Scent of Gardenia (Scott Tucker Series) (10 page)

BOOK: Scent of Gardenia (Scott Tucker Series)
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Chapter 23

 

From
where she was seated on the plane she could see Ralph’s head a few rows ahead
of her. Making plane reservations at the last minute didn’t allow them to have
adjacent seating. That was fine with her, but she could tell Ralph was
disappointed. The sight of many young couples reminded her that this time of
year was popular for marriages, and Bermuda, a nice honeymoon destination.

Her mind
went to Scott.
Could they ever be a couple, or would he just enjoy her
company and then find someone else to enjoy his life with.
When they were
together they had shared some personal thoughts. They had a strong attraction
to each other from the minute they met. She thought of how unfortunate it was
for Scott to lose Lisa so suddenly. However, he seemed to have a new zest for
life since they’ve been together.

She
noticed the couple in front of her kissing. She thought—
am I just feeling
sorry for Scott and his loss?
She was quick to answer that question—
yes,
I feel sorry for Scott and his loss, but that’s not the reason I want to be
with him. Every moment I’m with him increases my desire never to be apart. Oh
my God, she remembered his question when she inadvertently mentioned Ralph’s
name—‘is he going with you on the trip?’ I think I detected a hint of jealousy.
Ralph…maybe you do have a useful purpose after all.

 

*.*.*

 

Two
hours later they had landed and cleared customs. The airport was a very small
terminal on the east end of the island.

The
humidity was already causing her white blouse to stick to her body. Although there
were fans overhead, they weren’t much help. Her short khaki skirt was severely
wrinkled from the plane ride. She was anxious to get to the hotel to change.
What
the hell is keeping Ralph, and where did he go?

His
voice made her jump, as she turned to face him. “Mercedes, I learned that the
taxi drivers are on strike. Well to be more specific, the taxi service that
supports the airport is on strike. There is a separate taxi service for the
main island, and they are not on strike. However, they are not allowed on the
airport grounds. We need to carry our bags to the end of the airport to pick up
a town taxi.”

She
noticed all of the visitors exiting the terminal with their bags. “That’s not a
very good welcome. Didn’t they know we are the FBI? Couldn’t someone have
arranged another means of transportation?” Ralph was steps ahead of her headed
to the exit with everyone else. It looked dark outside. She had a question
about the time. It was still mid day. She carried her own suitcase, but it was
heavy and she needed to change hands several times. If Ralph was any kind of a
gentleman, he would have carried both of theirs.

She
caught up to him just outside the exit doors. The sight beyond the airport gate
caused her to gasp. There had to be over a hundred people trying to hail each
cab as it arrived at the airport gate. Ralph was still headed toward the mass
of people. She changed her pocketbook to her other shoulder. Her feet were
hurting from her high heels. Five minutes later they were amid the mass of
humanity and Ralph was doing his best to hail one of the cabs. It looked like
the strike must have just happened, catching the town cabs by surprise, because
the cabs were only trickling in.

It
suddenly became very dark. She noticed the ominous clouds bearing down on them.
There was a flash of lightning and a loud deafening clap of thunder. Mercedes flinched.
When she picked her head up she could see the rain squall angling towards the
road, then immediately into the crowd. Five seconds later it was like someone was
throwing buckets of water. The people were trying to shield themselves with
anything at hand.

Ralph
was the only one standing at the road trying to catch the next cab. She mimicked
most of the others and held her suitcase over her head, but it was no use. Not
only was it heavy, but the rain was coming in at such an angle that she was
already soaking wet. She lowered the suitcase, trying to find a dry place to
put it down. Unfortunately, there was already over an inch of water everywhere.

She put
the suitcase down anyway, removing her high heels. There were some trees on
this patch of dirt, but people were already standing behind them to shield
themselves from the rain. She was ankle deep in the water now and her blouse
had disappeared. The rain had soaked it and her bra so much that it looked like
she was standing there naked.

There
was another flash of lightning followed by an even louder boom of thunder. She
heard some women scream. The rain hitting her now felt like needles. She had to
shield her eyes.

