I stood on my tiptoes to try to see myself in the tiny sink’s mirror, since there wasn’t any room for a full-length mirror around here. Damn, but a uniform did wonders. I looked spiffy in the white top and ‘trousers,’ as Betty had called them.
I had pulled my hair up to look more professional and thought I even looked a bit sexy. Neat. Couldn’t hurt on a singles cruise.
When I came out of the bathroom, Jackie was sitting on the edge of her bed, and Betty was settled in the chair near my desk, looking at some paperwork. She looked up. “You look peachy, mate.”
Jackie stared for a few seconds. “Yeah, peachy.”
There was that accent again that made me unsure if Jackie was being flattering or sarcastic.
Betty stood and ignored Jackie, so I assumed there was no love lost between the two. Hmm.
There was also something else I noted about the two. I couldn’t say for sure, but they occasionally looked at each other…oddly. It reminded me of the looks my sister Mary and I gave each other when we were keeping a secret from our other sister, Janet.
Secrets? Right up my alley.
Jackie collapsed onto her bed. “She has a right to know, Halfpenny.”
Betty cleared her throat and gave Jackie a dirty look. That one I couldn’t mistake for anything else.
Jackie curled her lips at Betty. “Tell her, or I will.”
“Shut up!” Betty turned to take my arm.
“Excuse me,” I said, to remind them that I was in the room. “Tell me what?”
Betty’s grip tightened and then released.
Jackie sat up. “You’re replacing Remy Girard. He and I went to nursing school together. Rem…Remy was a good friend.” She curled her toes. Very gently she touched one nail with a finger and said something in French. I was guessing it was a curse, since the nail polish had chipped off the corner of her nail. Then she lifted her pillow to take out a picture framed in a brass holder.
I could see Jackie smiling at the man. Remy? He had on a crew uniform and, I noticed, one of those woven bracelets made out of some kind of rope.
Jackie had a similar one on her ankle.
Good friend indeed.
Betty took my arm again. “Let’s go.”
This time Jackie stood up. Make that, jumped up like a Jack-in-a-box. “She has a right to know!”
Oh, boy. “I’m getting confused. I have a right to know what?” My heart started a little arrhythmia brought on by fear. These two were driving me nuts. “Someone better clear this up soon, or-”
“Remy didn’t get sick!” Betty shouted. I had only just met her, but the tone of her voice seemed very uncharacteristic. Especially for a polite Englishwoman.
Jackie let out those same French phrases and this time I was certain they were X-rated. “You are nuts, Betty.” She turned toward me. “But she is correct. Remy didn’t get sick. He…disappeared.”
Betty gasped, followed by my gasp.
“You mean he fell overboard?” I croaked out.
The two looked at each other. “Maybe,” Betty said.
“Unlikely,” Jackie said right after.
I flopped down onto the nearest chair. “Well, what do you mean, ‘disappeared’?” I had all kinds of visions of how I was going to kill Fabio and wasn’t even open to the suggestion that he didn’t know. Sick indeed.
Betty sat on my bed. “We really don’t have any details, Pauline. Remy wasn’t very happy the last few months.”
Betty turned to Jackie. “Well, he wasn’t. No thanks to you.” Then to me: “He might have jumped ship in Bermuda. We really don’t know. Captain Duarte simply told the staff that Remy was no longer working here and would be replaced.”
With me. Yikes!
Jackie looked at Betty and gave her a “so there, I got my way” kinda grin, then said, “I’m tired.”
Betty ignored Jackie and looked at me. “I shall show you around the casualty now.”
My eyes widened. “There’s already been a casualty!” I hoped my friends and family were all right.
Jackie chuckled. “Bloody British with their own words. She means the ER, or actually the infirmary, as I call it.”
Whoa, boy. “Ah. Great, Betty. Lead the way.”
On the way out I noticed that Betty gave Jackie a look that said, “Freaking French.” I only hoped I’d get along better with the two of them or I might not be able to concentrate on my jobs-nursing and investigating.
I also added finding out more about Remy Girard to my list.
Across the hallway was a set of double glass doors with MEDICAL CENTER written in black-and-gold lettering. Upon entering, I thought, This dolphin d'ecor has been a bit overdone. The place looked more like a lounge than an infirmary.
At a violet-and-lime reception desk sat a young man dressed like us. Betty introduced him as one of the nurses. Enrico “Rico” Bono was Italian (but had lived in the United States since age nine) and was damn good-looking. Think Al Pacino minus a few years. Rico jumped up, hurried around the desk and took me into his arms. Yikes!
“Welcome aboard, Pauline.”
He spoke like a regular American, kinda New York meets New Orleans, but the deep tone of his voice had me thinking I’d heard a sexy accent or maybe it was just because his breath tickled my neck as he spoke.
I looked at Betty. “Is it hot in here?”
