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Peaches and the Gambler 19


  “Well—I sorta may have found a couple of sweepstakes stubs. One in his pants pockets and one in the strip club,” she mumbled, unable to quite meet his glaring eyes.

  “Really?” he said, his tone oozing sarcasm. “So let me get this. During the course of your non amateur sleuthing forays, you have somehow managed to coincidentally go to both the strip club and the bar your friend frequented? And you found two pieces of evidence?”

  “I know. Strange ain’t it?” Peaches wasn’t above using a little sarcasm of her own.

  “Yeah--,” he retorted, his tone clipped. “Very strange indeed. In fact, it’s so strange I’m tempted to slap these cuffs on your wrists and let you resolve all this weirdness in jail overnight.”

  Peaches remained silent. Tempting though it was to utter some sort of saucy comeback along the lines of ‘Yeah, well if you guys had actually searched the strip club you may have found it yourselves’ she knew the comment would have been childish, unfair and could possibly have led to her cooling her heels in a smelly jail cell. Finding the sweepstakes stub had been a stroke of luck. If she hadn’t been in there hiding from that security brute, there was a very good chance she would never have seen the stub herself. No, better to hold her tongue and leave well enough alone.

  “Where is this stub?” Detective Mendoso spat out, jaw clenched. He had finally stopped the nerve racking jangling of the cuffs on his belt.

  “It’s at my apartment,” Peaches said, slowly letting out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.

  “Bring it to police headquarters by eight am tomorrow morning, or I will personally come and arrest you. And this time any charges I file won’t be shaken off by some buddy of yours.”

  He stalked away and Peaches got into her car, relieved to be headed back to the comfort of her apartment.

  **

  The following morning found Detective Mendoso smiling contentedly and sipping at a bitter tasting cup of tepid coffee.

  That morning he had awoken to the sight of his lovely wife lying in his arms with a smile on her face. No wailing baby smushed between the two of them. He was firmly and comfortably tucked into his crib. That in and of itself was something to celebrate about. They still hadn’t had sex. It appeared she was still too ‘fragile’ for things to have gone that well. But still, it was a beginning.

  Despite the Peaches woman and her continued efforts to entangle herself in his investigation, things were going well. If ‘well’ was the word that could be used after walking around a murder scene where a man had been dead for more than a week and his neighbors had been none the wiser. Even after scrubbing himself for forty-five minutes in a steaming hot shower, it still seemed vestiges of the rotting body’s odor had managed to cling to his inner nasal passages.

  “You might want to take a look at the paper.”

  It was the same rookie cop that had given him some files he had asked for three days after he had requested them. After reaming her out, she had promised to be on point from that moment forward.

  “Well--,” he said, still smiling, “Can I see it?”

  Flustered at the unusually calm vibe Detective Mendoso was emitting, she hesitantly placed the newspaper on his desk, then scurried away. She didn’t want to be around when the Mogwai turned into a Gremlin.

  Putting his cup down, he flipped the paper open. There on page three was a photo of Peaches posing in front of the police tape surrounding the duplex. The headline read: Are Police Doing Enough to Solve the Murder of Lenny Richards? The article went on to say that Lenny Richards the third had been murdered more than a month ago and police were still no closer to a suspect.

  All the calm he had managed to gather around him like a protective cloak went up like so much smoke in the wind.

  He leaned back in his chair, his blood pounding in his ears. This woman was going to kill him before his son turned one.

  **

  Peaches, having rushed to pick up The Durham Sun at six o’ clock that morning, was also privy to the articles content.

  Reading the article, she felt somewhat guilty and annoyed. It seemed the reporter had inferred some things from the interview that Peaches had never said. One would think she had something against the City of Durham’s police officers because her friend Lenny’s murderer was still at large. OK. Maybe she sorta did, but she hadn’t actually said that to the reporter.

