Still in Dr. Cook’s plush office, Goldie held onto my hand as I seated myself on the edge of his chair. I felt horrible to be putting my friend through this painful ordeal. Still, it was something he really wanted, and in my heart I knew that was true. Besides, I didn’t have the authority or power to have anyone get plastic surgery if they didn’t want to. That was just not me.
I looked at the doc, who was writing something in his notes. Probably about me. For some reason, Dr. Cook didn’t take to me. Maybe guilt had him being wary.
“Are you going to go over the surgical risks, Dr. Cook?” I asked, scanning my vision on every paper on his desk and anywhere else in the office that I could see.
Goldie tensed his hold.
I bit back an ouch. “Routine stuff, I mean. Nothing to worry about, Gold.”
The doctor looked up with a “do you want to take over?” kinda look. Well, it didn’t matter how or why he looked at me, Goldie’s safety, health and happiness came first.
“I was jotting down a note, Nurse. I’ve done this many times before, and think I have it down pat.” He looked at Goldie.
I curled my lips. Oops.
“Mr. Perlman, as I’d said before there are, in fact, risks involved with any surgery-”
Goldie sucked in a breath. A very loud breath.
I switched our hand positions and tightened my hold on him. “This really is routine. Don’t worry about it.” I gave the doc a look that said he better not frighten my patient again.
After the usual lecture on anesthesia, recovery, post-op care and what was expected, the doctor got up and started toward the door.
I still held onto Goldie’s hand, knowing the part about possible death had stuck in his mind. Gently I touched his other hand and stood. “Come on, Gold. Let’s go get a cup of tea.”
“I need chardonnay,” he said.
I patted his shoulder as the doctor held the door. “Of course you do, Gold. Of course you do.”
After three glasses of chardonnay, what seemed several hours of me telling Goldie he could change his mind, and several more of him convincing me he was doing this because he really wanted to, we decided to go for a walk.
Maybe the ocean’s breeze would clear our heads after this trying day.
I had to go back to my room at the lodge to change my shoes and put on some walking clothes. Goldie wanted to do the same, so we decided to meet at the end of the road where the ocean swam below and to the right or left was Cliff Walk.
In one of Goldie’s brochures I’d read that the walk ran 3.5 miles along the cliff with the ocean below-almost seventy feet in some areas-and on the other side, mansions and their gigantic green rear lawns. If that couldn’t clear our thoughts, nothing could.
I enjoyed my walk through the wealthy section of Newport from the lodge to where I’d meet Goldie. Salve Regina University was spread out among the manors, and many of its buildings were mansions themselves. Students bustled about, but I imagined them all wealthy kids in the 1800s.
Up ahead I could see two people coming out of Highcliff Manor and turning toward the ocean. At first I thought it might be Goldie, having made friends with one of the other patients, but on closer inspection the blonde looked a bit heavier than Gold. Not that she wasn’t svelte by any means.
I turned toward the east to see Goldie waving. Dressing in designer “beatnik” jeans with hand painting up one leg and on the opposite hip, the sun sparkled on the gems that were nestled amid the designs. He wore a white linen blouse, which made him look as sophisticated as any society snob around there.
“Hey, Gold.” I waved and hurried up to him. “Which way should we go?”
He turned toward the left. “This way the path is mostly paved. The other way has sections where you have to climb over rocks, and without railings, areas that drop seventy feet to the crashing waves.”
I shuddered. “You don’t have to tell me twice. It is a gorgeous day, Gold. Let’s keep safe!” We laughed and passed an elderly couple walking along the cliff.
Now I felt much better about our choice of direction.
Goldie and I made small talk as we worked our way along the walk. As we passed the forty-room mansions, Gold and I marveled and oohed and aahed together. We were like two little kids in Disney World-and that wasn’t that far of a stretch.
Newport was miles apart from Hope Valley, and being a hometown kinda gal, I’d never been anyplace so ritzy.
The waves clapped the rocks below, and each time I stood still long enough to look out to the open sea, I’d notice a new vessel of some sort chugging away. A mist touched my face and with each breath I inhaled the salty air.
Seagulls perched on rocks jetting out between swells of waves, and the rhythmic sound had me more relaxed than a glass of chardonnay ever could.
“Gold, are you really all right with this surgery thing?”
