Betty flew up from being snuggled in her bed when I opened the door. “Oh. I’m so sorry,” I whispered, although she was fully awake. I guessed she still wasn’t used to having a roommate.
She waved a hand at me and flopped back down. “How are you doing?”
Not really in the mood for a conversation, but telling myself that I was working 24/7 and maybe something Betty would say might help my case, I sat on the chair by my bed, flung off my shoes and said, “I’m doing.” I couldn’t tell her about nearly falling off the ship tonight, so instead I told her about the card game-and how Hunter and one of the “hosts” duked it out until the end.
“Hunter lost that much? Golly. I’d hate to be the guy who beat him. Hunter hates to lose.”
“Ha. Most men do.”
Betty looked over my head as if in thought. I almost turned around to see if something or someone was behind me.
“Right-oh. Most men surely do.” She pulled the covers over her shoulders.
“I’ll let you get some sleep. Sorry I woke you. You working the morning shift?”
“I am.” She yawned.
I wanted to tell her about Jackie’s stuff and ask her what else she knew about Remy. I didn’t want Betty annoyed with me though. If someone kept me awake, I had the tendency to get a bit grouchy. But Betty was so very proper and British, I decided I’d go for it. “Oh, hey, Betty.”
I had no idea what to ask her and didn’t want to lose the window of opportunity before she nodded off, so I came right out with, “What do you think happened to Remy Girard?”
If I thought others had looked at me oddly over the last few days, Betty had just outdone all of them. Now I felt like a fool. Why on earth would I come out with a question about Remy?
I had to work on my segues.
While she kept staring at me, I clarified, or at least tried to, with, “The reason I asked out of the blue like this is that I saw a man at the casino that kinda looked like him.”
Betty pulled the covers higher. I couldn’t see her face and didn’t want to see the look of disgust and annoyance she probably was giving me-proper British or not.
“You think you saw Remy Girard?”
“Oh-” I laughed. “Oh, no. I know it wasn’t him, he just reminded me of him.”
“How do you know what he looked like?”
Yikes. Betty was a bit like the FBI making me feel guilty for no reason, as if I was the one being questioned here instead of the other way around. “Oh, well, one time Jackie-” I paused for a moment then finished with, “-showed me a picture. She had it under her pillow. I understand they were dating.”
“Jackie didn’t have relationships. She merely slept around to please herself. She never cared about anyone else except Jackie.”
Harsh words for the dead!
There had to be something going on between Jackie and Betty. But if it were something like Betty being jealous, that didn’t help me with Jackie maybe being involved in medical-insurance fraud.
“I have to tell you, Betty, Jackie didn’t really welcome me aboard. I wonder if she didn’t have a very good life back home.”
Betty looked at me, shut her eyes and remained silent.
Great. She must have fallen asleep. I sat there a few seconds, not knowing what to do. Talk and wake her or let her go and get some sleep myself. I went with the last thought and got up to go get undressed in the bathroom.
Before I made it to the door, Betty said, “Poor girl. Her mother left her father and two sisters when Jackie was only eleven. The other girls were much older, able to make lives for themselves. Jackie’s father spent more time at the local pub than at their flat. She practically had to raise herself-and didn’t do that great of a job, I might add.”
The night was catching up to me, not to mention the golden liquid’s effects on my brain, so I leaned against the wall and said, “I could see why. Poor thing.”
Betty hadn’t gotten up. She actually remained tucked in with her eyes shut. Odd, but at least she was giving me some info on Jackie. Now that I knew her background and that she’d gotten that advance on her paycheck, Jackie went to the head of the line for fraud suspicion.
Betty continued, “At least she made it through nursing school-”
“With Remy,” I added, but Betty opened one eye and gave me a look of “what the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“But as far as she’s…she had told me, her life was beastly and that’s why she worked on ships. Not close to her sisters. No land connections really. No permanent home. No one to care or worry about…her.”
“How about you, Betty? Do you have a land connection?”
“Me mum and three sisters live in London. My life started out quite different than how it came to be. Nurses are poorly paid, so I joined the cruise line and…well, I really love it. So I’ve stayed. I especially like the Golden Dolphin. Most of the crew speaks English-which isn’t always the case, and the captain is a decent bloke. That makes a huge difference. If something doesn’t go right, he works it out. He’s not all mouth and trousers like some are.”
Mouth? Trousers? Was she talking anatomy, wardrobe or about the captain? I stood, silent, not knowing what to say.
“Oh-” She shut her eyes, turned toward the wall and said, “All talk and no action.”
I smiled. “Yeah. I knew that was what you meant,” I lied, but Betty must have already dozed off. I wasn’t that good a liar anyway.
When I finally woke and looked over at Betty’s bed, it was empty and very neatly made. That reminded me that Sunday was my last free day, so I turned over and fell back to sleep.
After waking at nearly ten, I got up, showered, dressed and spent the day with my family.
Turned out to be the longest day of the trip.
But it came and went without incident-and, unfortunately without progress on my case. I noticed Jagger and Uncle Walt around the ship several times with their “dates.” Despite the dirty looks given to me from the singles around Jagger, I managed to pull him aside and fill him in on what I found out about Jackie.
It was then he remembered to tell me what the French writing in her chart said. Cheater. Hmm. Was she referring to a lover? A friend? Remy? Claude?
In French, Jackie actually had written about how much money “they” were clearing from scamming the insurance companies by overcharging the patients and pocketing the difference. It really wasn’t an earth-shattering discovery, but a solid lead.
What we now needed to find out was, who was working with Jackie, and did he kill her, since our only suspect was now dead?
I emailed Fabio about the progress I’d made with a wee little lie that the case would wrap up soon. I left out the part about how Jackie’s murder left us with no live suspects.
