For a second, I wished Jagger were here to shove my chin back into place. I know my jaw had dropped open when I noticed the salmon shirt in Rico’s bag.
“You all right, Pauline?” he asked.
I could tell he’d followed my staring to his bag. “Oh, fine. I just-” My finger, as if having a damn mind of its own, pointed to the bag before I could pull the uncontrolable digit back. “Fine. Nothing wrong.”
He pulled out the shirt. “Oh this? You staring at this?”
I shook my head.
The guy next to him laughed. “What a night that was. We all partied so hard in Bermuda-” He unrolled his towel and pulled out the exact shirt.
My eyes widened.
“-we all bought the same damn shirt. As if we don’t have enough time wearing a freaking uniform.” They both laughed.
I smiled, very weakly, gave an even weaker chuckle and turned around.
Several of the crew had the same salmon-colored Bermuda tee shirt as Remy Girard.
Great. Just great. Can’t wait to share that with my buddy, FBI Tim.
Maybe I never really saw Remy.
Maybe he jumped ship in Miami.
Maybe he was onboard and kept wearing his shirt, just like the others-to get around the ship.
Maybe to commit another murder.
Gulp. Walking as if my feet were magnets and the floor made of metal, I made it to the elevator and punched the button. When the door opened, crewmember Adam Watt, obviously off duty, came walking out, wearing his salmon Bermuda tee.
My break was over, so I had to head back to the infirmary. Luckily, Topaz hadn’t beeped me, so I know there were no passengers to treat at the moment. Even so, I ran back as fast as I could and stormed in through the glass doors.
Her head flew up. “Geez. It’s only you.”
“Sorry. I got hung up. Any problems while I was gone?”
She shook her head and looked at my empty hands. “My coffee is all gone.”
“And no freshly baked cookie. I am so sorry. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.” Damn. Hope she wasn’t miffed at me.
She smiled. “I’ll forgive you this time, since you make a perfect cup of Joe.”
We laughed, and I felt as if a balloon of stress had popped inside me. “Can I help you with something?”
She hesitated. “Well, since there are no patients now and you don’t have any crew physicals scheduled for this trip, sure. Come here.” She motioned to the other violet chair on her side of the reception desk.
After several minutes, I got the hang of what Topaz had instructed me to do. I was stuffing envelopes with insurance information.
There is a God and he kept his eye on me.
And good thing I made perfect Joe.
I touched my beeper camera, which I now kept in my pocket, and kept working until Topaz got up. As she headed to the powder room, I thanked the gods that coffee had diuretic effects and pulled out my beeper.
The top seven bills on my pile were for outrageous amounts. I figured most passengers didn’t complain because they had no other choice of medical treatment when out at sea. They couldn’t “shop around” for better service, as Topaz had said-that was for sure.
Then, someone working here must be sending the claims to the insurance companies, getting the money back to the New York office and keeping part of it. There had to be a contact in that headquarters’ office. I kept looking through records and files and before long…bingo.
I had the proof.
After taking pictures of the fraudulent paperwork, I heard the clatter of spike heels on the linoleum floor. Topaz was returning.
“Any problems?” She gave me what I thought was a suspicious look.
I held up my pile of envelopes. “Nope. All done here.”
“Great. It’s almost time for shift change anyway. I appreciate your help-without it I’d be staying late to finish these.”
Hmm. “Really? I would think they could wait until tomorrow.”
She rolled her eyes. “Nope. House rules. They have to be ready to be dropped in the mail at the next port of call.”
Why? “Gee. Who makes the house rules?” I asked, then chuckled to lighten the mood.
Topaz was about to speak, but from behind me a voice said, “The captain.”
I swung around to see Doc Peter. “Oh. Of course he does. He must make all the rules around here.”
Suddenly I wondered if Captain Duarte was in on the take. Was he the mastermind of the fraud, in addition to running this gigantic ship?
The doc went into the backroom and I watched Topaz gathering up her purse. “Hey, Topaz, I just wondered about that guy with the chest pain. Did he ever come back?”
“Nope.” She bent down, picked up her shoes and slipped them on. I hadn’t even noticed that she took them off when she sat at the desk. No wonder. Her feet had to be killing her.
“One thing I did notice”-We’d be docking in Bermuda soon, so I decided to give it a shot-“is that the chest pain’s bill was considerably less than those girls who collided. And less than the bills I just stuffed.”
