“Oh…my…gosh! This place is fabulous!” I shouted when Goldie and I drove down Bellevue Avenue, the main artery for mansion viewing in Newport. In the Gilded Age, the wealthy built their forty room “cottages” along Bellevue -and competition became the name of the game. From the Astors to the Vander-bilts all the rich moguls tried to outdo each other with their homes and their parties.
I shut my eyes and could picture golden carriages pulled by white horses clip-clopping along the street. When I opened my eyelids, all I could see were long driveways to mansions bigger than the Hope Valley town hall.
Finally Goldie turned down a street where a sign for Highcliff Manor stood. When we drove down the long drive, I looked at the place and gasped.
Goldie chuckled. “Nice digs I’m gonna be in for the next few weeks, Suga.”
I nodded in agreement when I looked at the sprawling white wooden mansion, which overlooked the ocean but from some distance. The distance was a perfectly manicured expanse of lawn, greenery, shrubs, topiaries and flowers of all sorts. Wrapped in a surround-type porch, the place looked homey in a very classy, expensive big way.
As soon as Goldie pulled his banana-yellow sixties Camaro into a parking space, I turned to him and touched his arm. “Gold, you really don’t have to do this.”
He leaned over and kissed my cheek. “I know, Suga. I really want to.”
I kissed him back, turned and opened my door. When I stepped out, the warm spring ocean breeze hit my face. “It smells great, Gold. So oceaney.”
“Look to the left.”
I turned to see him pointing and gasped again. “Oh…my…God. It’s amazing.”
Behind the rows of salmon azalea bushes, now in bloom, whitecaps, riding swells of waves, frothed in the distance. Tankers, the size of a child’s toy from here, edged slowly across the horizon. The Atlantic Ocean was only steps away-and about fifty feet below. Yikes.
“This is going to be the best assignment!” I turned to see a nervous smile on Goldie’s face and quickly gave him a hug. “I’m going to take excellent care of you, Gold. I am.”
“You know, Suga, I’ve always wanted my nose tweaked, but was too scared to go under the knife. You know me. I don’t do pain. But when the opportunity arose to have you at my side, I jumped at it.” He leaned over and kissed my cheek once again. “I’m not going to worry anymore. And, I’m gonna be here to help you solve your case so we can head back home real soon.”
“Thanks,” I said, but thought about how long my cases usually took. Never had evidence “fall into my lap” like Goldie’s had.
Besides, if it did, I wasn’t sure I’d catch it.
“I am Pauline Sokol and this is my…patient, Goldie Perlman,” I said to the darling young blond guy behind the reception desk. Quite the hottie, if a few years too young for moi.
Actually, the place looked more like a library complete with wall-to-wall books, mahogany everything (the expensive kind), and floral arrangements, real ones that probably cost more than my yearly salary.
The young man gave Goldie the once-over. Not in an insulting way though. Thank goodness. I’d grown to be rather protective of my dear friend, although, in all honesty, Goldie could hold his own-and mostly protected me.
“Welcome to Highcliff Manor. I’m Ian. Ian James. Have a seat.” He motioned for us to sit. Well, he motioned for Goldie to sit. Me he just nodded at. Hm. I was guessing that Ian either thought my Goldie was as hot as Pamela Anderson (only more sophisticated) or as hot as Johnny Depp (only more…in all honesty, he didn’t need improvement).
I sat next to Goldie and took his hand. “When do we get to see the doctor?”
Ian looked at me and smiled. “Ms. Sokol…”
I knew he was talking but got hung up on the “Ms.” part. How come he’d assumed I was a Ms. and not a Mrs.? Goldie’s hand grew cool. I tightened my hold and yanked my thoughts back to Ian. No worrying about my lack of marital status right now. Gold was way more important, and besides, I’d convinced myself that I was now a career gal.
“…so, you see, we have it all down to a science here at Highcliff Manor.”
I’ll just bet you do, I thought, although I hadn’t heard everything he’d said, and it probably was important. Oh well, I was sure Goldie got it all. Before I knew it, Ian was standing and motioning for us to follow.
He gave us a brief tour of the manor, which looked as if House Beautiful had set up stakes here to decorate the place. Gorgeous. Floral everything. Antique furnishings. Carpets softer than clouds. Goldie and I “oohed” and “aahed” all the way to his room.
When Ian unlocked Room 211, he stood to the side and handed Goldie the key. “If you need anything, I’m always around.” They shook hands although I guessed Ian would have liked maybe a hug.
“Holy moly, Suga! Look at this place!”
“Wow,” was all I could say when I stepped in after Goldie.
The room swam in ivory and salmon everything. And lace, silk and French provincial overpowered the huge size. It looked like a millionaire’s living room, so I figured it had to be a suite.
“You could stay here with me, Suga. No need for you to go to the bed and breakfast you booked. Why spend the money?”
He was right, but I thought he’d need the time away from me and, more importantly, I knew Miles had planned a surprise visit for the weekend.
