After the newlyweds and I stopped screaming, I yanked out my cell phone, called 911 and told them about the body.
Sure looked like a body now (a dead body), and not a person with any hope of saving. The groom took his bride and moved her away from the edge with a “Sit over here, honey.”
They both sat on the small hill of the land side of the walkway-away from the cliff. Not that I wanted to look down myself, but this all seemed so surreal that I just had to.
A whitecap of wave slammed into the body as I leaned over and looked with clearer vision.
The man’s shirt, although soaked, was a deep color. Black? No. When the sun hit it, I saw more red. Crimson. Wet hair looked much darker as the waves washed over the body, bobbing back and forth on the tide. Part of the clothing had been harpooned onto a jagged rock, which must have prevented the body from floating out to sea.
When a whitecap washed over it, I noticed the shoes were still on. Black wing tips.
“Oh…my…God.” Although it must have been about fifty to seventy-five feet below, there was now no doubt in my mind.
The dead body was dear Ian.
Suddenly I felt sick and pulled back as the sound of sirens pierced the air. I’d die of embarrassment if I vomited in front of the newlyweds, who, by the way, were both as pale as the fluffy white clouds I’d hoped for earlier.
I sat down next to the guy, bent my head toward my knees and took some very long slow breaths. The sickness in the pit of my stomach was for Ian. Dead. So young. And now so dead.
I called Goldie to tell him and let him know I’d be running a bit late.
Before I could sit and compose myself, wondering if Ian had fallen-or was pushed, a gang of cops in uniforms and a few in plainclothes hurried along the path.
And directly behind them was my buddy, Jagger.
He was walking a bit slower than usual. Oops. Maybe I should just throw myself off the cliff in order to avoid any further embarrassment.
“You look like shit, Sherlock.” He reached down for my hand and pulled me up to stand.
“Thanks. New makeup.” I stood on wobbly legs and actually had to hold one hand against his chest to steady myself. Really! “And you look very fit,” I said.
The cops started asking questions, and between the newlyweds and myself-we were of no help at all. No, we hadn’t seen anyone. No, we hadn’t heard anything. No, the camera was not there with the body.
“She dropped it over the cliff,” the bride said in what I thought was an unnecessarily accusatory tone, and the pointing at me that she was doing seemed highly rude.
I started to protest when Jagger glared at me. I leaned toward him. “She let it go.”
Jagger stood silent.
“All right, all right,” I said. “The camera is a moot point since a man is dead. You know how that bothers me, but she did let it-”
In order not to sound too childish-make that more childish-I dropped the subject and answered a few more cop questions involving the fact that I knew who Ian was and had only seen him a short time ago.
“Well, for one thing, he was working earlier. And…er…he did have a sort of argument with someone at work.” Maybe I was prejudging the situation. Maybe Ian and Mrs. Wheaton-Chandler were really not at odds. And maybe Ian actually survived the fall. “Seemed to be, or make that appeared to be arguing. I mean allegedly arguing.”
So I told the cops everything I could think of, ending with, “And I said, ‘Excuse me?’ That was right after she’d ordered me to get back to work.”
The main one, who I assumed was the detective in charge, said, “That’ll do for now. We’ll need names and phone numbers for our records.” He looked at me through squinted eyes.
Did he suspect me?
Why is it that my Catholic-school-induced conscience always had me feeling guilty when I knew I wasn’t? Damn. All I had to do was look at Jagger to see that he believed me. Of course, his look was not one of accusation, more of how difficult it was for him to control shaking his head at me right then.
After we gave all our names and info to the cops, I said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Bret Johnson from Lowell, Massachusetts, who were, in fact, married last Saturday.
Talk about a memorable honeymoon.
Not exactly what I’d have in mind for mine. Mine. Hmm. How odd that I’d even think about getting married when I had decided nothing was more important to me than my career.
Jagger took me by the arm.
Suddenly I wondered if my sister Mary’s youngest daughter would make a good flower girl.
I really should have flung myself over the cliff.
While an ambulance crew worked on getting the body up from the ocean, we walked along the cliff to the exit. When we got to the side street, I saw the Johnson couple getting into their car. “Just a sec,” I said to Jagger and hurried over to them.
“I’m so sorry about everything. Look, can I send you a new camera?” Please say no since it will cost me money.
Bret looked at me with green eyes that were not quite as accusatory as his bride, Shauna’s. “It was an accident. No problem.”
“Oh. Fine. Have a great life you two.”
Shauna shut the car door and opened the window. “Cameras are replaceable-”
“Glad you feel that way.” And I really was. Guilt was something inbred in me by my mother and fostered for twelve years by nuns. You haven’t lived guilt until it is nun-induced. They had my Jewish friends’ mothers beat by a mile. “You can easily pick up one of those disposable cameras at the drugstore.”
Shauna cleared her throat and in a whinny voice said, “It’s the pictures of us that can never, ever be replaced.”
Zinger to my heart. I was speechless. From the corner of my eyes I noticed Jagger-grinning.
He was enjoying this! The only thing I could do to make myself feel a bit better was to lean toward him and say, “Want a repeat of last night?”
Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine seeing fear, fear that I induced, as a matter of fact, in Jagger’s eyes.
But damn if my threat didn’t produce it and somehow make me feel a bit better.
Since Goldie was off on the town with Miles, Jagger took me to The Market for a cup of tea. The guy always did know what was best for me-but I’d die before admitting that to him.
When he set a cup of English Breakfast-decaffeinated-down in front of me, I looked up at him. “By the way, I didn’t get a chance to ask, but what the hell were you doing with the police?”
He’d set a cup of black coffee down in front of his seat and stood over the chair a few seconds, merely looking at me.
I rolled my eyes. “Never mind. I’m going to assume you’re friends with at least one of the detectives, that you were visiting while the call came in, and you probably saw my cell phone number and tagged along because you thought I needed saving.”
I should have been furious. I should have been embarrassed. I should have shouted for him to leave me alone-but I puffed up my shoulders and was so proud of myself for hitting that Jagger nail on the head that I wasn’t furious, shouting or embarrassed.
Nothing could make my day like a look of pride from Jagger.
After our rather silent coffee/tea break, we walked outside and got into Jagger’s SUV. Without a word he took a right out of The Market’s parking lot and didn’t turn down any side street to take us back to the lodge.
Just down the hill the ocean sprang out to the right, and although the beach was deserted at this time of the year, the surf of course continued its rhythmic crashing against the sand. Brown and white seagulls, gigantic birds, squawked from their perches on the abandoned lifeguard chairs.
Jagger turned into the lot, pulled into a space and shut off the engine. “Walk or sit here?”
Without a thought I said, “Walk,” while never taking my eyes off the water.
Ian had died in this water.
I got out and stood, holding the door handle while a gust of ocean breeze nearly knocked me over. Jagger was already standing by the cement stairs that led to the beach.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” I said more sarcastically than planned.
“Unfortunately I have to, Sherlock. I have to.” With that he bent down and took off his cowboy boots and socks.
For as much as what he’d just said had me as curious as all get out, I took my socks and shoes off too, set them on the side of the steps and walked into the amazingly warm sand. The sun had baked it all morning, causing an almost sensual feel.
Okay, watching Jagger’s back and…er…lower back-okay, lower than his back-as he walked toward the water might have warmed me down to my toes.
Seagulls swooped down on us as if we were some tasty meal. The damn scavengers were annoying. Occasionally Jagger swatted at the air until they flew off shrieking.
Several times I looked out toward Cliff Walk and as if with zoom-lens eyesight could so clearly see the collection of rocks that Ian had been killed on. I shuddered.
And Jagger’s arm was around me in seconds.
We walked silently, enjoying the ocean, the rhythmic sounds of slamming waves and the salty scent of the Atlantic. Once we reached the end of the beach area below a row of fabulous cottages, Jagger led me to an outcropping of rocks where we both sat.
The warm sun beat down on us. Despite the breeze, the air had warmed enough that my feet never got cold in the sand.
I leaned back to rest my head against the rocks, shut my eyes and let my mind wander.
Of course, with Jagger next to me, my mind headed down “Lust Lane,” but it was damn fun.
Nearly paralyzed from pleasure, I remained still.
“That’s you, Sherlock.”
“Hm? Oh.” I opened my eyes, sat forward and took my phone from my pocket, amazed at how dreamy I felt in this atmosphere. I looked at the caller’s number. “Oh, no.”
“What? Something wrong?” He looked at me with genuine concern.
Such a guy. “I’m not sure. It’s my mother.” I flipped open the phone. “Hi, Mom.”
“Actually it’s Daddy, Pa,czki.”
“Oh, hey, Daddy. Daddy?” I nearly dropped the phone but Jagger steadied my hand. “Daddy, what is wrong? Uncle Walt? Is something…oh, God, no…something wrong with him. Mother! Why isn’t Mom calling me, Daddy?”
Daddy wasn’t one to talk on the phone. Never had much experience with my mother around. So I could tell he was probably holding the phone wrong and could only hear part of what I was saying.
“Daddy. Why did you call?” I held my breath.
I heard him clear his throat and talk to someone in the background. When I was just about ready to scream at him to tell me what was going on, my mother came on the line, “Pauline, everything is fine. I’m all right. Really-”
“Mother! When someone says all that, there is something wrong. What happened? To whom?”
I said a silent prayer that my uncle was okay since he was the only one I hadn’t heard talking.
“Oh, it is nothing really. I broke my arm. That is all. You have a good weekend.”
“Don’t hang up!” I rolled my eyes, and Jagger stared.
He whispered, “What?”
I held my hand over my cell phone and said, “My mother broke her arm.”
“How’s she going to cook?”
I could only stare back at him. Why on earth would that be the first thing that popped into Jagger’s mind? How rude. Not even an “Is she all right?”
Then again, he heard me talking to her, so he must have figured she wasn’t too bad off. But cooking? Cooking! Oh…my…God. Cooking to Stella Sokol was like breathing.
“Mother, which arm?”
“What does it matter, Pauline? I can hardly do anything with this gigantic thing on my arm. Must weigh a thousand pounds. And who ever heard of a cast in shocking pink? I’m shocked all right. Pink. Ha!”
