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Peaches and the Gambler 18


  “Both a ya’ll shut the fuck up or get the fuck out!” the bartender screeched, slamming her makeshift club on the bar between the two men. Plastic tumblers vibrated. A few upending, spilling across the bar and just missing the legs of patrons who jumped up frowning and muttering.

  The two men backed away from one another, each ones face still fixed with angry frowns. Eventually settling on opposite ends of the bar, everything went back to normal and it was business as usual.

  All of this took place in under a minute. Peaches didn’t know if she should be entertained or running back out the same way she came in.

  Making her way over to the bar, Peaches waited for the bartender to finish refilling the drinks that had spilled. She smiled when she caught her eye. The bartenders scowl deepened.

  She regarded the woman curiously. Despite her menacing demeanor, when the woman swept by to pass someone a bottle of beer, Peaches picked up the scent of some exotic perfume. In this atmosphere, it was surprising the woman cared enough to even bother. A pair of small diamond solitaires twinkled in her earlobes and her hair was neatly twisted into a thick bun at the nape of a still smooth neck. Her clothing didn’t look cheap, either. From a distance she had appeared less than attractive, but up close Peaches could see the woman at one time must’ve been very pretty. Maybe the withering expression was there to keep men at a distance.

  “Hi. My name’s Peaches. What’s your name?” she asked the recalcitrant bartender.

  “Honey Murchison,” she replied, warily.

  “Honey, was wondering if you knew this guy.” She whipped out the photo Ms. Penny had given her of Lenny, hoping that despite its age, the woman would recognize him.

  “Who’s askin’?”

  “Peaches,” she repeated.

  “No--,” the woman said, rolling her eyes. “I mean what’s the association?”

  “Oh. I’m an old friend of his. Just wanted to ask a few questions.”

  “I don’t answer questions.” The ornery expression had returned.

  “Not even when it can help solve a crime?”

  “Especially then. I’ve learned answering questions can get people hurt.”

  Peaches was stumped, but not beat. “I’m doing this to help his mother get some closure--,” she began.

  “Ms. Penny?” she interrupted.

  “You know her?” Peaches asked, surprised.

  “No. But he used to talk about her all the time,” she said, her face softening. “About how no matter what he did, she loved him. She was trying to get him to clean up his act. But he wasn’t ready. I wished I had a mother like that. Never knew mine. Ended up droppin’ outta school. Now here I am,” she said, laughing bitterly.

  “Did he come here the night he was killed?”

  The woman regarded her momentarily, her expression shuttered. “He was here,” she said slowly. “He came here at least four nights a week. Always bought the same thing: Cochran’s Island Gin and Colt 45. His favorites. But I done already told the police that.”

  Cochran’s Island Gin again, huh? The best alcohol a lush could buy, she supposed.

  “Did he have any beef with anybody?”

  “Not that I know of,” she said, shaking her head. “He was a pretty peaceable guy. He came in, had his drinks, chatted with a few people when he was in the mood and left. The perfect customer. Sometimes, when he got too drunk, I’d bring him home. He was one of the few people that left a tip. A damn shame he’s dead.”

  A few of her customer’s glasses had gone dry. They looked at her expectantly.

  Leaning over to refill the glass of the man closest to Peaches, she spotted a sales tag hanging from the collar of the bartender’s blouse.

  “Here—let me get that,” she said, automatically reaching for the tag and tucking it back into her shirt. Who knows, maybe she was trying to do a ‘I-can’t-afford-this-outfit-lease’ and return the shirt the next day. Having ‘leased’ expensive clothing herself, Peaches was very familiar with the trick. She inadvertently glanced at the tag. Macy’s $89.99 and that was on sale. This woman really was more than met the eye. Peaches couldn’t imagine wearing a shirt that expensive to bartend in.

  That quick, the woman’s expression went from halfway approachable, back to hardened and distanced. She carelessly reached for the tag Peaches had just tucked in, ripping it off and tossing it in the garbage can beneath the counter.

