They had been touring the ship for almost two hours. They had seen the wine cellar, two ballrooms, the in-line skating rink, a Kraft restaurant and a luxury suite designed by Vera Wang when Nick said wait, Jack was not going to believe the basketball courts. Jack hadn't seen Nick in twenty years, but it seemed to him they were taking up right where they left off. Nick lording it over him. Look at me; I've got it all.
They'd been in the Navy together, gone through basic, shared a couple of drinking binges and a girlfriend in San Diego, but they'd never been what Jack would call friends. It was the lording over. Look how well I did on my seaman's test, how much I know about Scotch, how this UCSD co-ed I'm dating, the swimsuit model, her dad owns John Wayne's old place in Newport. But they'd had some laughs together; the drunks, the girl in San Diego (not the daughter of the rich guy from Newport, another girl), and they'd shared the miseries of their first three months at sea, so that was something. After that, Jack had gravitated towards the Shore Patrol; it was easy work and he had already decided that the Navy was not for him. The SP would open the doors to police work, and that was what Jack thought he might do. Nick worked his way into an officers' training program, and they hadn't seen much of each other after that. The last Jack had heard before Nick found him on Facebook, Nick had gotten a navigation job with one of the cruise lines, Princess, he remembered, because that had seemed kind of perfect.
Nick's time as navigational officer for the Princess Line had certainly paid off. He was now the captain of this ship, the Poseidonia. Ship was hardly the right word. It was a floating city. In addition to the in-line rink and the Kraft, there was a casino, a driving range and a miniature golf course. State of the art health club facilities including a jogging track and a Pilates studio. The ship carried one thousand, eight hundred passengers. Most ships this size took three times as many, but the smallest rooms on the Poseidiana were two room suites and many of the luxury suites were three and four bedroom mini-palaces. In addition to the Kraft, there were seven other dining venues, including one that had a cooking demonstration/culinary arts center. There were ten bars, one of which sat five hundred for cabaret-type entertainment.
That entertainment was world-class. Last year, Nick said, Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters had been flown to meet the ship in the Bahamas for two shows each. A little dated, but the people who could afford this kind of cruise tended to be older and their tastes more conservative. "My first year as captain," Nick said, "we were still booking those eighties Flock of Haircut 100 bands. I had to change it up quickly before we wound up with Duran Duran or Sparks."
"So that's part of the captain job, booking the entertainment?" Jack asked. They were back in Nick's quarters now, an office suite worthy of a Wall Street exec.
"Dude," Nick said, "that's virtually my only job. A computer steers the ship, and I've got an army of a dozen geeks who worry about that. Other than booking the Foo Fighters, which was major with the company, I just have to show up at the captain's table for the meals and charm the wealthy, which, as you may remember, has always been something of a specialty."
"You ever hear from Catherine," Jack asked, pulling the name of the Newport heiress from some compartment in the back of his brain reserved for useless information.
"Her dad went belly up in the recession. Had to sell the Wayne place and everything else he owned. She reached out and I got her a job as a hostess in one of the lounges on the Alaska line. Kind of sad. Forty-two year old woman, no skills and sagging tits, talking to people with half her breeding. 'Would you like a table by the window tonight? I think I can manage that.'"
"You mentioned something about a job," Jack said. He was remembering another of the reasons he didn't really like Nick.
"Let me show you something. Nick picked up a tooled leather humidor from his desk. "This was Castro's. Well, it was Hemingway's first. His widow gave it to Fidel when he saved the Hemingway house in Havana."
"Nice," Jack said.
"A gift from one of our passengers. There was an indiscretion with a maid. The day after we left Fort Lauderdale. This was a world cruise. 115 days at sea. You ever try to arrange for an abortion in Sri Lanka?"
"Only twice. It wasn't any easier the second time."
"All right," Nick said. "To business."
What kind of an asshole, Jack thought, shows you his prize humidor and doesn't offer you a cigar?
It didn't sound like much of a job. "Advisor to the Head of Security." What Nick said, "The Company puts these guys out to run security. They're insurance company hacks, always looking for a bottom line, a fall guy. I need someone I can trust if the need arises. Look, this is a city floating through international waters with some very wealthy people on board. Down below, we've got another city of the not so rich."
"A maid can only look at a couple of hundred grand in gambling winnings for so long without feeling the stirrings of temptation."
"The same thing, I'm told, happens to cops. A drug deal goes bad. You come in. There are two Mexicans dead on the floor and a million dollars worth of cocaine on the table."
"Columbian," Jack said. "They were Columbian."
"Jack," Nick said then. "We're old friends. Your days in police work are over. I'm guessing you're not getting a lot of job offers. Do you want this one?"
"It's better than working as a hostess on the Alaska line," Jack said.
Two days later, Jack was seated at the second table in the main dining room of the Poseidiana. The ship had embarked from Fort Lauderdale that morning. It was the same 115-day world cruise that Nick had mentioned to Jack when he'd shown off his humidor. Jack had come on board the night before. He had been shown to a small cabin below decks in the crew quarters. Nick hadn't taken him to see this part of the ship on the tour for obvious reasons. His cabin was in the center of the ship. It was a small room and there were no windows. At least he had it to himself, which was a step up from his only other experience on a ship, those three months in the Navy. Moving in, he had met his "neighbor." A young Jamaican named Terrence. Dreds. Muscles under the loose-fitting shirt. This was a guy, Jack could tell, with some history. Terrence worked in the galley. They let him keep his dreds as long as he stayed below decks and wore a hair net while he worked. "Time to time," he said, "I like to burn one down. My religion, yeah? You wouldn't disrespect a man's faith."
"Never," Jack said.
"We be jammin'," Terrence answered. Jack was pretty sure he meant to be ironic.
He had just hung his three shirts, his sports coat and his extra pair of pants on the pipe over the toilet, ("Head," he remembered. "On a ship, they call it the head.") There was a knock on his door and then it was opened by a middle-aged African-American man in a Hawaiian shirt and Raybans. "You're Jack Pierson." He said. "I'm Miles Archer. I'm the head of ship security."
Jack offered his hand. Miles Archer took it unenthusiastically. "We've got a small force. Fifteen officers. Eight with police experience, the other seven military or security work or both. We've never had an overboard or an unsolved burglary. We had a mugging two years ago but it turned out the perp was the teenage son of a passenger. It's one of the best records of any ship in this line or any other."
"You must be very proud," Jack said.
"As a peacock," Miles Archer said. "So what I want to know. What the fuck do I need with a bent cop looking over my shoulder?"
Now, he was sitting next to Miles at dinner at the second table in the main dining room. There were five others at the table. Jack sized them up quickly. A middle-aged couple with their teenage son. The kid had called a waiter over to ask him if there would be good enough cell reception on the cruise for him to be able to text his friends. The waiter had said that reception was spotty at best and often non-existent and the kid had been pouting ever since. Jack figured that told him all he needed to know about the three of them. A man in his thirties with a painted on tan had introduced himself around the table as Ted something, "I'm in real estate." He was with a woman with breast implants and a surgically reworked face whom he seemed to be tired of. Jack was pretty sure that he was maxing out a credit card before declaring bankruptcy, unless maybe he was planning to jump ship in some far corner of the world, leaving the woman and her silicon companions, never to be heard from again. Sitting next to Jack was Elena. She was older, maybe in her late sixties. She had the healthy look of someone who had spent most of her adult life playing tennis. "I'm travelling alone," she'd told him after she'd introduced herself. "I'm gonna do what I can to nail one of the cabin boys. This is my third cruise in five years and I've fucked nine of them so far. These Central Americans, they like an older woman, as long as you keep it tight." The pouting teenager's mother was eying her. "Get used to it," she said. "I hold my tongue for fucking no one."
