Stella Sokol always used to tell us kids that prayers were not always answered and there is a good reason why. However, she was never able to give us any reason other than “because they are or they are not.”
Sensing that I was alone, I flipped on the light switch and looked at the room I’d taken refuge in.
Saint Theresa had come through like gangbusters.
I said a quick thanks and walked into the tiny space to observe a bed, which looked as if it’d been squeezed into the tiny place, and an olive drab duffel bag lying on the floor with clothing spewing out. What originally caught my attention was the pair of white sneakers, a pair of white slacks and a white shirt with the epaulets on the shoulders-exactly like mine.
Exactly like Rico’s, Betty’s and Kristina’s.
A crew nursing uniform.
I leaned closer to a box that was turned upside down for a makeshift table. Framed in brass and silver was the photo of Jackie, Betty and Remy-all smiling-and him wearing a salmon-colored tee shirt that said BERMUDA on the front in bold yellow.
Remy Girard was indeed alive and living on this ship!
My hand flew to my mouth to stifle a gasp although I felt sure no one was around to hear me. After my hand stopped shaking, I decided I needed to report my find to the safety officer and in turn the FBI. But first I took a few shots with my beeper camera. Remy easily could have killed Jackie and no one would have known, since he was missing and thought dead. He must have kept the extra key in the kitchenette in case he lost one or had to jump ship and come back in disguise.
How clever the guy must be.
Clever enough to be running an insurance-fraud scam from the bowels of the Golden Dolphin-and nearly getting away with murder.
It only took me forty-eight minutes to find my way back to the main body of the ship and to ask where the safety officer’s office was. A few times I had to duck into the nearest open door when I thought I heard someone behind me. No one could be following me, because, after all, how could they know who I was? Before I knew it, I was telling William Benoit, the safety officer; the captain and the FBI suits about my find. I told them who I really was and turned over the key to the blond one.
I was ready to defend myself in case they thought I was a nutcase, but Captain Duarte said they had known who I was from the beginning. I was floored, but realized Jagger must have something to do with that (and well, this was the FBI). I imagined they even knew about all the parking tickets I’d gotten throughout the years.
Obviously Jagger had told them to protect me, or right now I think I’d be sitting in some uncomfortable straight chair beneath a naked lightbulb in a dark room, facing interrogation by Miami’s finest and the FBI crew.
Hmm. If Jagger had shared his cover with them, how come he’d gotten thrown off the ship? Was that a cover too? Was I going to “run into” him in some darkened hallway one of these nights?
One never knew, where Jagger was concerned.
A sense of relief washed over me, especially since I had found and taken pictures of several checks in Remy’s room with the invoices showing that two thirds of the payments went to insurance carriers and one third to our fraud criminals. They had been made out to “cash.” Once the photos were developed, I’d find his accomplices and be going home soon.
“But whom is he still working with?” the captain asked. “Who knows that Mr. Gerard is on this ship and is in cahoots with him?”
“Good question. Seems as if we think alike,” I said. “That was my next plan. To find out the answer to that.”
The suit with the blond hair said, “We’ll make a thorough check, ma’am.”
Ma’am? The way he said it made me sound so old. I didn’t want to argue with a Fed, so I just smiled silently, thinking, I’m not giving up on my case, buddy. Not while Fabio holds the key to my paycheck.
Captain Duarte stood. “Please show us this hideaway, Ms. Sokol.”
Whoa, boy. I didn’t think they’d be real pleased with me for taking forty-eight minutes to show them the way. I smiled and said, “Follow me,” all the while praying I could trace my steps backward faster than I found it the first time.
When we passed the gift shop twice, I decided I wasn’t above the truth-in order to not anger the FBI guy, who, by the way, was not really pleased to see the gift shop again.
“Well, unless the ship has two identical gift shops, I seem to have lost my bearings. Maybe the Bermuda Triangle has something to do with it.” I said and then laughed.
The captain gave me a fatherly smile.
Mr. Benoit stood silent and glaring.
And the blond FBI guy said, “Perhaps, ma’am, if you tell the captain what the area looked like, he can get us there…faster.”
