I’m afraid you’re on your own, Sherlock?
I waited a few seconds to process the meaning of what Jagger had said. No clue. What the hell did he mean? “What are you talking about? On my own?”
“Darling Bobbie got me fired. Made your buddy Hunter’s day, I’m sure. I’m off the ship in Miami, lock, stock and barrel.”
“Whaaat?” I meant to say that Hunter was not my buddy, but couldn’t get it out. Couldn’t get anything coherent out. Jagger was leaving? “Whaaat?” I repeated.
He touched my chin, lifting my jaw shut. “Hunter fired me after Bobbie Lee gave him a piece of her mind.”
“So she has nothing left, then.”
We looked at each other and laughed-although I really wasn’t in a laughing mood after that bomb he’d just dropped on me. “They can’t do this to you. You’re a passenger, for crying out loud.” Then I thought of my threat to Anna Bell.
“It’s a private cruise line, Sherlock. They make their own rules for certain things. They can and did do what the hell they want. After all, I’m not a paying passenger.”
I bit my lower lip before it had a chance to quiver.
Jagger took me by the shoulders. “You can do this on your own, Sherlock. You can.”
For a second, I actually believed him. I puffed out my chest and stood taller. “Yeah, I can,” I said, and then realized it was a lie.
Even knowing Goldie and Miles were onboard for emergencies, I wanted Jagger around too. Some girls had their comfort food, like mashed potatoes and gravy or chocolate or wine, but me, I had…my Jagger.
He took me into his arms and held me for a long time. When he let go, he leaned forward and kissed me. On the lips.
And I was so damned glad I’d let him.
And for one magical moment, I believed everything would be all right.
“Oh my God. Oh my God!” Goldie shouted when I told him and Miles about Jagger getting kicked off the ship.
They wrapped me in a group hug, reminding me that they would be there for me. Much more available than they had been. I looked at their lean, sun-tanned bodies and said, “I can’t ask you guys to give up your vacation. Not even a little bit of it. I’m going to be all right on my own.”
They glared at me.
Goldie bit down on his pinky fingernail, today a royal, ocean blue.
“Jagger said so.”
They paused then nodded. “Go for it, Suga.”
I winked and told them I wanted to see Jagger one more time before he left the ship to fly back to Hope Valley. I would have thought an emptiness should settle in my insides now, but I actually felt pretty good. I touched the necklace of pepper spray Jagger had given me and symbolically told myself it would give me strength and the knowledge to finish this case…alone.
My friends offered to go watch the passengers leave the ship and see if we could find Jagger, but I said I’d be fine on my own.
Soon I stood on the upper deck, watching all the activity below. Passengers disembarking. Cabs honking to get fares, and loading and unloading of supplies from the side of the ship.
Several security people were obviously keeping very close tabs on who left the ship. The dock bustled with so much activity that my head hurt flipping it back and forth to search the crowds for Jagger.
When the last of the passengers left, I started to turn, disappointed that I’d missed him. Then I noticed two security officers walking down the plank with a man in between. Even from this distance I could tell it was my buddy.
No one else had that good a physique from the back. A cab sat waiting at the curb, and I became angry that they were treating him like some kind of criminal. I pictured the Lee women falling overboard and made a mental note not to get too close to Bobbie when on the decks for fear that my fantasy would come true-at the touch of my fingertips.
“Bye,” I whispered.
As if he could hear, Jagger turned around, zoomed in on me, gave me a salute of encouragement and mouthed, “You can do it, Sherlock.”
After a shaky wave to him, I watched the cab drive off with my sometimes partner inside. It wouldn’t surprise me if I got an email in a day or so, checking up on me.
What a guy.
I treated myself to a Coors Light after watching Jagger leave. Most of the passengers had disembarked at the Miami port for several hours. When I looked around the Bottlenose Lounge, an eerie feeling took over.
Other than myself and Edie, who was busy restocking the supplies along with several other crewmembers, there was only one man, reading a book, sitting in the lounge near the tank.
Johnny, Jake and Gilbert swam lazily around in circles. Even they must have sensed the quiet of the ship. I looked at the bar staff and decided they weren’t going to be of any help. I had to get back to work. So I finished my Coors and left a tip for Edie, then walked toward the tank. Without touching the glass, I put my hand up as if to wave.
Gilbert swam over, his eyes saddened while he nuzzled the glass. I had to smiled. “Atta boy.”
Atta girl, Sherlock.
Damn. Jagger always said that to me when I did something right during a case. I shook the cobwebs of nostalgia out of my head, actually did wave to Gilbert and turned to leave.
“Interesting creatures,” the man sitting near the tank said as he set his book down on the table.
