She got out of the car and stepped immediately into a pothole. Grimy rainwater splashed up over her boots and onto her trouser cuff. She swore, slammed the car door shut, and marched up to the meaty bouncer standing guard outside the strip club’s steel door.
“We don’t open ‘til 4, Miss,” he slurred.
Harry looked from his slouch to the dewy drool on his lips and pinged him for a pill popper. She gave him a tight smile and flashed her badge just long enough for recognition to show in his bloodshot eyes. He stepped aside so fast, he almost lost his footing, and had to steady himself on the door as he jerked it open.
The inside of Wet lived up to its name. Harry couldn’t tell if it was sweat, saliva, mildew, or something more repulsive, but a thin sheen of moisture seemed to permeate the whole building. The tables near the bar were empty, and no customers were inside, but the placed was dirty, like it had only just closed, instead of being near opening.
From the bar, a man looked Harry over with a furrowed brow. He was short and had a small frame accentuated with a pot belly that hung lazily over his belt. Harry could just see the gold buckle gleam in the lighting from behind the stage. As she approached the empty stage, he wiped his hands on a towel, walked around the bar, and made his way to her.
“Nice place you’ve got here, Derek,” she said casually, her eyes still on the oil-slicked stage. She wondered how the dancers kept their footing on the shiny surface.
“You know my name, but I don’t know yours.” He held out a hand for Harry to shake. She took it, then immediately regretted it. His palm was moist, his grip slippery. She wiped her own hand on her slacks.
“Detective Harrison Thresher. I’m investigating a case involving one of your dancers.”
The man crossed his hairy arms over a hollowed chest and clenched his weak jaw. “It didn’t happen here. Nothing here is illegal.”
Harry shot him a sideways glance, then took a few steps toward the stage. A closed door with the letters VIP emblazoned on it in gold glitter stood just behind and to the side of the stage, and Harry made a show of looking that way.
“I’ve heard differently.”
“Listen, I don’t know who you’ve been talking to,” he started, but Harry cut him off with another step toward the door. “We’re not doing anything wrong,” he whined.
Harry nodded, pulled out her phone, and opened a picture. She showed the club owner the screen. “Do you know this woman?”
“Her? Sure. That’s Sunny. She's supposed to go on at 9:30 tonight."
Harry put her phone away. “Well, she's going to miss her curtain call.”
He groaned loudly. “What kind of trouble is she in? I can bail her out if you just tell me where she’s being held. Of course, she will owe me, again, but it’s nothing she can’t work off.” He smiled, and Harry was reminded of an opossum.
"She hasn't been arrested, Derek. She's dead." Harry pulled out her notepad. “When was the last time you saw her?”
“Are you for real?” When she nodded, he leaned against the nearest chair, and put the back of one clammy hand to his mouth. He bit down on his own flesh, and Harry fought against the rolling of her eyes. "I can't believe it. What happened?"
"She got herself into some trouble, as far as I can tell. I was hoping you'd be able to tell me more."
He shook his head back and forth twice, definitively. "I don't know anything about any kind of business Sunny has outside of the bar. I have the girls keep their personal lives outside the club. I don't want anything splashing back on the business." He crossed his arms and leaned his weight back on one foot.
Harry scribbled into her notepad, and Derek tried to glance over the top at what she was writing. She raised an eyebrow, pulled the notepad toward her, and cleared her throat. "Maybe there is something you can help me with, Derek."
"Yeah?" he asked, and made a face somewhere between disgusted and intrigued.
Harry pulled the photo in its evidence bag out of her jacket, and handed it to him. "Do you know the woman in this picture with Sunny?"
He squinted at the photo, then handed it back and wiped his hands on his jeans. “That’s Lee. She comes in a couple times a week to watch a few shows. She tips the girls, buys a couple of drinks, and keeps her hands to herself. The model customer, really." He tapped his foot on the filthy floor, and each time it pulled away with a sticky jerk like wet Velcro. Harry fought a revolted shudder that crept up her spine.
"The last time you saw her?" Harry asked.
"I can tell you that," he said, and tossed a glance at the calendar over the bar. "It was yesterday. She came in like usual."
“Nothing special, just a regular night?” Harry asked. She was leading him, but she didn’t want to give him any ideas.
“Now I think of it, I guess it was right before the fire. You know, when the projects burned to the ground.” He shook his head. “I don’t know why those bums would burn down their own free housing. Drugs, I guess.”
Without looking up from her notepad, Harry cleared her throat. “I think that was ruled an electrical fire. The building wasn’t up to code.”
He snickered. “Well, maybe if they had gotten jobs instead of living off my tax dollars, they could have afforded something more respectable.”
She set him in a hard gaze. “Like a greasy strip club barely masking the prostitution going on in the back room?”
Derek stuck a dry tongue out to run it across his chapped lips. “I meant like a nice apartment.”
Harry nodded and let her gaze sweep the club again. “I was told one of your dancers might be able to tell me more about Sunny.”
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