly by the shoulders, fingers with the strength of a vice grip guiding her to the door where she was, for all intents and purposes, kicked out.

  “Good luck with your investigation, ma’am,” Massive Security Giant Number One said before closing the door in her face.

  Well, that didn’t work. But really, what the hell did she think would happen? This was after all high on her list of places Lenny may have been before he was murdered. For all she knew, it had happened right here in this very club. So of course they wouldn’t answer any outright questions.

  Besides, Peaches had a feeling the dancer’s wouldn’t talk to a cop or anyone there in an official capacity anyway. They were already committing misdemeanors, maybe even felonies, by having paid sex in the rooms in the basement. So, she would march back to the strip club and do what she had known from the minute Stick had suggested it might become a reality.

  She would go undercover at the strip club.

  **

  With a few hours to kill before the bar Lenny frequented opened, Peaches drove back home and curled up on the couch with a romance novel. She was hardcore in the midst of an intriguing plot involving a roguish runaway male slave and a hot blooded mulatto temptress with a heaving bosom, when her phone rang.

  Nina.

  Headache returning with a vengeance, she reluctantly put her book down and picked up the phone.

  “Mummy—mummy, is that you?” Nina tentatively asked.

  “Who else would it be?” Peaches asked, dryly.

  “So…you talked to daddy?” she asked in a small voice.

  “More like he talked to me, but yeah, I did,” she said, wearily.

  “What’d he say, mummy?”

  “Don’t try to do any recon on me, girl,” Peaches said, irritably. “You know what he said and you know what you did.”

  “But I--,” she prot
ested.

  “No ‘But I,” Peaches said, abruptly cutting her off. “Let’s stop playing games here: who is he?”

  “There is no he--,” she squeaked hotly.

  Peaches cut her off again, waving her hand as though Nina was standing in front of her instead of sitting in a school lunch room several miles away.

  “When you’re ready to tell the truth, call me. Until then, we’ll talk later. Goodbye.”

  Peaches hung up. Her phone rang an instant later.

  “Mummy! You hung up on me!” Nina exclaimed, incredulously.

  “I didn’t. I said goodbye.”

  She was calmer now, hanging up having imbued her with a sort of peace about the disturbing events unfolding. Peaches was no ostrich that stuck its head in the sand at the sight of adversity or bad times. She would deal with it as she did all challenges in her life: with calm and poise…

  …and Bojangles’ Famous Chicken and Biscuits with picnic sized fries.

  “No matter how mad you’ve been, you’ve never hung up on me,” Nina said, her voice thick with unshed tears.

  “In the past you haven’t stolen your dad’s car to see a boy, Nina,” Peaches rasped, angrily. “What did you expect? I’m your mom and I’m pretty damn pissed.”

  With her words, Nina began sobbing and the story came tumbling out, word after self-incriminating word. Peaches was aghast.

  Her baby was no longer a virgin.

  While she hadn’t had any fantasies about her daughter making it out of high school with her virginity intact, she certainly had believed she would be at least seventeen before The Act occurred. Nina was only fifteen and in Peaches mind having sex at her age was totally unacceptable. She supposed she should have been happy she had at least used a condom.

  At least, according to her she had. Peaches stomach turned anxiously

  At first she was sad. Then she got mad.

  “You say this guy is nineteen?” Peaches asked.

  “Yeah,” Nina sniffled. “He started school late then got held back in the third grade.”

  “Sounds to me like me and your dad need to bring him to court. This is statutory rape.”

  “No, mom!” Nina said, mortified. “Please, please, don’t do that! It was my fault as much as it was his. Plus, everybody at school’ll know…I just couldn’t deal with that.”

  “You should’ve thought about that before you got caught up in this mess,” Peaches retorted, harshly.

  Nina started sobbing again and Peaches felt herself wavering.

  “Look—before I make any firm decisions, I’m gonna talk to your dad. If he feels like we should just drop it, then I’ll consider that. But I’m not making any promises.”

  “Ok.”

  “I’ll call you again this evening, alright?” Peaches said, her tone a shade softer.

  She hung up, sitting there for several long moments, mind whirling. Her circuits were in overload. Between trying to detect who murdered an old friend, finding out her daughter had been de-virginized and becoming unemployed, life had taken a distinctly nasty turn.

  What could a woman who had no job, no man and was trying to solve a difficult case she wasn’t being paid for do to alleviate the pain?

  She could eat a Dove ice cream bar.

  Moments later, Peaches proceeded to do just that.

  **

  She hadn’t spoken to Lynn in a while, so she called her, regaling her with all the latest details of her investigation.

  “Oh…my…God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God! So you say the stripper just kept right on fucking?”

  “Yes,” Peaches stated succinctly, enjoying every moment of Lynn’s avid disbelief. “Can you believe that?”

  “I really cannot. You’re probably telling a story,” Lynn muttered.

  “Why would I do that?” Peaches demanded. She knew she should’ve called Charm first. Lynn was always questioning her stories. As though she herself had the monopoly on juicy tales.

  “You’re just continuing the black tradition of telling tall tales.”

  “So you’re saying I’m lying?”

  “Not lying…just exaggerating.”

  “My God you’re annoying.”

  “Why? Because I don’t believe the foolishness you’re telling me?”