“Mercedes?”
She thought she heard her name.
“Mercedes, hurry!”
She looked around and
saw Ralph waving to her from the side of the road. He had managed to catch a
cab, holding onto the door handle like someone was going to take it away from
him. She picked up her suitcase and shoes struggling against the wind and the
rain to get to him. When she finally splashed over to where he was standing,
Ralph took her suitcase and threw it in the trunk. He then pretty much pushed
her inside the vehicle.

The cab
driver did an immediate u-turn and headed away from the airport.

Ralph
looked at her and started to laugh.

“What’s
so funny?”

He
laughed even louder.

She
punched him in the arm. “What the hell is so funny.” She looked down,
immediately covering herself. Then she realized it was much too late.

His
laugh softened. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t expected such a showering welcome.” He
smiled and added, “Did you know this is how the island gets its fresh water?”

She regretted
the smile, but couldn’t help it. “Does it have to get its year supply all at
once?”

The
driver finally spoke. “No ma’am. We be gettin a bit o’ rain like this almost avery
day. Welcome to Bermuda.”

She
finally noticed how soaked Ralph was and announced, “Well, not having
transportation and giving me an unexpected shower is no way to greet a lady.”

The
driver looked in the rear view mirror. “I can see that
ma’am
. What hotel
would you be goin to?”

“Hopefully
one that’s dry inside.” Then she added, “The
Bermudiana
.”

Chapter
24

 

Mercedes
was finally in her hotel room. It was an embarrassing entrance and check in
process. Ralph was enjoying the process much more than she was, definitely more
focused on her anatomy than on anything else.

Soon she
was in her room. She had removed her wet clothes, throwing them in the corner
of the bathroom. She scrutinized her image in the mirror. Her long red hair was
still wet, hanging down across her body.
I hope I never look like this when
I’m with Scott. I guess I did when we took a shower.
Moments later there
was water running in the tub.

She
opened her suitcase on the bed, noticing most of her things were wet. She
emptied her suitcase, hanging the things that needed to be dried most on the
closet hangers. She went running to the tub, catching it just before it was about
to overflow. Two minutes later she had the water at the right level with the
hotel supplied bubble bath added. Soaking in the warm water was very relaxing
and soothing. She could stay there forever.

The
phone ringing in the bedroom startled her, but she realized it would be
senseless to try and get it. It was probably Ralph, and she didn’t want to talk
with him until she was dressed. Mercedes remembered their last dinner date,
which she almost regretted. They both had too much to drink. The wine had
weakened her defenses and before she knew it, they were at his condo.

It must
have been the combination of the alcohol, the warm night and the music on his
stereo. They were both fumbling with buttons and zippers. She remembered how
much her defenses were down, when his lips caused her body to have a mind of
its own. She excused herself to the bathroom, and fortunately, when she
returned he was sound asleep on his bed. She immediately found her clothes, got
dressed and took a cab back to her apartment. Ralph has since hinted at the
episode, but obviously remembered little from that night.
Thank God she
never made love with him. I will never let myself get close to that situation
again.

 

*.*.*

 

Mercedes
was delighted with the reflection in the mirror. It was a far cry from what she
looked like when they first arrived. When the phone rang, she picked it up.

“Hello.”

“Mercedes,
its Ralph. Are you settled in?”

“Yes, I
feel much better now. That was quite an experience.”

He
didn’t immediately respond. “Yes...your wet image brought back another
experience.”

She
considered what he just said. “Ralph, please stop. That was something that
happened that will not happen again. Please don’t get yourself worked up,
because we’re on business and I would like to keep it that way.” She added when
he didn’t respond, “Do you understand, or are we going to have a problem?”

“We’ll
be okay. However, you’ll have to excuse the fact I find you very attractive.”

“Thank
you. I’m sorry about that night we were together. It was a mistake that I don’t
plan on making again.”

“I
understand. Can we at least enjoy the time here being together?” Ralph asked.

“Like I
said before—just think of me as your sister.”