She grinned. “Rico is on duty, so I’ll show you around.”
With that he let go but not after whispering in my ear, “I’ll see you later, amore.”
I didn’t need an Italian/American dictionary for that term.
Betty’s tour included the main nursing station and the one ICU room with all the equipment up to date. Tubes, wires and extra lights hung from the walls around the hospital bed. On the nearby crash cart stood a monitor and defibrillator. IV bags stood at the ready, hanging on nearby metal poles.
“Looks like the ER back home,” I said.
“Precisely,” Betty added then showed me all the supplies in a small closet near the porthole. Green, peach and beige-stripped drapes hung from the sides of the porthole, making it appear more like a real window. The walls were painted a mint green, which gave them an air of comfort.
I sure hoped this room wouldn’t be needed on my cruise.
“Those glass doors lead to a hallway where a lift will take you to the upper deck if a patient needs to be taken out by a helicopter. The pool has to be drained so no one gets electrocuted. Quite a bloomin’ procedure.”
“Hope it’s not needed on this trip,” I said.
“That’s it for physical setup. Feel free to poke around yourself.”
Just what I wanted to hear.
She continued, “Let me show you the procedure manual. Everything is spelled out quite nicely. Then I’ll show you the schedule.”
She pronounced it “shed yool.” I had to smile. Seemed as if Betty could insult me too, and I wouldn’t care. But she was so sweet, I doubted I’d have to worry. It was so much fun meeting people from other countries.
“On this line we work twelve-hour shifts. That way we are off more. More free time to sightsee or rest.”
Or investigate, I thought. “Sounds perfect.”
“You know we also treat all the crew. Three hundred of them. This is their only means of receiving routine medical care along with emergency care as needed.”
I nodded, but hadn’t been aware of that. Of course, what little Fabio could tell me about this job was…frankly, nothing much, other than I was to find out who was committing fraud and to save him money.
“You have a few days to review the procedures. We run things a bit differently on this line, but we do follow all the Healthcare Guidelines for Cruise Ship Medical Facilities. You’ll start Monday at seven A.M. for your shift with Jackie.”
Opportune moment here. “With Jackie? Hmm. She been here long?”
Betty hesitated. A telltale sign in the investigative field-however, I had no clue as to what it meant. I’d find out.
“Jackie’s been on and off cruise ships-different lines-for years. I don’t remember the last land job that she had. She probably doesn’t either.”
Interesting. “So she basically has no home port?” I thought that sounded very nautical, as if I knew what I was talking about.
“Jackie is…well, she’s…yes, she really doesn’t have a place to call home. She travels a lot.”
“Kinda sad. I imagine she misses her family and friends. Not married?”
Betty gave me a “what the bloody hell are you so interested in Jackie” kind of look, but ever-so-properly said, “Married about three times that I know of. Right now she’s single, except for her boyfriend, Claude.”
The way she said boyfriend made my eyebrows rise. “Is he on the crew?”
“Claude. Claude Bernard, her latest, is the crew’s purser.”
“Sorry. I forgot you are not up on the ship lingo. Crew’s purser provides administrative support. Claude does the crew paperwork and assists in all crew matters. He also makes sure we keep our quarters in reasonable order.”
I chuckled. “Guess I don’t have to worry about that too much if Jackie is-”
“-Doesn’t matter who sleeps with whom, Pauline, we still have to follow the rules.”
Yikes! Put in my place, I fumbled for words. “Sorry,” was all I could come up with.
“Anything else?” she asked.
I know she meant about the room, but said, “Did Jackie and Remy have a thing going?”
Betty hesitated. “He loved her.”
That was it? In my book, that was enough. Hmm. He loved her, but Betty didn’t say how Jackie had felt about him. Jackie certainly hadn’t looked too upset talking about her “friend,” and now she was already dating someone else. Interesting.
“Well, back to the tour,” Betty said. “I relieve Rico in a few hours.”
“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to take up so much of your time off.”
She waved a hand in the air as if I really hadn’t and proceeded to show me the medications, which were mostly used in the management of common medical emergencies. Lots of cardiac meds, vascular, respiratory and plenty more. The ship looked very well equipped, and Betty seemed her usual pleasant self as long as Jackie’s name wasn’t mentioned.
“This area is where we keep all the laboratory (which sounded so British when Betty said it) equipment and in that room is the X-ray machine.”
Chills raced up my spine. I’d had a bad experience in an X-ray room with a past case-actually, a dead body had the bad experience.
“Of course, the most popular drugs we hand out are antiemetics like meclizine, our drug of choice, and Dramamine. Seasickness and all.” She chuckled. “We stick on a few plasters.” She chuckled again.
Betty was quite jovial.
“‘Bandages,’ as you Americans say,” she clarified.
I had a sudden craving for tea and crumpets.