The food came. Nick stood up and welcomed everyone and introduced Tom Colicchio, who had come to check in on his Kraft and had offered to be the guest chef for the first night's dinner.
Jack was halfway through his meal, thinking this might have been the best steak he'd ever eaten, when Nick, making his way from table to table, came over. "You two have gotten acquainted?" he asked Jack, looking at Miles.
Jack said, "Miles was there to greet me as soon as I moved in." He didn't look at Miles.
"Good," Nick said. "Get settled in. Any questions, Miles can help you. We'll get together in a couple of days and review. If you need me before then, just give a shout."
"What the fuck was that all about?" Elena asked as the captain walked away.
"It's my job," Jack said with a smile. "I'm supposed to report any Central American cabin boys who seem as if they might be looking to have an affair with a good looking older woman."
"You and me," Elena said then, "we could be friends."
For a couple of days, Jack did just what Nick had suggested. He settled in. What that meant, mostly, he lounged and ate. He had no interest in in-line skating or a rock wall. The idea of miniature golf amused him, but actually playing nine holes seemed like a lot of work and two days out, a nine-year-old kid beaned a seventy-year-old woman with an errant drive and they shut the course down until it could be retrofitted with safety nets in Rio de Janeiro. There was a small library on board. He took the Carl Hiassen novel about the woman whose husband throws her overboard on a cruise ship. If there hadn't been any real "overboards" on the Poseidiana, he might as well read about an imaginary one. Terrence, his "neighbor," came over once with a joint. They put a wet towel under the doorjamb like school kids and they "burned one down." All in all, it was a better gig than working narcotics.
He ate most of his meals with Elena in the main dining room. Tom Collicchio had left the ship in Tortola, but the food continued to be great. On the fourth night, Nick invited him to sit at his table. This was apparently some sort of honor and he was supposed to dress for dinner. He wore the only thing he'd brought, a threadbare tweed that looked like what it was - the kind of sports coat a police detective wears to hide his shoulder strap and firearm. Everyone else at the table was in formal wear. Nick could have told him. He wondered if he'd done it on purpose. Another one-up on his old Navy bud.
He was seated next to one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. Her name was Anne Gibson. She was probably thirty and she had that sort of easy confidence you sometimes see in a pretty teenage girl, unaware of what a good hand the world has dealt them and just enjoying a ride where nothing ever goes very wrong. She was tall and slender in a way that clearly took no effort and she wore a simple off-white dress and a beautiful necklace made of what Jack had no doubt were real emeralds. She took his hand as Nick introduced them and looked right into his eyes in a way that made his stomach drop. Shit. Nick explained that there was an extra place at the table because Anne's husband would be joining them in two weeks when they reached Rio. At the mention of her husband, Jack thought he saw a shadow cross Anne's perfect face, and he wondered for a moment if that perfect ride had dropped her off in a bad marriage. Anne asked him where he was from and how long he and Nick had known each other and whether being a cop was anything like it looked on TV. Normal questions, but her voice had been part of the package God had given her and Jack found himself wondering, even as he gave the regular answers, what he could do to help chase away that shadow he'd imagined he'd seen.
The next night he was back at his usual table and a doctor from St. Louis had been given the honor of sitting at Nick's table. Jack couldn't stop looking across the room at Anne. It was adolescent he knew, but Christ, she was beautiful. Or, as Elena put it, watching him staring, "I'm no dyke, but I'd strap one on for her, honey."
He was in his cabin the night after that, getting ready for bed. They'd stopped that morning in Bridgetown and he'd spent the four hours, at Nick's insistence and expense, getting fitted for a tux that would be flown to Rio for him. He was tired and kind of put out by the whole thing, Nick lording it again, a little charity for his friend who didn't have the money or the social graces to dress right. He had heard Terrence come in next door a few minutes earlier. He'd rummaged around in his cabin for a bit, as if he were looking for something, or maybe stashing his dope, and now he was blasting Gnarls Barkley. "Danger Mouse and dem," he had told Jack the night they smoked the joint, "Dey know the Kingdom."
There was a knock at his door and he was in no mood for another butch-out with Miles. "Yeah?" he said without opening the door.
"Mr. Pierson?" It was Anne's perfect voice. "It's Anne Gibson. May I come in?"
Jack opened the door. Anne stood there in a T-shirt and jeans. Her T-shirt was torn. It was an amazing look.
"Come in," he said, hoping he didn't sound as if he were panting for breath. "Why don't you tell me what happened?"
"I was at the bar on the Athena deck, the Greek god thing is kind of overdone, don't you think?" She smiled. Fuck him, that smile. "I came back to my cabin. The door was open slightly. I have, as you might imagine, some rather expensive jewelry."
"If a man notices a woman's jewelry, she must be doing something wrong."
"Would it help if I said I was looking at your breasts and the necklace was in my way?"
"A little. "
She looked right into his eyes for another moment. With Anne, Jack thought, you noticed things like that. An extra moment of her gaze, the watery darkness of her eyes. God almighty, she was gorgeous.
"There was someone in my cabin. A man. He had a ski mask on. He had turned over a table. I asked him what he was doing in my room. He pushed me out of the way and ran."
"He didn't hurt you?"
"Just tore the shirt."
"You think he was looking for your jewelry?"
"There's a safe in the room. I've put it all in there."
"You need to tell the captain about this."
"Would you do it? Frankly, there's something about the captain. The less time I have to spend with him, the better. I know he's your friend and all…"
Jack smiled. "We're not that close," he said.
"You'll talk to him?"
"Right away. Do you want to stay here or are you comfortable going back to your cabin? I can have someone from the concierge desk change your lock first, if you'd like."
"I'd like that. Thank you."
He stopped by the concierge desk on his way to see Nick. He explained that Mrs. Gibson had misplaced her key and that he thought that it would be a good idea to reprogram her key card. He wondered if there was any way he could ask them to take a long, long time about changing out the card.
"I've been waiting for this to happen," Nick said when Jack had filled him in. "After the way she flashed that necklace the other night, it was only a matter of time. Tell you the truth, this sort of thing is why I brought you in." He took a moment, and then smiled as if Jack should be flattered that he was taking him into his confidence.
"This has been going on for several cruises now. The Company does what they can to keep it quiet. On the last cruise, a woman had a seventy-five thousand dollar necklace taken from her cabin. We paid her two hundred thousand and bought her another necklace to keep her quiet. "
"Same crew on all the cruises where it's happened?"
"A lot of the same. Crew, golf pros, bartenders, musicians. Security."
Jack looked up. "Exactly," Nick said. "Miles has the best access of anyone on board. And often a pretty good idea of who has what valuables. But look, these things happen a lot on cruises. Sometimes it's crew; sometimes it's a passenger. Sometimes it's the victim herself, trying to collect on some insurance."
"Or the buy-out from the cruise line, which pays even better."
"Nice work if you can get it, right?"
"So what do you want me to do?"
"My guess, the guy won't try it again. He'll wait a month or so, then hit someone else. If there even was a guy." He gave Jack a knowing look. "Talk to Mrs. Gibson a little bit. See if you believe her."
"Nick. I would believe anything Mrs. Gibson says. Anything."
"I know. Right?"
Jack found Anne in the bar on the Athena deck. "What the hell did we drink before the mojito got popular?" she asked.
"Mixed drinks," he said.
"Bourbon and soda, bourbon and ice, bourbon and water. "
"What'll you have tonight?"
She ordered for him. "What'd the captain say?" she asked him.
"That I should stay close to you, in case you were setting up some kind of insurance fraud."
"He also told me you can make twice as much by having your jewels stolen and then getting the cruise line to pay you off to keep quiet."
