After our “coffee break,” Jagger had to head off to work in the casino and I went back to my room. There was a message on the phone from Hunter. He couldn’t meet me for dinner tonight, but would I come to the casino around eight and have a drink with him? He was supervising the bingo game.
Geez. My insides knotted. I’d had my fill of bingo on another case. But I called Hunter back and we were set for eight. I decided I’d rest awhile and then eat in the crew’s dining room.
At the crewmembers’ cafeteria, I realized I wasn’t very hungry, but thought I might meet someone worthy of talking to and maybe learn more for my case.
I eased past a few chairs. The room was retro in design, looking very much like something out of the fifties-not that I was around in those days, but I’d seen TV shows, like I Love Lucy and The Donna Reed Show. Deep navy Formica tabletops sat on aluminum legs. Each table had red and white vinyl chairs with L-shaped legs, so you could bounce a little, and the floor was a checkerboard of black and white squares.
On all the walls, instead of the trusty dolphins, were old movie posters of stars like Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda and even Arnold in his Terminator outfit. Either the designers had had a very nostalgic moment, or they wanted to give the crewmembers a break from the nautical motif.
I like this place a lot, I thought, as I went through the line, got a salad and perused the room for a place to sit.
“Hey, Peter, is anyone sitting here?” I found the doctor eating by himself.
He motioned for me to join him. I’d learned that he’d been on this particular trip about five times now, for all of his vacations from his practice. Not sure if he would be of any help, I decided I’d give it a shot. Besides, no one else in the room looked like they’d be any good to me right now.
At the far table, two of the FBI agents were drinking coffee and talking to several of the crew. I recognized a few of them as ones who lived along the same hallway as the infirmary. Hopefully, someone had seen something that would help get the murder solved. The blond FBI agent caught me looking at him, so I quickly turned my attention to Peter.
Peter looked at me. “Not too hungry?”
I glanced at my salad. “Late-afternoon snack has me quite satisfied.” I felt myself smiling.
Geez! His mind had headed in the wrong direction! Before I turned pinker than the lox, I added, “Tea time. Couldn’t resist a bagel. Those darn carbs sure can fill up a gal.”
“Oh.” He sounded disappointed.
“Where’s your family?” I stabbed a piece of arugula and chewed on it.
He explained they were at the pool, and for some unknown reason, I gave him the details of the buffeo dolphins. He said his kids loved watching them, especially when they’d push a toy to the water’s surface for their trainer.
“Yeah. That must be cute. Did you know that nurse-Remy Girard?”
Peter stared at me a few seconds. Okay, I could have used a better segue-or any segue, for that matter-but time was money-and maybe even life-here.
“I worked with him on several trips.” He started to sip his Coke, all the time watching me over the rim of the can.
I nodded. “Then you did know him pretty well. I’m only curious, since I guess I’m the one replacing him. You know, they told me he was sick and left the ship. I figured the poor nurse must have been very ill to have to leave his job. Poor, poor thing.” This time I blinked back fake tears and told myself I should get an Oscar. My lying and acting skills were getting much better as each case progressed.
Peter drank some more. I wondered if he wished there was rum in that Coke.
“Was he really sick?” I continued.
He looked around the room as if maybe trying to find someone to save him from me. “I…I never treated him for anything.”
“No? Huh. He wasn’t sick? Well, why did he just leave his job? I can’t imagine that. It’s such a wonderful job!”
“I really don’t know why Remy left, Pauline. You’d have to ask…” He looked out across the room again.
I knew he was going to say Jackie but caught himself.
“Oh, Peter, I was also meaning to ask you, have you heard anything about…Jackie?”
His hands froze in midair.
I felt horrible, but told myself it was all part of the job. There were things in this business that I had to do, which were not pleasant but necessary.
“Heard?” Peter said.
“Yeah, heard anything else about her. I mean, I guess the cause of death was obviously stabbing, but anything else? She…she was my roommate, you know.”
“No, I didn’t. Nothing else in her chart of interest that I remember seeing. I already told the FBI all I knew.”
How much did Peter know? And her chart? I wanted to ask where it was, but couldn’t come up with a good reason I’d need to know and sure didn’t want old Pete to be suspicious of me. “I noticed the FBI guys over there.” We both looked in their direction. “I hope they find out something soon. Creeps me out that I could have been in the room…you know.”
Peter touched my hand. “Don’t worry. I’m sure it was an isolated case.”
