Pat Ruger: Caribbean Shuffle

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Chapter 6

We were stopped beneath the canopy of the covered boarding walk while an argument ensued at the entrance. It sounded like someone was trying to take aboard a dog without the proper paperwork. I successfully fought the urge to stick my nose in and calmly let the security team handle their issue.

I leaned back and whispered to Jimmy, “Who takes a dog on a cruise?”

“Blind people?” was the dry reply, making me chuckle.

After a few minutes and a half-dozen security guards descended on the large Irish Setter, the dog seemed to have won the right to board, because the line began moving. There were silly, forced smiles on every cruise official who passed us on to each new stage of boarding until we finally were allowed into an immense restaurant. We weren’t allowed to go to our rooms until one o’clock, we were told, so lunch seemed appropriate. I was curious to find out if the rumors were true about cruise ships — that the food was fabulous.

This particular restaurant was the largest buffet I had ever been in, other than my last trip to Las Vegas. I had to admit, it was good, really good.

“Seven bucks for light beer?” Jimmy was complaining to the server. “This week is going to cost me big time.”

“It’s vacation, baby,” Erin said, trying to keep him calm. “You’re not gonna complain about everything this week, are you?”

“Vacation, noun,” I pretended to look it up on my phone. “A period of relaxation when one escapes his duties of work. See ‘buffet.’” We all laughed, including, thankfully, Jimmy.

One o’clock came around and we managed to get up from the table, all of us stuffed from lunch. I made some noises I don’t think I ever had before. That made Jimmy chuckle and mention my advanced age. I didn’t see the humor.

Both of our cabins were on the ninth deck but on opposite ends of the corridor. We must have been a football field apart. “See you at dinner, 6:30?”

“Yeah, we’ll come get you,” Erin called out before disappearing aft.

I turned forward and passed about 40 doors before coming to my cabin, 9652. I was happy to see that my suitcase was waiting at the door. I pushed the keycard into the slot and the door popped open. I was a bit underwhelmed when I dragged my suitcase into the room and surveyed the room. It wasn’t quite as large as the online photos made it look, though the balcony doors were glass sliders, allowing the outside view from anywhere in the cabin.

From the door, the bathroom door was on the left, the closet was on the right. Beyond the closet was a built-in desk and cabinet and a small TV. On the left, just past the bathroom was a loveseat then the queen bed, made up in exquisite perfection. Beyond the bed were the balcony doors.

I opened the closet and thought about moving my clothes into the myriad of drawers, shelves and rods, but decided to simply push the suitcase in and shut the closet door behind it. I went to the balcony, slid open the glass door and stepped out. The port wasn’t very clean, I noticed, and some of it was under construction, filling the air with the blaring, rumbling and beeping of large machinery, trucks, jackhammers and other shuddering sounds. I stepped back in and closed out the noise.

I dropped onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. My thoughts didn’t go to Amanda, but rather my late wife, Ellie. Sighing, I said to myself, Ells, you would have loved this. I fell asleep.

“Patty, dear.” It was Ellie. She had come to me in my dreams before, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“It’s been a while. I miss you.”

“I’m so glad Amanda took such good care of you.”

She looked exactly like she did during our last vacation together, in Yosemite, with her long brunette hair pulled up into a floppy straw hat, and her brown eyes made up, as always. She looked so cute in jeans and short tops. I missed that.

I tried to think logically. “Are you here to tell me something?” Such were her previous visits.

“Do you know how important a person you are?”

“What do you mean?”

“Throughout your life, you have done important things for people, saved their lives, or their family members, or helped people change for the better, gave their lives meaning. How many people can say that?”

I didn’t know how to answer. She was right, of course, and that’s one of the reasons I loved being a cop.

She continued, “I’m sorry I made you stop being a detective.”

“You didn’t …”

“You stopped for me,” she interrupted. “I know that you did.”

“You were the most important person to me. I promised you I’d quit when I hit 20 years, and I kept that promise.”

“It was a mistake. I know that now. You need to help people.”


A voice from outside my door woke me from my dream. Like previous times, I felt empty and it took a minute to figure out where I was.


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