They. I bit my lip again trying not to picture those towheaded kids.
“Do you know the people who live here well?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Just to say hi to.”
“We’re looking for Larry Springer. Does he live here?” Dana asked.
He shook his head. “Sorry. Just a couple of gals live here.” His wrinkles parted into a smile. “Real lookers. Think they’re dancers or somethin’.”
Dancers? My radar pricked up. As in showgirls? “Do you know their names?”
“Harriet’s the blonde-she’s the chunkier one. Then there’s the redhead. Real tall, six footer at least, long legs. I think her name’s Lila or Lana or something like that.”
My heart sped up. “Could it be Lola?” As in the Lola?
His face broke into a smile. “Yeah, that’s it. Lola.”
“Any idea when they might be back?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Nope. Sorry. But I know they work nights. Like I said, I think they’re both dancers.”
Dana and I thanked Shar-Pei Man and climbed back into the Mustang.
“I guess we’ll come back in the morning?” Dana asked.
I took another long look at the house. I wasn’t sure why, but I had this feeling of urgency brewing in my stomach. Like the more time I let pass, the slimmer my chances of finding Larry alive. Which wasn’t wholly logical, but it didn’t make cooling my heels in faux New York sound all that appealing.
“Maybe we could find out which club they dance at?” I said.
Dana shrugged. “Okay. So where do we start looking for two suburban strippers?”
I shot Dana a look. “Dancers.” I’m not sure why I was defending them except that the idea of my possible stepmommy being a stripper didn’t fill me with a whole lot of good feelings.
“What about Jim?” she said. “The hotel clerk. He did say he’d help with anything we needed.”
I didn’t think this was exactly what he had in mind. However, he did look like the kind of guy who knew where to find strip-I mean, dancers.
We flipped the Mustang around and took the 215 back into Vegas. Half an hour later we were in front of Slim Jim again. And he once again tried to grow X-ray vision as his eyes focused in on Dana’s chest.
“We were wondering if you could tell us about a couple of dancers?” I asked. “Harriet and Lola?”
Jim grinned. “Do you have any idea how many strippers there are in Vegas?”
“Dancers,” I emphasized.
Slim Jim grinned wider. “Right. Dancers. Look, if you’re into that kind of thing”-he wiggled his eyebrows up and down-“there’s a club up the street. The Kit Kat Bar. Hot chicks. They’ll take real good care of you there,” he promised Dana’s cleavage. “In fact,” he continued, his eyes starting to glaze over at the thought of girl-on-girl action, “I get off in a couple of hours. I wouldn’t mind showing you around.”
I shuddered internally. Even I wasn’t that desperate. “We’re looking for two specific dancers.” I repeated the descriptions Shar-pei had given us. “Any idea where they might work?”
Slim Jim pursed his eyebrows together. “Actually, yeah. I think I know the redhead. Last weekend was my buddy’s birthday and we took him out to this real campy place. The Victoria Club. I don’t remember the blonde, but Lola…” He did a low whistle. “Now she’s hard to forget.”
“The Victoria Club?” I asked.
“Uh huh.” Slim Jim nodded. “I had a lot to drink that night, so I’m not totally clear on the particulars, but I know I had a good time. In fact,” he said, addressing Dana’s cleavage again, “I could show you girls a good time there tonight.”
I’m sorry to say for a half a second Dana seemed to be considering it.
“No thanks.” I jumped in quickly. “We’re kind of in a hurry. Can you tell me where the club is?”
“Fremont Street, downtown,” Jim answered, clearly disappointed. “Near the Neon museum. Not the greatest part of town, but cheap drinks at least.”
“Always happy to help the ladies,” he said as we turned away. “And, hey, say hi to Lola for me!”
After we grabbed a quick sandwich at Broadway Burger (mine a double cheeseburger with lots of melted cheddar and Dana’s a soy patty with sprouts that looked like it should be feeding livestock), we hopped back into the Mustang and drove up the 15, past the Strip into the downtown area, the home of Vegas’s first casino; the famous smoking cowboy, Vegas Vic; and the largest number of prostitutes on the West Coast.
When the mega-resorts started to crop up in the early ’nineties, the Strip became the face of the family-friendly Vegas, and all the degenerates were rounded up and corralled north. In recent years, preservationists had started a campaign to restore the historic downtown, adding a touch of glitz and neon to create the Fremont Street Experience. But honestly it was like trying to throw sequins on Keds and pass them off as Jimmy Choos. You dress it up all you like, Fremont was still the bane of Las Vegas. Only now it had a permanent pinkish neon hue to it.
The Victoria Club was clearly in the section of town that the preservationists hadn’t gotten to yet. Or didn’t dare set foot in. And I didn’t blame them. As we turned onto Fremont, the first things we saw were the flashing blue lights of a squad car blocking the road up ahead. My stomach did that lead weight thing again as I spied yellow crime-scene tape and uniformed LVMPD cordoning off a section of the street. Right outside the Victoria Club.
“Uh oh,” Dana said, voicing my exact thoughts.
I took a deep breath, my stomach churning at the thought of what might be happening behind that yellow tape. Or more accurately, to whom it was happening.
Dana parked on the street about a block away from the commotion, between Annie’s Escorts and a bail bonds agency. We said a silent prayer that Marco’s car would still be there when we got back.
The Victoria Club itself was huge, spanning almost the full city block. It was a shiny mass of building done in art deco black and gold, trimmed with lots and lots of pink neon lighting.
A crowd of people hovered around the police barricade. Homeless guys mixed with teenagers, mixed with tourists snapping pictures on their digital cameras to show the folks back home in Kansas. A uniformed police officer stood behind the line of white barricades and yellow tape, trying to convince them all that there was “nothing to see here.” Which was obviously a lie, because as I pushed my way past a guy who smelled like he’d just taken a bath in Jim Beam, I got a glimpse of the pavement in front of the club. It was red. A black plastic tarp covered a suspiciously human-shaped mound that was oozing red liquid all over the asphalt. I gulped down a dry swallow. Blood.
The scenery swayed in front of me, and I grasped the wooden police barrier for support as a guy in a jacket marked CORONER lifted an edge of the tarp ever so slightly. All I got was one glimpse of an arm, slightly hairier than normal, then my vision went fuzzy.
I sat down hard on the curb, taking deep breaths in and out, trying to ignore the oozing form under the tarp. Okay, so it was an arm. I mean, lots of people had hairy arms. That didn’t necessarily mean it was Larry’s arm, right? Right. So why was I starting to pant like a dog?
“Are you okay?” Dana asked, moving to sit, then apparently thinking better of it as she weighed her white silk skirt against the well-traveled sidewalk.
“Uh huh. Sure. Fine. Dandy.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“So I’ve been told.” I took another deep breath, peeking between Dana’s legs at the scene on the other side of the barricade.
“I’m afraid that’s…I mean, it might be…” I stumbled, my mouth going Sahara on me as I tried to voice the thousand thoughts bumping through my brain.