He turned toward me. “You know I am, Suga. I’m fine. Don’t let a few screeches scare you. Sometimes I’m just so emotional. I could-”
“Oh!” I shouted and grabbed Goldie’s arm.
“What? What is wrong?”
Not able to say a word, I pointed.
Goldie turned toward the walk up ahead. I know he couldn’t miss the two people standing there arguing. He looked back at me. “Must be a lovers’ spat, Suga. Nothing to worry about. We can pass them.”
I shook my head. “Gold-” I swallowed. “She tried to…I’m not sure…but it looked as if she tried to push him-off the cliff!”
Goldie swung back to the couple.
The path was empty.
Not that either Goldie or I was superstitious (okay, he did carry a rabbit’s foot-a pink one), but we decided to cut our walk short-after we headed to the part where the lovers’ spat had occurred. If that’s what it was.
There was nothing below except water, rocks and red tide, which I’d learned was tiny reddish seaweed.
“Okay,” Goldie said, grabbing my arm. “I’m ready to go back.”
“Me too, Gold.” Something made me take one last look below. “Goldie!”
He swung around so fast his arm caught mine and I stumbled forward-and screamed.
Thank goodness for quick reflexes. Goldie grabbed my shoulder before I could stumble one more foot-to the end of the cliff and over the side.
My mouth dried instantly. “They need a wailing here,” I muttered through the dryness, and then ran my tongue over my teeth for some moisture. “Railing.”
“Jesus, Suga.” He pulled me back and took me into his arms. “Jesus.”
I stayed nestled in Goldie’s hold for a few extra minutes despite the fact that several tourists passed us-and stared. Who cared? He’d just saved me from splattering on the rocks below.
Goldie eased me to his arm’s length. “What the hell made you go so close to the edge?”
“Oh, geez. I nearly forgot.” I started to step toward the ocean, but Goldie held me back.
“Oh, no, Suga. Just tell me.” He held onto my arm rather tightly.
Despite a bit of discomfort I smiled to myself. It was great having a guy care so much for me-I only wished it was a heterosexual guy named…
“Gold, they must have thrown something over the cliff. There was a bag below. From Talbot’s, that expensive chic clothing store, on the corner near the Tennis Hall of Fame.”
“Well, let’s head back as we talk.”
I know Goldie wanted to get me off the cliff and away from any “accident” areas.
I smiled again.
We made it back to Highcliff Manor in about twenty minutes, but on the way Goldie had me feeling much better that the “lovers” were none of our concern, and it was probably something personal between them that they sent down to Davy Jones’s locker.
“You’re right, I’m sure. None of our business. You go ahead and get yourself a glass of wine, Gold. I’m going to head back to the lodge and take a little power siesta.
He laughed. “I hear you. I’m not the least bit tired, but I could rest after that emotional scene.”
I know he was talking about me nearly catapulting off the cliff-but I couldn’t get that couple out of my mind-or the stupid shopping bag.
Since it was Monday and still off-season, the lodge didn’t appear very crowded. I fixed myself a cup of tea and decided to go sit on the wraparound porch before taking my nap.
Once I settled in the comfy rocker, I leaned back, took a sip of my English Breakfast tea and set the cup down on the nearby table. When I shut my eyes, I could picture the couple on the cliff.
Was she trying to push him? Or was he trying to push her?
Suddenly I wasn’t sure, so I tried to use my investigative skills to re-create the picture in my mind.
He had the bag in his hands!
My eyes flew open. The guy did throw something over the cliff. Now, even from the distance that Goldie and I stood, I could see this couple had money, as my mother would say. They were dressed very yuppielike, with sunglasses I was sure didn’t come from Wal-Mart, like mine. Hers must have had diamonds on the lens since the sun sparkled on them. And her hair didn’t move in the ocean’s breeze. It remained a perfect brunette coiffure while my blonde locks danced about, making me look like Medusa.
After a few more attempts at reviewing the scene, I told myself that I was getting way too tired. What the heck did I care about that couple anyway? At least no one, including moi, went overboard.
But there was something instinct told me to keep in mind.
And a Sokol’s instincts were very precise-as evidenced by Stella Sokol on a daily basis.
Why I needed to keep thinking of that couple, I had no idea. But until I ate my dinner and headed up to my room for the night, I kept reliving the scene in my head.
