Deep Blue Ch. 01byWine_Maker©
Chapter One: Welcome Aboard
Local erotic writer found murdered and sexually mutilated in his home. Is his death connected to the weeklong cruise for erotic writers leaving port today?
That was a good question. I couldn't decide if the newspaper article on page eight of the local Miami rag was trying to make me feel good or bad. It might be good because it was something for me to stick my nose into. Or it might be bad since it reminded me of the work I loved but had left behind for my family. Lieutenant Shauna "Hawk" Hawkins was no more. Over a decade as a cop and the last seven as a homicide detective in Houston had come to an unexpected halt when I met the woman of my dreams and we got married. The choice, though painful, had been surprisingly easy to make. Gretchen Werner won hands down. I couldn't imagine a time or situation where that wouldn't be true, and I suddenly felt myself choking up as I thought about how happy I was to have her.
Pulling myself back together, I folded the paper and stuck it into my bag on the luggage cart, deciding not to tell Gretchen. It would only make her worry, and she mothered me when she worried. I'd best keep her distracted.
"Making me watch The Poseidon Adventure before going on a cruise was just sick," I told Gretchen as we walked slowly through the boarding arm toward the waiting ship. I took in the swank carpeting and, through the large windows, the incredible white ship we were about to board.
This behemoth was like a floating city. It was over a thousand feet long, almost two hundred feet across, fifteen decks high and could hold six thousand passengers and crew. It gleamed the way only new cars, and apparently, new boats could. We were on its maiden voyage - like the Titanic, my jaded internal voice whispered.
We could've made better time if I wasn't so fat. I felt like a beached whale. I'd forgotten what my feet looked like months ago. Still, even with the bloating and back pain, being pregnant with twins wasn't as rough as I'd feared it would be. I was still able to do some things for myself, when Gretchen let me anyway, and my libido was in overdrive and showed no signs of fading.
"Oh, come on," Gretchen said with a wink as she slowly pushed the rented luggage cart piled with our bags. "You had a choice. It wasn't like I made you pick that movie. And you shouldn't bust my chops like this when you're making me turn down every offer of assistance with these bags because of your damned stubborn pride."
My wife could be a riot when she felt like it so I saved my glare. It would only encourage her. "Sure, I had a choice. You let me choose between The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic. Save it for someone that doesn't know how evil you are, because I've got your number. And I'd be pushing that cart if you'd let me, so deal with it."
"I still didn't make you sit there and watch it," Gretchen said piously. Then she grinned. "And taking our own bags is fine by me because it makes all the cruise people bug their eyes out."
I'd found something with the tall, gorgeous blonde that had eluded me my entire life and that even today still made my head spin - contentment. The fact that we'd never intended to marry in the first place didn't seem to matter. After seven and a half months together, we'd bonded so deeply on an emotional level that I'd even accepted that she was rich and, that as a high-priced escort, Gretchen would occasionally be sleeping with men for money. She hadn't, yet, but looking inside, I found very little jealousy or pain about the idea. Mostly, it was because I knew that if and when she did, she'd be sleeping with these men for pleasure, but I knew that that was all it would be. She would always come back to me. I knew Gretchen was mostly heterosexual, but I also knew it would never affect our love.
She hadn't done it yet because we'd agreed till now to be monogamous, but I could see the growing need in her. With Ted and Lisa, she could get her first taste of a man in almost a year, and I could feel a jealous bump inside me just thinking about it. A small one. I frowned as I realized that because I knew Ted, a bit of jealously was there, whereas I felt little over the faceless, nameless men Gretchen might sleep with in the future. It made no real sense to me right now, so I filed the thought away for contemplation later. Besides, since I knew the father of our unborn children would be in my arms, too, it would be catty to get upset about it and it wasn't that much jealousy.
The thin man that pushed around us at a fast walk and bumped into me disrupted my reply. I only caught a glimpse of his face as I recovered my balance from the impact. With a grimace of distaste, I resumed my slow pace. I hated being fat and slow. Half a year ago, I'd have his skinny ass flat against the wall. Of course, back then I'd have had a badge to shove in his face, too.