“Okay
sis
it is. Are you
dressed
and ready to see the island? By the way, I
talked with Max Gordon, who arrived yesterday. He evidently ate something and
believes he has food poisoning. Consequently, he hasn’t done anything since he
arrived, other than going from both ends. I’m thinking it’s a lot less
expensive here at the hotel than at the hospital. He told me to take over until
he feels better. He also told me to tell you to follow my orders.”

“I’ll
see you in the lobby in five minutes,” Mercedes retaliated.
He’s going to be
a problem, I just know it.

 

*.*.*

 

A short
taxi ride later, they were at police headquarters. Although it was late in the
afternoon, the chief of detectives had been expecting their arrival and met
with them.

Ralph
made the introductions on their end, and Mercedes just listened. “Chief-Inspector
Hughes, can you bring us up to date on the missing men?”

There
were five folders on the inspector’s desk. He opened the top folder. “Well as
you know, we found Mr. Elliot’s body near a somewhat obscure dive site. More
specifically, his body was found in a dive cage off the East side of the island.
The cage had been anchored to the coral reef. It would not be readily seen
unless you were within ten feet. The body was badly decomposed. The Medical Examiner’s
report indicated he had been in the water for three weeks. There was no sign of
trauma to the body.”

Ralph
wrote something in his notebook, based on what was communicated. “Do you have
any information on the three other missing men?”

“Mr.
Reynolds, Bermuda is not a place where we are accustomed to having murders or
missing people. We pride ourselves on being a tropical vacation destination. In
my twenty-five years on the force, we have never had anything like this. To
answer your question, our investigations have turned up nothing. All of the men
were enjoying the island one minute, and reported missing the next.”

Ralph
made some more notes. “What about the location of their yachts?”

“We have
done a thorough search of all the ports and coves along the shore and none of
the yachts are anywhere to be found.”

“What
are your personal thoughts on that?”

“We
believe they may have been pirated away to the Caribbean. We have been in
contact with authorities in the Bahamas to be on the lookout for the vessels.
All of the vessels were over thirty-six feet. They are not something that would
just blend in. When we contacted family members, we were able to obtain full
descriptions of the vessels from their respective insurance companies.”

“May we
get copies of those descriptions and the Medical Examiner’s report on Mr. Elliot?”

“I’ll
have those made for you.” He touched a button on his phone and asked for his
secretary to make copies. He went through each folder, pulling the paperwork.

Ralph
asked Mercedes, “Do you have any questions?”

She
waited until he completed pulling the respective paperwork. “Inspector Hughes,
what do the investigations indicate the men were doing when they went missing?”

“As best
we can determine they went missing early in the day. They were last seen on
their boats or at breakfast in one of the hotels. There is no record of where
they were going, or what they had planned.”

Mercedes
interjected, “You said first thing in the morning. Was that at the crack of
dawn?”

“I think
I know where you’re going with this. We thought of a fishing expedition,
however, the men went missing mid-morning.”

Mercedes
remembered what Mr. Nielsen had indicated when they met with him. “Was there
any altercation noted prior to any of their disappearances?”

“No.
There wasn’t. The last missing man, Mr. Nielsen, was traveling with another
friend and three women. Two of the women were sisters. They have not been
located either. We have added them to the list of missing people. We speculate
they might have been involved in an accident and took the…” He looked in the
folder and finished his thought, “took the ‘Import-ant’ out of Bermuda. Unfortunately, we’re talking about two months ago so they could be anywhere at
this time. Mr. Nielsen wasn’t reported missing until six weeks ago.”

The
secretary came back in the office, handing Inspector Hughes the original
paperwork and copies. “Mr. Reynolds, here are the copies.”

Ralph
studied the names and sizes of the vessels –

- ‘Roger
That’, 39ft., 1957, Concordia 39 Yawl, Wooden Hull, Single Diesel

- ‘Dust
B’ Gone’, 41ft., 1929, Herreshoff Aux Ketch, Wooden Hull, Diesel

-
‘Little Will’, 36ft., 1962, Colin Archer 36, Wooden Hull, Single Diesel

-
‘Import-ant’, 42ft., 1939, Alden Yawl, Wooden Hull, Single Diesel

“Chief-Inspector
Hughes, what happens next in your investigation?”