“I’m guessing the cruise line makes a bundle on those drugs.” I studied Betty’s reaction.
“Oh, no. Those are gratis.”
Damn. “Makes sense. Guess if too many patients get seasick, the popularity of future cruises diminishes.” Now I chuckled.
“So what about the other meds and treatments? How do we know how much to charge? How does that work?”
“Not to worry, Pauline. There is a staff receptionist that handles that type of thing. Medical staff don’t stick their noses into billing.”
Betty looked like she was in a hurry. Damn. I couldn’t keep her there, since she probably had things to do before her shift. I smiled. “Okay, well. Guess I have enough reading to do, and if I come up with questions, I can ask Jackie.”
“No! I mean, find me or Rico, and we’ll be glad to answer them.”
Rico came up from behind. More like snuck up from behind. Gave me the chills, but not the scary kind-more like the sexy kind. Felt good when he put his arm around my shoulder too. I told myself that sometimes I was pathetic, but that was the way of life for a thirtysomething single female nowadays.
“Amore, I am at your service.”
I eased free and smiled. Okay, I eased free and smiled after a long pause. “Thanks. Well, guess I’ll head off and do some reading. I also have some friends on the ship (admittedly a Freudian slip that I didn’t say relatives too) and would love to meet up with them for a bit.”
“Go ahead,” Betty said while Rico nodded.
“Learn your way around. Get your sea legs,” he added.
“Thanks. See you both around.”
I hurried out the door and leaned against the wall, thinking, Damn, but that Rico arm/shoulder thing did feel good.
“Look at you in that outfit, Pauline,” my mother said as I stood in the doorway of their cabin. “You look so nice, I don’t see why you don’t go back into nursing.”
I didn’t want to argue that looking good in a uniform was not a good reason to go back to a career that I had burned out of, so I eased past her and said, “Your cabin is wonderful!”
Daddy was napping on the couch near the sliding doors. I was glad they too had a balcony like Miles and Goldie’s and mentioned that fact. Daddy snored in agreement and Mother came closer.
“White makes your skin look too pale though. Go sit outside for a while.”
“It’s cloudy, Mother. Besides, I only came to see your place.”
She leaned near. If she mentioned my skin or eyes or clothing again, I might be tempted to fling her overboard. “Isn’t it like yours? Our cabin?”
I laughed. “Similar, but mine is for the crew, so it’s a bit smaller. But very nice,” I lied, after the thought struck me that Stella Sokol might find out my room number and come “help” make it better. “Very nice.”
I walked toward the balcony, but decided not to step out. Looking at the land floating by, I told myself if I went out there, I’d miss having a balcony along with the opportunity to get fresh ocean air. Then, I might get the urge to come up here…and I wouldn’t wish that on my enemy.
I was trying to wean myself from relying on my mother’s pine-scented Renuzit, which gave me a nostalgic, comforting feeling. I’d been known to rush to her house for a whiff of family comfort after some traumatic incident-usually from this job.
Out on the ocean, I felt I could handle it all by myself.
And I was not going to even think about Jagger either.
Mother looked at her watch. “It is almost time for dinner.”
Without looking, I knew it had to be nearly six, since my mother had a precise time for each meal. I wondered if she’d lighten up and relax on this cruise.
“Yeah, I’m getting kind of hungry.” As soon as the words came out, I wanted to lasso them back in, knowing I’d left the barn door open and readied for the stampede.
“Perfect. You’ll meet us in the lobby for dinner at six. Don’t change, Pauline. You look so nice.”
“I…I am part of the staff now, Mother. I have to eat with them.”
“But it’s a singles cruise.”
I could only stare.
She looked at me as if I were a moron. “Asingles cruise, dear. You could meet a nice young man.”
Duh. “I’m here to work.” I refused to tell her that I had been looking forward to meeting some bronzed hunk-and learning more about Rico.
She looked at my outfit. “Are you working now?”
“No. I’m off until Mon…oh…my…God.” She had a way, a subtle way, of making us kids tell the truth when we least expected to. Damn.
“Mon? What does Mon mean? Monday? Don’t talk in that kind of lingo and do not use the Lord’s name like that either.”
Did Stella Sokol really just say “lingo?” I think the ocean air was too thin for her mind. I hoped she was getting enough oxygen.
“So. Six it is. And wash up first. Do not eat at the buffets!”
“Don’t argue with your mother. I read that those buffets that everyone talks so highly about are what cause…you know the kinds of problems I’m talking about.”
“Don’t be rude, Pauline. I’m talking about all the sickness that is so common on these ships. You never know who washed their hands before a meal and if they have touched the food. Oh, my.” She shook her head.
I had to smile. “Mom, please try to enjoy yourself.”
“Enjoy, schmoy. I suppose you think I’d enjoy myself after stuffing my stomach then getting sick the rest of the trip and living in the bathroom. Really, Pauline, you have been out of nursing way too long.”
