tagRomanceDeep Blue Ch. 07

Deep Blue Ch. 07


Chapter Seven: Obstruction


By the time we got to the medical center, Ted had to help me walk. I didn't fall behind Gretchen and the paramedics, but I would've without help. Gretchen went straight into the first room, and the doctor consulted briefly with Sandy before he came in.

"Miss Hawkins, I didn't expect to see you quite so soon," he said blandly.

"You're not seeing me," I pointed out. "You're seeing my wife. That makes me Mrs. Hawkins. So, let's cut the chit-chat and get focused on the right patient, shall we?"

"Oh, I will," he said, "but I'll be checking you again before you leave. Stress can accelerate labor."

I rolled my eyes as he helped Gretchen sit up and he gently felt her shoulder. "I think if I was in labor, I'd notice," I said dryly. "Focus on Gretchen, and let me worry about myself."

"Gretchen," he said, ignoring me, "Doctor Craig told me that she reset your shoulder. How does it feel now? Can you move your arm? Do you have any pain?"

Gretchen was able to get full motion out of her arm but her face grimaced in pain. "I can move it, but it hurts. My back hurts a little where I hit the railing and my ribs are sore where I hit the deck."

"I'll want some x-rays to be sure you have no fractures," he said in the same monotone he seemed to speak in all the time. He put his stethoscope on and listened to her heart and breathing. "There's no sound of fluid in the lungs. That's good. I'm going to have the nurse come and take you to x-ray now. If there are no broken bones, you'll still be sore all over tomorrow. Actually, you're already starting to come up with what I suspect will be a set of spectacular bruises. I'll have some pain medicine ready for you when you get back."

Gretchen didn't argue with him, and that, more than anything else, convinced me that she was in more pain than she had just implied. The fear - no, the absolute terror - I'd been feeling was changing into rage. Someone had tried to kill my wife, my lover, my best friend, and I was going to make them pay for that.

The doctor stopped me from following Gretchen as the nurse that came in and wheeled her bed out. "I need to check you over, Mrs. Hawkins. It will only take a few minutes."

I ground my teeth in frustration. I didn't have time for this. The real question was 'would it take longer to fight about it or just to give in?' Knowing the answer, I grudgingly gave in. "Fine, just please make it snappy. I have places to be and people to deal with." Gretchen would be happy, I thought. I'd actually said please. She'd been trying to convince me about how useful the word could be, sometimes.

As boring as the doc might be, he didn't waste more time yapping at me. His exam told him I wasn't in labor. Duh! Didn't I just tell him that?

When he was done, I very politely said 'thank you,' walked out into the hall and started in the direction that the nurse had taken my wife. There was a waiting room on the right hand side of the hall and I saw everyone else sitting there. They weren't alone, either. Several of the ship's officers were asking questions of Trish, who was sitting there with all the women in support around her. Someone had cleaned the blood from her face and done something for her cut. It might not have been bad enough for stitches, though. Even minor head wounds bled like someone had taken a machete to you.

I felt a deep sense of gratitude to her. The tangle of emotions that I couldn't readily put a name to had me all mixed up. One thing I did know was that I owed Trish big time. I'd seen the looks she'd been giving Gretchen, and I knew something would likely happen between them. That had initially raised my jealousy bar about as high as it could go. However, that wasn't true any more. Whatever reservations I'd had about Gretchen taking her on as a trainee were gone. She could have anything I could give her, including time with my wife. Now was the right time to thank her, but I wanted to be with Gretchen, and those cops - what else could they be? - would corner me if I went in now. I hurried to try to get by unseen.

Ted, Keven and Earl intercepted me before I could slip by. Since Ted knew me, the other two deferred to him, but I could see that they all shared the same rage that burned in my heart. "Trish said someone tried to shove Gretchen over the side of the ship," Ted said grimly. "She said they were looking for something, so we're going to get a light and see if we can find anything."

"Let the cops handle it," I said, taking a deep breath. "They have the training, and you don't."

Earl snorted. "Hellfire and damnation, woman! I don't think those yahoos are gonna be of any help. I can tell they don't believe the girl. They think it was some kind of accident and Gretchen is just too embarrassed to own up to it."