  Guess that meant the woman was keeping the expensive blouse.

  “I gotta get back to work.” The words were a dismissal.

  “Well—if you can remember anything else please call me at this number.”

  Peaches quickly scribbled her number on the back of an old business card, handing it to the bartender. She reluctantly accepted it, tossing it onto a graveyard of other forgotten business cards hanging out behind the counter. A curt, ‘Yeah.’ was all she got in response.

  She showed Lenny’s picture around to the other bar goers but got no additional information. Most people were either too drunk to recognize anything or anyone, or had never seen him before.

  As she went to walk out the door, a man she had already spoken to slapped a moist hand on her arm, halting her progress.

  “I ‘member him now,” the guy slurred, liquor fumes strong enough to start her car reeking from his pores. “Used to hang out wit a guy comes up here from time to time. Ain’t seen him in a while though…” He lapsed into silence, appearing confused.

  “Ok.” Peaches made an attempt to extract her arm, but the guys hands were like a slugs body, sliding, but still sticking.

  After an interminable amount of time, during which the guy sat and stared with an open, cavity-filled mouth into space, he finally spoke again.

  “Guy’s name’s David. He lives not too far from here off Lincoln Place. You should go talk to him. He might know somethin’” He released her arm, gave her a sloppy, gap-toothed grin, and recommenced his marathon drinking.

  Peaches gratefully left the alcohol soaked confines of the bar, gulping down deep breaths of mostly clean air. She hadn’t even known she was breathing through her mouth until she was back outside. She got in her car, putting it into drive and heading over to Lincoln Place.

  **

  Lincoln Place was on the outskirts of Durham, just around the corner from Durham Technical Community College. There were four sets of small, wood-sided duplexes with tiny porches and small patches of parched grass. It dead ended in a wall of bushes, small saplings and a mostly torn down chain link fence. Two cars, one sitting atop cinderblocks, were the only vehicles present.

  Peaches knocked on the doors of the first two duplexes on the right hand side, before being told by a young woman toting a baby on her hip, that he lived on the left side of the street in the building closest to the fence.

  She walked across the road, carefully tipping up a rickety set of stairs and standing precariously on a sagging porch that had seen better days.

  The first apartment had an ancient, yellowing eviction notice attached to the handle of the screened door and appeared empty. She bypassed it, knocking on the door of the other apartment.

  There was no answer.

  She jiggled the door handle. It was locked, as she expected.

  Mail was piled up in the mailbox, some of it spilling to the splintered planks of the miniscule porch. It had the disused look of an apartment that hadn’t been lived in for a while.

  A vague sense of foreboding hung over the place like a pall. Peaches suddenly felt very nervous. If not for her promise to Ms. Penny, she would have beat a hasty retreat to her car.

  A large, fat blue bottle fly buzzed lazily about, flying heavily around Peaches person before settling upon her forearm. She shook it off and it lethargically took flight, disappearing around the corner of the house leading to the back.

  Peaches followed.

  She tramped through grass high enough to envelop her feet and ankles, uselessly craning her neck as though she could see though the house to the ot
her side. More flies were around back, hungrily buzzing around a topless City of Durham garbage can. They were also busily flitting around the back door. The noise they made loud enough to muffle the sound of cars driving past on the main road intersecting Lincoln Place.

  There was an odor back here. An odor she normally associated with rotten meat or eggs gone bad, but much stronger. Gagging, heart in her throat, Peaches slowly walked up the stairs leading to the back door, afraid to try the handle.

  But she did try the handle. It opened with no hesitation. When she saw the grisly sight of a body covered in flies, she opened her mouth and screamed.

  Chapter 27

  Peaches, still in shock, stood back as an army of police officers, homicide detectives and crime scene photographers walked around the scene of what was more likely than not a murder. Yellow tape was draped around the entire duplex. It flapped limply in the slight breeze. She blankly followed its progress as it fluttered about. Disbelief mingled with what she knew to be an inappropriate sense of excitement.

