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Peaches and the Gambler 25


  Chapter 35

  On her way back home, filled with the single Krispy Kreme doughnut and a pack of stale peanut butter crackers she had procured from the vending machine, Peaches found herself driving down the street leading to the dead-end road on which the duplex of Lenny’s now deceased associate was located.

  It had been a long week and she wanted nothing more than to head home and soak in a tub full of warm bubbles, but she was inexorably drawn back down the short, graveled drive. She remained in her car, staring at the apartment still festooned with police tape.

  Lenny’s murder had not been solved.

  Detective Mendoso believed Ms. Eileen and crew had disposed of him, but Peaches was fairly sure that wasn’t true. Someone else had killed him. Someone who knew about all the money Lenny had recently come into. Someone who was going to get away with murder. Looking at the lonesome apartment reminded Peaches that this person had ruthlessly killed two men. What did the two men have in common? The question ran round and round in Peaches head. The answer just out of reach.

  Ms. Penny had called a couple of nights before, thanking Peaches for all her hard work, saying what a wonderful thing she had done bringing down all those drug dealers. She had shushed away Peaches apologies that she hadn’t yet found Lenny’s killer, saying she had done more than enough. But Peaches had made a promise to Ms. Penny and she fully intended on keeping it.

  Getting out, she walked up the creaking stairs, cupping her hands and staring in the grimy windows.

  “Ain’t gonna find nothing there.”

  Peaches jumped, startled. It was the girl with the baby she had spoken to so many weeks ago. She was standing there, the baby on her shoulder, a two or three-year-old boy by her side.

  “What the police didn’t take, the crackhead’s and bums cleaned out,” she said, adjusting the fussing baby on the pink Fubu shirt she was wearing.

  “Anybody else strange you noticed hanging around?” Peaches asked.

  “No. Just been empty and scary. I try to stay away.”

  The girl wandered off back to her apartment, the quiet little boy giving Peaches a shy smile as he trailed at his mother’s heels.

  Wandering around the house, she didn’t know what she thought she might find that the police or the garbage collectors hadn’t already picked up, but she figured it was worth a go.

  It was still pretty warm, the promise of a hot summer in the humid fingers of air caressing her skin. Grasshoppers and crickets sang loudly, their carefree songs unhampered by the recent murder. The grass had been cut, the odor fresh and sharp in her nostrils. A lone dog barked in the distance.

  There was nothing but emptied bottles of beer and liquor in the back. Where the mower hadn’t cut, the grass had grown up high. Additional garbage could be found amongst the tall weeds; old discarded bike inner tubes, shoes, and boxes tossed out back like the garbage can had been too far away. There was even an entire case of empty fifths loitering in the grass. This struck Peaches as odd. Most alcoholics on this side of town went to the corner store for their daily fix. This enterprising lush had stocked up.

  Peaches picked up one of the bottles. Cochran’s Island Gin, rotgut, all of it. Shaking her head, she tossed it back, wondering if the guy had died as he’d lived, drunk as a skunk.

  Returning to the car, Peaches stopped beside the door, head cocked to the side. Where had she seen Cochran’s Island Gin before? It was a very cheap brand of gin, the kind only hardcore alcoholics and bums purchased.

  Information began coming at her slowly, then at lightening speed until she stood there, mouth open, all the snooping she had done falling into place. Lenny talked a lot when he got drunk. He made a regular habit of going to That Place. The one thing both Lenny and this dead guy both had in common was the bar. Why had it taken her so long to connect the pieces?

  Whoever killed these two guys was someone at that bar, someone who’d attempted to bribe an alcoholic with an entire case of Cochran’s Island Gin and she had a damned good idea of exactly who that person was.

  **

  “She quit a few days ago. Just left me high and dry,” the bartender, a tired old guy with rheumy eyes, was griping.

  After putting all the pieces together, Peaches hoofed it over to That Place, only to be told Honey no longer worked there.

  “I’m an old friend of hers. Do you know where she lives?” she asked.

  “I believe she lives in an apartment off Roxboro Street,” he said. “But let me go to the back to check. Should be in her files.”

