“You were going to tell me the plan …” Jimmy sounded insistent.
I looked through my luggage, considering the size and shape of each bag. I found my small nylon computer case and removed the 10-inch tablet, tossing it in my main suitcase. “This should do …”
“What are you doing?”
“Getting the diamonds ready.”
I reached for the cubic zirconia stones in the jewelry bag, took a handful out and threw them on the dresser. I picked up one of the genuine diamonds from its bag, placed it between two fingers and held it up to the light. With my other hand, I grabbed one of the fakes and held it up. “I think this is going to work …”
Jimmy still looked puzzled.
“I’m going to hedge my bet, so to speak.” I poured the zirconia stones back in the case. “I think we can get away with just half …”
“Half of what?” He still wasn’t getting it.
I poured the good stones on the bed and spilt the pile in two with the edges of my hands, starting in the center and spreading them outward. Looking closer, I moved stones back and forth between the piles until they looked about equal. Then I scooped up one of the piles and poured them into the case on top of the cheap stones. They fit comfortably. I zipped up the case and held it up. “Here we have about $25 million.”
“Except we don’t … I see what you’re doing. They’ll want to examine some of the diamonds, make sure they’re the real thing. You have to have enough to make pretty sure that the ones they choose will most likely be the expensive ones.”
“And we have the rest for backup, if needed. Otherwise, we won’t have any leverage if things go bad.”
Jimmy smiled broadly. “Patty, boy, you’ve still got some chutzpa in you, don’t you!”
“Maybe I do. Let’s not tell Fosse or anyone else so they’ll act like it’s 25 mil. They won’t give anything away if they don’t know.”
“Where you gonna put our stash?”
I grabbed the cubic stones on dresser and threw them in the change pocket my jeans. “These are going here …” I looked around the room and had an idea. “Help me with the T.V …” We laid it over on its glass front and Jimmy held it there while I searched for my multi-tool. I found it in one of the zippered pockets inside my second suitcase and flipped out the Phillips screwdriver. It took removing 12 screws to get the backing off the LCD screen and I placed the jewelry bag in a spot that fit, avoiding the power supply module — I didn’t want to risk a fire. I replaced the screws and we set the TV back on its base.
“Perfect!” Jimmy exclaimed, obviously excited with my plan so far.
“Let’s go, we don’t have a lot of time left.”
“Shouldn’t you call Amanda and let her know what we’re doing?”
I stopped and thought for a moment. “Nah, I better not,” I said, slightly shaking my head. “Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
A knock on the door caused us some consternation but Fosse immediately called out, “It’s me!”
Jimmy opened the door and we joined the security officer in the corridor. I checked that the cabin door locked behind us, then we headed for the third level, where the lifeboats were. Fosse led us to where a couple of hands had the boat in the water and were holding onto the rope ladder down to it.
I noticed this was the second boat space, the first lifeboat was missing. “Who’s got that boat?” I asked, pointing to the empty berth.
“Not sure,” Fosse replied. “It had to be crew members … I don’t think passengers can get one out unless it in emergency mode.” He held the ladder on one side firm and a crewman held the other side. “Here you go.”
“Aren’t you going?” Jimmy asked.
“Not this time,” Fosse answered. “The captain wants me to stay put.”
“Just the two of us then,” I said and stepped over the edge onto the rope rung.
It was a bit of a climb down. When I reached the lifeboat, I held the bottom of the ladder so that Jimmy’s descent would be somewhat steadier than mine. He reached the boat and we pushed it away from the mammoth ship.
“When you come back,” Fosse yelled to us, “pull up at the gangplank entrance!” He was pointing toward the front of the ship.
I gave him a thumbs up and Jimmy sat in the pilot’s seat. The lifeboat had a thin rail all the way around and a flat, horizontal cabinet with a lid that looked like it lifted up on hinges. I guessed this craft would hold between 20 and 30 passengers. I was impressed that it had a motor, although I don’t know what I was expecting — a dozen long oars?
Jimmy started the engine, which was of the small inboard variety, and he gave it some gas, pointing us northwest toward the Navy ship in the distance. I kept my eyes on the Venezuelan ship to the northeast.
It was slow going. When we got about halfway, Jimmy pointed at a boat in the distance, probably due west. Since it looked like another lifeboat, and one was missing, I told Jimmy to steer towards it.
In about fifteen long minutes, we came along side and Jimmy cut the engine. I gripped the rail of the other lifeboat, holding it close to ours while Jimmy hopped across. “This isn’t good,” he said.
I saw what Jimmy was looking at — two bodies under a tarp lying on the floor of the craft.