"Good to know."
"I thought so."
"But you see, the thing is, I don't need the money."
"Everyone needs money."
"Do you use a smart phone?"
"Don't be. Do you use one?"
"Got any apps?"
"Games. A thing that tells me where the best food trucks are. A tuner for my guitar."
"The reason you can download them? The geeky technology behind that? Gibson Technologies."
"You're that Gibson?"
"I'm married to it." She looked at him closely.
"I'm trying to picture you with a guitar."
They had three mojitos each. A girl that beautiful should not have been this easy to talk to. Jack didn't tell her about what had gone down with the Columbians, how he'd lost his job, but he came damn close. Finally, he asked if she wanted another drink. "What I want," she said, "is to go back to your cabin."
"You're worried about the guy who broke in?" he said.
"No. I'm not worried at all."
They fucked all night long. There really wasn't any other way to put it. They fell, kissing onto his bed, knocking the clothes Anne had carefully folded to the floor, and they didn't leave the bed until late the next morning when Jack went to get them croissants and coffee from the kitchen. They had the coffee and croissants in bed, and then, they fucked all afternoon.
"I married him for the money," Anne said. It was their third night together. They'd gone out on deck, that is he'd gone out on deck, waited ten minutes and then happened to run in to Mrs. Gibson, just coming out to see the stars, and they were looking at those stars and the moon and the tranquil sea. A magazine ad for the cruise ship company. "I thought that's what I wanted, but it's just not worth it. I'm just another trophy on his shelf, right between the "Change the World" award and his LAT."
"Lifetime Achievement in Technology. It's the Academy Award of geekdom. He got his the year after Steve Jobs. What's pathetic is that I know this shit."
She looked around, pretending to be stealthy, playing at it. "There's no one here," she said and she kissed him. "I might be falling in love with you," she said then. "That would be a mess."
They had three more days before they'd get to Belem, and another six after that before Rio. It was a lifetime. It was the blink of an eye. Jack spent his days trying to find out who might have broken into Anne's cabin. He talked to the guy in real estate with the surgically enhanced wife. He talked to staff and crew. Probably, Jack figured, Nick was right. The guy would wait awhile, then hit someone else. Hopefully, he'd get lucky there, catch him on the second go. Still, he had to make the effort. He tried to do it without stepping on Miles' toes. It didn't work. Jack had just spent a couple of hours talking to the dancers from the floorshow in the Hermes Lounge. Friendly, he thought, but getting to it. "Who's the richest person you've ever seen on one of these things?" he asked a woman named Katie, a dancer who doubled as a massage therapist. She told him a long story about a couple called the Bellems or something who had wandered the ship the first two nights out on a South American cruise, passing out hundred dollar bills to every staff member. "That woman had a rock the size of Rhode Island," Katie said, and there was his opening.
"You see a lot of that. The women flaunting the jewelry?"
He was leaving the rehearsal space where the dancers trained, wondering who to talk to next. Miles was waiting for him in a doorway. He coughed, Jack turned, and Miles hit him in the gut.
"I'm so sorry," he said, helping Jack up. "The rocking of the waves at sea. Lots of accidents. So what the fuck are you doing getting in all these people's business, Jack?"
"Just trying to familiarize myself, like the captain asked me to."
"Yeah. Well just remember the rocking of the sea. What I'm saying, to be clear. I don't welcome you here on board. I'm hoping to make life so miserable for you that you make Belem or maybe Salvador your port of departure. Interesting towns. Brazil has a lot to offer."
So Jack's days were spent asking enough questions to keep Nick happy while staying out of Miles's way. Nights were spent with Anne. She'd come to his room late, after midnight and she'd leave before dawn. Between, it just kept getting better and better.
Four nights in, he was shaving when there was a knock on his door. It was early for Anne, but maybe she'd taken the risk. "Unlocked," he said, already thinking about what they were going to get up to once she came through the door.
"Hot date?" Nick said. He wasn't smiling.
"Just trying to look respectable. Never know when you might ask me to sit at the grown-ups table again."
"Apparently, I never should have, the first time."
Jack didn't say anything. He turned back to the mirror, kept shaving.
"You know what you're doing?" Nick said then. "I'm not asking to protect the ship, or the Company, or one of our richest customers, I'm asking as your friend."
"I don't have a clue, Nick," Jack said then.
Nick nodded. "That's what I thought. Watch your heart, buddy, watch your heart." It wasn't until after he'd left Jack's cabin that Jack thought, shit, that was the first time he could remember that there hadn't been any lording it on Nick's part. Not any at all. He wondered what that was all about. But Anne came that night at her usual time, and by that time, Jack had forgotten all about Nick's advice.
The next night, Jack was in his cabin again, waiting for Anne. It seemed like now that's what he did when he wasn't with Anne. He waited for her. Then he heard her voice outside his door. Heard her say "Hello," to someone. Then she knocked and he let her in. He could see the back of Terrence's head as he headed for the galley.
"The guy in the next cabin. The Rasta guy. I hope I didn't get you in trouble."
"Terrence. He won't say anything. He's got very good weed."
"I've seen him in the companionway a couple of times."
"Outside your cabin?"
"Yeah, one time carrying a tray, like he was delivering something, and two other times, just walking along."
Jack thought about that, remembering the night Anne had surprised the burglar, how, just before she came to his cabin he'd heard Terrence come in, had thought he might be stashing something in his room. He thought how his first impression of Terrence, this was a guy with a past. Then Anne was kissing him and he wasn't thinking about anything else at all.
The night before they were to dock in Rio, at the end of a long and intense evening, Anne said, "I won't be able to see you any more, after this." He'd known this was coming. It was in the way she'd kissed, him, held onto him, moved with him that night. He'd known it was coming and that didn't make it hurt any less.
"You could leave him," Jack said. "We could live on love."
"I can't. I wish that I could, but I've tried it already. That's how I wound up marrying Steven."
"And there's a prenup?"
"Well then," Jack said, trying to smile. "Well, then."
Steven was saying, "I don't exist. I pay cash. I have no credit history. I haven't been online since 1998. Never once used Google." They were one night out of Rio and Jack was seated again at the captain's table. Anne's husband, Steven Gibson, had joined the cruise in Rio, as promised, and Nick had asked his first officer to give up his seat. "Take the bull by the horns, Jack," he'd said. "Look that baby in the eye."
Jack had expected Steven Gibson to be in the Gates/Jobs mold. A geek with a sheen of arrogance that came from years of being a billionaire, but a sheen that would rub away easily to reveal the awkward teenager frozen forever in his soul. What he got was an athletic guy in his thirties, soft spoken and terribly friendly. Steven wanted Jack to like him. And Jack did like him, it was just that Anne was two seats away from him and he hadn't seen her the night before they'd reached Rio, and he had never wanted anything as badly as he wanted her right now. High school with money, he'd heard people say.
Steven put his arm around Anne and, as if reading Jack's mind, he said, "Isn't she gorgeous. I'm the guy, never got laid in high school. I never thought I'd have a girl like this. Maybe I would have been better off if I'd stayed home, played Halo." Playing the geek, Jack thought, but it was bullshit. This guy was getting blown three ways from Sunday by the time he was sixteen.
They met on the Athena deck that night, running into each other as they had before. Anne kept her face away from him, in the shadows. "What's wrong?" he asked. She turned to him. The flesh around her eye was purple and swollen. Her cheek was cracked in a few places and bloody. Jack's first thought was that anyone who would do anything to fuck up that kind of beauty needed to be killed, slowly, with someone explaining to them in great detail the implications of what they'd done first.
"You need ice," he said. "Stay here, I'll go get some."
