The two women knew that their destination had to be some place close by judging by the barrage of seventies rock music that greeted them after they left their car where they had parked it.
"Are you sure this is the right direction," Krystal said, looking at the directions on a slip of paper.
"It's right next to a religious bookstore," she said, "and I see that just ahead. Looks just like I remember it."
Neither woman could figure out what a religious bookstore was doing smack in the middle of the Sunset Strip but they did see a smaller building next to it, with what looked like a montage of several famous rock musicians painted on the walls and a door wide open in front. Standing guard next to it were two burly bouncers with beefy biceps, threatening to burst out of their shirts.
"They must all day in the gym," Krystal noted, "look at their bodies. I bet you could bounce quarters off those abs."
Cassidy looked over at her friend and smiled. Krystal had just broken up with her long-time fiancé after she had caught him cheating with another woman. Actually, Cord had caught the two together after Krystal had asked him as a favor to find out if Evan had truly been guilty of embezzling money from the travel agency that employed him. Sadly, Cord had caught him red-handed with his hand in the till as well and the former vice-president of the Have Bag Will Travel agency was currently out on half a million dollar bail and facing multiple felony charges. Krystal had been down in the dumps at work lately so Cassidy thought that if the two of them dressed up and headed out to this club that had been hyped in all the trades, they could forget their problems for a while kicking back and having some fun. Just a few women getting together, no men allowed.
Sounded harmless enough.
"Half dollars maybe," Cassidy responded, though burly men with no necks weren't her type.
They reminded her too much of an ex-boyfriend, Theodore who had been a bodyguard for several famous celebrities but in between those stints, he had been a big control freak. Like just about every man she went out with these days, he had been so sure that she had been shacking up with her best friend, Cord and to be honest, she had grown tired of setting each and every one of them straight.
"So who's this friend of yours that we're going to meet," Krystal asked as they approached the line to get into the club.
Cassidy checked her purse to pull out her guest pass.
"Her name's Carlotta Carlotta Sanchez," she said, "She works for the LAPD as a detective. We were in the same dorm in college."
"Wait a minute; didn't someone shut down your dorm after a raging party?"
Cassidy sighed, remembering that painful episode in her life.
"No…they just relocated us for a while until it could be…fixed. The whole situation was greatly exaggerated in the press."
Krystal agreed, realizing that what her twin sister Lucy had told her about the case was true after all.
"Carlotta actually didn't stay at the party long before leaving with the captain of the lacrosse team."
"Lucky for her," Krystal said, "So she knows Lt. Butch then?"
"In passing," CASSIDY said, "The LAPD's a huge department but they've been to briefings together. She works with a cop that Butch's butted heads with more than once."
Krystal furrowed her brow.
"I didn't think anyone could ruffle Butch."
"Me neither, but Spike can try just about anyone's patience," she said, "He's…kind of like Dirty Harry, only with a uniform and he's losing his hair. He asked me out once but I was going out with someone else at the time."
"A-ha, I see," Krystal said, "Will he be here?"
Cassidy shook her head.
"He and Carlotta were working some vice operation," CASSIDY said, "but Spike got stuck with the paperwork for a change."
The line inched up and CASSIDY looked at her watch. The sun had set an hour ago and some gentle Santa Ana's blew the leaves off of the ground, picking up steam so that they would soon whip through the trees and whistle in the canyons. Honking cars cluttered up the street.
Just another autumn evening in L.A.
She thought with some pangs of guilt about Cord back at the office, spending the afternoon he had wished to spend on the golf course reviewing and signing stacks of paperwork instead. But she shook off any guilt when she realized that soon enough some gorgeous woman would be dropping by and cajoling him onto the plush lounge chair.
Not that it would take much work.
They reached the bouncers who looked surly as they flexed their biceps while checking people's identification. Cassidy and Krystal watched as they had taken a pair of scissors and cut up some fake cards belonging to a couple of giggling girls in front of them. They had stopped laughing as if someone had flipped a switch and then just pouted at the bouncers before stomping out of the line. Fortunately, neither she nor Krystal had to worry about getting carded lately.
