Jagger caught me before I could run out, scream, or otherwise make a scene and scare my family, although his hold was anything but nonchalant. He leaned forward and whispered, “Take it easy, Sherlock.”
My body relaxed-which turned out to be a mistake. Now I could feel his strong chest muscles and my mind flittered from a dead Jackie with a steak knife in her back to Jagger being the sexiest man onboard.
I pulled my thoughts to the present and told myself to cut it out. I was a professional investigator. Slowly I eased away from said chest and took my seat. My appetite was gone. How could I eat this steak when the knife was such as a dreminder…?
After several minutes, Goldie leaned over. “If you don’t want that, Miles and I’ll split it.” He said it softly, obviously so my mother couldn’t hear.
I looked at the steak, the knife still in place. “Have at it.”
“Is that Cary Grant over there?” Goldie shouted.
Mother turned and said, “I sure hope not, since the man has been dead for years.”
I rolled my eyes, but at least Goldie was able to grab my plate and replace it with his. With a swiftness that had me gasp, he removed the knife, sliced the steak in two and stuck half on Miles’s plate. Then he covered both with greens as camouflage.
I wiped my lips. “Um. That was delicious.” Mother was so busy talking to Jagger now-God bless him for helping in the deception-she didn’t pay any attention to me.
Soon we were all done and ready to head off in different directions.
“Maybe you can join us for dinner tonight, Paczki?” Daddy asked.
I kissed his cheek and hoped Jagger hadn’t heard the nickname. Not that he hadn’t before, but I wanted to be spared being called a fat donut in front of him yet again. “I may have to eat with the crew, Daddy. You enjoy yourselves though.”
He winked at me. I smiled and thought it really was great that they were having such a good time away from Hope Valley. Mother was like a new woman. But her darn radar was still intact.
“I hope you get more protein with dinner, Pauline. Shame on you for not eating your steak.”
I stood speechless while they got into the elevator on their way to go for a swim. Of course, they had to wait a few hours before getting into the water because Mother said they’d get cramps. As much as I tried to convince her that the old wives’ tale wasn’t true, she just ignored me. It really didn’t pay to argue with Stella Sokol.
Goldie and Miles were going for a stroll, so I kissed each one on the cheek and turned around. No Jagger. No great surprise. I walked down the long hallway to the other set of elevators and headed to the upper deck to find him.
Jagger was never easy to find. Most times when we worked a case, the guy was incognito. But this trip, he had dressed like the male host he was hired to be. At lunch he’d worn white slacks and a striped short-sleeve shirt. Looked very yuppie/ cruise-like/yet macho. What a combo. I walked along the railing, ignoring the fact that if I slipped and fell through the rails, I would be a goner in the deep, dark ocean below. I’d be deep-sea dead for sure. Of course, even as a size four, I couldn’t fit through the rails.
As I passed the tank that ran down to the Bottlenose Lounge, a little dolphin peeked its nose from the water, startling me.
I heard a chuckle and turned around to see Hunter standing there. “Cute. Isn’t it?”
I looked at the dolphin. “Is it real? Really a dolphin, that is? I mean, it’s so much smaller than I would have expected.”
“Buffeo dolphins are the smallest species. They don’t get bigger than four feet. That’s why we can keep them in this tank. Passengers get a kick out of them.”
“They are neat-looking, but are they happy?” I wanted to lean over and pet the creature, but realized that if I fell in, the tank went all the way down to the Bottlenose Lounge. Suddenly I backed up a few feet. Talk about feeling claustrophobic. Guess these little guys were perfect, although the lounge was named after the bigger bottlenose species. Most people probably never heard of the buffeo.
Obviously Hunter noticed my unease, but had the good manners not to say anything. “They’re sometimes called river dolphins since they are found in areas of the Amazon River.”
“Hmm. Fresh water.” I watched the three swimming around the pool while passengers stood and took pictures. A huge sign, DO NOT FEED THE DOLPHINS, was posted above the gold and purple decorated tank. “They are very graceful.”
“Yeah. Hey, Pauline. Sorry about last night. How about a rain check?”