  Either way, she needed to perform a little interference. Thus, at seven thirty-five she was skulking around outside police headquarters, the sweepstakes stub the detective had demanded in her purse and ready to be dropped off at the front desk. She was dressed in all black, one of Nina’s hoodies obscuring her face. She had no intentions of bumping into the grumpy detective and ending up on the wrong side of his temper. So even though the hoodie was a bit much, it at least offered her a disguise from prying eyes.

  Making it to the front desk with no problems, she quickly dropped the evidence off for the detective, nearly running back to her car.

  Alright, after this she was going to briefly put up her detective heels and look for a job. That should keep her busy for a while. Furthering the strip club investigation might have to wait indefinitely.

  Who knew? Maybe with her out of the way the police might actually solve the murder.

  **

  Throughout the day, friends and family called her about the interview in the newspaper.

  Nina, loudly smacking gum: “Mummy—what are you doing finding dead people? And what are you doing on that side of town? That’s the hood, for real!”

  Polo: “Peach! What the fuck, cus? You found a dead mutherfucker? Shit!” Pause. “Was he naked? I’ll bet he smelled like shit!”

  Stick: “Are you okay? I think you should back off this investigation. I’m worried about you. It’s getting too dangerous.”

  Charm: “Damn. You’re doing a great job. Hold on--,” ‘Arsenios. I’ll be off the phone in a minute, chill.’ Whispering: “I told you I’d get my job back. Anyway. You start finding dead bodies you know you’re getting close to the killer. Get a gun. I already have one. I love you. Don’t want to see your ass in a coffin.”

  Her father: “Baby, I forgot to tell you, but I left you the .45. It’s in your pantry underneath the rice. You’re smart. You need it, don’t hesitate to hurt somebody.”

  Vernon, sternly: “I’m going to say this one more time because I care about you: stop with this crazy investigation thing you’re doing.” Whining. “I miss you, baby. Call me. Please.”

  The Ex. “Is Nina telling the truth? Are you investigating a murder? Did the police come to see you a week ago?” Coldly. “Nina’s out of control. Sly’s hair is barely done--I’m going to have to take this up in family court.”

  Peaches allowed The Ex’s call to be picked up by her voicemail. She had absolutely no desire to hear what he had to say. And if he wanted to take up any custody battle, let him do so. Every little bit of dirty laundry he had accumulated over the years would be aired for all the court to see if he wanted to take that route.

  She determinedly shoved aside a tiny little voice whispering how much The Ex and Vernon were alike.

  When it came to Lynn, the phone remained stubbornly silent.

  **

  Peaches, deep in the midst of an intense and up close session with her Wild G-Spot Vibrator, was interrupted from her big ‘Aha Moment’ when her doorbell rang.

  More than a little annoyed about being distracted away from what had promised to be an incredibly therapeutic orgasm, Peaches frowned. It was almost ten thirty at night. Throwing her Mickey Mouse robe on, she reluctantly put her toy securely in her locked bedside table, dialed down her lust and went to answer it.

  “Who is it?”

  There was no answer. She stood up on tippy toe, staring out of the peep hole. No one. Smiling, she opened the door.

  There was a small white box tied with ribbon sitting just in front of her door.

  More likely than not this little gift was Vernon trying to
win her back. She picked up the box looking around. Hearing a car start up, she quickly skipped over to the top of the stairwell, looking down. A dark sedan sped off with a squeal of tires, turning a corner and disappearing. Probably just another idiot teenager newly licensed and acting a fool. Because the parking lot was massive, curving and didn’t have nearly enough speed bumps; its racetrack like labyrinth tempted teenaged kids to drive recklessly.

  She shrugged, holding the box and humming a happy little Maxwell tune. She would talk to the property manager about it tomorrow. Not that she believed much would happen. She had discussed the issue numerous times in the past. The manager had merely given her a ‘go away’ nod of understanding and done nothing.

  Back inside her apartment, visions of glittering bling dancing in her head, she untied the ribbon, opening the box gleefully. Pulling the top off, she was somewhat disappointed to see a neatly folded square of white paper. Well, it could contain tickets to a show at DPAC—the Durham Performing Arts Center. She had wanted to see Wicked for the longest.