"That was me when I tried to sneak into R rated movies back in Iowa," Krystal said, "We were so much tamer then even when we were wild."
The bouncers glowered at them but finally waved them inside the club and the two women almost immediately ran into a wall of people, mostly dressed in retro clothing while a vintage Eagles song played in the background. A couple of biker dudes, their hair in pony tails, lined the bar and sipped from their beer bottles.
"Would you like to get a drink," Cassidy asked.
Krystal looked around her.
"I was hoping they served margaritas, but I guess not…I'll take a light beer."
Cassidy ordered beers for the two of them and then they walked over to look for an unoccupied table. Then they saw a dark haired woman sitting at a table in the corner.
"That looks like her," Cassidy said, as they walked on over.
Sure enough it was her ex-sorority sister and when Carlotta saw her, she smiled and the two women embraced. Cassidy introduced her to Krystal.
"Nice to meet you," Carlotta said, "Man this place is packed. One more person and the fire marshal will come shut this place down."
Cassidy looked at her friend.
"Did you call them?"
"No but I have them on speed dial," Carlotta said, "if the music sucks or the beer's flat…"
Krystal looked at her shocked and Carlotta broke into a smile, softening her edges.
"Hey I'm just kidding," she said, "The guys still call me the Queen Bitch but not as much to my face anymore."
Krystal smiled slightly.
Carlotta leaned back in her chair, sipping from her shot glass of Vodka and coke.
"I think this place is great," she said, "We had a vice sting here once for drugs and prostitution and the illegal gambling operation in the basement…"
"I didn't even know they had a basement."
"Me neither until I was going undercover as a hooker and I took a john downstairs to get him to spill to me on his connection to a politician and I walked right into a floating craps game with a couple of county supervisors and one of my department's deputy chiefs."
"Exactly," she said, "Guess who got a whole week of beach days for that one."
"Beach days," Krystal asked.
"Unpaid weeks off from work on account you got busted," Carlotta added, "You can't bust the boss."
Cassidy sipped her beer.
"You've had much more fun than I have here," she said, "I think this is where I met Gary."
"Wasn't he the accountant," she said, "Whatever happened to him?"
Cassidy sighed. That guy had been a couple of boyfriends ago and she had long been over him.
"Everything seemed fine until I returned from a business trip to London with Cord," she said, "and Gary thought it wasn't just about business."
"I have the same problem with Spike," Carlotta said, "Just because we're partners who work together, everyone I go out with thinks that we're hitting the sheets."
Oh that sounded familiar to Cassidy who had tried to convince more than one of her boyfriends that Cord and she were close friends since childhood and nothing more. At least one of them had just looked at her and said that men and women couldn't be best friends without wanting more than that. She sent him packing fast with some carefully chosen words. Sometimes her advanced degrees came in hand for more than just the law.
"It happens more often than I would wish," Carlotta said.
Cassidy looked surprised.
"You and Spike," she said, "Seriously, you two are so different."
"Oh but we get this whole argument about how it's all about opposites attracting and combusting in the heat of passion," she said, "Nothing could be further from the truth."
"Do you ever wish for anything more than that?"
Carlotta just looked at her and almost burst into laughter until she saw the seriousness in her friend's eyes. The question had caught her totally off-guard after all, but it's not like it had never been asked before since she and Spike first started working together.
"Well…maybe sometimes…but it would never work," Carlotta said, gently pushing the bottom of her shot glass, "It couldn't work. We'd probably end up fighting over something stupid and hating each other."
That sounded familiar to Cassidy too.
"Not to mention that our professional partnership would be all shot to hell," Carlottasaid.
Even more familiar sounding, CASSIDY thought.
"Sometimes I feel the same way about Cord," she said, "But if we got together, I don't know if our friendship would survive it if it didn't work out."
Carlotta laughed this time.
"Get out of here," she said, "You two would be perfect because you've got the friendship part down already and he's seriously hot."
