Deep Blue Ch. 13byWine_Maker©
Chapter Thirteen: Clarity
I racked my brain for options. There had to be some way off this balcony without confronting Price. We didn't need to be caught breaking and entering. De Luca would completely flip out.
A glance at Hawk told me she was considering all our options, including the really stupid ones. She was seriously looking over the metal partitions that separated Price's section of balcony with his neighbors'. More worrisome was when she started pushing her foot against the railing to see how stable it was.
"You are not going to climb over the side of this ship," I hissed. "That's too dangerous."
She raised an eyebrow at me. "You have something in mind? I'm open to other suggestions."
"We only have one realistic way off this balcony and that's through Price's room. We need some sort of distraction to get him out of our way while we make our escape."
"Good plan," she said with a nod. "I can't wait to see how you get around the obvious obstacles, though. So, while you figure that out, I'm dumping the rest of the evidence."
She pulled the DVDs out of her jacket and flung them as far over the side as she could.
"Why didn't you do that when we tossed the other gear?"
Hawk shrugged. "I was going to give them to Lisa to destroy. You know, for her own satisfaction. Now she'll just have to settle with us telling her they're gone."
I snapped my fingers. "That's it! Lisa can help us." I dug into my purse, pulled out my cell phone and dialed.
"Hello?" Lisa answered.
"Hey, I need a favor and I need it right now."
"Call Price's room phone and tell him you'll meet him at the diner. Quick."
I could almost see her frowning. "Why would I want to meet that slime?"
"You don't need to meet him. I don't have time to go into the details right now. I just need you to call him and sound pissed. Refuse to talk about anything and tell him to meet you in the diner in fifteen minutes. Hurry."
I hung up before she had a chance to protest and grinned at Hawk.
"Slick," she admitted. "There's not much chance he'll pass up on that."
I held my fingers to my lips and slid the balcony door open a crack. I was sure he would hear the pounding of my heart, but we had to know when he was gone. Hopefully he wouldn't feel the need to look at his spy equipment or other DVD copies.
The phone ringing almost startled a squeak out of me. I clapped a hand over my mouth and listened. The conversation was brief and one-sided.
"Yeah?" Price answered.
"So, you found my little present. You know what I..."
"The diner. Sure. You know I have you by the… Hello? Hello? Bitch."
I heard him slam the phone down and laugh. It was probably meant to sound sinister but it only sounded lame. What didn't sound lame was the sound of the front door closing.
Hawk stopped me from opening the balcony door. "Wait," she whispered. "Give him a minute to be sure he's gone."
I controlled my desire to run like hell and stood still until Hawk said we could go. After what seemed like an eternity, Hawk slid the balcony door open and peeked past the curtain.
"Looks like the coast is clear."
I followed her into the room and straight out the front door. The hall had a few passengers in it, but they didn't pay us any mind; and, most importantly, there was no sign of Price. I closed his door with a sigh of relief.
"What now?" I asked.
"We go fill everyone else in on what we found. We need to remember jackoff has other cameras in our suite, too. Even with the equipment gone, I want them found and tossed overboard; so, we have some more searching to do."
I couldn't agree more.
It took half an hour to calm everybody down when we told them the bad news. If we'd taken a vote, they would've scrounged up some torches and pitchforks to use when they hunted down Price.
Hawk talked them back from the edge of violence with a more resolve than I'd have imagined or would've been able to personally muster. She redirected them to the real problem - Skip's murderer.
"Price has spit. Forget him," Hawk said. "We need to get a handle on the case and nab the killer before we hit landfall tomorrow or he'll be in the wind. I'm going to call Hans and see if his people have anything on the disk I sent. He assured me he'd have it in hand this morning."
I looked around the main lounge while she called Daddy. Frankly, I didn't see how we were going to find anything without some kind of break. Right now we had nothing.
Trish tapped me on the arm and pointed at the crowd. I focused on the people, unsure of what she wanted me to see.
My heart stopped beating for a second. Just coming into the room was the man that had saved my life. He was walking with a short woman in a tan pantsuit. They were deeply involved in conversation and weren't paying the slightest attention to us. A break! Thank you, God!
I stood up and started after them. There wasn't time to explain what I was doing. I had this one chance to find out who he was and why he was spying on me. Perhaps it might even lead to the killer.
I risked one glance back and saw all the girls, except Hawk, were up and following me with confused looks scrawled across their faces. Trish must've signaled them. Good. Hawk was focused on the call and the guys would keep her safe.
The pair went through the lounge and stopped at the elevators. It was obvious now that they were arguing. He was scowling while saying something and waving his arms expressively in small circles. She stood there passively. Her replies to him were short and soft-voiced.
If they got into the elevator, I'd probably lose them. I made a quick decision and approached them from behind as the doors to the elevator slid open. With the girls at my back, we followed them in.
The man noticed me first. His eyes widened and his mouth snapped shut. The woman turned at his expression and gasped at me.