“I’ll be fine at the Samuel Freeman Lodge, Gold. It looks fabulous on the brochure, and I’ll have a place away from here to work on the case and not worry that someone might find any evidence that I turn up. Besides, it’s only a few blocks away and I can walk.”
Goldie seemed more mesmerized than myself with the suite, and when he went into the bathroom and rifled through the floral-scented bath salts, I told him to enjoy himself and I’d be back at three for our meeting with Dr. Cook, Goldie’s plastic surgeon.
I only hoped he wasn’t really Dr. “Crook” and my number one suspect in medical insurance fraud.
When I got to the front desk area, Ian sat at the computer reading something. No sense in wasting time since time really was money on my cases (Fabio was known for his bonuses for quickly solved cases-although, sadly, I hadn’t had one yet), so I headed toward Ian, hoping I wasn’t interrupting something too important.
“Well, Goldie is very pleased with the room.” Because of Miles, there was no point in encouraging Ian.
Ian turned toward me and at first looked confused-as if he didn’t know who I was. Then he quickly shoved the monitor to the right-where I couldn’t see what he had been reading.
Go, Ian. You may be the ticket to a quick-solved case bonus. But now I had to maneuver myself like a damn contortionist to see the monitor.
“Is there somewhere I could get a cup of tea, Ian?” I leaned so far over, my sunglasses fell off of the top of my head onto Ian’s desk. “Oops. Sorry.”
By the look on his face, I should have stuck with the subject of Goldie. Oh well, at least I knew how to get the most mileage out of Ian, I thought as I reached for my sunglasses-just as Ian’s hand grasped mine.
I gasped and looked up.
His face had grown stern and his eyes darkened. I looked down to see that beneath the sunglasses was a printed page of several paragraphs. Ian didn’t want me to read it.
While still holding my hand (and not in the least bit sensual way), he grabbed my glasses with his other. “Here.”
Once he let go, I rubbed my wrist so he could see it smarted. It really didn’t, but I thought I’d make Mr. Ian think twice about touching me again. And I didn’t have to think twice about coming back here during his coffee break.
“Thanks and sorry.” No point putting off my investigation. I looked down toward his computer although he tried to turn it farther away. “Well, I can see you are busy. I’m off now but, as I said, will be back. Have a great day!” I added that last part to try to get on the good side of one Mr. Ian James.
“Welcome to the Samuel Freeman Lodge,” Arlene Hallowell, the innkeeper, said.
“This place is gorgeous.” I turned around to check out the foyer where I stood while Arlene filled out some paperwork on the other side of the counter. From there I could still see the main foyer whose forty-foot ceiling gave the place an air of gothic beauty. Dark oak paneling covered all the walls, staircase, and ran right up to the ceiling. Stained-glass panels hung freely at the top, and the windows were leaded glass. Wow.
I turned back, leaned on the bottom part of the door and sighed.
This job was going to be glorious.
Living in a mansion that Fabio was paying for (okay, against his knowledge, but my buddy and his receptionist, Adele, had set it up for me; I owed her big-time) would be fab. What Fabio didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him had become my motto after Adele had put the idea into my head.
“Thanks.” Arlene told me how the place had been the home of a Samuel Freeman in 1892. Apparently he’d been one of the leading politicians in the area, although not very well liked. She actually intimated that old Sam might still be around. Yikes. Then she called to one of the other staff to give me a tour.
Tina took me on a short walk around, and after telling me to make myself at home, showed me the refrigerator, the complimentary coffee and tea setup, and the porch were I could sit and rock to my heart’s content. While we headed up the stairs, she added, “No red wine in the rooms. Stains the carpets. You can have any other one though.” She seemed to get a bit nervous when she said, “Arlene is a stickler about the red wine.”
I couldn’t even concentrate on wine or the fact that I’d rather have a Coors. There was an air of opulence, a feeling that I’d stepped back into the enchanted Gilded Age when I walked up the staircase. At the top, Tina opened the door to my room and stepped aside.
Suddenly I felt as if someone else was in the room-but it was only the two of us. Hm.
The room was tiny by comparison to the rest of the lodge, with a bed built into the wall with drawers underneath. It looked as if it had come off a sailboat in the 1800s. She showed me the bathroom, which in fact was much larger than the room and had a double shower.
I looked at it and groaned. What a waste.
Who was I going to share it with? Before I could get maudlin, or start fantasizing about Jagger, I thanked Tina as she left, stuck my suitcase on the bed and flopped down when the door clicked shut. “Ouch!” I’d hit my head on the back wall in the tiny space, but excitement had me ignoring it.
This was going to be a fabulous gig.
And the best part was-I was going to do it myself.
A cold breeze swept across my face-and the windows were closed.
“Oooooooh!” Goldie shouted as Dr. Cook placed a tiny nose speculum into his right nostril.