  “No, because you don’t believe anybody else’s truth but your own,” she said, coolly.

  “Not true, Peaches. I believe most of your stories; I just don’t believe this one. I feel like you’re blowing up the details to make it all seem more exciting than it is so I would say: ‘Wow, Peaches. You’re doing an amazing job. I was wrong. You made a good decision to go after your friend’s killer.’”

  “Is that what you think this is about? Me trying to impress you?”

  “Well—yeah,” Lynn said, all high and mighty.

  Charm had it right. She had once told Peaches Lynn and she didn’t get along because she wasn’t as open as Peaches was to dealing with her low key insults. In her words: ‘I can take her or leave her. I prefer to leave her’.

  “You know what? Everything I told you was the truth and I never realized how smug and superior your ass was until today. Later.”

  She hung up the phone, seething.

  **

  It was around three thirty. That Place still wouldn’t open for another hour an half. Needing something to bring down her Lynn-induced high blood pressure, she dumped Calgon and baby oil in a tubful of hot water and slid in, her temper gradually going from boiling hot to merely tepid.

  Afterwards, she pulled on her robe and logged into her State Employee’s Credit Union account to review her financial health. Not too bad. Her spending was practically down to nil since losing her job. No more impromptu shopping for shoes and purses with the girls. Her only splurging these days was on Dove bars and the occasional meal at Bojangles’.

  She did need to start looking for a new job. Though reluctant to give Lynn any credit, she was right. The longer you were without a job the harder it was to get a new one. She would check out Craigslist over the next few days and hopefully set up an interview or two.

  Actually, now would be a really good time to snap to it on The Cabbage Diet, of which her progress was laughable at best. She would save tons of money eating cabbage all day.

  Armed with fresh resolve, Peaches was determinedly chopping at a head of wilted, two week old cabbage, when her doorbell rang.

  Frowning, she wondered who it could be. She wasn’t expecting anyone. Had word about her foray to the strip club somehow gotten back to Detective Mendoso?

  Heart thumping, she wiped her hands on her apron. She was already envisioning herself in handcuffs, heading to city lockup as she opened the door.

  It was her father.

  “Baby, I needed a break. I’m staying here tonight.”

  Her father bustled in, easily hefting a rather large overnight bag. He looked as close to unkempt as she had ever seen him. His hair was about a quarter of an inch longer than he normally wore it and a grizzled ship captain’s beard had made an appearance on his usually baby smooth face.

  “Okay,” Peaches said, watching as her father tossed his bag in the hall closet, then made himself at home in her ancient floral recliner. “Viviana and the girls ran you out of your own place?”

  “No, no, no,” he denied. “Just needed me a mini vacation. Roanoke Rapids can get a little boring for an exciting old man like your dad.” This said as he yawned and closed his eyes.

  “How is Viviana?” she asked. She hadn’t spoken to her since the funeral and still felt too aggravated with her to bother calling.

  “She got herself into a little jam. But other than that, she’s doin’ okay,” he said mildly, eyes still closed.

  “What do you mean a little jam?” Peaches asked, suspiciously. The Viviana she knew never got herself into little jams. Only big and bigger jams.

  Her father finally opened his eyes, which Peaches noticed with a pang were bloodshot and far more tired looking than they shou
ld be. She felt a fresh shot of anger towards her sister because, of course, she was the root cause of his travelling here.

  “Go online and type in your sister’s name and all will be clear.”

  Not knowing what to expect but knowing it wouldn’t be good, Peaches whipped out her laptop, doing as her father said.

  She gasped.

  A door with the letters ‘HE’, initials standing for Hotel Excalibur, were outlined by a naked man sprawled out on the floor behind Viviana. Her face held a mild expression of surprise.

  Hotel Excalibur was one of the rattiest hotels in Roanoke Rapids. Just last year they had been busted for renting rooms by the hour, prostitutes and pimps scurrying out like rats from a sewer. Couldn’t they have sprung for something a little classier?

  “Daddy, why are you just now telling me about this?” she exclaimed, turning slightly to look at him. He was asleep, a slight exhalation and a mild snore his only response.

  Sweeping the sorry looking cabbage from the chopping board and into a plastic storage container, she put it in the fridge. Her father wouldn’t dare eat that for dinner so she would have to shop. She tamped down her relief at not having to force down bowl after bowl of cabbage gruel.

  Picking up her cell phone, she angrily jabbed Viviana’s number through, listening as the phone rang and rang. On the third try, Viviana finally picked up.

  “Peaches,” she whispered.

  “What the hell’s going on, Viviana? I saw you in the tabloids with some guy at the Hooker Hotel.” The Hooker Hotel was what local’s called Hotel Excalibur long before it was busted for renting out rooms by the hour.

  “It’s a long story,” she said, her voice low.

  “Why are you whispering?”

  Instead of answering her questions, she said, “Can you meet me at Daddy’s house? I need some help.”

  “With what?” Peaches asked, unsure if she wanted to know.

  “Just come,” was her urgent response. Then the line went dead.

  Annoyed by what she was certain were more Viviana-esque dramatics, Peaches draped her father’s legs with a throw blanket, tossed her purse across her shoulder and headed out the door for Roanoke Rapids. Her sister was going to answer for this outrageous behavior and either get herself under control or get out of town.

  Chapter 25