  Disgruntled, but still clinging to the fantasy of dinner and a show, she opened the square of paper. When she read the words, written with a clearly disturbed hand, her blood ran cold.

  The grammar was horrible but the meaning was unmistakable.

  “Bitch stop acksting queshions or dye!”

  With a shaking hand, Peaches threw the message back in the box, shutting it.

  Scared out of her mind and afraid to be alone, she called the one person who had always offered her comfort no matter the circumstance: Stick.

  Chapter 28

  Gabbling incoherently when Stick arrived, Peaches had to be forced down to the dining room table. Within moments, a cold glass of White Zinfindel magically appeared in her hand. She tossed the blessed liquid of the Gods down her throat in record time. The creators of the Cabbage Diet would definitely have disapproved.

  Twenty minutes and two glasses of wine later, she was finally able to piece together a reasonably rational sentence, though the wine was definitely starting to go to her head.

  “And you say the person just left this outside your door?” Stick was asking.

  She nodded her head mutely.

  “And you have no idea who this person was?”

  “When I looked out the peephole the person was already gone.”

  “Have you called the police yet?”

  “No,” she said, feeling foolish. Clearly she should’ve called the police first. But all she could think of when she read that note was she wanted Stick around. He always made her feel safe and secure.

  He gave her an incredulous look. “So you called me before the cops?”

  “Yes,” she said, a tad defensively. “I was scared as hell and you were the first thing that popped into mind.”

  “Alright—well, we need to call them now.”

  **

  Luckily for Peaches, Detective Mendoso was off the clock. A fresh faced female officer and her male partner took her statement. They took a cursory look around outdoors, questioned the neighbors, asked her a few additional questions, then slapped gloves on their hands and placed the gift box and its ‘gift’ in a large plastic baggie. It was all over in less than thirty minutes. There really just wasn’t that much to tell and even less that they could do.

  She was closing the door behind the officers, when her neighbor Mrs. Kendall popped her head out, nose twitching like a blood hound.

  “Got you a stalker, huh?” Rollers bobbled atop her head. Her eyes were narrowed and speculative. The light from her apartment shone through her thin, rose-patterned nightgown, throwing her stick thin body in stark relief against the cheap nylon material.

  “No, I don’t,” Peaches retorted, irritated. It was nearly one in the morning and she wasn’t in the mood for the widows snide questions.

  “Well, you got you somethin’. Police over here askin’ questions ‘bout whether or not I saw somebody in front of your door.” She folded her arms tightly across her chest. Abruptly dropping her arms, she eagerly leaned forward. “Saw you in the papers. Maybe this got somethin’ to do with you findin’ that body over there off Lincoln Place. Dangerous side of town. What was you doin’ over there anyway?”

  “Private business,” Peaches gritted, wanting nothing more than to bang her door shut in the nosy biddies face. Unfortunately her father and grandmother had raised her better than that.

  “Everything, ok?” Stick asked, appearing by her side and gazing at the neighbor.

  “Oh. You got you some more company. What was your name again, sweetie?” Ms. Kendall eyed him like a T-Bone steak.

  “Stick.”

  “I’ll bet,” she muttered. “Well—I’m’ll head on back to bed. Gotta lot to do tomorrow.” She raised her arms, yawning hugely and to Peaches jaded eye, theatrically. If Stick hadn’t noticed before, her nearly nude body beneath the nightgown was fully revealed now. “Buyin’ me a car from your other man and I need me my beauty rest.”

  With those provocative words, she did what Peaches wanted to, smirked a quick goodbye and slammed the door shut in their faces.

  Damn her. The old hussy had messed up her high.

  **

  “I’m staying here tonight,” Stick announced once the door was closed.

  “You don’t have to do that--,” Peaches began, knowing all the while that was exactly what she wanted.

  “I know,” he interrupted. “But I’m not going to leave you here alone when some nutcase that can’t spell is out roaming the streets and leaving you threats wrapped up in gift boxes.”