  He returned a few moments later, a piece of paper in his hands.

  “That’s the address we had on file. But I heard her talkin’ ‘bout movin’ down to Florida. Mighta already left.”

  “Thanks.” Peaches snatched the piece of paper out of his hands and left, leaving the man standing there, his now empty hand still raised in the air.

  **

  Detective Mendoza hated drug busts. They usually involved filthy houses, drug addicts and a fair amount of running after agile young suspects.

  But this week had been different. There had been the drug bust at the strip club which had been very easy, thanks to Peaches Donnelly and her persistence.

  Then there was the drug bust today. Almost enjoyable, this one had involved more than a half dozen, semi-dressed Duke University coeds and several pounds of weed. Again, easy, clean, cut and dry. Plus, he got to see a few pair of perky tits to boot. Why couldn’t more of his life be the same?

  He was pondering life’s unfairness, when his phone notified him of a message. He listened to it, unibrow slowly drawing into one straight line once the significance of the words sank in.

  Would his relationship with Peaches Donnelly never end?

  **

  “How could you kill my friend for a few measly thousand dollars?”

  Honey Murchison, packing clothes and boxes into the rear of a small U-Haul truck stiffened when she heard Peaches voice.

  Peaches had raced at top speeds trying to get over to the address the bartender had given her, praying this woman hadn’t already skipped town, the thousands of dollars she had killed two men for, tucked securely in her suitcases or boxes.

  She had called everyone she could, leaving the name and address of the woman she was confronting on the voicemails of Detective Mendoza and her closest friends. If anything happened they would at least know where to look.

  The bartender was wrong. Honey Murchison lived in a small, one story house at the end of a quiet road. Her closest neighbor’s squirrels and the odd field mouse or two.

  In a rush to get to the woman before she made her escape, she hadn’t bothered to plan for the contingency of a dangerous situation that might well arise. She hoped luck was on her side.

  “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin’ about,” the woman said, eyes narrow.

  “You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Peaches said, keeping a good distance between her and the woman she was sure was Lenny’s killer. This woman had already killed two people, so one more probably wouldn’t make a difference. “I’d say you’re a good twenty-two or so thousand dollars richer, am I close?”

  She remained silent, turning her back on Peaches and continuing to put the boxes stacked on a dolly inside the truck.

  “I figure this is what you did,” Peaches said loudly. “You overheard Lenny bragging about the money he won to his friend while you were pouring them drinks. That first night it didn’t phase you. You’d heard Lenny brag many times in the past and you figured he was once again full of hot air. Then, somehow, you figured he wasn’t lying. Maybe he flashed a little money, I don’t know. You started thinking the money he won could set you up with a new life. You said yourself you used to bring him home when he got really drunk. That’s how you trapped him. Got him really drunk on his favorite gin, bought him home, robbed him and killed him. The extra ten thousand was a bonus.”

  Honey continued to ignore Peaches, stepping up into the bay of the truck and
arranging boxes in neat stacks.

  “Then Lenny’s associate started causing you a headache,” Peaches continued, shifting from behind her car door and moving closer to the truck so she could be sure Honey heard each word she said. “Once Lenny was dead, the bum you thought was too dumb to put two and two together, did just that. More likely than not he knew you had been the last person to see Lenny alive. He started blackmailing you. When the liquor you were bribing him with wasn’t satisfying enough, he started demanding a cut of the cash. Too bad for him. You’d already planned a new life for yourself on the sunny shores of Florida and you’d be damned if you were sharing any of your blood money with some two bit loser. Now here we are. You’re caught and the only vacation you’ll be taking is in jail.”

  Damn. That had to classify as one of the cheesiest lines she had ever uttered.

  Honey, back to Peaches, started backing out of the truck, still as silent as she had been when Peaches began with her theory of what she thought happened.

  Flush with victory, Peaches wasn’t prepared for the large butcher knife gripped with deadly seriousness in one of Honey’s fists, a maniacal gleam in her eyes.

  Shiiiiittttttt!