Maybe my investigative skills were really sharpening!
I felt as if someone were watching me. I looked around.
Hm. No one in sight.
“Sweet or savory,” Tina, the innkeeper’s assistant, asked the next morning when I sat at the dining room table.
The question started each day off in the Samuel Freeman Lodge. She went through the two breakfast choices, and I picked sweet today. No great surprise with my penchant for sugar…especially chocolate.
“You’ll love the apple topping on the wheat pancakes. The cook always whips her own heavy cream too,” she said, and hurried off to the kitchen.
I sat at the big table all by myself and decided I’d pretend that I lived there. After my meal came, I devoured it, and told Tina to give the chef my kudos. I’d hire her in a heartbeat if I really did have the money to buy this place.
Money. The root of all evil and something that I was not blessed with very much of. One of these days I really wanted to have enough savings to buy a condo of my own. As it stood, I didn’t even have enough for a down payment thanks to a crooked friend, a Lexus car loan I’d co-signed, and a proclivity for shopping.
At least I’d cured myself of that last addiction lately-out of necessity and low cash flow.
I folded my linen napkin and set it near my empty plate then walked out of the lodge to go for my morning jog.
The ocean was one of my favorite spots in the world, I decided as I jogged along Cliff Walk-the safe section that was paved. Such a beautiful day had me smiling, greeting anyone that I passed and even not worrying about my case.
Deep inside I knew it would be a piece of cake, Goldie would be beautiful/handsome and all would be right with the Pauline Sokol world.
“Hey!” a woman yelled.
I stopped to listen and see where it had come from. Waves crashing below filled the air. After a few seconds and no more voices, I decided maybe I’d imagined it. Maybe the enchanting sea made sounds that had confused me. Or maybe it was a mermaid, I thought then laughed.
Or the ghost of Samuel Freeman following me around.
I wiped the sweat from my forehead and gave one last look around, then started forward.
“Hey! Over here!”
This time I stopped cold and yelled, “What? Who is there?”
An Asian couple taking pictures of the back of the Vanderbilt mansion, The Breakers, gave me an odd look. I’m sure it wasn’t that they didn’t understand English but noticed me yelling-to myself.
Now I could tell the voice had come from a cluster of bushes that had little thorns and orangelike balls growing on it. I hurried over and noticed a flash of pink. “I’m right here.”
“Help me up.” This time the voice held an air of authority. Made me feel like one of the servants from the nearest mansion.
After a few “ouches” on my part, I pushed enough of the branches away to see a woman lying amid the thorns. “Oh my gosh! Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
“Only my freaking pride, honey. Get me out of here!”
I eased the thornier sections to the side and held out my hand to her. After several minutes of cursing (hers) and praying (mine) I had the most gorgeous woman standing next to me.
Even I had to admit to her beauty.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
She snarled at me as if I’d pushed her into the bushes. Suddenly I realized being a Good Samaritan did not come without consequences in swanky Newport.
“All right? Look at my jogging suit!” she said.
No thanks. Not even a hello. The suit was torn in several places and sticks of orange balls hung off her arm. If she wasn’t so model perfect, she would have looked comical. If I had on that outfit, we’d both be in hysterics right now.
“I see your suit is torn-that can be replaced. Are you cut anywhere?”
Her eyes widened in horror as if it hadn’t occurred to her that her perfect skin could be maimed. She swung around. “Am I? Am I bleeding anywhere?” She touched her face. “Is my face-”
“No. Not a scratch.” Now that the original emergency had passed, I looked at her closely. Sure her skin was flawless, but almost too flawless. Not that I was jealous because of my pasty white skin and grayish eyes. Thank you very much Vikings for invading Poland and having me look as if I grew up in a cave.
But her lips were swollen way too big for my taste. Angelina Jolie would look thin-lipped next to this woman. Now that I took the time, I realized she was way too nipped and tucked when seen this close. “You look fine, ma’am.”
She glared at me as if she didn’t believe a word I said.
“I’m a nurse.” Geez. As if that would have any bearings on my sanity. The woman was getting creepy, yet she did look fabulously wealthy. Stella Sokol would agree with me on this one.
“A nurse? Where?”