  “Why’d I have to get the crazy that can’t spell?” Peaches lamented, pouring another glass of wine. She figured with all the wine she had already drank, one more glass wouldn’t matter.

  “Would you rather have one that can?”

  “I don’t know,” she said, flopping down on the sofa. She took another gulp of wine, feeling very, very good. “It’s just that when one has a crazy stalker after them, it would be nice if they could at least spell.”

  “So, you’d rather have one that was smarter and would probably have a better chance of actually killing you?” he asked, settling his tall frame next to her, so close she could feel the warmth of his body heat. A braver woman than herself would have snuggled up a little closer. But she just guzzled her wine and got a little hornier.

  “Well, when you put it like that…,” she said, putting her glass to her lips again. Oh, all gone. Rats! She reached for the bottle again.

  “I think you’ve had enough,” Stick said, grabbing the bottle and putting it back in the fridge. “Let’s get you in the bed. You’ve had a lot of excitement today.”

  “I have, haven’t I?” Peaches stood up and found that her legs weren’t behaving as they should.

  “Let me help you,” Stick said. He strode over, easily picking her up in his arms.

  “Oooh. I like this,” she said, cuddling up against his broad chest. She hadn’t had the nerve to do it earlier but she sure as hell was going to take full advantage now.

  “Do you?” he laughed, warm chocolate eyes twinkling.

  “I do. We should do this more often.”

  “We could, but…,” he said, his words petering off.

  “But what?” He carried her through her bedroom door, depositing her gently on the bed.

  “But you have a man,” he said, pulling her robe off. He looked at it amused, before neatly hanging it in her closet. “I can’t believe you still wear this old thing. Haven’t you had this since college?”

  “High school,” she said absently. “I don’t have a man.”

  “Peaches. You always have a man,” he said, dryly.

  “I don’t.”

  Drunkenness often has the unfortunate side effect of bringing the truth to the surface. Peaches realized what he said wasn’t entirely without merit. After The Ex, there was Rodney, then Chris, then Lawrence and finally Vernon. My God, she did always have a man.

  “You do,” he s
aid, smiling wryly.

  “You always have a woman,” she said.

  “I always have a woman I’m sleeping with. That’s completely different than having someone I’m committed to.”

  “I guess.” She lay back on the pillows, feeling too fabulously tipsy to take the conversation any further. She started unbuttoning her pajama top.

  “I guess I should sleep on the couch,” Stick said, getting up.

  “You don’t have to. See--,” she said, fully coming out of her pajama top. “I’m wearing a cami. I don’t want to be alone tonight. My bed is big enough for the both of us and we’re both adults.”

  He thought about it for a moment, then slipped out of his jeans and bicep hugging tee and slid into bed. Leaning over, he turned off the bedside lamp, leaving her awash in his delicious male odor and soaking her senses in lust.

  She felt horny. She hadn’t had sex in months. She’d been thwarted from a much needed tête-á-tête with her vibrator, she was tipsy as hell and the object of quite a few of her sexual fantasies was lying in bed beside her. Why shouldn’t she cast caution to the winds and just go for it?

  Peaches almost did. If not for the tiny little voice in her head cautioning her against such a rash move she probably would’ve been rolling around, Stick burrowed deep between her thighs, right now.

  But common sense prevailed.

  Shoving her erotic thoughts aside, Peaches rolled over, closed her eyes and promptly fell asleep.

  **

  Stick was gone before she woke up, the only reminder of his presence the faint, but still nerve tingling scent of his cologne.

  Though it felt good to wake up with no regrets, it would have felt better to wake up naked in Stick’s arms. Oh, well. She would save that for another time.

  Groggy from her alcohol drenched night, she took a cold shower, hoping it might revive her.

  It didn’t. It just left her groggy and cold.

  Over the next few days Peaches threw herself mind, body and soul into the search for a new job, putting the hunt for Lenny’s killer in the back of her mind.

  It was a real challenge.

  When she had last searched for a job, it was from the superior vantage point of a person who was already securely employed. She had the upper hand and there was no real anxiety in the search, only the desire to find something that paid a bit more.