Cassidy couldn't deny either part but she didn't know how to reconcile how the two sides of her feelings for him would fit together or whether they even could. Besides, Cord had been very busy keeping a string of women quite happy since his broken engagement with Elizabeth six months earlier and had never shown an inkling of any romantic interest in her.
"Well what about Spike," Cassidy countered, "He's great looking and a hell of a dancer."
Carlotta raised her brow.
"Of course," Cassidy said, "I only went out with him once but he's both a gentleman and very sexy."
Carlotta asked for a refill on her shot glass and Cassidy, another beer.
"He's the best friend I could ever ask for," Carlotta said, "Under the Clint Eastwood tough cop exterior. He's been there for me during the most difficult periods of my life."
"The same with Cord," she said, "And he's saved my life in other ways."
Krystal looked at both women, thinking that they were both crazy for not going after what they both wanted. Not that she had any interest in hitting the dating scene herself since her recent experience with her fiancé but if a man like Cord or this guy Spike looked her way, watch out…
Cord sat on the sofa at his office wearing his robe with a glass of Scotch next to him. He had spent the past hour playing pool and then hitting the shower after finishing up the last of the paperwork that he had spent most of the day catching up on. Krystal had placed the stack on his desk and told him she needed it by tomorrow morning. When he protested, she just smiled and said that Dennis had left her with those instructions. Cord had tried to deliver part of the stack to Cassidy in her office but she demurred and said she had plans with some friends. That she would see him tomorrow morning.
And it turned out that she and Krystal were heading out to some retro music club on the Sunset Strip and he was going to spend part of the evening finishing up work. Not that he blamed her for wanting to go out and have some fun after spending weeks balancing their investigative caseload with the planned merger of an electronic firm with Cord Enterprises. Normally she and Cord stayed out of the day to day operations of that business but this situation had been more complicated and Dennis had insisted on them putting in some serious hours.
Danny wandered in with a drink he had prepared on the wet bar and sat in a chair.
"You finished up the paperwork?"
Cord looked up at him.
"Finally…and I'm ready to get something to eat," he said, "You hungry?"
"I already ate," he said, "Sonia brought over some takeout and we're heading out to Catalina Island tomorrow so I'm spending a quiet night at home."
Danny hadn't spent much time doing that since he had hooked up with the Salsa instructor after he had signed up for her class. Since then, they rarely spent time apart and it made Cord happy to see the light return to Danny's eye that had been missing since his aunt died.
Cord scratched the back of his neck.
"Out with some friends," he said, "at a nightclub."
Danny nodded approvingly.
"It's good to see that she's out having fun," he said, "She's been spending too much time working in this office.
"I know that," Cord said, "We've put together some pretty busy weeks since we got back from that conference in Paris."
"You've been busy yourself Cord," Danny said, "Why don't you take some time off and spend time on your daddy's ranch?"
"The one I put on the market…I don't know if that would work."
"It's still family's isn't it?"
"I don't know it's been so long," Cord said, "Besides my realtor called today and she says she might have a buyer…a young woman."
Suddenly they heard the elevator signal that someone had just arrived in the suite. Cord and Danny looked at each other surprised at who would be dropping by at this time in the evening. A bald man who looked built like a linebacker walked in and looked at both of them.
"Who are you," Cord asked.
Cord narrowed his eyes.
"Do I know you?"
Spike didn't say anything but checked out his surroundings carefully the way a cop would.
"I know your associate Cassidy," he said, "She's friends with my partner, Carlotta CarlottaSanchez."
Cord folded his arms.
"And you're here to see Cassidy …"
Spike shook his head.
"I know she's out at a night club with Sanchez but we just got a call from a source that there's some gambling going on there tonight."
"What kind of gambling?"
"We've busted up craps games in the past," Spike said.
"The players or busting them," Spike asked, "Strictly A-list roster of players but this might be a rougher crowd from the Vegas scene."
Cord stood up.
"So what are you going to do?"