As if I couldn’t. Well! I gave Captain Duarte a good description (Leaving out the chipped paint dolphin on the wall. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy, like some people who see the Virgin Mary on walls or made out of potato chips.). He frowned (I’m sure wondering what the heck I was doing down there in the first place, since my case was in the medical area), and then we were on our way-miles away from where the gift shop was.
“There. There it is!” I said, nearly shouting after we’d turned a corner in the hallway. I looked at my watch. Thirty-seven minutes, including the double trip by the gift shop. Not bad, I thought, until I looked at the annoyed yet good-looking, face of the FBI guy.
“That room has been used for storage. There should have been boxes in it,” Captain Duarte said.
I eased past the safety office and the FBI guy. “Well, one box was still left. Mr. Girard had it turned upside down like a table. He had a picture of himself, Jackie and Betty on it.”
Mr. Benoit took out what must have been a master key and stuck it in the lock. When it clicked and he reached for the door handle, I said, “I guess Remy is the number-one suspect in Jackie’s murder?”
The door opened in a second, Mr. Benoit flipped on the light and I heard the blond guy mutter, “Christ.”
The room was completely empty.
With Captain Duarte in the lead, we made our way back to his office in less than ten minutes. He opened his door and waved a hand for us all to pass.
I wanted to turn and run. I’d been apologizing and mumbling how the stuff really was in the room when I saw it.
The blond Fed didn’t believe me. I could tell.
But Captain Duarte said, “I’m sure it was, Ms. Sokol.” Although I think he was lying.
And Mr. Benoit, obviously feeling sorry for me, said, “Criminals like to cover their tracks.”
“Which means Remy is still onboard!” And knows that I found his hiding place. Now my life was in danger.
The other FBI agent asked me if anyone had seen me earlier, when I’d been looking for this supposed room. I told him about the footsteps behind me and how I had to duck into the room after I opened it with the key.
They chatted for a while and concluded that I should be more careful. The blond suggested to the captain that I not be allowed to investigate anywhere but around the infirmary. I heard him say something about a bodyguard, but the guy was a master at hiding what he didn’t want others to hear. “For her own safety,” he’d said.
Holding back the urge to slug him, I said, “I can take care of myself, sir.” There. Take that. He looked about my age, but my calling him “sir” made me feel younger.
“Everyone says that.” He turned toward the captain, who stood there with a pitiable look on his face-for me.
“I’m sure Agent Harwinton (the blond) only has your safety in mind. It might be a good idea to stay away from secluded areas until Mr. Girard is in custody.
“Might be a good idea” was not the same as being ordered not to go there. Splitting hairs, sure. But still, it kept me from openly disobeying the nice captain.
I bit my tongue from any further discussion so the captain would not clarify his statement.
Before I could open the door, I heard mumbling from the security officer and the blond. I’d bet the guy was talking about me. He was probably going to continue to interfere in my case. So I “accidentally” dropped my lipstick and with help from my toe, it rolled closer to them.
“Damn. The guy’s got to be onboard somewhere. First the body shit, now this,” Harwinton said.
I paused and ran my hand along the carpet as if looking for my lipstick, which was clearly right in front of his shoe.
I had to find out about the body.
The security officer said, “If Girard is onboard, we’ll find him.”
“Yeah, but who the hell got to the body while it was secured by your people? It’s probably goddamn shark food right now.”
I jumped up and covered my mouth with my hand.
Jackie’s body was missing!
After I’d pulled out of my stupor, managed a few polite goodbyes and gotten my lipstick, I was now safely back in my room snuggled in bed while Betty snored away-and so wound up I knew I’d never sleep tonight.
I only wished I could share my find about Remy’s room and subsequent loss of it with Jagger.
That thought kept me more awake than before. Soon I noticed the sun peeking through the porthole and felt the slight motion of the ship. I pressed on my anti-nausea bracelet, which had been working splendidly, and realized we were headed off to Bermuda.
And poor Jackie’s body had probably been thrown overboard.
The next day passed without incident in both my nursing job and in my investigation. I had “wandered” down to Remy’s hideout only to find it padlocked and sealed off with yellow tape. I blamed it on the FBI.