He
looked at the folders on his desk then answered. “We believe our best chance of
learning more about these missing men is to find the people on the yachts or
find the yachts themselves, or
both.
We have been informed by the US
Navy officials that there has been an increase in high seas pirating. Details
are not being shared with any media, but the targets are expensive yachts and
rich passengers.”

He took
a deep breath, leaning across the table, adding, “They have verified several
incidents where these vessels were overtaken, the men shot and dumped
overboard, the yachts taken and the women kidnapped. There is also some
speculation about the women being later sold into the slave trade, possibly in Venezuela.”

She and
Ralph exchanged glances, having not heard about any of these incidents.

“Mr.
Reynolds, what I just told you could seriously jeopardize tourism on the
island. I wanted you to know about this for your own investigation, knowing you
would eventually hear about it from other sources. I ask that you use that
information for your own investigation, but do so discreetly.”

Ralph
stood up, with Mercedes following his lead. “Chief-Inspector Hughes, thank you
for your time and your open communication. If we discover anything, we will be
sure to touch base with you, but if you should learn anything while we’re here
for the next two days, this is where we can be reached. Otherwise, my Boston number is on the front of the card. Please call collect. If you don’t reach me,
please leave a message and I will call you back.”

Inspector
Hughes offered his hand to both of them. Mr. Reynolds it was a pleasure, and
Ms. Strong it was nice meeting you. Please enjoy your stay in Bermuda, there’s
much to see and do here. I’m sorry I wasn’t more help, but these related cases
are very strange indeed.”

As they
left the police station, Mercedes could appreciate Mr. Nielsen’s desire to have
his own investigation. She wondered if Paddy had already started that separate
investigation.
Would she see Scott while they were here?

“A penny
for your thoughts?” Ralph asked.

She
answered quickly with, “Why haven’t we been informed about the ‘pirating'
scenario?”

 

*.*.*

 

On the
way back to the hotel, Mercedes could sense Ralph plotting his plan for tonight.
She had decided already what she was going to do.

“Mercedes,
would you care to have dinner together tonight?”

She
looked at him and saw the sign of a smirk. “You know Ralph, I’m awfully tired.
I think the storm today took a lot out of me. I think I’m going to take a hot
bath and have a light dinner in my room. I really don’t feel like dressing and
enjoying the night life. I guess I’m asking for a ‘rain check.’” She laughed at
how that sounded.

“That’s
too bad. I was hoping we could enjoy the night life together. We only have one
more night. Can we make it tomorrow night?”

“Let’s
see what tomorrow brings, and if we have a good day I would like to see what
night life in Bermuda is like.” She wondered if that sounded too much like a
date. He didn’t say anything, as they were soon entering the hotel.

 

*.*.*

 

“Ralph
would you excuse me I want to check to see if there are any messages for me.”
He was not smiling, but nodded his head and departed for the elevator.

Mercedes
approached the front desk. “Are there any messages for Mercedes Strong in room
712?”

“Oh, Ms.
Strong, I’m glad you checked in with us. We had to move you to another room.
Your room unfortunately suffered some water damage from the storm earlier
today. We have moved all of your belongings to a suite on the eighth floor. The
management apologizes for any inconvenience this might cause you. The
accommodations are the best in the hotel and you have a house credit for
anything you charge to your room for today and tomorrow.”

She
thought about how she left her room earlier in the day. “That is very generous
of the hotel.” She whispered to the female clerk, “I hung my wet clothes and
underwear in the bathroom. Do you know what happened to them?”

“Yes
ma’am. All of those clothes were sent to the hotel laundry and will be returned
to your new room as soon as they are ready. Is there anything else we can do
for you?”

“Were
there any messages for me?”

The
clerk checked both her old room number and her new room number. “No ma’am,
there are no messages for you. Here’s your key to suite number 823. I’ll make a
note of your room change after I wait on these other guests. Have a good
night.”

She
headed up to her new room, thinking about Scott. She already missed him. It had
only been three days. She entered the suite, surprised by the size of it
compared to her previous room.

BOOK: Scent of Gardenia (Scott Tucker Series)
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