Club Dante fit perfectly into the typical LA scene: loud music, young bodies, and quickly poured liquor. A triple score. The bigger the thirst, the more they drank, the drunker they became, and the more they talked. My kind of place.
The left wall consisted of the bar, a long lit strip of metal and acrylic. The club's name hung behind it in neon blue and white lights. Three bartenders in fitted blue tees and black pants served the patrons.
Caleigh pushed past a couple hot-glued to one another. The guy's tongue was jammed so far down the petite girl's throat, I thought I saw her eyes roll to the back of her head.
"Sorry," Caleigh yelled after elbowing him in the ribs.
Neither of them flinched or even registered it.
I followed my girl but stayed a few steps behind, observing the night's crowd. The dance floor throbbed with glistening flesh, in beat to the music and pulsating lights. Wild and carefree, women and men threw up their arms, whipped their hair, and gyrated in tempo. It was like watching an African tribal dance, mesmerizing and wicked.
Caleigh pressed against the bar, sending a flirtatious look toward the bartender.
Over six-feet tall, broad shoulders, and hair so blond it appeared white, he took the time to stop pouring and give her his full attention, despite the line of empty glasses. He could've been on the cover of Sweden's Sports Illustrated.
Caleigh batted her thick, false lashes. Her pink tongue darted out, licking cherry lip gloss. And then for the kill, she gave a slow, super flirty smile that made men weak in the zipper.
Another bartender, shorter, darker, but just as buff, threw a towel at Sweden. It clocked him in the ear and fell onto a tray of bar glasses.
Sweden's cheeks reddened. He averted his gaze and went to making a dry martini and cosmopolitan.
A couple to my right stood and walked to the dance floor. Caleigh and I took their seats and raised our glasses.
"To finding the truth and setting you free," she said.
"Yes. And to more days working together at the agency, tracking down cheaters."
At least, here's hoping. We clinked and drank.
After a refreshing sip, I turned back to the crowd, calculating who would get us closer to Shooting Stars.
The club scene wasn't much different than high school. You had the guys who tried too hard with their lame pickup lines, expected to score, and were genuinely confused when a pretty girl turned them down. The players, on the other hand, did score. A lot. The promiscuous girls giggled too loudly and drank too much. And the nice ones, the ones who laughed at the lame jokes and left their drinks unattended at the bar, probably weren't regulars. Or wouldn't be for long.
The popular guys and gals appeared to be friends with everyone, kissing cheeks and buying rounds. They attracted the most attention, and rightfully so with their fast cars, trendy attire, and designer accessories. That it crowd was who we needed to latch onto tonight. That's where the pills flowed freely, at least according to Maya's research.
A tall, lanky guy rubbed his arm against mine as he reached for his beer on the bar. He grinned at me and quickly averted his eyes. Wearing black trousers, a light blue button-down shirt, and tie, he looked ready for the boardroom rather than a night of reckless dancing and hooking up. He'd used too much gel on his drab brown hair, forming a pencil-sharp, top peak.
"Hi. Nice…um, music. It has a great beat, don't you think?"
"Yes." I smiled at his nervousness.
He stared at my cleavage. I was used to men ogling, but he didn't seem the type for such directness.
Caleigh leaned forward and pointed to my face. "Hey, her eyes are up here."
He turned the hue of beets then walked away.
And sometimes there were the socially awkward.
I shook my head at Caleigh. "You didn't need to embarrass him."
She waved a hand. "Posh, he needs to learn some manners. He can't drool on every beautiful woman's tatas."
I chuckled and turned back to categorizing the crowd. A young, well-dressed couple entered and instead of hitting the bar or dance floor, they walked up a spiral staircase at the far end of the room. At the top, they disappeared behind a black draped wall.
I nodded in that direction. "What's up there?"
"What makes someone a VIP?"
Caleigh hooked a finger and called Sweden over. They leaned toward one another. She practically straddled the bar and whispered in his ear.
When they parted, she returned to her ladylike, one leg crossed over the other, position. "Basically, if you're a no name, you have to be invited."
I eyed the swaying and sweating mob. So I needed to get close to one of them. No problem. But which one?
I downed the rest of my drink and jumped off the stool. The sudden movement made the room spin in a good way. I grabbed Caleigh's hand.
"Come on. Let's dance."
What better way to garner attention than to make a spectacle of yourself? All the famous, no talent celebs had done it.
We slithered onto the floor, grinding our hips to the bass. The music and vodka weaved through me, creating a spell that transformed me from an impatient PI-slash-homicide-suspect into a music video dancer, bouncing more T&A than Beyonce.
A man straight from the 1970s, with skintight pants, a shirt open to his navel and a thick silver chain, approached. He tried swaying between Caleigh and me, but we stepped closer. Caleigh slung her arm around my waist and nuzzled her ear against my cheek. Several heads turned. Luckily Mr. Suave-Not disappeared.
A couple of other guys stepped closer though. The one by my side smelled like money and looked like an Armani ad. He was probably my age, if not a bit younger. His eyes roved my body, and a cocky smile tugged one side of his mouth.
"Are you two together, or were you just trying to get away from that creep?" he shouted into my ear.
He nodded, and his smile widened.
The other man wasn't as polished, but a light smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose and the tops of his cheeks made him endearing. He and Caleigh began dancing together.
Which left me with…"What's your name?"
I knew the name. Sumners, as in, son of Dolores Sumners, major Hollywood actress and someone who could get me upstairs?
What? It was the first thing that came to mind.
If I hadn't been intentionally looking for his reaction, I might've missed the slight quirk of his brows, especially under the throbbing lights.