Great. Was she going to claim some injury that I’d have to tend to now? “I’m only in Newport temporarily.” I almost said working a case, but finished with, “At the Highcliff Manor. Private duty.”
She grabbed my sleeve!
I tried to ease her hand free but her two-inch nails dug into my arm.
“Highcliff? Do you know Dr. Cook?” Her voice came out so desperate, I started to feel sorry for her.
“Why…I just met him.” I tried to unlock the grip-no success yet. “Ma’am, I really have to get back to my patient.” I looked down at my arm. She held tight.
“I need to talk to him.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sure if you call Ian James, he can make you an appointment-”
She spat on the ground!
I yanked free and started to turn. But before I could, she said, “I spit on Ian, that bastard.”
Bastard? Darling Ian?
This scene was getting weirder by the minute and not making a hell of a lot of sense to me. “How do you know Ian?” Suddenly I felt protective of the guy who hid his monitor from my view. Go figure.
“I’ve been a patient there many times. Besides, everyone in town knows him just like they do Olivia Wheaton-Chandler from Highcliff. The money lady herself.”
Ah. Thus the overly tight skin, lips puffed out bigger than my sister Mary’s after a bee sting, and eyes that slanted way too much for a Caucasian. I tucked the Wheaton-Chandler chick’s name into my mental file to check out eventually.
Ah, again. Maybe Barbie here could shed some light on the fraud. I reluctantly stuck out my hand and hoped she wouldn’t latch on again. “I’m Pauline Sokol. I have a patient at Highcliff who will be having surgery in a few days.”
She took my hand so gingerly this time I wondered if she had come to her senses and decided she really didn’t want to touch a peon like me. “Babette. Babette LaPierre.”
Why did that not surprise me?
“Nice to meet you, Babette. How long ago was your last…stay at Highcliff?”
She touched one of her gigantic nails against her tooth. Babette never cleaned a toilet in her life, I told myself in that instant, and was pretty certain that included the rest of a house too.
“Let’s see. I think it was about fifteen days ago.”
Fifteen days? Geez, I was thinking years, maybe months. On closer inspection, I diagnosed Babette as one of those women who were addicted to plastic surgery. “Wow. So, how many procedures have you had done at Highcliff?” Not that I cared, but I’d suddenly made a bet with myself. Had to be in double digits. More than even Joan Rivers.
Babette had to stop and think for so long, I was guessing past fifteen.
“Twenty-eight. I think that’s correct.” She started to rub her hands against the sides of her jacket in a rather rhythmic fashion. “I tend to lose track.”
OCD. I would just bet Babette had several other signs of obsessive compulsive disorder. So I figured her plastic surgery requests came from her also suffering the new fad illness, BDD. Body dimorphic disorder. Babette required more and more changes to an already perfect body, which, until therapy worked, she’d never be satisfied with.
Hm. She really might know something for my case.
We walked back to one of the side streets that led away from Cliff Walk. Obviously Babette was mortified to be seen in public with torn Armani, and I wasn’t all too thrilled being seen with her. I didn’t want anyone to think I had BDD. Then again, if they looked at me closely-they would see I’d never have to worry about that. Actually, I didn’t want anyone seeing me with Babette in case I needed her help.
Suddenly she seemed to want to get rid of me. Or at least not be seen with me since she kept looking away and turning toward the street as if to cross.
“Well, I’m this way,” I said, nodding toward the right.
“I live on Bellevue. I will see you around Highcliff though.” She nodded and looked both ways before starting off.
I was wondering what she’d do if someone were coming down the street in her direction, when all of a sudden a woman did come out of a garden path from a home bigger than the White House. The real White House in D.C.
Babette seemed as if she would scamper off, but instead she turned toward the lady. Ready to turn away, I noticed her hairdo. Stiff brunette.
Without thinking, I found myself walking across the street, all the while staring.
Babette turned around just as my mouth dropped to my chin (something that often happened when I was shocked. Mostly by Jagger though).
“Oh, you. I thought it might be someone important,” Babette said.
The other woman looked at me as if she recognized me.
Babette said, “I forgot your name, Nurse, but this is my friend Daphne. Daphne Baines.”
My first thought was that Daphne had BDD too. No one was born that perfect. No one.
Then my heart started to race when my second thought was: Daphne Baines is the woman who tried to push that man off of Cliff Walk!