He found an ice dispenser in the closest companionway. He came back with a bucket full and took a towel from a deck chair. He wrapped some ice in it.
She shrugged. "Would you?' she said and he put the ice gently on her bruised cheek. It brought them close together and she looked right into his eyes. It seemed like years since they'd been together and he thought he might, you know, faint.
"The motherfucker," he said.
"He didn't like the way I looked at you at dinner."
"You could have him arrested," Jack said. "A divorce under those circumstances, no judge in the world would enforce the prenup."
"Are you really that naïve? It's kind of sweet." She was right. The kind of money Steven had bought judges.
She kissed him then and then they were quiet for a while, looking at moonlight on the waves. "I never asked you," she said, finally, "did you ever have any luck finding that guy who broke into my cabin?"
"I've been making discrete inquiries. And spending a great deal of time with the chief suspect in the case."
"You didn't really think I was trying to steal my own jewels?"
"Not for a moment. Actually, that guy at my table, the one with the surgically enhanced wife and the Lumineers, I kind of like him for it. I think he's bankrupt and he hasn't told the missus."
Then Anne said, "Why don't we steal them?"
When he thought about it later, it hadn't really come as much of a surprise. "Captain Nick knows there's a burglar. We can make it look like he took another shot and got it right this time. We'll have money. I can leave Steven."
"The jewels are worth a lot?"
"An outrageous amount."
"There's a problem, right off," Jack said then. "Captain Nick knows about us."
"He told me to watch my heart."
"We wait a while. We don't see each other at all. It was a shipboard romance. I'm reunited with my husband. Maybe you even open up to the Captain. How I broke your heart. You'll never love again. "
"That's a little thick."
She smiled. "Is it?" She let that one sit a while. "One night, Steven and I are drinking in one of the lounges, we come back to the suite, the safe has been emptied."
"You've thought this through."
"Jack. I love you. I want to spend my life with you. I can't be poor. I can't even be middle class. You and I will have a much better time rich. The astronomical amount my jewels are worth, Steven will make that back in a week."
"You sure you want to leave him then? That's a lot of emeralds."
"I'll trade his billions for you and twenty-four million in jewelry."
"You said twenty-four?"
"I also said I love you, asshole."
Jack believed her. He meant what he'd said to Nick. He would believe anything Anne said.
Jack put down the ice, reached out, touched her bruise as gently as he could. "If he touches you again," he said, "I'll kill him."
There was no one else on the deck. Her hand was already on his crotch, unzipping his fly as they started kissing. He picked her up, pushed her hard against a bulkhead as he lifted up her dress. This was not an ad for the cruise line, but, Jack thought, it sure as hell should have been. "The Posiediana - a million ways to have fun." It was as if they both knew that this time might be their last. Jack liked to think of himself as a more than adequate lover, but that night, Anne all but burned him down. It was fucking awesome.
The way it would happen, they agreed, she and Steven would go up to one of the lounges for drinks before dinner. She'd leave her evening things out; they were just going for a drink. Jack would have to force the door, but he'd had some experience with that as a cop, right? Then, once he had the jewels, they would just sit it out. Miles would probably come after him, but, as long as he didn't have the jewels anywhere where Miles could find them, he'd be fine. It would be the longest three months in the world. Then, they would be together.
Jack walked by the lounge on the Hermes deck around five-thirty. He saw Anne and Steven at the bar. He noticed that Anne was having a mojito. He waited on deck for a half an hour. Nothing, he had told her, should happen like clockwork. That might seem planned. You take your time, a couple of drinks at the bar. Meanwhile bad shit happens. The security guys did a pass of the hall at seven and another one at ten. The maid would come to do turndown at eight thirty. If he got to her door at seven forty-five, they'd be good.
Walking down the companionway to Anne's cabin, he remembered that feeling. It was the same one you got going up to a door, there might be someone on the other side of it, armed and crazy and ready to take you out. Time got slow and his vision got crystal clear so that every little detail of his surroundings stood out. A peeling bit of paint on the ceiling. The way the light from under a door hit the carpet.
He was remembering this, the way it felt, when he was stopped by a woman saying, "Drop anchor, sailor." He turned to see Elena, coming out of her cabin. "You're not going to her place, are you? Cause that would be fucking stupid."
Elena," Jack said. "You know you're the only girl for me."
"You should be that lucky," she said. "I do six hundred kegels a day."
"I'm coming back tonight."
"I'll be indisposed. I've got a heavy date."
Jack waited until Elena was out of sight. He stopped outside Anne's door. When he was sure that no one was coming, he kicked the door down. It wasn't that hard. Anne had been right. He had had some practice over the years.
The rest was easy. He went through the living room of the suite, found Anne's bedroom. That simple off-white dress was laid out on the bed. The emerald necklace was there with it. And a couple of rings and a bracelet. The stones in the rings were blue diamonds, or at least that's what Jack thought they must be. He was taking a pillowcase to put the jewels in when things got not so easy. The door to the other bedroom was open. There was a body on the floor. It was Steven. His skull had been caved in by something hard and he was lying in a pool of not-yet-coagulated blood.
Jack took a deep breath. Slow it down, see it from the outside. OK. The maid would be here in forty minutes. No one was going to come until then. He filled the pillowcase. There was no reason not to. He left the room and went quickly back down the hall.
There was over a ton of potatoes used on a cruise this long. Nick had bragged about that stat when he'd given him the tour. The pile was so huge that the prep cooks retrieved them from the bottom. The ones on the bottom tended to go bad sooner and so this was more efficient. There was a small opening at the bottom of the enormous bin in which the potatoes sat.
There were people coming and going in the pantry twenty-four/seven and Jack had to time this next part carefully. He went into the pantry and hid behind a huge sack of rice and waited for a clear moment. Protected each step of the way, he thought, by carbohydrates. When he saw his moment, he climbed to the top of the bin and opened the lid. Shit, someone was coming in down below. He looked down, saw one of the security guys. The guy was meeting someone. A moment later, he saw Terrence. Heard him say, "Sure mahn, right here with me." The guy was buying a little weed.
The transaction seemed to take forever, the guard smelling and tasting and complaining about the price while Terrence praised the strain. "This is the true lamb's bread."
The rungs of the bin were metal, soldered onto the tank. And the one Jack was standing on; it was giving way. It creaked, it scraped. The security guard looked up and Jack grabbed a higher rung and swung out of his line of vision.
"Fuck this," he heard the guard say. "Just give me the dope."
Then they were gone and Jack swung himself back up, climbed to the top of the bin. He put the pillowcase under about a foot's worth of potatoes. The pile would sink, but he'd be able to retrieve the jewels long before they came out the chute at the bottom. Unless that spoiled prick kid at his table doubled up on the French fries, which was always possible.
Then he went back to his cabin and tried to think it through. There were only two possibilities as far as he could see. Either there was another burglar, maybe the one who had broken in the first time and hit Anne. Steven had gone back to the cabin for something, had surprised him in the act, just as Anne had, and he'd gotten his head caved in as a result. The other possibility, and this was not where he wanted his head to go; he had been a fucking grade A chump.
It was about twenty minutes later when Miles came to his cabin. "Just so you know," he said, "there are no murders on cruise ships."
"I'll keep that in mind," Jack said, flat.
"There's been a situation. Someone took something hard and broke that Internet billionaire's skull with it. You know, the one with the drop-dead wife. Housekeeper went to turn down beds, saw the door kicked in, found him there on the floor." Miles went on to explain that the most important aspect of his job, their job, was to make something like this go away. "What we're going to do," he said, "is go over to the cabin and make all evidence of violence vanish. The door was open, not kicked in; the housekeeper is good with that. Steven Gibson had a heart attack. Young, but a high stress life. He fell and cracked his skull. The ship's doctor will write whatever we want, but it has to at least look possible. We do all that, and then you get to tell the wife."