At least that’s what I told myself as the ship sailed through the finally calm waters on our way to Miami. We were to dock there tomorrow for part of the day and then head off to Bermuda. I was excited about seeing the island as I slathered SPF 45 sunblock on my fair skin.
Most of the afternoon I’d stayed on the upper deck, making friends with the dolphins, whom I had named Johnny, Jake and Gilbert. Johnny, after-you guessed it-Johnny Depp, my favorite actor.
Gilbert seemed to love to splash me, but I think we bonded. Made me miss my little Spanky all the more, although I knew he was in good hands with Miles’s friends Chucky and Bernard. They would be wonderful foster “parents” to Spanky.
Johnny, or maybe Jake (those two looked like twins but I wasn’t sure if there were such creatures as twin dolphins) poked his nose at Gilbert and they torpedoed down into the tank. I’ll bet they gave the passengers in the Bottlenose Lounge a great show. The little aquatic clowns.
I gained nothing new at any meals, and since I had to work tomorrow, I headed off to sleep early. Betty had a date with one of the crew’s security officers. Good-looking guy from England. I thought they made a perfect couple and told her so before I went to sleep-all alone.
At least I looked damn good in my white uniform compared to the stinking scrubs I usually had to wear when I got shanghaied back into my old nursing career-usually on Jagger’s behalf.
I leaned closer to the mirror to make sure my makeup (a Goldie special complete with lessons on how to apply) and hair looked decent. When I leaned back, I said, “Good to go.” With that I headed out of the cabin to the crew’s dining hall for breakfast. I only had a half hour before work, so not much time to do my investigative work if the opportunity arose.
After a wonderful breakfast-buffet style-I walked to the infirmary, making sure I never told my mother about the spread of germs I probably just ate. I figured the staff were better at washing their hands and not touching food they didn’t take than the passengers-or at least I hoped they were.
Topaz, sitting at the infirmiry reception desk, gave me a slight smile, a mumble and a nod.
“Hey, Topaz. Good morning.”
She looked up. I got ready to hear some snide remark or maybe no remark at all. Not sure why she seemed to instantly dislike me, I gave her my best smile. “I’m looking forward to working with you”-then I decided to pull out all the stops and use some psychology on the woman with black nails and matching eye shadow. “ I was thinking I’m so glad that you’ve been here awhile and can really show me the ropes.”
Her dark eyes lightened.
Thank goodness she didn’t ask how I knew she’d been there awhile. I made that part up as I aimed toward a congenial working relationship. “I’m excited about this different kind of nursing, and really glad you’re here.” With that, I remained silent and let all the gooey honey I’d just spewed out soak in.
She stood up and waved a hand for me to follow. Not certain if this was good or bad, I said a speed-dial prayer to Saint T and followed like an obedient child, keeping my wits about me in case she had something harmful in mind.
Maybe she was in on the fraud and had even killed Jackie!
Topaz opened a door to a small kitchenette. Tan cabinets lined one side above a counter of white. The floor was tan-and-white-checked linoleum. Not a dolphin in sight. I guessed the ship’s designers had saved the mammals for the passengers.
“This is our private sanctuary,” she said, opening the well-stocked refrigerator. Sometimes it gets too busy to leave for a meal, so the crew’s kitchen keeps it set up for us. Here’s the coffeepot. When you drain it, remake. Instructions are on the side, and here’s the coffee.” She opened a cabinet filled with all kinds of blends and even different tea bags.
I could have used a swig of English Breakfast right then.
Topaz concluded my tour of the “sanctuary” with the far wall of cabinets. “Each one of us has our own, for private-stock snacks.” She opened the last door. “Yours would be…shit.”
Shit? What the heck did that mean? Exactly what kinds of snacks was I in for?
Topaz’s cheeks drained of color. I turned to the cabinet, which was filled with stuff-cookies, books, even a file box, which seemed out of place in a kitchenette unless it held recipes.
Messy, yes. But hardly a frightening sight.
Topaz took her hand away from the cabinet door. And merely looked at me.
“That my space?”
“Remy’s,” she whispered.
Yikes. That “stuff” was Remy’s? Talk about a find! “Oh, how sad. Look, Topaz. Fix yourself a coffee, go on back out and leave cleaning the cabinet to me. I’ll just toss everything. Okay?”
Please say “okay” and get the heck out of here so I can snoop.
She nodded and left without fixing herself a coffee. Great. I reached up for Remy’s bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups. My hand froze in midair. It was kinda spooky, touching the stuff of a missing man.
Maybe a dead man.
Jackie’s fate had me thinking along those lines more and more lately. I told myself to calm down, that I didn’t know Remy personally and so had no emotional sorrow to prevent me from cleaning and snooping. I touched the bag of candy.
No electric shocks. No premonitions of where Remy might be. And no lump in my throat.
The bag landed in the trash along with a box of tea bags, which I could never bring myself to use, and all the other boxes and bags of snacks. Remy had to have worked out a lot to have such a good physique and be able to eat all this junk food.
When I touched the file box, Is hut my eyes a second and prayed there would be something useful in it for me. I gave a quick eye sweep of the room. Topaz was gone-back at the front desk, I felt certain. Peter wasn’t there, nor was Rico, who I learned at breakfast was going to orient me today.
Betty must have traded shifts after her “date” last night. Way to go, Betty!
I smiled to myself and grabbed the box. Not sure what I’d find, I thought of the old fable of the lady and the tiger. If she picked the wrong door, she’d be eaten. What might happen to me? I held on to the top of the box for a few seconds before moving it. Maybe something would jump out at me! Maybe there’d be some dead mouse, who’d eaten Remy’s snacks, in the box.
I leaned against the wall and gingerly opened the top.