The part about Gretchen making it up made my blood boil even more, but the rest matched all too well with their reaction when I brought Skip's jacket in to them. They weren't ready to believe someone went overboard just because someone tore up his jacket. They dismissed the blood out of hand. "It could've ended up there by accident," they said. The best I could get out of them was that they would call the ship behind them and have them look out for anyone in the water. Like I expected him to be still floating.

"Fine," I growled, more frustrated by the events and ship's idiots than Ted, Keven or Earl. "Go keep an eye on the place and get some lights, but do not go into the dark area until I get there. If these bozos won't take care of this, then it's my case, but we'll give them a chance first."

"I don't understand how they can be so good in everything else and then be this thick-headed about a serious crime," Keven complained.

I laughed humorlessly. "Gretchen did some research, and you'd be stunned at how often people vanish at sea. Every single cruise line seems to come up short when there's a serious crime committed, or possibly committed. Give them something simple like contraband or theft and they're all over it. Rape, homicide and anything else dunks them pretty fast. Add to that the facts that the lines don't want bad publicity and that it's happening in international waters. That provides incentive to not look too hard so that they can either avoid any hue and cry or hush up what they can't avoid."

They all looked pissed as hell, and I thought it just as well to get them out of here and give them something to do. With a nod, Ted led them out, and I made my way to the x-ray room. It was clearly marked and had a sign that told everyone, especially pregnant women, to stay the hell out of there. I parked my wide load in the chair by the door and waited.

My conscience nagged me. I should call Hans and let him know that his little girl was hurt. That didn't mean I didn't dread doing it. She was all he had left in the world, until the babies got here. He was going to freak out. I sighed and pulled out my cell phone. There wasn't any use in avoiding the inevitable. I hit the speed-dial and waited.

"Werner residence," the stilted tones of Ivan, the snooty butler answered the phone. Great.

"Evening, Lurch," I drawled. "Is the boss in?"

Ivan sniffed disdainfully at me. I could see it in my head as if I was standing right there. I still wondered what kind of relationship the two of us had. I respected him as a man, and he loved Gretchen like his own daughter, but I just couldn't get past the need to spar with him like this. I doubt either of us really thought the barbs we traded were serious. It had become a game by now, and I wondered if that meant we actually liked each other on some level. Where the hell these weird ass stray thoughts kept coming from was enough to drive me crazy. I only hoped to God that it was just because I was pregnant.

"Mister Warner is always in at this hour, Detective," he said haughtily, thankfully interrupting my train of thought. "But he's busy with dinner and can't be disturbed. Important guests, you see. Perhaps you should call back in a few hours."

I sighed. It wasn't fair to have to use the easy way through him. I wanted to make him give up, and he wanted to dominate me into backing down. I was going to violate the rules and part of me didn't want to. "Not this time, Ivan. This is serious and I need to talk to him right now, no bullshit."

His voice sharpened with worry. I never missed the chance to argue with him. Never. "What's wrong? Is there something wrong with you or the children? I knew you should never have gone on this foolish trip."

That left me speechless. He'd never shown any concern about me or the children before. Well, sure, he bitched about me never taking care of myself and doing things no normal woman 'in my condition' would ever consider, but I'd thought it was all a way to poke at me. I guessed I was wrong. In one minute, my world was once again tossed upside down. My desire for Keven and Earl, my jealousy about Ted, my whatever it was about Trish, the stupid puns and goofy ponderous thoughts: every time I turned around there was something there to upset the way I saw the world. Now even Lurch was concerned about me. I shook my head and forced myself to focus. I did not have time for this crap.

"No, the three of us are fine," I said, avoiding the usual counter attack. "It's Gretchen. She's going to be okay, but there was an incident."

"Tell me," his commanded, his voice filled with worry.

On any other subject, I'd have reacted to that tone like a cat to a dog, but not about Gretchen. She was sacred ground for both of us.

"I can't go into the details - I don't have some and don't have the time, regardless - but she almost went over the side of the ship. I'm still waiting for the doctor to look at the x-rays, but her shoulder was dislocated and she might have cracked some ribs. Maybe I should wait until I have more information to give Hans before I worry him," I said with uncertainty.

"No," Ivan said firmly. "He needs to know now. The details can come when they do. However, I do think you should cancel the trip and return home at once. Gretchen will need someone to care for her as she recovers, and you simply are not in condition to do so."