“Oh. Yes, they are.” I really wasn’t in the mood to give him my zoology lesson about the buffeo dolphins. Besides, by the looks of him, he probably already knew more about them than I did.
Looking very much the professor, with wire-rimmed glasses, a houndstooth jacket with suede patches on the elbows and a peppered gray-and-brown beard to match his shoulder-length hair, he came across as being quite the scholar.
I froze on the spot. Jagger! He’d been known to disguise himself and show up at the opportune time. I leaned near and said, “You dog, you. And here I thought you were gone!”
The man looked at me as if I were “gone.”
“Pardon me, ma’am?” He eased back a bit.
I pulled the chair next to him with my foot and flopped down. “How the heck did you manage that? Getting back and changed so fast? You are a Houdini, for sure.”
I went to slap him on the back, but he pulled away. “What? Well, I never. You’ll have to leave or I’ll call someone.”
I winked at him.
I leaned even closer to whisper but bit my tongue when I noticed the pale blue eyes, which certainly were not contacts. Oops. I realized my error. How to get away without being reported to security?
He hesitated. “No. Jonathan. Jonathan Wentworth.”
“Oh my.” I laughed and flew up from my seat. “I’m so sorry. I’m mistaken. You look very much like Henry…Tan…Tanker from New Jersey.”
Gilbert swam by that second to help me with my lie. The man smiled and seemed to buy it. With that I apologized again and hurried out before he changed his mind.
My first thought was to go back to the infirmary and look around, but figured the staff would think I was too strange, coming back on my time off, since I’d already made it through my first shift without incident. So I went to my cabin to change out of my uniform. Once I was more comfortable, I’d get back to work.
Even if I had no clue as to where to go to do it.
Betty was sitting in the chair by the porthole doing a seascape needlepoint. She told me that another nurse, who had sailed with her before, joined the crew in Miami.
“Oh. Is she taking Jackie’s place?”
Betty looked up. “Yes. She’s a seasoned cruise-ship nurse, so no need for orientation. Kristina Archambault. She just worked her last cruise on this ship a month ago. Great luck.”
I nodded. “Yeah. It’s still so sad about Jackie.”
Betty stuck the needle through the material with more force than necessary. I wondered if she really missed the woman whom she seemed to dislike or maybe was more frightened that the killer hadn’t been caught yet.
The investigation continued behind the scenes so the passengers and crewmembers weren’t privy to much of what was going on. Obviously my parents hadn’t even heard about the murder-or I’m sure they would have been on the flight home with Jagger.
I took some jeans and a lightweight top from my drawer then turned to see Betty still working on her needlepoint. After working a cruise for a long time, I would think it could get kinda boring when off duty. “Don’t you leave the ship on your time off, Betty?”
“Not much to see or do in Miami when you’ve been here oodles of times.” She chuckled.
“I hadn’t thought about that. So, what do you like to do?”
“You sure ask a lot of questions.”
Yikes. I couldn’t tell by her tone if that was a casual remark or not.
Without taking her head from her work, she asked, “How come you haven’t gone ashore?”
Good question. “Oh. Well, I really don’t like the heat and humidity that much,” I lied, when I really had been eager to step on dry land to at least say I’d been to Miami. But I had work to do and now that a new, experienced nurse was here-and she might shed some light on my case-there was no way I could leave the ship.
Betty seemed to buy my excuse and kept to herself even after I came out of the bathroom all changed. I said I’d see her later and went out the door. I looked both ways and wished I’d asked her what cabin Kristina was in so I could pay a “welcome wagon” call.
Someone on duty might know, so I went to the infirmary. Topaz and Rico were off duty since they worked the shift with me. Peter was sitting at the desk with a dark-haired woman who looked about my age. She looked up and said, “May I help you?”
Before I could speak, Peter was up and introducing us. “Pauline is a new nurse onboard. Filling in for…Remy. Pauline, this is Kris Archambault.”
Kristina, I thought. Great. I did the usual cordial welcome and sat on the edge of the desk while Peter got up to get us all coffee. If I drank coffee at this time of the night, I’d be awake until dawn, when my next shift started, but at least sending him for drinks got rid of him. I thought it strange that a doctor would offer to get nurses coffee, but I wasn’t going to argue. He always appeared to be a gentleman.
“I understand you’ve worked on the Golden Dolphin before?” I asked Kris. Not much taller than myself, Kris looked about my age.
She nodded and seemed very pleasant and, despite her last name, which was French Canadian-and her ex-husband’s, she told me-she spoke with a slight German accent.
