Pat Ruger: Caribbean Shuffle

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Chapter 11

“This is the 21st century, right?” I was getting frustrated. “I woulda thought there’d be a camera in every hallway.” Instead of the state-of-the-art security monitoring station I expected, there was an old computer workstation with a large center color monitor and two 9-inch black-and-white screens on a shelf above it. The large screen was about a 28-inch LCD and was split into quarters, a camera view in each corner.

Jimmy was at the mouse, scrolling through footage. “One would think,” he agreed. “How many cameras do you have on board?”

Fosse looked up at the ceiling, evidently performing some mental math. Finally, he replied, “About 42, no, 44 all together. Most are down in the crew decks, but a few are scattered among the corridors and elevators.”

“Forty-four? That’s it? Most K-marts have more than that.” I was beginning to think we were on a wild goose chase.

Jimmy’s phone rang and he seemed to be ignoring it. “Jimbo,” I tapped him on the shoulder. “It’s probably Erin wondering where we are.”

“Damn! What time is it?”

“Almost 7.”

He picked up and answered the call before it went to voice mail. “I’m sorry, hon. Things got away from us … 9?” Jimmy looked at me. I nodded, and he continued to Erin, “Yeah, 9 o’clock … Yeah, we will. See you then, babe.”

“Sorry, Jim. I should have paid more attention.”

He waved me off and went back to the video. “I’ll start at yesterday morning … We’ll begin at the forward elevator at the, what, ninth deck?”

I nodded. “That’s probably as good a place as any.”

He skimmed through a few videos until he found what he was looking for. “Here we go.”

On one of the small black-and-white screens, the view was down into the elevator from the right rear of the ceiling, facing the doors. People came and left, sometimes filling the screen with a crowd, sometimes individuals staggering in and back out. After 20 minutes of person-after-person, Jimmy decided to change tactics.

“Let’s try the hallway …” On the other small screen, he flipped through several views until the right one came up. “This looks like the ninth deck. I recognize that door.” He pointed to tropical-island-themed decorations on a cabin door, evidently a travel group leader’s cabin. He started the video of the hallway as he had done in the elevator.

About an hour into the replays, now with videos playing on all 6 windows of the 3 monitors, Jimmy sat up to look at the upper-right monitor. “Look at this.”

On the tiny monitor, a man was pulling a woman by her arm down a hallway. She was not happy, but not fighting, either.

“Can you put this on the big screen?” I asked.

“Let me …” Fosse replaced Jimmy in the console chair, flipped through a couple of menus, and the footage appeared in full color in the primary monitor, taking up the whole screen.

“That’s better.” I looked closer. “That’s her, but who is that?”

Fosse slowed down the video until the man’s face became visible, then paused it. I took out my smartphone, moved closer and snapped a photo. “I take it you don’t have facial recognition …”

“It hasn’t been installed yet.”

“No surprises there,” Jimmy said snidely.

“I might be able to get something ...” I said as I called a certain FBI Special Agent.

“Special Agent Sizemore,” she answered.

A flood of memories came back when I heard her voice. I almost hung up the phone, but really I needed her help.

“Amanda? It’s Patty.”

There was silence, then, “Patty! It’s you?”

“Yeah, afraid so. How are you doing?”

“Great, but I miss you. Did you get my … message?”

“You mean the one Rhonda delivered? Yeah, I got it.”

“Good! You enjoyed it, I’m guessing … She’s fabulous.”

“You could say that.” I didn’t ask how she knew that.

“I want you to be happy, even if we can’t make it work.”

I realized I did miss her sultry voice. “I’m glad you feel that way. But, I’m a big boy … How’s New York?”

“It’s big. But, I haven’t had much time for sightseeing. I haven’t even had time to unpack. I’m just one block away from Central Park, and I haven’t seen it, except from my balcony.”

“Listen, Mandy, I have a favor to ask.”

“Anything … well, almost anything … What is it?”

“I have a case, but I’m in the middle of nowhere in the Caribbean, on a ship. I need to have a face recognition run. There’s been a murder and he’s a suspect.”

“Um …” She seemed to be thinking about it. “Are you in international waters?”

“Definitely.”

“Is it possible that this suspect could be an art thief or a terrorist?”

“Well,” I thought for a moment. I saw where she was heading. “Yes, there have been many thefts aboard, some art has gone missing.”

“Any police authority present?”

“None.”

“I am offering you FBI international assistance, at least until the suspect can be vetted. Send me the photo and I’ll run it and see who you’ve got.”

“I knew I could count on you.”

“Under one condition.”

“What’s that?” I waited for the other shoe to drop.

“Give Rhonda a chance … a real chance.”

“Funny, I’d already planned to.”

“Really? I’m so glad to hear that. She’s so nice, and beautiful, and smart …”

“Okay, okay,” I interrupted. “Let me know when you have something.”

“Sure thing.”

“Love you, sweetie.” Even an old habit died hard.

“You, too.”

I had forgotten Jimmy and Fosse were in the room. When I hung up, Jimmy came over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Love you, sweetie.”

“Asshole.”

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