I stifled a scream as I watched a tiny black spider hightail it out of the file box. I shook my head and was damn glad Jagger wasn’t around to tease me unabashedly.
After I chastised myself and decided most women (and lots of men) hated spiders or any crawly things, I looked into the box. A Swiss army knife, very worn, a broken compass, a few old receipts for purchases of clothing and cologne from duty-free shops in Bermuda and a key.
Hmm. A key. Pay dirt?
I should have turned the box over to the captain, but gave myself permission, with the logic that I needed it for my case, to keep the key for twenty-four hours.
Despite the fact that I had no idea what it was to, I stuck it in my pocket and shut the box. Then I took a few paper towels and some Windex to wipe out the inside of what was now my cabinet. Not that I had anything to put into it, but I thought it was better cleansed of any Remy reminders.
Or spider food.
After I threw out the paper towels, I took the box and headed toward the reception desk. Rico and Topaz were playing cards.
They looked at me.
“Oh, hey, amore, how are you doing?” Rico asked. He looked at the box. “Taking notes about all of us?” He laughed.
My eyes widened. Did he suspect something? I forced a laugh to hide any guilty look that might come across my face and set the box down. “Ha. Ha. Good one.” I leaned closer to him. “You’ve exposed me. I am an international spy. Got something to hide?” I laughed then said, “Seriously, I found this in my kitchenette cabinet.”
“Remy’s old cabinet,” Topaz clarified.
They looked at each other. I couldn’t see Rico’s face, but thought Topaz looked as if she knew something that I didn’t. Geez. Was this the ship of ghouls or ship of fools? And was I the number-one fool?
It seemed as if they all had some secret, or at least things they weren’t sharing with me. There was something going on behind the scenes and no one was letting me see the dress rehearsal.
“What should I do with this?” I set it down on the counter. They glared at it and then looked up at me. “My personal take is that I think it should go to the captain.”
Rico nodded. “Sounds like a plan. What’s inside anyway?”
I touched the top then stopped. “I have no idea. I didn’t open it. Didn’t feel right to pry.”
“I’ll pry away,” Topaz said, yanking the top open. “Shit. Him and that stupid knife. Carried it with him. Used to practice throwing it at the walls on the lower deck. If the captain knew. Shit. Odd that old Remy didn’t take it with him.”
Maybe that’s why he’d used a steak knife to kill Jackie.
Rico laughed while I wondered if they bought the fact that I said I hadn’t looked inside. I peeked behind Rico to the golden-mirrored wall to see if I looked guilty.
Maybe I really was developing in my new profession. After three cases, I proclaimed that I was. I was nearly a full time fraud investigator, working my first case alone.
Just because Jagger was on the ship as reinforcement, didn’t mean I had to share everything with him.
And look how far I’d gotten!
“And a key,” I told Jagger, after deciding I was smart enough to know when to use the skills of my reinforcement and mentor. On my lunch break, I’d caught him playing shuffleboard with the young kitten who never seemed to like my interfering and was always around “Jay.”
Jagger introduced her as Bobbie Lee from Alabama. Southern debutante, I “declared” to myself and then felt a strong urge to slap the “darling” for being so domineering of my Jagger. Of Jagger that is. Of course he wasn’t mine.
Bobbie Lee indeed. What kind of name was that for a girl anyway? A young, sexy and Southern girl. Ha. No wonder the possessiveness with her Jay. I think she would have shoved me overboard if given half the chance.
I held onto the railing, so glad to see the seas calm and the sun sparkling on the crests of the waves. And Jagger in shorts.
Bermuda white shorts. Part of the hot-weather uniform.
Damn, but he had dynamite legs!
A storm of heat spun inside me now. What a day this was turning out to be.
After I tore my vision from Jagger’s legs-and yes, he did notice me staring and shook his head at me, I let go of the railing (but never turned my back on Bobbie Dear) and touched Jagger’s arm. “Could I have a moment with you? Please.”
He gave me an odd look, and then said to his “date,” “Excuse me for a few minutes. Why don’t you go get us each a lemonade? Put them on my tab, of course.”
At first I thought she’d break out in tears and have a temper tantrum, much like my two-year-old nephew was known to do, right in the middle of the shuffleboard court. But she rolled her eyes at me, gave Jagger a saucy smile and turned toward the bar. I don’t think kitten Bobbie ever served anyone lemonade in her life.