  “You know how long I worked at that crappy bar?” Honey asked, slowly advancing on Peaches, knife shining wickedly.

  Peaches shook her head, all the while keeping her eyes on the knife, more than a little afraid of being turned into chopped meat at the end of the deadly blade.

  “Ten long years,” she said bitterly. “Wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t hate it. Serving drunks to bums all day long don’t make you much better than they are after a while.”

  “I understand,” Peaches said, stalling for time.

  “I just wanted a better life for myself,” she wailed. “I was gonna go down to Florida, get my GED and study to become a bookkeeper. I’m pretty good with numbers.”

  “Sounds like a wonderful idea,” Peaches gushed nervously.

  “I didn’t wanna kill Lenny. When I bought him home that night, I thought he was out cold. Then he woke up and saw me with the money, we fought and I was forced to kill him.”

  “And his friend?” Peaches asked, keeping her talking as she frantically searched for a way out of this mad woman’s line of vision.

  “You were right when you said he wanted a piece of the action. But I was damned if he was gonna benefit after I did all the hard work,” she spat, eyes glittering.

  “So you’re the one that left that letter outside my door,” Peaches asked, slowly edging towards the safety of her car.

  “Yeah, but it didn’t work,” she complained. “Why couldn’t you just mind your own business? Now I gotta kill somebody else when all I wanna do is start my new life.”

  “You don’t have to,” Peaches wheedled.

  “Yes, I do.”

  She lunged. Peaches, close enough to her car to dive inside, closed and locked the door. Too late, she remembered she had been too cheap to pay the extra eight hundred dollars for the model equipped with the power door locks. This miserly decision now left her vulnerable to Honey hopping through the rear door, which she promptly proceeded to do.

  Cursing, she scrambled back out, wildly looking for an escape route. Foolishly, the open bay of the U-Haul truck seemed to be the best option. Jumping inside, with effort, she pulled the door of the truck down with all her might, managing to slam it shut before Honey could follow her inside.

  Now what?

  Heart pounding, she pushed with all her might down on the handle to prevent the insane Honey from getting inside. But leverage wasn’t her friend. With the strength of madness on her side, Honey managed to overpower Peaches efforts, the door of the truck bay sliding up, its nylon pull dangling just out of reach.

  “Bitch, I got you now,” Honey said, menacingly brandishing the knife.

  “You don’t have to do this, you know,” Peaches said, desperately.

  Her only response was to do the damned lunging thing again. Peaches grabbed a box, wielding it like a matador would a cape. The two ducked and dodged, Honey jabbing the box multiple times until Peaches was crammed into the far corner. The boxes contents—bed linens and towels—provided ample protection, but Peaches arms began tiring.

  Enmeshed in battle as they were, Peaches was shocked when Honey, a strange look crossing her face, crumpled, falling to the floor.

  Standing behind her, the business end of a bat in her hand, was Lynn.

  “The only person that’s gonna kill your ass is me,” Lynn said with grim satisfaction.

  Epilogue

  After more than two long months of investigating Lenny’s murder, it was nice to get back to normal.

  Carolyn Leonard over at The Durham Sun did a nice piece on her investigation, at the end of which she was hailed as an unsung hero. She shrewdly questioned Peaches as to her involvement with the Satin Doll’s drug bust, having heard that a mysterious woman was at the center of the case. But Peaches felt it wouldn’t be wise to broadcast her undercover work, so mums the word.

  Ms. Penny was overjoyed about the arrest of Honey Murchison, telling Peaches ‘I never doubted you would find out what happened to Lenny. Now I’m at peace.’

  Cynthia and her twin sister were amazed and thankful. Cynthia going so far as to give her an uncomfortably long hug, followed by incredibly hideous sobbing. Cynthia’s parting words were ‘To make sure to go to the health department and check yourself for any STD’S. ‘Specially crabs’.

  She was happy to say her Ob-Gyn had declared her STD free. Rejoicing, she had a small, celebratory meal at Bojangles’.

