“Open your eyes, Sherlock, or you’ll bump into a passenger and knock them over.”
“What the hell are you doing here, Jagger?” I opened my eyes in hopes that he’d be gone and it was all a mirage.
Then again, a mirage of Jagger would be the stuff fantasies were made of, not nightmares.
I could use a fantasy, now that Hunter was gone. I peeked out.
Jagger stood there in a white tux! Oh…my…God.
Before I opened my eyes fully, I said, “You’re masquerading as a male host.” It wasn’t a question-more like a shocked statement.
“Let’s not get into that.”
I opened my eyes all the way. A male host! What a hoot! A few passengers were starting to stare at us where we stood in the middle of the dance floor. One young “kitten” wiggled up to Jagger and purred.
“Mr. Smith, you are naughty. You promised me the next dance.” She eyed me up and down. “Who’s she?”
I wanted to smack kitty lady with a bag of catnip but instead said, “I’m only a crewmember, dear. You go ahead and dance with him. He’s all yours.” With that I hurried away to down my much-needed beer as I heard Jagger sputter something. Only thing I could make out was dance, work and something that sounded like gritty. I was going with “You look pretty.”
I took the last sip of my beer and tried to catch Edie’s attention to order another. I needed it. Damn. Jagger was like the clich'ed bad penny. Hmm. Bad was right. I smiled to myself and turned toward the dance floor. It was so crowded I couldn’t see him and kitty lady. Make that kitty girl. She had to be only twentysomething.
Damn. Made me feel old.
“What’re you having, Sherlock?”
I swung around to see “Mr. Smith” standing there looking appetizing in his outfit. He didn’t camouflage his face this time-thank goodness-as he’d done before on some cases. In the process, though, my arm caught on the dolphin’s tail, and I stumbled forward-into his arms.
“Whoa. Whatever you’re having, maybe you’ve had enough?” He pulled up a dolphin and sat next to me.
I straightened myself and held my head up with as much dignity as I had left. “I’ve only had one beer. You startled me. That’s all.” I had to keep talking louder and louder as the music increased in volume.
Jagger leaned near. I thought he was going to kiss me!
Stop it, Pauline. It is only because of the music.
“In your profession, Pauline, you have to get over someone sneaking up on you and not…fall off your fish.”
I think he chuckled, which should have lightened the mood, but damn if he hadn’t gotten so close that his hot breath tickled my ear. I had to take a few seconds to compose myself and think clearly. “It’s just…Don’t do that to me-that sneaking up thing-and I’ll work on it.” I couldn’t say no one else would have caused that reaction.
Edie sidled over, a smile on her face. “Hey, good looking, what’ll it be?”
“Another beer on tap, please,” I said.
She looked at me. “I was talking to him, honey, but you got it.” She smiled at Jagger while I tried to slink under my dolphin.
Jagger, obviously playing the gentleman host to a tee, said, “Scotch, neat, sweetie.”
Made Edie’s day with that one.
She went to get our drinks. “So, why are you really here? Did Fabio send you to-”
His Jagger-look said everything.
“Okay. Okay. No one tells you what to do. But really, why are you here?” I felt my eyes widen. “Oh, no! Don’t tell me you have a case involved here too, and it’s going to take precedence over mine, and you’re going to need me to help! I’m not going to fall for that again. Don’t even think-”
“I’m here for you, Sherlock. Strictly for you.”
I told myself I should be insulted that Jagger came onboard to “save” my job and possibly me. I told myself I should politely thank him because surely I could use his help. Then I told myself I might not have been able to solve this medical-fraud case, since it now involved a missing Remy. In truth, I sure was thankful for Host Jay showing up.
“Gee, thanks.” I took a sip of my beer as soon as Edie set it down.
“You two met before?” she asked.
We looked at each other. I had to let him take this one since I couldn’t think fast enough to know if it mattered or not. I sure didn’t want anyone suspecting us of being investigators.
Jagger sipped his Scotch, winked at Edie and said, “Nope. Pauline here just seems to be one of those women that you feel as if you’ve known all your life.”
I sat there speechless.
But I also tucked that info into my brain and thought I had just learned more about how to lie with a straight face. Jagger was so damn good at that.
Jagger made polite conversation with Edie for a few minutes, and then, after we’d finished our drinks, made an excuse for us to leave-well, a reason for him to walk me back to my cabin.
He took me into an elevator I wasn’t familiar with, and before I knew it, we were on the highest deck, looking out at the dark sea. With the lights from the Golden Dolphin casting golden shadows on the calm water and the moon’s glow assisting, it looked like a Disneyland ride. One that Cinderella would have loved.
Soon little dolphin heads popped out of the top of the tank. Obviously the same guys who entertained the passengers down in the Bottlenose Lounge stared at us. I think the smaller of the three smiled at me.
“So, what have you found out so far?” he asked, ever so businesslike.
“Hmm?” I turned away from the dolphin tank. “Oh, yes, it is a nice night and fabulous view,” I said, and then smiled.
Jagger looked as if he was in a hurry.