Isolated case? Hmm. How could old Pete be so sure?
“I hope they find her anklet.”
He looked at me as if I were speaking French.
“She…lost it. Maybe it’s in with her personal belongings. Brownish. Rope with some beads on it.” I bit down on a giant piece of cucumber. Even I wanted to choke myself to shut up. But in my line of work I had to work every angle.
“Jackie’s stuff is all packed up. The captain has it.”
“Did you see the anklet?”
He shook his head, and then waved at someone behind me. I turned to see a woman carrying a toddler and a little girl walking alongside. “Adorable family,” I said, and then excused myself.
As I stuck my tray on the conveyor belt, I wondered, How can I break into the captain’s office?
My second thought was…
“You want to what?” Jagger said as I leaned over the craps table. He threw the dice.
“Two. Craps,” the dealer called out.
Jagger glared at me while the man raked in Jagger’s chips.
“Oops,” I muttered.
This time when he shook his head, I knew I’d cost him a pretty penny. “I didn’t think you were supposed to gamble while working.”
He motioned toward the woman sitting next to him and whispered, “I am working.” With that he pushed out another pile of chips. “And I don’t know what the hell made me think you might bring me some good luck.”
I blew out a breath while Jagger picked up the dice.
“I should just quit now, since you’ve probably contaminated my chance.”
The woman next to him said, “Honey, do you want Madeline to blow for you?”
I didn’t think she was talking dice.
The dealer looked impatient. Jagger shook his head and flung the dice.
“Lucky seven for the gentleman.”
A pile of chips was pushed toward Jagger. “There,” I whispered. “I feel much better now.”
Jagger turned toward Madeline. She looked a few years older than myself and had no wedding ring on, but each finger had some kind of bauble that sparkled-and I wasn’t thinking cubic zirconium.
The floral scent that hung in the air around her had to come from some expensive perfume. (Not that I knew expensive perfume. My only comparison was to the floral arrangements that decorated the caskets in Roosevelt’s funeral parlor back home. Madeline did not smell like a funeral parlor.) The worst part about her, in my humble opinion, was her scratchy, sexy voice. Guys must love that.
“Maybe next time it won’t take so long for you to win,” Jagger said then handed her the pile of chips.
“Oh. Well, good. I’m glad for you,” I said to her, grabbing Jagger’s arm. “I need to talk to Jay here a minute.”
She waved her hand as if dismissing a servant. “As long as you bring my lucky boy back.” With that she set off into hysterics.
“Come on, lucky boy.” We walked through the noisy casino until we were near the hallway to the elevators. Thank goodness the ship had some high-powered air-filtering system, because there was no scent of smoke hanging in the air. There was, however, the continuous cling cling of slot machines calling to the passengers, and the decorator had a change of mind and made the entire place silver and orange. No purple in sight.
Maybe silver and orange made passengers spend more money there.
Jagger led the way and before I knew it, we were on the upper deck, watching the dolphins frolicking in the tank. I bit my tongue before I ended up giving him an aquatic mammal lesson. I figured Jagger knew about the buffeo anyway.
He seemed to know everything else.
“What have you got so far?” he asked. One of the dolphins swam so close to the side of the tank, the water splashed Jagger’s sleeve. He blinked and ignored it.
I chuckled and told him about my talk with Peter. “So, he really seemed as if he were keeping a secret. I don’t know. He must know more about Remy than he lets on, but then again, all the darn staff seems to have some secret. They have this clandestine grapevine growing around here. Jackie’s chart and personal belongings might be of help. They’ve already been moved from the infirmary. Too bad we didn’t get to see them or her chart when we snooped around in there.
“I’m sure the FBI has read Jackie’s chart over and over and will probably take it when they leave the ship.”
I rubbed the water beads from Jagger’s sleeve and said, “That’s why we need to see the chart tonight. We don’t have to remove it from the room.”
Jagger looked at me. I know he was about ready to remind me of how we’d gotten locked up together on other cases when we went snooping around.
Sometimes it wasn’t such a bad deal.
I sucked in a breath as Jagger pushed me up against the wall and wrapped his arms around my waist. He leaned forward to kiss my lips, but there was no magic involved. He was doing it to fake out the crewmember walking down the hallway. The hallway that led to the captain’s office.
The guy went past, grinning, and then Jagger moved away without a word.