  Honey Murchison was claiming temporary insanity, saying the long years of working at a bartender filled with drunks and low-lives had twisted her behavior. Peaches wasn’t buying it for a minute. Anyone who could manage a butcher knife as expertly as she had was clearly of sound mind and body.

  The police managed to find a little bit more than nineteen thousand dollars of the cash hidden inside of pots and pans. It would remain as police evidence until the trial was over.

  The job over at Sunshine Magnets didn’t work out. After two tedious weeks, they let her go, telling Landmark Temporary Agency: ‘We’re looking for someone with a bit more team spirit.’

  They had some fucking nerve.

  Nina learned a hard lesson in her young life: when you screw up there are consequences. In the state of North Carolina, if a teen driver is caught doing anything illegal—in this case driving with just a Learner’s Permit—the date to apply for their Level Two Provisional Drivers License gets pushed back by an additional six months. Therefore, when Nina received the letter from DMV outlining this rule, she cried like a baby. To further push this point home, Peaches piled all of Sly’s chores on top of the one’s Nina was already assigned. Nina tearfully bemoaned life’s unfairness. Peaches unsympathetic response was to add twenty hours of community service at the local homeless shelter. That shut up her yammering.

  Stick was currently in the Dominican Republic checking on his investments. When she last checked, there weren’t any recent pictures of him hugged up with any Dominican women, though that didn’t mean he wasn’t. Therefore, Peaches felt her best course of action was avoidance, which she was incredibly good at.

  She and Detective Mendozo still didn’t have the best relationship in the world, but after solving two major cases in just over two months, she had gained a hard-earned, modicum of respect.

  The girls and she were going to visit her father over the weekend for a little celebratory dinner. He had been bragging about his daughter The Private Eye all over Roanoke Rapids and wanted to show her off to his friends.

  After Lynn had saved her ass she figured she owed it to The Cabbage Diet to at least give it a go.

  She was currently munching on a Dove ice cream bar trying to muster up the courage to begin.

  **

  “So are you willing to give me another chance?”

  Peaches reluctantly set aside the additiona
l forkful of delicious beef quesadilla she wanted to tear into to deal with Vernon.

  She and Vernon were at The Blues Café, a small romantic restaurant on the outskirts of Durham. She had agreed to meet and make a decision about their relationship once and for all.

  The thing was this: she had been without his company for more than four months now, while things hadn’t been perfect, they had been on her terms. No more wondering where Vernon was at midnight or driving herself crazy trying to figure out why he wasn’t picking up his phone. She had enjoyed several worry free months of simplicity.

  But now that she was sitting at a romantic little table, staring into his handsome face, all the old feelings she had for him came rushing to the surface.

  “I don’t know, Vernon,” she said, sipping at the glass of Pinot Grigio she had ordered. “I don’t think you and I are meant to be.”

  “Peaches Donnelly, I am willing to be everything you ever wanted. I am willing to go the extra mile and put away the childish games.”

  Were those tears in his eyes?

  Peaches, alarmed, watched as he dropped to one knee. A waiter rushed over, beaming, a small box sitting on the tray balanced in his hands.

  “Will you marry me?” he asked, whipping the ring box off the tray with a flourish, a brilliant smile plastered on his face. He popped the box open. An exquisite ring was nestled in its velvety depths.

  Gosh those carats were beautiful.

  Every diner in the packed restaurant was waiting, expectant looks on their faces. Peaches felt put on the spot.

  Suddenly, a blur of movement caught her eye. It was Monay. She was rushing toward them, eyes blazing.

  “Vernon!” she hollered, the hair slung back in a haphazard ponytail, wobbling in her agitation. “What the hell are you doing here with her?”

  “I--,” he began, the desperate look of a trapped mammal pasted upon his face.

  “What the hell are you doing proposing to her when we just slept together last night?” she demanded, unbridled breasts swinging about beneath her thin teeshirt.

  Disrupted from her ring lust, Peaches found herself, along with everyone else in the restaurant, staring, mouth open, at Vernon’s ex-girlfriend, Monay. Clearly braless, she was dressed to fight in sweats and a tee-shirt with the words Grey Goose scrawled across the front.