I leaned forward and grabbed Goldie’s hand. “Try to relax, Gold. He’ll be done in a minute.” I turned to the doctor and gave him a “you better not hurt him again” kinda look. In all honesty though, I knew Goldie’s level of pain wasn’t very high. If I thought the doctor was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, I would have been out of my seat and complaining in a heartbeat-or maybe even clocked the guy.
No one ever hurt Goldie.
For a few seconds I watched the doctor, until he’d finished the exam. All in all he seemed ethical, knowledgeable, and not bad to look at. He stood there wearing a white lab coat over what had to be a silk shirt and tie. His shoes alone probably cost more than my college education. Fabio was right about Newport being a wealthy town.
Then again, maybe old Doc Cook could afford to look so good because he was scamming the insurance companies.
I leaned over as nonchalantly as I could to see what he wrote about Goldie. Nothing. From that distance I couldn’t see anything. Gold caught my glance as he wiped a tear from his eye. Nasal exams’ll do that to you. Suddenly I heard a cling on the floor. “Oh, Nurse Sokol,” Goldie said. “I dropped my watch. Could you please get it? My vision is still a bit teary.”
Only my darling Gold.
“Sure,” I said as I bent to get his watch, which had “fallen” nearly under Dr. Cook’s feet. When I got up, I said, “Excuse me,” let the watch fall onto the desk and practiced Evelyn Wood speed-reading dynamics.
Deviated septum. Deviated septum? Goldie? He’d never complained of having any breathing problems so why would the doctor think Goldie’s nose wasn’t divided evenly?
“Is there something I can help you with, Ms. Sokol?”
“Hm?” I looked down to see Dr. Cook seated in his chair and holding out Goldie’s watch toward me-while I read his notes over his shoulder.
“Oh, no.” I grabbed the watch. “Nope. No. No. Just getting the note…the watch. My Goldie’s watch.”
“Please sit down so that I can explain Mr. Perlman’s options.” He gave me a nasty look.
I flopped down next to Goldie and opposite the doctor. Goldie was still blotting his eyes. This should be good.
Dr. Cook stood then seated himself on the edge of the desk in front of us. “First of all, let me say we here at Highcliff Manor put the patient first for the utmost care. We pride ourselves on our skills and the unmatchable postoperative care that our nurses give.”
I cleared my throat.
“Oh, true. You will have your own private duty nurse, Mr. Perlman. But unless Ms. Sokol is planning to move in here at Highcliff, you will be taken care of by our staff at certain times.”
And he’ll be snooping for me while they’re caring for him, I thought.
Then I looked at Goldie wiping his eyes so much they were starting to turn red. Gold didn’t exactly have the highest tolerance for pain or, for that matter, being uncomfortable in any way. I wondered just how much help he would actually be. After all, his recovery came first.
“So,” Dr. Cook continued after explaining how the staff worked as a team around there, “on to your diagnosis, Mr. Perlman.”
Goldie’s hand flew from his face and waved the tissue in the air. “Diagnosis? I’m here for a nose job.”
“Yes. Yes, you are, sir. However, you will be glad to know that due to your deviated septum-”
It was then confirmed that Goldie was not going to be of any help to me. He wailed and continued waving.
“Deviated what? Oh…my…God! What is that, Suga?”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Relax, Gold. Calm down. It’s just that your nasal septum-”
“The part that divides your nose into two halves. It’s shifted to one side, Gold. No big deal.”
“May I interrupt?” the doctor asked.
I turned to see Dr. Cook giving me a dirty look. Who the hell cared? I’d do anything to ease my friend’s worries.
“Call me Goldie.”
“Fine.” The doctor stood and walked back to his red leather chair, where he sat and glared at me once again.
I think he didn’t trust me to be too close to him.
“I will cover the risks, including anesthesia. But you should do fine. It is merely a defect that could cause you sinus problems and/or breathing problems. After the surgery and your swelling subsides-”
“-you will be amazed at how much better you can breathe.”
“I only wanted a bit off the tip.”
A bit off the tip. Hm. Insurance wouldn’t pay for that, yet they would undoubtedly pay for a septoplasty to repair the deviated septum since it was affecting Goldie’s breathing.
Did Gold really have this “defect” or was it a lucrative way to charge the insurance company more money than the doctor could get from a private patient?
Then again, this was Newport.
It didn’t make sense that money would even be an issue for most of the patients. Why on earth would the doctor commit fraud instead of just having these wealthy patients write him a check?
Maybe there was more involved in this deception than met the eye.
I looked at Goldie, who was now crying. Quickly I got up and placed my arms around him. “What is it, Gold? Change your mind?”
“Oooooooh. Noooooo! It’s just-” He sniffled and looked at me. “Defect. Defect.”
The doctor had said Goldie’s deviated septum was a defect-and Goldie feared not being perfect.
I leaned near his ear. “Miles loves you so much, Gold, your nose could be as long as Pinocchio’s and he wouldn’t care.”
He took my hand and squeezed.