"I haven't seen you here before."
"I just flew in from New York this afternoon. Contemplating moving here."
"So you check out the nightlife right away?"
"Absolutely. I don't know if it can compare to Manhattan though."
He held out his arms. "Is this too shabby for you?" Laughter laced his voice.
"I've heard LA has some super sweet amp. Like, watching Shooting Stars," I fished.
"Oh yeah? You're into that?"
I shrugged. "Is that a bad thing?"
He shook his head, his eyes full of lust. "Not at all. I may know where you can get something that'll have you purring like a kitten."
I trailed a fingernail down his chest, over the ripples of his six-pack. "I also roar and pounce."
Chatting in the middle of a club wasn't easy. Still, his chuckle was smooth, almost electric, and chased away some of my anxiety.
There was something different about him. He didn't drool or have roving eyes. At least not that much. Sure, he was flirting, but it was on a different level. One that said he was confident the night would end the way he wanted it to.
He leaned closer until his long bangs fell forward and caressed the side of my face. I could smell his coconut shampoo. "I'll have to prove LA is more thrilling than New York."
A challenge. I giggled and fluttered my lashes. "You're on."
We fell into rhythm and danced. My body buzzed with excitement. My gut screamed he was my ticket upstairs and getting closer to the truth.
Then a couple of scantily clad young women pushed their way through the crowd, over to us.
My stomach cramped. This was not going to be good. They were younger, sluttier, and looked like regulars. I hated competition.
The blonder of the two poked Caleigh's dance partner in the back. When he turned around, she raised her arm and slapped him, open palm across the cheek.
He flinched from the attack.
She stomped off, and he followed, shoulders slumped.
The other girl, orange-complexioned from way too much tanning, cupped Garret's bicep. He nodded in her direction but didn't stop dancing. Obviously not a romantic couple.
One point in my favor. I shimmied a little closer to my prey.
The orange girl glared at me. Clearly she thought I was invading her territory.
She yelled, "Who's she?"
Garret winked at me then said, "A new friend. She'll be hanging with us tonight."
Score one point for my low-cut dress.
Orange scoffed. "Over my dead body, Garret."
"That can be arranged," I shouted, sending her a sugary sweet smile.
Garret roared with laughter. If only either of them knew I was already on the police's top ten list. He turned and said something to the pumpkin that made the corners of her mouth downturn, but the glare remained.
"Who's the mean girl?" Caleigh asked, not caring who heard. It was part of her charm.
Garret faced us and said, "This is my sister, Chloe."
I wasn't easily shocked, but that did it. The way she looked at him was possessive, but that was not the relationship I'd envisioned.
"Who are you?" Chloe yelled at me.
Garret started to introduce me when Caleigh jumped in and said, "She's a supermodel. Don't you recognize her?"
"Jamie Cartier," I told her, infusing the words with as much arrogance as I could. God bless Caleigh for keeping a straight face.
Chloe's eyes narrowed, but Garret just grinned.
"Come on," he said and led us off the dance floor.
Caleigh and I followed the siblings upstairs. With each step, my skin tingled with anticipation. Up top, we entered a lounge. Long, sleek sofas outlined the room, and a few high tables and stools took up the center. There was no door, yet the area wasn't as loud as below. Now we could have a real conversation, and I wouldn't sound like Kermit the Frog in the morning.
There were a handful of young, attractive bodies drinking, talking, and making out. Heads turned as we strode across the soft, black carpet, but only momentarily. Showing interest was so not-chic.
Garret nodded a greeting to a couple of the patrons, then motioned to a waitress, requesting a bottle of champagne. He sat on the sofa along the back wall and patted the seat beside him.
I sank into the plush suede.
Garret leaned into me. "My connection should be here soon."
My heartbeat thundered. This could be a step closer to the truth or down a dead-end street. Again.
Caleigh sat at one of the tables with a man twice her age. The older ones always found her alluring. Something about her Southern gentility.
Chloe sat on the other side of Garret, practically stitched to his hip. She'd make a great Siamese twin.
Garret handed out glasses of champagne, and several people came and went. I spotted joints, ecstasy, and oxy, but nothing I didn't know of or recognize.
Chloe and Garret began bickering in hushed tones. I looked away but tried to zero in on their words. Unfortunately some guy to my left shouted to his date, making my eavesdropping null and void.
I turned as the latest arrivals entered. A muscular, dark-haired guy that looked about seventeen, and a slim young woman with an adorable jet black bob and straight bangs. Something about her seemed familiar, and as she glanced to the siblings, I noticed her eyes were a pale icy grey, and she had a heart-shaped beauty mark at the left side of her mouth.
Garret nodded toward her in recognition.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Dakota Hall,” he responded.
The name meant nothing to me. “She looks familiar,” I said.
Garret smirked. “She’s a model too. She does cosmetics ads.”
That was it. I’d seen those eyes three stories high on a billboard over Wilshire, rimmed with ColorStay liner. I watched her work the room, stopping to air kiss or wave to her friends. She was dressed in a pair of black short-shorts that looked painted on and a nude halter top that gave the illusion of wearing nothing at all.
"I can't believe she's here," Chloe whispered after waving to Dakota.
Garret nodded. His expression grew sullen.
"Why?" I asked.
"You'd think she'd at least pretend to care about a death in the family. At least for the press's sake," Chloe scoffed.
"A death?" I asked, feeling my spidey senses tingle.
Garret nodded. "Her uncle was just murdered. It's been big news here."
"Who was her uncle?" My voice cracked. I already knew the answer, but I felt my stomach flip as he said the words anyway.
"Judge Thomas Waterston."