  She had never seen a dead body outside of the news or a TV crime drama, and she had, despite her investigation, not expected to ever see one in her lifetime. Now that she had, her reaction had surprised her. She had always assumed that if she ever did stumble across a corpse her reaction would be a cool one such as: ‘Oh. It’s a dead body. Let me call the police’. She certainly never thought she would open her mouth and utter the stereotypical scream.

  A young, pale-faced woman with butchered pink hair Peaches supposed went for a trendy style, hesitantly walked over to her, Smartphone and stylus in hand.

  “Excuse me. May I ask you a few questions about what happened here?”

  “Huh?”

  With effort, Peaches left her morbid thoughts behind, staring blankly at the tattooed woman in jean Capri’s and tank top standing just off to the side.

  “You were the one that found the body, right?”

  “Yes.”

  “Can I get a statement?”

  “And you are…?”

  “Oh--,” the woman laughed awkwardly, sticking her stylus in its holder and adjusting the camera around her neck before sticking her hand out. Peaches shook it and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her hands were moist almost to the point of wet. “My name is Carolyn Leonard. I’m a reporter for The Durham Sun.”

  “Oh. I’m not sure if I want to talk to reporters…” she said, doubtfully. Detective Mendoso was flitting around somewhere and she had no desire to get on his bad side.

  Carolyn’s youthfully earnest expression morphed into one of disappointment. Her shoulders sagged and she scuffed her white running shoes in the gravel.

  “I promise it won’t take long,” she said, hopefully.

  “Are you new?” Peaches asked.

  “Is it that obvious?”

  “Yes, it is,” Peaches said, dryly. “Alright,” she said, capitulating beneath the girl’s eager look. “If it doesn’t take too long.”

  Peaches stealthily looked around. Not spotting the detective anywhere nearby, she figured she’d chance it.

  Carolyn was right, it was quick. She wrapped up the interview with a thank you and snapped a picture of Peaches standing in front of the yellow tape, an appropriately somber expression on her face. She handed Peaches a card, extracting a promise that she would call her first if she heard or saw anything else. She hadn’t mentioned to the reporter that she was informally investigating the case herself. Something told her that wouldn’t be the best thing to have written up in the paper for everyone—killer included—to see.

  “You have to be the most hard-headed, annoying woman I have ever met.”

  Carolyn walked away just as Detective Mendoso returned, fluttering uni-brow and all. His frown, if possible, was more menacing than it had been when she had first encountered him. He glared suspiciously after Carolyn’s retreating figure. “Who was that you were talking to?”

  “So now you need to know everyone I associate with?” she asked, arching an eyebrow. But inside she was quaking. That was a close call. Who knew how he would have reacted if he had known she was discussing the murder with a reporter.

  “At the rate you’re going, yes, I do.”

  “Well, until you get a warrant that says you are privy to all my most private thoughts and conversations, whom I was talking to is none of your concern,” Peaches said, rapidly recovering her composure.

  “Maybe I will, at that,” he growled. “I told you to stay out of this investigation and here you are still nosing around.”

  When Detective Mendoso got the call to investigate the discovery of a dead body, he hadn’t had any idea that the person who had called it in was Peaches. Therefore, he was deeply incensed when he saw her standing on the porch of the house across the street, chit-chatting with a girl who lived in one of the duplexes and cooing at her baby.

  “You wouldn’t have known about this poor man’s death if it hadn’t been for me.”

  “We would have gotten around to it,” he said, dismissively.

  “Really?” Peaches asked, cocking an eyebrow in his direction in a know-it-all way that infuriated him. “I recall once seeing a story on television about a man whose body wasn’t discovered for more than two months after he died. Being that the apartment next to him was empty and you guys are obviously very busy, there is an incredibly good chance that the same thing would have happened here.”

  Rendered momentarily silent by words he couldn’t exactly deny, he settled on grinding his molars instead. He smiled suddenly. He knew something that would shut her up and get her out of his hair for a few hours.