"I thought you'd like that part. Comforting the grieving widow and all."
"Then what?" Jack asked.
"Then I find the murderer. Before we get to Cape Town. I find him and I give him to the cops there. The ship's got a Liberian registry, which can be a mess, but I know people on the job in Cape Town and they will make them man's life hell while he waits, indefinitely, to be sent to Monrovia. He may never see trial, but his party time will definitely be over." Miles looked at Jack then and said, "I'm not in the business of letting people get away with shit like that. I've got some sort of moral code here, Jack."
There wasn't much to do other than replace the door, which Jack and Miles did together. Jack was careful, walking back into the cabin, not to act familiar with it, like oh, right here, where the body was a half-an-hour ago when I dropped by to steal the jewels. As they were moving the old door out of the way, Jack noticed something strange. As he lifted it, he grabbed the door-handle, the one on the inside. Its top had been rubbed clean, but on the underside there was something dry and brown. Old blood. Not Steven's; it had been there a while.
With the door in place, they looked for a murder weapon but they found nothing. "Whatever it was," Miles said, "it's sinking to the bottom of the ocean right now. The doctor came up and when Miles said that it looked like the guy had had a heart attack and fallen and cracked his skull, the doctor said that that was just the way he saw it.
"Now, charm boy," Jack said after the doctor left, "let's go talk to the little woman."
They were in Nick's quarters. Nick, Jack and Miles, when a purser brought Anne to the door. Nick came over to her at once, solicitous. "Mrs. Gibson. Come in. May I offer you a drink?"
Anne looked around the room. Her eyes didn't catch Jack's at all.
She shook her head. "My husband is meeting me in the lounge. Your purser said it was important." Nick looked to Jack.
"I'm afraid, Mrs. Gibson," Jack said, "that there's been an accident."
Anne fell apart when he told her. "How could he possibly have had a heart attack?" she asked. She seemed stunned. She asked to see him. "I'm afraid," Jack said, "that he was hurt rather badly when he fell."
"I want to see him," Anne said. And so Jack went back to the suite for the third time. Nick and Miles came too. They went in and Jack noticed that Anne glanced briefly at her dress, laid out on the bed. "What do you do?" she asked Nick. "With the body, I mean."
"Actually," Nick said, sounding almost embarrassed, "we have a morgue. And of course our staff will be able to make any arrangements you'd like."
"Thank you," Anne said. "And I wonder if you could have someone move me into another cabin. I really don't want to stay in here."
"Of course," Nick said. "And again, I'm so, so sorry."
An hour later, Jack and Miles were in the Security HQ, a three-room complex aft and below decks. Miles introduced him to a guy named Graham who was in charge of digital imaging. He brought up footage from the security cam in companionway C, outside the Gibsons' cabin. The footage was grainy, black-and-white, and it showed a shadow as a man, Jack was pretty sure it was him, walk past the camera. Jack was glad he hadn't worn his sports coat.
Graham froze on the man's back, started enhancing it. All it did was blur. "This ship," he said, "cost half a billion dollars, and they bought their security cams from a Radio Shack remainder sale. Seriously, dude, I could stick my iPhone up there and get better coverage."
He isolated the image and put it in an email as an attachment. "We'll have to send it to Cape Town, have them do the enhancement. I have a friend there, works for some Russians. He's a fucking whiz. Shouldn't take him more than a couple of days."
He sent the email and then pressed "play" again on the surveillance footage.
"What do we do while we're waiting?" Jack asked Miles. "Look for everyone wearing a dark-colored polo shirt?"
"We could do," Miles said. "Or we could start by talking to old Hot To Trot."
He nodded towards the monitor. Graham had paused again, this time on the smiling face of Elena, who was recognizing someone (Jack) as he came down the hall. "Nice of her to stand in the light," Graham said. "It's the only way we get a decent look."
They found her on one of the racquetball courts with a tennis racket, working on her serve. Miles explained that they were investigating a minor complaint and thought that she might be able to help them.
"What sort of minor complaint?" she asked, looking at Jack.
"Loutish behavior," Miles said.
Elena cocked an eyebrow. "I'm really mostly talk, Mr. Archer. You must have gathered that by now."
"We were actually interested in someone you might have been talking to." Miles explained about the surveillance camera footage.
"I'm not sure how I feel about the idea that you've got Big Brother watching my every move," Elena said. "Some letch in your video room, watching me and my latest love interest. That's unsavory."
"I can assure you…" Miles started to say.
"No, Mr. Archer. You most definitely cannot. As to your question; who was I talking to? Someone, a passenger I guess. I only pay attention to the ones I want to bang. This one," she smiled at Jack, "he did nothing for me at all."
"Funny," Miles said. "You looked like you knew him."
"I'm just a friendly person," Elena said. "Very outgoing."
"You should have told me about it earlier," Miles said. They had interviewed maybe twenty passengers and any crew or staff who would have been in that part of the ship. Miles had just asked Jack why he had never mentioned the attempted burglary of Anne's cabin.
"Nick told you?"
"He thought it might be pertinent. Why didn't you tell me."
"You were a suspect."
"The fuck I was."
"This was right around the time you hit me in the stomach. That didn't make me feel all outgoing and open towards you."
"Blow me." Miles took a beat. "Why'd she come to you? She didn't know you were working here."
"She thought, because I was a friend of Nick's, of the captain's, I might be able to have a discreet word with him."
"And he didn't come to me," Miles said, "because he thinks I might be involved?"
"I was a cop," Jack said. ""You survive by instinct. I know you didn't kill Steven Gibson."
"I was FBI," Miles said. "You survive by not trusting anybody."
More than anything, Jack wanted to talk to Anne. They hadn't seen each other since he'd left her cabin with Miles and Nick, after she'd asked if she could change cabins. He went up on the Athena deck and he waited. Here he was again, waiting for Anne.
On she second night, she came. It was late, after midnight. "Jesus, Jack," she said. "You fucking killed him."
"No," he said. "He was dead when I got there."
"He didn't have a heart attack. That was bullshit."
"So if you didn't kill him, who did."
"I was hoping," Jack said, "that you would tell me."
She looked at him with those perfect, soulful eyes. Looked at him for a long, long time. Then she slapped him, hard.
"You motherfucker," she said. "You think I would do something like that. Those eyes were filling with tears now. She took a moment, didn't try to wipe away the tears. "I thought you loved me," she said finally. "You asshole." And then she was gone.
"That didn't go too well for you, Jack, did it," Miles said. He startled Jack badly. He'd had no idea the other man was waiting there in the shadows.
"I don't figure you for the kind who kills the lady's husband," Miles said. "You strike me more as a hit-and-run fuck kind of guy." He sat down on the recliner where Anne had been a moment before. "But, I've got to tell you, I'm liking you more and more for this one. You fall for the girl - I've got some surveillance on that that doesn't need enhancement, by the way. Up here on the deck, against the bulkhead like that, damn. Anyway, you what, go to talk to the husband about it. See if maybe you can work something out, man to man. One thing leads to another. Fuck did you hit him with anyway?"
"You're fishing, Archer."
"Yeah, but I chummed the water first." He smiled. "We should have the enhancement back from Graham's guy in Cape Town by tonight. If that's you outside the door, well, I'd tell you not to leave town, but if you want to swim for it, be my guest."
At dinner that night, Elena said, "We haven't had a chance to talk since I saved your ass, handsome." Jack was looking over at Anne at the captain's table. She was wearing a simple back dress. She looked incredible. Nick was coming over to their table. He was with Miles and two of the big security thugs who walked around on the decks with walkie-talkies in their ears to make the passengers feel safe. Miles was holding some photographs.