“Oh, man, one of them is T.J.; he’s been shot several times.” Jimmy reached down to the man’s neck. “No pulse …” He moved over to the other body. “This one’s breathing.” He flipped the man over and stood back up. “It’s Mike, the entertainment officer. It looks pretty bad — three in the chest.”
“Can he make it to the Navy ship?”
“Maybe … let’s tow them in.” He hurriedly opened the hatch of the flat cabinet and pulled out a rope while I arranged the two boats by hand so that our bow was behind their stern. Jimmy tied them together at that point and returned to Mike, who was still unconscious. He sat him up against the bench, I assumed to help his breathing. Then he hopped back to our boat, sat down in front of the wheel and gunned it.
While we were hopping over small swells, I kept an eye on the trailing craft and tried to make sense of it all. My conjectures led me to think that the pirates weren’t too keen on getting their payday interrupted. When T.J. and Mike tried to meet up with them, they paid the price for their miscalculation. But what was the relationship between Mike and T.J.?
We passed the bow of the massive Navy ship and we saw the name of the ship in large, dark gray lettering, “USS Naperville.” Jimmy steered us toward an area in the rear where rope ladders were being dropped. He pulled us up and a seaman rode the ropes down to us.
“This one needs surgery,” I said, pointing to Mike sitting in the boat behind us. “Can you drop a stretcher?”
“Sure thing,” the sailor answered and he hurried back to the ladder. He was back a minute later and a stretcher cage soon followed. “Can you help me?”
I joined him in the other boat and we managed to get Mike into the stretcher. The seaman strapped him in and waved to the group up on deck. The stretcher started up while he held onto a guide rope and kept it taut.
When Mike was secured above, the sailor turned to us, offering the ladder. “Gentlemen?”
“You, first,” Jimmy told me. “Age before beauty …”
“Funny,” I said and pulled the ladder toward me. I stepped up and immediately fell sideways. It took a minute, but I finally got the hang of it and climbed upward. It was about thirty feet to travel, one rope rung at a time, and the crew helped me onto the deck. Jimmy didn’t seem to take as long.
When we were both on the deck, they dropped the basket back over.
“The other one is dead, shot up pretty good,” Jimmy informed them.
“Thanks, but we’ve got this,” one of the crew answered.
Once everything was secured and the ladder pulled up, the crew stepped aside as a woman officer arrived. She extended her hand. “I’m Commander Roberts, the X.O. on this ship. Who the hell are you?”
Jimmy shook hands and answered, “Detective Stewart from Denver P.D. and this is a consultant, Pat Ruger.”
I reached out and she shook my hand with a firm, almost manly, grip. “Pleased to meet you. I’m sorry if we disturbed you with our approach. We tried to reach you by radio.”
“Yes, that would make sense.” The Commander was tall and brawn, not exactly attractive like movies would have you expect. A mature woman, she had dark brown hair tucked up under her blue, flat-top naval cap, which matched the rest of her uniform. She carried her stiff posture with ease, as if it was a natural pose. “Are you from the cruise ship?”
“Yes, ma’am … Commander …”
“’Roberts’ will suffice. Why are you here?”
“No offense, Roberts,” Jimmy answered. “But we probably need to see the Captain.”
“That’s the plan. I just need to assess the situation first.”
“It’s okay, Jimmy,” I patted him on the shoulder. “Fill her in.”
He was silent for a minute, seemingly struggling to find the words. I started it off. “We were passengers, minding our own business …”
“Until a murder happened,” Jimmy cut in.
“The man we just brought up?”
“No, someone else, a young woman. The Captain of the cruise ship found out who we were and asked us to help investigate … and to make sure more dead bodies wouldn’t show up.”
“Keep it simple, Jimmy,” I said under my breath, but loud enough for him to hear.
“Right. Pirates showed up and were collecting everyone’s valuables, but they were chased away by you and the Venezuelans. The dead man there, Terence Joyce, T.J., he was the mastermind of the job.”
“So how did the ‘mastermind’ end up dead?”
“It’s the risk you take when you run with pirates.” I was stating the obvious.
Jimmy picked it back up. “The Venezuelans pointed their guns at us, you pointed your guns at them, a standoff with us in the middle.”
“We couldn’t contact you,” I added. “What’s going on?”
“That’s need to know. It sounds like you’re leaving a lot out.”
“Well,” I sighed out loud. “We didn’t mention the corporate espionage, the inside man, the family hit, the killer we caught, the mob’s payback hit, or the ransom the Venezuelans are collecting for a cartel … ”
“Time to see the captain.”