Deep Blue Ch. 14byWine_Maker©
Chapter Fourteen: Crisis and Conclusion
I snapped the phone closed and looked at the crew. Gretchen had somehow come through with a description of our guy. True, he might not be the killer, but he was the best suspect or witness that I had. The connection with the Right Reverend was more than a little confusing, but once we had all the players in hand, the motives would become clear.
Right now we had to intercept this Snake Eyes character before he did anything permanent to Southland38.
"Time to roll, boys" I said. "Gretchen thinks the killer is on his way to corner someone in the conference area."
I stopped to call security. De Luca wasn't there but I got them moving and hung up.
We piled into the nearest elevator and I leaned against the back wall. I held my stomach and wished this infernal cramping would stop. I didn't have time to deal with physical discomfort. I straightened when I saw Ted give me the eye.
"Are you okay?" he asked. "Fine," I lied. "I'm just tired."
He didn't look like he believed me so I put on my most innocent smile. That just deepened his frown.
I was saved from further inquisition when the elevator door opened. With only a slight limp, I made my way into the lobby. That's when things started going wrong.
The first problem was Tom Price. He was waiting to get into the elevator and puffed up like a blowfish when he saw Ted.
"You bastard!" he shouted. "You broke into my room and stole everything!"
Ted stood his ground. "I didn't. And even if I did, you've got no room to complain after breaking into our suite. Give it up, Price. You've lost. Again."
Price turned red and bristled.
I didn't have time to deal with him. I pushed past Price just as he came at Ted. As Price shoved me aside, the stairwell door opened and the man that had to be Snake Eyes came out. Followed by the Right Reverend.
They were no more than three feet from me. I'd been a cop long enough to spot trouble when I saw it. The one guy's eyes gave him away. They were cold and emotionless - a killer's eyes.
I saw a flash of recognition as he locked eyes with me. God, they were a snake's eyes. I'd been made. His hand slipped inside his jacket and came out with a silenced pistol. No one else seemed to catch on to the danger right next to us.
Everything dropped into slow motion. I swung my fist at his arm and only barely deflected his aim before the sharp "pop" of the silenced shot swept over me. It wasn't completely quiet, but it didn't sound like a gunshot either. With hardly a sound, Price fell backwards.
The pistol went spinning out of Snake Eye's hand. I tried to follow up the disarmament with a strike to his throat, but he moved like a greased pig. He punched me in the stomach and I staggered back in gripping pain.
He spun away and rushed into the confused crowd with the guys finally twigging to the danger and taking off after him in a pack. They weren't alone. Several other men in the lobby also took off in pursuit. Other's shrieked and ran around in circles, panicked. Thankfully, several people were trying to help Price.
I started after the shooter, but my legs suddenly felt like lead. I staggered and almost fell from the cramp that tied my belly into a knot. I felt someone catch me before I fell.
"Are you okay?" a woman's voice asked. A blonde woman my age was holding me up.
I started to tell her I was fine, but another wave of pain washed over me. "No," I admitted through gritted teeth. "I..."
A sudden warmth of wetness flowed down my legs. Christ, I'd wet myself. The woman stared down at my legs. This was more than embarrassing.
The woman stared at me in surprise. "Your water just broke, didn't it?"
A wave of cold washed over me. Oh God, not now. I nodded wordlessly at her.
"We need to get you sitting down," she said. Her voice sounded a lot calmer than I felt. She turned her head to the man next to us. "She's going into labor. Help me get her to a chair."
"I don't think so," a familiar voice said. I forced myself to concentrate and looked more closely at the man. It was the Right Reverend Swaggwell.
I started to say something tart when the woman holding me gasped. A glance down revealed why. The Right Reverend had picked up the fallen pistol. He had it digging into the woman's side.
"Take her into the elevator. Now." His voice was calm and conversational. His eyes, however, were completely mad.
I didn't resist as we were herded into the elevator. The woman held me upright and she turned so that her body was between me and the gun. Brave, but ultimately a futile gesture.
"She needs to see a doctor," the woman said with almost no tremor to her voice. "Which deck is the infirmary?"
I told her and she pushed it. Swaggwell just smiled at us.
"This is stupid," I told him. "There's no way you can get away. We're on a ship and God only knows how many people saw you with the gun. Give it up already."
"You have woman's work to do, Shauna. Focus on that. You're about to witness God's miracle." He sounded just as calm and gentle as he would when talking to his flock, I'm sure. His use of my name like that made me grit my teeth.
The elevator door opened and we just had time to step out before what looked like a full EMT team with a stretcher bolted into the elevator. That left the nurse at the station alone with us.
Swaggwell had the pistol dug into my helper's back as she helped me forward. Her hands barely trembled as she helped me to the desk. "Her water broke. She's in labor."
The nurse took the news more calmly than I would've in her place. "Let's get her into this first room on the right."
I was going to warn her about the gun but a contraction took my breath away. It was all I could do to stay on my feet.
The nurse and my helper got me onto the examination table. "You'll have to wait outside," the nurse told Swaggwell.
He smiled and shook his head. He also showed her the pistol. "No, I don't think so." The nurse froze. "I don't understand."