"Looks like all I did was postpone the hanging," Elena said, seeing them coming.
"I'm sorry, Jack," Nick said as they approached the table. And that's when Jack turned the table over, dumping everything on it into the lap of the teenager who was playing a game on his iPhone.
The kid's mother started shouting, "Do something, Kenneth," at her husband. And Jack ran, knocking over everything he could as he did so. Serving platters, dessert carts, a waiter and two busboys. It gave him a few moments head start.
He ran into the serving room, knocking things over here too, and he dove for the dumbwaiter that carried food up from the galley. It operated on a switch which he found and threw. The mechanism was slow; the dumbwaiter inching down even as he saw the two big security thugs coming into the room. They were turning, looking around just as the dumbwaiter lowered him out of sight.
There are a great many places to hide on a cruise ship, Jack told himself as he raced out of the galley. Just think. There were ducts and storage rooms and empty cabins. There was probably enough space under the stage in the lounge where the Foo Fighters had played to camp out for a month. The trick was to get to one of these places before he was caught.
The photograph had come back from Cape Town. That was obvious. It had come back and Graham's friend there was a wonder, just like he'd said. You could no doubt see Jack in the enhanced photo, clear as could be. In another enhancement of a screen that had been all black on the monitors, you could probably see him kicking in Anne's door.
He was fucked and the only way he could unfuck himself was to hide out on the ship until he could find out who really killed Steven. But now he heard shouts from above in the galley and someone saying that yeah, he had just come through. He was in a hallway now and the laundry was up ahead. He went in quickly. It was a room the size of a large laundromat. Rows upon rows of industrial dryers to handle an armada of dirty sheets. The two women working here were at the far end of the room. He opened the nearest dryer and dove in, headfirst.
When he was a kid, he'd heard stories about teenagers who would go to the laundromat, ride the dryers for fun. These were cautionary tales. Some combination of broken limbs, suffocation and brain damage was always the result. In the fifteen minutes he spent in the dryer here, he had ample time to believe that none of these stories had been an exaggeration. Out the small window, he caught a glimpse of the security guys coming in, looking around. Slam, he hit the dryer wall so hard he was sure they'd turn and open the thing. But they didn't. Then something caught his arm. He was whipped around and he felt his shoulder dislocate. The pain was unbearable. He bit down on a sheet to keep from screaming. He saw the security guys turn and leave the room. One was the guy he'd seen buying the pot from Terrence.
The next time he cycled by, they were gone, and when one of the laundry ladies opened the dryer, he fell out with the sheets. She looked at him, more confused than frightened. "I lost a cufflink," he said, and then he dragged himself to a bench by the folding table, holding his arm to his side. He sat down, and laced his fingers together with a grimace of pain and put his laced hands over his kneecap on the dislocated side. Then, slowly, he sat back, holding on. He only had to scream once before the thing popped back into place. Then he got up and walked out of the laundry room quickly, the ladies still staring at him as he left.
Where he wound up spending the night was in the volcano. It was a plaster and chicken wire volcano on the eighth hole of the miniature golf course. The woman who'd been beaned by the golf ball had collapsed into it and it had a slight dent to one side, but all in all, it was not a bad place to spend the night.
He was awakened the next morning by the spoiled texter teen-ager from his dinner table. The kid shook him awake and said, "Dude." Then he waited for Jack to sit up. When Jack did, the kid said, "I was out on the deck last night, seeing if I could get cell reception anywhere. I'm missing my friends, you know. The communication lines are down and I'm trying to, like, reach out, right? Anyway, I saw you come in here, all sneaking around and shit. This morning at breakfast, you know the lady with the garbage mouth?"
"Right. She was looking all bent out and everything about you being missing. This is after the captain gave the speech where he reassured us that you were harmless and that the security dude was on top of the situation, and if anyone saw you to tell the linebacker guys with the attitudes, but don't worry, you weren't like dangerous or anything."
Jack nodded. He was thinking could he ask the kid to go get him a cup of coffee but the kid handed him a piece of paper. "The garbage mouth chick, she's watching me and then, we're leaving after breakfast and she says, 'You know where he is, don't you?'" I'm not saying anything, but she says how she saw me when the captain started talking about you, the way I was squirming in my seat, and then she gives me two hundred dollars and writes down this message and says she'll give me two hundred more once she knows it's delivered and you're not busted by the boat man."
Jack took the note. It read, "Meet me on the Aphrodite deck at midnight. I may be able to save your skinny ass again."
"Thanks," he said to the kid who was watching him as if he thought he might get some money on this end too. "Remember what she told you about the other two hundred. I don't get busted."
"I'm no narc," the kid said.
"I was a narc," Jack answered. "It was no ocean cruise."
He spent about half of the day in the volcano and then, when he simply had to use the bathroom too badly and was too desperate for a cup of coffee, he decided for the hide-in-plain-sight approach. Over a thousand passengers - if he just found a coffee urn, maybe an hors d'oevre cart and a bathroom, then he could lie down on a lounge chair and put something over his face as if he were sleeping; all he'd be, most likely, was bored.
It worked until dinner when he felt someone tapping his foot gently. It was a purser and when he looked up from under the towel he'd thrown over his eyes, the guy said, "First seating, sir," in a way that made him decide he ought to move.
He thanked the guy and, deciding to go right at him, said, "I think I'll try the Kraft this evening. Do I need a reservation? "
"I'm sorry," the purser said. "It's a three day wait."
"Oh, well," Jack said. "Better go get dressed."
He spent the time between dinner and midnight in the library. Quietest place on the ship. No one came in. They all read on their iPads now if they read at all. The Hiassen was in his cabin and there wasn't another copy here so he read some magazines and a couple of depressing short stories from a collection of the best short fiction of 2008. That had been, if he remembered right, a depressing year in general.
A little before midnight he left the library and started for the Aphrodite deck. He didn't see anyone on his way up. He was coming up the stairs to the deck when he heard Elena say, "Get your fucking hands off me. What the fuck are you doing?" He ran the last steps. The stairs here opened onto the deck by the bulkhead of a cabin. From the other side of that bulkhead he heard Elena scream for help. There was no moon and, as he came around the corner, it was dark. He saw the shadow of someone, bent. The figure was lifting a woman up by her legs, tipping her overboard. Elena was a very small woman and, even just seeing a shadow, Jack could tell that it was her.
Jack yelled, "Hey!" and bolted forward, but she was already gone. The killer ran off quickly, not even turning to look at Jack. Jack ran to the rail. All he could see of the water below was a small circle where some lights from one of the cabins lit it. Elena was nowhere to be seen. He called her name, loudly. There were life preservers on the wall behind them. He tore them from the walls although he sensed that they were old and only there for show. Then he called her name once more.
"What'd you have, second thoughts after you tossed her in," Miles said. He had come up out of the darkness with two of his guys. "You really" he said flatly, "shouldn't have done that."
There was a lock-up on the ship, another of the things Nick hadn't bothered to show him when he gave him the tour. A brig, by any other name, Jack thought. The room itself was actually bigger than his cabin. The bed, as far as he could tell, was the same. The door was double thick and there were several locks from the outside. But no bars. There were some magazines and a CD player. He'd asked Miles, could he get his Carl Hiassen from his cabin, bring it to him. Miles had said where the fuck did he think he was going and Jack had said he imagined it would be jail in Cape Town and he really wanted to find out what happened to Joey Perrone and her asshole husband, Chaz.
After Miles left, Jack had just sat and he thought about Elena. It made him sick to think about what had happened to her. It broke his heart. She had tried to help him, to save his skinny ass, and now she was dead.