“What?” I said. “You have to get back and dance with some kit…with the ladies?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. So, make it snappy.” He leaned against the railing, looking dangerous and in need of a Marlboro, even though he didn’t smoke.
Not that I condoned smoking, but damn, he could do an ad any day of the week and apparently any time of the day. “Okay, here’s what I have found out so far,” I said, telling him about Jackie, Betty and missing Remy.
“Well? What do you think? Do you think his disappearance is related to my fraud case?”
He merely looked at me.
The look had me stop and think. Jagger was trying to teach me more about our profession-and damn it, but he could do it all with those dark eyes.
“Hmm. Okay, Remy went to school with my roommate Jackie, but that really doesn’t tell us much unless…unless there was also something going on between them. But she’s dating the crew’s purser now. Betty said as much. Still, she and Remy could be in on…Wait.” I looked Jagger in the eyes.
“We don’t have enough to go on,” I continued. “We have to find out Jackie and Remy’s relationship, finances and if they were working together. I mean, how close could they have been if she’s already dating Claude? Either Remy “disappeared” by choice with the dough or someone else is involved, maybe got greedy and conveniently did away with Remy Girard.”
Nothing could compare to a Jagger smile that said, “Good job, Sherlock.”
Since Jagger knew me so well, he said we should head back to my cabin, since it was late. Somewhere around eleven. Damn. He did know me way too well.
I was impressed with his sense of direction as he found my cabin without any wrong turns or having to ask for help. Maybe he’d been on this ship before. Nothing would surprise me. At least he had to have been around since it sailed, and maybe he scouted out the entire thing before running into me tonight. Again, sounded like something Jagger would do.
I looked at him. “When were you going to ‘reveal’ yourself to me?”
He chuckled, leaned over and opened the door.
I told myself it really didn’t matter, as in the past, I had to convince myself it didn’t matter whom Jagger worked for or what his other name was if he had one. I was getting used to the mystery of this guy.
“Fine. I guess I’ll see you around. I’m going to have to orient myself to the infirmary a bit more tomorrow, even though I don’t start until Monday. Jackie is going to work with me then.” I didn’t tell him what a looker she was. Just her damn accent could get a guy hot.
“I’ll be around.” He leaned forward.
I gulped in preparation for a kiss, but he merely touched the pink (pepper spray) necklace that he’d given me and smiled. I fingered it myself after he let go. “Oh, yeah. Thanks for this. I’m sure I won’t need it, but-” Jagger reached in and flipped on my light switch-and I let out a scream.
I muttered some more, but his hand over my lips muffled the sounds pretty good. I waved my hand to signal I’d be quiet if he let go. He did and I mumbled, “My…God.”
Sprawled across the floor between our beds was Jackie-with a dolphin-handled knife sticking out of her back.
I thought I’d done a pretty good job of keeping my cool after we found Jackie’s body. Now that the captain had been notified, and the security officer was here, doing an investigation, I sat staring at the carpet a few feet from Jackie’s body. One plate-sized stain darkened the area.
“Here, drink this.”
I looked up to see Jagger holding a glass of what I assumed was liquor.
I waved my hand. “I’m fine.”
“That’s why you’ve been sitting there staring at the carpet for an hour?”
I took the drink and downed it. I coughed until my brains shook and then my throat burned as if Strep had infected it, but in seconds, a warmth settled inside me. “An hour?” I whispered.
“You can’t stay here.”
I looked up to see Captain Duarte standing in the doorway. It wasn’t just the uniform that gave him away. Nope. His demeanor said he was in charge around here. With dark hair, blue eyes and skin the bronzed gods would envy, the man standing there could be no one else but the captain of this ship.
Behind him was Claude Bernard. I wondered if he’d been questioned yet. He looked rather stoic. In all fairness, maybe the guy was in shock. He and Jackie hadn’t been an item long, but it had to have affected him. Heck, I only knew her a few days and was devastated.
Guess anyone’s death would cause those feelings.
“Ms. Sokol, arrangements have been made to move you from this cabin,” the Captain said. “Since it is now a high-seas crime scene, and Ms. Arneau was also American, the FBI is on its way. You have to leave.”
Gladly, I thought, if I ever want to sleep again.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “the only available space is a bit farther from the infirmary. We like our nurses close to it. In the morning we will do some juggling. For tonight, you can sleep in Room 1112. With the full ship that we have, it is our only empty stateroom. The crew’s purser, Mr. Bernard, will get you the key. He handles all the crew’s needs and problems.”
I already knew that and thought, Great, I’d be close to Goldie and Miles. Good. I could use them about now. Jagger leaned near and smiled.
I had already been questioned over and over by the captain and the safety officer from the ship sometime during my carpet-staring hour. “I’m guessing the FBI is going to want to talk to me too,” I said to Jagger.
He nodded. “I understand they’re being brought out by helicopter. Go to your new room and rest until they arrive. I’ll get someone to help with your stuff after the FBI is done.”
