The club’s name was Candyland, and it sat on the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Vine, in the heart of the South Beach party district. Four other clubs had come and gone from that exact location, all of them running along similar themes: Sugar Sugar, Clouds, Suite One, The Bakery. All of them staked out by Vice, all of them fronts for the activities of one Charles Lambsworth, a playboy from New York, moved down to Miami to cash in on the coke scene. But unlike so many of the city’s cocaine cowboys, this guy didn’t seem to take a hint. Each time they got close enough to make a bust, Lambsworth and his cronies would be gone baby gone with the evening tide. But just like the tide, he kept on coming back to the city, trying his luck again and again and again.
Dressed in the spun-sugar satin uniforms all Candyland girls wore, Gina and Trudy stood at the glass bar, long and winding, done in red-and-white peppermint stripes. The music was so loud Gina had to put her lips right up to Trudy’s ear to be heard. “This guy just doesn’t know when to quit!”
Trudy nodded, then turned and captured Gina’s ear. “Stakes are too high for him to stay away. Long as we don’t catch him, why would he stop?”
“I’ll tell you what else,” Switek chimed in. He was tending bar for the night, and filled their drink orders with a practiced hand. “It’s chapping Sonny’s ass something fierce that we can’t get this guy.”
Gina shook her head, grinning. “Tell me about it,” she shouted back. “It’s all he ever talks about anymore!”
Trudy looked over at her partner and quickly away. So she’s sleeping with him again.
Zito ambled up, dressed in white trousers, white vest and red-and-white striped shirt. “You guys see the boss around?”
“Shouldn’t you be bouncing?” Switek leaned heavily forward on the bar. “Isn’t that what bouncers do?”
Zito grinned widely. “Even bouncers get thirsty.”
Switek shook his head and scooped a glass full of ice then filled it full of clear liquid from a hose under the bar. He plunked it down in front of his partner “Here. Drink up. On the house.”
Zito’s grin widened and he drank deeply under Switek’s sardonic smile.
Gina leaned into Trudy’s shoulder. Her breath ghosted Trudy’s skin. “I dunno how many more nights I can take this. There’s only so many times these guys can call me ‘honey’ and not expect me to slip and drop a tray of drinks in their laps. A blended margarita to the crotch goes a long way toward dimming a guy’s enthusiasm, you know?”
Trudy shot Gina a sympathetic smile then went back to scanning the room with practiced eyes. The walls were covered in neon lollipops and tumbling, blinking pink and blue gumdrops, and a manic, grinning gingerbread man over the bar waved his hand back and forth, back and forth, the whirring an undercurrent Trudy felt under the music. She looked over her tables next to the dancefloor: a quartet of red-faced businessmen in town for a convention; a confident, silver-haired older man and his stunningly beautiful date with a prominent adam’s apple; a giggling girls night out; a glaring single guy doing shots like they were going out of style.
“Wish me luck,” Gina shouted in Trudy’s ear. Her breasts pushed against Trudy’s elbow, but before Trudy had time to grant her wish Gina was gone, slipping away through the crowd, tray of drinks in hand.
“Good luck,” Trudy said softly.
Gina had the kind of beauty that drew moths to her flame, and as she picked her way between the tables, headed for Lambsworth’s VIP room, she smiled and demurred at half a dozen men who threw themselves into her path. Each one of them, Trudy was willing to bet, would count himself lucky for even that much contact, working it up in the telling the next morning until they were nearly sure themselves that they’d taken her home.
“Easy, sweetheart,” Sonny drawled in her ear. “Easy. Gina’s a big girl. She knows how to take care of herself.”
Trudy turned away from Sonny and accepted the tray of drinks Switek pushed across the bar. Where was her brain tonight? They were in the field, hoping to get this guy once and for all and she hadn’t even heard Sonny approach.
Sonny squeezed her upper arm. “Just be ready,” he said quietly.
Trudy nodded, watching as Gina passed beneath an arch of crossed candy canes and into Lambsworth’s private room. A chorus of masculine approval greeted her arrival. Trudy watched Gina leaning over the table, handing out drinks. Tubbs, already seated with the boys, accepted his glass of water with a wink.
Sonny nudged Trudy and picked a drink off her tray as he headed for the candy canes. Trudy glared at his departing back.
“I hate when he does that,” Switek yelled in her ear. He scooped another glass of ice and remade the missing drink while Trudy watched Sonny pretend not to know Gina. Pretend to never have slept with her at all.
Zito stepped in close, obscuring the view. He smelled like garlic and french fries. “Trudy. You okay?”
Trudy leaned around him, trying to keep Sonny and Gina in view. “Yeah. I’m fine, Zito. Fine.” Lambsworth rose from his seat and reached out to grasp Gina’s wrist. He didn’t let go.
Sonny laid a proprietary hand on Gina’s shoulder, pulling her back.
Across the room, Lambsworth leaned forward. He frowned.
“Trudy?” Zito asked.