I wasn’t sure if she knew whom she was replacing, but decided the only way to find out was to ask. “Did you know Jackie?”
“Jackie. I’m so terribly upset about that. When personnel called me to fill in for the rest of this cruise, I was shocked to hear about her.”
Not as shocked as I was to find her.
“Did you know her very well?” Please. Please give me something to go on here.
Unlike the very proper Betty, Kristina was very open. She reminded me of the free spirits of the sixties (the ones I’d seen in movies, since I was way too young to have experienced it. I don’t think she even wore a bra although if she did, it would be an A cup).
I looked toward the kitchenette to see if Peter was on his way back. No sign of him. Good. Maybe he had to make a new pot of coffee or face the wrath of Topaz.
Kris turned toward the computer and clicked on PRINT. Soon the printer whizzed and coughed out a few sheets.
I reached into my pocket and took out Remy’s key. “I was hoping Rico would be around.”
“Aren’t we all? What a piece he is.” She chuckled a low rather sexy sound.
Hmm. Was there something going on between them? Sometimes I felt as if I were sailing through a soap opera. Maybe there was something about the Bermuda Triangle after all. Or, in reality, maybe it was because these folks were cooped up on a cruise ship, often stuck out at sea for weeks on end, and turned to each other for fun and comfort.
And sometimes fraud.
“Yes-” I laughed. “Rico is a doll. Actually there are several dolls onboard.” The key felt hot in my hand as if reminding me to find out what I could. “I know you weren’t on the ship at the beginning of this cruise, but does this look familiar to you? Do you know what it is?” I opened my palm.
“It’s a key.” She got up, took the papers from the printer. Then she turned to me, standing there with my stupid hand spread out. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist.” She looked closer. “It looks to me like one of the keys for the janitor’s closets or the stock rooms down below. Where the engines are and the mechanics work. All the state rooms have card keys.”
While I processed all the possibilities, she looked at me. “Where’d you get it? Maybe that would help.”
Yikes. Now I had to bring out my Oscar-winning lie. “Oh. I found it.” Meryl Streep I was not today.
“There’s a lost and found. Give it to Adam Watt, the ship’s purser. Have you met him?” She shoved some papers into the out-box.
“No.” And I don’t intend to just yet. “Well, I’ll let you get back to work. Tell Peter thanks for the coffee, but I don’t do caffeine so late.” There were no patients waiting, but I had to say something to get out of there and go start checking doors.
“Yeah, I’ll rush right over to take care of all these passengers!” She laughed.
I like Kris, I thought as I walked out, clutching my pepper-spray locket.
I just might need that locket as I tried to find out what this key unlocked.
I made a quick trip to my cabin to get my miniature camera disguised as a beeper and attached it to the waistband of my jeans. Betty wasn’t there, which I was glad to see, so I wouldn’t have to explain what the heck I was doing with a beeper, and me not even on call. I yanked my shirt out of my pants so that it covered the camera. One final check in the mirror to make sure I looked innocent, and I was out the door and down the hallway.
I knew the general direction of the other crew’s quarters, but still had no idea how to get to the lower part of the ship. I planned to take the next set of downward stairs that I found.
The ship was to stay in the Miami harbor until morning, so I had plenty of time to investigate. When I opened a fire door between two hallways, I heard lots of noise. For a second I hesitated and almost turned back, but instead, I stayed and listened.
Didn’t sound too ominous. I slipped into the second hallway and turned a corner. It looked as if the entire crew was settled along the floor, standing in the middle or walking through the hallway.
Rico turned around and shouted, “Hey, amore! Come join the hallway party!”
Before I could say a thing, Rico grabbed me and was introducing me to all the staff, mostly guys. Seemed they often got together in the hallway to have a few beers and party out of the view of the captain and passengers. No one was rowdy, and they all seemed very nice.
Someone handed me a Coors in a bottle, and Rico chastised them for not giving “a lady” a plastic cup. “I prefer mine from the bottle,” I yelled to the cheers of the guys around me.
When I took my first sip, I thought I should be investigating, but then realized, after looking over this crowd, that half of these guys probably worked down below.
Where the key might fit.
I started to work the crowd, getting to know some really nice guys. One of them, Eduardo Castillo, who said to call him “Eddie,” and told me he was the motorman. He was sitting on the floor at the far end of the hallway.
I laughed and sat next to him when he gestured toward the floor. “Is that anything like Superman?”
With a grin, he said, “S'i, I am like the Superman-” He leaned forward and leered at me, but I knew he was teasing. As I laughed, he said, “But really my job is to take care and clean parts of the engines.”
