We met up with Fosse after a quick buffet breakfast. Before beginning our search, Jimmy asked about protection, namely firearms.
“No one should have guns on board,” Fosse said. “Security is tight for both passengers and crew coming aboard.”
“I’m not worried about perps having guns, but I definitely want the upper hand in an altercation,” Jimmy replied.
I agreed. “Besides, who knows what kind of contraband made its way here?”
Fosse shrugged and opened a locked closet in one corner of the security office. Inside were drawers stacked halfway up the open cabinet, and he opened the second drawer down. Jimmy, right behind him, looked over his shoulder and reached for the .38 that was evidently calling his name.
“I feel whole again … ammo?”
Fosse handed me a Beretta and took one for himself, then closed that drawer and opened the next. He pulled out a box of .38 bullets for Jimmy and a couple of 9 mil ammo for us. He quickly locked up and led us out of the office.
We discussed strategy and opted to split up, each taking a printed copy of our suspect and wandering a section of the public areas of the ship. It might take a while for the FBI computers to spit out a name, if ever, we decided. The gentleman we were looking for was average height, of husky build, maybe 5’8”, 210. He was in his late 30’s or early 40’s and, at least in the photo, had brown hair. His hand was exposed in the picture where he had grabbed Stephanie by the arm, and he had two large rings on that hand, his left.
But, context was a problem with this type of search. If he was shirtless in trunks and sandals, we might walk right by him and not notice. I tried to concentrate on faces.
I began at the center atrium, introducing myself politely as a consultant for the captain and showing the photo. An hour went by, then another. I wasn’t seeing anyone who was similar to the head shot, nor had anyone I asked. I dialed Jimmy, and he had had the same experience. It was very possible that our guy was staying in his cabin. I had a thought, and dialed Fosse.
“Hey, it’s Pat. Have you shown that photo to the stewards? We might be looking in the wrong places. The guy might be hiding out in his room.”
“No, I didn’t think of that. Good idea!”
“Get back to me after you talk to them.”
I approached a line of lounge chairs full of cruisers lying in the sun. Rather than bothering them, I proceeded to lift up the photo to compare as I walked by. Around the corner was another line of chairs and I continued walking around the deck and pool. No good.
The poolside bar was curved around the bartender, who was making cocktails with “flair,” flipping the glasses up and over his shoulder, plus the flask and anything else that they could be flipped. Directly in front of the juggler were a few giggling party babes enjoying the show, immediately surrounded by middle-aged passengers eager to be part of the young crowd.
I took the empty chair on the end, giving me a clear view of most of the guests crowding the bar. Vacationing adults presented a bit of a problem when it came to identifying characteristics or clues to personality and history. Normally I can size people up rather quickly. But, in this setting, where walls and tensions have largely been left on the mainland, people can’t be read so easily.
I ordered and received a light beer, without the flair. I looked across the front of the crowd and immediately crossed off any hope of finding my guy. On the opposite end of the bar was an older Caucasian couple, with she being a few years younger than he. She had makeup on, even poolside, though sloppy. Not a career woman, I thought, but age-sensitive. Her mate had salt-and-pepper hair and the air of authority, though an unwillingness to express it on holiday.
Next to them was a younger Euro gentleman with reddish hair and a bad sunburn. He was hitting on the closest party babe, a dark-skinned beauty whom was having none of it.
Between the two was a mouse of a woman with a white and yellow sun dress and a pool towel draped from her waist. This one was out of place, obviously, but forcing herself to join in somehow.
Three more babes arrived and then two college jocks the girls seemed interested in. One of the guys was black, the other Hispanic. They seem to be the ones buying the booze.
Between the jocks and me were two 40-something gentlemen, seeming oddly above the fracas. Both were of Italian descent.
It came from behind me on my left. I turned to find a balding, overweight gentleman in a bright red and yellow Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts and flip-flops. He was older than me, and shorter, but his clothes were obviously expensive. “Yeah, and you are?”
“Bill James, from Seattle,” he held out his hand to shake.
I obliged. “What can I do for you, Mr. James?”
“My wife told me to find you. She has something to show you.”
Thinking this might be the first lead of the afternoon, I quickly accepted. “Where to?”
“She’s in our cabin.” He left the pool area and headed for the stairs in the main atrium with me in tow. We stepped down to the tenth deck and walked through the noisy casino, past the art gallery, and continued aft when we arrived at the starboard corridor of suites. The middle-aged man finally stopped at room 1077 and knocked 3 times, then unlocked the door with his keycard. He held the door open for me and I entered.
Inside was a cabin very much like mine, except this one had two women in it — one on the bed and one on the couch, both scantily clad. There were a variety of travel-sized wine and whiskey bottles scattered around the room. I hesitated at the sight, confused.
“Honey,” the gentleman called out from the door. “This is Mr. Ruger.”
“I know! He showed me a picture at the Jacuzzi a little while ago.” She leaned over from the sofa and we shook hands. “I’m Leslie. Do you remember me?”
“Yes, of course,” I fibbed, nodding and still confused.
Leslie was younger than her husband by about 20 years, I figured. She was thin and her shape gave away that her chest had probably been augmented. If she also had had a face-lift, it was a good one. Her hair was nearly auburn, reflecting on her bright white face. She appeared as if she had a professional make-up artist accompanying her, and perhaps that she might have won a few beauty pageants in her time.
“Bill said you have something to show me?”
“Indeed I do.” She turned toward the bed and said, “Pamela?”
The younger black-haired woman lying on the bed looked like she was in her late 20s, at best. Even prone, I could see that Pamela had an odd shape, with a waist and hips that were far too small for her top, which was significant. She was wearing a tight black tee and white bikini shorts. On cue, she abruptly sat up and pulled up her tee, presenting the largest pair of breasts I’ve ever seen in person.
“Want to see what double-F’s can do for you?” She was pretty and had an amazing smile, reminding me of some of the nearly-nude models occasionally appearing on Facebook. The milky-white skin of her chest contrasted with the dark maroon bedspread and pillow shams she was lying against, as if a photographer had positioned her just so. Her nipples were also extra-large, with wide, light brown perimeters and looking especially inviting.
Seeing the spectacle almost made me forget why I was there. I was dumbfounded.
“Sorry, Ruger.” Bill put his hand on my shoulder. “After you approached Les today, she made me invite you over. I just can’t say ‘no’ to this woman …”
“When you said she had something to show me, I was thinking it had to do with the dead girl we’re investigating.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” Leslie said sarcastically as she reached over and rubbed my leg gently with her bare foot. “We didn’t mean it to sound like that.” She winked and looked again over to Pamela. “But as long as you’re here, why don’t you take a break from your investigation …”
Pamela leaned back on the pillows and filled both hands with breasts, lifting them upward and massaging them, then finally squeezing her nipples as they fell back to her chest. “I would love that!” she said gleefully.
I actually considered staying. I didn’t know if an opportunity like this would ever again present itself, though lately it had seemly much more likely. But, of course, I couldn’t take them up on this weird offer. “I can’t. I’m on a case.” I slid past Bill in the doorway. “Thanks, though. I’m flattered.”
“Wait!” Leslie said with frustration in her voice and I paused. “Bill won’t be staying; it’ll just be the three of us …”
“What?” I hesitated briefly and it came to me what she was saying. “No, I’m sorry …” I continued into the hallway.
“When the case is over,” Leslie called out after me, now a couple of cabins away. “Come by and see us!”