Yikes! I’m sure they were going to “go through” all my stuff too. Damn. At least I’d learned from my mother to keep all my clothes neat and clean at all times. One never knew when they’d become the source of an investigation. Of course that’s not why my mother used to warn us to wear clean undies. Had more to do with getting into an accident and embarrassing her when the medical staff saw them.
I hoped the Feds would let me have my belongings soon, and I also hoped that Jagger wouldn’t be the one moving my “unmentionables.” But I didn’t have the energy to argue right now.
Even though I’d been used to death and dying in my nursing career, seeing Jackie’s lifeless body was a whole different ball of wax. She was, after all, murdered. Only a few hours ago I’d been talking to her, watching her paint her nails. It all seemed so surreal now.
Who killed Jackie, and why?
Did the medical-insurance fraud have something to do with her death?
Was there a connection and, if so, what did that mean for my case…and my safety?
Jagger took my arm and guided me to the door. “Come on. I’ll walk you to Deck Eleven.”
In my numb state, I could barely feel his touch, but found it comforting. Once we were alone on the elevator, I said, “She had to have something to do with the fraud to be murdered.”
“What do you have to go on?” He poked the button for Eleven.
Through the glass-enclosed back of the elevator, I watched the floors below becoming smaller and smaller. The purple and gold became a blur until the bell rang, indicating we were at our stop. Jagger held the door and stepped to the side so I could get out.
Thank goodness Claude had given Jagger the key. After he opened the door, I looked inside and gasped. “Wow. Nice place.” All I wanted to do was collapse on the bed.
Too bad I can’t enjoy it, I thought.
I sat on the stuffed beige chair near the bed and shoved off my heels. In all the commotion, I’d forgotten how much my feet hurt. I would give anything to have my nightie to slip on right now. I felt so uncomfortable, all dressed up. But if the FBI arrived during the middle of the night to question me, I’d want to be properly dressed.
I looked up to see Jagger seated on the couch near the balcony. “You asked me something, but I’ve already forgotten what. Sorry.”
He nodded. “I’m sure you’re upset, Sherlock.” His use of my nickname made me feel better. “I asked you what fact told you that Jackie was involved in the fraud, leading to her murder.”
I stared at him a few seconds. “Nothing really, other than instinct.” I waited for him to curl his lips or comment about not having facts, but right now I could care less about that reaction.
Hmm. “Okay. And she was evasive about a few things, and just gave me the impression that she was involved in something. Besides, Remy went to school with her and maybe he’s dead too.”
“I trust your gut, Sherlock. Get to sleep, and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
I yawned. “Good plan. See you tomorrow.” I looked at him and then at the door. “Please make sure the door locks on your way out.”
He leaned back on the couch, lifting his feet over the end. “I’m not going out.”
Gulp. As if I didn’t have enough on my mind. Now Jagger was going to be here. I looked at him and normally would argue the point that I could take care of myself, but instead I said, “Thanks.” With that, and after throwing a pillow and blanket to Jagger, I snuggled under the covers of the bed, clutching my pink necklace.
Maybe when I woke, this would all have been a bad dream.
My eyelids fluttered open. Darkness surrounded me, along with a soft snoring. Jagger. I looked toward the door.
“Ms. Sokol, it is Captain Duarte. The FBI agents are here to talk to you.”
Couldn’t they wait until morning? I thought the ship’s security officer had launched a very thorough start to the investigation, and had accepted my ironclad alibi.
“Ms. Sokol!” the captain’s voice seemed less patient.
A murder onboard had to be a nightmare for him. I started to shove the covers off, but before I could, Jagger was up and standing at the door.
He opened it and said, “Easy does it. She’s been through a lot.”
I hugged my pillow and smiled. Then I threw off the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. Good thing I had on my real clothes. Not too comfortable for sleeping, but modest enough to be questioned in despite the wrinkles.
The captain introduced me to several men, who asked all kinds of questions. They wore suits, and I figured if it were daytime they’d have on the clich'ed sunglasses of the agents.
One was very tall with light hair, and probably would have a nice smile if he weren’t so solemn. He was a looker. The other I barely noticed.
For a few seconds, I looked past them at the windows to see the sun peeking out over the horizon and longed for a cup of tea as I explained what little I knew about Jackie.
No, I hadn’t seen her with anyone other than Betty and myself. I actually hadn’t seen her out of the cabin. She never told me anything much except the little bit about Remy. The taller man, with blond hair, questioned me as if I were a suspect.
I had no motive other than she had painted her toenails on my bed, I wanted to shout. But I kept my cool despite my exhaustion, thinking I’d make myself look guilty if I got agitated.
You didn’t want to appear on the wrong side of the law in front of the FBI. They made you feel guilty even when you weren’t. At least, the blond J. Edgar Hoover did.
Finally they all left and Jagger looked at me. “How about some coffee?”
“I don’t think they have a Dunkin Donuts onboard.”
He smiled at the mention of “our” favorite coffee joint, and I realized I couldn’t wait to get back to Hope Valley. Maybe I really was just a hometown kinda gal and never should have accepted this case on the high seas.
Especially since now a murder had been committed.