Authors: Aimée Thurlo
He sat down the microwave oven he was holding and reached over to read the display. “The ladies are pulling into the alley.”
Gordon stepped back to look down the aisle. “Well, we're ready to open tomorrow, at least. I'll let them in.”
Seconds later, Gina Sinclair, a tiny, delicately featured woman with short brown hair came into the back hall, wearing jeans and a fleece pullover. She was accompanied by Sergeant Nancy Medina, a slender, five-foot-nine blonde still in her dark blue APD uniform.
Gina rushed over and gave Charlie a bear hug, followed by a kiss on the cheek. “I'm so glad you're not hurt, Charles, and you too, Gordon. Nancy showed me the video of what happened in the shop on the way over here. It all went down so quickly.”
Charlie looked over at Nancy, who gave him a sheepish expression. “DuPree e-mailed the video to me after he found out I knew Lola Tso,” she said.
“That's what Gina mentioned earlier. What can you tell us about her?”
“I'll give you what I can, then you and Gordon fill me in on the details of what went down before and after the incident. Maybe you know something I can pass along to the unit working the case.”
“We've got chairs in the office and instant Starbucks Italian Roastâdecaf if you want,” Gordon said, motioning toward the small office at the front end of the hall, past the door to the storage room. “Ladies.”
Charlie and Gordon brought them up to date on the pawning of the squash blossom, the attempt to buy it back, and all the rest, including the graveyard encounter outside To'hajiilee. Nancy whistled softly, then sat back. She looked over at Gina, then shook her head slowly before taking a sip of decaf from a foam cup. “How do you guys get into shit like this, time after time?”
“I met a Navy A-4 pilot when I was working in a homeless kitchen in Denver. He'd served during Vietnam, and he'd been shot down twice by SAMs. He told me they started calling him magnet ass. Guess we're kind of like that,” Gordon said.
“Yeah. Trouble just seems to find us,” Charlie added.
“At least we manage to come out on top,” Gordon said with a grin.
“So far,” Gina replied, rolling her eyes.
“Enough about us, what about Lola Tso? There was an address on her driver's license and in our transaction records, so officers should have paid her a visit hours ago. She got that necklace from someone, maybe the silversmith's killer, and that makes her a liability,” Charlie concluded.
“DuPree sent officers to that address, but she wasn't at home and they couldn't find a neighbor who admitted to knowing her or recognizing a photo. They left someone to watch the place and DuPree is trying to track down the landlord,” Nancy said.
“She may have moved out months ago. People are always changing apartments without updating MVD,” Gina pointed out. “And with cell phones, it's harder to find out what carrier someone has. DuPree has someone checking state databases, right?”
Nancy nodded. “Unfortunately, everything points back to that apartment. He's going to get a warrant tomorrow morning and enter the place one way or the other if she doesn't show up.”
“Any chance Lola left town?” Gordon asked.
“Not by commercial carriers. DuPree is thorough,” Nancy replied. “There's an ATL, attempt to locate, out on her black Ford Focus, but she could be two states away by now if she headed out of the city after pawning that necklace.”
“So, Nancy. How do you know Lola?” Charlie asked, looking over to see Gina's reaction.
Gina just grinned.
“Lola and I were hookers back then.”
“Whoa. I thought you were on the vice squad, not the mattress,” Gordon said, trying but failing to look shocked.
as a hooker, dumbass, busting the johns. Lola was the real deal, though I was never around when she was doing the nasty or getting busted. We worked the sidewalks and bars on East Central and got to know each other a little,” Nancy explained. “She was eighteen then, but had already been hooking for about a year when we met.”
“Was she still working when you left vice?” Charlie asked.
“No, we got to be almost friends. I managed to help her get a job at one of those call centers and she enrolled in some community college classes. Wanted to get into retail management and sell something besides her body.”
“Think maybe she slipped back out onto the streets?” Gina asked.
“I hope not, but perhaps CNM has a phone number or address that'll help track her down,” Nancy said.
Charlie nodded, having taken a business seminar at the College of New Mexico once he and Gordon bought the pawnshop. “Did Lola have a boyfriend back then?” Charlie asked.