“Right or left?”
“My cooking arm, Pauline. My right one.”
My mouth dried. Poor Mom. Not only had she gotten hurt somehow, but she also couldn’t do her daily duty that she so loved. “What happened, Mother?”
She proceeded to tell me how she tripped on my darling Spanky! Apparently Miles couldn’t get anyone to watch him, so my mother had volunteered to take care of him-all the while, I’m sure, protesting that she didn’t like dogs.
“They smell like dog,” she’d say.
Before I could apologize, she had me volunteering to come home for the weekend since Goldie really didn’t need me-and she couldn’t cook for Daddy and Uncle Walt.
“I’ll show you how to maneuver around with a cast on, cooking and all,” was the last thing I said.
As I followed Jagger into my parents’ house, I could not believe I was back there and that he’d insisted on driving me. As if I was too upset to drive. Well, having to leave Newport was a bit upsetting, but my folks needed me and thank goodness Mother wasn’t badly injured. All in all, I told myself it wasn’t going to be a bad weekend.
Mother managed to open the door and say, “Thank goodness you two are here. Of course, you’ll both have to stay here to help out. Elderly can do just so much for themselves. Correct?”
Obviously Jagger was holding back a grin while managing, “Correct, Mrs. Sokol,” as he walked into the house and finished with, “and pink goes wonderfully with your outfit.”
I think I groaned since Mother gave me a chastising look, but I know I rolled my eyes. She had on a brown, yellow and white plaid housedress that pink did not go with.
Mr. Jagger had something up his mysterious sleeve. I just knew it.
After I made fried bologna and bacon sandwiches on rye bread-Daddy’s favorite-I made Jagger help clean up. He protested once in the kitchen, but I gave him a look that I thought was close enough to what Stella Sokol would give me if I had been complaining.
Then I dried my hands on the aquamarine towel that hung on the duck’s head near the sink and said, “I think they can all get along for a while. I’m going to check on Spanky and then head over to-”
“I’ll drive you.”
Damn. I had no car, and he’d figured it out just as I had. “Yeah. To the office. I’m going to talk to Adele.”
He merely nodded, and before I knew it we were in the car driving away from hell at 171 David Drive-but knowing I had to come back and make roast pork since it was Thursday and Mother always made it on every Thursday of the week.
I kinda hoped that Jagger would just drop me off and I’d have some free time with Spanky. But he shut the engine off and was at the front door before I was.
“You know, Jagger, I hate that you had to leave your R and R to bring me back here. Wait. I know. I can use my uncle’s car and you can go do…whatever it is you do around here until Sunday night. Then we can drive back to Newport together. So, I’ll see you-”
I’d come up behind him as I was talking, took out my key and had it in the lock before I finished.
Jagger walked right inside.
I hesitated and watched my darling Spanky bark and run up to-Jagger!
The little traitor!
He’d done that before and it didn’t hurt any less right now. How I wished I was back doing my job.
My job. I had to call Adele. Ignoring the two males, I walked inside, shut the door and went to the stairs. Over my shoulder I said, “I’m going to make a few phone calls. You two enjoy.” I tried to have the tone come out very nonchalant, but instead it came out schoolgirl jealous-and by the look on one of the male’s faces, he knew exactly how I felt.
I hurried up the steps and opened the door to my room-and froze. I hadn’t been gone that long, but my room looked different. Not that I could put my finger on what it was, but there was something…the drapes were pulled farther back than I liked them. The bedspread was pulled so taut I knew a coin would bounce to the ceiling fan. And there were no little Spanky indentations on the bed.
He hadn’t been in my room while I was gone.
Odd. Miles would never had even entered my room. That much I was certain about. Then what the heck had happened? Surely I wasn’t imagining all that? I walked to the closet, opened the door and puffed out a breath.
Stella Sokol had invaded my space!
I just knew Mother had been there and was trying to “help” me out in some Polish matronly farfetched way. Before I could call her to yell she had no business being in there (not that I would since she was wounded), I started to yank open all my dresser drawers.
Organized to within a thread of color.
All my socks. All my nighties. All my…shit!
As if in slow motion I reached into my “essentials” drawer and touched what I knew were not mine-which was everything.
Black on black lacy ones. Red with pink dog ones. And some kind of blue fishnet with black lace trim.
Invader of Victoria’s Secret. Stella Sokol. Yikes.
My hands started to shake as I jabbed at the new bras Mother had purchased for her thirtysomething, single, childless daughter. Purple satin glared at me. I poked at the fabric to feel something soft inside. Gel. My mother had gotten me a gel cleavage-enhancing bra with naughty black trim, and next to it were matching panties-or what tried to be panties but ended up as some kind of V-string thingies.
I lifted them in the air and blew out a breath.
“That’d be my reaction too.”
I swung around to see Jagger standing in the doorway, grinning and staring. I threw the lingerie down into the drawer where it belonged.
Jagger had no idea that this was all my mother’s doing! What the hell did he think I was doing with the purple satin devil’s design underwear?
Stella Sokol never ceased to amaze or embarrass me-even if she wasn’t physically present.
Jagger whistled-and not even under his breath.