She glared at me.
Oops. “I couldn’t help noticing.” I laughed. She didn’t. Yikes.
She shrugged-and it looked genuine. “Different treatments I guess. As I’d said, I don’t make the rules around here, Pauline, I only follow them. Like any good, dedicated employee should do.” With that Topaz turned to head toward the door with a “have a nice night” and let Kris in as she went out.
I sat for several minutes pondering all I’d learned-and her tone.
Once I’d reported off to Kris, I went back to my cabin to change for the night. I still had to meet Hunter. Damn it. When I walked in, I froze.
Betty lay sprawled on her bed, obviously napping, but also wearing her damn salmon tee shirt! Instinctively, I checked to see that her chest was moving up and down-thank goodness.
Visions of a dead Jackie popped into my head.
Quietly I went to my closet and looked at my clothing. I didn’t want to appear sexy for Hunter. Yet, I didn’t want to look frumpy either, which might seem too obvious that I was angry with him for getting rid of Jagger. So, I went with ivory. Nothing sexy or frumpy about ivory.
The top I grabbed had three-quarter-length sleeves that were made of some transparent material. Hence not frumpy. The slacks that Goldie had picked out were actually Capri-style with a little lacy trim at the bottom. At the bodice of the top was a gathered section, which hugged my chest in all the right places. Hence the sexy part.
Betty snored softly as I went into the bathroom to change. I kinda wished she would wake up so we could chat a bit before I left, so I took my time, putting on my makeup as instructed by dear Goldie. What a wiz the guy was with makeup!
Finally, putting on the last of my mauve lipstick, I looked in the mirror-and thought of Jagger. Damn. I wish he could see me, was my first thought. Then I chastised myself and refused to admit that the guy was just as addictive as Goldie had said.
“Shoot. I’m going to have fun tonight, no matter.” With that I opened the door with such force that it flew out of my hand with a bang.
“Bother!” Betty flew up in her bed.
I hurried over. “I’m sorry. The door flew out of my hand.”
She curled her lips at me, and why not? I had awakened the woman from a deep sleep. “Really, Betty. I am so sorry.”
Yet, that may have been to my benefit.
She flopped back onto her pillow and hugged her other one. She sighed and said, “Look, girlfriend, don’t be barmy.”
I gasped. Had Betty been that angry with me? And what the heck did “barmy” mean? I had no clue but it didn’t sound good.
She chuckled. “Silly. Don’t be silly. I know it was an accident. The blasted door gets away from me just about every time I come out of the loo.”
“Oh.” I laughed.
She looked at me. “Don’t you just look smashing. Some chap is going to be pretty pleased tonight. Are you going to the lounge to dahns?”
Dahns? What the heck? I thought for a second then realized what she’d said. “Dance? Yeah. I guess I will. Hunter is meeting me there.” I looked at my watch. Five minutes late already. Damn. But work came first. “Hey, Betty. What’s with all the different bills in the infirmary?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you are talking about, Pauline.”
Let’s hope not. “Sorry. I helped Topaz with her work. Geez. Some people get outrageous bills and others, depending on their conditions it seems, get decent, normal-for-the-treatment bills.”
Betty’s eyes widened. “What?”
I explained a bit more.
She sat up and listened with the interest of a grandchild listening intently to a story told by his nana. After several minutes, I said, “So you never noticed the differences?”
“Blimey. I never did anything with the bills. Topaz or the other clerks do that work.” She bit her nail a few times. “I have no idea why the difference.”
I shrugged. Suddenly I realized that if I made a big deal about this, Betty might get suspicious of me. Why the heck should I care about the billing? “The only reason I mentioned it was because the two girls who collided were furious. I just want to know how to handle things if it happens again.”
“I’m sure, mate.” She got up and walked to the loo. Before she shut the door, she said, “Ask the captain about it if you really are that interested. And have a smashing time with Hunter!”
I forced a smile. Ask the captain? Even though he knew who I was, if he had anything to do with the fraud-and I kind of doubted it-what the heck would he tell me and what the heck would happen to me then?
I poked at the elevator button and stepped in when the door opened. Two of the crew that I’d met in the hallway get-together the other day were there. One whistled.
I laughed. “Hey.”
They both nodded and smiled.
