Pat Ruger: Caribbean Shuffle

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Chapter 17

A beam of sunlight slipped by my curtains, waking me up. My head hurt and I couldn’t remember getting back to my cabin overnight. I moved and stretched my right arm out and was startled to feel something on that side of the bed.

That something moved, turning over to face me. Leta showed her brilliant smile and said, “Good morning, baby. Last night was great.”

It took a second before I realized what she meant. I was without clothes under the covers, and so was Miss Joy. That was quickly confirmed when she snuggled closely to kiss me.

Before I could do anything, my cell phone rang. I looked around and saw my phone was still on my belt, which was still attached to my slacks, draped across the back of the sofa. I got up but didn’t grab it in time, and noticed it was Jimmy calling.

“I’ve got to call Jimmy back,” I explained to Leta. She nodded and turned over, crawling under the covers. I hit the dial button and Jimmy answered immediately.

“Glad you called back, Patty.”

“What’s wrong? Something happen to our guests in custody?”

“Worse. We’re not moving, and we’re not in port.”

“What?” I went to the balcony, though still naked, and, sure enough, the ship was still and there was nothing but open sea. “What does this mean?”

“I’m not sure. The captain’s not answering his phone, and neither is Fosse.”

Leta joined me on the balcony, having grabbed a white terry robe from the bathroom. “What’s wrong? Where are we?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered truthfully. Back to Jimmy, I suggested, “Let’s meet in the atrium, fourth deck.”

“Okay, let me …” The call cut out.

I tried calling back, no signal. So much for calling Amanda, I said to myself.

We went back in the cabin and I started getting dressed. Before grabbing some fresh socks, the emergency loudspeaker came on in the hallway, loud enough to wake the dead, and the dead asleep.

“Passengers, passengers, please pay attention.” It was a male voice, but higher pitched, and in an accent I didn’t immediately recognize, perhaps Cuban or Haitian. But it sounded educated. “Your captain has agreed to pay a tax for passage through these waters. Please go to and stay in your cabins while we collect from each of you. We have 4 gun boats in position to sink the ship if there is trouble, and the tax collectors will shoot if provoked. Please give them your wallets, cell phones, jewelry, and other valuables without incident. This will take a few hours, but then we will be on our way. Do not provoke us.”

We could hear a little scuffle in the background and the captain’s voice was next, sounding strained. “Please do as they ask and no one will be harmed. Please, no Bruce Willis, no Rambo. Just cooperate and let’s get through this.” Some more scuffling. “Okay, crew. Go to emergency stations and stand by for orders. Do not antagonize anyone. Just stay put.”

The speaker went silent and I debated our next move. Jimmy and I still had our guns. I needed to meet up with Jimmy while we still could.

I told Leta to stay put and do whatever she was told. I took her pink, bedazzled cell phone, pulled the battery and hid them both under the imitation moss of the fake potted flower on the desk. “Do not get your phone out until at least a half hour after they’ve come and gone from the cabin. Then text me that you’re okay.” She nodded, a bit scared. “Don’t leave until I tell you, okay?”

She nodded again. “Where are you going?”

I thought about my answer and said, “I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do. I’ll be alright.”

She ran over and kissed me. I pulled away to leave, assuring her, “I promise, I’ll be okay.” She let me leave and I cautiously entered the hallway outside the cabin door. People were running back and forth, evidently trying to get to their cabins. This would help. I started running as well, trying to look harried, and found the stairway. I started down past a lot of panicked passengers and finally arrived at the fourth deck, where Jimmy was waiting.

“Get caught in traffic?” he said dryly.

“You might say that … what do you know?”

“Not much. I went to find Fosse and no go. I think he’s with the captain. The good news is that I think they’re leaving the lower decks alone, except for a couple of watch dogs.”

“That makes sense. There’s no valuables in the crew’s quarters.”

Jimmy leaned out into the stairway and looked up and down briefly. “So, what do you think?”

“They took down the cell transmission, so we can’t get to any authorities.” I thought for another moment. “Why take our cell phones if there’s no signal? We can’t call anyone.”

“Cash? Phones are big on the black market.”

“Maybe … We have guns but need more, and we need ammo. Let’s go to the security office and resupply.”

“We’ll have to take out the watch dogs.”

“So be it.”

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