  “Look—we’re gonna need to ask you a few more in depth questions downtown—,”

  “But you guy’s already asked me a million questions which I very patiently answered,” Peaches protested.

  “I know,” Detective Mendoso said, smiling much like a shark eagerly anticipating a tasty meal. “But we need your official statement and we need to ask you some official questions.” He shrugged, holding his hands up helplessly. “It’s bureaucracy. What can I say?”

  **

  After a long, intense round of grilling in a small, sweltering interview room with no windows and only cup after steaming cup of coffee to wet her dry throat, Peaches was so hot she felt like she had, unknowingly, begun menopause.

  She hadn’t previously, but she now understood NWA’s rebellious ‘Fuck the Police’ anti-establishment rap lyrics.

  Peaches was pretty sure the theatrics of her interview were all thanks to the lovely Detective Mendoso.

  As she stalked her way out, accompanied by a smug police officer, she tried her best to ignore the amused eyes of the varying law enforcement officers who were aware of she and the detective’s tumultuous association.

  “I’ll take over from here Officer Perry.” The detective was standing by the door leading out of the police station.

  “I’m sure I can find my way out from here Detective,” she said, frowning.

  “I’m sure you can. But we need to have a little talk so that we understand one another.”

  “I understand you just fine.”

  “Not fine enough,” he said, tersely. He fell into step beside her and they walked through the double doors.

  “And if I refuse?” Peaches asked, digging her heels in and halting before the elevators.

  “Then these handy-dandy cuffs might just make another appearance for yours truly,” he threatened, jingling his cuffs and smiling.

  “Whatever,” she huffed, relenting. God knows she didn’t want to go to jail again. They continued walking.

  “So you say you ended up at the victim’s house because you wanted to talk to him about Lenny?”

  “Yes,” Peaches sighed. “We’ve been over all this already.” The elevator dinged and they crowded in with six other people going to the ground floor.

  “So you were investigating,” he accused in a low irritated voice right by her ear. “Something I clearly told you to stop doi
ng.”

  “I already told you all: I wasn’t investigating. I was going to talk to a mutual friend of Lenny’s about his final days. You know, reminiscing. Nothing illegal about that.”

  “Yeah. I know what you said.”

  With a slight lurch, the elevator reached the ground floor and the doors opened. Peaches, hoping to lose the detective, or at least leave him behind, picked up her pace. Of course, as luck would have it, he effortlessly kept up.

  “Funny thing is,” the detective continued, speed walking at her side. “Just before that you were at the bar he liked to go to. Very interesting course of events for a person who just wanted to discuss the life and times of her deceased friend.”

  “Hey—I like to create atmosphere. Makes it all seem less real.”

  “Look—this isn’t a game,” Detective Mendoso said, his tone hard. “Two men are dead. They both knew one another. Something strange is going on and you’re smack dab in the middle of it like you can’t get hurt, too. For all you know you’ve already come across the killer. They might come after you next. Or your children”

  Peaches stopped, halting on the threshold to the short flight of stairs leading down into the parking lot. The detective’s words jolted her and the delayed reaction of seeing a body and being interviewed for hours, finally took its toll. She felt shaky, nauseous and scared.

  “You really think they might come after me, Detective Mendoso?” she asked, voice quivering.

  “I don’t know.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Maybe his death is just a terrible coincidence. But maybe it’s not. Either way, you need to just stand back and let us do our job.”

  Maybe she would. Hell—maybe she should. A friend of Lenny’s was found dead, shot in the back of his head. It was unreal.

  “Alright,” she said, resigned. “I’ll leave Durham’s finest in peace.”

  “Good. Now, is there anything else you haven’t told us?” he asked.

  Peaches briefly thought about not mentioning her foray to the strip club nor the sweepstakes stub she had found there. But in the end, this was about finding out who had taken Lenny’s life, not about Peaches getting credit from Durham’s finest for her sharp investigational eye.