That thought still brought a tingle of frustrated pain to me, but walking away from the badge was the right thing to do. I had a family now, and sharing them with the workload and stress of being a homicide cop was begging for disaster. Cops who worried about taking risks because of their family got themselves killed, and cops who didn't allow their families to get in the way of the job mostly lost those families. Neither alternative had been attractive to me, so when the pregnancy offered me an out, I took it. Since then, Gretchen had been urging me to become a high-paid security consultant, but I still wanted to taste the streets, not protect huge corporations or the idle rich - Gretchen excluded, of course.
It wasn't as if we had to worry about money, anyway. I could do whatever I wanted regardless of the pay and still live like a queen, as if I would. I'd rather be a hog-riding, crime-fighting bitch on the streets taking down a killer. The huge trust fund that her father had started with a hundred million dollars when she was born might be nice for Gretchen but it didn't mean that much to me, even if it was now worth more than two billion dollars. Though I had to admit that while money might not bring you happiness, it sure didn't hurt.
I shook my head and cleared the cobwebs. Being pregnant had made me stupid, I think. My attention wandered at the oddest moments. How could I lose track of being pissed at the jerk ahead of us so fast? He was five ten, one sixty dripping wet, with a bad canned tan. His hair was collar length and dyed dark. The roots hinted that he was a ratty blond. He was dressed oddly for the Florida heat and humidity, wearing a wool jacket with suede elbow patches and a turtleneck sweater underneath it. The slacks he had on were dark wool, pressed acceptably well and matched his black patent-leather shoes. He wore it almost like a uniform and it suggested something to me but I couldn't quite place the look. Mostly he just looked hot - and stupid.
"Excuse me," a tired voice said from behind us. I half-turned and found a young woman in a halter-top and shorts behind us. She was in her early twenties, about 5'10", slender with a muscular tone and all in proportion - except for her breasts. They were at least a DD cup. She had shoulder-length blonde hair and emerald green eyes. She also had curves in all the right places, including some very sensuous hips. She was struggling along with three suitcases without the benefit of a luggage cart and tottering along in 5" strappy stilettos.
"Do you need some help with that?" Gretchen asked. "Put them on our cart and we'll get you to your room without a hernia."
With a grateful smile, the woman loaded her bags on top of ours. "I'll push it as my way of saying thanks. I'm Trish."
Trish looked like she needed to consider a larger tank top. Her considerable bosom put the material to a serious structural integrity test every time she breathed.
"Sure," I said. "I'm Hawk and this is Gretchen."
Trish smiled at both of us and pulled the cart up behind the jerk. The ship's officer had just finished his check-in procedure and now turned to gesture into the interior of the ship. "Welcome onboard the Imperial Caribbean Lines ship Deep Blue Sea, Mister Niccio," he said in a smooth, Italian-accented voice. "Have a very pleasant cruise. If there is anything we can do to help you at all, please don't hesitate to ask any crewmember."
The jerk turned with the officer, and I got my first good look at his face. He had a nose that was genetically unfortunate; it was a beak and made his already beady eyes look like they were way too close together. His tanned face didn't hide his pimples either. On the whole, he looked like a grown-up teenage geek and his attitude just screamed "snooty."
With a smile that was so fake it just made my teeth ache, the jerk shook his head. "You've just fallen prey to a common misconception, my good man. You should never use onboard unless you are indeed onboard. It would be more correct to welcome me aboard. As Samuel Clemens once said, 'The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug.' You would probably know him better as Mark Twain."
His condescending tone made me want to run over him with the cart and leave my boot prints all over his cheesy ass, so I suppose it was just as well I wasn't the one pushing it.
The officer looked nonplussed, and I thought the jerk wasn't even right. I made a mental note to check later, just to be sure, but I was sure the two words meant the same thing.
"I've checked us aboard, Trish," he said with a pleased-looking smirk. "Get our bags, and we'll get settled in."
Trish sighed and reached for the bags before Gretchen put her hand on top of the pile, looking a bit outraged at the jerk. "You're not going to make her carry your luggage."
The jerk smiled, seemingly immune to her anger. "I can't carry such heavy bags. I'm a writer, you see. I can't afford to put any undue strain on my hands." He wiggled his fingers demonstratively at Gretchen. "And in any case, that's one of the things my dear Trish is here for."