I bit my tongue before saying, “I thought she’d never leave, and what the heck are you doing with her? I think there are statutory rape laws even out at sea.” I yanked Jagger toward the dolphin tank and found a quiet spot away from the bar. Nice and secluded.
“What’s going on?” he asked, sitting in the shade.
The guy didn’t even burn in the sun. Only turned a healthy golden shade. Then I clarified what I had started to tell him about the case, the box and my cabinet, and said, “We really need to find out more about Remy. I think he’s the solution to all of this.”
Jagger ran his hand through his hair.
I looked away. Gilbert the dolphin looked at me, and I think he smiled. Or maybe grinned. Men.
Several passengers surrounding the pool looked at me. After a gracious smile, I turned back.
“You’re right, Sherlock.”
Damn, that felt good. “But how?”
He looked at me. I thought he was going to say that it was my problem, but instead he said, “Let me get Bobbie Lee settled, and I’ll meet you in the infirmary.”
Get rid of Bobbie Lee, was more like it, I thought.
I felt something on my arm and swung around. Bobbie Lee stood there glaring. Oh…my…God! Had I said that out loud?
Jagger didn’t seem to notice, so I went with the assumption she didn’t hear me, but she must have gotten some well-deserved bad vibes from me anyway.
“You promised to spend the morning with me, Jay. I’m afraid I’m not too pleased with all…of this.” She took her hand away from my shoulder and swept it through the air to indicate “this” included me.
Not too pleased with me, kiddo? Ha. You ain’t seen nothing yet. I got up and turned toward her…then stopped. I couldn’t say a thing without giving away the fact that Jagger and I were working together. But boy, did I want to let her have it.
“Well, I’ll leave you two alone. I have to get back to work anyway.”
Jagger sat there silently. I know he had to be fuming inside. One thing I knew Jagger would not like was two females fawning all over him. Bobbie Lee was treading on thin ice. Me, I kept my fantasies in my head where they belonged.
“Oh, Hunter!” Bobbie Lee called out.
Before I turned to look were she was waving, I hoped there was someone else on the ship named Hunter.
“Ah, what have we here?” Hunter Knight asked.
Damn. I swung around. “Oh, hey. How’s it going?”
“I’m fine, Pauline. Nice seeing you. How is work?”
Maybe he was trying to tell me to get back to my job, but I took a quick look at my watch to see I had fifteen minutes left. I could stay here and see what went down between Jagger and Hunter.
Hunter gave Jagger a very unpleasant look. “Are you on a break?”
Oh, boy. I’d nearly forgotten that Hunter was Jagger’s boss. By the way Jagger sat there staring, I guess he hadn’t forgotten but sure would like to.
“I’m working, Knight. Bobbie Lee and I are taking a break from shuffleboard for a lemonade.”
Hunter looked at the table and at both of their hands. No drinks in sight.
“Oh, I forgot to get the lemonades,” Bobbie Lee said and then laughed. “Got busy talking to Mike the bartender.”
Now I shook my head.
After a bit of small talk, I said, “Well, I do have to get going.”
Bobbie Lee never did go get their drinks. I think she didn’t want to leave Jagger’s side. As if I would snatch him away. She looked really upset with both of us as I nodded and walked past the tank, giving a smile to Gilbert and his friends.
When I got to the elevator, I looked back and saw Hunter talking to Jagger with no Bobbie Lee around-Hunter not looking all too pleased.
And Jagger looking very pissed.
I had to smile to myself as I got on the elevator. I’m sure Jagger wanted to deck Hunter and probably throw the Southern belle overboard. How tempting was that on a ship?
With only one wrong turn, I made it back to the infirmary with five minutes to spare.
The rest of the afternoon went calmly with only a few cases of seasickness, two cuts that needed butterfly bandages and one of the swinging singles who’d had way too much sun and rum.
Rico did a good job of showing me around, and I started to feel very comfortable in the job. Hopefully, there’d be no big emergencies. I really wanted everyone onboard to stay safe and have a good time. I was wondering what my friends and family were doing when the door opened and Uncle Walt came in holding his cheek.
I jumped up and ran to him. “What happened? Come sit down.”
I started to show him into the exam room, but Topaz jumped up. “No medical care until I get all his insurance information!” She nearly screamed, as if I was committing some crime.
“He’s my uncle. I’ll give you the info as soon as we find out what happened.”
Uncle Walt took his hand from his cheek, exposing a red mark-in the shape of a hand.