She pushed him aside, panic rising in her gut. Lambsworth’s frown deepened as Crockett moved between them, a hand on Lambsworth’s lapel. The two men faced off, staring each other down.
Trudy caught her breath. Lambsworth relaxed suddenly, stepping back. He raised his hands in surrender, then dropped them to his sides. At his shoulder, Tubbs looked up at Sonny.
“Trudy,” Switek called. “Y’think you can--”
“Miami Vice!” Sonny yelled. “Nobody move!”
All hell broke loose.
Tubbs tackled the guy on his right just as Sonny leapt across the table, hellbent on the gun Lambsworth had level with Gina’s chest. A chorus of screams rose around them as people ran for the door or hit the deck.
The tray dropped from Trudy’s numb hand and shattered in slow motion at her feet. Gun, she thought automatically. One hand dropped to the fat pink bow at her waist.
Sonny and Lambsworth struggled, snarling while Tubbs sent the mirrored table over, white china plates and glasses smashing to the tiles. Zito ran toward the melee and Switek was over the bar and two steps behind.
Sonny took a hard right to the jaw and staggered back, stumbling over the upturned table and going down. Gina’s hand dropped to her waist while Sonny fumbled for his ankle holster.
The saccharine popstar crescendoed around them, her high voice rising to a warbled scream.
Lambsworth turned the gun back on Gina and Trudy raised her weapon, clicking the safety off.
Across the room, Lambsworth’s hand tightened on the gun he had on Gina, her hand still caught in her bow. Trudy saw the change in his cold, flat eyes.
She pulled the trigger.
Gunfire raked the bar behind her, accompanied by the fritz of bleeding neon. Lambsworth flew toward the back wall, chest blossoming like a flower. He hit hard, grimacing, then slid down, limbs flopping like a doll. Gina hit the floor, taking shelter behind the table, gun in hand.
One of Lambsworth’s cronies caught Trudy’s eyes and roared. He reached into his pants, face contorted with rage. Sonny had his gun out now, crawling through the broken glass to Gina’s side.
Trudy pulled the trigger as mayhem rained down around her. Again, and again, and again.
Internal Affairs arrived right after the paramedics. It was funny how quickly they seemed to get on any case involving a cop and some lowlife lying on the floor. Like they had a second sense for it. Like they woke up in the middle of the night, hearing things. If they ever slept.
Someone had killed the music and the club was quiet, filled only with hushed murmuring and the occasional squawk of furniture across the tiles. The gingerbread man looked shocked under the club’s fluorescent house lights. His hand had been blown off and it had taken out a row of bottles when it fell. Someone was crunching the glass underfoot.
Trudy laid her hands on the bar and looked at them critically. They should be shaking, she thought. Why aren’t they shaking?
She looked up.
Castillo stood with his hands in his pockets, badge shining. Behind him a neon sweet sparked in futility, showering the tiles with sparks. Castillo paid it no attention.
“I’m okay,” Trudy said. She looked over to where Gina stood at the entrance to the VIP room, arms crossed over her chest, looking miserable. “Look, Lieutenant, I’m worried about Gina.”
“She’s not the one who killed a man tonight.”
Trudy couldn’t tear her eyes off her partner. She looked so small and lost. Her eyes fixed on her feet or the floor, or something maybe no one else could see. Trudy took a stop toward her but Sonny was already there, getting between them, stepping in close. He reached a hand out to Gina, aiming for her hair. He liked to tangle his hand in it, Trudy knew from Gina’s all-too-frequent reminiscing.
Gina frowned and pulled away, holding up a hand to stall him. Sonny stood his ground but didn’t follow. Gina turned and walked away, headed for Switek and Zito instead.
Good for you, girl, Trudy thought. Good for you.
She snapped back into herself. Castillo had a way of talking made you afraid he’d crawled inside your head and was sitting there, unblinking and lizard-like. “Lieutenant, I’m sorry, I’ll talk to IAD. It’s just that...”
“No, you won’t.”
“I’m fine! I can do this! I just want to get it over with. I’ll answer anything they want. It’s fine.”
Trudy hated how defensive she sounded. How petulant. This certainly wasn’t the first man she’d killed in the line of duty. She knew the drill, knew they’d send her piece to Ballistics, and Lambsworth’s, too, start the whole crime scene process. Because that’s what Candyland was now, one big crime scene.
She knew the questions they’d ask, too, heard them clear as a bell inside her head. Did you fire first, Detective Joplin? Were you in danger of your life? Don’t you think Detective Calabrese could fend for herself? ...Or are you saying she froze up in the field?
Trudy watched Switek lay a big hand on Gina’s shoulder, squeezing. She leaned into the bulk of him, wincing and rubbing her forehead with tips of her fingers. Zito chose that moment to look over at Trudy, expression unreadable. A couple feet away, Sonny stood tense and smoking, Tubbs at his side and his eyes boring into Gina’s back.
Trudy turned away and forced herself to meet Castillo’s flat, unwavering gaze.
“Go home,” he said simply. Then he stalked away over the broken glass, leaving Trudy alone with her thoughts.
