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Peaches and the Gambler 22


  “I appreciate your help.” Peaches put Lenny’s photo back in her purse, preparing to head home.

  “I’m quitting,” Mooney suddenly announced.

  “Really?” Peaches asked, raising an eyebrow.

  “Yeah. One of my best customers gets murdered, younger strippers is trying to move in on my territory and now you,” she complained. “Too much bad karma up in here.”

  Bad karma seemed like an understatement for a woman who screwed in closet sized rooms in the basement of a strip club. But then, what did she know?

  “Well, good for you,” Peaches said for lack of anything better to say.

  She left Melinda/Mooney/the fuck bunny tossing her belongings in a duffel bag and grousing about bad karma and getting out before it was too late.

  **

  “I heard your first night went well.”

  Peaches looked up from deep in thought. Ms. Eileen was seated at the bar, sipping from a glass of white wine. A diminutive Spanish couple was efficiently cleaning up the mess made from the nights patrons; pushing brooms around tables and swiping plastic cups and cocktail napkins into a rolling trash bin.

  Watching them made Peaches even more tired. Exhausted, she wanted to just nod her head, smile and give the canned response of ‘Great. See you tomorrow!’ But she was curious about who owned the club and administrative personnel were often great resources of information.

  “It went pretty good once I got over my jitters,” she said, falling back into her southern marinated accent as she strolled over to the bar, stopping a short distance from Ms. Eileen.

  “Yes. I told you. It always gets easier.” She took a sip of wine and Peaches noticed her eyes were mellow. Maybe a little too mellow. She wondered just how many glasses she had ‘sipped’ that evening.

  “Whoever owns this club must be makin’ a ton of money,” she said, laughing encouragingly.

  Ms. Eileen said nothing, merely sagely nodded her head.

  “Do you know who owns it?” Peaches asked.

  “It’s owned by a private party. You have a nice night, Mona.”

  “My name’s not--,” Peaches said before she could stop herself.

  Her face felt hot. Then cold. She had blown her own cover. Who did that except the most amateur of amateur private eyes?

  “It’s okay,” Ms. Eileen said, mistaking her silence for embarrassment. “A lot of girl’s use stage names instead of their own. They don’t want their husband’s or boyfriend’s or daddy’s to find out. Your secret’s safe with me.”

  Peaches nodded her head, so relieved, she didn’t trust her voice. She waved good night and hurried out into the darkness to her car. Once inside, she leaned her head against the headrest, taking a deep breath and composing herself.

  My God, that was close.

  Starting up the car she pulled out, following a dark colored SUV to the gated entrance. It wasn’t until the two fellows inside, Security Giant’s Number Two and Three, got out giving Security Giant Number One dap, before getting back inside and disappearing into the inky darkness beyond the gate, that the significance of what she had just seen struck Peaches. It was literally like a blinding light bulb went off in her head.

  Dark SUV. Two huge guys that looked like they played for the NFL.

  Her heartbeat quickened, moving from her chest to somewhere in the vicinity of her throat as she gripped the steering wheel.

  To a tee, the two fit the description of the pair of guys the young man in McDougle Terrace had seen leaving Lenny’s house a few days before he disappeared.

  Chapter 31

  After ten straight hours of sleep, Peaches dragged herself out of bed, muscles screaming and protesting all the way, feet like blocks of wood, and ran a bath as hot as she could take it. Dumping gallons of Epsom salt, baby oil and Calgon under the steaming water, she eased herself in, grimacing against the heat.

  An hour later, prune-like transformation complete, she wrapped herself in her old faithful robe, heading to the kitchen for a restorative Dove Bar. She had already missed breakfast so she figured it didn’t matter what she ate.

  She was sitting, pad on the coffee table before her, chewing on the end of a pen, when her phone dinged an incoming text alert from Charm.

  ‘Open the door. I got money to burn and I wanna see you shake that ass!’

  Seconds later she was staring at the giggling visage of Charm standing in the doorway, a deliciously fragrant bag of Bojangles’ balanced in one hand, a half gallon of sweetened iced tea in the other.