When the door closed, the elevator started up instead of down. I must have been too preoccupied with my life’s possibly being in danger to notice I’d gotten on the wrong one. We also must have hit the “milk run,” because the damn thing stopped at every floor on the way up.
The two guys got off at the top and five swinging singles got on. Three females. Two males. I thanked Saint T that I wasn’t one of them. That my life was so full with my career I didn’t have to go out looking for a guy.
I was fine by myself. Happy. Very happy.
Despite what Mother thought.
Smiling, I turned around so as not to eavesdrop on their chatting and watched the people in the lobby below. Three guys walked across the lobby in the damn salmon tee shirts. Funny that I’d never noticed them before. Then again, it might have been that I was only looking at single males running or looking suspicious. I had to teach myself to be aware of everything that went on around me.
I thought I was doing pretty well on the case by myself. A feeling of pride settled inside me. I had to brush up on being more aware and keeping up the good work.
The elevator stopped and one of the females cooed, “The Bottlenose. Last one out buys drinks!”
That cleared the elevator at record speed. I stepped out before the door shut and noticed Hunter standing by the doorway talking to one of the crewmembers.
“Hey,” I said as I approached. “So sorry to be late.”
He turned and smiled then introduced me to Jack, who was one of the waiters in the lounge. Apparently someone had complained about his not serving them fast enough. Some females. My money was on the darn Lee women.
I nearly suggested Jack “spill” their next round of drinks on them, but instead, I swallowed back my revenge and followed Hunter into the lounge.
The place was packed tonight, with not a foot of dance space left and all the tables taken. Around the back of the room and surrounding the tank were people standing in lines, drinking, chatting, laughing.
The lounge was swinging.
I gave a wave to Gilbert as he swam buy, then pulled my hand back feeling foolish. I swear he smiled at me though.
Hunter put his hand on my lower back and led me toward the bar. Two seats were empty but had drinks in front of them. My Coors Light in the bottle and Hunter’s Scotch on the rocks. My feminist side should be miffed that he assumed that he knew what I wanted, yet I needed a swig of the cold beer right about now-and it was kind of nice to have it there waiting.
“Pauline, help yourself to your drink. I have to go appease some of the passengers. I’ll be right back though.” He bent forward.
I eased back a bit, but he managed to kiss my cheek. I wanted to smack him and yell that he shouldn’t have gotten rid of my Jagger. Instead I mumbled that was fine and thought to myself that he could stay away all night and I wouldn’t care.
Edie came over and chatted a few minutes, but she was so busy she couldn’t stay long.
“This seat taken?” I heard from behind.
“I’m afraid it-” I swung around to address the guy then stopped. “Do you Feds have jurisdiction over dolphin bar stools? If so, have at it.”
Tim chuckled and moved Hunter’s glass to the side and then sat. “I’ll leave when he comes back.”
I was about to say don’t, but then Tim would think that I wanted him to stay! Ah, the dilemmas of dating. The swinging singles could have them. “Hey, I found something out today.” I told him about the damn tee-shirt follies and took a swig of my beer.
He seemed to ponder what I’d just said.
“You don’t think I’ve seen Remy at all, do you?” I said.
He looked at me over his glass while he drank. “Do you?”
Damn it. I blew out a breath. “I was so sure that I had, Tim. I mean after finding his stuff in that room and seeing him in the picture, I was sure. Besides, who tried to throw me overboard?”
“It was a foggy night, Pauline. The deck was very slippery. Maybe you slid toward the railing when you ran after what you thought was Remy. Or it could have been that you surprised whoever it was and couldn’t clearly see him because of the weather.”
That was a possibility. I polished off my Coors and waved to Edie. “You want another one?” I asked Tim.
He looked taken aback that a woman would even ask that, and I remembered that he probably didn’t think I should be working a case either, despite what Goldie had said about him not being a chauvinist.
So, I proceeded to tell him all that I found out about the billing. Tim seemed very interested and even made a few notes. Suddenly I felt more like we were working together, and it felt kind of nice.
I looked in the mirror behind the bar, and all of a sudden, I felt a chill race up my spine.
Stella Sokol fast approached.
“There you are, Pauline. My goodness, it has been so long since Daddy and I have seen you. We’ve been to the movies, two shows, Daddy won a hundred dollars on the slot machines and I won three.”