Now it was after two it said on the clock on the CD player, and Miles had not come back. Jack had listened to an Enya CD and he'd read enough about the fucking Royal Wedding in an old issue of People to last him twenty lifetimes. There was more than one kind of hell, he was thinking when the door opened and Miles came in. He was holding Jack's book. He threw it on the bed.
"I loved what he does with Tool," Miles said. "My opinion, it's Runyonesque."
"Don't tell me. I want to be surprised."
"I like the way with Hiassen, the stories are satisfying, but they're not wrapped up in a bow. Something's too neat, that bothers me."
Miles had been up there, on the Aphrodite deck, it turned out, because he'd gotten a message saying that someone had seen Jack, heading there. "See, to me," he said, "that's just too cute. Plus, I'm strapped for a reason why you would have killed the woman. Unless her swearing offended you."
"Fuck no," Jack said. The two exchanged a smile.
"Did you really take all that drug money?" Miles asked him then.
"I did. I'd had a suck-ass year. Almost no overtime. Couple of balloon payments due. I come in. There's six pounds of coke and eight hundred thousand dollars in cash on the bed. We've just shot the scumbag involved, who was firing an AK at us at the time. My partner's in the other room with the body, hasn't come in here yet. I think, just this once and I won't do it again. And I put three hundred thousand dollars in my pocket. Stupid me, I didn't know the guy we shot was selling to a DEA guy who knew, to the penny, how much money was on that bed."
Miles nodded. Then after a long beat, he said, "I wouldn't've had your balls. I would have only taken two hundred."
"Your friend, Graham," Jack said then. "Maybe he could run us through the surveillance tape from before the part where I kicked the door down."
"Sooner or later," Miles said, "you're gonna have to tell me why you did that."
"I was gonna take the lady's jewels."
"And you came in and found the guy dead? Dude, as a criminal, you are one unlucky fuck."
Graham rewound the tape back to an hour before Jack had shown up. They watched people coming back from dinner. A purser went by once. And then, there he was. Terrence. Jack thought, shit, seeing him, he had really hoped he wouldn't be there but there you had it, no enhancement necessary. Terrence, walking up the hall towards Anne's room.
They found him in his cabin. Miles had said, "Walk with me, look as if you're in my custody; no one's gonna ask anything," and they'd started below decks, Jack thinking if Terrence had done it all, killed Steven, thrown Elena overboard, they would probably find him with a cleaver in each hand, ready to hold court in the kitchen. But they could smell the weed halfway into the crew quarters - that wasn't like Terrence; he was cautious about his grass. The wet towel in the door jam. Keep it under-cover - and where they found him was in his cabin, several blunts into oblivion.
He looked up when Miles pointed his gun at him and said, "I'm just working up the courage to dive in after my lady. You'd be hastening that along, man. Doing me a solid."
"Your lady?" Jack asked, but he saw where this was going and he felt some relief, at least where Terrence was concerned.
"Elena, man. She was a fine woman. We were going to make it, she and me. Get off the ship, maybe Africa, maybe India. Live it out." His eyes went cold with recognition. "You motherfucker." And he was off the bed, his hands around Jack's throat in an instant. "Why, man why? She only want to help you."
Jack tried to fight him off, but Terrence's big hands had closed around his neck and Jack was already gasping and seeing spots. Miles put the gun up to the side of Terrence's head but Terrence just said, "You would have to shoot me and I still got enough to take his life first." Miles hit him in the side of the head so hard it cracked his skull and then knocked him back and leveled the gun at him.
Jack put a hand up to Miles to stop and then he moved to Terrence. His voice came out hoarse and gasping from the choking. "I didn't kill her, Terrence. I want to find out who did. I swear to you, hand to God. I know she wanted to help me. She was the only person on the ship who could. Why would I have killed her?"
Terrence looked at Jack, right in the eye for a long moment. "As ever," he said and then he began to sob. Jack had never seen a grown man cry like this. Not ever. His body heaved with it while Jack and Miles looked on, helpless. Finally, Terrence looked up. He took a long moment, climbing back up from his grief. "She was not the only one," he said. "What she was going to tell you. It come from me."
I think," Jack said to Miles, "you can put down the gun now."
Miles did. Terrence looked at them both, wiped some tears from his bloodshot eyes. "I see much, man. People don't see the help. That's more true on a cruise than anywhere." He looked at Miles for confirmation and Miles nodded. Then Terrence turned to Jack. "Your girlfriend," he said to Jack. "She wasn't just slipping on her husband. She slipping on you too."
"You think it's true?" Miles asked him. They were back in Miles' cabin and they were having a drink of some twenty-year-old single malt that Miles had stashed "for something big."
"Nick, the captain, he's just the kind of guy, would want to pull off something like that."
"He's ferrying all these high rollers around the world, you know that burns his butt."
"You wouldn't believe how much."
"So he strikes up an affair with an unhappy rich lady; they put together a plan to rob her husband, put away a little nest-egg. But they need a fall guy, and the captain just happens to have an old friend who fits the bill."
"The first time's the hard one when you're getting dirty."
"So they say. Now, you think they planned on killing him or you think something went wrong."
"What I think," Jack said, "is that I'd like to talk to Anne."
Jack got the emeralds back out of the potatoes. Miles said, "I wonder what's in the sugar bin."
"Where would you have put them?" Jack asked.
"I'm partial to putt-putt golf," Miles answered, smiling.
The way they were going to do it, Miles would troll the decks until he saw Anne, then get word to Jack who'd be waiting in Terrence's room.
The message came, two rings to the house phone on the deck by Circe's pool. Jack got up to leave.
"Man," Terrence said. Jack turned and Terrence threw his arms around him. "I'm sorry for how I done you."
"I'm just sorry about Elena," Jack said. "You were right about her. She was a fine woman."
"Gospel," Terrence said. "She was true."
Jack found Anne where he'd seen her the last time they were together, on the deck by the Athena lounge. "Reminiscing?" he asked.
She turned. She looked for all the world like she was glad to see him. "Jack," she said. "Oh, Jack." She came into his arms and he held her for a long moment. "It's not safe for you to be here," she said, finally.
He pushed her away. "How's your bruise healing?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she said. "But you shouldn't be here. "
"Here are your jewels," he said, offering her the pillowcase. "Why don't you tell me all about you and Nick."
She didn't even flinch. Just took a moment and smiled as if sharing a joke with herself. "I knew you'd figure it out," she said. "I told Nick he'd made a mistake. That you were too smart for this game."
"Nick was right on the money. I was so smart that two people died before I figured it out."
"Two? What do you mean?"
Jack just looked at her, didn't say anything, just watched her. The moonlight hitting those perfect features. A little wind in her rich, full hair. God had one fucked-up sense of humor, all right.
"Don't you want to check your emeralds?" he said. "Make sure they're all there."
She took the pillowcase full of emeralds and held it without looking inside.
"My prenup with Steven. I got five hundred thousand dollars if we ever separated. That's a weekend in Jamaica in my world."
"I lost my world for just about half that," Jack said. "What about if he died?"
"Then," she said, "I got nothing. He called it his insurance policy. He promised me that if he ever got cancer, anything like that, he'd make sure I was provided for. He said this way, I took the gamble of a heart attack or an accident, he took the insurance against a knife in the back."
"Trust is the cornerstone of any real relationship."
She nodded. "Nick's very clever, and he has a certain charm. I knew I didn't love him, but I guess I thought at least I was trading up. Does that sound horrible?"
"Given the other things that have happened, that one's not too bad."
"He came up with this plan, as he said it, to get out with what was rightfully mine. Sure, technically, it was stealing, but given all that I'd gone through, it was more, he said, like simply doing a little repo."