I smiled. "I see you have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am, but I'm still at a loss as to who you are. And why you're spying on me. Not that I'm not grateful for you saving my life. Thank you for that."
The man smirked at the woman. "So much for non-disclosure, eh Susan? Are you going to tell her or am I?"
The woman had a brief internal struggle and then shrugged. "I don't have much choice, do I?" She pushed the button for deck seven. "I'm Susan Richter and this is Andy Sizemore. I'm very sorry you were attacked and I assure you that we didn't have anything to do with it."
"I don't think I believe you," Lisa said. "What kind of game are you playing?"
Before they could answer, Lisa's cell phone rang and she stepped back as much as she could in the elevator to field the call. She mouthed Hawk's name at me before I gave the pair in the elevator my full attention.
"That sounds like a great question," I agreed. "What's going on?"
"I'm the director for a reality TV show," Susan said. "I Spy. We have teams of contestants on the ship competing against one another. The teams shadow select people and break into rooms we set up for them so we can critique how well they can gather information."
"Spying on people?" Trish asked incredulously. "That has to be breaking the law!"
Susan shook her head and pushed through the group as the elevator doors opened. "It's not. Not when it's in a public area. When we're done we'd either have to get your consent to air any footage with you in it or not use it."
"And when someone tried to kill me?" I asked angrily. "What about that?"
Susan stopped at a cabin door and fished a passkey from her purse. "I said I'm sorry, but there wasn't anything we could do. Mister Sizemore broke his cover that night and I got into a lot of trouble with the producers. They prohibited me from contacting you about that night or anything that happened."
I felt my eyes narrow. What a cold bitch. "And what about morality? Doing what's right?"
Susan shrugged and opened the door. "Andy did what he thought he had to, stealing the master disk of footage from his spy glasses and giving it to you. That just got him tossed off the show. I wouldn't have done it myself."
She stepped into the room and tried to close the door behind her, but we pushed in behind her like the tide. "I can tell. You're the milk of human kindness."
I wrapped my arms around Andy and hugged him. "Thank you for doing what's right. You won't suffer for it, I promise."
"Money isn't everything," he said philosophically. "I'd rather be able to sleep at night than have a stinking half-million dollars."
I nodded and let him go. "I couldn't agree more."
Lisa whispered in my ear. "I filled Hawk in. The video was a bust. It was too dark to tell it was anything but a man."
The sounds of outrage from Susan and the other two people in the room drew my attention away from Andy. Two men were seated at a bank of monitors on the dresser. They were dressed casually, but had headsets and microphones on. The monitors showed several scenes of people in public areas of the ships.
"More contestants?" I asked Susan.
She nodded. "You have what you wanted. You know who we are and you have the tape from the deck. I can't help you any more. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
I suppose there really wasn't any reason to harass them any further. I started to agree but Sandy gasped and started closely at one of the monitors.
"Ohmigod! It's him!" she shouted and pointed at the screen. Her tone was filled with fear and amazement.
I stared at the small picture, but the crowd was in full motion and the person filming was moving.
"Who?" I asked.
"Snake Eyes. Uh, I don't know his name. He does something for the mob, I think. He might have been a hitman. I saw him all too closely in LA, though. He was sitting alone at one of the café tables in this picture."
I pointed at the monitor. "Take this one back to the café."
Susan shook her head. "No. We've done all we can to help you already. I have a show to run."
"Let's make a deal," I said in a low growl. "Help me now or I sue your ass."
She looked indecisively at me. "If I do this you won't sue?"
With a sigh she pointed at the monitor. "Have Rachel go back and scan the café again." One of the men murmured into his microphone.
The picture swung around and started back against the tide of people. I caught a momentary glimpse in a store window of a tall woman in a red dress as the spy looked to the side. Then the café came back into sight.
We all scanned the people there as our mobile eyes looked over the people.
"There he is," Sandy exclaimed. "On the left side of the picture!"
The man was obvious when she pointed him out. His eyes were cold and hard. A snake's eyes.
"He was sitting near our table when we had that first big dinner," Lisa said. "I thought he was watching the, uh, show."
I repressed a smile. Trish and Lisa had put on quite the show at dinner that night. In front of everyone. "But we weren't the only ones there, were we? I seem to recall Skip was sitting close by."
Lisa nodded. "He was and both of them were gone when I looked again. I think."
"Why would a hitman from the mob want to kill someone who writes dirty stories?" Trish asked. "Especially that weasel, Skip?"
That was a damned good question.
"Someone's sitting down with him," the man running the spy equipment said. We all leaned in to see who was arriving.
I looked at the picture and blinked. That was impossible. I'd sooner believe the President of the United States belonged to the Communist Party. Settling in at the table was the Right Reverend Billy Swaggwell.
A quick glance around the room showed all my friends in an equal state of shock. Lisa spoke first.
"We need to know what they're talking about." Lisa turned to Susan. "Can your person get close enough to play back what they're saying?"