"Well, she's not carrying all your bags by hand across the ship," I said acerbically. "If you can't strain your dainty little hands, you'll just have to move at the speed of the slowest person with the cart. Me." I made note of his occupation and wondered if he was here for the erotic writer's convention. The suspicious part of me measured him as a murder suspect and found that it liked the view. I'd be checking up on him soon.
He shook his head, sighing theatrically. "That simply won't do. I have important people to meet and I don't have time to dawdle." He handed two room keys over to the glum-looking Trish. "Keep the key to your room, unpack my bags in my room and see that everything is put away as described in the instructions you'll find in the larger bag. Then you can return my key to me in the Camelot Club Casino on the fourth deck. Ta." With that, he sauntered into the ship's lobby without a backward glance, leaving us gaping at his retreating back.
Gretchen looked as pissed as I felt and even the ship's officer seemed stunned. The only one that didn't look surprised was Trish. She looked resigned.
"Oh. My. God," Gretchen ground out between her clenched teeth. "That so did not just happen!" She turned to Trish. "Please, the way he was ordering you around, tell me that you're not some kind of slave of his."
Trish shrugged. "Yeah, I guess I am, kind of, but it's only for the week."
"What the hell did you do? Lose a bet?" I asked. "You should've gone with being tarred, feathered and then left naked in the town square under a sign that told everyone you're a Milli Vanilli fan. It would have been less humiliating."
Trish sighed and shook her head at me as Gretchen handled getting us checked in. "No, it was nothing like that. I couldn't afford a cruise on my own, and when Mister Niccio offered to pay my way in exchange for services, I thought it was a good deal. Now, well, now I'm not so sure."
"Please tell me that 'services' don't include the more personal kind," I begged her. "I'm prone to throwing up in my condition and that's not playing fair."
"Ewwww!" Trish exclaimed. Her look of horror was a relief. "That is so gross! No way!"
"Well, that's a relief, at least," I said dryly. "Then, if you don't mind me asking, what exactly do you mean by 'services'?" I watched Gretchen out of the corner of my eye and saw that both she and the ship's officer were paying some attention to our conversation. He was also starting to frown at our cart. I'd have bet all I had, by now a considerable amount, that he had noticed which cabin we were in, and was therefore wondering why minions hadn't already relieved us of our bags. If he had known me, then he'd know it wasn't from a lack of trying on the part of the line's shore staff; I was just stubborn, sometimes. And as hot and tired as I was, stupidly so.
"I'm supposed to be arm candy for a few hours every evening while he does his writer thing," Trish said, bringing my attention back to her. "You know, smile at all the people, and make him look good."
"That won't be easy. Did you get that agreement in writing?" Gretchen asked. She had just taken our key from the officer and now gestured us into the ship.
Trish pushed the cart slowly enough that I didn't have any trouble keeping up. "No, we just talked about it. Why? Should I have gotten it in writing?"
"Well," Gretchen said, "in this case I think you're fine. He has as little proof of any agreement as you do, and he's the one who obviously now expects more than you both agreed to. In the future, if you ever agree to do anything more than basic escort work, get it in writing. In addition, get your money up front. If the client wants more than agreed to and pushes you for it, either get more money if you're agreeable to what he wants, or walk if you're not."
Trish blinked at Gretchen. "Wow. I never would have thought of all that. Are you a lawyer?"
Gretchen laughed and shook her head. "God, no! I used to be an escort before I got married, though." She smiled at me and my insides melted. I smiled back. "I suppose I still am," she continued, "but I'm more focused on my family now, so I've been taking a long break. I've been thinking about making that break permanent."
Both Trish and I stiffened in shock. Trish's eyes widened and she looked between us and blushed.
I gave Gretchen a hard, 'we are so going to talk about this later smile,' but she just smiled sweetly back at me. I shook my head and turned to Trish, smiling at her. "Yes, Gretchen and I are married. It's legal in Massachusetts."
"But," Trish said, struggling for the right words, "you're, like, pregnant."
"Really?" I looked down at my swollen belly in mock-surprise. "So I am!" I looked at Gretchen accusingly. "When did that happen?"
Gretchen laughed and covered one of Trish's hands with her own as she gripped the cart. "Don't let Hawk tease you like that. I promise, there's a man hiding in the woodpile somewhere. Come on, the elevator is in this direction."