That got my back up. "I can so, and if I need help I have Ted and Lisa and some other friends, right here. We're not running away. You got that, Lurch? Get me the big cheese and go do whatever butlers do. Butle something."

"Ah," he said with satisfaction, "there is some kind of trouble. A simple accident wouldn't be something the vaunted detective would be 'running away from', now would it? Some human agency is involved." The line filled with a pregnant pause. "And the great detective wouldn't be afraid to leave a simple assault behind her, either. She would let the authorities have the scoundrel. There's more, I believe, than you've told me."

I'd thought I'd be the one not playing fair, but so far, Ivan was one keeping me on the defensive. He implied he cared about me, and then he deduced my real reason for wanting to stay. He was one smart son of a bitch! I felt adrift and reverted back into my 'game' mode with him. "Of course there's more than I've told you. I don't go around explaining my actions to the hired help. That and I told you up front I wasn't going into details with you. Hello? Are you listening to me, Lurch?"

"How could anyone avoid hearing you when you raise your voice?" he snapped at me. "There's been a killing, hasn't there? And Gretchen is involved." He gets me to start playing the game again, and then he jumps back out of game mode. I was out of practice against this guy.

I thought maybe Gretchen's ideas about winning friends and influencing people might help. "I'm sorry, Ivan, I said, firmly bringing my voice back to a normal tone. "You're right. To answer your questions, there may have been a murder and no, Gretchen had nothing to do with it. But that's beside the point. I need to tell her father about what happened and you're holding me up. Get the old man on the horn and you can drag the details out him at your leisure."

I grinned to myself. I wondered if it was shock over my apology, or a measure of his concern that Ivan didn't argue with me. He had Hans on the phone in less than a minute.

"Shauna, how is the cruise?" he asked jovially. I'd tolerate that name from him and Gretchen, but I still didn't like it. I pushed the sensation I'd felt when Gretchen used it to tell me that she loved me to the back of my mind.

"There's been some trouble," I said without preamble. "Gretchen's a bit bruised and battered, but she'll be okay." I filled him in on the particulars and could hear his growing fear and anger in his questions.

I'd just finished relating the basic details when I saw the two detectives coming out of the waiting room and walking up the hall toward me. "Hans, I'll need to call you back. The detectives are here."

"No," he pleaded. "Just set the phone down and I'll listen in. When they leave, I'll still be here. I want to hear what they have to say."

"Okay," I agreed. "Hang on." I slipped the open phone onto the seat beside me and watched the men as they approached.

Their Italian heritage was obvious at a glance. Olive-skinned and dark haired, they might have exchanged their uniforms for those of Roman Centurions without looking out of place. Perhaps the boys were mistaken and they'd only heard the detectives making sure that there was nothing hinky going on. We'd see.

"Miss Hawkins?" One of them asked politely, his voice only mildly accented. "I'm Lieutenant de Luca and this is Lieutenant Colombo. We'd like to ask you a few questions before we speak with, ahem, your wife."

I was about to go on the offensive when the second man's last name threw me off. "Excuse me, did you say Lieutenant Colombo?"

The man in question barely restrained a sigh of exasperation. "Yes," he said, his voice surprisingly deep for his size. "It's not an uncommon name in Italy. No, I'm not related in any way with the fictional television character."

"I know that," I said with a small smile. "It just startled me. I'm sure you get a lot of ribbing, so I won't make any of the same tired wisecracks."

"Thank you," he said. "Now, Miss Hawkins..." he started.

"Mrs. Hawkins," I said firmly without rancor. "I'm married, as you've already said. She's Mrs. Werner. I realize it's complicated, but it's what we decided to go with."

De Luca nodded. "Of course. You came to the Passenger Safety Department with a coat you claim may have indicated that someone met with foul play?"

"That's basically correct," I agreed, "except I didn't 'claim' that it might indicate a crime. I said it."

"And then your wife and her friend supposedly see someone at the scene of this 'so called' crime and he tries to throw her overboard?" Colombo asked.

