Pat Ruger: Caribbean Shuffle

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Chapter 9

Jimmy and I left the suite and looked over the rail to the passing ocean. “It wasn’t that much money …” I said and slapped his back.

“I know, but … you had 4 birds?”

“Yeah,” I sighed, still watching the sea.

“Fellas, can you help us out?” It was Mike, stepping out the suite door, straightening his white uniform. He had a cell phone at his ear. “We could use some law enforcement assistance. Do you mind?”

“Sure, but we’re not exactly sober,” Jimmy replied. “And Pat’s not exactly law enforcement.”

“That’s okay,” Mike said and told the cell phone caller that we would be able to join him.

We staggered behind him, not so much from inebriation but from the seas and wind, which had both grown worse during the game. We ducked onto the outside corridor for a few yards, into the dusk and breeze, then back in, and then into a “Staff Only” double door. We passed through the hectic commercial laundry room and continued forward until we came to an elevator, obviously not presentable for public use.

Mike pressed “B”, which first made me think of “Basement” but when the elevator rose, I figured out that it meant “Bridge.” And there we were, in front of the Captain.

“You are the detectives, yes?”

The sun had just set and the gold and orange glow had not yet vanished. The view from the bridge was spectacular.

Jimmy answered, “Well, sir, I am a detective for the Denver P.D., but my friend here is retired. He is a private investigator now.”

“Very well.” He put his tablet PC down and reached out his hand. “I’m Captain Haagensen. We have a … situation … you could help us with.” The Captain was dressed much like Mike, in a white dress uniform, which he filled out well — husky, not fat. His jacket had a large patch with golden scrolls listing his company, Imperial Cruise Lines. He had salt and pepper unkempt hair and a gray beard, looking about 60. Even at that age, Haagensen was built like a tree trunk and looked like he could take both of us on in a fight. His English had a Scandinavian accent.

We both traded firm grips with the captain and he continued. “Do you mind giving us a few hours of your time? If so, we’ll pick up your travel and cruise cost for the week.”

“I don’t see why not,” I said, jumping at the offer. “What do you need?”

“I do have a security officer, Fosse, who takes care of most minor crimes, but this …” He picked back up the tablet and swiped his finger across the screen, which blinked open. He turned it toward us — we saw a photo of a bland cabin, probably staff quarters, and a limp body of a blond woman faced down on the bed. The victim was wearing a dark brown leather body suit. Other than the body, the room looked in good shape.

“Is that person dead?” Jimmy asked. “When was she found?”

“Yes, dead. Just about 20 minutes ago.”

“I don’t have any jurisdiction here, so I’m not sure what we can do.”

“Consider yourselves consultants, just like … who is it … Castle? From TV?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m game for a look-see.”

“We need to find out what happened and, if there is an assailant on board, detain him for the authorities, the ones with jurisdiction.” The captain leaned over and pressed a button next to the wheel. “Fosse, please come to the bridge.”

“Yes, sir, on my way,” was the reply from the speaker.

“Sir, I have a show to prepare for …” We had forgotten Mike was still with us. He seemed edgy, understandable, considering the circumstances. The captain waved him off and Mike left quickly, pausing only to throw a, “Good luck, gents,” on his way out.

A few minutes later, Fosse entered almost on a dead run. He stopped and became composed, then introduced himself. His movements gave away that he was overwhelmed. Not yet 30, Fosse had blond hair and was impeccably dressed in dress blues, complete with naval-style hat, which he held in his hands. Loss prevention was the probable extent of his experience, so he was definitely out of his league.

“Please follow me, gentlemen.”

The captain nodded and we joined Fosse at the elevator. He pressed the down button. An awkward silence followed. A beep preceded the arrival and the doors opened. We stepped in and Fosse hit “BL”.

“Basement?” I asked.

“Bottom level,” he answered, looking straight ahead as the doors closed.

“What’s the ‘BB’?”

“Double-bottom.”

Silently, we waited for the elevator to travel a few floors down and open at the ‘bottom.’

“This way to the infirmary,” he said and walked on ahead.

Jimmy and I looked at each other with the same puzzled faces. I shrugged and followed Fosse, and Jimmy stepped in behind me.

“The body is in sick bay?” Jimmy asked.

“We call it an ‘infirmary,’” Fosse explained. “Yes, it’s in here.” He stopped at the large red cross and opened the bulkhead. He climbed over the threshold and into the dark room, which automatically lit up when he entered. I took a deep breath and followed Jimmy into the cabin. He seemed anxious to see the body.

There were three hospital — type beds and one was occupied. A sheet covered the entire person, including the head, and it was dripping water to the floor. Jimmy pulled back the cover to expose the face, which was puffy and wrinkled, and she had wet dark-blond hair.

“We found her in a shower with the water running. No telling how long she had been there.”

I came around to the opposite side and we pulled the sheet all the way back. The woman was fully clothed, though sopping wet.

Jimmy grabbed some nylon gloves and I followed suit. He began prodding through her hair and seemed annoyed.

“What is it?”

“No bullet wound that I can tell. I expected a small caliber hole.” He looked around the body a bit and began lifting it on his side. “A hand?”

I obliged and we managed to get the slim woman face down. He raised up her blouse searching for wounds when I noticed something on her back. “Lift that up more …” I said and he pulled up to her neck.

I must have turned white when I read her tattoo, ’The past was practice, in fancy scroll lettering, because Jimmy exclaimed, “My God, Patty. What is it?”

I started to fall and caught myself, then sat on the adjacent bed to regain my balance.

I laughed dubiously and shook my head. “Meet Stephanie Moore,” I lifted my hand up in the air as if introducing her to an audience. “A scam artist I had the pleasure of screwing earlier today …”

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