Maybe I could have found something more in the room that would help my case, since I had to wait to get my pictures developed in Bermuda-like another picture or note or something that might have been left behind by Remy. I couldn’t take a chance on having my pictures developed on board.
Every time I thought of Jackie, my body shivered.
Personally, I would have left the place untouched to use as bait to catch Remy, who might be dumb enough to move back there, even though the room was at the end of a hallway, with no way to set up a stakeout. Guess they had their reasons for doing whatever they did, or maybe they’d found him already. I was assuming the blond wouldn’t have shared that info with me.
By evening I was off duty and had changed into comfortable ivory slacks and a matching sleeveless top with a pastel rose painted on the front. I stuck my hair up, which always made me look older and more sophisticated or, actually, as if I were going back to work as a nurse. To change that image, I doused myself with my Estee Lauder Beautiful perfume. Feeling kind of lonely now that Jagger was gone, I decided I needed to see Goldie and Miles and check up on my folks.
I made my way up to my parents’ stateroom only to find it empty. On the door was a yellow piece of stationery that read, IF YOU ARE PAULINE SOKOL, WE HAVE GONE TO THE BOTTLENOSE LOUNGE TO HAVE A GOOD TIME. IF YOU ARE NOT PAULINE SOKOL, WE STILL HAVE GONE TO THE BOTTLENOSE LOUNGE. IF YOU ARE PAULINE SOKOL, YOU BETTER COME, AND MAKE SURE YOU ARE WITH PEOPLE TO BE SAFE. TONIGHT IS A SADIE HAWKINS DANCE, WHICH MEANS WOMEN CAN ASK A MAN TO DANCE. YOU SHOULD JOIN US. YOU WORK TOO HARD. EVEN YOU COULD ASK SOMEONE TO DANCE. DO NOT MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY.
I turned the note over and even though the printing got smaller and smaller (obviously so my mother could fit more in it to nag me), I was able to read, DADDY BOWLED A 200 TODAY, AND WE WENT SWIMMING ON THE DECK WHERE THOSE DARLING DOLPHINS LIVE. STOP WORKING SO HARD, PAULINE, AND COME MEET SOME NICE, YOUNG…
She’d run out of room before she could fix me up with some swinging single. My urge to go party had fizzled with the paper-and yes, with the knowledge that my parents would be in the same lounge. But I did want to see Goldie and Miles, since I knew my parents were okay and obviously still having a good time.
I hoped my friends were still in their room, but figured I was wasting a trip as I knocked. Nothing. Damn. I’ll bet they were at the lounge too. Neither were big gamblers, so I figured the casino was off-limits for them, and I wasn’t sure if any shows were scheduled right now. Maybe Uncle Walt could be found in the casino, unless he had more ladies to dance with now that Jagger was gone.
If I saw the Lee women anywhere near my uncle, I’d lodge a complaint with the captain-after my drink would accidentally spill on one of their heads.
An evil chuckle snuck out as I pushed the elevator button. When I got in, there were three young women dressed to the nines, and I figured they were on their way to the lounge too. One kept talking about the “hunk” male host who was no longer on the ship. They giggled, and a skinny blonde even suggested that maybe he was thrown off for doing something devious.
They all had evil grins on their faces. I couldn’t listen or look at them any longer, knowing they were way off base about my Jagger. So I turned toward the glass section and watched the floors zoom by. In the solarium below, decorated in the ever-present dolphins-gold ones and purple ones-I saw a man hurrying by.
He was dressed in jeans and a salmon-colored tee shirt with a baseball cap hiding his face. But from here and what I’d seen in the pictures, he looked like Remy!
“Shoot!” I shouted and banged on the glass wall.
“What the hell is wrong with you, lady?” the redhead in the group asked.
I swung back to see them all staring and all showing far too much cleavage. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” I stood tall and glared at them until they all turned away like frightened kids.
Good. At least I had some power over giggly twentysomethings. Suddenly though, that thought made me feel old, single and childless.