“Well, Superman Eddie, that sounds interesting. I can’t imagine how huge the engines must be to run a ship like this.” I chuckled and took a swig of my beer. “The biggest engine I ever saw was under the hood of my Volvo.”
We both laughed.
Eddie got up and reached out his hand to me. “Come, Paulina, I will show you a big engine.”
“That’s not like ‘come to my place and I’ll show you my etchings’ is it?” I grabbed his hand and stood up.
Eddie laughed. “I am married. My wife and children, three of them, live back in Ecuador. I send them money and go home when I can.”
Phew. At least I didn’t have to play up to Eddie to get to see the downstairs. “That’s great. Lead the way, Motorman.”
We said goodbye to the rest of the crew and Eddie told Rico what our plans were.
“Sounds like the highlight of your trip, amore.”
Better than a murder in my cabin, I thought, but said, “I’m really excited to see the workings of this thing!”
In true gentlemanly fashion, Eddie gave me the grand tour, introducing me to all the crewmembers as we met them. Several were engineers who worked the gigantic computerized ivory panel opposite a wall of pale green with switches, knobs and red lights running the entire length. The room was very narrow, but I guessed that made it easier to see the panel from the other side.
Eddie seemed animated when he gave me the tour-and, although I kept looking for locks that the key might fit, I was actually enjoying myself. It was amazing what it took to power this ship. I’d love to be down there when the ship actually set sail in the morning.
Hopefully I would have some information before tomorrow.
“And this is where I work,” Eddie said proudly.
“Neat.” I looked around the sparkling-clean room. There was a chugging sound and an oily smell. The area had several levels, with iron grid walkways leading to parts of what Eddie called the “heart of the ship.”
“Looks as if you keep the place spotless.”
He beamed with pride. “Gracias, Paulina.”
I looked at my watch and realized it was getting late. Not a night person, I would be hard-pressed to get up tomorrow if I didn’t get my eight hours of beauty rest. I yawned.
“Oh, boy. Someone is tired.”
“Yeah. I think I’ll head back.”
“I’ll walk you to the infirmary area. It is not too easy to find your way around here sometimes.”
Thankful, I smiled, but in reality planned to ditch Eddie to snoop around. What better excuse than to say I got “lost” if someone found me?
Just then, a crewmember in a royal blue jumpsuit came up the steps. “Oh, Eduardo. Perfect timing. David needs to find the tools that he claims were left near the number-two generator. Have you seen them, man?” The guy nodded politely at me when he finished speaking to Eddie.
There is a God.
Eddie made a quick introduction and let me convince him that I could find my way “home.” Soon I was outside the engine room with the key pressed into my hand-inside my pocket.
Kris had been correct. There were plenty of doors around here that had key locks instead of card keys. I took out the key, said a fast prayer and started to turn door handles. If they didn’t open, I stuck the key in and tried to turn. After an hour, I really was lost and had seen enough closets and supply rooms to last a lifetime.
It seemed as if I’d passed the engine room three times, but no one was around to give me directions-and believe me, I wasn’t above asking. I thought of Jagger and smiled to myself. He’d never admit to being lost or ask how to find his way.
Suddenly I missed him. Not for help with my case-since I was proud I’d gotten this far-but more…as a friend. Working crime was a lot of common sense, which was something I had.
I walked to the end of the hallway and stopped. Which way to take? Down the right corridor several guys were working on changing light bulbs in the ceiling fixtures. The left corridor was empty.
I took the left.
All the doors were numbered and labeled, which I thought was for fire purposes. Someone would need to know that information to find the area on such a large vessel. With the key still in my hand, I turned knobs as I went along.
Three were locked doors but my key didn’t fit. At the end of the hallway was the emergency exit and a door leading to a set of stairs. But underneath the stairs was an unmarked door. Paint peeled a bit on the wall near the door. Seemed odd on a ship that was kept so top notch.
Actually, the peeling looked like a little dolphin. How appropriate. I could use it as my marker for where to resume my search for what door the key fit.
After three more yawns, I gave up tonight’s search. I mimicked Scarlet O’Hara in my head with “Tomorrow is another day,” and then started up the stairs.
I heard footsteps coming down toward me.
Shoot. I really didn’t feel like taking the time to explain what the heck I was doing here. So I turned and flew down the stairs and toward the unmarked room. I grabbed the handle and turned. Nothing. Damn!
Now two people were talking. Male voices. I stuck the key in the lock, said, “Come on, Saint Theresa, give me a break here,” and turned.
The lock clicked.
The door opened.
I stepped into the darkness and hid there, holding the door open just enough to see the two crewmembers walk past. Phew again. When they left, I opened the door, allowing the bright light of the corridor to highlight the room.