Back at her apartment in Coconut Grove, waiting for the sun to come up, Trudy prowled around feeling caged and unfulfilled. She'd tried a hot bath, but a good night's sleep was nowhere in sight. And her hands still weren’t shaking.
She sat at the piano and let her fingers fall on the keys. Muscle memory took over, and Trudy flexed and straightened, playing ghost music. It was too early to play, not while her neighbors were all still asleep. But just the touch of the keys was something. Something real beneath her fingers. Something she could hold onto, even if the music she heard was all in her head.
She wondered if Gina was still awake. The phone sat temptingly on a thrift-store table at one end of the couch. All she had to do was pick up the receiver and call. Hell, she could likely just show up, go over there and knock on Gina’s door. If her partner was home, Trudy knew she’d answer. Even if she had company.
Trudy took her hands off the keys and folded them in her lap, admiring the lines of them nestled together.
About a month ago they’d been out on a case, a big one, trying to catch some slime who liked cutting up working girls. Gina had gone over to the guy’s house with Sonny as her pimp, everyone clustered around the edges like predators round a watering hole; they’d all hidden in the bushes while Gina headed down to the water’s edge on slim and shaking legs. Before they’d had a chance to jump out of the bushes, everything went crazy, everything went down all at once and Gina wound up with a gun to her head and some mouth-breathing pervert’s arm around her neck. If she hadn’t been smart...
She’d gone over to Gina’s place later that night, right after she’d gone crazy with the waiting. She’d pounded on the door, waking up old Mrs. Cravitz who lived across the hall with her six cats, and Gina had come to the door with a weary grin, let her inside.
They’d made tea and let it get cold on the nightstand next to Gina’s bed while they lay next to each other, not touching, just whispering and giggling in each other’s ears. Gina had talked and talked, her dark eyes wide and luminous in the low light. She’d talked about anything and everything, even after Trudy stopped. They’d lain together in Gina’s bed, the sheets still warm and smelling like Sonny, and Trudy listened to her partner with everything she had.
Outside in the alley someone or thing slammed the lid of the dumpster and Trudy jumped. Her gaze went to the window just as her hand dropped to the pocket of her robe, closing over something hard, metallic.
Trudy looked down at the gun in her pocket. She didn’t remember putting it in her bathrobe. IAD had taken her shoulder piece, so this was the .32 she usually kept strapped to her ankle, or when the outfits demanded, her tits. She drew it out of her pocket and stared at it, uncomprehending.
The walls swirled around her, closing in.
Did you fire first, Detective Joplin? ...Don’t you think Detective Calabrese could fend for herself?
Someone knocked on the door, louder than necessary for the time of night. Someone serious about coming in.
Trudy rose from the piano bench as if in a trance and for a moment just stood staring at the door. Gina hadn’t seemed like she’d be in any shape to go anyplace, not after the night she’d had. Maybe it was a prowler, whoever had slammed the dumpster lid. Or one of Lambsworth’s cronies, found her out already.
The knock was repeated, a little louder this time. “Trudy, open up. I know you’re in there.”
She darted across the living room, already hearing someone stir in the next apartment. Damn it.
The deadbolt and the other deadbolt took some time to undo, and she opened the door slowly, from one side, gun loose and cocked in her hand.
Sonny stood leaning against the jamb, smoking under a lit No Smoking sign. He looked from Trudy’s eyes down to the gun in her hand, then back. He raised his eyebrows. “Thought you might be in the mood for some company.”
“Why aren’t you with Gina?” she asked.
“She was asleep when I left.” He looked back down at the gun. “You expecting her? Or someone else maybe?”
Trudy took a deep breath and looked in Sonny’s too-old eyes. He served in Nam, she thought. He’s seen and done things that make my night look like a shopping spree at Nieman Marcus.
“My hands,” she said lamely. “It’s just...they’re not shaking.”
Sonny smoked like the cigarette had personally offended him. “Tell me about it. Last time mine shook, was Cambodia. 1976. Now, you wanna let me in? I was thinking we could go grab a bite to eat, or take the boat out. Elvis just loves to watch the sun rise out by the 96th Street Causeway. He likes to lie up on deck and wait for all the rich folks in Bal Harbour to call Fish and Game, tell ‘em there’s an alligator outside their bedroom window. Keeps him outta trouble.”
Suddenly Trudy didn’t care anymore, didn’t care if Gina was sleeping with Sonny or hating him or running off and marrying the guy. She was just tired of feeling alone. Tired of feeling like the only person in Miami who had to hide her real ID in the sugar jar each day before work, like the only cop who’d ever had to sit in that oven of a conference room feeling like she’d been sent to the principal’s office, answering questions about what it was like to kill a man.
Trudy stepped back and let the door fall open. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes.
Sonny reached out and carefully took the gun from her hand. He clicked the safety on.
They stood looking at each other for a long moment.
“Go get dressed,” Sonny said softly.
Trudy nodded, then headed in the direction of her bedroom, leaving Sonny to finish his cigarette in peace.