  “Where’s my private dance?” she asked, laughing as she walked inside and flopped down on the couch, sliding the bag of chicken on the coffee table.

  “Funny. Real funny,” Peaches grumbled, throwing Charm a reproachful look. “Do you know what I’ve been though?”

  “Yup. You know I danced for a hot sec down in Miami, right?” Charm asked, opening the bag and pulling out all the things that got Peaches salivary glands working overtime: Cajun seasoned fries, biscuits and of course the Piece de Resistance, crispy fried and double greasy chicken.

  “No. But I’m not surprised,” Peaches said, dryly.

  “Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do,” she said, winking. “Made a pretty penny, too. Paid for my first stint in Bartending School in less than four weeks. When I left, I never looked back. The problem with a lot of girl’s that strip is they don’t have a plan to get out. Next thing you know you been dancing for ten years and are addicted to all that unrealistic-assed money you make and can’t get back to a normal way of life, know what I mean?”

  “No, I don’t,” Peaches said, helping herself to a generous handful of fries and a steaming hot chicken breast. “And I don’t intend to find out.”

  “So what was it like?”

  Peaches gave her the annotated version of her first evening as a stripper. Unlike Lynn, Charm took everything she said at face value. The only questions she had were legitimate ones.

  “So you think those guy’s may’ve had something to do with your friend’s murder?”

  “I don’t know,” Peaches said, slowly chewing on a fry. “From what the kid I spoke to said, they were at Lenny’s house a few days before he was found.”

  “But why do you think they went to see him? You think they might have gotten wind of the money he won from that sweepstakes place?”

  “I don’t know that either. I do know from what The Fuck Bunny said—,” She and Charm had taken to calling Melinda The Fuck Bunny as their point of reference because, well, it was just funnier. “--he was bragging to her about the money he won. But if all they wanted was his money, why not just rob him? Why bother killing him at all?”

  The two of them mulled that question over in their minds. It was Charm who came up with a brilliant answer.

  “Maybe,” she said, sitting up and smiling triumphantly at Peaches. “Maybe he saw something down in that basement he shouldn’t have.”

  “But I was down there,” Peaches said, frowning. “I looked in all those rooms already. I didn’t see anything.”

  “That’s true. But you were only down there for a few minutes. Are you sure you didn’t miss anything?”

  Contemplating Charm’s question, she stuck another fry in her mouth, feeling as though she were about to burst from all the food she was stuffing into her mouth. No, she realized, she wasn’t sure at all.

  **

  After Charm left, with more questions unanswered than answered, Peaches called Ms. Penny. Though she wasn’t looking forward to it, she wanted to ask Cynthia a few more questions.

  Quickly writing the address down, she rung off, staring at the piece of paper in her hand.

  She lived in Woodcroft?

  Woodcroft Subdivision was a rather posh neighborhood nestled near the Southpoint Mall area in the easternmost part of Durham. She already felt sorry for the quiet, peace loving denizens who would now be subjected to the likes of Cynthia Richardson. Now that Cynthia had relocated, there would probably be an
unusual rash of new listings popping up on the real estate market.

  Thirty minutes later, she pulled up in front of a cheerful looking two story home painted a pale lavender and fronted by a large porch. She walked down a curving, flagstone path and up a short flight of stairs, ducking to avoid the trailing fingers of a hanging basket of geraniums.

  Ringing the glowing, backlit doorbell, Peaches stood back from the glassed-in screen door, reluctantly giving Cynthia credit for being a tidy housekeeper. The furniture on the porch was neatly arranged around a round white, wicker table and not a cobweb was in sight.

  Cynthia herself answered. Or at least she thought it was Cynthia. Gone was the crayon bright hair and coordinating claws. In its place was a modestly curled hairstyle and short, functional nails. And had she lost weight? The pair of stylish jean Capri’s she was wearing suggested she had.

  “Can I help you?” Even her speech was more refined.

  “I—yes,” Peaches said, trying to gain her bearings. “I came to ask you a few questions about Lenny.”

  “Oh, you’re here for my sister.”