“Some of the girls did, but not Lola. At least if she did, she never mentioned anyone. She usually shared more of her personal life than the others,” Nancy said. “I think I would have known about it.”
“DuPree should be close to getting an ID on this guy claiming to be her boyfriend. The police department has an image from our surveillance, both days, plus our own descriptions and what was recorded on the sidewalk. And âboyfriend' wasn't the one who got shot,” Charlie pointed out.
“When DuPree gets a name, he said he'd text me,” Nancy replied.
“And?” Gordon asked with raised eyebrows.
“Yeah, and I'll pass that along to you two. You don't plan on getting involved in this, do you?” Nancy asked, looking from face to face.
Charlie nodded toward the front of the store. “I'd say we're already involved. Someone tried to rob and kill us, and if they're the kind of guys who take things personalâwe're on their to-do-in list. We hurt them more than they hurt us.”
“From what they did to the dead silversmith, if they were actually the ones who offed the guy, I'd say these boys have issues. Charlie's right,” Gina added, speaking to Nancy. “Not that I want him or Gordon to put themselves in any more danger. But they need to be ready to defend themselves.”
“I'm willing to help out Al, who seems to be getting his career back in order, but it looks like there are already a lot of officers on this and we're not cops. Once things are back in shape here and I know Jake and Ruth will be safe, maybe I can do more without getting in the way,” Charlie said.
Gordon stood and reached for the coffeepot. “I'm not that concerned about your brother, Charlie, but I don't like being a target. I've got your back,” he said.
“A word of advice, guys,” Nancy said, holding her cup out for Gordon to refill. “Stay in touch with Detective DuPree. He's given you two a lot of slack, so don't go all vigilante against theseÂ â¦ killers.”
Neither of them said a word, but Gina sighed loudly, shaking her head. She knew they weren't going to let this go.
“So, Nancy, if we wanted to help out, where do you think we should start? Find Lola?” Charlie asked. “That leads back to whoever she got the necklace fromâthe killer or someone who dealt with him.”
“Not a bad idea. You don't look and act like cops, and I certainly can't approach her outright. She found out what I do for a living,” Nancy replied.
“Her last known apartment is under surveillance. Any place else you recall she used to hang out?” Gordon asked.
“When she was hooking, her favorite hangout was the Firehouse Tavern on East Central. She had a pimp for a while who was part owner of the placeâMike something. You might want to try there first. Lola used to show up early, maybe five thirty, trying to catch men just off work, hoping they'd choose sex over beer. She hated working late at night, I recall. Too dangerous.”
“So, if she was working the streets again, she wouldn't be looking to hook up this time of day,” Charlie asked. “No sense in us going out tonight.”
“My guess is that if she's heard the news on radio or TV, she's made the connection with FOB Pawn and is lying lowâno pun intended,” Nancy said, rolling her eyes.
“Sometimes, if your life gets turned around, you go back to old habits,” Gordon said softly, staring across the room blankly.
Gina looked at Charlie, who shrugged. Gordon was like still waters sometimes.
“Yeah, or maybe just old neighborhoods. You might want to try tomorrow afternoon, guys, and try to catch the clientele when they've stopped off for a beer after work,” Nancy added.
“Yeah, by then, we might have a name on the boyfriend,” Charlie said, yawning.
Gina stood. “You guys look beat, and I've got to meet with a client in the morning, so maybe we'd better take off.”
Hugs were exchanged, and a few minutes later Gordon was closing up the office while Charlie checked the locks. As he passed by the spot where he'd been standing when the shooting first started, he noticed a bullet hole in the shelf chest high. He stopped, turned around, then got back into the firing position he'd assumed and looked down. The bullet coming in his direction had passed under his arm, only a few inches from his side. That was close.
“About done up there?” Gordon called from the other end of the shop.