Susan grimaced and rolled her eyes. "She could, but she won't. I've done what I have to, more than I have to, really. We're done. Andy, you're off the show. Come by my cabin in a few days and we'll finish the paperwork."
I considered arguing with her but rejected it. She didn't look likely to help any further. Arguing now would just waste valuable time.
"Let's go, girls. We have a mystery to solve," I said grimly. Susan got a short nod of my head and a mental promise to look into what mischief I might cause her later.
Andy followed us out and closed the door behind him. "I can get close to them. Is that the guy that tried to toss you over the side?"
I nodded my head. "It sure looks that way." I should've felt anger at the man, Snake Eyes. Swaggwell, too. All I felt right now was fear. I could call Hawk, but then she'd be in the middle of everything.
"Let me give you my cell number. Do you have a cell phone?"
"Not on me."
Lisa handed him hers and gave him a brief tour on how to navigate it as we all climbed into the elevator.
"This isn't a game anymore," I said in as serious a voice as I possessed. "If we're right, that man is a cold-blooded killer. If Swaggwell is involved, he's dangerous, too. I don't want you to take any chances. Get close and see what you can see or hear but don't tip them off. Skedaddle if they make you. I don't want you getting hurt."
The black man nodded. "With all this spy training that shouldn't be a problem. You need to stay away from the public areas, though. They don't know me from Adam. I suggest you visit the ladies' room."
That was an astonishingly practical suggestion from a man. I smiled at him. "Call us as soon as you have anything."
Andy split away from us and wandered down the mall with his hands in his pockets, looking to the world like any other man checking out the women clustered around shopping. My smile grew wider. He was good.
We ducked into the ladies' room and clustered by the mirror, trying to look like we were touching up our makeup. I was so nervous that I didn't dare bring makeup near my face. I might end up looking like Bozo the Clown.
"Should we call Hawk?" Trish asked.
I nodded my head. "We should, but we're not going to. Not yet."
"But we don't know what the hell we're doing." Jo objected. "She used to be a police officer, a homicide detective. We need to call her in right now."
"She's also about to pop any minute and the extra stress can only make it worse," I said in my best no-nonsense tone. "She couldn't move fast enough to catch an old man using a walker, much less Snake Eyes. I want more information before I get her all wound up. Right now we don't have proof of squat. Let's let Andy make a go at this and then we'll decide if and when we need to bring Hawk into this."
They didn't look very happy about it, but no one argued.
Time was crawling. I tried ignoring my watch, but every time I glanced at it only a minute had passed. Finally, my phone rang.
I snatched it out of my purse. "Hello?"
"Hey, pretty thing. I've been down here for ten minutes and still no you."
"Can they hear you?"
"Hell yes," he said with an unseen grin. "I could just reach right out for a touch."
The girls crowded around and I held the phone so we could all hear.
"What are they talking about?" Lisa asked.
"Just the usual, you know," Andy answered. "Old friends and business. You remember. That dude that took the long trip."
My heart went into my throat. "They're talking about Skip Niccio?"
"That's the dude," Andy agreed. "I hear he needed some cash and got it sent by Western Union."
I frowned. What the hell did that mean?
"Are you saying that money changed hands?" Lisa asked.
"Exactly. Out with the old, in with the new."
"Swaggwell gave Snake Eyes money?" I asked.
"Well, it sure looks that way to me, sweet thing," Andy flirted. "Say, I was wondering how good you were at faces. I saw this guy that you might recognize."
"There's someone else there?"
"Naw. More like in a picture."
I looked at the girls in confusion.
Trish leaned forward. "One of them has a picture?"
The cadence of his voice had been sounding more and more familiar as he spoke and I finally realized who he was sounding like. Samuel L. Jackson. God, I hoped that didn't mean we had snakes on the boat.
"Can you describe who's in the picture?" Lisa asked. "Who's giving it to whom?"
"Sure," Andy said. "Older to younger. The guy I'm remembering is a pretty plain dude. Average. I think he was on a ship like this one. Looked like some kind of meeting."
Trish paled. "Does he look anything like this?" She proceeded to describe a man. The description sounded familiar to me but I couldn't place him.
"Could be. Whoops, looks like the party's over."
Trish looked at me and swallowed. "That sounds like Southland38."
"They're gone," Andy said in a normal tone of voice. "Snake Eyes is off to find that dude in the picture. I'll start following him when he gets a little further away. He was tearing up the old dude about going back to the deck and getting in trouble. I didn't see him all that clearly, but I think the old dude might have been the one you wrestled with."
"Stay as far back as you can and keep talking," I said. "Follow Snake Eyes." I left the ladies' room with all the girls at my heels. "Do you have any idea where he's going?"
"Something about a conference hall."
I handed the phone to Lisa, took Trish's, and dialed Hawk. We might only have minutes to stop a killer.
Author's Note: Some of my previous stories are eligible for awards. Please click my name at the bottom of this page and see my biography for details. Thanks, Wine.