All I could do was straighten my hairdo. I’d borrowed one of Goldie’s black wigs and thought it looked pretty damn good with my fair complexion. Gave me a porcelain-doll appearance just short of Kabuki. At least that’s how I looked at it. I’d also borrowed a royal blue sparkly top, and wore it over my black crepe slacks with my spike heels. The black ones with a diamond clip-on bow. Ouch, but sexy.
Looked damn good, even if in disguise.
Jagger had worn a black suit with a turtleneck. Very Cary Grant/James Bond/lounge lizard. Very good-looking. He had a blond wig on that made him look a bit like Brad Pitt or Tab Hunter mixed with Beach Boy, depending on your age.
All in all, we’d managed not to look like ourselves. I had my mini camera that looked like a beeper in my evening purse along with Latex gloves, and I wore my pink necklace. Even with this evening attire, the necklace fit. Seemed it went with whatever I wore. Very chameleon-like-just like Jagger.
After our fake kiss (okay, my knees still buckled on contact), Jagger looked around and eased me closer to the office door. Since it was nighttime, the staff, along with the captain, was out socializing with the passengers. We’d passed through the Bottlenose Lounge on the way down here to make sure. The head honchos were there, along with the FBI guys.
Made me feel much better about our breaking and entering.
I looked down the hallway and then heard a click. When I turned back, Jagger was standing there with the door open! What a guy. Fake kisses and picking locks. Talk about talent.
In a few seconds we were inside. Jagger quietly shut the door and motioned for me to start looking on the other side of the room. As I slipped on my gloves, I figured I’d follow his lead and not talk.
After I searched through several piles of papers on the sideboard, occasionally looking at Jagger, who was fishing through the stuff on the desk, he motioned for me to come over.
There in his hands was the manila folder that read JACQUELYN ARNEAU. The late Jackie.
Jagger slipped on his camera glasses. He started to click away, so I did the same with my “beeper.” When he turned the page, a photo of what had to be Remy dropped to the floor followed by a cascade of several more.
As soon as he’d used my real name, I bit down on my lip and started to lift the pictures. Several were group photos of the crew. One even had Peter, Rico and Betty in it. The next was of Betty, Jackie and the man I assumed was Remy. All smiling into the camera as if they didn’t have a care in the world. All were dressed alike, in their uniforms with white shorts that came to above their knees.
Remy was in the center with his arms around both women. When I saw Remy clearer now, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for both him and Jackie. What had they gotten themselves into to cause her death and whatever had happened to him?
Money had to be the root of their problems.
Jagger nudged my arm. I looked at him and followed his gaze to the file.
Jackie had been given an advance on her paycheck a while back. The old records were still in her files. Hmm. She’d needed money. Maybe an advance in pay wasn’t enough. So what else would she do to get it?
I looked up at Jagger. He winked at me. My knees wobbled. Delicious. I told myself to behave and get back to the matter at hand. Truthfully, it was getting easier and easier to ignore the tornadoes of maleness that flew off of Jagger. I was quite pleased that my professionalism had grown as I learned more and more about my job.
Jagger opened a bag that had Jackie’s personal belongings inside. I recognized several things from our room, like her clock shaped like the Eiffel Tower, and her nail polish.
A tear escaped my eye. Before I could do anything about it, Jagger reached over and gently wiped the side of my face. Now I know what “swoon” meant. Damn, I could have melted into a puddle right then.
As good as I was about ignoring Jagger-maleness, being touched by him was still another matter.
But it was business as usual for Jagger. He pulled his hand away and motioned for me to look. In the bottom of the bag was a wallet. Jackie’s, I guessed, although I’d never seen it. The wallet was light brown suede and, I figured, made in France. A big J was embossed on it. He opened it and lifted out her credit cards, six of them. Yikes. Then he pulled out her license and other cards we had no interest in. When he went to shut it, I touched his hand.
On the bottom part of the wallet was stitching. For some reason, it didn’t look as if it belonged there. It wasn’t a seam nor a fancy design. I pointed it out to Jagger. He ran his finger across the section and pushed down.
A tiny slit opened.
Jagger eased out a paper folded to the size of a stick of gum. With his gloves on, he carefully opened it.
In what I guessed was Jackie’s handwriting was a list of numbers-with dollar amounts next to them. At the top she had written, “Owed.”
On the bottom of the page, she had scribbled some notes in French. I wondered if Jagger knew what they meant. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did. As a matter of fact, it looked like he was reading them and took a few pictures.
He refolded the paper, tucked it back into the secret compartment and had everything back in place before we heard it.
The click of the door.