"We could send a team in and shut the place down but it's packed with people," he said, "so we'll probably send in some undercover."
"Is it going to be dangerous," Cord pressed.
"It shouldn't be if it's handled correctly," Spike said, "and I'll make sure of that."
Cord went to get his jacket.
"Then I'm going with you," he said.
Spike turned towards him.
"You're not a cop Mr. Cord…"
"I'm a trained investigator."
Spike clenched his jaw.
"Look I know you've buddied up with one of our brass…The chief and Lt. Butch likes you," he said, "but this is police business."
Cord didn't budge an inch.
"And Cassidy is caught in the middle of this mess?"
Spike raised his hand.
"Now Cord, she's with Sanchez who's the best officer I've ever worked with," he said, "She's going to do her best to make sure that everyone else is safe in there."
"We'd better get a move on then," Cord said, as the two men left the office. Spike just shook his head at him but Cord would hear no argument from anyone where Cassidy was concerned.
The music got louder as the evening passed on and the three women ordered another round of drinks. Carlotta noticed traffic going through one of the doorways which she knew led to the basement.
"Look at that," she said, putting down her shot glass, "All the people going through there."
Cassidy looked over.
"Yeah, long bathroom lines?"
Carlotta shook her head.
"I don't think so," she said, "There's that basement where we busted up the crap game."
Cassidy and Krystal looked over at each other, not believing their luck. A rare night on the town about to go up in smoke as usual. At least this time it couldn't be attributed to one of the cases taken by Cord Investigations.
"So what do we do," she asked.
Carlotta looked at her.
"I'd better go check it out," she said, "and decide if I need to call it in."
Cassidy looked at Krystal.
"Do you need help?"
Carlotta shook her head.
"I'm the cop here," she said, "and that means never really being off duty. I'm going to have to go check it out."
Cassidy pointed to a burly man.
"Isn't that one of the bouncers…there?"
Carlotta looked and nodded, wondering if the bouncer was receiving kickbacks by those running the craps game. She left the table and walked over to the doorway. A couple well-dressed men walked in front of her and were admitted into a door that was manned by two muscle men.
One of them stopped in her path, folding his arms.
"Where you going miss," he said, "This is off-limits."
She pursed her lips.
"Why is that," she said, "Those gentlemen just went past you."
The man frowned.
"Private party," he said, "Now you best move on."
She turned around and with a final look, headed back to her table where the other two women waited. Cassidy 's brows rose when Carlotta sat down.
"Looks suspicious," Carlotta said, "The bouncer said it's a private party but in this place? Since when…the last time we had to break up a gambling operation."
"Maybe it's a stag party," Krystal offered, "and they rented a private room."
Carlotta shook her head.
"They have a room in a back for that…," she said.
Both women looked at her in surprise.
"I…went undercover as a dance girl once," Carlotta continued, "Got some great tips before Vice came in and busted the party for solicitation of prostitution."
"So it's craps," Cassidy said, "Maybe we should just join in and make some money."
Carlotta looked at her.
"You're telling this to a cop you know."
Cassidy sipped her beer.
"Exactly," she said, "We go in as a couple of girls wanting some action in the game. We need to get some pointers from the men and find out what's going on."
Carlotta thought about it carefully.
"It might work…if we pile on the charm and fix up our outfits first."
Krystal looked at the both of them.
"What do you mean fix up," she said, "I bought this off the sales rack at Neiman Marcus."
Carlotta evaluated their wardrobes with a critical eye.
"Shorter sleeves and hems," she said, "Low cut in the front."
CASSIDY folded her arms.
"I'm a trained legal eagle and a reputable businesswoman," she said, "I don't do loose very well."
Carlotta tilted her head.
"You're going to have to park your attitude and your education at the curb if this is going to work," she said, "Fluff up the hair a little bit, more color on the lips."
"Okay…I guess I can do that," Cassidy said.
Carlotta stood up.
"Let's go to the bathroom and do some quick makeovers here and then we'll see about getting into that craps game."