As she walked, Gretchen looked over her shoulder at me, giving me a long look. "After we eat, I want to go see the medical department and let them take a look at you."
"Could it wait for a bit, Gretchen? I'd like to discuss something with you first." Like what in the nine hells she meant by her far too casual comment. Gretchen never let anything just 'slip,' so she had had a reason for telling me what she was thinking in front of someone else. That reason was also part of what I wanted to discuss with her.
"No, it can't wait," she told me firmly. "We'll have a chance to talk later, but I don't want you to worry about that for now. It's not a big deal, honey."
I rolled my eyes but didn't argue. Imperial Caribbean Cruise Lines had assured us that the doctor and medical staff on board had all the needed skills and equipment ready in case of an early delivery. That was good because Gretchen had threatened to put her foot down about me coming, even if it meant missing the long-delayed get together with Ted and Lisa. We saw them all the time, but this cruise was a special occasion we'd been planning since I'd gotten pregnant. We all finally felt comfortable enough in our own relationships to hook up with each other again. And this time we'd have Gretchen along for the ride. So I knew that if I wanted actually to enjoy the time we had together, I'd better do what she said.
Gretchen led the way toward the elevators. We moved past the glass enclosed, purple lit central lobby as we walked aft along the Promenade. "I asked and you're down on the second deck in the aft of the ship. We'll take you there and let you put your bag away, and then we can put ours away. We'd like for you to join us for lunch, if you feel up to it."
I shielded my surprised look and nodded. What the hell was Gretchen up to?
"Oh, you don't have to do that," Trish said, looking down a little. "I can afford my own."
"The meals are covered in the price of the cruise, Trish," Gretchen said, making the right hand turn in the spacious and well-appointed lobby. "All you have to pay for is any alcohol. If you'd rather not eat with us, we'd understand, so please don't feel pressured. We'd really like to have you join us, however."
Hesitantly, she nodded. "I think I'd like to join you, but I have to unpack Skip's stuff."
"No," Gretchen said flatly, "you don't. You don't even have to take it to his room. We could simply drop his bags off at the counter and say that we think some poor passenger lost them."
Trish laughed, but shook her head. "Oh, I think that might be a bad idea. I do have to get along with him and be with him, for this week, at least. Doing that might upset him."
"Then just leave it on his bed," I said. "Let the twerp unpack his own stuff." I walked up to the bank of elevators and pressed the call button. I followed the girls into the elevator after they had maneuvered the cart inside. With me being a wide load and all, I should felt like I should beep when I backed up.
In seconds, we were on the second deck. The hall looked like any fancy hotel corridor, although this looked much newer. Trish's room and Jerk's were next to each other in the middle of a row of doors on the wall. The two rooms were to the inside of the ship, so there was no balcony for either of them. I remembered Gretchen telling me that this ship had a lot of rooms with an exterior view, and I wondered why the two of them had ended up on the inside. The Jerk was probably just cheap.
"Pick one and get your bag inside, and I'll put Skip's bags inside his," Gretchen said.
Trish shrugged and took the one closest to the elevators. I stepped inside and looked at her room as she set her bag down on the two twin-sized beds pushed together to make one larger bed. It wasn't a bad room. It looked like any number of decent hotel rooms I'd seen, though it was a trifle on the small side. It looked new and had a nice flat-screen TV. She didn't unpack, so she was ready to go before I had a chance to snoop much.
"Are you an escort, too?" Trish asked me as Gretchen came out of the other room, closing the door behind her.
I smiled and shook my head. "Not me. Before I got knocked up I was a cop."
"That sounds interesting," Trish said with a smile as Gretchen led us back to the elevator. "Were you a cop like on Law and Order?"
I restrained my grimace. I hated that show. "Something like that. I was a Lieutenant in Homicide."
Her eyes opened even wider than when she found out she was with a married lesbian couple, and she blushed again. "You mean you saw dead bodies?"
I nodded, letting my eyes twinkle. She was such a sweet kid. "Yeah, that sort of goes along with murder investigations."
"Oh, my God," she said with a shudder. "I'd throw up if I had to touch a body. I work at a Hooters Restaurant in Tampa and Skip is one of the regulars there. He asked if I'd trade a little escorting for him taking me on this cruise, and I jumped at the chance. With school and all, I'd never be able to afford to go on one on my own."