Suddenly the dolphins were not foremost on my mind. “Oh, sure.”
“I’ll give you a call later today, once I see how my schedule is going.”
I nodded, and before I could say anything else, Hunter’s cell phone rang and he excused himself. I gave one last look at the dolphins, smiled at the little clowns and turned around.
At the far end of the deck, near the bar and a pool shaped like-you guessed it-a dolphin, sat a gaggle of singles. All women. All scantily clad in colorful bikinis. I blew out a breath and looked past them for Jagger. At any second, I expected him to pop up behind me.
Nearing the gaggle, I heard a laugh-a Jagger laugh. The most buxom of the blondes bent down to brush her hand across her ankle, and then I saw my coworker.
Damn. Talk about a diamond in the rough.
He sat there talking and laughing with the group, but I knew that inside, he was aching to get away from the attention. I leaned against the nearest lounge chair and waited. Maybe I wouldn’t rescue him for a few minutes.
How perfectly evil I felt.
Then he looked up and caught my eye. Oops. No way could I waste any more time with a look like that one. He and my mother were two pips when it came to conversing with their eyes. I hurried over and said, “I need to speak to you a moment.”
He nodded. “Well, ladies, I’ll be at the dance tonight.”
Collectively they let out a big, pathetic, “Oooooooh.” I shook my head and walked away from them, figuring Jagger would follow. I didn’t want to see any more of swooning or who knew what else these chicks would do for attention. In my day, women didn’t…oh…my…God.
I froze on the spot.
I’d become my mother.
I swallowed hard as if that would erase my thought and moved to a spot farther down the bar. “Anything you have on tap. Anything. And fast.”
“Make that two,” Jagger said from behind.
We got our beers and walked toward the bow of the ship. The wind made it difficult to maneuver, and occasionally I’d feel Jagger’s hand on my back as if trying to keep me from getting blown overboard.
White puffy clouds dotted the sky and seemed to follow along as the ship moved. I could see the horizon a gazillion miles away and thought there was no way that the Bermuda Triangle was going to affect this ship.
A salty sea breeze made the beer taste all the better as we sat on two steps of the stairs that led up to a deck where passengers were not allowed. Occasionally I could hear the squeak of the dolphins and would smile to myself.
I took another sip and said, “Oh. Did you happen to notice if Jackie had on a rope ankle bracelet when we saw her…? Her-”
“She didn’t.” He took a sip of his beer, looked out over the railings and said, “Why?”
It wasn’t an accusatory tone. Thank goodness. My chest puffed up like a peacock’s when I said, “Well, I remembered she had one on when she was painting her toes. And, in a photo she had under her pillow, Remy had one on his wrist. It looked the same.”
Jagger sat silently for what seemed like hours. Slowly he turned to me and said, “Atta girl, Sherlock.”
The wind could have blown me overboard, and I’d die happy.
At least Jagger and I had something that had to be relevant to the case. A rope bracelet or an anklet. He was going to share what we knew with the FBI agents, and I jotted down a note for myself. Not sure what would become of the information, I put a star next to it and decided we needed to get into the infirmary again.
Jagger had to go for an “appointment” with one of the female passengers, who apparently had requested him for a bowling game. Yeah, right, I thought to myself. Bowling, shmowling. I made my way back to my cabin to freshen up and then head off to the infirmary.
When I walked through the door of my room, Betty let out a gasp. She swung around and then relaxed. “Oh, my. I’m not used to having someone walk in on me.”
She had been sitting in the chair reading. Not like she was doing something illegal. But I understood. She was used to her privacy.
“I’m sorry. Next time I’ll knock first.”
“No need. You live here now. How’s your day going?” She set her copy of what looked like some kind of cookbook down on the bed.
Betty would make a perfect homemaker, I thought. I sat on my bed. “Good. I’m doing well. Had a nice lunch with my family and friends.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Oh. You didn’t lunch with the crew?”
My eyes widened. “Was I supposed to?”
“No, Pauline. On your free time, you can do as you wish. Actually, Captain Duarte encourages the crew to socialize with the guests.”