“No, silly. Three hundred dollars.” She patted me on the arm. I wanted to ask who she was and where was the real Stella Sokol. So far, she hadn’t even acknowledged Tim or tried to fix me up with him.
Then the world screeched to a halt.
Mother leaned over and gave Tim a hug!
I started to introduce them, but the words stuck in my throat.
Mother waved at me as if erasing what little I could say midair. “Don’t be silly, Pauline. We’ve met. Dear Tim-” She looked at him and I think gave him a kind of sexy smile.
I looked away too fast to see the entire incident, twisting the muscles of my neck in the process. “Ouch!”
Mother ignored me. “-would I say ‘interrogated’ Daddy and me, Agent Harwinton?”
Tim chuckled. “Questioned, Stella. Questioned is fine.”
I pushed my hand past my mother’s arm and grabbed Tim on the sleeve of his-what else-dark gray suit. “You questioned my parents?”
“Take it easy. We questioned everyone onboard, Pauline. You should know that.”
I let go and sat back. It dawned on me that my parents knew about Jackie’s murder and hadn’t summoned me to their cabin to stay with them the rest of the trip. Edie hadn’t brought my drink yet, which turned out to be a good thing. Probably I would have downed it in one gulp.
“Daddy is still in the casino, having the time of his life. I’m just here to find Goldie and Miles. They are meeting us for dinner on the upper deck. My treat.” She laughed.
I was about to check her forehead.
Stella Sokol had to be feverish.
“I haven’t seen them,” was all I could manage. Living in the Twilight Zone had taken away all my intelligence. Sitting silently for a few minutes, I watched Tim and Mother converse, then she kissed him on the cheek, gave me a wave, said she was glad I was with him for safety and was gone.
Who was that woman?
I needed pine-scented Renuzit.
And I needed my mother back to normal!
Maybe the fog of the Bermuda Triangle had had some kind of paranormal effect on her. I only hoped Daddy and Uncle Walt were not affected too!
After what seemed like hours but had to be only a few seconds, I looked at Tim.
He smiled and gave me a look like, Why can’t you be as carefree as your mom?
“That is not really her!” I yelled above the tango music. “That’s not my mother. Stella Sokol does not…” What was I doing?
“She’s not really your mother?” I could see a faint grin as he took a sip of his drink.
“Of course she is. I’m sure you know all about me, down to my parking tickets.”
“Tickets? Unpaid? How many?”
“Never mind. Are you going to question them anymore?” I wanted desperately to change the subject.
If only I could have Gilbert the dolphin swim me back to Connecticut.
Hunter came up from behind and cleared his throat.
“Oh, hi,” I said. “Everything all right with the Lee women?”
His eyebrows rose. “How did you know they were the passengers that complained?”
Because you threw Jagger off the boat because of them. “Let’s just say…I’ve met them and it was a lucky guess.”
He looked at Tim and said, “Fine. They are happy and everything is fine. Now we can enjoy our date.”
Tim stood and picked up his drink. “Actually, I have to borrow Ms. Sokol for a few minutes. She’s the last on my list to question.”
My eyes widened. I wanted to scream that I had nothing to do with the murder and that I’d already given statement after statement. But if I did that, I’d have to stay with wishy-washy Hunter, who placated passengers like the Lee women.
So, I smiled and said, “I’m really beat too. As soon as Tim is done with me…is done asking me questions, I’m going to head back to my cabin. Thanks for a nice night.” Nice night? I hadn’t spoken two words to Hunter, but it seemed an appropriate goodbye.
Once out of the lounge, I grabbed Tim’s arm. “Look, I’ve go nothing more to tell you about Jackie’s death. That night I told you guys all I knew. All I’d seen. I have no motive other than once I caught her painting her toenails on my bed.”
With a typical FBI solemn face, he took his notebook out of his breast pocket, pulled out a little pencil like the one I’d gotten from Uncle Walt’s golf bag and sneaked into a mental hospital on my last case, and started to write.
I froze on the spot.
“Color?” he asked.
“What color nail polish?”
The old phobia of being arrested when I was not guilty sped through my Coors-affected mind. “What…what are you…I didn’t do…Tim, you have to believe…I had nothing-”
All I could hear was the pencil clatter to the floor while Tim’s lips covered mine.
If this was part of being arrested, maybe I’d never seek treatment for that phobia. Being arrested wasn’t as bad as I thought.
It was actually quite delicious.