“Oh, my gosh! Someone hit you?” I popped a cold pack with my hands so the chemicals inside would react, and it instantly turned cold. I gently touched it against his cheek. “You may have a shiner tomorrow. Who did this?”
Uncle Walt sheepishly looked at me, then at Rico and at Peter, who had come in the room too. “Seems as if an unhappy passenger didn’t think I was doing my job correctly. She wanted me to spend the entire day with her. Um, alone. I’m not like that, Pauline. You know it.”
I think my face turned redder than Uncle Walt’s. Before I could ask who she was, the door to the reception area swung open and a woman in her seventies, I guessed, swept in. Her white suit with navy trim looked expensive but went well with the aura of wealth she exuded.
“How is Walter, ya’ll? Is he all right?”
Bobbie Lee with a few wrinkles and sags.
But still a looker.
Uncle Walt pulled back as if afraid she’d slug him again, and said, “That is her. Anna Bell Lee.”
“Bobbie’s mother,” I mumbled.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but Bobbie’s grandmother,” Anna Bell corrected as she stepped forward until Topaz blocked her way.
“You can’t go in there,” she said.
I was ready to deck the woman myself. What was with the Lee women? I guessed they were very used to getting their own way with their men.
Poor Uncle Walt looked as if he wanted to crawl under the stretcher to escape.
The doc said he needed to finish examining Uncle Walt’s injury and make sure his vision wasn’t impaired.
A remorseful Anna Bell sat herself in the waiting room and kept repeating that she really didn’t mean anything, but she just wanted Uncle Walt to…keep her company. “The passenger always comes first,” she said.
Since Rico was helping the doc, I walked over to Anna Bell, quite fed up with the Lee clan. “Look, my uncle is the perfect gentleman. Maybe you are used to having whatever you want, but he’s not up for grabs.” I smiled to myself at the pun. “So, I would appreciate if you would leave him alone. Find someone else to keep you busy, or I’ll have the captain notified of your attack on Uncle Walt-and your trip will terminate in Miami.” I wanted to add that her granddaughter would be thrown off along with her, but figured Jagger could handle her.
Anna Bell merely looked at me. In the reflection of the mirror, I noticed Topaz grin and realized I’d gained another brownie point with her.
“Well, as long as he is all right. I only came down here to make sure.” She got up and turned toward the door.
Yeah, right, I thought. “I’m glad we have all of this settled. Enjoy the rest of your cruise, ma’am,” I added. I wanted to give her a swift kick in the butt. However, even I wouldn’t kick an old lady.
Uncle Walt was proclaimed in perfect health, should expect a black eye and to watch out for any headaches or nausea. I leaned over and whispered to him, “And stick with Yankee women. You’re out of your league in the South.”
He smiled and left after Topaz finished the insurance information. I looked over her shoulder and had to bite my tongue before I yelled that the fee for the visit was outrageous.
“Isn’t he considered staff?” I asked.
“Nope. Male hosts don’t get paid. They only get a free ride.” With that she turned to the printer and pushed a button to finish her billing process.
I leaned against the wall and thought that I really needed to find out who got all that money. I could see my family doctor ten times for that price. “Topaz, do you ever have trouble getting the insurance companies to pay the claims?” I figured I’d take a shot since she’d become my new best friend.
She took the paper from the printer and looked at me. “Nope. Not that I know of. Some folks in a land office in New York handle the final billing. How could the insurance companies argue anyway? Where else can the passengers go for care when we’re out in the middle of the ocean?”
I nodded. “Oh, right.” But who gets all the money? And who works in that land office?
While I stood there stunned, the door opened and Jagger walked in wearing his black jeans, a black tee and his sunglasses on his head.
As delicious as he looked in the Bermuda shorts, this was my Jagger.
He motioned for me to come to the side of the room.
Topaz gave him the once-over and said, “I have to go fax this.” After one more look at Jagger, she left.
“Some old lady hit Uncle Walt because he wouldn’t…er…spend time with her.”
Jagger’s eyes darkened. “Is he all right?”
I smiled at his concern for my uncle. Jagger had a special spot in his heart for the old man and even let him drive his SUV on occasion-when at his age, Uncle Walt shouldn’t have been driving at all.
“Some of these passengers are…whackos,” he said.
“Yeah. Oh, I’m off duty now so we can start working the case. We’ll be docking in Miami pretty soon, so lots of the passengers will get off for a few hours. We might have better luck snooping together-”
“I’m afraid you’re on your own, Sherlock.”