Their keywords were starting to steam me. "'Claim' implies I'm making this stuff up. So does 'supposedly' and 'so called.' Are you insinuating that Trish and my wife lied? Because that would really upset me." I fought the growing urge to get really pissed off. "The jacket was definitely indicative that someone was attacked; and since I know who it belongs to, and what a jerk he is, the possibility can't be ignored." I shifted my cold gaze to de Luca. "And if Trish said Gretchen was attacked, it happened. There's no reason to make up that kind of shit."

De Luca smiled, a trace of condescension in his eyes. "I'm sure it must seem that way to you, Mrs. Hawkins, but until we get to the bottom of what the facts tell us we cannot allow ourselves to be swayed. Perhaps your young friend and your wife got into a scuffle and now they're embarrassed."

"Bullshit! That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," I snarled. "A four-year old might do that, but not these two, and you should know better."

That wiped the smile right off his face. "I think that we have more experience in such matters than you, Mrs. Hawkins. I'm sure that this seems very complicated..." he said before I cut him off.

"Don't even go there," I said coldly. "I'm not the pregnant 'little woman' all blown over with hormones. Let's set the record straight, shall we? Until I got pregnant, I was a Homicide Detective in the Houston Police Department. Seventeen years as a cop and seven of those in Homicide. Most recently as a Lieutenant in said Homicide Department." They both recoiled in surprise. "I know what is and what isn't a crime scene and I sure as hell know if someone is trustworthy or not. Let's not compare body counts and conviction rates."

"I see," de Luca said with neutral nod, his expression closing up. "Be that as it may, there's still no evidence that any homicide has occurred. As yet, there's no body. We'll investigate what happened and if we determine there was a crime, we'll attempt to locate the party responsible. We'll then deal with this situation according to the appropriate laws. Thank you for your time."

The anger in his voice was subtle, but it was there. Rent-a-cops hated the real deal confronting them. These rent-a-cops might dress well, but I could tell that they didn't have the experience to deal with this crisis, even if de Luca thought they did.

"And you think you'll find something before someone has a chance to get off the ship?" I asked, the disbelief I felt coloring my tone against my will. "We dock in San Juan, Puerto Rico in just a little more than a day and a half. Three PM, the day after tomorrow, to be precise. If you dick around, whoever did this will walk off this ship, and you'll never see them again."

"Mrs. Hawkins," he almost sneered. "Please don't presume to tell us how to do our jobs. This matter will be dealt with in a speedy and efficient manner. I recommend that you focus on your wife, and your obvious condition, and we'll deal with this issue."

I sneered right back. "I'd tell you how to do your jobs, except that I doubt either of you are smart enough or humble enough to learn anything from me!"

His anger was now plainly evident and I kicked myself for not listening to Gretchen's lessons on courtesy. I certainly hadn't made any friends today. Whatever retort de Luca was going to make was interrupted by the sound of the x-ray room's door opening.

The nurse was about to wheel Gretchen out when Abbott and Costello stopped her. I rose to my feet as they went in, but Colombo stopped me. Unlike de Luca, he didn't seem quite as angry, but I could tell he wasn't going to do me any favors, either. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Hawkins, but I'm sure you understand that we'll need some privacy to question your wife. I promise that we'll be brief." He closed the door in my face, and I snarled wordlessly, smashing my fist into the back of my chair, sending my phone clattering to the floor. Assholes.

I managed to pick up the phone without falling over myself and brought it to my ear. "Hans? Did you hear that?"

"I certainly did," he said coolly, "and I'm not pleased about it in the least. My dear, it sounds like you have your hands full, so I should let you go. I'll be making some calls to see if I can motivate more cooperation from the cruise line. I'm the majority shareholder and if I can't get some action I'll see heads roll. If Gretchen is able to, I'd like her to call me, no matter the time. If not, please call me as soon as you have a full diagnosis of her condition."

The old man was a tough bird, I thought with a wry grin. I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of his next phone call. "Hans, she'll be alright. One of us will call as soon as we can. And," I said, allowing my 'cop voice' to seep in, "one way or another, I promise you that I'll find the scumbag that hurt my wife and make them pay."

"Good," he said with satisfaction. "I'll wake some people up and see that no one tries to stop you." He hesitated, and for a moment, I thought he was going to simply hang up. Then he said, "Shauna, you probably know this, but I need to say it aloud. I've had my reservations about Gretchen marrying you."

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