She looked at the pillowcase that he had handed her. Then she threw it overboard. "Don't looked so shocked," she said. "They're paste."
"Maybe it's the nice older women thrown overboard, or sleeping in a plaster volcano, I'm a little confused. You had me steal paste jewels. What is it you and Nick were repossessing?"
"We, Steven that is, had a home in Fiji. In that home, there's a safe, and in that safe, there are the real emeralds, and quite a lot more. One hundred and forty-two million dollars worth of more. Our suite on the ship; it's Steven's. No one else is allowed to use it, even when we aren't cruising. Steven keeps a key to the safe in Fiji in our suite on the ship. So the idea was for Nick to get the key. Which he did."
"By killing Steven. Then I walk in, thinking I'm gonna grab some jewels, and I'm left holding the corpse."
"Something else you should know, Jack. It wasn't Steven who hit me. It was Nick. He hit me when I told him I didn't want to go through with it because of how I felt about you."
She said, "Jesus, Jack, I'm so sorry. I'm not this person. Not at all. I just wanted to get away from Steven so badly. And then Nick, it seemed like a way to do it. And it might have been too, but then I met you. Look, I know it's too late, so this is just for the record. I love you. And for me, that was a game changer." She moved in very close, pulled him to her and then she kissed him and he wanted with all his heart to believe that she was telling him the truth.
"I think," he said when he came up for air, "that we can still make this work."
They were docking in Cape Town the next day and what they'd agreed; they'd do it there. Anne would go into town with Nick to make the arrangements about Steven's body; that would give Jack the time he needed. They agreed on that and then Anne kissed him again and for the next half-hour or so, up there on the deck, Jack believed in nothing but her.
As soon as Nick and Anne were in the shore boat, Miles let Jack into Nick's quarters. Jack said this wouldn't take long; he knew just where to look.
Hemingway's humidor was on Nick's desk and the key was in the humidor under Nick's cigars. Jack didn't know a thing about cigars but he knew Nick. These would be some sort of killer expensive smokes, rolled from the toe jam of a Cuban cigar maker or some shit. He thought about taking a few of them for Miles, but he figured Nick counted them every night before he went to bed. The key would be good enough. He put it in his pocket and left the room.
"Do you smoke cigars," he asked Miles as they headed for the galley
"I think it's an obnoxious, nouveau riche affectation," Miles said. "Very 1980s."
"Good," Jack said. "Then I did the right thing." He handed the key to Miles. Then he waited in Terrence's cabin. Miles had left him the copy of the Carl Hiassen and he finished it while he waited. Miles had been right about Tool. And it was satisfying; the way Chaz got his comeuppance. Joey was awesome. He wished he'd met a girl like that.
Miles came back a couple of hours later with the key and a copy he'd had made in Cape Town. They went back to Nick's cabin. "You sure about the cigars?" Jack said. Then he went in, put the key back where he'd found it.
"I couldn't find any key," he told Anne that night. They were at their usual spot, on the deck.
"You what?' she pulled away, looking at him in surprise. He let his news sit for a good beat, let it sink in. Then, finally, he said, "I see it this way. You can get off the ship now with me, here in Cape Town. I'll get a job. I always do. I'll treat you well and we'll agree never to mention any of the things that happened on this ship. Not even my friend, Elena, going overboard." He looked at her for a moment. "I didn't really think so. Your other choice, you can take your chances with Nick. But you might want to keep this in mind. He threw a woman overboard just to keep her from telling me about the two of you. That makes him, from your point of view, kind of a loose cannon. Watch your back."
"I'm really sorry about that," Anne said, looking past him, towards someone coming up onto the deck. "And, I know you won't believe me, I'm sorry about this too."
"This" turned out to be the security guy Nick had seen buying pot from Terrence and two of the other guys on Miles' squad. She'd had a back-up plan. If he didn't deliver or turned on her, she'd turn him in, go with Nick. She probably had a back-up plan for Nick too, just in case.
They took him back to the brig and tossed him in. He thought about taking the guy down a peg with some remark about the bud, but he didn't want any more shit to fall on Terrence. He just sat down, waited for them to go and get Miles because Anne was quite a lethal bitch, and she was very smart, but she didn't know everything, not by a mile. He did not reread any of the articles about the royal wedding while he waited.
What you need to picture for this last part. See Anne and Nick on a boat leaving Kaibu, in the Fijian islands, on their way to the private island of Vatu Vara. This is where Steven's mansion is. The place is extremely remote. Anne is telling Nick that their closest neighbor, twelve Miles south on Mago island, is Mel Gibson, but he's hardly ever home.
They land. There's a golf cart waiting. They drive it up to the house. The place is what you'd expect of a billionaire. On a cliff. Three-sixty views, a heliport and a four-acre living room. All the things that money can buy. They enter. They walk past the Gauguin. The other Gauguin. Should I say that again? The other Gauguin. You get it.
Eventually, after hiking a couple of miles through the house, they reach the bedroom and the safe. Nick takes the key out of his pocket. He smiles at Anne.
He opens the safe.
It's a fucking walk-in safe. A room the size of the biggest bedroom Jack ever lived in. Hey, and speaking of Jack, there he is, sitting on the floor with a shopping bag in his lap. The jewels are in the shopping bag.
"What are you doing, Jack?" Anne asks, doing a pretty good job of not sounding completely blown away to find this guy she'd last seen being dragged off the Athena deck of the Posiediana by three security guards sitting on the floor of her dead-husband's walk-in safe on his private Fijian island.
"I'm walking off into the sunset with all the goodies.," Jack says, standing up. "It's what we call 'the happy ending.'"
"It's not that easy, Jack," Nick says, sounding like the guy in some 1950s movie who thinks he has to say something tough to impress his date.
Jack shakes his head and smiles. "Here's why it is easy. You know my partners."
They turn to see Miles walking in. He's holding a Kalishnikoff assault rifle and a satellite phone. With him is Terrence. Terrence is holding a blunt.
"Miles has a friend with the Fijian police," Jack tells Nick and Anne. "His friend is getting tired of busting up meth labs and wants to create a higher profile for himself. Bringing in you two for a couple of murders at sea and this violation-of-your-pre-nup break and enter would probably get him a job with UN Sec, something like that."
He looks at Nick. This feels good. The first time since he's known Nick that he's the one doing the lording over. "You could try to come at me, Nick, but I'm better than you ever were at that shit. I will fuck you up while Miles makes sure Anne doesn't decide to go boating. Or, the two of you could maybe try to sell the Gauguins, although again, Miles' Fijian friend is gonna be out here doing inventory probably this afternoon, so that probably won't work out for you either. Maybe take some silver candlesticks or something on the way out. You know, cut your losses. Either way, I would get the fuck out of here in a hurry."
"Is this something," Anne says, "that we could talk about?" She looks, Jack has to admit, as spectacular as ever.
He shakes his head. "Nah, killing Elena; that was my deal-breaker." He turns to Nick, "Couple of things, Nick, you need to keep in mind. She was setting me up to come after you. That thing she did where she slammed herself against the door handle in the cabin, made it look like someone had hit her? She tried to sell me that you were the one who beat her up. I was supposed to be the one standing there with the key. You're her second choice, Nick. I were you, I'd go back to Princess."
"You motherfucker," Anne says.
"Yeah," Jack answers. "I'm a real badass."
About the Author
Les Bohem played the Cowardly Lion in MGMs 1939 classic, "The Wizard of Oz." His credits as a screenwriter include, "Casablanca," "The Maltese Falcon," and "That Darn Cat." He can currently be seen performing his one man show, "The Many Faces of Richard Conte," at the Duarte Municipal Auditorium in Duarte, California.