  That explained it. Peaches was almost disappointed.

  “Would you like to come inside and wait?” the woman inquired. “She should be down in a moment.”

  “Sure,” Peaches said, her nosy side curious to see what the inside of Cynthia’s new house looked like.

  Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum were nowhere to be found. Probably were at school terrorizing some hapless peer.

  Leading Peaches to a small, well-furnished sitting room, she introduced herself as Sylvia, explaining that she and Cynthia were identical twins, birthed two days apart.

  Well, she knew which one was the evil twin.

  During the wait the two chatted, during which time Peaches learned Sylvia was a registered nurse in Greenville. She had taken a short leave of absence to assist Cynthia in settling her affairs now that Lenny was gone.

  “So then, you knew about the money Lenny won?” Peaches asked.

  “What money?” Cynthia barked, whirling into the room like a tornado. “And what the hell you doin’ here? I coulda sworn I told you to stop nosin’ around in my private business.”

  Peaches had hoped their third encounter would be more peaceful than their first and second. There went that pipe dream. She was dressed in her customary mu-mu, one decorated with fluffy, dancing sheep. However, a spectacular and blinding shade of magenta had replaced her previous wig and nail colors. Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

  “Cynthia, calm down,” Sylvia soothed, going into nursing mode. “You know your pressures up. Any higher and you’ll be headed straight for a stroke.”

  “Actually,” Peaches calmly said. “I’m helping Ms. Penny. She asked me to look into Lenny’s murder since the police aren’t doing much, so that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

  “That’s wonderful,” Sylvia said. “I was just complaining to Cynthia that I felt like they weren’t doing enough. So you’re a private investigator?”

  “She ain’t no investigator,” Cynthia carped, pulling a cigarette out of the pocket of her gown. When she stuffed her hand into the pocket, there was an optical illusion of sheep bounding about on the material covering her lumpy mid-section. “She just a busy body.”

  “PI’s are just professional busy bodies, aren’t they?” Peaches smoothly asked.

  “They got licenses to legally do their jobs. You just stick your nose in where it don’t belong.”

  “Put that cigarette away, Cynthia,” her sister ordered. “Didn’t you just say you wanted to quit?”

  Appearing mutinous, Cynthia looked as if she were going to defy her sister’s orders. Then she thought better of it, rolling the cigarette longingly between her index and forefinger before putting it back inside the folds of her mu-mu.

  Ignoring Cynthia’s criticisms, she proceeded to tell the sisters all she had learned, ending with her most recent foray to the strip club.

  Once she was through, Cynthia looked decidedly less fierce. That may even have been respect fighting its way through frown lines etched deeply into her discontented face. One would think with the half million dollars she had just come into, happiness was just within her grasp. But with the death of your husband looming over every little move you made, she supposed joy was that much further away.

  “That’s just…amazing,” Sylvia said, astonished.

  “I guess for a fake PI you ain’t doing half bad,” Cynthia grudgingly agreed. “Specially considerin’ you done got flamin’, butt-assed naked at that strip club to help out. You better check yourself for crabs after dealin’ with them nasty girls.”

  “Did you know he used to go to Satin Dolls?” Peaches asked, again choosing to ignore Cynthia and her annoying observations, all the while wondering if she had contracted crabs. Could one get crabs from dancing on a man’s lap?

  “I ain’t know, but I ain’t surprised either,” she grunted. “On Friday’s he would go to sweepstakes. Guess after that he slid over to that club.” The word ‘club’ was ground out as though it were an expletive.

  “So, did you know Lenny as a braggart?”

  “Naw, not really,” Cynthia said.

  “That’s not true,” Sylvia interjected. “He bragged sometimes. Especially when he got drunk. Couldn’t get that fool to shut up!”

  “Yeah, that’s true,” Cynthia said with a little laugh. There were tears in the corner of her eyes. “When he had too much to drink he would brag ‘bout all kinda shit. Like to get on my nerves! Most of it had to do with his accomplishments from high school. But did that matter to him? Nope. He used to talk ‘bout the one time he won a math competition over you.”