I thought of Jagger. Socialize, shmocialize. “Oh, hey, Betty, do you know why Topaz didn’t want me rooming with her?”
A darkness filled Betty’s eyes. Or at least that’s how I read them. Then again, a cloud had passed over the sun and the porthole suddenly darkened. I wondered if I could get myself a book on reading body language.
“Well, knowing Topaz, she doesn’t want anyone in her room. She’s always been a loner since she took the job on this ship. And I’m guessing she just doesn’t want anyone in her space.” She leaned over and patted my arm. “Don’t take it personally.”
I smiled. “I won’t. And thanks for letting me stay here.”
She smiled back.
I wanted to ask about Jackie’s anklet, but didn’t know how to phrase it so that Betty wouldn’t grow suspicious. She started to chatter on about cooking and the book she was reading until I thought I was wasting my time off and really needed to get to the infirmary.
I excused myself and went to freshen up and brush my teeth. Betty started to read again.
“I’m off to orient myself more. See you later.”
She nodded politely without taking her eyes off the page. I’d bet she could whip up a mean kidney pie or fish and chips.
Several crewmembers were walking along the hallway as I stepped out of my room. Nothing suspicious going on. Through the glass doors, I could see Topaz sitting in the infirmary. Great. Now I’d have to deal with her while I tried to snoop around.
Next to her sat a nice-looking man in his forties, reading a magazine. There weren’t any patients in the waiting room. A quiet day. Good-just the way I liked it.
Topaz looked up when I walked in. “What do you want?”
Yikes. What did I ever do to her? I told myself that she had a chip on her shoulder that had nothing to do with me. I’ll bet she wanted to be a nurse and flunked out of school or something like that. Or maybe wanted to be blonde with pale skin. “Oh, hi, Topaz. I’m just going to continue my orientation before I start work here Monday.”
The man looked up. He stood and held out a hand. “I’m Doctor VanHamon. Peter. You can call me Peter. You must be the…new nurse.”
I shook his hand and thought he looked a bit flustered when he’d mentioned my being the new nurse. Guess having one missing and one dead could do that to you. I introduced myself and chatted for a few minutes with Peter, learning he took his vacation from his OB/GYN practice to work cruise ships for fun.
He came from Minneapolis with his family, who was allowed to come on the cruise too. His kids weren’t in school yet, so it worked out. A free trip-as if a doctor needed that-although plenty of the docs I knew were penny-pinchers. But I liked him, and he said to make myself at home and that if I had any questions, he’d be around.
Topaz sat there filing her nails. Dark red nails today. She never said another word.
Suddenly the door swung open and a crewmember wheeled in a girl in a bikini. Apparently she’d fainted. My first thought was too much sun and too many pi~na coladas-or maybe I was showing my age and some fancy-named Martini with chocolate in it was to blame. The doctor and Rico, who’d come out from the back room when the bell rang signaling someone had come in, took her to an exam room.
Topaz started to question one of the woman’s friends and found out that she was the patient’s sister. All I could hear was credit card and insurance information. I noted the order of the request and decided to hang around despite Topaz’s occasional dirty looks.
“I don’t want to disturb them,” I whispered and motioned with my head toward the exam room. Guessing Topaz didn’t send me out the door because the doctor had said I could look around, I sat near the reception desk and pretended to read Peter’s copy of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
After three pages I told myself I was thrilled not be working OB anymore.
“Sign this,” Topaz said to the sister.
She leaned over and began to read the form.
Topaz shoved the pen toward her. “Standard stuff, honey. Just sign.”
The sister paused. “Force of habit. I’m a law student.”
Topaz grunted but still held the pen forward. “Well, good for you, honey. We’ve been taking care of patients for years though, and not signing means I have to go in there and tell the doc to stop doing whatever he is doing for your sister-maybe even saving her life.”
My jaw dropped. Saving her life? The girl looked fine, just a bit pale. Was that true about stopping the treatment? Somehow I couldn’t tell if she was kidding, but Topaz sure seemed forceful.
And the sister signed away.
And I told myself I had to get ahold of a copy of that form.