Swaggwell shook his head. "Just get her into a gown."
It's not like they had much of a choice. He sat down in a chair, leveled the gun at us, and watched them undress me with those mad eyes. When they had me in a gown and settled on the table, he gestured at the door. "You may leave and get the doctor."
The nurse bolted out the door, but the woman that had been helping me shook her head. "This is crazy. I'm not leaving her in here alone with you. Just let her go."
His smile was filled with compassion all at odds with the gun he held. "Then, by all means stay. Birthing is a woman's work, after all. In fact, that's a much better idea than a doctor coming in here. He might try something stupid."
The woman visibly swallowed. "Look, I don't know what your problem is, but she needs a doctor."
Swaggwell pointed at the phone. "When someone calls, you can find out what you need to do. This is actually a much better idea. If God chooses to allow the children to survive then it must be His will."
The woman paled. "Children?" Her eyes slid to mine. "You're carrying more than one child? How early are you?"
"Twins," I said, my mouth dry. "I'm more than a month early." I looked at Swaggwell. "This is because I'm a lesbian, isn't it? What do you hope to gain out of this? You can't scare me straight, you know."
The phone rang, startling all of us. The woman picked it up, looking at Swaggwell as she spoke quietly. I went through another contraction while they spoke. Now I knew they weren't cramps.
"The doctor wants to speak with you," she said, setting the phone on the counter. Swaggwell motioned for her to walk over to me and picked up the phone.
The woman took my hand. "He's not going to let anyone else in here, is he?"
I shook my head. "I doubt it. He's crazy. I'm afraid that he wants to kill me after I give birth."
Her eyes widened even further. "We've got to stop him. I've got to stop him."
I shook my head. My eyes bored into hers. "You need to focus on the children. Listen very carefully to me. My babies are more important than I am. Focus. Do you have any idea what you're doing?"
She visibly calmed herself. "I started pre-med in the eighties. I don't know if I can do this."
"What's your name?"
"I'm Hawk. Just focus on what we're doing. You can do this. I can do this."
Swaggwell set the phone down and resumed his seat, interrupting us. "Good news, Shauna. The doctor has a surprise for you. It seems your father-in-law made sure that a specialist in premature babies took a vacation with you. And he brought all his equipment. Those children might just live after all."
Regan went to speak on the phone. I stared at Swaggwell. "What will killing me gain you?"
"Your mind is warped by your deviancy," he assured me. "This is all for the best. Focus on the children, now."
The door swung open, surprising all of us. Swaggwell tracked the gun to point at the door. Gretchen stood there and my heart sank. "No. No. No! Turn around and get out of here," I said.
Gretchen closed the door behind her and smiled at me, ignoring Swaggwell. "Never."
"I'll take this as a sign from God," Swaggwell said. "Lock the door. I don't want any more unannounced visitors."
Gretchen locked the door and came to my side. I started to speak when another contraction rolled over me. I took her hand and held on.
Regan started washing her hands. "Miss, if you're helping me you need to wash your hands."
Gretchen left me to wash up and get into a gown, cap, and gloves. "It's Missus. I'm Gretchen Werner; Hawk's wife."
"An abomination," Swaggwell announced. "You'll join her in explaining your failures to God after the children are born. Hellfire will lick at your heels for all eternity."
They both ignored him, rolling their eyes. "Regan Thomas," she said to Gretchen. Regan looked at me. "The doctor gave me instructions. I can do this." It seemed more like she was trying to convince herself than me.
Gretchen held my hand and started the Lamaze mantra about breathing while Regan disinfected and shaved me. Regan measured me and announced I was dilated five centimeters. "You're getting there, Hawk. You must've been having contractions for hours." Gretchen glared at me. "I can't give you anything for the pain," Regan continued. "I'm sorry."
The next few hours were a blur of pain and panting. When Regan finally allowed me to push I was long past ready. Three hard pushes and the first baby was out. Counting to ten through each excruciating push seemed to last an eternity. Regan tied off the umbilical cord and snipped it.
"Unlock the door," she snapped at Swaggwell. Her hands were bloody and I couldn't focus on the baby. My eyes were full of tears.
"My baby," I moaned.
"The doctor is right outside, waiting," Gretchen assured me. "She's early and needs to be in his hands right now."
She. I blinked to focus my eyes on Gretchen. "It's a girl?"
"She's beautiful," Gretchen told me.
Regan had handed her out and kicked the door closed before Swaggwell locked it again.
The next contraction was already on me. I cried out again with pain and pushed when Regan told me to. Gretchen was there helping me breathe and focus.
It only took two pushes to get the second baby out. Once again Regan tied off the cord and rushed the baby to the door. The process of getting the baby out of danger was repeated.
Gretchen wiped my face and kissed on the forehead. "Another beautiful baby girl for us," she said, ignoring our impending doom. "You're doing great."
"We have to..." I started when another contraction surprised me.
Regan was back in position. "One more push and the afterbirth will come out. You're doing great. One more push."
Across the room, Swaggwell was watching us in some sort of religious ecstasy. The pistol was aimed at me. I knew he was praying for me. I was too exhausted to give more than half a damn.