It had only been a few months, but I decided not to mention that fact. “So, where’s Uncle Walt staying?”
“He’s in the other room, Pauline.”
My eyes widened. “You have two rooms?” It came out as if I was some nutcase, but in truth, I was just awed that they had two rooms and I had…the one with Jackie.
Speaking of Jackie, I had to head off and see what I could find out. I walked toward the door. “Tell him hi when he wakes. Daddy too.”
My father mumbled.
Mother brushed some imaginary dust from the bedside table. At least I couldn’t see any. Then again, I didn’t have her “cleaning” genes. “Almost time for dinner, Pauline. Do not eat at the buffets around here,” she repeated. “You never know who touched what. And if they washed their hands first.”
“Yes, Mother. You mentioned that before.” Suddenly I lost my appetite.
“Doesn’t hurt repeating. Not all passengers wash their hands before meals. I read that before we came on this ship.”
“Love you both,” I said and hurried to the door.
My mother stepped in front of me. “You really do look nice.”
I nodded in agreement (the only sensible thing to do) and ran out (the other sensible thing to do). Once in the hallway, I wondered, What the hell did she mean by that? Was mother just being nice or did she have some hidden meaning behind her words?
Pauline, I said to myself, we’re talking about Stella Sokol here.
I went with hidden meaning.
On the way up to Miles and Goldie’s suite, I told myself my mother was going to spend her entire trip trying to find me a husband-and I’d be sequestered on this damn floating singles prison until she did.
I shook my head as the elevator door opened-and I ran smack into a prospect. “Oh! Sorry.”
The bronzed god caught me before I knocked him against the wall. With a face as red as a cooked lobster, I looked up at him. With shoulders like that, he couldn’t be knocked into anything.
Well-built arms held me for a few more seconds until I eased free. He had on black shorts, a sleeveless black-and-white tee shirt and matching sneakers. Yikes he looked good.
“No problem.” He leaned near and read my name badge. “Ms. Sokol. Nurse Sokol, I’m guessing.”
“How did you know?” The elevator door started to close. The god stuck his hand out and it slid back into the wall. I don’t think he even touched it.
“The uniform. I’m Hunter Knight. Cruise director.” He held out his hand and the elevator door started to close again.
Since he ignored it, I went to grab for it. “You’ll miss your floor.”
He took my hand and said, “It’ll be there.”
The door shut.
My heart might have stopped for a few seconds. I wasn’t sure, but I had all the symptoms, including that white light thing. Well, maybe that was the reflection of Hunter’s teeth. They were damn perfect, as was the rest of his body, right up to the blond hair and blue eyes. Maybe contacts. But still looked good. Hey, we could all use some artificial help sometime.
The elevator started to move. I had to ignore it. Once I was stuck in an elevator with Jagger and I ended up passing out. Well, stuck was not exactly the correct term. He’d stopped it. I looked at Hunter and told myself Jagger was miles away and that I should just concentrate on the present.
“So, what do you think about the Golden Dolphin so far?”
“I…please press Eleven. Thanks.” I eased back and realized the wall behind me was glass. The entire passenger population could see my butt pressed up against it even though covered in my whites. Pull yourself together, Pauline. “Oh, this is my first cruise, but the boat…ship…is wonderful. I mean you can’t even feel it moving. It’s so…lovely and the purple and green and gold and the passengers look so happy…”
I pushed away from the glass and looked to see Hunter grinning. Once again I had babbled uncontrollably in the presence of a gorgeous guy. I blamed the recent incident on my mother making me flustered.
I had to get “lucky” soon.
Obviously it had been way too long.
The door opened. “Here’s Eleven.” He held the door and said, “I’ve got all kinds of good things planned for this cruise. I hope you will join me in some of them.”
My mouth went dry. Words wouldn’t come until I ordered myself to say, “Sure. I’m sure it will be fun on my time off.”
Before I stepped out, he said, “How about joining me tonight? I have a dance set up for welcoming the passengers. Lots of single ladies, so I’ve hired some male hosts-”
I felt my eyes widen. “Hired?”
He chuckled. “Not like I’m some pimp, Pauline. It’s very common on cruises. Males are needed for escorts to the shows or to dance or just to have dinner with single ladies. I arrange that.”
All I could say was, “I hope they don’t have to pay for their trip.”
He laughed and moved to the side. “It’s taken care of. Part of the deal. Shall I pick you up around nine?”
“P.M.?” I had envisioned myself asleep by then.
He nodded. “I’ll find your cabin.”
With that I stepped off the elevator, not even realizing that I’d successfully ridden it without so much as a heart palpitation from my phobia.
The door closed behind me. I stood and looked around.
Suddenly I’d forgotten where I was or why I was there.