Pat Ruger: Caribbean Shuffle

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Chapter 14

I decided to visit the 14th deck to continue the search at the rock-climbing wall. Just as I arrived, I heard a loud bang that sounded like a gunshot. Reflexes forced me to the floor. I grabbed my gun and went to the far aft of the ship from where the sound had come. To my surprise, a man with a neon red hunter jacket was standing with a shotgun. I ducked down behind a deck chair.

“Pull!” he yelled, and a few seconds later, he tracked something moving across a curtain and, bang! He fired.

I realized then, a bit sheepishly, that he was standing in a virtual skeet shooting booth, very realistic, I noted.

By the time my heart rate subsided, my cell phone rang. “What’s up, Jimmy?”

“I’m going to ask you again, why are you looking for me?”

It wasn’t Jimmy asking, and the man’s voice was in the background, not talking into the phone directly.

Jimmy answered the man, “Sorry, dude. The captain asked us to find you.”

I realized that somehow I was listening in on a conversation Jimmy was having with someone, and it didn’t sound pleasant.

“I don’t believe you,” the other voice said.

“It’s true.” Jimmy answered. “The steward is looking, as is the security officer.”

“Why would the captain be looking for me?”

“I don’t know, but the red on your green is blue, blue.”

“What?”

Jimmy and I had made up a code back in our Denver P.D. days. Red was one, green was three and blue was four. Jimmy was telling me he was in cabin thirteen forty-four.

“I’m sorry,” Jimmy continued. “It was a long night.”

I was armed and headed one floor down.

“There’s no need for violence. Just pick up the phone and call the captain. I’m sure he can explain.”

I ran forward and realized I couldn’t break down a cabin door. I headed for a maid’s cart down the corridor a ways. The attendant was just inside a cabin, folding a towel into an elephant or something.

“Hey, can you give me your security key? I work with Mister Fosse.”

“Yes, I remember Mister Fosse asking us to help you …” and he handed me his keycard. I quickly thanked the attendant and ran forward a few rooms farther.

“I think we’ll go take this upstairs,” the voice was saying.

I placed the keycard in the slot and pulled it up. The lights flickered green and I slowly cracked open the door. I paused, put my phone in my pocket, held my gun up and pushed open the door as quietly as I could.

It was the husky man from the video all right, holding a .38 police special on Jimmy.

“Freeze, asshole!” I yelled in the most convincing way possible, pointing my pistol at his head. “I mean it, don’t move!”

Surprised but unfazed, the guy held both hands up, including the one with the .38. Jimmy moved in immediately and took the weapon, holding it on the suspect.

My phone buzzed and I realized I hadn’t hung it up yet. “How did you dial me from your pocket?”

“Remember the watch?”

I saw that a call was coming in, and it was Amanda. ”We’re into a little something here, Mandy.”

“Just wanted to tell you that we have an I.D. on your suspect. It’s Abe Vitale Junior, but they just call him ‘Junior.’ He’s from the old school, a family man, you might say.”

“Got it. I’ll call you later,” I said and hung up.

“So, Junior, why are you here?”

“Go ahead and shoot me, I’m dead anyway.” Junior sat down on the foot of his bed.

“What do you mean?”

“I was protection for my niece. She got away from me.”

Jimmy sat down in the sofa looking shocked. “Stephanie was your niece?”

Junior nodded. “You don’t let the Boss’ granddaughter get killed on your watch.”

I let my gunpoint drop away from Junior’s head. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. She’s been screwing around with guys on board, first seducing them, then blackmailing them. I thought I got her to stop.”

I was hoping he didn’t know I was one of her marks. “Do you know who all she was messing with?”

“No, not many, anyway.” He nodded his head over at Jimmy. “I thought the family had found me already.”

“No,” Jimmy replied. “We were enjoying our vacation when the Captain asked us to look into her mysterious death.” He reached out his hand for Junior to shake. “Detective Stewart, from Denver P.D., and this is an investigator, my friend, Pat Ruger.”

Junior leaned over and shook Jimmy’s hand and nodded at me. “You guys caught the case? Here at sea?”

“Cases follow us around,” I half-laughed. “Anyway, we got you on video pulling Stephanie down the hall. You were the last one we knew had interaction with her.”

“I pulled her out of some dude’s cabin. Damn, was he mad.”

Our interest immediately piqued. Jimmy asked, “Do you remember which cabin that was?”

Junior paused for a moment and finally replied, “Sorry. I’m not sure where we was at.”

We all sat quietly for a couple of minutes. I was trying to come up with our next step.

“You know,” Junior broke the silence, “I was looking for her and I wrote down the cabin number when someone told me they saw her.” He rose and went to the bathroom, coming out while digging through the trash can. “Here it is,” he said as he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. “1445.”

Jimmy stood up and we all went for the door.

“Wait,” I said, stopping short in front of the other two. “He was holding you at gunpoint 10 minutes ago and now we just trust him?”

“I know his family,” Jimmy offered. “At least by reputation. He’s right, he’s a dead man if we don’t get to the bottom of it. You believe him, too, don’t you?”

I had to admit, I did. Like it or not, we had an Italian ally.

I decided that we should check with Fosse before visiting cabin 1445, and Jimmy concurred. The three of us met him in the security office and explained the circumstances.

“1445 … here we go.” Fosse was pulling up the passenger list. “Joseph Daniels, traveling alone.”

“What else does it say?” I looked over his shoulder. “Where’s he from?”

“Nashville, Tennessee.” Fosse glanced down the screen and scrolled further. “This is his third cruise with us. He’s a software engineer and likes to scuba dive.”

“Doesn’t sound like a hired gun,” Jimmy stated. “But it could be he was just pissed.”

“Yeah, I guess we should go talk to him.”

“If he did it, he’ll be spooked.”

Jimmy was right. “How about we get him to come to us?”

Fosse hit some keystrokes. “I’ve got it. He’s booked for late lunch at 1:00.”

We all looked at our watches simultaneously. “That’s in 20 minutes,” I stated what we all knew.

Fosse continued, “Let’s let him sit for lunch, then have him be asked to the captain’s table. That happens sort of at random at every meal.”

“Now, that is a great idea.” I patted Fosse on the shoulder. “You’ll make a good detective yet.”

Fosse smiled.

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