  “Really?” Peaches said. She had forgotten about that until now.

  “Said it was the only time he beat you at something.” She dabbed at her eyes as the tears rolled.

  Peaches stood up, feeling she hadn’t really learned anything new, but was gratified to at least have Cynthia and her twin sister supporting her on the investigation.

  Cynthia gave her the new phone number before she left, ‘Just in case she learned anything new.’

  Incorporating Charm’s assumption, she now believed she had a rough sketch of what happened. Lenny had been down in The Suites with The Fuck Bunny, somehow managing to see something shady. The two bodyguards are told to take care of this problem. They do so, perhaps kidnapping Lenny, killing him and dumping him out at the Old Durham Bulls Stadium. Either through The Fuck Bunny or Lenny’s own bragging, they find out he won twelve thousand dollars. It’s a fantastic perk. Before killing Lenny and dumping his body behind the Old Durham Bull’s Stadium, they rob him of the twelve thousand dollars he won. The young man she spoke to had witnessed this visit.

  There was something bothering Peaches, though. This scenario didn’t answer the question of why his associate from the bar was killed. But she supposed that murder could very well have been a random act, completely unconnected to Lenny’s demise. She was uneasy with that conclusion, but she was hard-pressed to come up with anything else.

  She needed to slide over to the club. She wanted to get a daytime photo of those two goons and the SUV.

  Once she had a picture and a positive ID, she was paying a visit to Detective Mendoso.

  Chapter 32

  “I think I dropped an earring ‘round here somewhere,” Peaches announced, sashaying into Satin Doll’s on a cute pair of three inch wedges she had purchased from Kohl’s, just for her undercover assignment, of course.

  After making a quick stop by the apartment to change into her platinum, bob-length wig, she had slapped some lipstick on, swiped some eye shadow across her lids and made the quick trek across town.

  Pretending to chat on her phone as Massive Security Giant Number One had done his usual frisking routine, Peaches had snapped a quick photo using her Smartphone, saving the picture to an album she had saved as ‘Security Giant’s’ in its memory.

  One down two more to go.

  Takin
g a picture of all the security guy’s was simply a precaution to ensure she hadn’t made an assumption on the ID’s of the other two. They were all NFL huge, so on any given Sunday; it could have been any combination of the four.

  This early in the day Satin Doll’s was closed to the public and wouldn’t open for another hour or so.

  There were four sleek cars parked out front. All of them of the late model BMW or Mercedes persuasion. Incredibly posh. Outrageously expensive. The dark SUV she had seen yesterday was parked a short distance from the bevy of motorized beauties gleaming in the late afternoon sunshine. Curiosity piqued, she wondered about the VIP’s who owned such luxurious toys.

  Ms. Eileen was sitting at the bar, a glass of wine in her hand, paperwork splayed across its surface. She was looking about as mellow as she had the night before.

  “Feel free to look around in the dressing room for your earring,” she said, smiling a loose smile. “Girl’s lose earrings all the time. Hopefully it wasn’t valuable.”

  “Just sentimental,” she said.

  Peaches waltzed into the dressing room, making a show of looking around.

  She returned to the bar. The other two Massive Security Giant’s were still MIA.

  “Ms. Eileen. Would it be possible to look for the earring in the back? It may have fallen in the hallway or in that other room.”

  Looking hesitant, she seemed as if she were going to say no, until Peaches said, “If my grandmother hadn’t given them to me—God bless her soul—I wouldn’t bother. But it was the only thing she had left after dying of cancer--,” she continued, laying it on thick as tar. “--and she wanted to make sure I had them.”

  “I suppose that’ll be okay,” she said, putting her wine glass down with supreme reluctance.

  Getting up, she led Peaches down the same hall they had traversed the evening before. Peaches acted as though she were visually scouring the floor, covertly reaching into her purse to grab an earring she had tucked inside. She would pretend to ‘find’ its match as soon as she saw the Massive Security Giant’s and could get close enough to snap a clear photo.

  “Nothing yet, huh?” Ms. Eileen, questioned, her tone a tad on edge.