When the last of the afterbirth came out, Regan took the pan with it over to the counter. She stopped and turned to Swaggwell.
"Let them go," she said.
"Unlock the door and leave," Swaggwell said.
Regan took a deep breath and heaved the afterbirth in his face. She dove to the side as he brought the pistol around and fired blindly in her direction.
I tried to heave myself up on the table, but I was too weak to move. It would only take him a minute to clear his eyes and he'd start killing us.
Gretchen bent down. I thought she was pulling off her shoe, but she had a small revolver in her hands. Methodically she emptied the revolver into him from ten feet away. The shots were like thunder in the closed room. He staggered back and slumped against the wall as the door was kicked in. De Luca was in the lead, his Kevlar vest emblazoned with the word POLICE and his gun tracking on Swaggwell.
Swaggwell's nerveless fingers dropped the pistol as he slid down the wall in a trail of gore.
Gretchen dropped the pistol she must have hidden in an ankle holster and held me as the medical team that had been waiting just outside rushed in and carried me out in a rush.
Four days later I was sitting in a wheelchair in the ship's chapel. It was a thin spire at the very top of the ship. Through the wide windows and over the rails there was nothing but ocean visible in any direction. It felt like being in the arms of God.
I felt almost human again, but I looked like a deflated beach ball. The babies were down in the infirmary, getting the best care that money could buy. The girls were early, but the specialists Hans had snuck onboard with us assured us that the chances were very good they'd grow up perfectly fine without any lasting harmful effects.
After talking about it, Gretchen and I decided to change our original choices in names. We'd settled on names for all occasions. We chose possible names for two boys, a boy and a girl, or two girls. The eldest girl was still being named Janice, after Gretchen's mother. The youngest, however, we named Regan.
Her namesake was horribly embarrassed when we told her, but pleased. Those little girls were going to have a whole gaggle of godparents. Originally, it was only going to be Ted and Lisa, but now Regan and her fiancé, Tony, were included as well. I know that Ted and Lisa would be more parents than godparents, but still.
The last few days had been chaotic, but had at least settled the mystery of what happened to Skip. Snake Eyes, AKA Louis Pirelli, was black and blue, but alive. The guys had caught him and beat the snot out of him. De Luca disapproved, but I was more than happy with them about that.
Swaggwell's diary finally explained to us why Skip was attacked. Swaggwell wrote down everything. He'd gotten tired of his lack of success in stopping what he saw as the tide of evil in pornography on the web. He contacted Pirelli through a few fervently converted former mobsters. Money did the rest and Pirelli was off and tracking down erotic authors. This cruise probably seemed like a buffet to them.
Pirelli was being held on murder one. Price had taken that one round right in the heart. He'd been dead before he hit the floor. I felt guilty about how I felt about it. I regretted his death, but only in a very general way.
The one death I didn't regret was Swaggwell's. He died on the scene and I was happy to wish him a nice time in Hell. Gretchen had brought De Luca's backup piece in with her when she came into the birthing room. He didn't want to let her in, but he was real short on ideas that might get us out alive. The fact that Gretchen also ran all over him to get in there must have counted in some way.
I found out later that De Luca had told Regan to distract Swaggwell after I gave birth. She'd done so much more spectacularly than he'd anticipated. The ship's doctor was still hardly speaking to me after we trashed his infirmary.
The thought of Regan brought my attention back to the present. She and Tony were standing in front of the ship's Captain. She'd been grazed by one of Swaggwell's shots but you couldn't even see it under her beautiful gown.
I'd found out that they were on this cruise to be married. They'd eloped, actually. Once I found out and Gretchen told me how she saw Tony buying the wedding rings on the first day of the cruise, I'd been insistent that I attend the wedding
I held Gretchen's hand and watched them repeat their vows to each other in front of the Captain. Their eyes were naked with emotion. They obviously loved each other as deeply as Gretchen and I loved one another.
They promised to love one another and the Captain pronounced them man and wife.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present to you Antonio and Regan Di Ricco," the Captain intoned. "Husband and wife."
We all clapped and tossed rosebuds in the air. I hugged the newly wedded couple from my chair. "Where are you two off for your honeymoon?" I asked.
Regan smiled at Tony. "We have a place we both love in Vermont. We're going to hide there until someone forces us out."
"I hope you'll be available for the babies christening," Gretchen said from behind me. "We'd really like both sets of godparents to be there."
"Count on it," Tony said."
"We wouldn't miss it for the world," Regan agreed.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sandy and Keven talking to the Captain. Judging from the way they were dragging him back to the altar, there was going to be another wedding on our plate today.
De Luca walked out from the concealed elevator and smiled at everyone. Then he leaned over my shoulder and whispered in my ear.
"I have good news and some bad news. Some Cuban fishermen pulled Skip Niccio out of the water alive."
"What's the good news," I quipped.
He laughed glibly. "He apparently insulted Fidel in absentia. They've thrown him in jail."
"That is good news," I agreed with a laugh.
This trip was ending on many positive notes. I held Gretchen's hand as Sandy and Keven were married and let myself once more get lost in the words of love.