Charlie looked down, saw his hand was shaking, and jammed it into his pants pocket. “Almost, Gordo. Almost.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The next business day was hectic. The first people walking into the shop were local TV reporters with perfect makeup and beautiful, styled hairâand that was just the two young men from the networks. But the routine was pretty much the same for all the coverage. Once the reporters got a few sound bites from Charlie and Gordon, with references to Detective DuPree and the police department, they were allowed to film some of the bullet holes before being told to leave.
Hours went by before anyone wanting to do actual business stopped inâeveryone else was just curious. Fortunately, the physical damage still visible was limited to the bullet holes. The damaged and destroyed merchandise was in the Dumpster or the store room and the blood and gore had been cleaned up.
Jake took care of the front register and Ruth handled the insurance photos and paperwork on their losses and assisted customers and clients. Whenever anyone came to her with questions about yesterday, she referred them to Charlie or Gordon, who were doing all they could to stay focused on the job.
A half hour before quitting time, six o'clock on weekdays, Jake and Ruth clocked out and left. Charlie and Gordon locked up, filled the bullet holes with wood putty, then drove toward the interior of the city, looking for Lola.
“We should have heard something by now. You think DuPree will be able to ID the alleged boyfriend?” Gordon asked, looking over at Charlie, who was behind the wheel of the Charger.
“When Nancy called she said APD officers were going through old area high school yearbooks. They tried a facial recognition program on DMV records but got so many hits it'll take awhile to run them down.”
“A dark-skinned Indian or Hispanic, black-haired, black-eyed guy about five nine, medium build, short hair, and about twenty-five fits a lot of locals,” Gordon added. “Not including a hoard of guys from Arizona, Texas, Coloradoâand Mexico. Utah, home of the blue-eyed blonde, I'd probably put at the bottom of the list.”
“Supposedly they'll be running the photo from our shop on the local news. That could also help,” Charlie added.
“What's the plan tonight? Driving around looking for Lola, or tracking down Mike the pimp?” Gordon asked, placing his Beretta and holster beneath the seat. They were still illegal in bars, even with concealed carry.
“Mike sounds like our best bet. There's a chance that he knows where Lola is or was, or maybe he can connect us with a working girl who can provide us with some new information on her location,” Charlie suggested.
“Either way, the pimp will expect to get paid,” Gordon pointed out. “Count on having to fork over some twenties. Hate to think of giving a hooker money and not getting entertained.”
“When was the last time you had to pay for sex?” Charlie knew Gordon had no problem attracting women.
“There was that night in Ramstein, 2010, around Thanksgiving, when we were on layover.”
“Those girls were U.S. Air Force, not prostitutes, and we didn't pay for anything except dinner, the movie, and the hotel rooms,” Charlie recalled. “That's what we call a date.”
“You remember just how much we paid for dinner? I do. Over a hundred euros.”
“Less than a hundred and fifty bucks at the time, and it never was about money. You and that girl wrote back and forth for months, didn't you?”
“Yeah, Molly. Too bad she got married. Okay, maybe you have a point. We split the costs tonight, though.”
“Deal.” Charlie chuckled.
Traffic was heavy, and they pulled into the parking lot of the East Central tavernâa former firehouseâat about six thirty. Charlie noted that half the vehicles were pickups or big SUVs, and there was one Caddy. This was a working man and lower management clientele, so they'd fit right in.
The main entrance was actually at the side, and once they were in the bar Charlie noted that the big overhead doors for the fire department engines had been walled over on the interior, replaced with a big mural of the neighborhood during the sixties, judging from the vehicles in the painting.
The tables were heavy wood and metal trim, bolted to the floor, and the padded chairs looked comfortable. At the rear of the big room, formerly the firehouse garage, was the bar. It was divided in the middle by the traditional shiny brass pole used to slide down from upstairs. It was surrounded by a railing now, probably to discourage patrons from giving it a trial run.
The opening to the floor above was still there in the ceiling, and stairs along the back wall led up to what the signs listed as a private lounge.
A pleasant-looking freckle-faced redhead dressed in blue slacks and a red blouse met them within seconds of their arrival. She led them to an empty table at the side of the room opposite the stairs. The woman smiled automatically, then took their order of draft beer, nachos, and salsa.