“How about that good-looking dark-haired man over there, Pauline? You are not getting any younger you know. You just had another birthday in March,” my mother said, openly pointing to a man standing near the bar.
I groaned. “I know when my birthday is, Mother. We just celebrated it last month. And that gentleman over there would come up to my chest. Besides, he has no hair. How could I run my fingers through…?”
“Pauline Sokol! You don’t have to get obscene.”
I laughed to myself. Sometimes it was fun to goad my mother along. At least I hadn’t lost my sense of humor yet. It was difficult to get over that I’d just seen Remy-a killer and body snatcher. Reluctantly, I’d called the security folks but sure as hell did not want the FBI to come. Harwinton did anyway-when there was no longer any sign of Remy or any man in a salmon tee shirt.
I’ll never forget the look the blond gave me.
Well! I’d have to solve my case soon to show him I was not some bumbling fool. I decided the guy probably was a male chauvinist who didn’t think women should be investigators or FBI agents for that matter.
Not wanting to dwell on the case and murder, I looked around the room. The girls from the elevator were dancing with each other while couples lined the walls and bar. Edie had her hands full, pouring and serving until she looked exhausted.
Several ladies walked up to men at the bar and asked them to dance. Only one looked as if he refused. When he turned around, I nearly fell off my chair.
I shook my head and thought, How rude. The poor girl must have built up a lot of courage to go ask him. He was a nice-looking guy, but had zero personality as far as I was concerned. Besides, he made me feel guilty about nothing.
I took a sip of my Coors and watched him sip what I guessed was a Scotch. My mother nudged my arm. “What, Mom?”
“Go ask him.”
I looked around. “Ask who what?”
“That nice-looking man at the bar. He keeps looking at you. Go ask him to dance. It won’t kill you.”
I shuttered at the words. “No, I’d rather die than ask-”
Mother’s eyes widened and she grabbed my arm. “What are you talking about? Michael,” she said to my father, who was dozing off from too much excitement. “Michael, she said she would rather die. Why would she say that?” She turned to me before my father could process her words. “Why would you say that, Pauline Sokol? Why on earth-”
I raised my hands and jumped up. The way I saw it, I was far better off asking the Fed to dance than to listen to my mother and consequently have her pull the truth out of me as to why I’d rather die than dance with Harwinton.
Because I knew what being interrogated by my mother was like-
I approached the bar. Then I debated about running out the door and going back to my cabin, but when I looked over my shoulder, Stella Sokol had her radar set on me.
I nodded to Edie and sat on the dolphin stool next to Harwinton. I really didn’t want to dance and hoped my mother wouldn’t come over and push the issue. “Hi, Edie. Busy night, huh?”
Harwinton stared straight ahead. I realized I didn’t know his first name, just as I didn’t know Jagger’s. Or maybe it was his last name that I didn’t know. Anyway, that coincidence was the only thing that was remotely like my relationship with Jagger.
Edie handed me a bottle of Coors without a glass. “Chicks are not good tippers,” she said and then cursed.
I smiled and gave her a generous tip.
Harwinton looked at me. “So, tough investigators take their beer straight, eh, Sherlock Holmes?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I shifted and half my butt got involved with gravity, so I started to fall.
He grabbed my arm, saving me from the complete embarrassment that I would have faced.
How could he have known? Naw. He didn’t know. It was just a shot in the dark. A lucky guess. An insult to me. A…reminder of Jagger.
Harwinton was more like Jagger than I’d thought, only his hair color came from the lightest end of the spectrum while Jagger’s came from the darkest-and their faces were admittedly different, although both…not bad.
I heard a fake cough from behind me and straightened enough to see my mother in the mirror. She was getting up!
I looked at the Fed. “Thanks for the help. Yes, I like my beer in the bottle, not from a can, and get up and dance with me. Now!”
She was approaching like a tugboat at full speed.
Mr. Macho Fed didn’t have time to think, to argue or to decline. Forget the fact that I was tugging on him. He got up, placed his hand on the small of my back and followed me to the dance floor.
As we passed my mother on the way, I heard, “Please, God, let this one work out for a change, and don’t have him like boys.”